How to keep your little ones busy during Christmas break

It would seem almost impossible for little ones to get bored after all the great toys and games they got for Christmas but it does happen. Little ones get bored easily and tend to go from one toy to another; most of the time for only a few minutes. But their attention span is short at these young ages so it’s not uncommon.

Even though they may have gotten the mini computer or tablet, playing games all day on a screen is not what we want them to do. So be sure to limit their time on electronics; use a timer if needed and give them warnings such as “you have 10 minutes more, five minutes, and then one minute” and when that time is done, then they need to put it away. Another good idea is to store some of their toys while they play with others and then replace and store the ones they just had. They will think they have new ones all over again. We did this at my child care center and the kids always acted like I had gotten a new array of toys for them! But it’s a good idea to do this at home also; and it keeps them busy without a screen in front of them.

Here are some other ideas of inexpensive things to do at home, when it’s too cold outside to play:

The Milk Jug and Clothespin Game – I think my own mother invented this. You take an empty milk gallon and wash it out and give your kids some wooden clothespins and they stand above the milk gallon and drop them in. Tell them “I want to see how many you can get in” and they will go to town. It’s magic. And you probably have wooden clothespins and an empty gallon of milk in your house so no expense. Younger ones have fun just dropping them in and taking them out; but it could be a game for older kids, you could keep track of how many they get in and who gets the most, wins.

Dining Table Blanket Fort – Kids will have a great time with this; pretend camping. An idea would be to to have it all ready when your kids wake from a nap; show them how you have draped sheets all over your dining room or kitchen table and placed some pillows and coloring books and crayons, as well as a few favorite stuffed animals, under there and let them hide from you for an hour or two. Placing a few small flashlights would be great fun for them also.

Masking Tape Hot Wheels Track – Just put plain masking tape on your furniture and floor and make a great race track for your kids, for hot wheels, tractors, trucks; any kind of a toy with wheels would work. They will have great fun with unlimited possibilities, and only for the cost of the masking tape. You could even make fields with fences and put farm animals in it, or put down some blue construction paper and you could have an area for fish and water urchins.

Put Fingerpaints in a Plastic Baggy – Another totally brilliant idea found on Pinterest. You simply put fingerpaints in a heavy-duty Ziploc, zip it shut and tape it to a window or wall. No mess, and your toddler will probably be amused for long periods of time; taking their fingers and making designs, roads, trails, shapes, whatever their little hearts desire.

Give Them a Bin of Water – This is great fun for children but be sure to supervise little ones; little ones can drown in just a small amount of water. And do this where you have solid surface floors. A kitchen area would work great. Throw some old towels on the floor, give them a plastic bin of water and some toys and measuring cups and spoons, and let them splash. We did this almost once a week in my child care center; the children loved it and were occupied while learning about measuring, dumping, pouring, etc.

Stick Stuff in Other Stuff – I have seen this done with everything from rice to cheerios to beans to oatmeal. Fill a bowl with a dry substance and like the water above, let the kids dig for buried treasure like little plastic animals or bouncy balls. It is sure to keep them amused for at least 30 minutes.

The best part about of all of these is they are either cheap or free and it will save you from one more plastic monstrosity taking up valuable floor space in the play room. And you deserve a few minutes of peace and quiet because no matter how adorable they are, children can get to be a challenge when they are stuck in the house for a few days.

Enjoy Christmas with your family and friends; and remember, don’t sweat the small stuff.

Sue Junge is an early childhood support specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit