As someone who works from home with two small children, I can tell you that the TV-struggle is real, and I know you don’t need to be a work-from-home/stay-at-home parent to realize that it’s a struggle indeed. Screen time overload is an easy trap to fall into. You have a meeting to hop on to or prepare for, you need to cook dinner, you need to make a couple phone calls, you need to do a million other things and your kids are on summer break. It’s easy to use the TV or tablet for “just 15 minutes.” How often do those 15 minutes turn into an hour? In the blink of an eye!
I’ve really made a serious effort to squash and conquer the screen-time demon. Some days are amazing. Everyone is happy and playing and smiling…I’m still getting work done and still finding time to play with them instead of pulling my hair out with mommy-guilt. Other days, though, if Netflix asks me if my kids are still watching one more time, I come close to throwing my laptop through the TV. (Then how would you get wonderfully curated lists?!?)
All that being said, I’ve put together this list for you based on past personal experience along with new-to-me ideas I plan to try out this week and when they get a bit older.
Are you ready to see how you can spark imagination and keep them busy without feeling guilty (or throwing your laptop at the TV)? I’ve got you covered! Here are 25 Guilt-Free “Busy” Activities Your Kids Can Do Besides TV.
Shaving cream table
This is a fun sensory activity that will clean your table at the same time. Set up is simple, too; all you need to do is put a generous plop of shaving cream in front of your kid(s) and let them go to town “painting.” It’s great sensory play, too. You might just want to throw down some towels under the table in case the mess spills over. For clean up, just wipe your table down a few times.
Number & letter matching
At first, you’ll need to demonstrate, but once your child(ren) know the basics, they can practice for a good 10-15 minutes. Divide your paper into boxes and in each box, put one letter or number. Using stickers, kids match the letters and numbers. Next time you see number and letter stickers on sale or in the dollar section, make sure to snatch them up!
This is perfect for our little-Littles. Take a couple Ziploc bags and fill them with differently shaped and colored objects. Seal the bags with duct-tape and lay them in front of your baby. This is a good tummy-time activity.
Rainbow dot lineup
With different colors, draw a rainbow and have your kid(s) use those colored dots to line them up on your drawing. You can also switch it up a bit by having them “trace” their names or other pictures. Peeling off stickers is a great motor skill activity. This picture shows the paper on the wall, but you can also do it at the table.
Pipe cleaners and cut up straw pieces in a mess-containing bin. Put the bin in front of them and let them go to town. It’s that easy, and the Littles will love it.
Here’s a similar activity that’s arguably much cuter, but might take a bit more prep time. Create a “tree” of sorts out of pipe cleaners, secure it to the bottom of a bin, and dump random buttons in the bin as well. Your kids will have fun practicing their motor skills and stretching their creativity by putting the buttons on their tree.
Do you have any empty parmesan cheese containers? The ones with the holes on the top? Perfect. Make sure it’s cleaned out and give you young ones the empty container and q-tips. The goal is to put all the q-tips into the container through the holes.
This activity looks like a lot of fun for all ages. Blow up a balloon and give your kids a fly swatter to bump it around. Make it more challenging for the older kids by setting up goals and creating teams.
Color matching printables
Those lids!! Argh! Well now we have something we can do with them! These printable patterns are pretty fun to practice color and pattern matching.
You can’t visit a mommy-page without hearing about sensory bins. They are for sure all the rage! If you’re looking for a simple idea for your own, try setting up bins by color. I like this idea of the corn kernels and other yellow things.
The next time a fairly large box is delivered to your house, be sure to keep the box. The next time your son or daughter needs some time to chill or you need some time to have a quiet time of your own, take out the box, insert child, insert crayons and ta-da! Everyone is happy. It’s a lot cheeper than whatever toy was in the box originally, too. When this activity is over, you can flip it over, cut out a door and your Little now has a play house.
Golf tee hammering
If you have smaller boxes around (thanks, Amazon!) and you have a toy hammer, insert golf tees into small holes on the box and let your DD/DS hammer the golf tees all the way in.
Make kindness cards
This one is mainly for older kids, but it could totally be adapted to younger ages with some help from you. Who do you know that could use a note of encouragement? We all know someone, and quiet time is a perfect time to have your kid(s) create cards with love. If they live close by, it’s a perfect excuse to walk the card over, too.
"I spy" with a clipboard or sticky notes
Here’s another activity for older kiddos. Have them go around the house looking for specific things. For example, have them write down the name of all items they see that are blue or all items that start with the letter “B.” Make it more challenging by having them write down the names of blue items that start with the letter “B.” You can even offer a prize for whoever writes down the most items.
Draw what you want to do/favorite thing
Ask your son or daughter to draw what they would like to do over the weekend or what their favorite thing is. This not only allows you a few moments of quiet time, it also is a great conversation starter once they show you what activity they drew.
Create a song & dance to perform after dinner
This activity is great because it forces your kid(s) to use their creativity all while you get a few moments to fix dinner or get a few moments of work in. Have them create a song and dance routine that they will perform for after dinner entertainment. You never know, you might have the next big talent in your home and not even know it!
So…I thought this one was pretty clever. Place small elastic bands in a bowl of water and have your kid fish them out with a straw or stick. It may not seem that creative, but I can just imagine those motor skills working in overdrive. Genius.
Play dough mats
God bless these people that give us free printables. I really like these because they give fresh play to standard play dough. It may take a bit more effort on the front end though, as you’ll really want to get these laminated before play.
Foil wrapped toys
Here’s another, “Oh, why didn’t I think of that?!?” kind of activity. Take a few of their toys, wrap them in foil, and have them unwrap them. It helps with motor skills and is like having them open a surprise all over again.
For this one, take 5 or 6 socks and hide a different object in each sock. Have your kiddos feel around and see if they can guess the object correctly without looking.
Dry erase curtains
Did you know you can use dry erase markers on clear plastic shower curtains? I didn’t, either, but apparently you can! Or rather, your kid(s) can. Tape down a plastic shower liner and set out some dry erase markers. It won’t come off on their dry clothes, but it will come off with a wet rag.
Give them a box
Remember last Christmas when you bought that $100 item for your precious child, and s/he proceeded to play with the box instead of the toy?
Serious…give them a box. That’s it…just a box. You might be surprised at how long they’ll quietly play with it.
I have to say that this probably works wonders. Last week I had a pile of clean towels on the couch and it kept my kids busy for quite a while. Instead of giving them a box or your laundry, throw a big pile of pillows in the middle of their play area and let them go to town.
Find it jars
Fill an empty and clear plastic jar with small toys (cars, blocks, mini-figurines…) and then fill it with sand. After you seal the top, have them write down as many items as they can find by shaking the jar around to find the objects in the sand. If you don’t have sand, you could also use something like dried beans.
This one is great as long as you don’t mind your kids eating a bit of sugar. It’s good for a “treat day.” All you need are marshmallows and toothpicks. Have them put together a tower or building out of their “building materials,” hopefully before they eat them all.