Being a stay at home mom or work at home mom often means having an endless to-do list. And when your children are small or you homeschool, it also means working around their schedule most of the time.
Keeping kids busy and occupied can help with knocking out your to-do list. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.
Because babies and littles–they need a lot of attention. And sometimes you might end the day feeling like you’ve gotten nothing accomplished.
It’s frustrating, especially if you’re trying to grow a blog or business from home while still covering mom duties.
I’ve been there and done that. So to help you out, I put together a list of 20+ fun and frugal activities that can keep kids busy for hours.
(Or at least give you a few minutes to fold some laundry, plan out your meals for the week or weed out your inbox. 😊 )
These ideas are ones that were super-popular with my kids when they were little.
Some of these things require your help to set up. But once you get kids going, they can do these activities solo or with their siblings while you supervise nearby.
Ready to start being more productive and get stuff done? This list can totally save you (and make your kids pretty happy too! )
25 Budget-Friendly Ideas for Keeping Kids Busy
1. Mix Up Some Slime
Whoever invented slime is some kind of genius because kids of all ages seem to love it so much.
It’s fun to mix up all the ingredients and watch them turn into something else. Not to mention, squishing slime between little fingers is a good sensory activity for kids.
If you’re looking for some fun slime recipes, check out these ideas from Little Bins Little Hands.
Or, you can buy a kid-friendly kit that has everything your littles need to slime it up.
2. Or Try Oobleck Instead
Oobleck is kind of like slime but not.
When you push on it, it becomes firm but if you let it go it oozes all over the place. Weird, right?
Creating an oobleck sensory bin is a great option for keeping kids busy if you have toddlers. The Artful Parent has a great roundup of sensory activities you can do with oobleck, plus a super-simple recipe for making it.
3. Break Out the Art Supplies
One of the best ideas for keeping kids busy on rainy days is having an indoor arty party.
Cover your kitchen table with newspaper or cheap plastic tablecloth and break out the paints, markers, crayons and paper.
If your kids are old enough, give them some old magazines, a pair of safety scissors and some glue, then encourage them to make their own collages.
And if you want to give them an art project that’s focused around a specific theme, Deep Space Sparkle is a go-to pick for ideas.
4. Take Your Work Outdoors
If you work from home, changing up your workspace to the outdoors is a fun way to keep kids busy.
When I first started side hustling as a freelance writer, I’d work outside while my kids played in the sandbox or chased bugs. I was able to get things done, they got some exercise and we all got to enjoy the nice weather, which was a total win-win.
So if you have a great backyard space, give working outside a try. Pro tip: Sit in a shady spot; otherwise, you’ll never be able to see your laptop screen.
5. Build an Indoor Fort
Teepees and pillow forts are a perfect way to keep kids busy on rainy afternoons when you can’t get outside.
If you don’t have room for a teepee indoors on your back porch, grab some pillows, blankets and chairs. Build a makeshift pillow fort, toss in a few favorite toys or books, then let your kids while away the time in their little hideaway.
You’re keeping kids busy, feeding their imagination and getting work done, which makes for a productive day.
6. Haul Out the Blocks
If you have younger kids, you can just dump out the blocks and let them have it. But if your kids are a little older, give them a challenge to make it more fun.
For example, ask them to build a castle or make a bridge out of their blocks. Their hands (and heads) stay busy and you’re sneakily teaching them about engineering at the same time.
7. Make a Dino Park
What young kid doesn’t love dinosaurs? My son couldn’t get enough when he was preschool age.
If you have a child that’s a junior paleontologist, here’s a really simple idea for keeping kids busy:
- Buy a clear plastic shoebox or bin from the dollar store
- Throw in some sand, twigs and fake moss
- Add in some plastic dinosaurs
And voila! You’ve got your own Jurassic Park.
I made these little terrariums for my kids several times and they loved playing with them. If you’re really ambitious, you could add in a bowl of water with a few drops of blue food coloring mixed in to make a lake or pond.
8. Give Them a Stack of Puzzles
Puzzles are another go-to method for keeping kids busy so you can get things done.
The great thing about puzzles is there are so many you can try. Big floor puzzles, wooden puzzles in a frame, regular cardboard puzzles.
There’s something for just about every age and it’s a simple way to keep kids busy for a good 20 to 30 minutes.
So, clear a space on the living room floor or the kitchen table and pull out the puzzles. Just steer clear of ones that have any small pieces that could be a choking hazard if you’ve got littles.
9. Try Some Water Play
If your kids like the water, then water play activities are a simple way to keep them busy. And depending on what’s involved, it’s something they can do indoors or out.
For example, my son used to enjoy filling up a plastic tub full of water and swimming his toy sharks around in it. (And be smarter than I was and put a towel down first.)
If you’re trying to work from home while the kids are out on summer vacation, you can take the water play outside.
Water balloons, a sprinkler or just the hose can all do the job when it comes to keeping kids busy. Fireflies + Mud Pies has an excellent list of water play ideas you can try.
10. Fridge Magnets
Fridge magnets are a cheap and simple way to keep kids entertained while you work.
You slap ’em on the fridge and let the kids have at it.
We just had those ABC/123 ones you can get at the dollar store and some “Cars” ones we found at a yard sale. But if you want to get fancy with your fridge magnets, here are some of my favorite Amazon picks.
Dress-up is another way to keep kids busy and encourage creativity.
(My son will be 10 soon and he still dresses up almost daily. We just call it cosplay now ’cause we’re grown-ups. 🙂 )
If your kids love dress-up too then have a dress-up day. Pull out all their old Halloween costumes, the Disney princess dresses, old clothes you no longer wear and let their imaginations run wild.
12. Blow Bubbles
Bubbles are one of the best and cheapest options for keeping kids busy.
Chasing bubbles around the backyard is silly fun for kids and more time for you to get things done around the house.
13. Give Them Cardboard Boxes
Cardboard boxes are a great multi-purpose tool for keeping kids busy while you work.
For smaller kids, a cardboard box can become a cave, a car, a submarine — whatever they can think of. For an older kid, it can become a piece of art.
And if you don’t believe me that a cardboard box can lead to hours of play, take a look at this epic list of cardboard box activities and crafts from Happily Ever Mom.
14. Set Up Some Stencils
Stencils are another artsy thing my kids enjoyed when they were little. They would go through a whole stack of printer paper outlining animals and different shapes.
If you have young artists who are still developing their motor skills, stencils can be great practice. And it’s an inexpensive way to keep kids busy.
Check out the craft store, Walmart or Amazon to see what kind of stencils you can find. I recommend the hard plastic ones as a sturdy option for younger kids.
15. Dollar Store Crafts
Dollar stores are great for buying any kind of cheap craft items.
For example, our dollar store sells pom-poms, glitter glue, colored popsicle sticks, googly eyes, paint by number kits, foam crafts — all for $1. How can you beat that?
It’s amazing how creative kids can be when you let them and mine have made some pretty interesting stuff from dollar store craft items. And they’re totally budget-friendly, which is even better.
16. Make Sticker Art
Stickers are another super cheap idea for keeping kids busy as a work at home mom.
For example, stickers from the dollar store + construction paper = an instant art project. They can make cards, books, their own board games–the sky’s the limit.
Just make sure you set some rules about stickers with younger kids. Like, no eating them and no sticking them on things they’re not meant to be stuck on. 🙂
17. Make Cloud Dough
Cloud dough can (and probably will) make a HUGE mess. But omg, is it fun for kids.
You mix the right ratio of flour and baby oil together and you’re done. It’s squishy and soft and you can even make it colorful if you want.
Cloud dough is a great sensory bin option. You can throw in a plastic cup or some small beach shovels or toys and let kids dig in.
And if you’re worried about the mess, consider doing this one outside or putting down a plastic tablecloth first.
18. Dry Erase Boards
Dry erase boards are another dollar store find your kids might love. They can draw all day without wasting paper–just erase and start over. Or if you get the lined ones, they can practice writing letters and numbers.
You can stick them on the fridge or let your kids carry them around the house. If you want to sneak in a little early learning, give them alphabet flashcards and ask them to try to copy the shapes they see.
19. Window Paint Markers
If your kids love drawing window paint markers could be a great busy-time activity.
You can score a pack at Walmart or Amazon for around $5 and they work great on glass windows and doors. Plus, they’re washable so they clean up easily.
Just make sure you let kids know that they’re for windows only — not walls.
20. Face Paint
Face paint is messy, creative and fun, all things kids love. And if you’re okay with a little mess, it’s another option for keeping the kiddos busy while you work.
My son still does face paint. We got some great face paint markers off Amazon for around $12 that wash off easily and don’t stain clothes.
If you prefer to go the all-natural route for face paint, you could always try mixing up some of your own.
21. Simple Board Games
If you have multiple kids at home, board games are something they can do together.
Stick with games that have easy rules so you don’t have to stop working and explain something every five minutes.
Some of the ones we liked (and still do) include Connect 4, Trouble, Guess Who and Operation.
22. Sidewalk Chalk
A cool way to turn up the fun when the weather gets warm is making sidewalk chalk paint.
You can make it with stuff you have at home already; you may just need to buy some plastic bottles to keep it in.
Your kids can turn the sidewalk or driveway into a masterpiece for a day, then wash it away with the hose. (And as a bonus, they could squeeze in some water play too!)
If you have younger kids balloons are maybe not the best idea. But if your kids are a little older, they’re a cheap way to have fun.
You can fill them up with water for a water balloon fight. Or you can just blow them up and let them bounce them around the house.
My kids loved to see who could keep their balloon in the air the longest. And as long as they didn’t break anything, I was fine with them doing that so I could work on my to-do list.
24. Sensory Bags
If you don’t like the mess that sometimes goes along with sensory bins, you can try sensory bags instead.
It’s as simple as getting a big Ziploc bag, filling it up with sensory items, sealing it and handing it off to your kids.
If you need some ideas for what to put in a sensory bag, check out this roundup from Hands On As We Grow.
25. Bring Out the Books
Books are personally my favorite method for keeping kids busy and we all love to read at our house.
For younger kids and toddlers, picture books and board books are great. I also like pop-up books, although they may not be best for really little littles.
And if your kids get fidgety and need to move around, consider audiobooks instead. Even if they’re doing another activity and not 100% focused on the book, it’s still a good way for them to pick up new words and concepts.
What About Screen Time for Keeping Kids Busy?
To use screen time or not to use screen time as a keep kids busy tool? That is the question, right?
I make no judgments on whether you use screen time for keeping kids occupied or not. And sometimes it’s necessary.
But that doesn’t mean it automatically has to be wasted time. If you’re using screen time as a diversion for kids, try making it educational.
When my daughter was preschool and kindergarten age she could not get enough of those BBC nature documentaries. I don’t know if it was the animals or how soothing David Attenborough’s voice was but she just ate it up.
My son still likes playing educational games online, especially ones that involve math or puzzles. ABCYA.com has lots of games for kids from preschool up to middle school.
What’s Your Favorite Way to Keep Kids Busy?
Do you have a go-to tip to share on how to keep your kids occupied so you can get things done?
Head to the comments and tell me about it, then pin and share this post if it helped you!