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Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Cheap and Super Fun Games for Babies, Preschoolers and School-age Kids! March 15, 2009

It doesn’t take much to thrill a kid. In fact, it’s often the “small stuff” that makes for the most meaningful childhood memories. I came across this fabulous list of kid-friendly activities on These simple games boost development, are free or low-cost, and offer a fun way to spend quality time with your child!

Here’s a collection of simple, cheap, memory-making activities that are sure to be a bright spot in your child’s day – and yours!

5 cheap and fun baby activities

Let ‘er rip

Maybe it’s that pleasing shredding sound or maybe it’s the satisfaction of making a permanent change in something, but babies love to tear up paper. So plunder your recycling box for magazines or junk mail – when you see that gappy smile on your baby’s face as she gets to work, you won’t even mind the mess.

Dog days

You could take your baby to the zoo, but don’t be surprised if he falls fast asleep – or favors the water fountain over the orangutans. Instead, try a park where he can see dogs playing. It’s a lot less overwhelming and every bit as exciting, plus it doesn’t cost a penny. Just be sure to practice good doggy-and-child safety habits. You might want to carry your baby in your arms or a baby carrier to make sure he’s safe when watching and petting the pups (with permission, of course).

Flashlight games

Turn off the lights, close the blinds, grab a flashlight, and lie back on the floor for a rockin’ light show with your little one. Dance the light beam along the ceiling and walls as your baby stares in delight. An older baby might like to try holding the flashlight herself (though you shouldn’t be surprised if all she does is gum it). Just don’t let her shine it directly in her eyes – or, for that matter, in yours.

Dining out

For a change of pace, set up your baby’s highchair in the backyard or out on the front stoop and, between bites, let him fling the food wherever he likes. He’ll feel like he’s won the lottery! A bit short in the yard department? No worries – bring a booster chair to the park and set it right on the grass. Throw in some bubbles and you’ve got a perfect recipe for a fun-filled morning.

Go clubbing

In your living room, that is. Turn on your favorite music and dance with your baby in your arms. She’ll be in seventh heaven – after all, she’ll be enjoying three of her favorite things in the world simultaneously: music, bouncing, and closeness to you.

5 cheap and fun toddler activities

Hop a freight

Toddlers love transportation, especially if it’s a departure from the same-old-same-old car seat. Check out your local airport or hospital – many have a free shuttle or tram that you can ride as often as your little one’s heart desires. If you don’t usually travel by bus, check your local bus system and take a spin around town, enjoying things from a thrilling new vantage point.

Play dough

Borrow a tip from kid-friendly restaurants and let your toddler play with a gratifying hunk of pizza dough. Not too sticky and not too runny, it’s the perfect consistency for little fingers. Get some from your local grocery store or pizza parlor or mix up your own. A rolling pin is the icing on the cake for this activity (or, shall we say, the cheese on the pie). If you’re feeling motivated, you can bake a pizza with the rest of the dough while your child plays with his portion. Otherwise, simply freeze or refrigerate the rest for future playtime.

Fancy wrappings

If you’ve ever watched a toddler open a present, you know that she’s likely to ignore what’s inside and focus all her attention on the box, wrapping paper, and ribbon. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! Wrap up something small, such as a pretty postcard or a toy you already own. Make sure to use lots of ribbon and paper (Sunday comics work great). Present it to her with a flourish.

Baker’s man

While your toddler isn’t yet old enough to wield an electric mixer or flour sifter, he may be ready to be put in charge of the cookie-sprinkle department. So bake up a batch of cookies (you can even buy pre-made dough) and let him go nuts with a container of sprinkles. You’ll probably end up with several bare cookies and a few heavily sprinkled ones. Don’t forget to take a picture!

5 cheap and fun preschooler activities

Bathing in the pink

Or the green, or the blue… A few drops of food coloring can go a long way toward making bath time something special. It’s especially fun to mix a couple of primary colors together, such as blue and red to make purple. And no, your child won’t emerge from his bath looking like a grape – a few drops of food coloring diluted in a tub of water won’t dye your child’s skin.

Time travel

You know those old photographs of your own third birthday party or your ninth-grade dance? Dig them out and snuggle with your preschooler for a trip down memory lane. Wedding videos work well too! Of course, she’ll also enjoy seeing pictures and videos of herself when she was “little.” So break out the snacks and make an evening of it.

Ravishing radishes

When it comes to instant gardening gratification, radishes are the way to go – they pop up in a matter of weeks! After winter’s last frost, take your preschooler to the gardening store and let him pick out the package of seeds with the picture he likes best. (It’ll cost just a few dollars.) At home, find a sunny patch of yard and have your child plant the seeds directly in the ground or in a small planter. You can even grow radishes inside in a container set in a sunny south-facing window. Your little gardener will love digging a hole, sprinkling in the seeds, and covering them up. The fun continues as he gets to water the radishes and watch them grow.

Monochrome meal

We grown-ups like a little variety in our meals – but kids, who often love uniformity, get a kick out of having a special dinner in which everything is the same color. So serve up a meal that’s entirely orange (macaroni and cheese, sweet potato, orange juice, carrots), green (pesto pasta, limeade, broccoli), or yellow (lemonade, scrambled eggs, corn, pineapple).

Hunting down nature

Give your child a bag or bucket and go on an old-fashioned nature hunt. Take your time and let him collect whatever he likes – pinecones, leaves, rocks, sticks, burrs. When you get home, break out the glue and cardboard and get him started making a collage or sculpture. He may also enjoy painting a rock or two (it could become his new favorite pet).

5 cheap and fun school-kid activities

Bon appétit!

Let your child be in charge of dinner – with you as her helpful assistant. She gets to decide what to make. Some suggestions: English muffin pizzas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, pudding or gelatin for dessert. She can act as the “head cook” and even draw up some fancy menus. She may especially enjoy doing this activity with a friend.

Rest for the weary

You know those nights when you’re beyond exhausted, and you just wish someone would put you to bed for a change? Here’s your chance! Tell your child that you need a special helper to put you to bed early – and ask if he’d like to do the honors. He can pick out your pajamas, make sure you brush your teeth and wash your face, read you a book, tuck you in, give you a kiss, and turn out the light. It’s a safe bet that you’ll hear some delighted giggles from beyond your closed door! (Of course, this assumes your partner or another responsible adult has agreed to take on the nighttime duties for your child – and you’ll likely find yourself returning the favor sometime soon.)

Camp in

Wait for a dark and dreary day. If your child has a case of the “nothing-to-do” doldrums, all the better! Now suggest that you go camping – in your family room. Make a “tent” with sheets and blankets draped over chairs. If you have sleeping bags, dig them out – or just create some bedrolls with blankets and pillows. Tell stories and sing songs around an imaginary fire. And when the lights go out, make a beautiful galaxy appear on the ceiling of your tent by shining a flashlight through a colander.

Kid’s choice day

Let your child “run” the day. She can make the important decisions such as what to eat, what show to watch, and what activities to do. Give this day a special name so that she can plan it, as in, “On my next ‘Ali Day,’ I want to ride bikes, wash the dog, and eat spaghetti. (Helpful hint: To avoid power struggles with your child’s teacher, don’t do this on a school day!)

Treasure hunt

Send your child on a treasure hunt, right in your own house. It takes a little preparation, but the excitement is worth it! Give him a note that says something like, “Look in the flour canister.” Or make it a bit trickier by writing a clue he has to solve, such as “Look for the white powder that we use for baking.” (If your child’s reading skills are still primitive, simplify your notes, help him read them, or draw pictures instead.) In the flour canister, he’ll find another note telling him where to look next, such as in the refrigerator or under the welcome mat. Let the hunt include a few more hiding places, and put a prize in the very last one (try under his pillow). The prize can be very small – for example, a piece of candy or a pad of paper. As in all true treasure hunts, the real joy is in the search.

Have some fabulous ideas of your own? Comment below!


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