You’ve probably heard that it’s super healthy to play with your kids right? And that child led play is where it’s at? Unfortunately we don’t all have the patience to repeat scripted lines for an hour+ every single day. While that sounds pretty pathetic, I’m just being honest: I’m not good at playing, and quite frankly, don’t often enjoy it.
Elaborate stories I can make up on the spot. I don’t mind making impressed noises while watching her doing her thang with Cosmic Kids Yoga. Please, don’t make me go play dolls and do the whole repeat-after-me rigamarole. Please.
So again, in the spirit of honesty, often we don’t play together at all, because I know we should do unstructured child led play time, and I just…don’t.
Add to that, when I come up with awesome and elaborate activities, her ADHD has her over and done with them almost as soon as I have everything set up.
However, my life philosophy about an alarming number of things is: “Any ______ is better than no _____.” Insert exercise, money, playtime, etc. So here I have compiled a list of moderately structured activities that:
- I enjoy doing
- Are easy
- Are perfect for kids with limited attention spans (mine)
- Are cheap or free
- Preferably can be done with coffee in hand
If you are my people, read on! These activities are perfect for Spring break, rainy days, and Summer vacation. (Or lockdown… whatever.)
Shrinky Dinks (Or for legal reasons – “shrink film art crafts”)
Remember shrinky dinks? I haven’t touched them since I was a kid, or really thought about them for that matter! Now I have an artsy little 9 year old with a limited attention span who likes to bake. The best of both worlds!
This is a great activity for both Mom and kids. This is the most expensive item on the list, let’s get that out of the way right now. You can purchase the plain sheets at Michaels for about $10. Amazon has a variety of “shrink plastic” kits that come with a hole punch, pencil crayons, and even key rings. I opted for one of these off-brand kits, because our craft supplies are anything but organized, and I didn’t want to be missing something. Also, I can keep it all together for the future.
I did buy some craft earring posts separately, so that we can turn our artwork into something we can actually wear! Sometimes I find that crafting is difficult to strike a balance between having fun and being wasteful.
*full disclosure: I also did this when she was in bed because the nostalgia was great.*
Cost: $10+ (but the supplies will last more than one time.)
Make a “Book”
It’s such a simple pleasure, but one that my kiddo loves. She illustrates, and I help her write a story. Then when it’s done we staple the binding and she has a book. You can also print colouring sheets of their favourite characters and assemble it into a story. It doesn’t sound like much, but this is a quick activity that allows me some time to be present, and drink my coffee at the same time. (And that’s always a win!)
Cost: Free. (as long as you have paper and staples.)
Make Cut Paper Decorations (“Snowflakes”)
Is there anything kids like more than a little superfluous cutting? Any symmetrical shape will do, so this need not be a winter activity! I wanted to approach this as a Spring decor idea, so I printed some roses to experiment with. However, my tot had a much better idea!
We were going to try this ballerina themed idea and cut roses and butterflies separately, but my girlie decided we should put it all together and make paper fairies!
We still used the ballerina template linked above. I will link the skirts and wings below the instructions.
Now for the wings!
Here is the download for the printable roses, butterfly wings, and instructions:
Here is the link for the ballerina template on krokotak.
I found some clear jewellery elastic in our craft bin, so we used it to hang them in the window. They really look like they’re flying!
“Snowflakes” are a good one for older kids too! Just make it more challenging or themed. When I started looking I found some very elaborate ideas!
Here is a cute idea for giant paper snowflakes.
A template for Star Wars and Mandalorian snowflakes.
Some Frozen themed templates.
Letters to Friends or Family
At a time when it is difficult to see your favourite people, why not send some snail mail? This is made more fun with some stationary, stickers, and fun colours! Taking the drive to the post office is also a welcome structured activity in a time where there isn’t a whole lot to go out for. A quick stop, like the post office, is something that I can muster packing into the car for. For a little extra excitement, sneak in a letter to your kiddos! I know mine LOVES getting mail, even if it’s just from her Mama.
Cost: $1.07+ (The price of one Canadian stamp)
I often don’t have, or can’t find, envelopes, so I have designed a printable envelope template here! I made a blank one for kids, a pretty one for Mom, and some stationary:
I don’t know why this seems like such a chore, because it’s really not! Even if you have to wash after, it’s only one load of laundry. Personally, I prefer a sheet fort, because they are bigger and so much easier to hold down. Make a cozy space to have some popcorn and watch a TV show. Siobhan and I both like watching veterinarian shows, so that’s usually our compromise. She doesn’t like the Bachelor and I don’t like cartoons! You could also have a fort picnic.
Getting back to the basics on this one. If you have an ADHD kiddo, or just a kiddo who NEEDS your attention at all times, then this is an easy activity you can join in on. My tot is unlikely to colour for even 30 seconds by herself, but by joining in I realized that the activity lasts a LOT longer. Bonus, I can sneak in some coffee time and have a conversation about the art, instead of answering a billion questions while I try to do a Mommy task. I like a good old children’s colouring page, but you can always print an adult colouring sheet for yourself, do some art journaling, or doodle. Dot to dots are also fun (but try not to make it too educational.)
Cost: Free again!
Kids are so creative, so often an activity doesn’t need to be as contrived as we think. Put out some supplies and see what happens! Let their creativity flow and try not to interject or be too “helpful.” Let them try and fail at stapling feathers together. There are no rules! (Besides obvious ones like not painting furniture and being careful with scissors.)
Siobhan will turn absolutely anything into “a doll.” So naturally that’s where this activity goes. We made characters from Muppet Babies!
Most people will already have a lot of these supplies, but we lose everything. For this activity you can buy buckets of mixed craft supplies on Amazon, at a dollar store, or at a craft store. I ended up ordering on Amazon because I am really trying not to go anywhere, and I didn’t want to have to go multiple places if I couldn’t find all the supplies I wanted. In non-pandemic times, I’m sure it would save money to build your own kit from supplies at a dollar store. Our kit came with pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, feathers, googly eyes, pom poms, some foam stickers, beads, and sequins.
To make this for completely free, challenge your kiddos to craft using items from the recycling, rocks from outside, or repurpose old crafts.
Besides hating the fact that there is no practical purpose for the resulting crafts, I do really enjoy just being creative, and again, sitting!
I also purchased some modelling foam for free crafting, because 1.) I like the texture, and 2.) sometimes we might want to make one-off shapes for our crafts. For example Siobhan would likely want to make mouths or other little details for her dolls.
Okay, I know this is one that might make a lot of people cringe. We spread out trash bags or newspapers, put down some Jell-O, and go to town. Make sure hands are clean first! I literally hate the texture of Jell-O so I might watch or squish a little, but Mama’s not putting that in her mouth. Kids have so much fun squishing, slurping, and painting. Cleanup is not too bad, just straight into the bath and the makeshift drop cloths get tossed out. Some colours can stain, so we used swimsuits because they can go into the bath or shower with your child. Otherwise, make sure they are wearing dark clothes, or something that you aren’t scared of ruining. Of course really small kids can enjoy without clothes.
This is VERY fun, and while it does obviously require supervision, it’s entertaining to watch and can make for a good photo op. Sensory seeking kids will enjoy this activity, but it’s also a good one to get sensory avoiders outside of their comfort zone! Siobhan is an “avoider” and she really likes this.
Best of all, Jell-O is super cheap and easy to make.
5 Minute Baking
Before you scream and run, I used the term “baking” very loosely! Kid’s often like to help in the kitchen but it’s all a bit nerve wracking if they’re measuring or mixing. My kiddo thinks she likes cooking and baking, but often gives up after peeling half a carrot.
Pillsbury crescent rolls are our new favourite! Not only are they pretty versatile for snacks or lunch (jam, ham n cheese, etc) they require just the right amount of effort from little hands. They bust out of the roll already perforated into little triangles. Siobhan watches me cut along the dotted lines and then she rolls each of them up. Voila! It’s better than cookie dough which is either messier or too boring, and as I said before, they make a nice little breakfast, lunch, or snack!
If you want a longer activity for your kids, mix up some cinnamon-sugar for cinnamon roll-ups, or challenge them to design their own! You could also play around with some food colouring, or cut the dough smaller and try making teeny tiny crescents. My little likes to roll and be done.
There we have it! 9 affordable or free activities for kids who have limited attention spans AND require little effort from you!
If there are minimally or moderately structured activities that you do with your kids, I would love to read about them in the comments!