Functional Friday: 10 Things to Keep Kids Occupied, Entertained, and (if you're lucky) Learning

Many of these ideas are old-school.  But I find that I need reminded of some good ideas, and I hope these help you, too.

1) Write a letter to someone.  Kids still find the postal system a wonderment.  Let them write a letter or just color a picture or two.  Then address and stamp an envelope (You'll need to do this for little ones, but let them watch.), and let them slide it in the mail box.

2) Give them a box of office supplies.  Tape, a stapler, colored papers, card stock, all sizes of envelopes, a whole punch, binders, pens and markers, Post-It notes... whatever you have (and seems age appropriate) will likely entertain them for quite a while.

3) Invent a game on the spot.  I watched a friend of mine entertain my kids by inventing a game where they jumped.  Taking turns, they each got to create "crazy freestyle" jumps.  "Race to that tree and back" can also be a useful game at rest stops during long car trips.

4) I spy.  My kids don't understand the nuances of picking an item inside the moving car, so some ground rules might help.  Other popular car games include: Find the A, B, Cs on signs, one at a time, in order.  Think of a something (food, animal, TV character, song) that starts with each letter of the alphabet.  And license plate games... who finds the most states, the farthest state, etc.  With camera phones, you could even require proof.

5) Make a tent out of a sheet and some furniture.  Add flashlight for a winning combination.  Warning, this can be a quiet activity, but things may go silly and loud at any point.  If your pets are up for it (and the kids are responsible enough), add them into the fun.  Our dog becomes a wild wolf, the cat a ferocious bobcat, and the guinea pigs are prairie dogs.

6) Tasting party... pick a few delicious snacks, condiments, and flavors from your kitchen.  The taste tester is blind-folded is fed tastes of different foods.  They guess what it is and say whether they like it or not.  Caution!  Gauge this activity to the palate and tolerance of the child.  Wasabi and cayenne are out for most, tomatoes and cottage cheese could be out for others.  Know your audience.

7) Take a walk.  Sometimes we take listening walks, which are supposed to be quiet.  Other times I let the children talk about whatever they want.  Sometimes we look for different plants, animals, or lawn ornaments.

8) Kids love working in the kitchen.  Make a snack or dessert together.  Don't worry too much about the mess, technique, or efficiency, just relax and take your time.  Younger kids may be satisfied with putting brownies, ice cream and syrup in bowls.  Elementary kids can probably follow simple directions or box mixes.  Older kids can often create wonderful treats with a little practice.

9) Water play!  Kids don't care whether it's an olympic sized pool, a water park, a fountain, a sprinkler, a hose, water guns or plastic buckets and cups.

10) Limiting kids' exposure to movies, video games, and computer time on normal days may help them stay more engaged with these activities when you need them to be.  My kids will watch movies quietly all day because we rarely watch TV or other media during the week.

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