20 Easy Play Ideas for Kids (Whether You Have 5, 15 or 30 Minutes)
We get it. You’re juggling work and homeschooling, not to mention cooking every. single. night. But don’t forget, giving your kids your undivided attention is important because they’re probably feeling just as overwhelmed as you are, and the connection you’ll make is important to help them with any anxiety they may be feeling. Whether you’ve got five minutes or 30, here’s a list of crafts, experiments and activities that will ensure that every minute counts. Read on for ideas you and the kiddos will love.
A Fast 5 Minutes
Got a quick slot to fill before a virtual class? How about a small gap between schoolwork and sitting down for dinner? Parent like a pro with these little-to-no-prep basics you can use just about anywhere.
1. Tickle your sidekick’s funny bone. Whip out brain busters or riddles that will make them laugh. Luckily you don’t need Comedy Central writers for this one. We think your goofballs will get a kick out of our ultimate list of jokes for kids.
2. A few rounds of “We’re going on a picnic” alphabet style will entertain the tot lot. The first player up says, “I’m going on a picnic,” then adds a tasty packable to the phrase, like an apple, apricot or avocado. Stick with ABC-order, or focus on just one letter for each round.
3. Play 20 questions. Have your kids guess what you're thinking of, and keep it simple, like something you can see from where you're standing.
4. Play a classic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors—Japanese style. It’s called Janken. Start by saying “saisho wa guu.” Then “janken pon” as you pump, before throwing on “pon.” The winning combos are still the same in this timeless, quick game you can play at home or on the go.
5. Turn yourself into a living “spot the difference” puzzle. Start with a slow model turn, then disappear and make a quick change out of sight. When you come back, your cutie’s got to spot what’s different. Did you take off a cap? Put on a scarf? Untie a shoe? Keep it easy for the tots, kick it up a notch for older kiddos (only one earring!). Then let them have a turn trying to stump you.
6. Try out a sequencing game when the wanderlust takes hold. Name a person, place and object, all starting with the same letter of the alphabet, then string them together like kids lining up for the school bus. “Alice from Australia loves alligators!” See how far you can get in a short amount of time.
15-Minute Mini Games
When the kidlets have 15 minutes to spare before heading up to bed or while you’re busy unloading groceries, pull out mini activities that strike that just-right balance between being way too fun and not entertaining enough.
7. Curl up with a good book. Putting out a basket of books in a central location motivates the kids to take a look through the pages when they’ve got time to spare. Add in a sweet bookmark that keeps track of time to really make it count.
8. Give them their daily feels. Keep your favorite sensory bin fillers on hand (like cotton balls and dry beans), along with trinkets to bury and cups for spilling and filling. When you’ve got a short window, pull out the bin, fill ‘er up and watch your mini-me dig and drizzle until it’s time to go.
9. Set up a quick cotton ball and straw race. Perfect for the kitchen table before lunch is served. Have siblings challenge each other for the pole position on a straightaway down the center of the table, or set up a simple obstacle course using cups that the kiddos have to work around. Ready, set, go before you go!
10. Give a penny for their thoughts when they write in a journal. Setting aside a short amount of time to write (each day!) is a great way to encourage your amateur author’s creativity. Use silly or thought-provoking prompts to get them thinking, like, “The first time I tried ...” or “When I get to be principal, I’ll …” or even “The craziest thing that happened today…” Write on, brother!
11. Give up the charade. Have your little monkey stay in character when you play a quick game of animal charades. No prep necessary for this easy guessing game. Just pick your favorite animal and go for it! With each successful guess, trade places and start again. Ee-i-ee-i-o!
Half Hour of Power
Whether your aim is active play time or quiet(er) crafting time, filling a cool 30 minutes with your kids is easier than you think. It may take a bit of planning, but once the prep is done, it’s a sit back and relax situation that’s well worth the time upfront.
12. All things LEGO. If LEGO was the first thing that popped into your head, then we’re right there with you. They’re the forever fall back for a reason, but to hit that half an hour sweet spot, try throwing a LEGO challenge into the mix: building a car that can also work underwater, or constructing a tower that’s at least 24 inches tall. Then let your budding master-builder go to work.
13. Spin them right round. Ana at Babble Dabble Do has a fabulously new way to play with Perler beads. She puts them to work teaching science and playing tricks when these melted beauties become spinning tops. It’s just the right amount of make-and-play to fill a brief window in your busy day.
14. One for the movers and shakers. Print out (and laminate them if you’re feeling bold) The Alerting Activity Game, designed by Training Happy Hearts. Keep the deck on hand to stack the odds in your favor when the kids need something to do. With simple activities like “jump up and down ten times” or “pretend to be a volcano,” it’s packed with energy-burning activities that kids can run through on their own or with you!
15. Bring the outside in and paint it. If snow isn't covering your yard, go for a hunt for leaves, evergreen boughs and sticks. Then take your findings to the craft table to fancy them up with paint. Acrylics work great for this natural wonder.
For activities that span the hour, the two-step Make & Play approach works well. Divide and conquer between the steps, spreading the activity out over a day or two, or rally your mini-maker to do it all in one shot, when there’s ample time to spare.
16. Create a catapult. Little Bins for Little Hands has an awesome tutorial, using craft sticks and other office supplies you’re sure to have around the house. Once it’s built, set up target practice plates before letting the marshmallows fly.
17. Put on a show. Puppets never get old; they’re so easy to make with an old sock, brown paper lunch bag or even familiar characters glued to craft sticks. Whatever method you choose, spend time creating and playing with puppets when you’ve got an hour or more to spare. Be sure to stock the craft bin with all kinds of googly eyes, buttons, yarn and doo-dads to help bring the puppets to life. Then find an old sheet or use baby’s blanket draped over the table to create a stage. Bravo!
18. Blind them with simple science experiments. We’ve got enough to get you through a week and then some—41 in all. Try these simple experiments with your little learner to keep the good times rolling… or boiling … or bubbling over.
19. Make festive gingerbread playdough pressings. Take your Little for a walk around the garden or ‘hood to find interesting leaves or pinecones. They make inspired patterns and delicate designs when you press them into handmade gingerbread playdough. Remember to use cookie cutters to press out shapes before the wee ones dig into designing.
20. Set up a pretend play world. From grocery stores to office, we've rounded up a ton of fun ideas that'll keep the kids busy for well over an hour.
— Allison Sutcliffe
Feature photo: Caleb Woods via Unsplash