We all know, when it comes to raising kids, the years are short but the days can be all so long. If you’re having one of those days where you’re stuck inside and counting down the hours until bedtime, take a look at our list of no prep activities to help add a bit of fun into the passing hours.
So, this isn’t a post that I thought I’d be writing outside the darkest depths of winter but it’s been a rough few weeks here. Three new schools between the two children, a cough and cold, husband away on business, humid afternoons, stormy nights and long wet weekends have left us tired and bored – a poor combination.
In an attempt at stopping the squabbles and whining I’ve been scrapping the bottom of my last resort list. I’ve pulled out all the sanity saving activities which I’ve begged, borrowed and scrabbled together over the years home alone (or worse, not home but in a rented barely furnish apartment) with preschoolers. If you too find yourself at a loss on how to fill their time I hope some of these these might help you out…
Top Ten No Prep Activities for Young Children
1 – Fill the sink!
This one has never failed me. Fill a sink, any sink – bathroom, kitchen, whatever – stick a footstool next to it and give them something to play with. I mix it up depending on what I have to hand; scoops, spoons, a whisk, beakers, bath toys, non-bath toys that happen to be waterproof. The delight at playing with this normally utilitarian device has always kept them happy for ages.
2 – Have a Indoor Movie Picnic!
We always eat our meals at a table and the boys normally tend towards watching shorter shows rather than movies but they love it when I break all the rules and we eat on the floor in front of a film … and when it’s not even TV time (gasp)! I simply throw a blanket on the floor, hope that I wasn’t planning spaghetti and meatballs – that lunch or dinner is something easy to eat – and let them choose a movie. It’s been a good way of increasing their attention span for longer viewing too.
3 – Build a Fort
Something of a classic, I know, but again it’s not actually something we do that often. It’s so much fun for them to pull the cushions off of sofas or hang blankets off the dining room chairs. It takes no preparation and you can make the activity new by changing location, materials, and what you do in the fort each time. Over the years we’ve had reading forts, flashlight fun, board game dens, dino time machines, new homes, imaginary camp outs and no doubt dozens more that I’ve forgotten about. Which reminds me…I still need to master that air fort!
4 – Go Wrinkly in the Bath!
Luckily all the children I know love a good play in the tub. When I’ve truly run out of things to do I have been known on occasion to simply run the bath and let them play until the water is cold and they are distinctly wrinkly! If a long bath isn’t going to cut it try making it extra special by adding one or two of the following: glow sticks, a bit of food color, colored bubble bath or bath crayons or some kitchen utensils – like a whisk (egg beaters).
This of course has the added bonus of leaving you with clean kids who are all ready for bed. You just have to keep them that way until it’s time!
5 – Let Them Cook Up a Storm
If you have enough supplies in the panty getting children busy in the kitchen is a productive way of filling time. I can normally pull together enough ingredients to bake cookies or rice crispy cakes or a fun snack. Even making their own sandwiches can be fun – try letting them use cookie cutters as a treat to create different shapes.
Recently, I’ve been trying to teach Big Brother useful meal making skills. Cooking meals for the family has been a challenge for him but it’s been great for his confidence when he actually makes something we can all eat. I’d highly recommend these two cookbooks – the first ‘Cooking Class’ by Danna F Cook (UK) has super simple, photographed, step by step instructions children can easily follow. The second, ‘The Ultimate Kids’ Cookbook’ by Tiffany Dahle (UK) takes on a more collaborate approach, breaking down how you can work as a team to make the family meal -all in one pot too!
6- Have a Reading Marathon
Reading isn’t just for bedtime! While I sometimes think I’m going to go stir crazy from reading the same books over and over again to my youngest, it is lovely to indulge him with a marathon story session. Let the kids gather up their favorite reading materials and snuggle up together on the sofa (possibly with a hot chocolate if you’re inclined) and read for as long as they want. I love this even more when we progressed to chapter books and we can really get lost in another world for the afternoon.
7- Take a Leaf Out of Their Favorite Book
A book can be a great source of quick activity inspiration. When the storyline of what we have been reading allows I try to let them do some of the activities their favorite characters love. Last week we were obsessed with ‘Pete the Cat: A Pet for Pete‘ by James Dean (UK) where Pete gets a goldfish and then makes dozens of paintings of Goldie. Little Brother was thrilled to get his paints out and fill in the simple crayon outline I gave him. ‘Hide and Seek Pig‘ By Julia Donaldson (UK) was popular here and obviously easy to copy, ‘Stanley’s Stick‘ by John Hegley (UK) provided more outdoor fun. It’s just a case of looking at what they are into at the given time.
If the story doesn’t lend itself to copying the activities, you could let them try coloring or completing your sketch (it doesn’t need to be perfect!) of their favorite character. Or even have a go at making art in the style of the book’s illustrator, there’s lots of examples and ideas online for Eric Carle books and other famous works.
8- Give Them a Cardboard Box
As cliched as it sounds, it works! I always try to save cardboard boxes for the children. Sometimes we make a project together decorating the box as a car, boat, plane, submarine, rocket or whatever, other times we tip the crayons into the box with the kids and let them draw until their heart’s content on the walls inside. But often they simply want to play with the box. Hours can pass with them pushing each other around in or tipping each other out of the box. Half the time I’ve no clue what the game is but as long as they are happy (and safe) it’s all good!
9- Make Homemade Playdough Together
Homemade playdough might sound like a high prep activity but it really is quick and easy to make. There’s added fun in making the dough together – take a look at these simple instructions and play ideas. By involving the children in the making process and letting them pick the colors and/or mix ins they normally have a whole bunch of ideas in their heads and are eager to play before you’ve even finished the process!
10 – Dig into the Rainy Day Box
I’m not sure if anyone else does this but I keep a box in my closet for emergencies. Not the tornado supplies – they’re in the basement – but boxed activities I can pull out when we have truly run out of other options or I simply didn’t know we’d be home; like when you’ve a sick child home form school. The children don’t know about it. They don’t get to pick from it. It’s my arsenal for rescuing a potentially difficult day.
The rainy day box has all sorts of items picked up on the cheap from Target’s Dollar Spot, Dollar Tree, Walgreen’s sale rack and online sales. Basically whenever I see a game, craft, toy or puzzle that looks like fun but costs little I grab it and stash it. At the moment I have two wooden vehicle kits (UK), a Crayola Gel Cling Maker (UK), a jigsaw of the 50 States, a Kiwi Crate for each age group (click the link for a $10 first timers’ discount) and a mini Lego set. I also have 2 rolls of road tape for toy cars (UK), a paint by numbers and a some Shrink Art (UK).
I’ve not dug into the box yet this month – I’m trying to hold out for winter!
Other things we might have tried in desperate moments might have included obstacle races over the furniture, dance parties to cbeebies theme tunes, space hopper races around the basement and building with dried pasta… but I’m not vouching for the results! What are your go to activities in times of no-prep need?
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