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20 fun activities (and learning resources) to keep your child engaged

We’ve rounded up 20 fun activities to keep your kids engaged! Also inside: our free PDF with learning resources!

It’s vacation time! What does that mean for a parent?

More spare time? Kids being even more demanding than usual? Digging deep to find ways to keep them productive? Maybe a mix of all. 

Childhood has a way of being self-engaging, but there are days when they have way too much energy that needs to go somewhere! The huffs and haws and the ‘…but I wanna do something fun.’ Every parent knows this, right?

Don’t you wish there was a go-to list of activities to reduce the whining, up the excitement, and make it productive for all!? Well, we’re here to help!

Here’s a list of activities that you can do indoors, at any point of the year. They’re cooperative, fun, and offer great learning value. Shall we dive in?

Oh routine!

Not the most ‘fun’ or spontaneous thing, but high on the peace-of-mind scale. Also not an actual ‘educational’ activity for kids, but a great starting point. Routines help set expectations for both parents and kids. This means less fussing around when ‘learning time’ begins or it’s time for sleep. Additionally, routines establish a partnership—the conversation gets built around ‘what can we do’, as opposed to what ‘NOT’ to do. While insignificant at first glance, a persistent use of anti-language (not, don’t, can’t, etc…) often leads to hesitancy and lowered confidence.

Research has shown that routines massively benefit social-emotional development in early childhood. In particular, they help with self-regulation skills, which is an important building block in overall mental health. When children get overwhelmed, self-regulation can help them with identifying their feelings and employing the skills necessary to deal with those feelings.

For a parent, routine can create calm. Anxiety and stress are massively reduced, which allow you to really ‘be there’, when you’re engaging with your child. Much like a training session or gym routine. If it’s perennially flexible, it’s harder to be 100% invested. Whether you’re a single parent, or a couple, routine also helps you look forward to me/us time. 

DIY stuff

So, your kid has a whole bunch of questions? Or, you want them to be a wee bit more curious? DIY time holds the key. Encourage your child to ask questions, make observations and document them. Then, analyze. ANY question can be a gateway to learning. “WHY does the water drip slowly?” “How many drops fall in ten seconds?” Now, research together and learn. STEAM learning begins and continues, even at the highest levels, by nurturing curiosity.

There’s a cool science experiment for almost every topic of discussion, and every age group. With a DIY approach, you can find activities for preschoolers and older kids while also throwing yourself into the mix. 

Does your kid love soft drinks? Gently teach them about its ill-effects after a cool experiment. Or is Halloween around the corner, and you’re looking for an experiment that fits the mood?
Try making fake blood. Whichever experiment you try, encourage your child to formulate simple hypotheses. Once they learn the process and importance of making a hypothesis, the fun is multiplied.

Start with the fun, fizzy, poppy stuff and then, go beyond! SO many cool DIY experiments can be done on rotation. 

Don’t waste the ‘waste’

Few things make for free-form play like ‘waste’ material. Shoe boxes, empty cartons, grocery shopping bags, peels from veggies; all the stuff that you, as an adult, may throw away is a learning canvas for kids. For starters, it’s a valuable introduction to upcycling–the process of turning waste into something useful (or of ‘higher’ value). This is the foundation of real-world skills they can use to improve the planet.

The little activities they do with waste material can become gateways for conversations about the interconnectedness of the modern world. Research shows that young children can pick up these cultural messages about wealth and inequity. It is during these periods that they develop their basic values, attitudes, and habits, which may be long lasting.

Here are a couple of waste-based activities for children:

Try the ‘waste jungle’. First use a shoebox as your ecosystem, then start filling strips of soil, add some veggie peel (to indicate different types of plants) and fold bits of paper in different ways to represent different animals. Get fantastical, get wild. The idea of ‘creating’ their own creatures and jungle can be very exciting for kids!

If you’d prefer a more ‘urban’ thing, try building a shoebox city. It’s inexpensive, fun and the level of detailing can be sooo amazing! There are even more nature-based activities here.

Gardening? Yes, of course.

One of the ultimate outdoor or indoor activities for children! Research shows many benefits in teaching young children gardening, especially in a modern, urban context, where they can be somewhat distanced from nature. Apart from an all-round level of comfort with nature (another topic in itself), gardening is an awesome way to learn and spend time with family. Whether indoors, semi-indoors, or outdoors, gardening can engage all the senses. A child can touch and feel the fruits of their labor, observe brightly-coloured flowers, or grow accustomed to the sound of rustling shrubs.

Indoors, an interesting little experiment could be to create a ‘garden of senses’. Select plants that each strongly engage one sense, and build a garden that stimulates all. For example, a brightly coloured flowering plant like Heuchera or ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ has coppery-pink leaves and purple flowers with chocolate undersides. This is ‘visual’.

Cosmos Atrosanguineus or Chocolate Cosmos gives off a strong chocolate-vanilla smell, which is especially strong during hotter weather. Any type of smaller cacti can be a ‘touch’ plant, due to their particularly different texture.

There are many interesting activities around gardening to keep your child engaged— maintain a diary to track plant growth, document various species and stages of growth with photographs, track light exposure, and experiment with compost. Gardening is full of opportunities for scientific thinking. It also teaches children patience, teamwork, and responsibility.

Germ it up!

Plenty of research shows the benefits of exposing children to germs. It strengthens their microbiomes, offering greater protection from illnesses, allergies, and other autoimmune diseases later in life. But COVID, obviously, created an environment where constant sanitizing and washing of hands is necessary.

This has changed attitudes in modern homes. There is now a greater hesitation to interact with ‘dirt’. The constant sterilization, which began due to COVID can carry forward as a long-term habit. 

It’s time to breathe a bit, and mess it up a bit. A slightly less intimidating way to get into this is to play with mud. For example, have a shoe box or small crate filled with mud. Ask your child to close their eyes, while you bury a coin or some small object in it. Then, with eyes closed, ask them to try and find the buried coin. It’s surprisingly fun. Wanna mix it up some more? Ask them to do their multiplication tables when searching!

You can still maintain the habit of washing up regularly, but dirt can be of surprising family value. Go on, embrace it.

Sit. Spot!

Ever tried a sit spot? It’s a surprisingly simple learning activity that can open up a world of observation for your child. Pick a spot to sit, preferably somewhere close to a plant or a place with some natural element (mud, fallen berries, dry leaves next to a window, etc). This is ideally performed outdoors, but near a window or garden will work just fine too. 

All you have to do now is just stay put for about 10 mins (or more) and observe. Just focus on the tinier details, and suddenly, you can observe things that would have completely passed your attention in everyday life. It could be a path that an ant is taking up the wall, the way in which a particle of dust moves, the finer grains of your carpet, or the finer grains of a leaf. This practice cultivates awareness, expands senses, and supports the development of mindfulness. It also increases focus and builds routine. A uniquely wholesome activity for kids.

Once your child is comfortable with the process, you can add a journal into the mix. Encourage them to write about their observations in as much detail as possible. This helps develop a descriptive writing technique. A good way to start is by observing an already-familiar object and recording observations. Encourage your child to look deeply, and notice details they may not have noticed before. Guide them as they describe these details in their journal.

Well, those are slightly more elaborate activities to try with your little one. But, what if you’re pressed for time? You just want to squeeze something meaningful in the ten or fifteen minutes before heading out to work or the supermarket.

Here are some ideas for ‘micro-activities’. They work particularly well as habits. What am I talking about? Let me start by explaining the habit cycle:

There are typically three steps to ANY habit:

A cue – It’s a trigger to your brain to do something. For example, your tummy rumbles
The routine – It’s your response to the cue. For example, you walk to the fridge AFTER your tummy rumbles
Reward – It’s your release/satisfaction when the cue is addressed. For example, you have a snack AFTER opening the fridge. The reward is a satisfied tummy.

Used well, this can be employed to refine a lot of little aspects of daily living. It’s fun to tinker with. Here are some ideas:

Take pictures: Yes, it’s that simple. Want to use a phone (cue)? Ask for it (routine)? Slowly, change up that reward (the dopamine high from screen time) to something artistic and productive like documenting little things around your house. For example; “Take a picture of all the corners and tell me which one is your favorite” or, try ‘texture’ as a theme–window grills, grains of wood, bubbles of water, soap, coffee creme or…an easy hit with kids, slo-mo videos. It can be a surprisingly good entry into developing an ‘eye’

Hide and Seek: If you’re 6 feet 2, not ideal. But, why not hide and seek ‘an object’. Takes nothing, really! Have a zone, for example, the dining room. Then hide a matchbox within 15 secs, give the seeker one minute to look. After 30 secs, they can ask for a clue and another one after 45. From improving sensory alertness to coordination skills, there are many benefits to playing hide and seek. 

Watch the sunset: Does this need a reason? It’s a simple, beautiful thing to do with a loved one. Surprisingly a nice time to just ‘talk’ about unstructured thoughts. In a packed, sometimes over-scheduled life, this can slip away surprisingly easily. The cue is to spend time with a parent, the routine is to say ‘come…be with me’, the reward is time spent together, except watching nature’s daily marvel. Apparently, science thinks that can make a child happier.

Play ‘What IF’: Ask a question starting with ‘What if…’ and take turns. Even for 10 mins, it’s a lot of fun and another thing in your arsenal of activities. Also, can be expanded into something more detailed like “What if you could make an app for…?” A question like that subtly encourages kids to think of innovative technological solutions. Whether these already exist or not is secondary; the small win is the cultivation of an innovation mindset. Along the way, you can gently guide them towards more real-world needs. 

I’m a thing, guess me: Pick a random household object, and then speak of it like a person. For example; “I’m broader than a straw, but narrower than a barrel. If he feels like coffee, he needs me…Who am I?” “I’m the red mug” and so on. It encourages thinking, from non-linear approaches. 

Blow bubbles: Ohhhhh, it’s SO MUCH FUN (and beneficial, especially for younger ones)! A little soap water and a wand, or some thread looped through. And the bubbles can get SO big. On a terrace, windy day, it’s just dreamy. May as well be a Pixar movie. The cue is ‘restlessness’, the routine is asking for ‘entertainment’, the reward is the high from watching the bubbles form

Pick a creature: Five mins, each day, to learn about a new creature. Turned into a habit, it opens up the amazing natural world in so many ways! Imagine learning about 365 species of fish in a year! And, making a note of each one at the end of five mins. Use Google, or more specific resources like <this one>. It also helps with cultivating a research mindset. A spin-off could be 5 minutes of Google! The cue? Curiosity. The routine? To ask an adult. The reward? The knowledge or answer. If the routine can be changed up to ‘research by yourself in 5 mins’, it slowly builds a very valuable habit. 

Summing up, there are many different ways to keep kids engaged. But, there are many factors that determine what works for you: your child’s personality, time and space available, your own headspace and personality, and too many others to list here. It’s important to be kind to yourself through the process! It’s not the end of the world if you’re simply too tired and give your child some screen time. We know those situations all too well. That’s why we built toys focused on making screen time healthy! It might seem redundant to say so, but never underestimate the magic of play. It’s the most seamless way for children to build skills.

And the knowledge that your child is positively ‘developing’ brings peace of mind. Or in other words, you know they’re in ‘good hands’. We wanted to make your life easier, because we’ve been here ourselves! Wanna have a look at some of the incredible play sets we’ve created? Hop over to our store

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