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25 Cheap & Creative Activities To Do With Your Kids

Written by Judy Kivowitz


In our “Ask Nurse Judy” column, the seen-it-all, treated-it-all Nurse Judy Kivowitz of San Francisco’s Noe Valley Pediatrics shares her advice on common child health and behavioral conundrums. Here, she discusses the importance of spending true quality time with your kiddos.

I saw a bumper sticker a while ago that said “Good parenting requires twice as much time and half as much money.” So true! The best present I think that families can give to each other is to be present, a.k.a. the gift of self. With that in mind, here is a list of inexpensive and creative activities to try with your kids. (Note: Unless you are using the phone or tablet as part of the activity, make sure you put them down and be fully engaged in what you are doing. Emails and texts can wait!)

• Collect and decorate rocks with colorful paints and glitter for a rock garden. This is a great one to use as a reward for good behavior. When kids see the pretty rocks, they will remember that they earned them.

• Make a collage. Old magazines and old photos are great for this activity.

• Make a musical instrument. Use your imagination: A shoe box with rubber bands can be a guitar; Glasses filled with different levels of water make different tones; Tapping different surfaces with chopsticks makes different sounds.

• Go on a “use all your senses” walk. What do the kids see, smell, hear, and feel?

• Make personalized placemats. Take some family photos, glue them onto cardboard, and cover with clear contact paper. Kids will love to use these with meals.

• Create a scavenger hunt walk. Plan a list ahead of time of things to find, like a dog, an airplane, or even a girl with purple hair.

• Go on an ABC walk. Find things that start with all the different letters, or find the actual letters on signs and license plates. This is a great game in a supermarket.

• Download free coloring pages from the internet. With a little searching, you can get a picture of just about anything.

• Draw with chalk. Make a hopscotch board.

• Make your own play dough. You can find a recipe here.

• Make a fort using the couch cushions.

• For a really special occasion, set up the tent and have a backyard camp out.

• Write a story and illustrate it together.

• Decide on a recipe and bake or cook it. Kids will often try foods more eagerly if they helped with the cooking. Let them help sprinkle in different spices and be the taste-tester. (We love this book as a guide.)

• Have a tea party. Invite the dolls, and get out the good china that you never use.

• Trace your hands and feet and color them in.

• Blow bubbles.

• Play a board game with the family. It’s the stuff great memories are made of.

• There is little out there that is as much fun as a giant box to get inside of. If you buy a new appliance or see a neighbor buying one, ask for the box.

• Wash the car!

• Play dress-up. In my opinion, every house needs a good dress-up box. After Halloween is a great time to pick up costumes and things on sale.

• Read!

• Take advantage of where you live! Search for fairs, festivals, and museums.

• Make a scrapbook with keepsakes and photos of all the fun activities you’re doing.

• Have some downtime while watching a video or a special T.V. program. There are some lovely educational T.V. programs and videos out there. Or play a computer game. Don’t be afraid of controlled use. Children that don’t learn how to be comfortable on computers at a young age are at a distinct disadvantage in this high-tech culture.

General note: For kids who are old enough to understand, give a certificate that promises a special activity that you might do some time in the future instead of a birthday or holiday present. Also, it is great for families to do outings all together, but one-on-one time is so important if you can manage it. Mix and match so that you make sure that everyone gets special time with one other family member. This includes one-on-one time for you parents, as well.

Find out how to sign up for Nurse Judy’s San Francisco-based classes and workshops here.

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