She was exuberant and I was exhausted. She was a very clingy only child, always tugging for someone to play with her. I remember searching on google “how to entertain a 15 month old toddler.” And that’s how I stumbled upon activity bags, a whole new world of ways to interact with my child and possibly allow her to play by herself for a few minutes without resorting to the screen. (See this post for more information how I deal with screen time and the official American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on kids and media).
An activity bag is a simple craft or game for babies, toddlers, or kids that can be contained in a bag. But wait, as I scrolled through the 1000s of ideas on Pinterest (a few of them gathered in a post here from an external site), I was led down another rabbit hole (as is what usually happens on Pinterest) of activities for play-doh, crafts, water play and more! As I narrowed down those picture perfect instructions into 5 to 6 do-able busy-working-mom-me-proof activities (will write a post about them later), I compiled a list of supplies that most of these activities use. It took me time to gather everything together, and at times it was frustrating to get pumped up about felt pizza only to realize I didn’t have any felt. Hopefully you can prevent that frustrating moment by using this list of things to pick up next time you are out on your errands so you’ll be prepared for anything, from DIY slime to DIY volcanoes. Some of these less explosive and powdery activities are great for entertaining kids during travel (see some more travel tips from this post), while waiting at the doctor’s office (hi!) or restaurant, or when trying to keep kids quiet at church.
Inside my busy-kid (mommy) survival kit toolbox
- Flour, cornstarch, baking soda, vinegar
- Shaving cream, bubbles, food coloring
- Paint (I have both washable & acrylic)
- Canvas (I have these, but I found that thick paper plates also absorb paint well), paper
- Felt, markers, crayons, glue, tape, double sided tape, hot glue gun, velcro
- Popsicle sticks (wide, thin, colored), yarn
- Chalk (Gets them out outdoors too)
- Buttons! (Check out this bag with varied shapes, useful for talking to toddlers and kids about colors, shapes, and numbers, can use for matching activity or to work those fine motor skills to thread through a shoelace for a colorful necklace or a pipe cleaner for a clunky bracelet)
- Blocks (to multitask, I just have Jenga that doubles as a game for adults!), big lego blocks, bristols (quiet, light, great for travel too!), Magformers
- Obviously books. Lots of books! Libraries (link to Delco Libraries) are good for borrowing and variety. TJ Maxx is great for selection and prices!
Many screen-free play ideas can also be free, such making my kids crawl under chairs and counter stools, or making an obstacle course with tape and pillows. Whether free or frugal, the key to entertaining toddlers and kids without using the screen (iPad, TV, tablet, kindle) is to be prepared (with supplies), to be flexible (because weather and epic Pinterest fails and unpredictable kid moods happen), and to be present (see below, spoiler alert – my kids act up more and are less cooperative when I’m looking at my phone).
The ultimate goal with entertaining our kids is to spend time with them, which means putting down the phone ourselves. Maybe obvious to you, but I struggle with this myself and I know a few well meaning millennial moms who are often more focused on trying to snap the insta-perfect photo of the child, instead of enjoying the moment with the child. Get on the floor, get involved, make weird animal noises (what does an elephant sound like?), takes turns blowing and chasing bubbles, and giggle with your kids.
In the photo here, I had used left over flour mixed with water and food coloring in a recycled Trader Joe’s ice cream mochi container. As DIY as I aspire to be, I no longer make play dough. It was easy and it was fun, but kneading the color into the dough was just not worth the effort. Now I just buy Play-Doh at TJ Maxx. I have also kind of given up on making slime. As a patient’s mother and I lamented over our failed attempts, I should consider the wise grandmother’s advice as she interrupted us and asked me, “Why don’t you just buy it?” Considering that I save toilet paper rolls and yogurt containers (great for paint!), I can probably cheat and buy slime too. Whatever it takes to keep my kids busy and imagining. The daily goal is laughs > whining.