Minnesota Moms, winter is well underway and with so much of our time being spent indoors we need activities for our homebound kiddos. The problem? Most indoor activities require set up. And I’m sorry, but Pinterest and your “fun games you can do with kids” activities require so much motivation to set up.
I’ve seen a lot of Instagram-worthy activities that look so cute and clever. The problem with most of those is that they take forever to set up and keep the kids entertained for a whole three minutes. Then you need to clean it up.
No one has time for that kind of set up.
Honestly, the true measure of a successful, easy activity is based on the ratio of time spent setting up the activity to the amount of time kids are entertained by the activity. If the amount of time to do set up/clean up is longer than the activity itself then I seriously question if the activity is even worth it.
In my time as a nanny and as a stay-at-home mom I’ve picked up a few tricks on how to keep little ones entertained without putting much effort into it. Full disclosure, this list is geared towards littles under the age of five.
Here are some ideas from the world’s leading expert on lazy ideas–me.
The Itty Bitty Babies 0-1
Babies are a special kind of challenge to care for and their attention span rivals that of a gnat. Thankfully they are easy to distract and entertain.
Random Kitchen Objects
No seriously, just hand your baby a whisk and it’s fine. Got one of those Rubbermaid ones with the rubber handle? Cool, now it doubles as a teething toy. So long as it’s not too pokey you can hand your baby all kinds of random things from the kitchen and they’ll be occupied: whisk, spatula, serving spoon, potato masher, it’s all fair game. They’ll like the different textures of wooden, metal, or rubber tools to munch on merrily.
A Sleeve of Cups
I’ve always wondered why parents buy money on those cute, colorful stacking cups when I’ve got a sleeve of red solo cups in my pantry. Sure, they’re set aside for parties but let’s be real–when was the last time we hosted one of those? Exactly. So get a stack of 3-10 red solo cups from your cabinet and let them stack.
The coveted Tupperware drawer is a major win in our household of littles. We have a bottom drawer in the kitchen set aside specifically for kids to empty. It honestly holds just neglected Tupperware and orphaned lids. They’ll love emptying the drawer.
Little Toddlers 1-2
When it comes to larger littles, more things can become toys. Littles this age get trickier as well because now they have demands. It’s fine though, you’ve got this. Here are some ways to keep them occupied.
My girls loved to open mail and rip paper when they were this age. The one caution to this is be careful if you have a little one who tries to eat the paper (choking hazards). So long as you’re nearby monitoring the situation letting them rip up some paper is fair game.
I have no idea why my kids loved empty egg cartons, but they did (and still do). When you’ve finished up a dozen or so eggs hand them the empty egg carton so you can finish up whatever you’re cooking and they’ll play around with it. I’ve done the same thing with empty milk cartons (caps placed back on, they couldn’t figure out caps until three).
Popsicle Sticks and Painters Tape
The task requires set up, but if you play your cards right you can get a lot of time out of this one. I use two to three strips of painters tape and tape popsicle sticks in weird places like on the wall, under the table, or directly onto the highchair tray. Then the little ones will spend a decent amount of time picking away at the painters tape trying to peel it off and get to the popsicle stick.
Random Objects in a Box
I love this one because it doesn’t even matter what is inside the box. Put a spatula in there or something. Then very loosely tape the box closed with painters tape or something easy. Remember how littles love to peel tape off? They’ll be peeling off the tape to get inside the box for a while. And maybe they will just rip the darn box open, who cares. The point is they are occupied.
Bowl of Snow
This is a real Minnesota mom kind of activity for when the little ones want to play outside in the snow, but you don’t want to get them geared up for the snow. Or maybe it really is just that cold. Either way, set a bowl of snow on the kitchen floor and lay a towel down. Done.
Bigger Littles 3-5
The thing about bigger littles is they appear rational because they have words they almost know how to use. Just enough verbal skills to outcry “I’m boooooooooooooored” as though your sole purpose in life is to keep them entertained in a house full of toys. No matter, you’ve got this, mom. They are easier to entertain than you think because they’ve got this cool thing called an imagination.
Water and Ice Cubes
I’m especially proud of this one. Lay some towels down in your kitchen and set out some pots and pans. Hand them a big old bowl of ice and some serving spoons and tongs, then let them play. Maybe give them some water but not a whole lot (it’s not bath time). They can mix and scoop and figure out how tongs work. The nice thing about this, their imagination will kick in and do the rest of the work for you.
**Side note: My one-year old loves this too.
I swear by boxes. No seriously, you can do anything with boxes and kids love them. Cut some holes in them to make windows, hand them some crayons, tape some boxes together. Again, their imagination will kick in and you won’t have to do a darn thing. The bigger problem with this one is it takes up some space and they might never let you throw the box out once they’ve decided it’s their new home…. But thankfully you’ll get some time to check your emails while they are occupied, so it’s worth it in my book.
This one takes more set up, but I don’t mind putting this one together. I sometimes lay painters tape on the floor throughout the house and declare the kitchen floor to be lava. They need to walk along the path. Make the path loopy and put it wherever you want. This keeps them out of the kitchen so I can prep lunch and it can be a fun game and motor skills activity.
**Warning! If you have a small one in the house, they will, I repeat, they WILL PEEL THE TAPE OFF THE FLOOR rendering your game obsolete. I may or may not know this from experience.
We get a lot of bubble wrap from packaging that we’ve ordered. Thanks, Amazon! And between the box, the bubble wrap, and whatever was inside all that packaging we find ways to entertain ourselves. With the bubble wrap I will use the same painters tape I’ve been rambling about and tape it to the floor for the kiddos to jump on. Again, set up required. But it takes very little effort and brain space and keeps them jumping. And I’m all for activities that wear them down over time. Full disclosure–this one gets loud.
Sink Full Of Bubbles
We have a divided sink and when I need to wash dishes and the older kiddo wants to “help” I will often dedicate one half of the sink to filling up with water and pouring in dish soap to make bubbles. Dishes will soak on her side while I actually scrub and wash dishes on my side. She will play with the bubbles and keep herself occupied while I get things done. Meanwhile she has learned a thing or two about chores, or at least that is what I tell myself.
Managing kiddos indoors all winter can get really old. Yet, we will get through this winter somehow and I hope you all give some of these activities a try. Make sure you share your lazy activities with other moms, too! Don’t overthink it; we are all just trying to get by over here, too.