Many times over the years we have found ourselves low on funds for one reason or the other and doing our best to find ways to have fun with the kids. If your children are older you probably know by now that it is not that hard to keep them entertained; they find fun in the simplest things. So if you are a new parent and do not have a lot of money do not despair it will be fine!
There are a few ways which with my children tied in the level of fun and simplicity. These activities made my children extremely happy and kept them busy for quite some time. They never tired of theseactivities and even today as young adults I believe they would still participate and cannot wait until they find a younger cousin or have their own children to play this way again.
One of these activities is creating anything with a box. Any box you can find that they can actually fit into will work. I can not tell you how many times we have bought them some gift we thought they would be overjoyed with only to find out that they enjoyed the box even better than the gift itself! Boxes are such a wonderful way to teach your children about creativity and use of imagination. The bigger the box the better things they could create or multiple smaller boxes. We have had refrigerator boxes and made play houses, forts, grocery stores, post offices, and used several to make an adjoining tunnel system. You can paint them; use colored markers, crayons, or just black magic markers and scissors to make pretend or real doors and windows. If you have big and small boxes you can even put a tower on your castles. We have lined up smaller boxes to make a train or medium boxes to make a race car. There is virtually no end to what you can do with boxes. When my daughter was small she had a pretty cool play house that lasted quite some time with windows, curtains, and a door which housed her oven/stove (made from smaller boxes) and sink/cabinets using all her play dishes and pots and pans from the dollar store. She was in heaven. My son had a fort which he would sit and play in for hours with his cars and blocks. Children love to be in sheltered places with their toys probably because it gives them a sense of security, something like a warm hug would do.
The other activity which is very similar to the boxes was tents. Children love tents and even if you can not afford one or do not have time to go camping the kids love it when you make a tent in the house. There are complex and simple ways to achieve this; I have seen all kinds in my time. We used to just put two pieces of furniture together and drape a sheet over it and viola there you go. You can make it more elaborate using PVC pipe and make a frame or I have even seen people who have a hula hoops hanging from the ceiling and have the sheets coming off of it with clips. My children would get inventive and create some pretty neat tents as they got older, especially because my daughter was seven years older than my son; she was the brains and he was the brawn. They loved sitting in their tents usually set up in the family room so they could watch a cartoon from the tent and have snacks or play a game. They had hours of fun together in their tent. When they got a little older we were able to get a small dome tent and let them put it up in the back yard or sometimes in the family room. They were absolutely thrilled with this small tent. Mom would sometimes take advantage of their love of the tent and crawl in with them for naps. It seemed to make nap time so much easier!
My kids’ grandma got them hooked on marbles. She had some old marbles and let them play with them one day and they set up all kinds of marble shoots and games to play with marbles. One thing they loved was taping together a bunch of empty paper towel, wrapping paper, or toilet paper rolls and sending their marbles off into different directions by making one shoot down and three that shot off to the sides. They would place little buckets or bowls at the ends and have a blast seeing which marble was going where. I have seen people use those pool noodles and cut them open to make ramps for the marbles to roll. It is a lot of fun to teach your kids how to shoot the marbles too. That is quite a skill if you have not ever done it or have not done it in a long time! Once they learn you can put the marbles in a circle and take turns seeing who can shoot the most marbles out of the circle.
Playing with buttons is another activity that my children had a great time doing. My mother has an extensive collection of old buttons that she would let the kids string up on yarn for necklaces or just match the colors and sizes. If you do not have old buttons around your house you can get bags of them at the craft stores or fabric shops pretty inexpensively. I remember as a young person myself playing with my great-grandma’s and grandma’s button collection almost every time we went to visit. There is something magical about buttons. Just make sure there are no needles mixed in with the buttons for the little children to get a hold of.
Learning to sew on a hankie went right along with the button play. For the kids who were old enough my mom used to get the larger, blunt needles and show the kids how to thread them and then let them sew buttons or just make stitches on some of my dad’s old hankies or scraps of material. I was surprised how they would sit and sew for quite some time. My son, who was a very active boy, would sit for thirty minutes to an hour just sewing on his little piece of material. The older kids can make bean bags with beans from the pantry and a scrap of material and then make a bean bag throw game out of a box. That is a wonderful way to have fun on any given day.
Another way my children, especially my son, loved to play with things we had around the house were canned goods. My son had a special infatuation with canned goods. Just like every other toddler he loved getting into the cabinets, most of which were locked, except for the canned goods and the pots and pans. Of course he played with the pots and pans and made loads of sweet music almost daily but he also loved the canned goods. He liked to stack them up like they do in the grocery store and roll a ball at them and knock them down. Sometimes he and my daughter would make a sort of tunnel system out of the cans and roll their hot wheels through the cans to each other. And other times we would just roll the cans back and forth to each other as we sat on the floor. I do not know why for sure but my son really enjoyed doing this.
The simplest activities can bring so much enjoyment to young children. Almost anything that mom and dad do with them is fun for them and getting creative with toys or other things you already have around is so economical and often times so much more fun. Children love to invent and create from scratch. Army men that you get at the dollar store or farm animals can bring hours of fun. Home made bubbles are always a hit and anything that floats can become a wonderful bath toy. Coloring over leaves under paper and creating a colored replica becomes fascinating to young children. Book reading and story telling or putting on a puppet show in one of those empty boxes with your stuffed animals will never disappoint any child and will create the most wonderful bonding time between parents and children. They grow up so fast and there are so many ways that do not require money or expensive toys to make your children very happy.
Ken holds a master’s in business leadership from Upper Iowa University and multiple bachelor degrees from Grand View College. As president of morningsidenannies.com, Ken’s focus is helping Houston-based parents find the right childcare provider for their family. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his three children and his wife.