Our favorite at-home, hands-off activities for kids

22 July 2020

After several months of two parents working from home with childcare gaps, we’ve learned to get creative. While there’s no shortage of inspiration for kiddo activities on the internet, I’ve found most of them require parent participation – which is great, but not when what you’re after is a way to finish up a task before clocking out for the day WHILE keeping littles happy.

Trust me – there are few things I hate more than working while my kids are around, but the pandemic has made it unavoidable at times. If you find yourself in the same situation, I thought I’d offer up a few activities our crew has found especially enjoyable and entertaining this spring and summer. Hint: just add water :)

A few disclaimers:
— My children are (almost) 2 and 4, but even if yours are the same ages, these activities may or may not be developmentally-appropriate. Always use your best judgment!
— I classify these activities as hands-off, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require supervision. Even small amounts of water require supervision! What I mean is that these activities capture my children’s attention without my direct participation – and usually for a long time, to boot. Typically, I’ll take my laptop to our backyard or front porch to work while the kids splash a few feet from me. So grateful to have these spaces!

Without further ado…

Under the sea sensory bin | Sensory bins are the bread and butter of Montessori preschools, so although we were very familiar with them, we’d never attempted one at home. Turns out they’re very easy: dump some small animal figurines (or the Arctic version), an aquarium plant or two, some rocks, some shells, and anything else that strikes your fancy in a big plastic tub, then add water. A few drops of blue food coloring takes things to the next level :) We have two of these for side-by-side play or this big one if they’re playing together.

Splash pad | With little jets around the edge, this water-inflated pool is the most low-key version of a water park right in your backyard. I toss a few animal figurines and plastic cups in with the kids and they are happy as clams.

Pouring station | Big plastic tub + multiple sizes and shapes of cups, pitchers, squeezers, etc. + water (and maybe a little food coloring!). They can pour, measure, make potions, pour it on each other’s heads, whatever. As always, animal figurines are welcome.

LEGO bath | Dump the LEGOS and the kids in the bath! Yes, the LEGOS need to be dried out, but that can become part of the play: after the kids hop out, have them scoop out each LEGO piece with a net or colander and lay them on a towel to dry.

A big bucket of ice in the backyard | I literally just take the container that catches ice cubes in our freezer and set it down in the backyard. The kids love handling the ice cubes, trying to melt them, toting them to various plants to “water” them, sliding them down the path, etc.

Free the sea creatures | This activity doesn’t last terribly long on its own but it’s a fun add-on to another water activity. Freeze a few animals in an ice cube tray then pop them out and introduce them to the water environment. If you’re feeling fancy, you can give the kids droppers and cups of hot, warm, and cold water to experiment with.

Also fun to add to any water activity: mini tongs, little strainers, droppers – all good for practicing fine motor skills! I’ve also cut up a sponge to make teeny sponges, making them appropriate scale for June to wash her horses with :)

Cooking trays | A bonus non-water activity! I’ll fill up a muffin tin for both kids with various dry kitchen items: different shapes of pasta, oats, rice, cereal… this is a great way to use up the random ends of bags of dry beans, etc.! I’ll also set out a few bowls, spoons, whisks, strainers, etc. and let them go to town making “potions” or “bakery treats” or “cat food,” depending on the day. Shep is just there to make as big a mess as possible, obviously. Despite his best efforts, everything sweeps up pretty easily, in my experience, since it’s all dry! Best not to mix water with this one unless you’re ready for more intense clean-up :)

Got your own hands-off kiddo activity to share? Hit me! (And of course, head to Busy Toddler, the inspiration for many of these activities, for many more ideas!)

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July 23, 2020 9:03 am

So many fun ideas, thank you for sharing Em. Love how we have all had to get so creative x

July 23, 2020 5:05 pm

So helpful- keeping 2 year olds entertained is a full time job! On really hot days we set the “pouring station” activity up in the tub (minus the water) so it’s contained and not so hot. We also like “painting everything”- bucket of water and some paintbrushes outside and she will paint everything from the sidewalk to our chairs and sometimes even the garden plants!

July 23, 2020 7:15 pm

I love all of these! Similarly, giving our kiddos a bevy of buckets filled with water to make “mud soup” with has been hilarious and endless hours of independent play. They add dirt (of course), and an assortment of grasses, flower petals, rocks or whatever else they find in the yard. We had a neighborhood dog come over the other day and actually taste their concoctions (she was so fast we couldn’t stop her – ha!) but all was well. Can’t wait to try some of these ideas above. The ice is brilliant!