Many parents are looking for ways to keep their kids happily engaged without a screen. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think we have constantly set up things for our kids to do. Kids are masters at play and there’s so much magic in allowing them the time and space to put their imaginations and creativity to work. That time to just be and figure it out and enjoy is important. That being said, planned activities can be really valuable. They often bring kids together, serve as a reset, break up the day, secretly foster development—and they’re also really fun!
My idea of a massive win? When activities are engaging for kids of multiple ages, AND they’re simple to set up! These activities appeal to kids of a range of ages and won’t take long to set up… Bonus? No screens required!
Create a Life-Sized Self Portrait
A classic and oh so fun! Kids love creating art on a massive scale and if you hang onto the piece when done, you’ve got a precious snapshot in time—don’t forget to write the year on the back! For this project, simply roll out a long strip of paper, trace your child, and then invite them to fill in the details with a pencil before painting the entire thing. Once the paint is dry, cut the portrait out and display it on a wall or their bedroom door.
Explore Fizzy Eruptions
One of my all-time favourite activities for kids, not only is this incredibly simple to set up, it requires only a few basic household materials. It doesn’t matter if the kiddos are 2 or 10 years old, they truly enjoy making colourful eruptions using vinegar and baking soda. Simply cover the bottom of a plate with baking soda, add some colouring to little pots of vinegar, and give your kiddo a medicine dropper, syringe, or pipette. As they squeeze the coloured vinegar onto the baking soda, they’ll make really cool fizzy eruptions that leave the most beautiful cratered pattern in the baking soda. When this activity appears to be done, pour off the excess vinegar, add a sprinkling of fresh baking soda on top of the old, and invite the kids to go for round two!
Do Some Large-scale Art
This might be the simplest of all the activities, but kids love it. There’s something really fun and special about a big drawing or painting surface! Cover the floor or table with roll paper and set out some interesting art supplies—chunky block crayons, bingo dabbers, paint and brushes, washi tape, and dot stickers. Then let the kiddos at it! Sometimes I like to draw some quick picture frames on the roll paper to create designated drawing areas and sometimes I leave it blank. Switch it up to keep the activity fun and fresh. Also, if you have the space, do keep this set-up out for more than one day—the kids will inevitably come back to it.
Make Homemade Squishy Soap
One of our very favourite play recipes! Picture play dough that can be moulded, shaped, and squished, that’s also soap that can actually be used! It only requires four ingredients and the process is so easy that kids can easily make their own. While older kids aren’t always into play dough, I find they love making their own squishy soap because they’re left with something they can use afterward. To make it, simply mix up a 1/2 cup of cornstarch, 2 tablespoons of pure liquid castile soap, 4 teaspoons of sweet almond oil, and a little colouring if desired. When the dough comes together, take it out of the bowl and give it a good knead. If it seems too dry, add a little sweet almond oil, and if it seems too wet, add a little cornstarch. Use it to wash by taking off a little pinch and rubbing it between wet hands.
Try Magic Mystery Painting
Part art, part science! The mystery and magic of this activity draws in kiddos of all ages, and it’s easy enough for even the littlest artists to participate in. Before inviting your kids to play, use a white pastel or crayon to draw or write on white paper. When the mystery doodles are ready, give your kids paintbrushes and pots of watercolour paint and let the magic unfold! The pastel or crayon will repel the paint and the mystery images will be revealed. Afterwards the kids can try the whole process themselves!
Have a Spa Bath
The ultimate activity when your child needs some down time, pampering, or calm in their lives! Fill a tub with bubbly warm water, set out a few little containers with different bath products, and be sure to include a little snack and a fancy drink. Add a little calming music, dim the lights, and invite them to soak. Perfect any time of the day and not just before bedtime!
Try a Frozen Toy Rescue
This activity requires a little prep time because it has to freeze overnight, but it’s worth the effort in my opinion. Frozen toy rescues can easily be adapted to meet the interests of almost any kiddo, so if yours loves LEGO, create a LEGO rescue! Or if they’re ocean lovers, create a frozen ocean animal rescue! Or if they love vehicles, create an icy truck rescue! Simply fill a freezer-safe bowl full of toys, add water until the toys are covered, and freeze! Once your ice block is frozen through, take it out of the bowl and give your child some warm water, salt, and tools. Rescuing the frozen toys requires some serious persistence and focus, both of which are great skills to develop!
Start a Giant Sticky Wall Collage
Have you set up a sticky wall for your kids before? If you haven’t, you must! The only specialty item you’ll need is contact paper, available at office supply stores and dollar stores. It does take a bit of setup, but once up, it’ll last at least a week or two! Use painter’s tape to secure contact paper to a wall, sticky side out. Next, set out a tray of crafty bits nearby and invite your kids to create their masterpiece. Keep this activity going day after day by adding to and swapping out the bits and bobs. New materials will keep your kids interested and coming back for more.
Jen Kossowan is a kindergarten and grade one teacher and mama of two gorgeous kiddos. She’s passionate about play, loves a good DIY project, and can most often be found in her kitchen whipping up recipes that taste delicious while meeting her crunchy mama criteria. She started Mama.Papa.Bubba. on a whim in 2010 while living in the Middle East and has been sharing her recipes and activities there ever since.
This article was published in The Good Life magazine.