With all the time parents put into planning around-the-house activities for our kiddos, you’d think we could get a little more bang for our buck. Amirite? Invest in some long-term play solutions that multiply your planning power to span days. You plan once, they play often with any of these inventive activities. Sounds like the right payout to us!

photo: Bernard Spragg via flickr

Pull out a puzzle. Somewhere a little out of the way, but not too out of the way, set up a puzzle table for your crew. Then break out that 500-piecer you’ve been saving for a rainy day and get sorting. Working on a giant jigsaw puzzle is a super simple way to engage kidlets for the long haul because they’re in charge of just how much time they give to it each day.

Hint: Set out simpler puzzles at your puzzle table for tots and preschoolers. That way they can work their way through this fun activity alongside everyone else.

kid-running-bradleypjohnson-flickrphoto: Bradleypjohnson via Flickr

“Run” a 5K. Get creative with your space, so your littles athlete can complete an indoor 5K over the course of the week. Whether they run up and down stairs, around the living room or even just jog in place, have them do it for 5-10 minutes each day until they’ve knocked out 3.1 miles. Track their progress on a graph to make it that much more engaging. On your mark, get set, go!

kids-crafting-woodlewonderworks-flickr photo: Woodleywonderworks via Flickr

Make a collage. Those thousands of pics you’ve got stored on your phone? It’s time for a download dump so your sidekick can print them out and make a stunning collage of your family’s adventures for the year. Use a long length of butcher paper to mount all your memories. Add drawings, doodads and notes about your good times to make it complete. Block out time each day to add to the masterpiece until it’s done. Voila, your new playroom décor is complete!

tinkerlab-geode-eggsphoto: Tinkerlab

Grow crystal geodes. With Borax, salt, and a half-dozen eggs, your little eggheads can grow their own crystals over the course of a few days (Five works best.). Rachelle at Tinkerlab has all you need to know to set up this egg-citing experiment that grows three different types of colorful crystals. Take a crack at it with your crew!

boys-playing-monopoly-flickr-fotologicphoto: fotolab via Flickr 

Play a marathon game of Monopoly. If ever there was a game made for long-term play, it’s Monopoly. This classic fave is quick to set up, but depending on the rules you play with, can take days, dare we say weeks, to finally create a crippling monopoly over your opponents. Tweak the rules to your family’s liking, then it’s round and round you all “Go” buying up properties, collecting rents and making improvements on each. Play each day for a set amount of time, or until your little broker needs a change of scenery.

2-girls-mixing-baking photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Bake sugar cookies. Let’s be honest, the idea of baking sugar cookies with your cuties is always a good one. But when it comes to the actual event, eh… not so much. Turns out the trick is to spread it out over three days: what you expect is what you get when you finally decide to go for it. Spend the first day making the dough, it needs to chill anyway, so why not let it be overnight? Roll, cut and bake your silly shapes on day two. Then, pop the cookies into an airtight container (psst… stick in a piece of bread to keep them soft) so they’re ready to ice and decorate on day three. Complex cookies never tasted so good!

kids-dressing-up-as-animals-lyn-lomasi-flickrphoto: Lyn Lomasi via Flickr

Plan a play. Let your drama kings and queens play director, playwright and costumer for their go-to book of the moment, and draw it out over the course of a few days. Whether they’re leaning toward a classic fave like The Day the Crayons Quit, or want to go with a meatier choice, like something from the Captain Underpants oeuvre or a Judy Moody selection, challenge your little literati to turn their best story ever into a play. Write out dialogue, plan simple scenes, put together set pieces, and choose costumes that make the story come to life. Since it doesn’t have to be done in one quick shot, they can take all the time they need to indulge their creativity for this one. Bravo!

girls-building-legos-michael-mccauslin-flickrphoto: Michael McCauslin via Flickr

Build a village. Don’t stop at just one LEGO creation. Go big with a village your kidlet can build over two, three or four days. It’s easy if you start with a theme, like mountain ski park, or downtown waterfront high rises, and encourage your mini-me to expand from there. Start construction any day of the week and keep it going until the last brick is laid.

girls-coding-computer-stephen-chin-flickrphoto: Stephen Chin via Flickr 

Complete an hour of code. Promote a little active screen time with your future programmer when you have her complete an hour of code for 20 minutes each day. Everything you need to know is mapped out online, and although the hour is best spent on a screen, you can opt to use screen-free alternatives to teach the same concepts to your cutie at home. The best part? A sweet certificate your tiny techie can earn when she’s learned it all. Gold stars all around!

boy-reading-paper-kellyb-flickrphoto: KellyB via Flickr 

Publish a family newsletter. Extra, extra! A lot of crazy things happen to your family each week: from funny things the kids say, to making the grade in math and weekend outings with your warrior crew. During the week, have your Little take pics, record events, and land big interviews so she can publish your family’s breaking news stories at the end of the week. We’ll bet grandma and grandpa would take a subscription to this rag. Read all about it!

perler-bead-bucket-rick-gutleber-flickrphoto: Rick Gutleber via Flickr 

Set up a store. If you’ve got a serious crafter in the family, let him strut his stuff by creating a collection to sell. Whether he works in perler beads, loom bracelets or cute clay sculptures, he can take time each day to make a few pieces. Then, when’s he ready, it’s time to set up shop and invite the gang over to shop till they drop. Take payment in the form of high fives, or donate profits to a favorite charity to add another dimension to this ongoing project.

boys-playing-diy-boardgame-mamascoutsphoto: Mama Scouts  

Make and play your own board game. Forget your Parker Brothers favorites. Kick your cutie’s creativity into high gear when she makes her own board game. Her rules, her object, her big win. Amy at Mama Scouts has the scoop on how you can encourage this multi-day activity for big kids. Play on!

homemade-paper-jimmie-flickrphoto: Jimmie via Flickr 

Make paper. Bring your summer camps days home when you hand make paper with your kidlet. Rachelle at Tinkerlab walks you through the process of this two-day long project. It definitely takes some planning (and a couple of special supplies), but the finished product is perfect for writing very special letters, or drawing an extra special picture for mom. Make, dry, draw equals three days full!

kid-with-camera-ron-frazier-flickrphoto: Ron Frazier via Flickr 

Compile a daily photo journal. Arm your budding photojournalist with a disposable camera or a sweet Polaroid so he can find one subject a day worth documenting. Snap a pic of his favorite stuffed bear, or that strange shadow lurking behind the door, whatever catches his eye. Then mount the pic in a journal and get writing. One picture a day should do the trick!

kid-art-showphoto: Allison Sutcliffe 

Host an art exhibit. Make art a daily part of your creative kiddo’s play time routine. Challenge her to draw, paint or collage a new project each day based on different themes (think: animals, shapes or vehicles) or a favorite artist’s style (hello, cubism). After she’s built up her collection, hang it gallery style for friends and family to enjoy.

 stalactite-experiment-set-upphoto: Allison Sutcliffe

Grow stalactites. It takes a few days to complete this grow-at-home science experiment. But with Epsom salts, string, and paper clips, your budding scientist can track the growth of his own stalactites when you set up this easy project. Check back often to see how things are growing. 

Do you think you’ll try one of these ideas with your kids? Tell us how it goes in a comment.

—Allison Sutcliffe