Living on a budget or saving up for something big like a vacation or home improvement project? Social distancing and quarantine got you down? Try these dirt-cheap ideas to keep little hands busy.
We live in Indiana and the weather is always a toss up. Most days are rainy, windy, or we get surprise snow in late April. Here are a few things to do close to home that cost little to NO money and can go a long with young kids. (Entertainment for HOURS or Days) Usually the kids get a kick out of the strange materials and the deal I make with them is they just have to help clean up.
- String or Tape: You probably have some old yarn, string, ribbon, or I’ve found even a roll of tape will do the trick. A little bit can go a long way when stuck inside. It fosters creativity in young minds so play along. My son used a roll of wrapping tape in the winter after watching “Home Alone.” He created obstacle courses all over downstairs while I wrapped presents. The clean up really didn’t take long and a roll of tape only cost $.33 cents. He’s also used string to create laser beams and Spy routes. We had scrap string around the house from an old crochet project. Make sure to keep a watchful eye around little little ones especially with string. Final cost $0.
- Rocks: know pet rocks are a thing of the past, but painted rocks are here to stay. Check out if you have a local group already creating painted rocks to hide and find. If not, you can start up your own group. Fort Wayne has a great Facebook group called, “Fort Wayne Rocks.” The kids LOVE finding rocks in stores (before quarantine), around the neighborhood, and on our walks through local parks. They have enjoyed painting and hiding them just as much. You will need acrylic paint and waterproof sealer of some kind (such as a ModgePodge or Spray). I had a lot of these on hand, but did order some new colors, paint markers, and a fresh can of sealer. These came from Michaels.com with curbside pick-up available at our nearest Michaels. Our supplies were ready within 24 hours. Depending on what you pick this can be $0-$30. We found most of our rocks in our backyard or we started collecting them from our walks. The kids help me rinse the rocks and scrub them with a toothbrush. The kids can do their own rocks or like mine they paint a nice base coat and then pick out the things they want me to paint. Sharpies are also pretty good for rock art after a nice base coat or primer. I use Sharpies to mark the back for our Facebook group. We make about a dozen or so for a week of walks and bike rides to hide around town. Lately we’ve been bringing hand sanitizer to wash our hands after finding new rocks and washing hands in the sink at home to be safe. Both our 2-year-old and 4-year-old have a collection of found rocks on their nightstand. I let them choose what rocks the want to hide and which ones they want to keep. It’s fun to see where they pick to hide them too. Everyone once in a while we can check in on them to see if the rocks were found or log onto Facebook to look if someone has posted our finds.
- Scavenger Hunt A low maintenance project came from my sister in the mail. She was able to create a map and a challenge from Captain Hook himself. Our four-year-old has no idea who the letter came from. We followed directions to collect materials from our backyard and used stickers and embellishments she sent in the letter from Captain Hook. You may need some glue or a piece of paper if you don’t already have these. At the end he had a nice adventure collecting and following directions in the backyard. Then he put all of his materials together to create a project. Now he’s just waiting for Captain Hook to visit. Can’t beat $free.99.
- Styrofoam– Although free this one was a lot to clean up, but my kids still remember it and talk about it all the time. We ordered some furniture through the mail that came with a lot of packaging. The large Styrofoam pieces were a hit. Calling themselves ninjas they karate chopped them, built with pieces and then created ‘snow angels’ with the little ball-like shapes remaining. The did help sweep and get the large pieces, but ‘snow’ was all over everyone and the house.
- Cardboard If have been social distancing and ordering a lot of your items online you probably have cardboard everywhere and overflowing your recycle bins. We take carloads to a local outdoor cardboard recycling about every other week to avoid too much in our house or garage. Cardboard is an easy imagination builder. Everything from spaceships, houses, signs, props, and pirate ships. Get crafty. Cardboard can be torn, cut, and taped fairly easy and the entertainment goes on and on and on.
- Playdough Homemade Playdough is super easy to make and of course cheap. It also seems to last a lot longer than store bought There’s a lot of recipes out there, but chances are you have everything at home to make a small batch. Flour (1 Cup), Cream of Tartar (2 teaspoons), vegetable oil (1 Tablespoon), water (1 Cup), food dye (A few drops) or Kool-Aid packets, and salt (1/3 Cup). I mix my ingredients on a low stove top in a 2 quart saucepan. I like to add water and food dye first, then slowly salt, add flour, cream of tartar, oil, until it is formed into a lump. I place the blob onto a gallon size Ziploc bag until it is cool enough to knead into a soft ball. If your dough is too sticky add it back onto low heat for a few minutes. Keep sealed in a bag or airtight container. I let the kids help make the dough in the pan until I have to use the oven and then I do the stirring and kneading.
- Slime As much of a headache it can be kids love to help make it and play with it. You probably already have the ingredients at home to make this as well and if you don’t they are cheap to make a little amount. Contact Solution (a teaspoon), Water (Tablespoon), Baking Soda (Tablespoon), and Glue (half cup)(Food dye, glitter, other things are extra fun). $0-$5 I mix the glue, water, and any extras such as glitter and food dye first. Then I add the baking soda and last the contact solution. I use all disposable materials when making slime because it is no fun to clean. A plastic cup/bowl, plastic spoon or Popsicle stick usually do the trick. Keep your slime in airtight containers or plastic bag. We like to use a plastic condiment container with a lid found at the dollar store.
- Sensory Bin-Use an old tray or bucket to add fun water play or other sensory materials. A little water, water beads, foam soap dispenser, ice cubes, and small toys can last a long time. Create a theme for your bin such as a pond, ocean, arctic, or dinosaur for extra fun. You can do this indoors, in your kitchen, in the bathtub, or outside (I recommend outdoors, but have done both and survived).
- Volcano Another easy favorite. I highly recommend doing this outdoors but in the bathtub or in a wide bucket will do the trick. What you will need: mini water bottle recycled (8-10 oz) works best, baking soda, water, vinegar, dish soap, and food dye. Cost $0-$5. You can get a lot of this ingredients super cheap and the kids and can play on and on and on. They also are big fans of the pop and Mentos reaction, but these ingredients go a lot further with longer eruptions and less sticky mess. We set up shop in the backyard placing the bottle in a bucket. I don’t measure the ingredients out. I let the kids use an old formula scoop or cup to put a about 1/4 cup of water. Then they add as much dish soap as they want but it really only takes one or two drops. If you’re brave enough have the kids add a drop or two of orange, yellow, or red food dye for effects (I do this part for them sometimes or we leave out completely), then add about a tablespoon of vinegar and just a few teaspoons of baking soda. If you have a funnel at home it can come in hand. I let the kids do this over and over again until they get bored. The old eruptions gets tossed in the compost pile or down the sink. Use one bottle and have your kids take turns or get a few bins and bottles and let them explore. Great miniature experiment and following directions. You can also add oil clay around your bottle, dirt, papier-mache, or other materials to make your bottle look like an actual volcano.
- Dance Party We have an old record player/radio/CD player at the kids’ level. They can turn it on at anytime and change the music to what they like. It never fails they always want it turned up as loud as they can. We have plenty open space in this room form them to dance around, twirl, and just be silly. As simple as it is, dance parties are great ways for your kids to get a lot of energy out in a little bit of time. It’s good exercise for you too if you want to get in on the action. Grab glow sticks and turn the lights down to make it even more fun for the little ones. Another $free.99 activity.
- Go Exploring Our local Escape Room did an amazing socially distanced city-wide treasure hunt. It was a lot of fun and for a few days the entire family got be be little Goonies. No we didn’t find the treasure, but it did get us out and exploring. Fort Wayne has a wonderful park system, extensive river green ways, and sculpture/monuments we never knew we had so close to home. Everyone who we’ve experienced out exploring is doing a great job keeping socially distanced. Being outside when the weather is clear could not be anymore essential. The exercise and fresh air is nice too.