The ebb and flow of many families’ days have changed dramatically in the last few months due to the pandemic. School and work schedules may have shifted, and parents are dealing with the challenges of interruptions in life. Of course, sometimes we just let our kids do whatever they want just to keep the peace for an hour or two. Yet, we struggle with allowing too much screen time or not having enough planned activities to keep kids occupied.
So, first, let’s take some of the pressure off ourselves as parents and know that times are a little different now. It’s okay to have unstructured time during the day if necessary. Whether it’s late morning, before dinner, or closer to bedtime, kids—like grownups—need quiet time activities. More subdued activities help kids—and grownups—reset their nervous systems and get them back into their bodies and calm their minds. Quiet time activities also support emotional regulation and promote creativity and overall wellness.
Best Quiet Time Activities for Kids
Here are a few quiet time activities for kids:
Jumping into a good book seems like an obvious choice, but the world of reading can also include listening to an audiobook or reading to each other. This is important because some kids and parents may not yet know if a child has reading challenges that might require professional intervention. But for quiet time at home, just let kids absorb books in whatever way is most comfortable for them. Don’t forget to create a cozy corner just for reading time; it helps kids transition into a new activity.
As far as content, allow kids to choose whatever they would like to read, including comic books and graphic novels. Reading is reading! Kids can also do adjacent reading activities like sorting books into colors, alphabetizing books, choosing three books with similar themes (animals, fairytales, space), or writing and illustrating their own stories. Siblings can coordinate storytimes for younger kids. And younger kids can read to stuffed animals, dolls, and even the family dog!
Arts and Crafts
From sidewalk chalk portraits to creating magnificent collages using everyday household items, there are countless ways kids can occupy themselves through making things. Here are a few quick ideas:
- Art Prompts: Create an “art prompt” jar and have kids draw slips of paper that give them ideas for drawings. Prompts could be “a place you’d like to visit someday” or “a new animal that has just been discovered” or “the world’s most delicious cake.” You can time these for five-minute exercises or allow the child just to do one drawing for thirty minutes.
- Jewelry Time: Break out some colorful yarn and a tray of household items that can be threaded, including buttons with large holes, tubed pasta, nuts, washers, sections of paper rolls, and pipe cleaners made into little circles. You can also add large beads that can be easily threaded. Please make sure anything you add to the tray is safe and appropriate for your children’s age.
- Paper Chains: Get a jump start on the holidays and have kids create paper chains that can be hung on the tree or deck the halls. These can also be stored for birthday parties and other celebrations. Just cut strips from colorful construction paper, newspapers, magazines, or other paper products. Either use the strips “as is,” or kids can color them with crayons, markers, or paints. Using a glue stick or tape, create circles that intertwine with each other—a fun, simple activity.
Puzzles are specifically designed to engage the mind and pass the time. You can set out a giant floor puzzle, a colorful jigsaw puzzle, or even have kids create their own puzzles. To do this, they can draw or have you print out a few images on pieces of paper that can be cut into pieces and reassembled. Beyond picture puzzles, parents can also take a large poster board or cut and flatten out an old box. Then, take household items, trace the items on the board, and have kids match the right tracings. Older kids can even create this puzzle for younger siblings.
Caring for Animals
Depending on the child’s age, taking thirty minutes to pay extra attention to a family pet can be fulfilling and fun and teach empathy and responsibility. Pet activities might include:
- Filling and/or cleaning food and water dishes
- Playing with toys in the back yard or common living area
- Brushing hair
- Having a dance party
- Reading to the animals
- Taking fun photos
- Making and/or giving special treats
- Rearranging a habitat (hamsters, fish)
Of course, children need to have experience doing these tasks before allowing them to do them independently.
Having specific boxes filled with activities is a fast and easy way to have a successful quiet time in your house. This requires a little bit of thought, preparation, and expense in the beginning. But once the boxes are complete, it’s just a matter of saying, “Which one are you choosing for today’s quiet time?” Here are some examples:
- Cars: Toy cars, screwdriver, construction paper, markers, road-themed shaped mats
- Take a car apart using a real screwdriver
- Create a “paper town” for the car to drive through
- Use the cars and mats to learn shapes
- Make a parking lot with paper and markers
- Dinosaurs: Dino figures, plastic trees, playdough (brown, green, gray, red, orange), stones, magnifying glass, pinto beans
- Make a dino scene with a volcano
- Bury dinos, stones, beans in the playdough and excavate
- Create a replica of the earth with the molten lava in the center
- Have a dino battle
- Fairies: Wand, synthetic flowers, pipe cleaners, paper butterflies, pretty notepaper and envelopes, bubbles, fairy wings
- Make a flower crown
- Write a note to a fairy godmother that mom can help mail
- Place paper butterflies around the room and blow bubbles; see how close the “fairies” are pushing the bubbles to their butterfly friends; this can be a game or just for observation
- Play dress up
The trick with activity boxes and trays is to match your child’s unique interest and develop activity ideas to include in the box. But you’ll be surprised at how many ideas they come up with on their own.
And an important last piece of advice—schedule your quiet times consistently. If kids know that quiet time happens daily around the same time, you’ll get more enthusiastic participation, less resistance, and better-quality quiet time for them and you.