It was raining the other day. I am pretty sure it was a Saturday, which meant my children were bored. Ever had one of those days?
I wish I were the kind of parent who said things like: “Only boring people get bored.” And I wish I had the kind of children who listened to wisdom like that. But I have normal children who like to be entertained. I can forgive that.
When my kids were really little, I came up with an activity to keep them occupied for a good, long time. Years later, it still works—every single time. It works as well for my 11-year-old now as it did back when she was four.
So, I thought maybe other people would like to copy this extremely simple and obvious cure for boredom that never fails.
All it is, is this: I clear the dining room table and put a different activity at each seat, creating stations. The kids don’t get to watch this being set up or have any input into what the stations are. The surprise is part of the fun.
I’m sure all of us have places in our homes where we stash “rainy day activities.” Or otherwise rarely-used games, crafts, puzzles, and supplies. You just actually use those things for once! You put something different at each seat and tell them to rotate around the table until they’ve completed each station. Sometimes my kids like to set a timer for five or ten minutes per station, and sometimes they like to stay in one until they are finished and then move on to the next.
I’ll show you how I sometimes set up our stations. Then you can look through your stash of stuff and find similar ideas or create your own. Your kids will have so much fun! Even I sometimes get sucked into the fun myself. But the real point of it is that the kids are occupied, and you can curl up on the couch and read your book on that rainy Saturday.
Here’s what I set up the most recent time we did stations (photos below):
- Inspiration Station: Large sheet of plain paper, magazines, scissors, and glue. Flip through the magazines, cut out anything you like or anything that inspires you, and glue it down. It’s fun to see what catches their eyes.
- Handwriting Book: You know all those curriculum books that get sent home with your kids at the end of a school year? My girls always like the handwriting books. They would never just open it and work on their handwriting on their own, but if it’s at one of the stations, they have fun with it! Put out some fun colored pens to use with this station.
- Deck of Cards: All you need here is a deck of cards! My kids are really into learning to shuffle. They know how to do it but just need lots of practice. If they get done with shuffling practice, they can learn to build card houses. They can also play Solitaire or sort the deck into the four suits, a black pile and a red pile, or any other sorting.
- Coloring Book: Simplicity for the win again. How many barely used coloring books do you have lying around? My kids do not often choose a coloring book on their own for entertainment, but if you put it in a station, for some reason it’s suddenly fun. Put out some fresh markers that aren’t dry, and that makes it even better.
- Puzzle: Choose a pretty small puzzle, 48–72 pieces or so, depending on their level—something they can do in a short amount of time so they don’t get too frustrated. Also, make sure you have enough space for this station on your table, or perhaps put this station on the floor.
- Magnetic Mosaic Activity: I think this was a birthday gift given to one of my kids many years ago, and it’s always been one of our favorite toys. It’s one that I love doing with them too. There are a lot of similar products out there in sticker form, but I like that this is reusable. Sadly, I can’t find it available online anymore. If you ever see it, snatch it up!
Some other station ideas:
- Paint by Sticker (These are a winner for my kids on airplanes and car rides too.)
- Kinetic sand (in a container), playdough, or clay
- Cups of water with little droppers: I don’t know why, but my kids love to slowly transfer water from one cup or bowl to another with the droppers. Add some food coloring for more fun.
- Geography placemats: We have a couple of laminated placemats with maps of the USA or the world on them. I’ll put those out with some wet-erase markers and tell them to label places they want to visit, places they have visited, or places where someone they know lives. The options are endless. If you don’t have a placemat like this, print out a map and use markers.
- Cereal or pasta art: Take a page out of the preschool handbook and put out a sheet of construction paper, Cheerios or macaroni, and some glue. Tell them to create a picture or make their name.
You’ll be really surprised with how your kids respond to the most simple activities when you put them out like this. If my kids came to me with “I’m bored,” and I said, “Go get out a coloring book,” or, “Grab a deck of cards,” I would get major eye rolls. But for some reason, if it’s one of the stations, they love it. I cannot explain to you why this works. But I think it’s a universal truth, and I am confident that it will work for your kids too.