There are lots of things that you can do with small children to keep them busy. A more challenging task is thinking of ways to keep kids independently occupied during those moments when you must divide your attention.
Below are some alternatives to plopping a child down in front of a screen. Use these ideas as a springboard for brainstorming activities that will fit your child’s interests, age and developmental needs. Don’t underestimate a simple activity! You’d be surprised how much time a small child will spend doing something like dropping coins into a slotted box or sharpening pencils.
Once you identify your favorites, collect supplies (perhaps organized into large zipper pouches or bags) and keep them stashed away in a box or cabinet to grab when you need a few minutes to work.
1. Collect small padlocks like the ones you might find on your luggage or on journals, and put them in a box along with the keys. Let kids match the keys and locks. If you have lockable containers, that can add interest.
2. Give your child a bag of magnets and a metal cake pan.
3. Provide a pencil sharpener and a box of new pencils.
4. Let kids sort a bag of 12 bean soup into an egg carton.
5. Provide a box of bandaids and a few stuffed animals or dolls to doctor.
6. Give your child play dough and a variety of cookie cutters and safe kitchen utensils.
7. A bag of ooblek to play with inside of a cake pan can occupy kids for a long time. See instructions for making ooblek at Science Cafe. http://sciencecafe.org/content/how-to-make-oobleck/
8. Use glow sticks in a dark room, tent, playhouse or appliance box. Freeze them before they stop glowing and use them again later.
9. Let children match lids and containers from the kitchen cabinet.
10. Allow your child to sit in the (dry) bathtub with a pan of soapy water and items like bubble wands, slotted spoons and strainers to experiment with bubbles.
11. Four leaf clover hunt!
12. Hide pennies or other items around the house or yard for kids to find. Remember how many you hid so that you know when the hunt is over.
13. Decorate a window or glass door with washable glass markers. http://www.crayola.com/crafts/detail/design-your-view-craft/
14. Fill clear containers with colored water and let kids sit in the grass and mix them with a dropper or spoon.
15. In a dry bathtub, provide shaving cream, foam soap or tub paint.
16. Have kids use a crayon sharpener to shred old crayons. Save the shavings for crafts to do together later.
17. A box full of pipe cleaners and wooden beads provides entertainment for a long time.
18. A stack of old magazines and some safety scissors to cut out interesting images (perhaps for a collage) is a fun activity.
19. A cardboard box (the bigger, the better) and a pack of magic markers.
20. Use books to create steps for a Slinky.
21. Set up the sprinkler!
22. Stack dominoes.