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Parenting Advice

35+ Ways To Entertain Your Kids And Buy Some “Me” Time

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photographed by James Kicinski-McCoy

Kids are exhausting. We don’t think any parent out there would disagree with that. And chances are, in between taking care of them, the household, your relationships, and career, that all elusive “me” time often gets pushed out of the picture. That’s where these tried-and-true methods of entertainment for your tots come in. We asked a bunch of mothers their best methods for keeping their kids occupied so they could take a breather, close their eyes for a few, read a magazine, sip a coffee slowly, whatever saves their sanity. Sure, not all of these are going to make sense for your child, based on their interests, age, and attention span, but we’re sure at least some of them will do the trick. Did we leave something off the list? (Of course we did!) Please share your own best practices in the comments below.

Flashlight Fun. Buy some inexpensive flashlights that shine different colors, blast out the Bat signal, sing songs, you name it. Lightsticks, finger-lasers, or glow-in-the-dark stars, stickers, toys, and PJs are also some elements you can throw into the mix. Turn off all of the lights in a kid-safe room or closet and see how long your littles can last.

Sticker Books. The more stickers, the better. We like this one, this one, and this one. Just choose a topic your kid loves and watch them go to town. Bonus points if the stickers are reusable. For sticker addicts, Pipsticks is a cute subscription service to consider.

Bubble Guns. Head out into the backyard, fill a bubble gun with solution. Have them blast away while you thumb through the latest J.Crew catalog. Or whatever it is you need to do.

Water Tables & Water Cups. Another backyard activity. Fill up a water table, or take a bunch of plastic cups and tupperware, pour some water into them, and let your kid do the rest.

Beans & Rice & Treasure. Fill up a bin with dried beans or rice and give your child a few measuring cups and funnels to play with. Also works on a water/sand table. To add to the fun, try burying some “treasure” of some sort for them to find. Just make sure you account for spills by keeping the activity contained to one area or doing it outside. Sweeping afterwards will be necessary.

Sensory Buckets. Another potentially messy one. Fill tupperware of different sizes with uncooked pasta or rice. Let your baby shake them, pop off the lids, scoop the contents out, and mix them up.

Dolls & Clothes. Grab a doll or multiple dolls. Grab tons of clothes that your tot can dress, undress, dress them again in. Voilà! Same goes for magnetic dolls.

Magna-Tiles. ‘Nuff said.

Playing Doctor. Get all of your kid’s animals and dolls out. Put together some “hospital beds” for them (blankets will do), and have your little doctor tend to her patients, either with a doctor kit or a box of Band-Aids.

Watering Plants. Either in the house (if they are careful) or in the garden. Make it fun for the kids and check a chore off of your list at the same time.

Sink Play. It might make a mess, but letting your kids play in the bathroom sink with bath toys and baby soap or bubble bath can often buy you an hour. Another option: Letting them help wash dishes (the plastic stuff) in the kitchen sink.

Cardboard Boxes. Received a delivery? Give your tot the box(s) to make a fort or car. Give him crayons to decorate the outside and inside, and help young kids cut windows for a more house-like effect. Ask them to drag their favorite toys and animals in there, play food, etc. to buy yourself more time to kick back.

Blanket Fort. The same idea as the cardboard box house, just make the fort with a bunch of blankets, couch cushions, or the dining room table, instead. Throw in some of the aforementioned flashlights for extra fun.

Backyard Swing Set & Playhouse. They can be somewhat costly and take up a little space, but having a mini playground in your own backyard can definitely buy you daily relief. And how cute is this modern rendition?

Balloons. Get the non-helium variety. They are dirt cheap and if you have more than one child in the house, a game of tap-the-balloon can easily buy you 30 minutes or more. Give them some painter’s tape to set up a “net” for indoor or outdoor volleyball if it seems age-appropriate.

Trains & Tracks. Break down all of your tracks and have your little one build a new system from scratch, then take his trains for a (hopefully long) ride.

Legos & Blocks. Same as above. Dump out the whole lot and let your little builder have at it.

Low-Key Science Experiment. Take a cup of vinegar, an eyedropper, and a shallow dish of baking soda. Let your kid drop the vinegar in the soda over and over and over again.

Play-Doh. A preschool favorite. Put a bunch of clay or Play-Doh on a table, teach your kid how to roll out “snakes” or little balls and let her do it until the sun goes down (in an ideal scenario). Or, make your own Play-Doh, add glitter to it, and lay out lots of tools to cut it up into different shapes.

Hide & Seek. If you’re involved in the game, make sure you suck at seeking.

Stomp Rocket. Whoever invented this should be given a medal.

Camping. Let your kid set up an indoor or backyard camp site, complete with a little tent or teepee. Let them read books by flashlight/lantern and pretend like they’re cooking over a “fire.” Nab a Mom of the Year Award if you offer them some s’mores-like treat to go with the experience.

Babies & Buttons. Give a baby a button-down shirt. Ask her to try to button it up. Sit back. Put your feet up.

Playing Dress-Up. Let them use their own kid-sized stuff or items from your own closet. Walking up and down the hall in mama’s shoes is endless entertainment. Make sure there’s a mirror nearby so they can keep checking themselves out.

Jewelry-Making. Give your kid some butcher string and Cheerios to make a simple (and mostly edible) necklace. These little wooden beads are cute, too, and you could add the extra step of letting your child paint the beads or doodle on them before stringing them.

Mardi-Gras Beads. What is it with these things? Hide ’em around the house, let your kid find them, and pile ’em on.

Mess-Free Painting. Fill gallon ziplock bags with baby-safe paint, tape them to a window or door, and watch the light shine through when pressed on by the tots. Good for little kids.

A Tissue Box & Ping-Pong Balls. Teach your babe how to put ping-pong balls into a tissue box. Let her do the rest.

White Board & Markers. As simple as it sounds! This one doubles as a chalkboard, too.

Piggy Bank & Coins. Empty your child’s piggy bank, then let him put all of the coins back in, one by one. Obviously, only appropriate for tots who no longer think coins are food. This digital counter version might also be fun for older kids who can guess how much money is in the bank before loading it up.

Seedling Kits. From making your own superhero mask and butterfly wings to designing your own glowing nightglobe, Seedling‘s boxes of fun for 3- to 12-year-olds should buy you at least 45 minutes.

Salad Spinner & Toys. Yep, that’s right. Let you kid add their toys to a Salad Spinner, whirl it around, and be amused.

Stamps. Stamping if fun. So is carving your own, customized stamp, and then stamping some more.

Bounce Around. Throw a bean bag, crib mattress, or inflatable mattress in the middle of the room. Let them jump on it. That’s it.

Party Cup Towers. Ask your kid to build towers out of lightweight party cups, knock them down, and build them again.

iPad & TV. Let’s be real. This is pretty much always #1 on the list. Aside from a roster of favorite kid shows, we’re also currently digging the Toca Boca suite of apps, which encourage open-ended play with gender-neutral characters.

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