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Ditch Sugar & Screens: A Guide to Keeping them Busy

There are few things more stressful than dragging kids to a place they don’t want to be, and having to wait there. The doctor’s office, DMV, oil changes, etc. We don’t always have a choice to go solo, and we can’t make the wait any shorter. Plus, we don’t want to be there either! Even during family outings we find ourselves with downtime in which we need to keep our kiddos busy, like waiting for food at a restaurant or waiting in line for a fair ride.

Here are some tried & true ways (aside from sugar & screen time) to fun up those un-fun environments for kids:

Old School Games

Our parents used to drag us everywhere, and didn’t have tiny TVs or gameboys to hand us. Have we forgotten so easily? Sometimes when we struggle for the answer with our littles we just need to look back. In this case, look back to what our parents and grandparents did.

One of my favorite things to do with my preschooler while we are waiting somewhere is play “I Spy.” We once had to wait 3 hours in Urgent Care and the silver lining was getting to learn more about how my child’s mind works. We played “I Spy” for about 2 hours. We took turns and started with colors and then moved on to shapes and patterns. Even, “I spy something clear” or “I spy something with a dog on it” and she had a blast! I had a few laughs too at how clever her finds were. If this is too advanced for your child, simply name colors an have them point out something red, blue, green, etc.

We also like to list out animals. Animals that have a tail, animals that “roar”, animals that have fur. This isn’t as popular as “I Spy” in my household, but it gets your kids thinking and comparing. For older kids, bring out the ABC’s and tie in whatever they are into. ABC animals- aardvark, beaver, cat….ABC automobiles- airplane, boat, car…and so on.

Pointing out shapes in the exam room while we wait for the doctor.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Have your kid copy your actions. They’ll think it’s hilarious and you can keep them in line. If you are somewhere very public like a pharmacy waiting room, stick with facial expressions and hand movements. If you are confined privately to say a doctor’s exam room, break out the dance moves!

Work of Art

I always carry a few crayons and some scrap paper in my purse, but even those limited materials can be challenging to break out. One of my new favorite things for waiting rooms and car rides is Melissa & Doug’s Color Blast or Magic Wow coloring books. One mess-free marker and a neat little book is all you need, and it keeps kids busier than handing them some blank paper and a few crayons.

Sticker Books

I know, I know, stickers can be ridiculous, but hear me out. For toddlers and preschoolers, even up to elementary school-age kids, the right sticker book can be a game changer. Hop on Amazon and search “sticker activity book” and see which strikes your fancy! My oldest loves the Sticker Dolly Dressing collection.

You can also print out our own matching game. Search online for free printables or use characters from your kid’s favorite movie to make your own. Puzzle and maze print-outs work well too! I often grab extras of these at restaurants or the public library. Here’s a website I stumbled across that has some cute activity worksheets you can print for free.

Real Life “Where’s Waldo”

This is kind of like a version of “I Spy” with people, so if you are somewhere you can people-watch, this can be pretty fun. We once had our car inspected at a building with a lot of sidewalk traffic outside, so we looked out the window and saw what we could see. I would tell my daughter, “Find someone with glasses,” or “Find the orange cat.” It’s surprisingly fun for adults too!

Re-Imagine a Favorite Book

Waiting around makes for some great reading if you ask me, but if you have little kids with you who can’t read on their own, bring a favorite book or two of theirs. I like to pack two that are full of possibilities, aka have very busy illustrations. You can use a book in so many ways. Find things in the pictures, ask your child to point out all of the letters that are in their name, make up your own story, etc.

Classic Deck of Cards

My daughter doesn’t quite understand all of her numbers yet, but loves counting and matching. While trying to keep her busy one rainy afternoon on a family beach trip we realized the magic of Crazy Eights. Ever played? If not, look up the rules! It’s the perfect card game for preschoolers. All they have to do is match the cards (same number or suit) and they can basically play unassisted. (Jumbo cards make it extra fun.)

Bring a String

Okay, call me crazy, but my daughter can entertain herself with a string for ages. She “ties knots,” drags it around, puts things on it. It sounds nuts, but sometimes simple objects bring out the most in their imagination. I have this car dash gripper for placing things in your car so they won’t roll around and she asks to play with it all the time. She pretends it’s a camera, folds it up different ways, all kinds of things. So toss a shoestring in your purse the next time you think about it and break it out when you’re waiting somewhere and let me know if your kid keeps busy too!

We hope this helps ease those unwanted waiting times. If you have any genius ideas, please share them with is! It takes a village!

XOXO, Elizabeth & Kate

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