Teaching and learning

10 Activities to Keep the Little Ones Busy as You Fix Supper

Need 30 minutes to yourself while you’re stuck at home?
April 2, 2020
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What's in this article?

  • Being at home with your children is a great time to connect, play, and learn together. Yet questions like how  to keep the little ones busy as you put dinner together, or respond to that urgent email are always a challenge. If you need 30 minutes to yourself, we’ve got 10 simple activities for kids at home to get yourself a bit of focus time.
Activities for kids at home: Busy book

1. Get a busy book

Ideal for age 0-3 years
Source: Pinterest

*In a nutshell *
A busy book is an age-appropriate book of activities aimed at younger children. You could also create one yourself using brightly coloured felt as well as other items, like shoe strings and buttons.

How it keeps them busy
Have you ever noticed how engaged little ones are with the simplest of items, which are not intended to be toys? Something like a small string or even a zip can keep their minds engaged as they explore the colours and the textures. A busy book (sometimes called a quiet book) is a page-through experience they can enjoy sitting in a high-chair while you put a meal together.

2. Create a sensory bin with straws and cotton swabs

Ideal for ages 0-3
Source: Simple fun for kids

In a nutshell
When you’re busy, you need to set up an activity that’s super easy so you’re not spending more time creating the activity than you need to yourself. This sensory activity engages the attention of the youngest members of the family, giving you the space to get some of your own work done.

What you will need:

  • A handful of straws, bonus points if you have brightly coloured ones.
  • A handful of cotton swabs.
  • A small sensory bin, container, or box.

How it keeps them busy
Present your little one with the sensory bin with the straws and cotton swabs inside. This activity offers two different sensory experiences, with the straws’ long form and plastic texture, the soft cotton swabs. There’s minimal set up and it’s mess-free. This is one of many sensory activities you can set up.

3. Laundry hamper fishing

Ideal for ages 2-6
Source: Play Teach Repeat

In a nutshell
It takes two minutes to set up and it can buy you a good hour, sometimes a little more. The best part? It’s mess-free and reasonably quiet, enabling you to concentrate and get productive. Lus, the children really love it.

What you will need:

  • Laundry hamper.
  • Kitchen tongs.
  • Fish toys.
  • Blue blanket.

How it keeps them busy
The children pretend that the laundry hamper is a boat. Equipped with the kitchen tongs, they have to pluck the toy fish off the floor around them. If you don’t have toy fish, cut some out of paper or use other toys as a substitute. This activity exercises those fine motor skills and hand-eye-coordination in a way that is engaging and fun.

4. The parking lot number game

Ideal for ages 2-6
Source: Inspired Mama

In a nutshell
This number-matching activity builds some number literacy in older children, and basic recognition in younger children.

What you need:

  • A shallow cardboard box.
  • A marker or pen.
  • Plain stickers or pieces of paper.
  • Sticky tape.
  • Small toy cars.

How it keeps them busy
Create little parking spaces around the perimeter of the box (along the inside) with the marker pen. Label each car with a corresponding number. Children can then correctly pair the numbered parking place with its corresponding car. Adapt the activity for those younger than 4 by replacing the number with a colour, so they can match the car with the correct parking space using colours instead of numbers.

5. No mess tissue paper fun

Ideal for ages 1-3
Source: Teaching 2 and 3 year olds

In a nutshell
This activity was created by a teacher who understands that toddlers simply aren’t wired to self-amuse or wait patiently. When you need to catch a break, this simple activity can buy you at least 20 minutes.

What you need:

  • Contact paper.
  • Tissue paper shapes.

How it keeps them busy
Have your little one seated at a desk or a counter — any flat surface will do. The sticky contact paper should be on the flat surface, taped down but sticky side up. Provide a container of tissue paper cutouts, they don’t have to be circles or squares, they can be any shapes. Once you demonstrate how the tissue paper will adhere to the sticky contact paper, your little one will get going. When you’re done, you can stick the artwork to your child’s bedroom window.

6. Hidden toys box

Ideal for ages 12-18 months
Source: Busy Toddler

In a nutshell
At this age, when an item is out of sight, the child perceives that it no longer exists. That’s why they love games like a peekaboo. This activity draws on that concept, but enables the child to take charge of the situation.

What you need:

  • Tissue box.
  • Toys that fit in the box.

How it keeps them busy
Place the toys inside the tissue box. Demonstrate to your little one how you can reach in, grip something with your hands, and retrieve it. Next, demonstrate how you can put it into the box again. Leave your little one to explore this phenomena while you get busy with your own tasks.

7. A dry bath

Ideal for ages 1-4
Source: Busy toddler

In a nutshell
Have you ever noticed that bathtime makes for great playtime? There’s water, lots of toys, and a safe and confined space. You can enjoy all of this without the risk by setting up a dry bath playtime activity for your little ones.

What you need:

  • An empty bathtub (you can also use a movable plastic tub if you want to keep your little one near you).
  • Toys (especially bath toys).

How it keeps them busy
Add the toys to the tub and invite your little to one to get in. You can introduce toys that are typically bath toys, like little cars. One of the benefits of an empty tub is the opportunity to play with toys that have wheels.

8. Crepe paper obstacle course

Ideal for ages 4 and up
Source: Hello wonderful

In a nutshell
It’s challenging, it requires flexibility and tenacity, and it frees up time for mom and dad. A crepe paper obstacle course takes a few minutes to set up but it will keep your children engaged for up to an hour.

What you need:

  • Crepe paper.
  • A passageway in the house.
  • Some form of temporary adhesive.

How it keeps them busy
Secure the ends of the crepe paper to the walls in a zig-zag pattern. If you are entertaining more than one child, give each child their own obstacle course. The children can pretend the crepe paper is hot, and they have to get through the obstacle course without breaking (or touching) the crepe paper. You could also get more miles out of this activity by inviting your children to expand the obstacle course through the house.

9. Line the cars

Ideal for ages 3 and up
Source: Hello wonderful

In a nutshell
Lining up items can be very entertaining for younger children.This activity invites the little ones to place cars, dinosaurs, cups, or even cutlery like forks or spoons on a line.

What you need:

  • Coloured tape.
  • Toys like cars, dinosaurs, farm animals or any other items that can be lined up on the tape .

How it keeps them busy
Stick the tape to the floor in a pattern. It can be in square shapes or in zig-zags — anything you feel easily fits with the space you have available. Show the children how to place the toys on the line, creating a solid pattern of cars or dinosaurs. As they get the hang of it, you can extend this line through the house.

10. Paper cup stacking

Ideal for ages 2 and up
Source: Hello wonderful

In a nutshell
Is it more fun to build a tower, or watch it come crashing down? Let your little one decide with this activity. It only requires you to demonstrate once or twice and then, your toddler will take over.

What you need:

  • Paper cups.
  • Floor space.

How it keeps them busy
Get down onto the floor with your little one and lay out the first line of cups to create a tower. Demonstrate how to place them on top of each other, and explain that you’re building a tower. Cheer when everything comes crashing down to prevent tears and disappointment. Challenge your toddler to build a higher tower than you did, then take some time to yourself as they get engaged.

The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

Learn more about Famly

Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.