The Top Ten Best Free Activities to do with Children
This list suggests possible activities for parents to do with their young children to help them appreciate their possessions, natural environment, and people around them. They are also free- so parents can enjoy them too!
The following list is judged A-F in three categories: how well these free activities allow personal connection with children, the level of learning that takes place, and the sensory engagement which fulfills the child's natural sense of wonder.
Take a Hike
Hiking is an amazing activity for parents to do with their children. A hike does not necessarily mean you are climbing a mountain or a nature trail- but if you have one nearby, go for it! A hike can be a stroll around the backyard or some nearby woods. There are many benefits of this activity. First, the physical excercise is great for you and your child! Second, it gives you both a bit of fresh air and quiet time to unplug and simply enjoy each others company without too many other distractions (if you can leave your iphone in your pocket!). It also presents opportunities to explore natural wildlife in your area and to discuss sounds you hear or things you see, making this a complete sensory activity!
Connection: A+ (fewer distractions)
Jump in Muddy Puddles
Who doesn't love to get dirty? Put on the rain boots and rain coat and go jump in some muddy puddles! Kids will love the freedom and will get some physical activity in without even noticing! You probably forgot how fun this is, but disregard the neighbors looks- you wont regret it, and you and your child will have a lasting memory (and possibly some lasting stains).
Nurture an Animal or Insect
Do you have a pet? Teach your child to help feed it and get it water. Kids love this little bit of responsibility. Let your child pet the cat while discussing the texture and feel of her fur. Or take your dog outside to play or learn a new trick. Perhaps your child can find a nice stick to throw. Or he can collect eggs from the chickens (for us farmfolk!). This will teach children about caring for animals while having some fun as well. Don't have a large pet? How about describing your goldfish and let your child sprinkle the food? How about finding an ant or a worm outside and discuss the importance of these insects and the jobs they do. Feel free to use a magnifying glass (but keep it out of the sun for the ants sake)!
Climb a tree
So, yes, sure there is the possibility of falling, right? But this truly is a valuable activity. Climbing trees helps with decision making, as in where to step, how to move, but also helps with coordination, balance, and determination. Once our children reach the branch they were trying for, we celebrate, then ask them to try to find their own way down. We are there to catch them if they fall, which builds trust. But allowing them to find their own way down encourages forethought before action, and careful planning. Kids used to do this all the time, and still should!
"Can you remember when you got..."
This is a fun activity to do while cleaning up with your child- especially in their bedroom or playroom. When we pick up an object, we say "Can you remember when you made this" or "how did you get this", or "who gave you this?" I love this activity, because the talking makes the job go faster, but there is a valuable lesson here as well. It teaches our children to appreciate the possessions they have and the people who gave them. It can make a child re-realize an old toy, and play with it again. If you find items that your child may not remember or doesn't use, maybe ask, "Who do we know that would really like and use this", then give the gift to complete the cycle of appreciation!
Interview a Family Member, Neighbor or Other Community Member about their job/role.
This interview can be short, just a question or two, but provides a focus on appreciating what someone else does by asking them about their role in the family, neighborhood, or community. A child will appreciate getting mail much more, when they know the mailman or mailwoman who delivers it! This also creates more opportunities for personal connection throughout the day. Some ideas for people to interview include grandparents, mailman, school secretary, school janitor, librarian...etc. Learning to appreciate each other and express that appreciation is a valuable skill for children and adults alike!
Play a board game
This, of course, is a classic, but could not be left off the list! Playing board games with children help with learning turn taking, counting, coping with disappointment, how to be a good winner, how to take care of the pieces, and how to work with others. For a twist, take your board game outside! Be sure to include your child in taking out and putting away the pieces.
You choose, I choose
In our house, we like to set aside an hour when we can for "You choose, I choose". This is one hour in which your child decides what to do for the first half hour, and you decide what to do for the next half hour. Both activities should be child centered. One example is for the first half hour my daughter chooses to play dolls and dollhouse, and for the second half hour, I choose to paint pictures. This exposes your child to a variety of activities, and also may prepare them for turn taking and timed activities. Asking "Why did you choose this activity now?" or "I chose this activity now, because", allows your child to see other points of view and share his/her interests. Make the rules clear from the very beginning of the first activity that you will be choosing the second activity. Another variation on "You choose, I choose" is "Indoor, Outdoor" splitting time between an indoor activity and an outdoor activity, getting fresh air for the child that is attached to the tv screen.
Sensory: C, but depends on the activity
Have a Picnic Lunch
Plan to take your lunch or snack outdoors with your child. Your backyard will do or walk to a nearby park and lay down a blanket to sit on. This provides something out of the ordinary and fun for you and your child. During the picnic, you can look for cloud shapes, discuss sounds you hear, or describe the tastes of the food you are eating. The sensory possibilities are endless! Save this for a sunny day though...nobody likes soggy sandwiches!
Play "Wouldn't It be Silly If..."
One of my favorite games to play with my kids whether we are outside on the swings, walking to school, or waiting in line at the DMV (God forbid!). This is sure to pass the time and let you have fun while doing it. The rules are simple. Say "Wouldn't it be silly if..." then finish the sentence. This game encourages imagination and will give you a window into your childs thought process and interests. A free game with priceless giggles!
Though for me, the clear winner is hiking with your children, you may find your own favorite. Any time you are able to spend with your child focused on simply what you are doing together is valuable. It teaches your child that you care, that he is important, and that you dont need money or even to leave your yard to have a good time! To simply appreciate each other, and what you already have around you is the ultimate goal. Of all my explorations with my kids, I have found some activities great for connecting, some great for learning, some great sensory activities, but the best activities of all have a combination of all three. I hope you and your child enjoy these ten activities! Now, I'll take a hike!