Kids Activities for Happy Kids and Frugal Parents!

When it comes to kids activities, often less is more. What family times do you remember from your childhood? Chances are, they are the fun times spent with family - times that were not based on expensive toys or hobbies, but special times spent doing everyday things with Mom or Dad or siblings.

There are so many kids activities your kids can do that won't cost you a lot (or any!) money. Explore this sampling of ideas, and I bet you will start to think of your own!

Toys - less is more

Have you ever noticed that the length of time that a new toy holds a child's attention depends on how many other new toys there are to check out? One small toy can keep a child happily occupied for many hours (or days) if it is the only plaything around (given that it is an interesting and imaginative toy to start with...) When kids have too many toys calling for their attention, they don't seem to be very excited about any of them.

When we think of kids activities we often think of toys, but toys have become so plentiful and inexpensive that parents find themselves buying many more toys for their children than they ever had growing up. Those same children are more restless and bored than any previous generation! Maybe it is because they simply have too many complex toys and have not learned how to play imaginatively.

If your children are small and overwhelmed by too many toys, try rotating them - keeping only a few out at once so the kids can really focus on what is available. Getting rid of outgrown toys is another option - give the old toys to charity or sell them in a garage sale or take them to a consignment shop.

The best toys are those that can be used in a variety of ways, as opposed to toys that do one thing only. Examples of versatile toys are: dolls, blocks or other building toys, balls, toy vehicles, and tools. These toys encourage a child's use of imagination and provide many hours of healthy play.

Dress up clothes

What child does not love to dress up? Dress up play is a great kids activity that allows children to try out different roles and helps to form their identities and boosts their social and emotional development.

Start a collection of costumes and dress up clothes and keep it in a plastic bin, dresser drawer, or old chest. Halloween costumes from years past can go in along with any old things Grandma might have stored away - costume jewelry and hats are great! Old glasses or sunglasses and shoes; scarves, gloves, vests... use your imagination! Garage sales and thrift shops are gold mines for this type of clothing - they don't need to be in pristine condition because they are just for fun.

Quiet Time Play

Puzzles - puzzles are a wonderful, entertaining, and inexpensive kids activity that is also a child development tool. Jigsaw puzzles help to develop hand-eye coordination in young children and "lay the foundation children need for lifelong self confidence and problem solving, and empowers them to explore, make mistakes and learn." (Farrar)

Puzzles are inexpensive to buy new, and even less if you find them at garage sales or trade with friends. They are a good quiet-time kids activity for a rainy day.

Drawing, coloring, and painting are also good quiet kids activities. Provide your children with crayons and paper and encourage them to be original in their creations. Who says a cow can't be purple? Tell Picasso that!

If you are concerned about a mess, have a special time and place for supervised art work - maybe at the kitchen table while Mom is cooking dinner? Tell them what the rules are (such as: color on the paper only!) and teach them how to clean up after themselves afterward.

Legos - Lego blocks are classic and timeless. Kids and adults alike enjoy them! Besides providing a lot of fun, the brightly colored pieces and easily interlocking combinations provide hours of patterning practice and fine-motor development for younger children. Looking for just the right piece strengthens sorting skills, a key part of the kindergarten math curriculum. And for all kids, Lego teaches how to think in three dimensions-- a precursor to physics. Children of all ages also hone creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork through Lego play.

Outside Play

There is nothing more natural than for children to run and play outside. Sadly, a lot of children spend so much time watching TV and playing video games that they don't get the fresh air and exercise that they should.

Encourage your children to 'go outside and play'! Here are some ideas for outdoor kids activities if they can't think of any on their own:

Plant flowers - They will need adult supervision for this one, but most kids are thrilled at the prospect of planting something. Collect some small containers from yogurt or something similar and let the kids fill them with potting soil. Then show them how to plant a small plant or a few seeds in each one. If you want to make it a learning experience, get an age-appropriate book on the subject from the library ahead of time and let them learn how much water and sun their plant will need and when to expect to see it grow. If they are old enough, they can write in a journal about their "garden's" progress.

Plant an herb garden - Children enjoy growing something of their own, especially something they can eat! Letting them help you to grow your own herbs inside or outside is fun and easy - a good activity project for children.

Blowing Bubbles - Kids love bubbles, and it is easy to make your own. You will need:

1 cup granulated soap or soap powder
1 quart warm water
Liquid food coloring (optional)
Plastic straws
Small juice cans
kids activities
Dissolve soap in warm water. Stir in food coloring until desired color is attained. Give each child a can about 1/3 full of mix and a plastic straw to blow the bubbles.

Hide & Seek - Everyone knows how to play hide and seek - encourage your children to play it - they will have fun and get some good exercise at the same time.

Tag - Just like hide & seek, everyone knows how to play "tag" and it can be fun - occasionally even for grown-ups! If the kids think they are too cool to play these games, just get them started; once they do, they will likely lose themselves in the fun and forget to be "too cool"!

Swings - Swings are a favorite with children everywhere. If your kids don't have a swing set, consider hanging a swing from a tree. If you have a straight tree branch, all you need is some heavy rope and something for a seat. An old tire or a piece of wood can work, or you can buy plastic swing seats that won't warp or rot like wood. A swing is a wonderful escape and good exercise, too.

Other Creative Kids Activities

Blanket over chairs - Little ones love little "hidey" places of their own where the grownups don't fit! An easy (and temporary!) way to do this is with a blanket and a couple of chairs or a table. Put the chairs back-to-back and drape the blanket over it so that is comes to the floor on two or more sides (this works with a table, too - just drape it over the whole table so that it falls down to the floor on at least two sides). With a little imagination, this space will become their ship at sea, their rocketship to the moon, or their castle dungeon - they will have hours of fun inside their hide-away!

Build something - Take your children (ages 5 to 12) to Lowes or Home Depot to build a project. Most stores participate in the program and have an activity one Saturday per month. The workshops teach children do-it-yourself skills and tool safety, while helping to instill a sense of accomplishment. To take home, each child get his or her newly constructed project kit, and a kid-sized apron like those worn by store associates. Check with your local store to see when these sessions are held and to find out if you need to pre-register.

Creative crafts - Most kids love craft projects. One of my favorites is to make a button bracelet. This is an easy project that isn't messy like those involving paint and glue (or glitter!) and uses items you probably already have around the house. Plus, your kids can make them as homemade presents for friends and family members!

Start a scrapbook - A good holiday boredom-buster idea for school-aged kids is for them to start a scrapbook of summer (or Christmas, or a vacation trip). They can use photos, draw pictures, press flowers and leaves, attach ticket stubs and things from anything they attended, etc. It could be a sort of journal, too, with writings about ideas, events, or feelings.

Make a cardboard play house- My sister and her husband made a cardboard playhouse for their two young sons recently. The boys love it more than any store-bought toy, and spend hours of imaginative play there!

Family Game Night

Playing games together as a family teaches children teamwork, patience and following rules. It also builds strong family bonds and creates memories that last a lifetime!

Use the Library

Studies have shown the benefits of reading to children from as early as before birth. Providing your children with books is probably the best thing you can do to give them an advantage in school and life.

Almost every town has at least one public library, and most have weekly or monthly story hours for preschool children. This is a good, free activity that will help to foster imagination, love of books, and serve as an early experience with sitting quietly with other children like they will have to do when they start school. (These story hours are especially useful for children that don't have any preschool or daycare experience before starting kindergarten.)

Many public libraries have kids activities and reading programs for older children during the summer. They offer recognition for summer reading, and often provide nice prizes, too (restaurant coupons or tickets to local sporting events).

Schedule regular trips to the library and let the kids pick books to check out. When they are old enough, let them get their own library card - it will teach responsibility and make them feel so proud!

Farrar, Andrew E. Farrar, Specialty Retailer, February 1998, Play Values: A Specialty Toy Marketing Advantage, pp. 34-36

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