Ack! You know how hard it is to come up with new and exciting ways to entertain, stimulate and engage your own children. Pity the poor sitter who has to find activities for your kids for a few hours. While some structure is good, other parents don't like to make too many suggestions and leave it up to the sitter. Rochelle is a 30-something mom with two young children. This is what works well for her: "When the babysitter arrives, I usually don't try to structure too much for them. Perhaps I take out the arts & crafts box or suggest a good kid-friendly DVD and leave some microwave popcorn. I try to discourage watching TV and encourage playing outside (if it's nice) or playing with games and puzzles."
However, if you are looking for activities for babysitters and kids, here's some help. After polling a few friends (and sitters), these are the top 5 activities for kids aged 3-5 years-old:
Whether your sitter works with ol' favorites like "good guy versus bad guy", the Princess and the Pea, or simply follows the child's direction into whatever make-believe land their imagination takes them to, indulging in make-believe play is an important part of childhood and a great way for your babysitter and kid(s) to have a lot of laughs together. Our preschooler's favorite fantasy game is playing Spiderman (good guy) versus Venom (bad guy). This allows for hours (if you're not worn out) of good, clean fun as well as plenty of exercise.
Rebecca, 35, has no kids of her own but works as a teacher's aide and has a side job creating children's birthday parties. For little girls, Rebecca suggests having babysitters create a "dress-up" fantasy-land where the sitter can paint fingernails and put on make-up. Little girls and boys enjoy the mystery of adult activities like dressing up and/or going to work. This is especially helpful if it's raining or too cold to go outside.
You may not want your babysitter using the oven while you're out of the house. But, there are plenty of no-bake recipes around and kids love to help in the kitchen. Rice Krispies treats with peanut butter (or marshmallows), plus melted butter and krispies is an easy one. Making Jell-o with fruit or other goodies inside a bundt pan and then refrigerating is also a lot of fun for little ones. They can help by adding ingredients, stirring, picking toppings and helping to chop up the fruit or decorate!
Just like fantasy-land, having your babysitter read stories to your preschooler provides a good way to bond and to learn. Whether it's semi-scary ghost stories for the 5-year-olds, classic tales like The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the younger set, or new favorites like Captain Underpants, reading provides an educational and stimulating experience. It helps if your babysitter is a seasoned story-teller; one who likes to use different voices and add drama to the literature. Your kids can even add their own voices or characters to new stories and read or present it to you when you arrive home.
Visiting the park or playground
Whether they climb on the jungle-gym, swing high above the treetops, or dig in the sand, playing at the local park allows your kids to burn off energy, get some fresh air and perhaps meet some other neighborhood kids while they're at it. Marilyn, a 60-year-old grandmother of five and former special education teacher says, "manipulative materials like sand, water and clay are very comforting and soothing for young children." So, if you can find one of the new water-play areas in your local park, even better! One friend of mine said that when her daughter was 3-years-old, her favorite "toy" was a big bowl of dried lentils and uncooked rice with lots of spoons and measuring cups for mixing and scooping. Her babysitter loved how easy this was and clean-up usually only required a broom and the return of the still-clean mixture to a container.
Arts & crafts
Always a favorite, creating a craft is educational, creative, stimulating and fun. As a former preschool teacher, my mother is especially great at coming up with innovative, interesting and cost-effective crafts for kids. Holiday themes are also great. You can purchase supplies for a Halloween, Chanukah, Easter or other holiday-themed craft items in advance and leave them with your sitter for hours of artsy-crafty fun!