What to do at Grandma's house
November 17, 2009 11:30 AM   Subscribe

What kind of activities can a 5-year-old do alone to entertain herself? My daughter goes to my mom's 2 days a week, from 9 am to 3 pm. She’s getting really, really bored.

My mom is an amazing grandmother and does all the things grammies should do. My daughter loves her to bits. But she’s old school. Just as she never played with me – she expected my brother and I to entertain ourselves/each other – she doesn’t play with my kid. She’s not elderly or inactive, and she talks and jokes with her. But doing crafts or baking brownies is not her thing, and that’s not going to change. And money is tight right now, so paying to put my daughter in daycare is not an option either. Nor do I want to enroll her in classes or organize playdates that would require my mom to drop her off/pick her up/otherwise intrude on her schedule. She is already helping me out a ton (in this and many other ways) so I don’t want to impose on her any further.

So, what’s a bored 5-year-old to do? I need ideas for activities OR toys/products that will stimulate her imagination and keep her entertained for half-hour stretches. Things that she can do almost completely independently (my mom would help her set up, or answer questions for her etc). Here are the things she’s getting maxed out on:

TV or computer time (she’s not a big fan of these to begin with)
Books (she’s just in the beginning stages of learning, so it’s mostly looking at pictures and making up stories)
Colouring/activity books
Jigsaw puzzles
Playing with dolls (CRAZY about dolls but tires of playing them by herself)
Leap Pad (we have an older version; can anyone recommend the best newer equivalent type of toy?)

I am fully open to old-fashioned suggestions, like paper dolls and basic science experiments. We lean more towards that kind of stuff in my house than gadgets anyway.

Also, my daughter does go to school the other 3 days of the week and gets plenty of social activities on the days she’s not at her grandma’s.
posted by yawper to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (33 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Around 5 or 6 I became addicted to Colorforms, in all their wondrous and varied guises.
posted by scody at 11:37 AM on November 17, 2009

Can you teach her how to knit? Apparently 5 is old enough (please forgive the comic sans and generally horrific web design). If your mom knits, it could be a quiet, "grown-up" activity they could do together.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:39 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: also: the Ed Emberley drawing books. This is one I specifically remember liking a lot around your daughter's age.
posted by scody at 11:41 AM on November 17, 2009

A toy I routinely played with as a child that was fun and educational are Think-It-Through Tiles. It's a toy that you answer questions in a book that lead you to put numbered tiles into a tray. When you finish the questions you flip it over and see if the shape it makes matches the key. If it does, then you've got them right. They're a bit pricey but the nice thing is that the companion books go from PreK up to age 8 or 9 in difficulty, and they're portable which makes them nice for things like road trips and restaurants.
posted by msbutah at 11:42 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I was your daughter's age, I was with my grandmother (who worked nights as a nurse and slept most of the morning) five days a week. I kept myself entertained mostly with NYC syndicated television shows (the Bowery Boys, My Three Sons and The Dick Van Dyke show), Mr. Roger's, Sesame Street and Electric Company.

But also: blocks and Legos. You can have hours of fun with a huge box of either of those things. My mom also left me tons of coloring books. I also learned how to make toast and chocolate milk so I had a little morning ritual. (Though my favorite thing was taking a Manischewitz matza cracker and smearing it with butter. Sacrilege, I know but man was that good.) Also, is there a way she might invite a friend over once in awhile? My younger cousin and a neighbor were great playmates for me.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 11:48 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound awful, but let her continue to be bored. Be supportive and everything, but necessity is the mother of invention and sooner or later she's going to figure it out for herself.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 11:52 AM on November 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

She should learn how to make friendship bracelets. There are tons of free patterns online, and the string is cheap. She can even make a pretty one for your mom!
posted by sickinthehead at 11:56 AM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: My kid seems to have hours of fun playing with an erasable doodle board, something like this. And it's entirely mess-free so it can travel back and forth to Grandma's with no trouble. (There are lots of different kinds, I just linked to the first one I could find.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:58 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also second the option of having another child over. Two people can entertain each other and play games with a much longer lifespan than a single person can left to their own devices. I spent my childhood at my grandma's house after school and so did one of my cousins close to our same age, and we were usually bored only when it was rainy outside or when the old school NES wouldn't respond to a cartridge blow.
posted by msbutah at 12:00 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Paper and a pack of markers? My 5-year-old spends lots of time drawing--he probably cranks out 30 or 40 pictures a day.
posted by fogovonslack at 12:02 PM on November 17, 2009

Seconding Lego! My brother and I entertained ourselves for a good decade with lego, Yeah, it can get pricey -- maybe look for the cheaper knock-off stuff? But you can find tons of things to build online, or she could just go with her imagination.

Also, my friends almost 5 year old is so into stickers and sticker books, it's insane. Warning -- grandma's house may soon be covered with stickers.
posted by cgg at 12:03 PM on November 17, 2009

Puppets! Get her some puppets (or have her make her own out of socks and whatnots). She then can put on plays to entertain you after Grandma's (and perhaps entertain Grandma while she's there).

Get a cheap-o tent for her to play in and explore. It's a club house, it's a cozy room, it's a fort, etc. My kids never tire of the tent. They love eating in there, or reading stories, or hanging out with their stuffed animals.

I love Magic Cabin toys as well as Back to Basics. I'm not suggesting you purchase anything - BUT, I've found looking at their stuff gives me ideas I wouldn't have otherwise and often I can do their toys on my own for way less!

Tinker toys. . . THE GIANT ones. Although, they don't make them any more . . . but you could make a kit using pvc pipe and fittings. Giant TinkerToys.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:03 PM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: I second knitting, but only if she's already confidently able to tie her own shoes. (manual dexterity and patience) if you go with knitting, she needs to know it's ok to screw up, and not be hard on herself for not knowing how to fix mistakes on her own. (bonus points if she can have a knitting fairy, as I did. My great grandmother fixed my early attempts at knitting)

Tangrams - you use the blocks to make pictures.

Light bright. God how I loved the second hand light bright.

Legos or other building blocks, provided she's already good about cleaning up after herself, otherwise grandma will skid across the room when she steps on a piece.

Coloring books, with crayons. Go for the box of 94, it feels great to have so many choices when you're five.

A team of white paper to draw on. Truly a feeling of limitless opportunity.

A basic origami book, plus the fancy paper, and a lot of plain paper.

Kid friendly microscope with prepared slides.

Popsicle sticks plus glue (again, not if she's a messy kid!).

Best of luck. At five, I roamed the neighborhood with the kids who lived nearby. I'm terribly jealous of your daughter, and all of my suggestions are from my inner 5 year old.

Oh! Also, the little set of crayola watercolor paints.
posted by bilabial at 12:04 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would encourage your mother to try and involve your daughter in whatever it is that she does do during the day (assuming she does housework type things and doesn't just sit on the sofa eating bon-bons or drinking scotch). And then, yeah, make sure your daughter has a few decent toys to play with (some dolls, some coloring books, blocks, stuffed toys, cars, whatever she's into) and then let her get bored and learn to get out of it.

My mother-in-law (my son calls her his Mimi) is just like this. At her house, we've set up a toybox for him, and a shelf full of books, but otherwise he just hangs out with Mimi some days and does what she does ... helps fold laundry, hangs around while she vacuums, 'helps' make beds, etc. and they spend time together. Its been great for him, because he feels like he's helping and also he's quickly learning how to use his imagination to entertain himself.
posted by anastasiav at 12:10 PM on November 17, 2009

Depending on your daughters interests in this sort of thing, here's what kept me entertained at grandmas house: weaving (on child-sized one), crochet (if that's too advanced easyknits are fun), drawing (I can still entertain myself for days with just a pen and paper), some easier embroidery and reading lots of books. My gran is very crafty so her influence was key in getting me to sit down and try these things in the first place, and she would help if I messed up. Bonus, I felt so grownup when I could give away handmade things like useless crotchet potholders for xmas.
posted by dabitch at 12:35 PM on November 17, 2009

Leap Pad (we have an older version; can anyone recommend the best newer equivalent type of toy?)

That would be an iPod Touch. These cost $199 new, but you can probably get one used in perfect condition for half that. There are thousands of kids games available, many of them educational and many of them $2 or less.

disclaimer: I make a living producing iPhone/iPod games for kids. But, actually, the fact that I'm able to do that says something in itself.
posted by alms at 12:35 PM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: You know those toy mice for cats? When I was her age I had one (mouse that is), named Mrs. Tittlemouse, a la Beatrix Potter. Mrs. Tittlemouse lived in a Quaker Oats container, laid lengthwise with wheels attached, so it was a gypsy caravan! I think one of my stuffed animals served as the horse. Anyway, she had a collection of dishes (bottle caps and such) and cobbled together furniture (spools and matchboxes and things) and I had enormous fun with her. Fun that is until the dark day she wasn't in her caravan. My mom told me she ran away, turns out the neighbors dog ate her ... no, I'm not bitter or anything *rueful laugh*. My point? Imagination rules and kids can grub together all manner of playthings.
posted by Allee Katze at 12:36 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Every day she can write a bedtime story for you to read to her that night; or it can be a weeklong project to do one with pictures.
posted by Billegible at 12:43 PM on November 17, 2009

Being a bored only child sucks.

I would look into some crafts that she can work on long-term. I learned how to knit in 2nd grade, and I don't think that 5 is too young. Also "plastic canvas" needlepointing is fun. Friendship bracelets too.

I don't know anything about Leapster products but she is old enough for a Nintendo DS (just get a durable case). You can probably get a cheap one on eBay. There are lots of fun kids programs. Check previous AskMe questions.
posted by radioamy at 12:56 PM on November 17, 2009

I got my nephew a talking globe. My dad says he's found him alone in his room singing along with the anthems of the world. Cool, yes? I also bought him a used Childcraft encyclopedia set which meant a lot to me when I was that age. A giant playdough set and huge box of crayons never gets old, either!
posted by aquafortis at 12:58 PM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: I'd get her some books on tape (or CD) to listen to, maybe with headphones, if grandma isn't interested. I know I can feel a bit bored and lonely when I don't hear voices, so maybe a nice, calming narrator will make her time more enjoyable. Plus, if you get some good books (Wind in the Willows, Charlotte's Web, any Beverly Clearly books), her vocabulary should improve and hopefully it will help her get interested in the great world of reading. Some of my favourite childhood memories are doing little craft projects while listening to my mom reading us stories.
posted by brambory at 12:59 PM on November 17, 2009

You know those toy mice for cats? When I was her age I had one (mouse that is)

posted by Allee Katze at 12:36 PM on November 17 [+] [!]

OH MY GOSH! I thought my daughter was the only one . . . She has about 6 (I think they come in packs of six). She's created little homes for them out of cardboard boxes, complete with playground - with a slide made out of toilet paper tubes! She carries them around in her pocket. They have many wonderful adventures together.

Kids like little things like that - pseudo pets/friends. They love to make little homes and scenarios with them and at the end of the day, tuck them into a pocket and take them home.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:10 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

embroidery & legos
posted by debbie_ann at 1:25 PM on November 17, 2009

I remember beading was fun, especially with the "jewel" type beads. Felt like I was a very rich princess, casually stringing my jewels onto a necklace. Could also get her a bunch of pipe cleaners and some larger beads, and she could mold them into animals and shapes.

The fine people at Klutz sell a great variety of kits and how-to books and generally fun crafty things for kids.

Christmas is coming, so she could get to work making cards, gifts, decorations (paper snowflakes! I loved making paper snowflakes!), etc. After that, she can make Valentines.
posted by castlebravo at 1:50 PM on November 17, 2009

I think I started learning how to do cross stitch at around 5 - I was very into pioneers and loved the idea of making a sampler with all the letters and stuff. If Grandma doesn't mind helping thread the needle, that could be fun.

Does she have a dress up box? Stock a container with funny hats, tall shoes, old bridesmaid dresses, etc., and that should keep her occupied and help fuel her imagination.

I was absolutely in love with paper dolls as a little kid - the best set I had was a set of Anne of Green Gables paper dolls that came with sort of the equivalent of a dollhouse, except it was all cardboard and folded up to be the size of a large book. She may be young for Anne, but something in that vein might be good. I think they have similar things for Little House in the Big Woods with backdrops and props and stuff. They certainly do for American Girl Dolls.

Another thing I played with religiously was model horses (and other animals). They all had very specific names and stories and relationships with each other - sort of like dolls, but even cooler because they were HORSES! Grand Champions seem to have changed since I was little, but any sort of model animal type thing might work.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:44 PM on November 17, 2009

Tape and scissors to go along with the crayons and markers and paint. My son loved to layer Scotch tape and various colors of markers and crayons and would cut out the little drawings that he made very carefully to play with. Messy but very fun.
posted by jvilter at 3:01 PM on November 17, 2009

This is going to sound awful, but let her continue to be bored. Be supportive and everything, but necessity is the mother of invention and sooner or later she's going to figure it out for herself.

To an extent, I totally agree with this. I was an only child and my parents were more my audience than my playmates (in the "LOOK! I DID THIS THING!" kind of a way). I am now 28 years old and can entertain myself endlessly for any amount of time. (My boyfriend is amazed that I am never, ever bored.)

As for other activities that she might try getting bored with:
- Lego & other building materials

- Instead of coloring *books* just give her markers and paper. There are also some great books out there like The Anti-Coloring Book that are more than just "fill in the lines." Watercolor painting is also a bare-minimum sort of adult supervisory activity.

- When I was 5, I had a dollhouse and it was just about the greatest thing in the world. In addition to the regular furniture, I would make furniture out of blocks and blankets and curtains out of old scraps. It was amazing. I have yet to meet a child who doesn't love a good dollhouse - even the 2 yr old boy I nanny for drives his cars in and out of the dollhouse!

- Music: both kid-friendly (I love, love, love Sesame Street songs for kids) and just make some regular mixes. (Self link: I have a section in my blog where I highlight kid-friendly "grown-up" songs)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:06 PM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: What about a large cardboard box? It can be a boat, a car, an apartment, a spaceship. Give her markers to draw on it (inside and out).
posted by b33j at 3:47 PM on November 17, 2009

Sassyfras' comment about making homes for "pet mice" reminded me of other crafty stuff I did at that age.

1) Dad would bring home computer printout paper, the forever kind with holes on the sides. I would draw "films" on these and pull the paper through a TV-shaped opening in an old shoebox and presto - my show was "on TV".

2) I would build rooms in shoeboxes, wallpapering the walls with decorative paper, building cardboard furniture, making curtains and windows and standing paper dolls in the scene. The whole room could be viewed (after I put the lid back on) from a large window on the short side of the box. These were crude in the beginning but grew ever more advanced, I even baked cookies for one of these rooms out of flower, salt and water (dries like play-doh), adding a single small bead to each so it would look like a proper cookie. Mum saved that last one, which I've only recently seen again and I was impressed at how I used simple things like pearl-nailpolish to color a 'sculpture' I had made to make it look like marble.

(basically, save shoeboxes, they're the best toys ever)
posted by dabitch at 4:16 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What kind of books do you read to her? When I was her age at Grandma's I was usually Laura Ingalls, although sometimes I was Ramona Quimby or one of the Swiss Family Robinson or Wonder Woman. My mom sewed and my sister and I had a bunch of costumes. But even when we left a costume at home, a cloth napkin tied around my head kerchief-style made a good enough sunbonnet. I would pretend that I was Laura and Barbie hadn't been invented yet. Or I was stranded on an island with my family and needed to build a shelter. Of course, when I was Wonder Woman, all I did was spin around, Lynda Carter-style and pretend to deflect bullets with my wrists.

What I'm getting at is, seeing and hearing about how other kids (in books) use their imaginations to play can kick start her imagination when she's bored. I haven't read the American Girl books, but I think those would be great- you can read them together and discuss how little girls in the 1950's (or whatever) would play since they didn't have computers video games. If she is anything like my sister and me, that discussion should be enough to pretend she's living in the 50's. She can probably ask Grandma what it was like when Grandma was a little girl and pretend to be Grandma at 5.
posted by dogmom at 6:09 PM on November 17, 2009

computers or video games
posted by dogmom at 6:18 PM on November 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you!! There are some fantastic ideas here that I hadn't thought of.
posted by yawper at 6:34 AM on November 18, 2009

Just adding to brambory's excellent books on tape suggestion:

Check your library. My library has a ton of great audio books for kids - including Stephen Fry reading Paddington, which is awesome. It's a great way to get her a huge variety of different stories for free.
posted by kristi at 10:59 AM on November 18, 2009

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