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Free Activities to Do With Your Kids Anytime

Victoria is a stay-at-home mom, author, educator, and blogger at Healthy at Home. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.


When you have kids at home, whether it’s just on the weekends or you’re a stay-at-home mother with toddlers, the need for you to get out of the house and entertain them can get desperate. I know how you feel. There’s only so much TV that they can watch, books that they can color, and toys they can play with before they get bored.

In addition, there are only so many screams you can handle, tantrums you can stand, or couches/walls you can clean ink off of before you blow your top and have to commit yourself to the looney bin. Get the kids cleaned and dressed and get out of that house—at least for a little while.

The trick is not breaking the bank while doing it. Getting out of the house sounds wonderful, and what you wouldn’t do for a break and some entertainment for the kids, but with the admission and ticket charges everyone is charging, it’s no wonder no one is getting out and enjoying all the city has to offer. Let’s look at some great activities you can do with your little ones that will not only be fun but will take up lots of time, and absolutely no money.

Quick Poll

Discover New Animals

You don’t have to go to the zoo and pay the hefty admission fee to see exciting animals. Go to the pet store! Petco and PetSmart are perfect for visiting with your kids. As long as they aren’t screaming, pulling stuff off the shelves, or attacking other customers, they really don’t even need to be right by your side at all times.

New dogs are always wandering through the store with their owners, your little ones can see all the cats they always have up for adoption, and then there are lizards, snakes, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, ferrets, iguanas, turtles, birds, and tons and tons of fish. I think we spent nearly an hour wandering through the store the last time we went, and all of the associates had a blast showing my kids one new animal after the other and telling them all about their job at the pet store.

My kids had so many questions about dog food, dog toys, and everything else we found in the store. We talked about the animals we wanted, the toys we would buy them, and even slipped in a little history and math lesson (one of them discussed having 10 children and 100 animals for them. You see where this is going.)

See New Sights

This is going to sound crazy, but why pay tons of money at the Science Center, at the Children’s Museum, or anywhere else, when your kids will be just as excited, learn just as much, and spend just as much time... at Wal-Mart! Dishes, towels, baby stuff, containers, greeting cards, the toy aisle, and even the movies are just as entertaining as any pieces of art or any statues they will possibly see.

I realize that the temptation (and pressure from the kids) to buy something at Wal-Mart may a little overwhelming, but you can change that. Just tell them before you walk in that you are only buying … whatever (construction paper and balloons is what we were buying), or just tell them this is a looking only trip. You can say that you thought they’d have fun going to Wal-Mart for the day. Truthfully, my husband and I do this all the time at a variety of stores because we enjoy walking up and down the aisles together and talking.

Remember to say, “It’s okay to look at it but leave it there,” and you’ll have this one in the bag. “Remember we’re not buying anything” is another good one to repeat. We easily spent another hour at Wal-Mart today just wandering through the aisles, talking about cool ways to decorate the house, how much fun it would be to have an all-orange house with all orange decorations, and all of the crafts we could do if we had all of the craft supplies we saw at the store. My son even likes to invent new machines, toys, and other things to make our lives easier, or more fun, after seeing everything at the store.

Toddlers love pushing the cart and helping you pick out items.

Toddlers love pushing the cart and helping you pick out items.

Make the Old New Again

Why not take them to the grocery store with you for the fun of it? Really! I realize that this sounds like a nightmare to most parents, but with a few simple tips for your kids, it doesn’t have to be. I seem to be a broken record of the constant phrase “you can look but leave it there,” whenever we go anywhere, but it really works.

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I want them to walk around because then they get worn out from walking. I want them to look at everything because the whole point is for them to have fun and enjoy themselves. Them sitting in the basket only gives me exercise, and staying quiet and not touching anything makes it boring for them. Then neither of us gets what we want out of the deal.

To make it both a fun and a productive trip, I have them walk next to the basket and make sure only to look at everything, but not actually pick anything up unless it’s on the list. To make it fair, we even switch off who gets to get the next item from the list off the shelf. As we go down the first aisle, Elliot gets to grab the first item, then on the next aisle, it’s Sawyer's turn.

Half the fun is them getting to search frantically down the aisle for the item on the list and then to run to put it into the basket. It becomes fun for all of us rather than just a simple chore that has to be done. (Tip: Teach them how to find the cheapest option, and/or to add up the cost of everything in the basket as you grab new things, and it becomes a great real world math lesson.)

Enjoy the Outdoors

Don’t forget old faithful. The park down the street or even a playground at the community park will both work for this purpose. Not only do the kids get some time to wear themselves out and all you have to do is sit there in the shade and read your favorite book while sipping sweet tea, but they get to socialize with other kids, have tons of fun, burn through a good hour or two for you, and develop an appetite for just about anything you’re going to put on the table for dinner.

If you would like a little exercise yourself, consider going to a national park, or take advantage of the trails in your neighborhood. I would definitely suggest bringing a stroller just in case someone gets tired, and lots of water, which the kids will normally be willing to carry in a small backpack.

I would even make it more fun than just a simple stroll by having them identify different bugs they see, different types of leaves, maybe they can even look for all the different flowers and birds they can find. When they’re toddlers, they love this kind of stuff and it will keep them entertained for at least an hour or two. If you take a camera, you can document each of the things you find on your different walks.

A walk can be a great way to bond with your children for free.

A walk can be a great way to bond with your children for free.

What’s amazing about all of these options is that they were all just across the street from the house, so we could have all the fun we wanted and not spend even a little bit of money, except of course for the construction paper and balloons we bought. When it was time for lunch, we just ran back home for sandwiches and grapes. And they had tons of supplies for crafts for the rest of the afternoon!

The park, a walk, or even a trip to the playground for an hour or two can fit in right before dinner or right afterward before bath time and sleepy time. And there’s your day away from the house!

Obviously with all of these options you have to keep your kids fairly close so that you still have them when it’s time to go home. You want to enjoy yourself and want them to enjoy theirs as well, so that means no breaking things, screaming, crying, or making a general nuisance out of themselves, so set rules ahead of time to get all of these things:

  • Stay where you can see me.
  • You can look but leave it there.
  • You either have to hold my hand or your brother’s/sister’s.

These seem to work to solve all of these problems. If a tantrum starts, the rule is simply that they stop or you leave the store. This sucks for both of you, but next time, or even the next store, this will likely change when they see the results. However, if you’ve already established good discipline habits at home, many of these problems won’t be an issue for you.

© 2013 Victoria Van Ness

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