Experienced sitters and nannies know that keeping kids busy with fun, creative activities is the best way to prevent meltdowns when mom and dad walk out the door. Even better, a child care provider who takes the lead and guides her charges through imaginative play is a surefire way to be a favorite sitter the kids look forward to seeing again and again. When babysitter night becomes a treat, everyone wins!
Aimie Epoch has been a caregiver for five years, watching kids ranging from 4 months to 5 years old. As a college student on a budget, she has always looked for entertaining and inexpensive activities for the kids.
“Searching for things around your house [to play with], utilizing your local parks and finding free activities to do in town will make the time go by quickly while having fun yourself,” Epoch says.
Read on for eight fun-filled ways to keep kids of all ages happy in your care.
1. Do the Magic Milk science experiment
Kids will be mesmerized by this simple experiment that uses a handful of common household items. Simply pour a thin layer of milk in a shallow pan, then let your kiddos drop food coloring all around. They can dip a cotton swab in dish soap, then place it into the milk and watch the magic unfold. Older kids are most likely to appreciate the science behind what makes this experiment work, but even little ones will be wowed by the colorful effect of this activity.
Materials: Milk, liquid food coloring, dish soap, cotton swabs
2. Make rock candy
“If you have the kids over a series of months, it can be fun to make rock candy and watch it grow over time,” Epoch says.
A simple mixture of water and sugar turns into a science experience that allows kids to watch crystals form over the course of a few weeks. Best of all: They’re edible!
Materials: White sugar, water, food coloring, wooden skewers
3. Make soap slime
Former day care center teacher and nanny Victoria Wilson says sensory activities are her go-tos.
“The emphasis is on the process, not the product,” she says. “And sensory activities offer great ways for children to explore the world around them. Introducing new sights, smells, sounds and textures is not only stimulating but also super entertaining and fun!”
This super sensory slime activity gives new meaning to the phrase “good, clean fun.” Watch what happens when you combine warm water and soap flakes (which you can buy by the box or make yourself with bar soap and a grater). Kick it up a notch by adding food coloring, making several different batches for a rainbow effect. Then sit back and watch while the kids enjoy the sensation of squishing and stretching the slime.
Materials: Pure soap flakes, warm water, food coloring
4. Play with leaves
“I get a lot of inspiration for activities from nature — I do a lot of seasonal crafts and activities,” Wilson says. “I believe that connecting kids to nature through their senses is the best way to foster their understanding of the world around them. They’re learning about the world while having lots of fun!”
An example: whimsical wands created from items you can find in the back yard. Start with a few sticks and some twine, then add some color and texture with leaves. Once they’ve created their wands, the kids can have fun channeling their inner wizard or fairy.
Materials: Sticks, leaves, twine
5. Set up a puppet show
Indulge children’s theatrical sides with this activity that’s sure to become a favorite. Start by making your puppet show theater out of an old box, inviting the kids to paint the outside while you cut out a square for the “stage.” Then help them create characters out of any leftover cardboard and paint. When they’re done for the day, fold everything back up into the box and set it aside for later.
Materials: Cardboard box, paint
6. Play hair salon
Sometimes everyday activities like brushing hair can be exciting for kids.
“I got a hair brush so the girls could do each other’s hair — and mine! — which was a huge hit!” Epoch says.
Set up your “salon” with a brush, foam curlers and colorful accessories from the dollar store, then invite the kids to come up with their wildest hairstyles.
Materials: Hairbrush and accessories
7. Craft cardboard masks
Kids 4 and up will love the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild while crafting cardboard masks. Invite kids to start by looking for inspiration in African tribal, Japanese Kabuki and Mexican “Day of the Dead” masks. Then provide pre-cut, medium-weight cardboard, paint and crafting supplies like popsicle sticks, pom-poms and feathers — and be amazed by what they come up with!
Materials: Cardboard, paint, paint brushes, markers, glue, craft supplies, stretch elastic, hot glue gun
8. Play the Color Sorting game
Encourage fine motor skills and color-matching for toddlers with a simple color-sorting game. Gather small, solid-colored toys into a container and create circles using different colors of Play-Doh or other modeling clay. Then challenge the little ones to sort their toys based on color.
Materials: Play-Doh, small solid-colored toys
Read next: 8 great icebreaker activities