Independent Activity Ideas for Kids (so you can get Saturday's housework done)

Feb 16, 2015

Unfortunately, despite wishing every weekend could be full of non-stop play and family togetherness, we inevitably find ourselves using at least a portion of the weekend to do chores and jobs around the house. Our Saturdays usually include multiple loads of washing, vacuuming, cooking and general tidying up.

There are times that we engage the children to help with various household chores and there are also some jobs that we'd prefer to do as efficiently as possible, to quickly get it out of the way so that we can move onto more pleasurable weekend tasks. This isn't always easy with young children following you around, clinging onto your leg, hounding you for food or entertainment or trying to "help" in their own unique ways. Having a few independent activities (they're things your children can do without adult assistance) up your sleeve, can be very handy indeed.

When it comes to setting your kids up with an independent inside activity, you need to take into consideration their age and abilities. With younger children, activities that involve materials with a high likelihood of mess, like paint, water-play, rice etc. are probably best saved for a time when you can be more actively supervising. You also want to make sure that the activities are open-ended enough to allow for multiple experiences and self explanatory enough so the kids don't need long instructions or help figuring out what or how to do something.

Below are some of my favourite go-to independent activity ideas for kids.

Busy Boxes

A busy box is something that you make ahead of time so you can grab and give to a child quickly when needed. It is something that children wouldn't normally have access to and is just reserved for times when you need it. The draw of a busy box is the excitement of rummaging through a box of endless possibilities for creating. They stimulate children's minds as they go through the process of evaluating the materials and options and deciding how they are going to combine and use them.

You could provide children with a recycle box challenge (minus the paint for younger children), encourage writing and drawing with a writing box, set them up with a quiet box, a playdough train box, some busy bags, a lego patterns box, a portable road kit or a sight words busy box.

After your child has used a particular busy box or bag, it's fun to add new and interesting materials to keep it fresh and to entice them on other occasions.

Play-dough Invitations

So long as you have some playdough and some bits and bobs, you can entice a long session of creative, sensory play that isn't going to require your assistance. If you have older children who feel that playdough just isn't for them anymore, you could offer modelling clay as an alternative.

Chances are, the overall excitement of say, playdough paired with cookie cutters, will lose it's appeal over time as all the options for play are exhausted. Changing and swapping around the playdough's accompanying materials provides children with different experiences and different options for creating (and learning).

Some tested and well-loved combinations are things like playdough and magnetic letters, playdough with pompoms and pinecones, a playdough spring garden or playdough with pipe-cleaners and beads.

Add some blocks in this fun playdough bricklaying activity or set up a playdough sweet shop or pizza shop. You can even add some cotton-buds for a challenging construction activity.

Pairing your playdough with a playdough mat is also a quick and easy idea. You might like to try this flower playdough mat, this food playdough mat, these alphabet playdough mats or these people playdough mats.

Construction Activities

My children love building things and with just a few different materials, can be busily constructing away for ages. We have a variety of different blocks at our house, from standard wooden blocks to castle and tree blocks. We also have Duplo and Lego that we use often for constructing and playing with.

Beyond just building with the blocks, there are lots of different ideas sure to engage your children. Try pairing tape with blocks to see what you can come up with or engineering with toothpicks and marshmallows. Give children some books and cars or cardboard boxes. We also love to build with plastic plates and cups.

Print out these free printable windows and doors and provide with some recycled cardboard boxes for children to create their own city or find some sticky-tape and straws to challenge children's ingenuity.

Contact Paper Activities

Contact paper or sticky-back plastic, is a great low-mess medium for all kinds of fun, independent activities for children. The sticky side of the plastic allows for easy collaging, creating and learning opportunities. A sticky-wall, sticky-table or sticky-easel is quick and easy to set up by simply peeling the backing off a large sheet of contact paper, and attaching (with some tape in the corners) to your surface, with the sticky side up. You're left with an instant reusable sticky surface that is perfect for younger kids.

Try presenting their sticky surface with materials like ribbons and string or craft sticks and straws to see what they come up with. You can add cardboard tubes and marbles to make a marble run or these to inspire a garden like in the picture above. Stick some eyes onto bottle-tops for a fun sticky caterpillar game or try some contact paper art. Did you know you can pair contact paper with blocks?

You could give younger children some wool to stick, make gorgeous mandalas or design yourself some cool bracelets or cuffs. Here are even more ideas for using contact paper for play.

Role Play

Another great independent activity for children is imaginative play. When we were kids, we could get lost in our role plays for hours and hours and the great thing is that we needed very few materials and just a lot of imagination. To entice children to get into role playing at a time you're needing them to be independently occupied, providing a few pre-prepared materials could be the ticket.

Getting out a couple of props or dress-ups and putting them out for children to find, will often be enough to entice them. The more effort I go to setting the scene, the more enthused they usually are. (I'm talking things like hand-written signs you can quickly stick on the wall, a little table moved into the centre of a room with a chair behind it or a couple of house-hold items they may not play with regularly. All these little things add to their enthusiasm but you don't need to spend a lot of time or effort on it.)

Some ideas for role play set-ups are Doctor role play  (there's a free printable Dr check-list for you there),  pretend school, shop keeperspretend Vets, pretend schoolpretend travel, ice cream shop owners, office play or that you're going camping! If you're after more inspiration, here are tons of pretend play printables.


There are plenty of benefits of technology for kids and so long as you've established a way to control kids' technology use (so they don't have unrestricted, unsupervised access to the internet or games), some computer or tablet time can be perfect for an independent activity while you get the ironing done. Currently on the ipad, the kids and I are loving discovering and learning with the amazing MWorld, making up stories on the Play School Art Maker and exploring the interactive Play School Play Time app.

There has to be enough ideas there to at least buy you a few Saturday's worth of chores. What are your go-to independent activities for the kids?

Happy playing,
Debs :)
This post is part of a Nuffnang native advertising series

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