A brilliant article appeared on Lifehacker today entitled 10 Ways To Entertain Young Children For $1 Or Less (Without The TV). Here are the author’s ten suggestions in a nutshell, but the article itself is well worth reading:
Large cardboard boxes
Rubber band and pencil crazy bot
Make a paper popper
Home Depot Kids Workshop
Bubbles bubbles everywhere
Tin can and string telephone
I will say that I do several of these with my toddler son on a regular basis. He is a huge fan of cardboard boxes and bubbles are a regular yard activity.
However, there are many more nearly free activities that you can enjoy with your child. Here are ten more, all of which have been used by me and my nearly twenty one month old son.
Drumming with pots and pans and a wooden spoon Empty out the cupboards, turn pots and pans upside down in the kitchen, and practice drumming. It’s as noisy as can be, but it’s incredibly fun. Make lots of noise for a half hour or so.
Reading a book / going to the library I read books to my son all the time (he’s partial to Go, Dog. Go! and My Many Colored Days) and we also go to the library regularly – it’s within walking distance of our house.
Get out The Crayon Box and some white paper This has some startup expense, but goes down to pennies per use. Get a small container, fill it with crayons and paper, and get them out on occasion. I just steal about a hundred sheets of printer paper, keep them in a manila envelope in the Crayon Box, and get out a few sheets at a time. He spreads out on the floor and scribbles all over the sheets. Occasionally, I’ll print patterns for him, but usually he likes blank sheets the best.
Turn on music visualization and dance in the kitchen I’ll turn on some upbeat music in iTunes, turn up the volume, turn on the visualizer, and then work on kitchen tasks while dancing. My son loves dancing around and he also likes watching the patterns on the screen (he’s enjoyed the patterns since he was tiny).
Make some homemade Play-Doh and experiment with it
1 cup flour
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
It’s all safe to eat in case he takes a big bite. We make a bunch of this and let him play with it on the table (but only on the table). He mashes it and molds it and beats it. I often make sculptures and he tries to imitate. Even better, it can all go in the trash when he’s done (this stuff works great for the first couple hours, but doesn’t keep well).
Go on a bug hunt The original article suggested catching fireflies, but it’s actually fun to catch all kinds of bugs. My son particularly likes watching grasshoppers jump. I walk around with him until we spy a bug, then we try to catch it (and usually fail, but it’s fun). If you do catch one, put it in a jar with holes poked in the lid and watch it for a while, then set it free (most insects are harmless and usually beneficial to your local environment). Obviously, as an adult, you should know of any dangerous bugs in the area, but these are few and far between and are far outnumbered by crickets, lightning bugs, grasshoppers, ladybugs, and so on. You can even try catching butterflies (a net works well for this).
Make a leaf pile – and jump in it! I’ve done this with my nieces and nephews countless times in the fall – and this year my son will be old enough to try it. Basically, just enlist their help in gathering up leaves and just when it looks like they’re bored, have them jump in the pile! I usually take a jump myself! Even if you don’t have a tree nearby, you can do this in the park. If you fill up bags full of leaves, you can also jump on the bags and not make as much of a mess (but the mess is half the fun).
Go for a walk in the rain When there’s a steady rainfall, don’t just hide inside – go out and explore it together. Splash in some mud puddles, catch a drop or two in your mouth (it won’t kill you!), and enjoy the splattering rain. It works well in a gentle, steady rainfall – kids tend to not like torrential downpours (neither do adults).
Make a homemade sweet treat Look up a recipe for homemade cake, brownies, cookies, or ice cream and make one of them from scratch. Let the child help as much as possible, even if it makes a mess. You can make a small batch of most recipes for well under a dollar, plus your child will get the fun of licking the batter off of the spoon.
Make a sheet fortress Take a bunch of bed sheets and erect a fort, using furniture as the base. My son loved hiding under it for a while, coming out and yelling, then hiding again – for hours.