17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Busy = Happy

I've realized in my 5 years as a mother that the busier my kids are, the happier they are. And, naturally, the happier I am. Too much downtime leads to boredome, bickering, bothering, complianing, and the thing that bugs me most--begging to "watch a little show". This spring break taught me a valuable lesson. I need to step up and remember those fun things I used to do with my kids before pre-k started (and before 1 kid became 2 and 2 became 3). Then I need to muster up the energy and organization to do them! I have a whole summer ahead with 3 kids home all day--only one of whom naps. That's a lot of time to fill--and potentially a lot of fun to be had--if I do it right. So, I wanted to share some of my favorite (and favorites tend to be simple) ideas of what to do with little munchkins. So, try these at home! And please share your favorites!

Before I start--I suggest anyone with kids 5 and under to go buy "The Toddler's (or The Preschooler's) BUSY BOOK" (by Trish Kuffner) They are full of great ideas--don't go another day with out them. Some of my ideas come from these books, some come from my Mommy brain, and some from years I spent teaching 3 and 4 year olds at a creative arts camp back in the day. So, here goes--

1. Mailbox: Take shoeboxes or Costco size cereal boxes and cut holes in the tops. Decorate them by gluing construction paper around them if you want (and decorating the paper). SAVE your junk mail! Pop the "mailboxes" around the house and show Junior how to drop mail in them. Do it over and over--it's so fun!

2. Water Painting: A great one for hot summer days. Grab a plastic cup of water and a paint brush. Go outside and paint the sidewalk, trees, fences, whatever! Watch the water disappear. Simple, yet so loved.

3. Long Distance Puzzles: My kids love to do this. Get a wooden puzzle with those separate pieces with knobby things on each one. Put all the pieces in a bowl at one end of the hall or room (or the house if you're in NY) and put the puzzle board on the other end. Start together at the puzzle board and run to the pieces, grab one each and run back and put it in. Keep going until you're done. This was invented in our place to get energy out--it sure works. We don't do it as a race. We usually wait for the person to finish their piece and then go together for the next. Do whatever your kids like. Also, try with matching color squares or any "memory game" type cards. Grab one and find the match at the other end. And so on.

4. Office: Get your hands on an old keyboard, clean it up, cut off the wires. That alone can be good office fun. For more, get a shoebox and glue a paper on the bottom. Prop it up and decorate it to look like a computer screen. Or, just tape a paper on the wall to be a screen and set the keyboard up next to it. Better if you have less storage space for the shoebox. When they get bored of "office" stash the keyboard under the couch and bring it out later for refreshed fun.

5. Drop it in: For littler ones. Save an oatmeal can, hot cocoa can, whatever. Clean it out and cut a hole in the lid. Save juice can lids and wash 'em up. It's just plain fun (and this variation is cheep) for kids to drop things in a container. Juice can lids are noisy too--all the better! Also, try coins in a piggy bank (unless your kid is like my toddler and still puts money in her mouth!), or notecards to drop in your oatmeal can.

6. Rice box: With close supervision--who cares about safety, I'm talking about clean up! Lay a sheet out on your living room floor. Get a nice big shoebox. Fill it about in inch or two with rice and/or beans. Let Junior play in it with hands, small toy animals, and/or cars. This is such a nice indoor tactile experience if you can't make it to a sandbox. I definitely keep my box of rice up high and out of sight. I love it when we play it but I don't like the intensity of the supervision too often. Use the sheet as a means of keeping it off your carpet--just cleans up easier-- you don't have to be too neurotic about it getting on the floor since it'll land on the sheet instead.

7. Forts!: You all know how much kids love forts. Just make one! Look at books in it, play bears, lions, snuggle, whatever. Everything is more fun in a fort.

8. I spy: You probably all know how to play--so play it in the car. It's dd's new favorite. We never know what she's spying because I still don't think she gets it when it's her turn.

9. Around the House: Sing to the tune of "Here we go 'round the Mulberry Bush". The words go "Let's take a walk around the house, around the house, around the house. Let's take a walk around the house and see what we can see." Walk around the house together singing the song, stop at the end, everyone in line says something they see. Then do it again! I'll bet you get sick of it before your little one does!

10. Nature Walk: Get some contact paper. Go on a nature walk and collect small, flat(ish) treasures. When you get home (or to a fun nook in a yard/park) whip out your contact paper. Place your leaves, small sticks, dirt, feather, etc. on the contact paper and cover the top. You could do a small one or large--hang it with yarn around your neck or over a window. If you live in NY, just get creative! But try not to make your neighbors mad as thier "gardens" become your wilderness.

That's all for now. I hope you got some ideas that work for your family. Or perhaps these are reminders of things you love to do too.

I'm feeling guilty as I glance through my books again. There are so many fun other project ideas too--things that made my kid's days. Things that made them wake up and ask me "Are we doing a project today!?" It makes home fun, it does. Good to remember these ideas. Get busy, leave the dishes for later, and have fun with your child today!


  • Katie, this is an awesome post - so many good ideas. I cam across the book you recommended recently and didn't buy it - I wish I had! Maybe I'll be stopping by amazon.com today...

    A few to add to your great list:

    Make a nest: This is my kids new favorite activity. It involves taking their blankets and ALL of our throw pillows and putting them under our dining room table in a "nest" fashion. They "live" under there and pretend they are animals. My job is to bring them "animal snacks" in bowls that they eat like little dogs or cats. I just vacuum up the mess when it's all over, but they love it in there.

    Fun in the sink: Fill it up with a few inches of water, add some measuring cups and spoons from your kitchen drawers, instruct that all water must stay in the sink or the counter (after a few reprimands my kids are golden about this now) and have at it.

    Sidewalk chalk: Can't say enough about this stuff. We let them draw on the fence, the deck, the patio - it all washes off anyway so no harm done.
    posted by Blogger chloe at 5/18/2006 11:48:00 AM  

  • Those are some good ideas, thanks. (I work from home and we have two young’ns under 5 here).

    The downside to the whole busy thing is that many adults also believe that busy=happy for them as well (whether they are being productive or not). Some have called it the "busy-ness addiction" where people choose to live a frantically busy life all of the time. I suppose adult “addiction” to busy-ness come from feelings of guilt that arise from down time. The problem with that is the ubiquitous burnout we see in modernity. Plus, busy-ness is usually a "noisy" thing and we need non-busy quietness to hear things like the "still small voice". Anyway, my comment is mostly off topic but your post title reminded me of this subject. I'll probably post on it at my blog sometime...
    posted by Anonymous Geoff J at 5/18/2006 12:06:00 PM  

  • Katie, I loved your post. Gotthat book last year & just used itfor the first time this week! It's awesome! Thanks for all of the great ideas. A couple of ones that have worked wonders for me this week are:

    1. Train - get an old box (we used a diaper one from Costco) and tie a rope or yarn to the handle for dragging. Parker runs around the table yelling "choo, choo!" for hours. Great fun.

    2. Maracas - take a paper plate & decorate the back. Fold in half, add a handful of beans, and staple closed. Put on some fun music & shake, shake, shake!
    posted by Anonymous fellowstew at 5/18/2006 12:39:00 PM  

  • Such a great post!!! Perfect timing for summer. I love, love, love the book.....such easy stuff! So, homemade play-do is a weekly must for us. I have an easy recipe and the kids get to pick the colors and a special ingredient (rice, cinnamon, sprinkles, whatever) and they love it for hours. Also, Nutty Putty is fun for along those lines. Made with peanut butter and is sooooooooooooooooo yummy. Ya, some might think it's unsanitary, but just clean the table and little hands.....it's cleaner than lots of other things they do everyday :) And they can eat their creations.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 5/18/2006 01:26:00 PM  

  • The other day we finger painted with shaving cream on the kitchen table. It was surprisingly easy to clean--just wiped right off. I just squirted a little pile of foam in front of each kid and let them squish it and make pictures.

    They also love play-dough and watercoloring and pretending to be dogs. they crawl around on the floor barking and I throw soft balls and say fetch and they bring it back. Endless fun.

    I agree with Geoff that constant stimulation and entertainment can make it more difficult for kids to use their imaginations and entertain themselves and each other. But it is always a good idea to have some creative games and activities up your sleave.
    posted by Blogger Brandolyn at 5/18/2006 03:02:00 PM  

  • One of my favorite things to do with my boys is to set up our big tent in the living room and make microwave smores. They love it and its my favorite way to camp :)

    As for this summer I am planning lots of trips to the beach, which is a great escape for all of us.
    posted by Blogger Tri Mama at 5/18/2006 03:20:00 PM  

  • Oooh, some great ideas!

    Last night we did "restaurant" and I gave them a "menu" of three easy items to make for dinner (oatmeal, left over fried rice, and grilled cheese). Each had a picture next to the word. Both kids got to check their desired dinner and it made it so much more fun. I definitely played up the "waiter" role which they liked.

    And yes, being too busy isn't good, as has been commented. But I think that is for parents who are cramming too many karate, swim, piano, gymnastics, and French lessons into their kids days. I don't think anyone reading this blog has too many activities they're pressuring their toddlers into. :) So, go ahead, play!

    Good to hear from you fellowstew!
    posted by Blogger Katie at 5/18/2006 03:29:00 PM  

  • Downtime is definitely good, but children who are at home all day every day sometimes need some structure and they need some ideas of what to do!
    I know for me for the summer, I have things scheduled. That way when I get up I don't have to think of what to do. That way on Wednesdays we know we go to the park.
    Quiet time is a great way for kids to have scheduled down time. Read or stare into space. I don't care!
    Also, I had mandatory outside play time. They had to stay outside until the hour was up.
    posted by Anonymous JKS at 5/18/2006 03:32:00 PM  

  • I came to this post (and comments) to see if I wanted to send my daughter here for ideas. I very soon realized that grandmothers can also make very good use of these wonderful suggestions when they have grandchildren visiting! Lots of the ideas had me delightedly thinking, "Oh, we could do THAT!" or "That sounds like so much fun!" :)

    JKS, your idea of having some structure during vacation time is one I believed in when my six were young. Unfortunately, I wasn't very good about taking them to the park, but we usually had a yard to play in. We did get to museums and places of historical interest nearby as a family. We also had quiet time! As I recall (it has been a long time)we often had charts which involved checking off various things like household chores, personal grooming items (bath, teethbrushing, etc), time developing talents and reading, etc. They had plenty of free time, but I absolutely agree that "Busy = Happy."

    One of the advantages of having some very creative children was that they tended to entertain each other. :)
    posted by Blogger RoAnn at 5/18/2006 05:00:00 PM  

  • Katie,

    Awesome ideas. I am not great at coming up with my own, so I am always looking to steal ideas from creative moms like you. I love the The Toddler's BUSY BOOK you mentioned. I got it used off of Amazon last year for only $4. Totally worth it. At the same time, I got Scribble Art which has great ideas for open-ended art experiences to do with older toddlers/kids if you like that sort of thing.

    My one "original" idea that Princess loves is when I pull out my big box of random ribbons and fabric pieces. She loves just sorting through all the textures and colors and then fashioning new "outfits" for her stuffed animals.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 5/18/2006 08:52:00 PM  

  • I think maybe I'd better get the Toddler's Busy Book. My two year old is driving me crazy.
    posted by Anonymous JKS at 5/18/2006 09:12:00 PM  

  • Boredom has already set in and I've had to pull out my own list of ideas, too.

    Thanks for mentioning water painting. I tried this yesterday, very skeptical that it would be "fun", and the kids did it for hours --HOURS! They "painted" everything they saw (outside, of course).

    We also pulled out pipe cleaners and craft sticks and made flowers. and then my girls gave me a puppet show with their flowers. #1 said: "Here is our flower puppet show" and then #2 said: "It's a Star Wars flower puppet show!"

    I like it when we don't have structured time --it gives us more time to do the things we've wanted to do. When we have to worry about school, or dance, or piano lessons, or other things, we just can't drive to that one museum, or go to that one park, or stay up late to watch the sunset. But you are soooooo right. Without some type of structured time, the kids go crazy.
    Flexible structure. Now I like that....
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 5/19/2006 06:20:00 AM  

  • I tried the rice-in-the-shoebox idea last night.....the kids loved it. However, I turned my back for two seconds and they started throwing the rice across the room.

    I would suggest putting down MULTIPLE sheets on the floor or doing it outside!
    posted by Blogger Jen at 5/19/2006 08:56:00 AM  

  • Yeah, Jen. :) Ha ha. That was a trick idea just to destroy someone's living room. Just kidding. :) You just can't turn your head, huh. Or, try when they're older or for a shorter time period (before they start getting wise ideas).

    It makes me so happy to see people interested in and using the ideas and adding more fun ones--thanks!

    Carrie--My mom had tons of fabric scraps and I loved playing with them. My oldest loved it when I got out our tin of fun/random buttons of every shape, color, and size. Fun to finger through, sort, or whatever. Same idea as the rice though--takes a close eye. (And thanks for adding the link to the book.)
    posted by Blogger Katie at 5/19/2006 10:33:00 AM  

  • Carrie, ok I ordered the toddler book and I looked at the photos that people had uploaded for scribble art, and stopped right there....a little too open-ended (messy) for me. But I am excited about the other book. And my fave idea was also the water painting, so maybe if it stops raining, we will try it.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 5/19/2006 11:00:00 AM  

  • Great post. I have a site all about stuff to do with toddlers and kids, Mommy Poppins. It's mostly about stuff to do in NYC, but there's lots of non-NY stuff too. I also love Rookie Moms. They are in Berkley, but post things to do with babies that mostly work anywhere.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 6/13/2007 06:29:00 PM  

  • Great ideas! I must say I run out of things to keep my "spirited" 2 year old busy, so this link is fab! Now, how about doing a list of ideas on what to feed your picky kid?
    posted by Blogger knittingirl at 7/12/2007 04:38:00 AM  

  • To all the wonderful moms who posted their ideas,

    it was so helpful.... i have two boys 5 yrs & 10 months. It is really difficult to keep up with their energy. Now i have more ideas from you guys.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 3/24/2008 11:36:00 PM  

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