Entertaining Young Kids
July 11, 2004 5:21 AM   Subscribe

(Probably more useful for next time, but...) My niece (6) and nephew (4) are over, spending the night. After about an hour with our "toy box," they were officially Bored. Mom and Dad won't be here for a good four hours yet. How to entertain kids with a neighborhood full of friends at home and a toy room that rivals Toys R Us?
posted by ferociouskitty to Human Relations (21 answers total)
I used to teach daycare and kindergarten, and I found one of the best ways to keep kids busy was to buy a ton of arts/crafts materials. Just get paper and markers and scissors and glue. Most kids just like drawing and coloring, but if you have those rare kids who don't, they will probably get into it if you do it with them. (Please don't worry if you "can't draw" -- just draw stick figures or whatever).

There are some coloring books that have complex geometric patterns in them -- like spirograph art -- instead of representative pictures. To my surprise, these were always a huge hit with the kids.

If they're not into drawing, how about cooking? Most kids love to mess with ingredients. You could all bake a cake together. Let the kids do all the adding and mixing and stuff.

Games are also much better than toys for longer play.

Anything goal oriented is good, even if it is silly, like "lets make a map of the enire house."

Hide and seek is also great, and it doesn't have to be seek the person. You can use some item, like a "magic" rock. You hide it somewhere and the kids have to find it (and vice versa).

Singing is also fun. It doesn't have to be aweful childrens music. Get them into The Beatles or something that you like.

Or rent a video.
posted by grumblebee at 5:33 AM on July 11, 2004

"You can use some item, like a "magic" rock. You hide it somewhere and the kids have to find it (and vice versa)."

so, you hide the kids somewhere and rock has to find them?
posted by chrisroberts at 6:33 AM on July 11, 2004

Well, I was talking about a MAGIC rock.

Seriously, it was an error. In a previous draft of my post, I suggested that you could play hide and seek and try to find the kids or they could try to find you. The vise versa was left over from that draft.

But if the kids are really naive, you could tell them to hide and wait for the rock to find them. That should kill a few hours. (Tell them that when the rock finds them, you'll serve ice cream.)
posted by grumblebee at 6:45 AM on July 11, 2004

If they visit fairly often and you have a safe attic or large storage space you could put a couple of chests (many drawers and cubbyholes = good) with just old junk - old clothes, hats, old pots and pans, rock collections, jewelry boxes filled with little doodads - just a whole lot of stuff, and let them play with these "treasures" when they come over. This should keep them busy for hours and hours. There was absolutely nothing I loved better when I was a kid than exploring stuff like this. Beats the brightest, shiniest, most expensive toys, hands down, every time.
posted by taz at 6:46 AM on July 11, 2004

In my (very limited) experience you buy them something big and expensive. They play with that for about 10 minutes, get bored, and spend the rest of the afternoon playing with the box.

You might as well cut to the chase and get some boxes. Maybe someone you know is getting a new fridge? Throw in some sheets and couch cushions and you have the makings of a fort.

And having the magic rock find hiding kids sounds a bit painful.
posted by ODiV at 6:48 AM on July 11, 2004



Or take them out for a walk to the candy store. Kids love candy.
posted by Quartermass at 7:34 AM on July 11, 2004

Teach them to embrace boredom. Someday they will remember it with great fondness.
posted by Goofyy at 8:21 AM on July 11, 2004

the lawn needs mowing.
posted by quonsar at 8:53 AM on July 11, 2004

Don't kids like the...um...newspaper? Give 'em Sunday's Times. That'll shut them up for a few hours.
posted by waldo at 9:11 AM on July 11, 2004

Go outside!

Is there a school or park within walking distance of your house that has a playground? A space of grassy lawn and a large ball to toss/kick around can be great fun.

Pretend play ... fold Newspaper hats (.pdf file) and pretend to be pirates. Or make sock puppets then ask the kids to make up a show for you.

Or bake cookies and decorate them. Make a paper kite then go outside and fly it. Got a huge box in your basement? Get out markers and make it into a house ... they'll play inside for hours. Build a fort out of couch cushions and play cops and robbers or cowboys and indians.

Get out crayons and blank paper and ask them to draw pictures for every member of your family. Ask each child to make up a story with pictures, then type their words on the computer and print and make a "book" to give to mom or dad.

Remember that they are a boy and a girl at very different developmental ages ... don't expect them to necessarily play together -- play patterns at this age can be very different. Its also possible that many of the toys you have for them are actually too old for them.

But, really, unless its pouring rain -- Go Outside! -- even just take a walk around your neighborhood and watch them find all kinds of exiting things to talk about ... birds, patterns in the clouds, flowers -- you could make it a scavenger hunt -- Who sees a bird? Who sees a flower? Who sees a blue house?

You could also watch a movie, but I try to save that for the point where the kids are tired out and cranky but won't yet go to sleep. A darkened room, our big comfy couch, and an (old) disney movie = nap time in no time at all.
posted by anastasiav at 9:39 AM on July 11, 2004

I second the baking idea. Bonus points for baking sugar cookies, then decorating them with all kinds of colored frosting and sprinkles.

Disposable and polaroid cameras are a big hit, too. They will probably need a little assistance at this age, though.
posted by whatnot at 10:22 AM on July 11, 2004

Teach them to blog.
posted by brownpau at 11:31 AM on July 11, 2004

I second the boxes thing. Add to that a couple of old sheets. Anything you the children can hide away in, or under.
And the art thing. Lotsa paper, and lots of different types of drawing implements.

*cough*Ask MetaFilter is as useful as you make it. Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. Wisecracks don't help people find answers. Thanks.
posted by Blue Stone at 12:24 PM on July 11, 2004

Grumblebee hit most of the high points. The big question for you, do you want to keep them occupied and out of your hair or do you want to spend time with them. Grumblebee's ideas are great for spending time with them. I would add reading books to them to the list. The six year old can probably read books to you. Large fancy toys, as ODiv said, usually do not hold their interest for very long. A modest investment in books, board games and some art supplies takes up very little room at your place and will keep them occupied with you for a long time. You probably already have some games and a deck of cards. If you have energy, messy art supplies (finger paints, modeling clay, playdough, beads etc.) that mom and dad may not often have the energy to supervise are usually considered a treat. Of course if you can get them outside and let them burn off some energy even better. If on the other hand you want them occupied by themselves without too much supervision, videos and computer games (you can find many free flash ones for kids on the Internet) work very well.
posted by caddis at 12:37 PM on July 11, 2004

Don't let them have the entire toy box. Pick a couple of toys for this visit. It makes your house much more enticing. Let them maximize the play in the toys available.

Or have a huge box of blocks, legos or other building toys. As a kid, I loved visiting a elderly neighbor family that had a huge box of blocks.

Art, music, baking, etc., are all good. I used to get kids to make masks, which generally led to creative play. I cut ovals out of card stock, i..e, old manilla folders, made the necessary holes, and they decorated. Keep a box of dressup clothes - an old suit jacket, vest and tie, party dresses, skirts, lots of hats and scarves, etc.

In good weather, go outdoors and play ball, or take a nature walk, and find squirrels, birds, moss, or whatever your neighborhood offers.

It's good of you to do it, I think it's good for kids to have (safe) grown-up friends. they'll remember it fondly. You'll get more at ease as you do it and get to know them.
posted by theora55 at 12:37 PM on July 11, 2004

Like grumblebee suggests, I have a kids' art supply box, and mine besides having the basics of kids' scissors, paper, glue, crayons and so on, also has some extra stuff like scraps of fabric, yarn, wrapping paper, and so on. I notice the children visiting me seem to love to use such items in their art work, and it's just stuff I was going to throw out anyway.

I also have some games and puzzles.

Do you have an old cassette player kicking around? Buy a few blank tapes and let the kids record themselves singing or talking. They ought to be able to learn how to operate the record and play buttons quite easily.

Finally, my niece, who is a bit of a diva and has a shoe fetish, really, really loves playing with my shoes, and I let her because I figure she can't hurt them. She swans down the hallway, pirouettes around for everyone's admiration, then clumps back to my room to try on another pair. My red leather knee high boots come up to her thighs and look like hooker boots on her, but that's neither here nor there.
posted by orange swan at 2:44 PM on July 11, 2004

Arts and crafts are the way to go. If you can do this outside, so much the better. Get some old, adult-sized t-shirts for them to wear (you can bunch the neck hole at the back and tape it up to stop it exposing their clothes and they should almost come to the ground, covering all their clothes). Let them go to town with paint, glue, paper, leaves, flowers, sticks, rocks, whatever. Basically, any activitiy that makes a horrendous mess is bound to amuse young children.
posted by dg at 4:18 PM on July 11, 2004

Lots of good suggestions. I was kind of dissapointed that reading only came up once though; reading to kids is right up there with art, dress-up and cooking as a great way to keep kids engaged.

Specifics definitely depend on the kids, and the two year age difference might make choosing books a little more difficult, but I've always had good luck reading to kids. Many kids will sit still a long time for an adult who will keep reading to them.

That being said, be willing to change gears if one tack is not working or even if you need a break; a variety might be more fun for everybody than any single activity. Say, bake cookies, then go outside and run round or go to a playground, and finally come back inside and read to them.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:27 PM on July 11, 2004

Best answer: Things that were popular with the 4-year-old girl I used to babysit:

Reading. Either having her 'read' the story to me by describing the pictures, or reading the words on the page to her (and occasionally trying to skip parts, to see if she'd notice and feel all proud for catching me attempting to 'cheat').

Playing imagination games. House, school, any sort of 'let's pretend' type thing worked well.

Art projects. Coloring sheets, scribbling, anything that involved color or cutting/pasting or both. Kids love making messes (as mentioned above), and art is a way of doing so that's both allowed and fun.

Tell stories. For some reason, the kid loved to hear all about my family - what silly things my brother did when he was little, what silly things I did when I was little. I can also remember begging my aunts/uncles for stories about my parents as children when I was a little kid, so if you know any of those, you could very well be set.

Cooking. Start teaching them to cook. Let them help in the kitchen when you make dinner, or any meal, really. Mixing, stirring. All great fun when you're little. And if you're making pancakes for breakfast, let the kids help flip them, or choose what shapes each pancake should be (my four-year-old cousin recently requested one in the shape of a fish).

Be active. Play a physical sort of game - basketball is good if you have access to a hoop that can be lowered. I used to love to wrestle when I was little (lay out some ground rules like 'no tickling' and 'no biting' first). Run around outside, go to the park and push them on the swings or something. Play catch.
posted by emmling at 12:03 AM on July 12, 2004

Tons of great ideas here.

I've had great success asking my nephews to tell me their favorite stories. I ask them lots of questions about the stories and they are at the least adorable ("I have no idea") and at the most wildly imaginative and entertaining.

Why should they have all the fun getting to hear stories when they can tell some good ones themselves? :D
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:04 AM on July 12, 2004

One other suggestion for future. Have just 6-year-old over, then next time, 4-year-old, and then both the next time, rotate each time. This gives each kid one-on-one time with you, and gives the one at home more quality time with parents, and still gives parents a break from both once in a while. In my experience, dealing with two at the same time often made it difficult to keep both happy and occupied. I think kids really crave one-on-one attention from adults, and I found that the time spent with just one was so much more rewarding and really did a better job at building a close relationship.
posted by marsha56 at 6:23 PM on July 12, 2004

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