Between daily parenting duties, work, and navigating the current world in general, saying your days are full is probably an understatement. And while your kid’s day may be full of exploration and creativity, they can also experience a lot of anxiety, stress, and pressure. Which makes it even more important to have some positive, uninterrupted time to reconnect.
Even five minutes can make a difference in a child’s emotional well-being. But as Randy McCoy, VP of Product & Curriculum for The Little Gym, reminds us, how long you play is less important than how often. “It’s not necessarily the ‘duration of play’ but the ‘frequency of play’ that matters most,” Mccoy says. “If a parent can give their child their undivided attention and play with them just five minutes a day, every day, they’re on the right track.”
The good news is, there are lots of ways to play that take next to no prep. Read on for 21 easy ideas to play with your kids, whether you have five minutes, fifteen, or more.
8 Super Fast 5-Minute Games
When you have a few minutes, whether it's before school or after dinner, parent like a pro with these little-to-no-prep basics you can use just about anywhere.
Try out "Would You Rather?" kid edition. Spend a fun five minutes taking turns asking questions like, "Would you rather never eat ice cream again or get a trampoline?" or "Ride a dinosaur for 20 miles or an elephant for an hour?" The sillier the better. This also makes a great road trip game.
Make a dictionary dash. Grab a dictionary and choose a word at random. Read it out loud and have the kids guess what it means. If they can read, they can take turns finding words and trying to stump you.
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 our ultimate list of jokes for kids.
A few rounds of “We’re going on a picnic” alphabet style will 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.
Play 20 questions. Have your kids guess what you're thinking of, and keep it simple, like something you can see from where you're standing.
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.
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.
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.
6 Mini-Games That Take 15 Minutes
For parents, playing with our kids allows us to step out of all those daily parental duties and, as McCoy explains, build friendship between parent and child. “When you play with your kids,” he says, “it provides an opportunity for you to interact with them on a different level. For a special moment, you step out of the ‘parent’ role and step into a playmate role.”
Take a break from your to-do list and try one of these 15-minute play breaks that will thrill the kids and relax you, too.
Post-It style. A stack of Post-It notes and a pen are all it takes to play this short-and-sweet variation of the classic guessing game for parties. Choose someone to be "it." Write on the Post-It note the name of a character from a book, movie or show that your kid will recognize—it can be a famous person, someone they know or a fictional character. Stick the note to their forehead, without letting them see what you wrote. Now take turns going around the room giving "it" clues to help them guess who is on their head.
Curl up with a good book. Putting out a basket of books in a central location motivates the kids to take a look through the pages when they’ve got time to spare. Add in a sweet bookmark that keeps track of time to make it count.
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 kids dig and drizzle until it’s time to go.
Set up a quick cotton ball and straw race. Perfect for the kitchen table before lunch is served. Have siblings challenge each other for the pole position on a straightaway down the center of the table, or set up a simple obstacle course using cups that the kiddos have to workaround. Ready, set, go before you go!
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!
Give up the charade. Have your little monkey stay in character when you play a quick game of animal charades. No prep is 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!
4 Power Half-Hour Ideas
Whether your aim is active play time or quiet(er) crafting time, filling a cool 30 minutes with your kids is easier than you think. It may take a bit of planning, but once the prep is done, it’s a sit back and relax situation that’s well worth the time upfront.
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 fallback for a reason, but to hit that half an hour sweet spot, try throwing a LEGO challenge into the mix: building a car that can also work underwater, or constructing a tower that’s at least 24 inches tall. Then let your master-builder go to work.
Spin them right round. Ana at Babble Dabble Do has a 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.
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!
Bring the outside in and paint it. If snow isn't covering your yard, go for a hunt for leaves, evergreen boughs and sticks. Then take your findings to the craft table to fancy them up with paint. Acrylics work great for this project.
3 Super 60-Minute Sessions
For activities that span the hour, the two-step Make & Play approach works well. You may want to do a little prep the day before to make it easier, like putting crafting necessities into one small bin that you can pull out to surprise the kids.
Wage war. Ah, the classic card game that is so simple to learn and so hard to win. It is possible that a game of war can take longer than one hour, but it rarely takes less. You do two card battles with the highest card the winner until one person has all the cards. Get the complete rules here.
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.
Put on a show. Puppets never get old; they’re easy to make with an old sock, brown paper lunch bag 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 a baby’s blanket draped over the table to create a stage. Bravo!
— Allison Sutcliffe & Amber Guetebier
Feature photo: Caleb Woods via Unsplash