If you've ever spent time with children, you know their attention spans can be short. I hear the statement, “I'm bored” more often than I’d like, and my children often ask “What can I do?” I always offer them a fun chore to do (like cleaning baseboards) but they never take me up on it. I've been brainstorming unique and interesting solutions to the “I'm bored” problem. Here are my top 20 ideas for your bored kids:
1. Make a fort. Our favorite way to make a fort is with blankets and chairs. The kids have more fun decorating their fort and making it comfortable than they do playing in it. If you have space, make the fort in a place where it can stay up for a day or two.
2. Play pet store. Gather up all the stuffed animals in your house and set up a pet store. Take turns being the workers and the shoppers. Be sure to offer bedding, food and toys for your pets. This make-believe game is perfect for ages 3-8.
3. Set up a restaurant. Younger kids can set up a restaurant with play food and dishes, and older kids can make simple meals in the kitchen. Make a menu, choose a name, decorate and invite family members to come visit. Sometimes I make a restaurant for my kids to make an everyday lunchtime more special.
4. Watch family videos. Old family movies always make me smile and laugh. Grab blankets and pillows and gather the family around to relive family holidays and vacations. If you have short digital videos on a computer, children can access them with little instruction. Most children love seeing themselves on the screen and will watch over and over.
5. Make a movie. Older kids like making their own movies. If you have a video camera you don't mind kids using, they can keep themselves entertained for hours as they plan and rehearse their movie. Many point-and-shoot digital cameras also have a movie mode.
6. Go on a scavenger hunt. Make a list of household items for your children to find, or print one you find on the internet. Have a small prize for completing the hunt. Once your children catch on, they can make their own scavenger hunts. If you have several children, consider making lists based on age or breaking kids up into teams. Items on a list might include things like, “A blue sock, an eraser, a spoon, Mom's favorite movie, an apple and a book about cats.”
7. Play sink or float. This game is great for toddlers. Fill the kitchen sink with tepid water and gather several items like toys, household utensils and even fruit like a lemon. Place the objects in the water and see if they sink or float. As you experiment, ask your child to make predictions based on what they are learning. You can explain water displacement and density to older children, making a game into a science lesson as well. Let your child splash and enjoy the water as you play.
8. Set up a story time for younger siblings. If you have older and younger children, have the older children set up a story time for their siblings. This is done by choosing at least three books with similarities (like books about the same kind of animal or holiday) and reading them. Then, plan an activity or craft that reinforces the themes and characters in the books. For example, if you read books about snow and winter, you could make paper snowflakes and drink hot chocolate.
9. Take photos. Digital cameras or phones are very easy to take photos with. If you trust your child, or have an older camera no one is using, give it to your child and let him or her take photos. Upload them on the computer and look at them together. It will be fun for both of you to see what images your child captures.
10. Learn how to play a new game. Find a game you haven’t played in a long time, or one you’ve never played, and learn to play it. Many games can be played with a deck of cards. Teaching kids easy games like speed and solitaire will keep them occupied.
11. Learn to cook something. If you trust your children in the kitchen, let them try a new recipe. Baking is fairly easy for kids 10 and up. Be on hand to help them when they have questions, but let them be creative as they cook.
12. Write a letter to someone you love. People used to write letters all the time. Help your children keep busy and practice a skill by writing a letter to a friend or relative. To make the experience more fun, provide stickers and markers to decorate the letter. Small children can color a picture. Be sure to mail the letter when it’s finished.
13. Talk to a friend on the phone. Have your bored child call her favorite cousin or a grandparent. Consider using a service like FaceTime or Skype to make the experience more interactive.
14. Art time. Art projects can be made from almost anything. Give your child supplies and let him or her create a mini masterpiece.
15. Find ways to offer secret service to family members. Encourage children to find ways to help others without being found out. Have them make a sibling’s bed, clean their room or write special notes and hide them.
16. Do a craft or sewing project. If you have time to spend with your bored child, a craft or sewing project is a great way to pass time. Some craft projects can be done with minimal supervision, and simple sewing projects can be taken on by older children. I keep felt and fabric scraps on hand for my daughter. She makes cute animals and other items often.
17. Have an un-birthday party. Decide it’s everyone’s un-birthday and have a party. Make cupcakes, play games, light the candles and sing to everyone.
18. Put on a carnival. Have older children make and put on a carnival for their younger siblings or friends. They can make booths like beanbag toss, fishing game and basketball throw. Have them make tickets and perhaps even give out small prizes.
19. Put together a bucket band. Gather instruments or objects to make instruments and make a bucket band. Five gallon buckets can be drums, pots and pans can be like cymbals, and the old recorder from elementary school can be played again.
20. Build something with boxes. Find several empty boxes around the house and give them to your kids. It’s amazing what kids can do with their imagination and boxes. We had a large box around our house for several weeks that was a rocket ship, playhouse, boat and many other things.
Kids are going to ask for ideas when they are bored. Although they do need to learn how to entertain themselves, it doesn’t hurt to give them a starting point. Their own creativity and imaginations will help them turn your suggestion into a fun activity. Soon they might be asking, “What can I do?” less often. Boredom busted!
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.