As the old saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” so fill up the long hours of the day with these cheap home-based activities. Not only will they keep your kids happy and busy, but they’ll keep you sane(r) too.
Probably the most obvious one of all, but pick up the phone and call a friend. Often all a toddler needs to be happily entertained is someone else to play with. Kids – together – will think up all kinds of games that you couldn’t possibly imagine. And if their mom comes along too, then you have someone to have a natter with and pass the time.
Pitch a tent
Build a fort (with old blankets) or pitch a tent (we’re sure you have one lying around from your single camping days?). These bring such novelty to playing, and you will see how new life is brought to all of your kids’ toys once they are painstakingly taken – one by one – into their new “house”. And if the weather is still warm enough, consider pitching the tent in the garden.
On that note, work that imagination. Make-believe games are easy to invent, and you really can follow your little one’s lead on this.
Hunt for toys
As long as you remember where you put them – especially that favourite toy – why not hide your kids’ toys? It’s great practice for the annual Easter-egg hunt and should keep them busy for a while. When you’re done – get them to hide the toys, and you can get dad to look for them when he gets home from work.
Paint the house – with water!
This is a great game, especially for the younger toddler. Fill up a bucket with water and haul out an old painting roller. Your toddler will love painting the house – do it outside – and you might even land up with slightly cleaner walls.
Create a classroom
Get some glue, old magazines, paper and crayons – and we’re sure you’ll be able to come up with an arts and crafts centre. See what things you have in the house that can add to the fun – glitter, stickers, crinkle paper, foil and paint. You can even download and print fun pictures off the internet to colour in – there are loads of sites dedicated to this.
Kids love water, so fill up pots, buckets, ice-cream tubs, watering cans, plastic cups and fill and empty, fill and empty. Younger toddlers usually love this, and you will be amazed at how many times the dog bowl can be filled and emptied. Never leave your child unattended around water though.
It’s probably getting close to nap time now, so why not put a mattress and a duvet on the floor and make a reading ring? Toddlers love books, and if you’re short of new and exciting ones, it’s still free to get these from the library – as long as you remember to return them and don’t run up a hefty fine. We know baby brain never really goes away!
Take a walk
Go for a walk and stop to smell the roses. We all know toddlers love to dawdle, and if you let them, you'll have fewer hours to fill before bedtime. If you have a safe park nearby, pay a visit. Jungle gyms and other kids take the edge off any day.
Play with clay
Play dough is also fantastic for keeping the kids entertained. And you don’t have to buy those expensive tubs that don’t last – make your own with half a cup of salt, half a cup water, one cup of flour and food dye, and you can have a fresh “batch” for every day of the holidays.
Biscuit ingredients are cheap and simple, and your toddler will just love mixing them together and rolling the dough. If you have cookie cutters, get them to make the biscuits into fun characters too. Great for fine motor skills development. And not being able to eat them in the end is probably not a bad thing...
Hit the ball
If you ever had one of those ball ponds with a bag of 100 balls in it, then now’s the time to line them up and get your future golf pro hitting them. Once he’s gone through all 100, encourage him to collect the balls and line them up for his brother. There’s a reason why gold stars were invented.
We’re almost certain you have at least one CD of nursery rhymes to jump around to, but the good news is, lots of babies love all kinds of music, which means you might even be able to haul out one of your own CDs and get moving to it – just like the old days!
Have a tea party under the trees. You can get those plastic tea sets at next to nothing from the Crazy Store or Pep. Otherwise, just pretend. Little girls love to sit on a picnic blanket and feed their babies tea and cake. Little boys have been known to make a great cappuccino too.
While this is a contentious issue, there really is only so much you can do. As long as the screen time is limited, it can be used as an exercise in concentration too. A DVD swap with friends is a great idea, and also check of your local library doesn’t stock movies – many of them do.
Little girls love to dress up, and you don’t need to buy fancy props. Fish out scarves, shoes, feather boas, sparkly handbags and cheap jewellery – you name it – and your princess will have a field day. Old skirts work wonderfully as dresses. Little boys love playing pirates too. Make him an eye-patch, and find an old roll of wrapping paper – believe it or not, these work great as “swords”.
Build a ramp
If you have an old piece of wood lying around, and an elevated area somewhere, your son will think you’re the best thing since Jake from the Neverland Pirates if you make him a ramp for his cars. He can race them up and down and see how far they can go. Just make sure he doesn’t try it out with his scooter.
Play hide and seek
Kids love the thrill of hiding and being found and can do it over, and over, and over again. If you’re the one hiding, you can use the “quiet” time to catch up on your emails on your Smartphone.
Get out your nail polish
Your daughter wants to do what you do, so paint her fingers and toes, give her a head rub, and hopefully you will squeeze in a mini mani and pedi for yourself too. May we suggest that you paint your own nails though...
Find a spot where the grass isn’t growing and make a sandpit just like the one at school. You can get cheap building sand at building outlets like Penny Pinchers, Mica or Builder’s Warehouse.