My kids (currently 4-1/2 and 3) rarely nap these days. And OH do I miss those 2-hour increments (at one point TWICE a day!) where I knew I could get a few things accomplished without needing to get a snack, referee an argument, pretend to be a Ghostbuster … you get the idea. Most of the time, I save any big projects I need to do for when they’re spending a day at Grandma and Grandpop’s. But when I want to do a little project WITHOUT their help and they’re home, I’ll usually pull out one of these toys. They’re great because unlike their cars, trains, princesses, blocks etc, they don’t have easy access to them at all times. So that makes them feel special. They’re also toys that they tend to play with in ONE spot. This means I can set them up right near me, so that I don’t need to keep getting up to help, AND they’re still with me, even though we’re all doing our own thing for a bit. These were lifesavers when I was working from home WITH them home EVERY. DAY. last spring. And they’re useful when I’m doing things like painting a shelf like this week!
TIP: You might notice in my photos and descriptions below, I’m really into using trays to keep messes contained and make clean up easier. Whenever we’re doing something messy that can be contained in their trays, that’s the rule. (It’s also where I try to keep the tiny LEGO building contained as well.) I bought our trays in the Dollar Spot at Target last year, but I haven’t seen them there recently. HERE is an Amazon link to something similar.
Keeping Kids Busy MVP List:
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Kinetic sand brings the fun of the sandbox inside! The set we have includes little molds to make castles and pyramids, but there are SO many different kinetic sand kits out there. My kids usually add in some of their own toys, too. Excavators and dinosaurs are their favorite additions.
More Sets we’ve since added:
Now that my daughter is finally old enough that I can (usually) trust her not to try to eat things, this Playfoam is a great creative toy because it’s so open ended. They can use it like clay making different shapes. It never dries out, and you just squash it down and start over again. Most recently, Henry used it while playing with his Ghostbusters toys, and Charlotte used it to make dresses for her princesses!
It feels like a lot of parents are either decidedly PRO Play-Doh or ANTI Play-Doh. You either love it or hate it. I’m a big fan of Play-Doh. BUT, we have rules. Only I’m allowed to get out the Play-Doh. It can only be used at the table. And it must stay in the tray. (Well, as much as possible at least.)
Here are a few sets that are favorites around here:
My kids LOVE magnetic sets. Magformers, Magnatiles, Picasso … they’re not picky. And those are typically toys that they have access to all of the time. When I want to get something out that’s a little more special, I break out the Melissa & Doug Magnetivity. This set comes with tons of tiny magnetic pieces that they can use to accessorize the people and the scenes in the set. So far, we have the “Our House” set, but there are others!
Toys that they’re SUPPOSED to color on?! My kids love to draw all over these cute little animals, then wash them off and start all over again. I’ll put a little bowl of water inside their trays so they can give them baths over and over. And since my kids love taking baths, this activity typically ends with me saying, “If you’re good while I do what I need to do, you can take your animals in OUR bathtub at the end!”
These are obviously great for the bath tub, but I recently found another use for them. Bring them outside in the water table! This is great if you’re trying to do a project outside, and you need the kids to stay in one spot so that you can safely keep an eye on them too. I brought out a bunch of the kids’ toys and then told them to go crazy painting their toys and the water table itself. They even painting our chimney. And it washes off so easily! (You could also use watered down washable paint for this, too.) Note: I included an Amazon link above, but you can sometimes find these in the Dollar Spot at Target for less!
I’ll add more to this list as I think of them, but these are some of our current favorites! These are all toys that require minimal supervision/assistance. And, at least in our house, they’re a little more “special,” which means it can typically keep them distracted and entertained enough that I’m able to accomplish something of my own!