Entertaining Kids
March 13, 2011 5:16 PM   Subscribe

What are some inexpensive ways to entertain grade school-aged kids?

I have two boys, ages 7 and 10. They love to play outside, play sports, play video games, play board games, and play with Legos. Because of this they lack a lot of toys. They have their Legos, Nerf guns, board games, paints, crayons, markers, etc., books, baseball cards, and technology, and that's about it. I'm okay with this.

I have a very dear friend who has a six-year-old boy that loves toys. He has so many toys and plays with them on a regular basis. When he comes to our house he wonders where all the toys are.

I need inexpensive ideas where I can entertain this kid, and my kids, for a few hours or longer. Half the time they'll probably play video games and play in the backyard. I need ideas for the other half.

The last time they were here the kids entertained themselves with large exercise balls that I own. Those are good but more ideas would be helpful.

Do you have a great and inexpensive toy idea, or other ideas, to entertain 6, 7, and 10-year-old boys?

posted by Fairchild to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Get a great big cardboard box (or two!) and some scissors/tape/markers/etc. and have them make a fort. Or a spaceship. Or what have you. They will entertain themselves for hours with a cardboard box and some basic embellishments.
posted by corey flood at 5:31 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

A whiffle ball and bat. A soccer ball if it's safe in the yard. A nerf football. I wouldn't go overboard. It's not your job to compensate for the friend's need for written instructions on how to have fun. In warm weather, the lawn sprinkler ought to suffice for at least an hour of playing in the water. Add a slip and slide and you've got an entire day of fun.
posted by COD at 5:37 PM on March 13, 2011

Paper airplane book.
posted by drlith at 5:54 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sounds like they can figure out how to have fun on their own, they are exercising their imagination!

If they don't ask for help or direction, let them do their own thing, (safety etc). They need to learn how to amuse themselves, this is a skill some adults have yet to develop.
posted by JujuB at 6:03 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the idea of cheap science projects, like water-powered rockets, oobleck and the Diet Coke and Mentos trick. Or have them play bocce ball for candy rewards.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:11 PM on March 13, 2011

Drlith has the right idea. Origami is fun for kids and any sort of building craft. There's Canon's Creative Park - maybe they would enjoy printing out favourites and assembling them.

They might like pretending to camp or something like that in the backyard.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:15 PM on March 13, 2011

My kids were like yours are. Few toy toys. A lot of sports equipment and nerf guns. I am not so sure the issue is with a lack of toys. I think the issue is this boy who has too many toys and not enough imagination. If you are just looking for ways to entertain him for a while, I would just get a bunch of cars and G.I Joes and let them do whatever. When it was raining and my kids had finished building pillow forts in their room we would sometimes have coloring contests whereby the child who could fill up a piece of paper with the most colors and best design got to pick out the flavor of milkshake we had with lunch/dinner that day. Also let them help make lunch or dinner. Food coloring and mashed potatoes can be loads of fun.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:16 PM on March 13, 2011

Get your friend's son to bring his favourite toys with him?

My brother loved baking or cooking around those ages. Some kids like painting and drawing.
posted by lollusc at 6:18 PM on March 13, 2011

bubbles. man, bubbles are great.
music - kiddo dance party!
cardboard tubes and boxes
binoculars - 3 pairs to prevent squabbling.
magnifying glass- watch them carefully, they know you can burn ants with these things. Just make sure they don't light up the whole yard.
bird book - more for the older kid when he gets annoyed at the younger two
book of science experiments for kids - even just the fun reaction of baking soda and vinegar is good for a few minutes of fun. Better still is building a volcano from kitchen ingredients.
costumes - I bet they'll go for some costume play.
posted by bilabial at 6:23 PM on March 13, 2011

I am the parent of a seven year old, and I supervise grade-school kids. After spending summers gathering playground equipment at yard sales for recess and watching it get destroyed or squabbled over, I don't do that any more. I maybe get a bag of tennis balls from the local club, and if they can keep from beaning each other in the nuts, they can play handball with them and will happily spend forty minutes trying to roof them. There's a great day at the end of the school year where the Custodian tosses them all back down for them, and it rains tennis balls. It's glorious.

Entertainment is something they have to do for themselves - not something to them and for them. Let boredom become their problem. In the nicest way possible. If the alternative is chores, or sitting quietly, they'll come up with something. At recess, if the kids are playing in a way that violates the code of conduct or is not okay with others who are playing well, they have time on a bench until they think of something more constructive ( I supervise from first through sixth grade, and I had five sixth graders on the bench on Friday because filling their hands with liquid soap in the bathroom to blow bubbles by cupping their hands was okay - but chasing each other trying to leave marks on each others' pants and coats didn't qualify. They finished the period by using snow to draw on the brick walls.)

I found out that negative alternatives at home too. I also have very clean stairs, and a Swiffer duster with my kid's name on it. Cleaning isn't a punishment - it's just part of being in our family. But unless you have jobs to do, you don't enjoy leisure. Don't you have a garden that needs turning over? A fence that needs whitewashing?

I came across this post today, and realized that I've already been thinking along those lines, especially after Christmas and a birthday where we haven't even touched the stuff she got (Including kits to make jewellery out of guitar picks and such. A pom pom poodle purse kit. A soap making kit. A lip balm making kit. They're gorgeous, and they're a last resort) - but have taken three-hour walks and made pizzas and had fun re-arranging her room.

If he's an only child, such as me and my daughter are, he may actually need time to recharge his battery after having to interact for hours with others, and his boredom is actually fatigue, and more toys and more playing might not help. Continue any benign neglect, but maybe leave a pile of interesting magazines or comics or graphic novels around. On a whim, I bought the latest National Geographic and didn't present it to my daughter, but just left it on the coffee table. She has picked it up and spent time with it every day since, only asking me what a few things are about.

All that said, I'd consider getting a copy of the Dangerous Book for Boys. My husband pointed out on Friday, after volunteering for our daughter's school's visiting scientist program, that by first grade he could already make a stink bomb out of a pen, turn a wooden board and a nail into a rubber band gun, and admitted that he spent a lot of time setting dry leaves on fire with a magnifying glass. I also realized that I read a lot earlier than my daughter did, in part, because I was bored and no one would read to me!

And, I was reading Bill Bryson recently, and remembered a passage from the Thunderbolt Kid book, where he wrote something to the effect that he knew his home better than his parents did. He knew what the underside of every table looked like, what was in every closet and on every shelf, and what every room looked like from on top of the tallest piece of furniture and from the farthest corner. I was like that.

I would say that they need to be MORE bored - not less! And, for the record, I'm taking my own advice.
posted by peagood at 6:49 PM on March 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

In addition to the cardboard box idea, give them a roll of aluminum foil. They can use it to make little sculptures, or helmets, or swords, or spaceships, go crazy.
posted by CathyG at 7:34 PM on March 13, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all. These are great suggestions and I'm not adverse for allowing kids to experience boredom.

Entertainment is something they have to do for themselves - not something to them and for them. Let boredom become their problem. In the nicest way possible. If the alternative is chores, or sitting quietly, they'll come up with something.

This is my philosophy as well when it comes to my kids. I guess I'm just a bit anxious about the upcoming visit of my friend.

Thanks again.
posted by Fairchild at 8:46 PM on March 13, 2011

Fairchild: I need inexpensive ideas where I can entertain this kid, and my kids, for a few hours or longer. Half the time they'll probably play video games and play in the backyard. I need ideas for the other half.

I don't have a problem with the "let kids be bored and they'll sort themselves out or learn to clean" school of entertainment, but if this is a special visit from a friend that is putting you under pressure (self-assigned or not) I can understand wanting to be equipped with a plan so your guest has a good time and doesn't go home complaining he was soooo boooored.

What if you drew up a semi-schedule, even just in your own head, for the afternoon? A couple of hours outside, then inside to make a snack together (rice krispie treats are easy for non-cookers and still fun after all these years!). Then maybe they can watch a special movie while eating their snack, or build a fort to eat the snack in. After that you could do an organised art project with the supplies you have, like puppets from paper bags or scissor lanterns.

Whatever - this is really not my department but I'd personally want a whole lineup of things I could pull out of a hat, plotted with what's around from the great suggestions you're getting.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:24 AM on March 14, 2011

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