How do I keep a 5 year old and a 2 year old entertained?
January 4, 2011 8:58 AM   Subscribe

I am babysitting a 5-yr-old girl and her 3-yr-old brother for two hours indoors this Friday. What can I bring to keep them entertained?

I am creative but have less experience with so young of an age range. It is also tricky for me to assume a common interest since they are of different genders. They are fairly energetic, smart kids, but might have a potential towards restlessness. Ideally I'd like to pick up something that will 1) hold their attention, 2) won't make an extreme mess (though a little is probably ok), 3) won't cost me a lot.

Ideas? :) Thank you in advance!
posted by pinksoftsoap to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Wiggles video!
posted by Ahab at 9:03 AM on January 4, 2011

Crayons, washable markers and construction paper.
posted by jeather at 9:05 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Drawing paper and crayons/markers

Books (for you to read to them)
posted by BurntHombre at 9:07 AM on January 4, 2011

Be prepared for 15 minute attention spans. I think I'd come armed with some books with about 1-2 sentences per page, some tape, magazines (for cutting) and scissors, maybe a movie, and with lots of patience for rolling around on the floor with kids. Think ring-around-the-rosie, hot potato, hide and go seek (with the understanding that 3 year old is on your team & will hide with you and seek with you too), and other types of low-hand-skill games. Silly songs are good, too. 5 year old may have her own plans, and I'm sure they have their own toys, too. What they want, more than anything else, is your attention & time. Prettymuch everything else you can make up as you go along.
posted by Ys at 9:08 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

bring a large box
posted by ghostbikes at 9:09 AM on January 4, 2011 [14 favorites]

Seconding the crayons, markers, papers, and stickers. Target or the dollar store probably have cheap stickers - there are buckets of foam stickers that currently seem to be a big hit in that age range of my nephews and nieces. Playdough. Or make rice krispie treats.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:10 AM on January 4, 2011

New play-doh is always nice, and with your creativity you can give them ideas of things to make with it - funny faces, monster figures. You can make your own dough, too, though real play-doh isn't expensive.

This won't take two hours. Maybe bring some of your accessories and be prepared to play dress-up with them.

Plan on some downtime. Creative play for two hours straight would be a lot. Bring a few books to read to them; shorter is better.
posted by lakeroon at 9:10 AM on January 4, 2011

Shoot, all my ideas were posted while I was busy typing!
posted by lakeroon at 9:11 AM on January 4, 2011

Just for two hours? That shouldn't be too hard. They will likely play with their toys and each other for a good portion of that time. But if you want some activities:

Bring a big box of cornstarch to make "goop" -- just mix the cornstarch with some water in a big tupperware container. It cleans up very easily, and should entertain both of them for a while.

Is it warm enough to go to a nearby playground where you are? If not, build a fort with some blankets and sofa cushions. Turn on some music and have a dance party.
posted by fancyoats at 9:12 AM on January 4, 2011

Agree about the songs. The hokey pokey, and if you're happy and you know it, etc, entertain my 3 year old nephew endlessly, and the 5 year old laughs at the three year old. the itsy bitsy spider, the wheels on the bus, miss mary mack. Etc.

Other random objects also tend to hold kids attention: string. keys. flashlights. laser pointers. your shoes. cotton balls. sliding down the stairs on their butts. obstacle course (do three jumping jacks, then turn in a circle and do a somersault). Red light green light.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:13 AM on January 4, 2011

I have been informed that these kids are very active/physical. Difficulty level - we are relegated to ONE room without much space that is not in their home (so their own toys will not be there unless they bring them). Also, no TV but I can bring my laptop.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 9:14 AM on January 4, 2011

Really, if you're only there for two hours, I'm betting that the kids will almost entertain themselves. You're (presumably) a new person in the house, and they're going to want to show you everything. Ready yourself for "Wanna see my room? Wanna see my doll? This is my computer! This is..." They'll probably try to get you to play their favorite games, too--for ages, every time someone new came over, my daughter would try to get them to play princess Polly Pockets with her, because her father and I had long since lost our patience for that particular game.

If you're worried, you could pick up a DVD or two. I suggest either Pingu or Charlie and Lola--they're both pretty non-annoying for parents/caregivers, but funny and entertaining enough that they're engrossing for kids of all ages. You should be able to get one or the other for under ten bucks, probably.

What about something like finger paints? They're not a ton of mess, especially if you put the paper on cookie trays or something, but they're enough of a pain in the ass that many parents are reluctant to get into them. (Or, at least, enough of a pain that I'm reluctant...)

Finally, you could always make cookies. Or, even better, *you* could make cookies the night before, and you could take them over with icing sugar, food dye, and sprinkles, then let the kids decorate them.
posted by MeghanC at 9:16 AM on January 4, 2011

Books that you can act out -- like Where the Wild Things are -- and face paint (if the parents are ok with it) so they can be monsters or whatever.

You can bring scissors for yourself to use and string and make masks out of the construction paper. Bring tape and you can build (flimsy) houses or castles or rockets.
posted by jeather at 9:17 AM on January 4, 2011

Lego Duplo. You can bring a self contained box.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:20 AM on January 4, 2011

Just hosted two kids of exactly these ages this weekend, and I'd heartily second ghostbike's large box. Or an old king-sized sheet for making a fort. Either of those would provide a good central project, from which several smaller, 20-minute projects could be spawned (OK, what are we making? A castle? Great, let's see where to put it! Now let's make some windows and doors! Can we put up some flags? Which toys should live in it? What rooms does it have? Should we "cook" some snacks over the "fire" in the new kitchen? Anyone want to storm the castle walls? OK, everyone's tired, let's cuddle in the castle and watch a movie on the laptop. And so forth.)

Also, from painful experience this weekend: you may want to be active and percipient about assigning different roles and averting conflicts, because 3- and 5-year olds get squabbly real quick.
posted by Bardolph at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2011

Mom here: nothing enthralls kids more than stuff that feels like they shouldn't be allowed to do it. Note that this is not necessarily stuff that they really SHOULDN'T be allowed to do - I'm not advocating giving the wee ones AKs and fifths of cheap vodka and letting them go to town. However, access to atypical/"grown-up" stuff THRILLS little ones. Some stuff we've done:

- Let the kids handle most of the prep for a not-dangerous recipe... including stuff like cracking eggs. The bother of fishing out shells is totally worth it when you see how psyched they are to crack the damned things in the first place.

- Let them draw on stuff that is not typically drawn on. We let OUR kids use washable markers on the light-colored kitchen linoleum. I probably wouldn't advocate THAT one, but you get the gist.

- DANCE PARTY! Make cocktails out of Juicy Juice and seltzer. Add mini umbrellas. Put on some music videos (ideally without thong-clad skanks, but hey, it's all part of nature, ain't it?). Let the wilding commence.

- Build a volcano out of whatever you can find in the kitchen. My two year-old especially liked embedding gumdrops in OUR volcano.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Other inexpensive, open-ended toys to consider:
-- big roll of wide (~3'+) brown paper, plus crayons/markers. You can roll it out and draw on the floor! Or tape it up on the wall and make a mural! Or bring some beans/macaroni and glue and make a mosaic. Or draw a hopscotch board and play hopscotch. Or draw a big target and play toss-the-stuffed animal from varying distances. Or trace each other and draw in features. Or draw roads and race cars. Or take turns being rolled up in it. Etc., etc.

-- Play-Doh! You can get one of those 20-tub mini variety packs for like $10.

-- A soft cloth ball or two, for catching/keep-away games, if the kids are particularly active.
posted by Bardolph at 9:34 AM on January 4, 2011

Stuffed animals, put on a wee puppet show. Be prepared to be enthralled by the fact that if you're at all good at it, the kids will happily engage in conversation with the stuffed animal and forget that you're there.

Have the stuffed animal engage in pratfalls (slipping on an imaginary banana peel is always a crowd-pleaser). Steel yourself for the eventuality that if a pratfall is funny once, it is funny nine hundred fourteen times.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:41 AM on January 4, 2011

I find the easiest way to entertain kids is with my digital camera. They love being photographed and taking pics/vids, and it's instant gratification and totally fun (and decidedly unmessy). If they get too grabby, then you take the camera and photograph them. It's fun from either side.

This is assuming you have a camera that is relatively durable and not a super-expensive model, of course. I've done this for years and years, with dozens of different children, and I've never had a camera (digital or otherwise) bite the dust when I've let even very little kids (2.5 - 3 years) play with them, so perhaps I'm biased, but in my experience kids are somewhat careful with them anyway if you just tell them to be. They love doing "grown-up stuff," and using a real camera is very grown-up.

The upshot is that kids can take some killer photos once they learn how to operate a camera -- they're so unconcerned with composition at that age that I find it refreshing. Just be sure it has a wrist-strap, naturally. (But don't worry overmuch -- kids are pretty short, and it's not that far from their hand to ground. heh)
posted by heyho at 9:44 AM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Since you'll be in an alternate location;

Look for some of those paint with water books, play-doh is fun and cheap, a couple of kid apps on an iPhone will score HUGE points with the 5yr old. If you can swing a wig/hat or two and some big button down shirts plus maybe some mardi gras beads, well then you just made yourself a dress up box. And, the dormice you are, the more fun they will have.

Remember that ANYTHING can be a game - "I see three green things, can you guess what they are?" "Who can hop on one leg the longest?" Kids are more easily amused than the toy manufacturers would have you believe.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:45 AM on January 4, 2011

Dormice = dorkier
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:46 AM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Go hit the dollar store and grab some stickers and markers, tape and aluminum foil - if you have any boxes left over from the holidays you can have them make robot costumes with the boxes (cut holes in the tops before you go) and then have a robot dance party - that will last about 20-30 minutes if you're lucky and they get into the decoration.

Use the same boxes (plus any other containers you can find/bring/scrounge) plus soft balls to make an indoor "golf" range use a wiffle bat, or pool noodle (cut in half) to hit the balls into the boxes

If the room you're in has a drop ceiling (like you'd see in schools or some hotel back rooms) you can use the pool noodles as bats for a game of tether ball - you tie a string around a soft ball, or beach ball, or balloon (not as good but workable) stick the other end of the string up through the ceiling, kids hit the ball back and forth

Balloon animals or balloon fight (if you don't have an issue with popping balloons the five year old can even try to make their own animal - you just twist the long balloons around, it's really easy to make the basic shapes)
posted by dadici at 9:52 AM on January 4, 2011

What thrills my nieces and nephews is the cheapo toys from the dollar store. (The stuff parents won't buy because it's crap, and a stupid waste of money.) The most popular being the little gelatin capsules with little sponge dinosaurs inside. Seriously. Just add it to a cup of warm water, and IT GROWS INTO A DINOSAUR!
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:53 AM on January 4, 2011

If all else fails, there's always "I Spy". My mom used to play that with my brother and me anytime there was a long tedious wait for something, when we were about those ages. Time flew.
posted by Sara C. at 10:14 AM on January 4, 2011

An iPhone. Look for kids apps.
posted by Fiery Jack at 10:16 AM on January 4, 2011

  • Bubbles! Play some music, challenge them to move to the music and stomp the bubbles!
  • A few large bags of pasta, a rubbermaid tub, and various scoops/spoons/containers
  • Books (The Very Hungry Caterpillar is excellent - have the kids pretend to be a caterpillar, then a cocoon, then a beautiful butterfly after you read it to them)
  • A couple of empty water bottles and some small stones/pennies etc. to make "shaker instruments"
  • Balloons

    If you can find a couple of these bouncer balls they are simple and fun for physically active kids in an enclosed space. I got my daughter one for Christmas and it is one of her favorite toys (it was also one of the cheapest!)

  • posted by Ostara at 10:39 AM on January 4, 2011

    If they're like any of the kids I know, bring 2 iPhones or iPod Touches and that's all they'll want to do. They won't even talk except to ask you to buy more games – don't do it! – they'll just sit there playing. Kind of horrifying, but it'll work.
    posted by nicwolff at 11:13 AM on January 4, 2011

    OMG, bubbles! *NEVER* underestimate how much kids love to play with bubbles! And you can make them out of dish soap diluted with water & use anything with a loop on one end to blow them through. Also wanted to mention: Blocks & an orange make for pretty good bowling.

    It really isn't about the coolness of the stuff or the size of the space with kids that young. *ANYTHING* can be fun, when someone's willing to play along with them.
    posted by Ys at 6:39 PM on January 4, 2011

    I work with kids this age. My 5 year old girls love drawing and coloring, making art projects, and playing dress-up. When provided with a large cardboard box for puppet shows, they happily made puppets with popsicle sticks, paper, and glue sticks for attaching bits. I've also put out large pieces of paper and let them make banners/large drawings.

    My 3 year old boys do a little of everything, but are far more toy focused than the girls. The current big hits are playing pretend with plastic food in the kitchen, and watching balls roll down the marble track.

    I think the age difference might be a bigger problem than the gender difference. The 5 year old will probably be more like "Look at me! I'm a magic fairy princess and I need to find my lost kitty! Here he is! I need to take care of him!" whereas the 3 year old will be more "look it's paper but I pretended it's food and I'm eating it giggle giggle giggle". If the 5 year old is particularly forceful and the 3 year old isn't, the younger one may be happy to just go along with his older sister.

    Your best bet is probably to set up something that lets them do art and incorporate it into fantasy play. I've had boys and girls work on a big piece of paper with roads drawn on it for Matchbox cars (this would be a good "bring from home" choice) and then give them lots of crayons to color buildings and things. The girl might be more into the coloring and the boy into driving the cars on the "roads", but that's okay. You want "white kraft paper" and it can be found at Staples for about $5. Lunch bags could make simple 3D buildings. Throw in some crayons, glue sticks, and construction paper and you're looking at creativity heaven for probably under $20.

    Also take out Unplugged Play from your local library - it'll have lots of ideas.

    Good luck!
    posted by booksherpa at 7:02 PM on January 4, 2011

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