15 ways to keep kids busy in the house

Today is  Mom Monday, a day when I talk about my life as a mom. The Centsible Life is a blog about money & motherhood so it’s only fitting that I share my thoughts on mothering.

I’m a work at home mom, so I’m constantly trying to manage the kids while trying to work as well. It’s typically at least an hour or two every day that the kids need to be occupied, but I’m kind of a warm body to make sure no one does anything too dangerous (“Please don’t put your finger in the outlet.” “No, your sister is not a bouncy seat.”). I act as referee for squabbles, a tutor for homework, and a chef for after school snacks.  We find that it gets tougher on rainy, cold, or super hot days, so I came up with some ideas that help keep them busy and having fun.

During the ‘witching hour’ in our house I try to keep the kids occupied without screens (I like to save that for when I’m cooking dinner or after dinner) and we’ve come up with a few ideas that seem to work for my kids.

These ideas work well mostly for my younger kids (9, 7, 5), and some may be adapted to older or younger kids.  Your mileage may vary.

  1. Doodle cards: This idea is not my own, but I’ve adopted it as a way to keep the kids busy inside. They are very into art and this satisfies their need to create without ahem, destroying other things. Just make a line or shape on a card or paper and have your child fill it in with a full picture and color. Amazing how many things you get from just one line!
  2. Building (blocks, Legos, etc.): Whether it’s building Legos, creating block towers or crafting whole towns the kids can keep busy for hours doing this if there is enough material to go around.
  3. Art:Throw some craft materials on the table and my kids will create. Glue, glitter, beads, paper, markers-it doesn’t matter.

    Stickers aren't just for paper!

  4. Boxes: You know, of the cardboard variety. My kids have turned boxes into houses, ships, tents, cars, towns and so, so much more.
  5. Packaging: We once had a famously long play period with packing peanuts. They made a great material to hide things inside of (in a box) for a game of “guess what you’re holding.” My kids also are big fans of hopping on bubble wrap (who isn’t?). Recently we received wine by mail (yes, for ‘work’) and Aidan came up with 15 things to do with the sturdy  Styrofoam  containers they came in.
  6. Dress Up:My now 9yohas always been a bit ‘Fancy Nancy’ before she was even a well-loved book character. changing clothes twice a day as a toddler, or coming up with new ways to wear something are her  specialties. Whether it’s dressing up as a princess (at age 5) or coming up with hip punk style looks (now) she loves to play around with fashion and accessories.

    Punk Rock Emma

  7. Tents: Making a tent is a blast from my past, I used to love it and even as a teen I would create tents…for the kids I babysat of course. 😉 My kids will spend a long time running around getting their stuff for a tent, awhile playing in it, and then another 20-30 minutes returning everything to its’ home. Makes for a great way to spend an afternoon.
  8. Creating their own pictures, videos, etc.: I still remember taping my own talk show with my sister, and taking photos with our old Polaroid. The kids love to make their own videos and take pictures. They are after all vloggers and bloggers in training. 😉
  9. Board Games: Things can get a little competitive between the kids so instead of super competitive games we try to find cooperative games, or keep things simple. Occasionally we’ll tackle a longer game that is won by a combo of luck and strategy (Scotland Yard, Settlers of Catan).
  10. Card Games: The kids love card games like ‘Go Fish,’ or ‘War.’
  11. Older siblings: Ok I know not everyone has one to lean on, but there’s nothing like having a 13 year old who loves to build creative stuff and play with his younger brother.
  12. Quiet Time: If the kids are overtired, or had a couple of super long days I institute an hour long quiet time so the kids will rest or read.
  13. Label it:My 7 year oldrecently went on a sticky note rampage and labeled everything in the house (including the people!). It was a fun way for her to practice spelling and writing, and gave us all a few laughs as labels like ‘chair’ ended up on people.

    Audrey's label (note the kid spelling)

  14. Send some art: Most of us aren’t fortunate enough to live closeby to all our family members so creating a card or art to send them is a great way to stay connected (and keep the kids busy).
  15. Let them play: Sometimes ignoring the kids can be the best thing for them. They learn to be independent through playing independently without my interruptions and refereeing. It’s not possible every minute of every day (nor would I want it to be), but it’s great when it works.

Christmas Lists in October

What are some ways you keep your kids busy while you tend to your own tasks, work, or just relax?  

About Kelly

Kelly Whalen is the founder and editor of the Centsible Life blog. She started the blog 6 years ago as her family faced a mountain of debt. The blog became a resource to readers and a hub for everything you need in life for less. Kelly lives in the Philadelphia area with her superhero husband, 4 awesome kids, and one adorable dog. She still believes you can have it all....just not all at once.


  1. says

    Making forts out of the couch cushions and blankets has always been a favorite. The dachshund usually ends up inside the fort at some point. Of course, it’s best if they put everything back afterward 😉


Share your thoughts!