12 Ideas to Entertain Young Children (no creativity required)

posted by Andrea | 06/17/2016
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12 ideas to entertain young children

I originally published this post 2 summers ago, but since it’s THAT time of year again when kids are home from school, I decided to update it with a few new ideas, new links, new resources, and new photos.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not the most crafty person in the world. And although I can be creative if I try REALLY hard, it definitely doesn’t come naturally to me — especially when it comes to planning or thinking of fun ways to entertain and occupy young children.

All those fabulously creative ideas on Pinterest always seem too involved or too expensive for me. I’m well aware that even the most fun activities will only entertain preschoolers and toddlers for 15-2o minutes at a time, so I refuse to spend excess time, money, and energy planning activities that will only buy me a few minutes of peace!

No, I definitely don’t think we need to entertain our children all day long, and I’m also not opposed to letting kids watch a little TV every day. However, my kids wake up early in the summer, and if I don’t have a few fun things planned each day, we end up doing the same things over and over and over again.

So, for those of you who have young children, those of you who aren’t necessarily super creative or crafty, and those of you who have no idea what you’re going to do now that it’s summer break and your kids are home ALL DAY LONG, here are a few things we do to stay busy around here.

You should notice that most of these activities require little to no creativity, little to no monetary cost, little to no set-up, and little to no clean-up!  Win, Win, Win, Win!

Also, I wrote this post with the “under-5 crowd” in mind, but I think several of these ideas can be adapted for older children too!

1. Automatic Bubble Blower:

Oh my word — my kids LOVE bubbles! Nora can sometimes blow them herself, but usually Dave or I take turns blowing (and that gets old after a while!

We first discovered the amazingness of an automatic bubble blower at a music class we went to a few years ago. It blew hundreds of bubbles in a continuous stream — totally amazing!

We obviously only use the bubble maker outside, but it’s pretty fabulous how long my kids are entertained by running through bubbles!  I can pull weeds or do any other yard work while still watching them.

RELATED: Here’s my recipe for homemade bubbles.

2. Watering Cans, Buckets, and Hoses:

This is obviously another outside activity, but I can often keep Nora and Simon busy for a full hour with a garden hose, watering can, and a few big buckets. They wash their cars and bikes, they water plants, they dump rocks into big buckets, they make puddles to jump in, and so much more!

Of course, the kiddie pool is fun too — but I need to be close by when they are swimming in our pool. When they just have a hose and watering cans, I feel like I can still do a little yard work while they play.

3. Dusting:

I realize my children might be a little odd when it comes to their obsession with cleaning — but they LOVE to dust 🙂

I can give them various colored rags or any type of tissue, toilet paper, paper towel, napkin, etc. and they will go room to room “dusting” anything they can reach. In fact, Nora actually does a decent job (especially on the baseboards!)

Simon loves using the Swiffer dust mop, so I usually let him go over the floors after I sweep them once to get anything I might have left behind.

It doesn’t entertain them for hours, but it keeps them occupied for a few minutes, plus it’s helping me (sort of) and teaching them some good skills in the process!

4. Playing “Beauty Salon”:

Have you ever let your kids do your hair? I’ll warn you ahead of time, if you have long hair, it will probably be a huge snarly mess by the time they are finished, but they will most likely have a lot of fun!

Dave is a really good sport about this — so he is often the preferred “client” for our kids 🙂

5. Cooking or Baking:

Most children I know get VERY excited about the idea of cooking or baking anything — especially if they get to sample the goodies.

Yes, it definitely takes me longer to cook and bake with “help” from my kids, but I figure I need to make some type of food almost every day, so I might as well entertain them (and teach them) in the process.

Simon is definitely more difficult to get involved, but Nora is actually able to do quite a bit to help.

6. Whistling or Humming Guessing Games:

I have to give my mom credit for this one — she’s an elementary school music/choir/band teacher, so she’s ALWAYS coming up with musical games for the kids to play. Most recently, she started a “guessing game” where she would whistle or hum a certain song’s melody, and then Nora has to guess what song she’s humming.

Nora’s gotten really good at this game and can often guess the song with just a few notes.

This is a fabulous game to play with kids while you’re in the car, cooking or baking, folding laundry, feeding another baby, etc. etc. because they are so busy thinking and concentrating that they don’t get loud or act out.

7.  Laundry:

Again, I need to do the laundry anyway, so why not try to get the kids involved so they learn to “help” me instead of bugging and distracting me the entire time. I let Nora and Simon take turns putting the clothes in the washer (we have a front-loading machine). They also know what button to press to turn it on.

Nora is actually somewhat helpful with folding rags, towels, washcloths, etc — Simon and James are mostly just destructive so I usually wait to fold the laundry until they are sleeping!

8. Special Meals:

Pick one day a week (or even one day a month) and have a special meal based on leftover foods you already have in the house. It could be as simple as eating all red foods one day, all foods that start with an “s” another day, or even all foods you normally don’t let your kids eat for that particular meal.

For example, one of our lunches was ‘C’ themed — we had chicken, cheese, corn, chips, and a cookie. Another time we did a ‘red’ lunch — complete with strawberries, raspberries, pasta with tomato sauce, and bread with strawberry jam. No, those items don’t necessarily go together, but that’s what makes it fun.

Sometimes we’ll have “rainbow lunches” where we eat all the colors — and other times I’ll make a face with their breakfast or lunch.

It’s a minimal amount of extra work for me and the kids think it’s such a fun treat!

9. Ripping, Dumping, Stuffing, and Sorting:

I won’t lie, this is basically  just “making a controlled mess” and kids love it.

I give them magazines or coupon packets from the mail and let them rip them over the trash can or over a large bag. I give them large buttons or coins or other objects that they can sort in muffin tins. I give them a couple buckets or baskets and a variety of soft/small toys and just let them dump toys between containers or stuff as many items as they can into bags and boxes.

Every single time, it amazes me how long they stay occupied with this!

10. Send Them on “Scavenger Hunts”:

I hesitate to call this an actual “Scavenger Hunt” because that sounds like it requires a lot of work and creativity — but I promise my scavenger hunts are really easy and require absolutely no set-up on your part.

Simply ask your kiddos to find ______ around your house or yard and then bring it back to you. Then ask them to find something else. It could be something like 2 black socks, 1 red ball, 3 pennies, 4 pine cones, 2 green leaves, a flower, an orange crayon, etc. etc.

They have to then walk around your house and/or yard to find these objects (so you’ll need to ask for something you know you already have!) They’ll stay busy finding their treasures and all you have to do at the end is dump the yard waste and put away a few household objects.

Sometimes, at the end, I’ll ask them to get me a cookie or marshmallows, and then they can have that as their snack 🙂

11. Stories:

If they are old enough, just have them read you a story. However, if they can’t read yet, ask them to tell you a story — you might be surprised what they come up with and how creative they can be.

Nora loves telling me stories, and they are usually quite imaginative. There will always be a baby and a mom in every story (the baby’s name is usually Rose!) Also, it’s not uncommon for Daniel Tiger, the Berenstain Bears, and friends from school to make an appearance as well.

Nora can’t read yet, but she has many books memorized, so she frequently reads those to Simon and James (and actually gets them almost word-for-word!)

12. Give Them a Bath:

Now that we actually have a real bathtub, giving baths to multiple children at the same time is SO much easier (and actually really fun for them!)

It’s a great “activity” to break up the day when the weather is nasty.

Nora and Simon will happily play in the bathtub for at least 30 minutes (or until the water starts to get cold) and since our upstairs bathroom is really big, I can either play with James right in the bathroom, or just sit in a chair and read on my phone while they play (if James is napping).

These are just a few of the non-creative, no-energy-needed ways I keep my kids interested, engaged, and entertained on a very regular basis.

They certainly aren’t the most clever or creative ideas out there, but they are simple… and since many of them don’t require 100% constant supervision, I can often get a few things accomplished in the process too!

I’d love to know if you have other ideas to add to my list!

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37 comments

  1. Ruth

    06/20/2016

    One thing my kids enjoy is using a lint roller! We have a dark colored couch so the dirt tends to show up easily. If I give the kids the lint rollers, they have fun rolling them all over the couch and it is a truly helpful thing at the same time. Depending on the child and age, it has occupied them up to about 30 min.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh yes, we have jumbo lint rollers that the kids use to clean off the couch and chairs! They usually end up fighting over something when using them though — but you’re right, it is actually helpful!

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  2. Carrie

    06/17/2016

    These activities bring back a ton of great memories….I miss the toddler/preschool days. An activity for Nora while the boys are sleeping is a coin sorter made out of an egg carton. Just glue a coin to the bottom of each section then she sorts loose coins and puts them in the appropriate spot. The next step is for her to say the name of the coin and its worth. She would also enjoy the color version and the number version. My boys enjoyed sorting candy…lol

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    We’ve done something like this before — but I might just have to save a couple egg cartons so we can do it again!

    Thanks carrie!

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  3. Ashley | Free Wills Studio

    06/17/2016

    The pride in their faces for their stacked buckets really warms my heart! 🙂 This is a really great list!! When I worked at summer camp, we would play a game called Frozen Fish which is basically a competition of who could lie motionless on the ground for the longest. You would be amazed how much kids love this game and sometimes they would compete so long they would fall asleep! It’s a childcare gold mine- at least 15-30 minutes of silent bliss where everyone is happy!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    That game sounds great! Thanks for sharing Ashley!

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  4. Dawn

    04/08/2015

    my 3 yr old grandson loves drawing with sidewalk chalk!! And it is so easy to hose right off.

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  5. Christine

    01/30/2015

    We live in a cold climate as well and this will sound VERY odd, but my kids used to love playing with ice, in summer and winter! In the summer, we’d get ice cubes or containers of ice from the freezer and play with it outside, either in their small kid pool or just on the sidewalk and grass. We would ‘paint’ with the ice and see how long it would talk for the water to evaporate and also watch ice in the sun or the shade and see how long it took to melt. We also would make ice/mud pies.

    In the winter, I would put large margerine or sour cream containers outside to freeze, then my kids loved to play with the ice in the bath. Sometimes I would freeze a little car or small plastic animal (my son loved dinosaurs) in the water and then they’d have a blast in the tub. It never seemed to affect the bath water temp too much, and provided a change from their normal bath toys. My son is 11 and even a year ago, he was asking for ice in his bath!!

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  6. Molly

    07/13/2014

    Do you have a bubble machine you would recommend? Do they run on batteries or plug in? And are they big things, or little handheld machines?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    all the ones I’ve seen have been pretty small (hand -held) and run on batteries.

    [Reply]

  7. Jennifer

    07/01/2014

    Great post with some simple, practical and fun ideas. Great additions in the comments, too. Love simple activities that are fun, occupying and promote learning and motor skills development.

    And thank goodness we have parent police like JESSICA above to keep us all in line.

    [Reply]

  8. Heather

    06/14/2014

    I do all these things with my daughter all the time. The hair activity can go on for hours but it allows me to play with her and get caught up on e-mails/facebook at the same time. She loves to the do the lotion thing too. The trick I found is to get a dispenser pump. The love to pump the bottle and they have to rub in what they have or their hands will be too slippery and it will slide right off the pump. It also allows me to be able to put the lotion up quickly and segway to the next beauty step like nail buffing. Another activity that is no mess. Just a buffing block from the store.

    Love the photo of Nora in the tub!

    [Reply]

  9. Verity

    06/11/2014

    The bath picture and quote totally made me laugh.

    She says the funniest things!

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  10. Trudy

    06/11/2014

    One of our favorites was dish washing. Get a stool at the sink, a dishpan with a little soapy water and some plastic dishes. I think it truly helps with hand-eye coordination. I also second the milk jug lids for counting…..it really helping my kids for a hands on activity (not to mention the cat loved them too….lol). We also like to wash windows with some water in a squirt bottle (especially the door wall)…..my daughter enjoyed it and now my grand daughter is doing the same.

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  11. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    06/10/2014

    I completely agree with you on both the lack of energy and creativity. I have learned that simple is often better. My favorite is #11. I used to have my kids draw pictures and then tell me the story that goes with them. I used to let my kids play with shaving cream on a plastic table outside. That used to keep them occupied for a while. This is a great list!

    [Reply]

  12. Mary Johnson

    06/10/2014

    You have great open ended activities. I am an early childhood educator and strongly believe in simple activities to keep young ones busy. You may want to try keeping plastic jars (old ketchup bottles, shampoo bottles) etc for Nora to fill and pour. Also plastic lids from milk, juice cartons can keep children busy……sorting by color and size, stacking, lining up, counting, scooping out of water and into another larger container with ladles, slotted spoons etc. I also love giving children large paint brushes and buckets to water paint, but also small empty yogurt containers with a small brush enables children to use the smaller muscles in their hands. Also washing socks in a bucket of soapy water (I used doll clothes when my girls were small) and providing a small low clothesline with clothes pins kept my girls busy for many an afternoon!

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  13. Mrs. W

    06/10/2014

    Coloring rocks or making rock animals is always fun way to keep children busy for a little while.

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  14. Rhonda High

    06/10/2014

    Motherhood – your doing it right. 🙂

    [Reply]

  15. CJ

    06/10/2014

    Coloring is always an easy way for my children to entertain themselves – crayons, markers, sidewalk chalk…. My children will create stories/books to go along with their illustrations. Easy way to keep them entertained if I am in the middle of making dinner. My youngest will ask me how to spell words as she is “working” on her “book” (as she likes to put it), so it’s kind of cute how they are learning while being creative and having fun. It just seems like coloring and play dough are two things that never seem to get old in our home.

    [Reply]

  16. Jessica

    06/10/2014

    All awesome ideas! I especially love the scavenger hunt.

    One thing I would mention about #12–baths are lots of fun, but only with an adult in the room until at least early elementary school. Kids can drown (silently) in 3 minutes or less in an inch or less of water.

    [Reply]

  17. Karyn

    06/10/2014

    I love your simple, yet effective ideas! One “game” we have used a lot is “walk to the tree like a chicken, and fly back”. Or “Crawl there and jump like a frog back”. This has worked wonders for while we’re at the park watching older brother’s baseball games, etc. The combinations of walking, crawling, flying, jumping, … are endless, and our little ones would do this for hours! Thanks for your fantastic ideas!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow, this is a great idea too. We try really hard to wear Nora out each day so that she goes to bed at a decent hour. We’ll definitely be playing this game sometime later this week!

    [Reply]

  18. Siobhan

    06/10/2014

    Love this! Thank you! I sometimes give my kids my husbands old or unmatched socks and they run around the house dusting with them on their hands. They think it’s hysterical to clean with daddy’s socks. They also love spray bottles and play outside with them. Going to try the lunch with one food color this week. Thanks again for the simple, fun, and realistic ideas 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Siobhan — I love the sock dusting idea. I’m SURE Nora would get a kick out of that and Dave is always getting holes in his socks so we usually have a few “unmatched” socks left over.

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  19. Debbie W.

    06/10/2014

    Great tips! I’ve done some of these, but I hadn’t thought of others (like the scavenger hunt!). Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]

  20. Miranda

    06/10/2014

    Thank you for being honest and just saying that a lot of those Pinterest inspired crafts and activities are not as grand as they seem. I’ve found that the ones have tried involved about 20 or 30 minutes of planning and prep and mildly entertained my boys for 5 minutes before leaving a big mess! I know this was not the main point of the post but I’m glad you keep it real.

    [Reply]

  21. lydia @ five4fivemeals

    06/10/2014

    That sorting is really great for building math skills. Second thought… I bet you knew that. Doesn’t Dave teach math?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes Lydia, Dave is a math teacher — and my mom is a music teacher so we have lots of “learning games” around our house!

    [Reply]

  22. Julie

    06/10/2014

    My parent’s have a gravel driveway and i can’t tell you how many hours our daughters spend just sorting through the various rocks. Many times the rocks become characters and they’ll create a whole story around them. I love it! (Obviously, we stay close-by and it’s a section of driveway that doesn’t see much use.)

    The other thing that kept them busy in the car one day was playing “who has the stinkier feet?” Trust me, they also came up with this activity all on their own. But hey, it kept ’em laughing and not asking “are we there yet?” over and over again.

    Oh, and i can’t forget making fairy houses! They pick up leaves, rocks and twigs from around the lawn and create little villages.

    [Reply]

  23. Leigh

    06/10/2014

    I second the water painting. My preschoolers love it.
    Another one is a water table or just a plastic storage bin filled with dish soap and water. They can wash outside things, play with the. Bubbles and generally get happily soaked.

    Another mine love is all things playing with blankets. Mine particularly like making nests.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Ha! Nora always makes “nests” and “beds” with the livingroom throw blankets! It’s funny because she love to pretend to sleep and take naps but in real life, she’s a horrible sleeper.

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    Jennifer Reply:

    Oh my goodness! My son, too! He always wants to play a sleep game and I only WISH! Seriously though, when I want to get something done outside we play I spy (or I hear or smell), but I didn’t think about making it into a scavenger hunt. Great idea!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Nora LOOOOOOOOVES the scavenger hunts!! I’m guessing your son will too 🙂

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Reply:

    He did today!

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  24. Tracey

    06/10/2014

    These are all great! Love the simplicity of using everyday stuff.

    My son and daughter (now 13 and 11) used to love to do a lot of the same things!

    One more idea to add, that my son REALLY loved, was water painting outside. I’d give him a sand pail with water in it and a paintbrush to “paint” things outside. The water changes the color of things a bit, so they can sase what they “painted”. He painted the back of our house many, many times when he was about Nora’s age!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, good idea with the water painting. We do some of this when the hose is running — basically ANYTHING with water is fun for Nora!

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