At Home with Restless Kids?

Try these activities to stimulate, amuse, enrich, pacify

Photos by Alissa Ehmke

Ever since schooling and work have moved to the home, the parenting landscape has changed completely. The COVID-19 pandemic has now made engaging with and entertaining kids during all of their waking hours a top priority for all parents.

I have three kids – ages one, five and eight – and, in addition to working full time from home, I’m responsible for making sure their minds and bodies are engaged for most of the day. Now three weeks in, I have discovered some go-to activities that will capture their attention for at least 30 minutes straight (on a good day). Here they are – but like all things with kids, the outcome and interest level may vary on any given day. Most of these activities require just household items, some time and a little patience.

Build a Blanket Fort

I knew from my kids’ grandparents, who usually watch them for a couple of days a week while I’m at work, that this is a favorite of my children. All you need are blankets, pillows and a place large enough to create a little den. We make our fort between our living room couch and our kitchen table. We use the couch and the kitchen chairs as the points over which to drape our blankets, and we use our artificial Christmas-tree stand to add some height.

The kids’ favorite part is to gather up all their pillows, stuffed animals and blankets to outfit the inside. I also added some of our icicle Christmas lights to the entrance to add a little light if it’s dreary outside.

In the beginning, the excitement is intense, and they’re all in. They take books, coloring books and water bottles, then hunker down inside. I told them I’d leave it up until it fell down. About an hour later, the fort succumbed to my one-year-old when she woke up from her nap.

Junk-Drawer Cleanout

My kids have their own junk drawer in our house. In it are crayons, markers, stickers, erasers, tape, bits of paper, ribbons and anything else they’ve wanted to save. One day I grabbed a couple of cheap canvases that we had in our basement, cleared out their junk drawer on one side of our kitchen table and told them to decorate the canvases. This activity is  great because they can work independently on it for a long time, and you get to clean out one of your drawers. 

Slime Time

Parents will probably roll their eyes or pass over this idea quickly, but my kids are still obsessed with slime. You can make it from scratch with household items: baking soda, water, glue, contact solution, food coloring and shaving cream. To find a recipe you like with ingredients you already have, search for one online – there are tons. 

My two tips for making slime: Put a plastic tablecloth on the table because it’s easier to clean, and if you’re looking after a wide age range, make slime when the little ones are asleep. My kids often need help kneading their slime, and once it’s all over your hands, it’s hard to stop to tend to a baby.

Once their slime is made, it actually occupies the kids longer than you might expect. We leave it in plastic containers on our kitchen counter, and throughout the day the kids play with it. My kids especially like to have slime races. They place their slime on the edge of our kitchen island and see whose slime is the first to reach the floor.