Getting Your Kids to Entertain Themselves

Danielle David Grinnen's kids having a blast by themselves. See below for more details.

 I’m a stay-at-home working mother, which basically means that I work from home with no daycare, resulting in my kiddos needing to entertain themselves when I have to get work done. So what’s the problem? It’s my son–you see, he’s not very good at entertaining himself. When he gets home from school, I put my daughter down for a nap, and then I’m on the computer, while he watches television and continually states that he’s bored. What’s a mom to do? Breezy Mama turned to various sources and mothers for advice and inspiration on how you can get your child to amuse themselves WITHOUT a television or computer.

If you have the room, space with a desk specifically for your child, as well as shelves that they can put supplies on would be a great start. As Pam Guyer of HIPP MOMS says, “The most important factor is to make sure it is child proof and safe–that gives peace of mind, so that they can just go in there and play and you don’t have to worry about the safety of your child.”

Being able to tell your child to go to “their space” while you can get straight to work is ideal. Now, for what to stock in that desk, Jennifer Little, Ph.D. and founder of the site Parents Teach Kids tells us that, “various sized tubs with flap-snap lids for storing toys to fit under/in bookcase; a box to keep “used” paper, stubby (fat) crayons, beginner Ticonderoga pencils or pencils with finger grips on them because little fingers need help holding skinny tools; scissors; glue sticks. A big tub can hold parents’ old clothes and shoes for dress-up and/or indoor balls.”

If you have younger children that need entertaining, Dr. Little goes on to say that , “Preschoolers, especially starting about age 3 ½ – 4 years, like to categorize objects, usually starting with matching colors or shapes, so various block sets (preferably mixed colors and shapes) are always a good bet. To help them with the skills of matching (starting at 3 years) and sorting (starting at 4 years), it would be a good idea to have lots of small tubs that when they clean up (parents need to start that habit early by making it routine to clean their play area) they can match for color, type of toy (small wooden, dinosaurs, etc.) to hold these carpet landmines.”

Since we’re on the topic of a child’s own space, an idea that I’ve always liked is creating a “reading nook.” Lay out some floor pillows or a small beanbag next to a bookshelf so your children can easily pull down books and read them one at a time. If your child is on the young side, you’ll probably have a huge mountain of books to clean up, but at least they’ve killed an hour on their own.

Now that you’ve got your space set up, the following activities can inspire you to get your kiddo going. If you’re really on it, assemble the craft before hand, and have it laying out when it’s time for your child to go work on their own.

–Melissa Kelly, an expert that works with Save the Children has the following suggestions:

  • Save used, clean food containers and let your child create an imaginary grocery store or kitchen in their play corner. Toy plates or money can help with counting or preparing make-believe food.
  • Wooden or plastic blocks are a time-tested way to provide hours of enjoyment. Encourage your child to think of something she likes and then construct it from the blocks.
  • Using markers and an old sheet, create a map with your child with roads, bridges, a river, house, school, store, etc. When it is finished, your child can entertain herself by driving her cars or playing with her dolls on the map.

–Danielle David Grinnen, an artist and designer ( tells us, “One things that I have been doing lately is putting my girls in a
large cardboard box with cups of paint and paintbrushes. They paint the box, themselves, each other and have have SO much fun. They were happy in there for close to an hour while I did my own painting right next to them. This kept the mess in one happy place.” That’s them in the photo at top.

–Kim Giangrande, SPHR, GPHR ( gives us this tip, “Get a play cash register with a scanner. We provided this to our daughter and she uses this to create play opportunities all the time. Sometimes it is a grocery store, other times a spa. She loves to pretend that she is functioning in the grown up world so we help her find ways to create these experiences.

–Irene Gouge of Loving Lessons gives us this advice, “Provide many open-ended items: blocks, books, boxes, notepad, crayons, playdough, different types of pasta, recycled bottles/boxes of food products, balls- These types of toys leave so much to the imagination.  They get your child thinking in new and creative ways.  Most children are drawn to these types of items because there are no rules and can provide hours of fun. They can discover new ways they work, how they can work together, and mimic the adults that use them.  Children discover and learn through play. They appreciate a time in with mom or dad to connect and get the quality time they need to grow and develop.  When parents take the time to do a time in with their child, they will notice their child will play more independently, build their security and self esteem, minimize discipline issues, and de-stress themselves to delight in their child!”

–Jeanne, mom to four sons says they, “. . . loved a bag of cheap pasta from the dollar store, a glue stick, and some construction paper to glue the pasta onto. They played glue the noodles for hours and hours!”

–Candi Wingate, president of Nannies4Hire offers these craft ideas (again, lay out the stuff prior, so they can get right in and working):

  • Make, decorate, and fly kites.
  • Decorate sunglasses with paint, glitter, and other items to express your children’s unique personalities.
  • Make pet rocks.

–Get your child moving! Marc Sickel, A.T.C., and founder of Fitness for Health offers these tips to get your kiddos some P.E. at home:

  • Help your child to design his/her own “obstacle course” using household items such as sheets, empty boxes, chairs and sticks that can create tunnels, hurdles and mazes. Have the child create teams – sibling versus sibling or friend versus friend. (My 3 year-old did this by herself just the other day, she loved it and it took her attention for a good 30 minutes—Alex)
  • Encourage your child to set up a “treasure hunt” in the yard. Time the event to encourage participants to walk briskly or jog to find the objects.The person who finds the most items in the least amount of time is the winner. (Another idea–you can have your child set everything up and hide the items, then when you’re done doing your tasks, you get to find the treasure—Alex)

–And if you’re in the mood for more ideas, check out Sittercity, where they’ve compiled play ideas from their sitters to create the Compendium of Extraordinary Knowledge, “. . . providing parents and childcare providers a place to find a wealth of activities that are not only fun and creative, but they can actually help little ones developmentally and educationally. Sittercity consulted with renowned child and teen development expert, Dr. Robyn Silverman, to categorize these activities by age (infant, toddler, pre-school and school age), as well as developmental categories (physical, educational, social and nutritional). Activities can also be searched by season (winter, spring/rainy, summer and fall).”

How do YOUR children entertain themselves? Let me know in the comment section below–I love new ideas!


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  1. 10 Activities for a Rainy Day…You’re a nanny of two kids, ages three and seven. You had planned a day in the park, but it’s raining, so the park plan will have to wait for another day. What can you do to keep your kids busy and entertained on this rainy day?

    1. Pop some popcorn, pour some juice, and snuggle up for some quality time reading a good book aloud to the kids.
    2. Help the kids make some of their favorite treats in the kitchen. Then, you all can snack on the goodies while watching a great movie on DVD.
    3. Help the kids build a tent in the family room using dining room chairs, bed linens, clothes pins, and other common household items. Then, pretend you are camping in the wilderness. Relaxation CD’s that feature nature sounds can provide wonderful sound effects to enhance the indoor camping experience.
    4. Help the kids create fun crafts. Maybe they can make molds of their hands and give the molds to their parents as wonderful…

  2. Lots of ideas for making use of things already in/around our home (eco-minded ones will love it) with a splash of imagination & creativity, simply fun. No need to buy tons of toys).:) Good tips. Thanks for sharing

  3. toomuchattention says

    This is a very helpful piece. My daughter and son-in-law CONSTANTLY entertain my granddaughter and have since she was able to “play.” It’s non-stop – dolls, house, whatever. Even at family gathering, the parents are on the floor playing with my granddaughter while we’re all supposed to watch. I feel my granddaughter at 4 should have time to entertain herself. Of course, she is incapable of doing so. In gatherings, no matter what the circumstance – i.e. hospital visit – she asks someone to play with her. I think it’s sad they have not given her the freedom to learn to entertain herself. Question – what age should parents begin to encourage children to entertain themselves?

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