How to keep your little ones occupied for FREE

My two girls are at completely different educational stages (2 & 5), but I’ve found some of these to be engaging for both of them, and they have kept them both occupied for at least 10 minutes (which is saying something).  We don’t all have the ‘luxury’ of becoming a part-time teacher so whatever time we can give them will be cherished (and you can also refer to the below when you have to attend to that urgent Zoom conference/deadline).  Good luck wiping those bums whilst speaking to clients, learning phonics whilst dusting off the slow cooker, or mastering TikTok and secretly eating chocolate out of arm’s reach…

We’re all in this together guys, stay strong parents, we’ve totally got this!


I know, totally obvious first suggestion but stay with me.  I can really see such a difference in my girls’ concentration abilities and bedtime routine when they have or haven’t had plenty of ‘fresh air’ or exercise.  If you’ve got a garden, amazing, set up an obstacle course, scatter household objects throughout the course and give your child a basket, then have them run as fast as they can to complete the obstacle course then collect all the items in their baskets on the way back.  Do this as many times as possible to wear the little tykes out!  Kids generally love being outside but setting challenges for them is a bonus.  Here is a great website for other outdoor activities.

If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space there are some fantastic classes online, here’s a couple to keep you busy:

The Body Coach – which is amazing for all the family to do at 9am every weekday (Fancy dress Friday too).

Cosmic Kids – a wonderful and imaginative yoga class.

Learning with Science

My girls love anything science related.  The messier the better!  I’ve followed an amazing dad called Sergei Urban on instagram for years and just love how simple and engaging his lessons with his sons are.  He uploads all his activities to his instagram account & website, The Dad Lab.  Be prepared to get hooked!  Our favourite activities have to be painting with bubbles (all you will need are some cups, paper, washing up liquid, straws & food colouring) and the egg tower challenge (this blows my mind), and for that all you will need is a glass, a paper plate, an old toilet roll & an egg.  He has a book too, which you can get on amazon, but there’s plenty to keep you busy on his instagram account.

Get your craft on

Let’s make paint.  It’s amazing what you can make paint with.  You don’t need to have paint in to paint a masterpiece, and the process of making paint can be more fun than the actual painting itself.  We have a lot of wild garlic in our garden so we used this one day after my eldest learnt this technique at school.  All we needed were a couple of sticks, a piece of paper, some leaves (wild garlic in our case but most leaves/grasses will have a similar effect) and a stone as our plate.  We used the sticks to crush the leaves until they started to break down.  Once the natural dye started to cling to the sticks we used these as our brushes.

Again if you don’t have much outdoor space there’s always an old spice pot you can rely on (they probably went out of date in 2018 anyway – no one’s judging here!).  Pop a bit in a bowl and simply add water.  Want to thicken it up?  Just add some cornflour to turn it into gloop.  You can also use flour, salt and water and then just add a few drops of food colouring (1/2 cup of each main ingredient).  We love anything bush craft related and it’s completely free so you won’t need to ration your flour (save it for pancakes).

Also check out 5 Minute Mum.  I’ve only recently discovered her genius of a site, but her ideas are so simple, cheap and effective for those desperate parent moments.  You can find her account on instagram or buy her book on amazon.

Imaginative play

All children love anything that will let their imaginations run wild.  Making dens was a favourite pastime of mine so I love nothing more than to see my girls building dens (although not the tidying part, any friend of mine will know this makes me twitch).  Have your child/children go fetch their favourite storybooks.  Then depending on their age give them all a piece of paper or an old cereal box and ask them to map out what a den would look like to best reflect their favourite book (i.e. a book on dinosaurs could be a cave, a unicorn book could be a fairy castle… you get the idea).  Then tell them where they can and can’t make a den and announce that the best one wins (you don’t need to specify anything, I just find mine respond well to any sense of competition).

I’ve found a good den can occupy mine for quite some time, so if you’ve got a few emails to respond to or washing machines to load this is a goody.

If you’re blessed with a bit of patio space, my good friend and business partner created the most gorgeous concept of mapping out a mini village on her paving for her little girl to cycle from one location to the next, whether it was to Nana’s house or the post office, all you would need for this is some chalk (and a Noa flat white – those were the days).

In the Kitchen

My girls love food but I’ve had to manage their snack times during the lockdown to avoid running out after day 1.  My mother-in-law sent me a picture of a tuck shop suggesting the idea would be a great way for my eldest to keep up with her maths (she was absolutely right), but I also thought it would be a great way to control snack time and get the girls excited about their snack options (rather than trying to negotiate for the better option – I’m sure it’s not just me who gets that!).  Simply make a list for your children to see at all times with a price on and depending on their age give them money for the tuck shop at the start of the day.  You can gently remind them if they are not listening that tuck shop might not open (just saying).  I’ve found this to be really fun and super engaging.

In addition to the above, here are a few useful links for other ideas to do at home:

Tinker lab

Phonics Play

Kid’s activity blog

Dezeen Engineering Challenges

If all the above has already been exhausted or failed, Frozen 2 (for them) and a glass of vino (for you) is always a fail-safe option.

Written by Simone Manley (Co-Founder of Blank Canvas Concepts).

The activities suggested above may not be suitable for all children and I appreciate all our living situations vary, but it’s important to club together and share our small nuggets of wisdom to keep us sane throughout these uncertain times.

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