When we left Iraq, we had to leave a lot of our things there too – it would have been too expensive and too cumbersome to ship everything (even more expensive than replacing things on this end!). We didn’t mind leaving behind some of our clothes and books and other things. One of the toughest things to leave behind, though, ended up being the kids’ toys and things, not only because they were too young to understand what was happening or why they had to leave their toys (and what mom doesn’t get sad when she sees her kids sad because they miss their home and toys???), but also because we are now facing the challenge of keeping them busy and engaged with very few resources.
So, I’ve started collecting activity ideas that are:
- Frugal – we’re not going to invest a lot in purchases until we have a job and know that we’re able to stay in Pittsburgh – if we end up moving again in the near future, we don’t want to have accumulated a lot here.
- No-Preparation/Low-Preparation – most of our time right now is dedicated to job hunting and working through all the practical things involved in a major move from one country to another, so we need activities that are engaging but don’t take too much prep time.
- Minimal Space Required – sometimes we have a lot of space, but sometimes we need the kids to be occupied in a fairly small space, so activities that don’t take a lot of space are handy.
Thanks to ideas from friends, tons of brainstorming from SIMPLE activities I loved as a child, and a few great links, I’ve made the following list – hoping you find it helpful too! Do you have other frugal kids activities you do with your kids? Share them in the comments!
Anything with sponges. Just your basic sponge – not sponges with a steel scrubbing side…
- Sponge fights – give everyone a bucket of water and a few sponges, and go at it!
- Sponge shapes – cut sponges into fun shapes – plants, animals, or anything you come up with. You could even an entire farm or ocean of sponge toys to play with!
- Sponge towers – cut sponges into even strips, and use them to build towers or other fun structures.
- Sponge transfer – move water from one container to another using sponges.
This bubble wrap activity looks like a great one! It can be a great learning opportunity as well as a fun game if you use letters and numbers, or images of new vocabulary words.
Make your own books. All you need is some paper and pens (crayons, colored pencils or markers would make it more exciting), and some way of binding the paper together, like string or staples. Even young toddlers can participate in this activity by making picture books. Younger kids can also pair up with older kids that help them add words or sentences to the books.
Sorting activities. Let your kids sort through socks, piles of clean laundry, or anything else you have a lot of. They can sort by size, color, type of material, owner, or other properties.
Indoor basketball. Crumple up some old newspaper or magazine pages into balls and use an empty bucket or waste basket for the basket.
Play with empty boxes. Make tents or forts, play hide and seek, draw on the outside of the boxers to make them look like cars, planes, houses, etc.
Make masks. Use paper plates, pens or crayons, and scissors. Use string to keep the masks on, or glue/tape a Popsicle stick to the bottom of the plate as a handle.
Puppets. Make puppets from socks or paper bags, and put on a puppet show!
Play dough. This can keep kids busy for hours, playing, creating and exploring. If you already have play dough, this doesn’t take any prep. If you don’t, but you have a few basic ingredients, you can make your own easily and then keep it on hand.
Make telephones using tin cans (or paper cups) and string.
Play with marbles.
- Just roll them around and try to make them hit each other (this is really fun with magnetic marbles, which can form chains)
- Make paths for them on the ground with tape and try to keep them on the path. You could even make a maze with the tape and try to get the marbles through the maze.
- Make a fun marble run using empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls.
- Pull out a bunch of Tupperware containers or pots and pans. Take All the lids off, mix them up and the let your kids try to match the right lid with each container.
- Put a variety of small objects inside the pots and pans, and put the lids on. You can put multiple objects in the same container, or one thing in each. Your kids should try to guess what is in each container by shaking it. Before putting hiding the objects, show your child the whole selection so they have an idea of what the objects could be. For younger children, limit the selection of objects to 3 or 4 until they get the hang of the guessing game. Then you can gradually expand the number of objects you work with.
Play with plastic cups.
- Build towers and pyramids. Then try to knock them down by shooting marbles at the base, or using water and spray bottles.
- Line the cups up and try to toss ping pong balls or other light objects into the cups.
- Turn a bunch of cups upside down and hide something under one of them. Your kids can take turns turning cups over until they someone finds the hidden object.
Pipe cleaners. Your kids can build with them or make figures with them. Poke small holes in paper cups or plates, and your kids can practice threading the pipe cleaners through the holes.
Dress Up. Pull out old clothes and let your kids have fun trying them on and coming up with different combinations. It doesn’t matter if the clothes are too. If – that only makes it more fun for little kids because they get to wear “grown-up clothes”. This activity could also give you some pretty good ideas for Halloween costumes too.
- Get a regular deck of cards. Your young children might be too young to learn Crazy Eights, but even young children can get the hang of simple games like War, Go Fish, Slap Jack, and 52 Card Pick Up!
- You can also turn the cards upside down for a game of memory, let your kids try to build something out of cards or just come up with different arrangements, or mix up all the cards and then let your kids try to put them back in order again (this helps young children strengthen their counting and sorting skills).