With all the business of the holiday season, it’s a good reminder to give your kiddos the ultimate gift: your undivided attention. Whether you’ve got 5 minutes or 30, here’s a list of crafts, experiments and activities that will be sure every minute counts. Read on for ideas you and the kiddos wll love.

Young kid crafting suzette flickr cc

photo: Suzette via flickr

A Fast 5 Minutes

Got a quick slot to fill before an after-school activity? How about a small gap between homework and sitting down for dinner? Parent like a pro with these little-to-no-prep basics you can use just about anywhere.

1. Tickle your sidekick’s funny bone. Whip out brain busters or riddles that will make them laugh. Luckily you don’t need Comedy Central writers for this one. We think your goofballs will get a kick out of these jokes from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls or this hilarious list of 45 knee-slappers from Everything Mom.

kid_laughingphoto: Cherie J Photos via Flickr

2. A few rounds of “We’re going on a picnic” alphabet style will totally entertain the tot lot. The first player up says, “I’m going on a picnic,” then adds a tasty packable to the phrase, like an apple, apricot or avocado. Stick with ABC-order, or focus on just one letter for each round.

3. Turn yourself into a living “spot the difference” puzzle. Start with a slow model turn, then disappear and make a quick change out of sight. When you come back, your cutie’s got to spot what’s different. Did you take off a cap? Put on a scarf? Untie a shoe? Keep it easy for the tots, kick it up a notch for older kiddos (only one earring!). Then let them have a turn trying to stump you.

4. Play a classic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors—Japanese style. It’s called Janken. Start by saying “saisho wa guu.” Then “janken pon” as you pump, before throwing on “pon.” The winning combos are still the same in this timeless, quick game you can play at home or on the go.

Andy Hay Flick CC rock papaer scissorsphoto: Andy Hay via Flickr

5. Try out a sequencing game when the wanderlust takes hold. Name a person, place and object, all starting with the same letter of the alphabet, then string them together like kids lining up for the school bus. “Alice from Australia loves alligators!” See how far you can get in a short amount of time.

15 Minute Mini Games

When the kidlets have 15 minutes to spare before heading up to bed or while you’re busy unloading groceries, pull out mini activities that strike that just-right balance between being way too fun and not entertaining enough.

6. Give a penny for their thoughts when they write in a journal. Setting aside a short amount of time to write (each day!) is a great way to encourage your amateur author’s creativity. Use silly or thought provoking prompts to get them thinking, like, “The first time I tried….” or “When I get to be principal, I’ll…” or even “The craziest thing that happened today…” Write on, brother!

7. Give up the charade. Have your little monkey stay in character when you play a quick game of animal charades. No prep necessary for this easy guessing game. Just pick your favorite animal and go for it! With each successful guess, trade places and start again. Ee-i-ee-i-o!

8. Curl up with a good book. Putting out a basket of page-turners in a central location motivates the little literati to take a look in a book when they’ve got time to spare. Add in a sweet bookmark that keeps track of time to really make it count.

Boy reading book John Morgan flickr ccphoto: John Morgan via Flickr

9. Give them their daily feels. Keep your favorite sensory bin fillers on hand (like cotton balls and dry beans), along with trinkets to bury and cups for spilling and filling. When you’ve got a short window, pull out the bin, fill ‘er up and watch your mini me dig and drizzle until it’s time to go.

10. Set up quick cotton ball and straw races. Perfect for the kitchen table before lunch is served. Have sibs challenge each other for the pole position on a straight away down the center of the table, or set up a simple obstacle course using cups that the kiddos have to work around.  Ready, set, go before you go!

Lego build dragonphoto: Allison Sutcliffe

Half Hour of Power

Whether your aim is active play time or quiet(er) crafting time, filling a cool half hour with your Littles is easier than you think. It may take a bit of planning before they get off the bus, but once the prep is done, it’s a sit back and relax situation that’s well worth the time up front.

11. All things LEGO. If LEGO was the first thing that popped into your head, then we’re right there with you. They’re the forever fall back for a reason, but to hit that half hour sweet spot, try throwing a LEGO challenge into the mix: building a car that can also work under water, or constructing a tower that’s at least 24 inches tall. Then let your budding master builder go to work.


12. Spin them right round. Ana at Babble Dabble Do has a fabulously new way to play with perler beads. She puts them to work teaching science and playing tricks when these melted beauties become spinning tops. It’s just the right amount of make-and-play to fill a brief window in your busy day.

13. One for the movers and shakers. Print out (and laminate them if you’re feeling bold) The Alerting Activity Game, designed by Training Happy Hearts. Keep the deck on hand to stack the odds in your favor when the kids need something to do. With simple activities like “jump up and down ten times” or “pretend to be a volcano,” it’s packed with energy-burning activities that kids can run through on their own or with you!

14. Bring the outside in and paint it. If snow isn’t covering your yard, go for a hunt for errant leaves, evergreen boughs and sticks. Then take your findings to the craft table to gussy them up with paint. Acrylics work great for this natural wonder.

possible-stick-catapult-rubber-bands-955x1024photo: Little Bins for Little Hands

60-Minute Solutions

For activities that span the hour, the two step Make & Play approach works well. Divide and conquer between the steps, spreading the activity out over a day or two, or rally your mini-maker to do it all in one shot, when there’s ample time to spare.

15. Create a catapult. Little Bins for Little Hands has an awesome tutorial, using craft sticks and other office supplies you’re sure to have around the house. Once it’s built, set up target practice plates before letting the marshmallows fly.

16. Put on a show. When it comes to your sidekick, puppets never get old. And they’re so easy to make with an old sock, brown paper lunch bag (since you’ll have plenty on hand) or even familiar characters glued to craft sticks. Whatever method you choose, spend time creating and playing with puppets when you’ve got an hour or more to spare. Be sure to stock the craft bin with all kinds of googly eyes, buttons, yarn and doo-dads to help bring the puppets to life. Then find an old sheet or use baby’s blanket draped over table to create a stage. Bravo!

girls with sock puppetsphoto: Jackie via flickr 

17. Blind them with simple science experiments. We’ve got enough to get you through a week and then some—17 in all. Try these simple experiments with your little learner to keep the good times rolling… or boiling… or bubbling over.

18. Make festive gingerbread playdough pressings. Take your Little for a walk around the garden or ‘hood to find interesting leaves or pinecones. They make inspired patterns and delicate designs when you press them into  handmade gingerbread playdough. Remember to use cookie cutters to press out shapes before the wee ones dig into designing.

What are you favorite quick activities to do after school? Share an idea in a comment.

— Allison Sutcliffe