Keeping the kids busy and minimizing screen time can be tough. Whether you’re stuck inside on a rainy day, you’ve run out of ideas for weekend entertainment, or you’re quarantined at home during the coronavirus outbreak, entertaining the little ones can feel overwhelming and sometimes expensive. And while having a well-stocked supply of arts and crafts or a playroom full of toys is ideal, some days you’ll still need to get creative to battle the boredom.
We’ve come up with a list of everyday items you’ve probably got stashed in your pantry or kitchen that you can use to create a fun and inexpensive activity to keep the kids happy and you from pulling your hair out — because we’ve all been there.
Your muffin tin isn’t just great for baking, it’s a multi-use tool that can be used for arts and crafts, as well as teaching activities with your kids. One of the best uses for a muffin tin is sorting, since it’s already portioned out perfectly. From counting to letters and colors, muffin tins are a great way to teach your little ones using items you probably already have on-hand. A great example is putting those baking cups to use by writing letters on the bottom and having your child place an item that starts with the letter in the correct muffin tin. It’s a fun idea from ABCDEELearning.com and it’s definitely a simple one to recreate at home. If you’d rather try counting, write numbers on the bottom of the baking cups and have your kiddo drop the correct amount of their favorite candy or cereal into each cup. The best part: They get to eat it after the activity is over!
This may bring you back to your kindergarten days, but it’s a great way to use that leftover box of pasta hiding in the back of the pantry. Grab a glue stick and construction paper, and let your little one get creative with cavatappi or make something marvelous from macaroni. If you’ve got yarn on hand, making pasta jewelry is a great way to exercise their fine motor skills as they string rigatoni or penne together to make a fun necklace. If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you can always make a “fusilli Jerry” replica while the kids play.
Speaking of counting, sometimes you can keep it simple with a piece of paper and your child’s favorite cereal or whatever you have in the pantry. Write down numbers one – 10 on a sheet of paper and have your child place pieces of cereal next to the number so they can visualize what five pieces of cereal looks like. You can even use cereal to do simple addition problems. These are just a few fun number recognition activities you can do at home and ABCDEELearning.com has even more fun ways to explore.
This activity was a fun one during my daughter’s playgroup! Take your colander or pasta strainer and some pipe cleaners or whatever you have on hand and have your toddler poke the pipe cleaner through the holes of the colander. It’s a great way for them to practice fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and maybe a little patience, too. If they get too frustrated, a colander can act as a hat when they need a laugh.
Sometimes the simplest of items can take arts and crafts with your kids to a new level. So instead of throwing away that egg crate after making breakfast, save it for your next rainy day activity. You can cut up the egg crates and combine them with other items like pipe clears, paint and googly eyes to turn them into a crafty creation that battles boredom. From egg crate ladybugs and bumblebees to pretty flowers, The Spruce Crafts outlines a list of egg carton creations that will entertain your kids.
Another item you probably have on-hand are paper plates — because dishes are the ultimate enemy and these can save your sanity. If you have a few to spare, try using paper plates to make masks, hats, animals and holiday crafts to keep your kiddos busy. If you need a little paper plate inspo, How Wee Learn has 75 ways to use paper plates for crafts.
More than likely, you’ve got a gigantic bag of cotton balls in your bathroom — because they always seem to come in counts of 100-plus — so this is a great budget-friendly option for entertainment. The easiest idea with these is a simple art project using glue sticks and construction paper, but you can put some purpose to your play and make cotton ball letters or shapes on construction paper if you want it to be educational. If you’re not the artsy type, EntertainYourToddler.com has 10 ideas to do with these fun and fuzzy items. The cotton ball spider webs looked especially fun!
If you want to step up your painting game, graduate from finger paints and brushes to paint stamps made from sponges. If you have a few extra sponges that haven’t been used, cut them into fun shapes so your kids can dip them in paint and create their next masterpiece. I did this for Easter this year, cutting sponges into bunnies, eggs and carrots for my little one to make her Easter cards for family and friends. You can also keep it simple and cut them into squares, circles and triangles to help teach your kids their shapes. The designs are up to you and the options are limitless!
This may be the most basic staple from your pantry, but it can be very versatile when you need to entertain your kids. Rice is perfect for practicing fine motor skills like scooping and can even be used for art projects and sensory play. Learning4Kids.net has a list of how to use rice for fun activities and directions on coloring rice and making scented rice.
Cool Whip and food coloring
It doesn’t have to be Easter to make colorful eggs! Let your little one get messy while making colorful creations anytime of the year. I did this with my little one this Easter, as she’s only 2 and isn’t quite ready for the store-bought coloring kit and wire egg holder. If you’ve got Cool Whip in your freezer and food coloring in your pantry, hard boil a few eggs and soak them in vinegar for about 5 minutes after they’ve cooled. Grab your muffin tin, fill it up with Cool Whip and swirl some food coloring in with a toothpick. Once the eggs are ready, your kids can dip and swirl them in the colorful Cool Whip. Let the eggs sit with the Cool Whip on them for about 20 minutes, then rinse and see how your colorful creations turned out.
If you’re stuck indoors, try a DIY scavenger hunt with pantry and kitchen items. You can theme it by color, using only items that are red, or do it by shape, finding circles like paper plates, cans and pots you’ve placed around the house. It doesn’t have to be fancy to keep your kids occupied, but it can still be fun. If you like the idea, check out a full list of at-home scavenger hunts for your little ones and we’ve even got a few free printables to help you get started.