12 Guilt-Free Ways to Keep Kids Busy So You Can Get Things Done

Steer clear of screen time and keep kids busy and engaged in ways you can feel good about.

Published March 18, 2023
dad doing work while sitting next to child that's playing

If you've ever made a Zoom call with your kid around (especially a toddler or preschool-aged child), you know that finding a balance between keeping them entertained, limiting the mess, and actually getting your work done can be extremely difficult. More importantly, it can be a struggle to keep them out of everything while you are glued to the screen.

Don't pull your hair out in these situations! We have engaging and educational activities to keep kids busy while you're working, studying, cleaning, or just trying to enjoy your morning cup of joe.

Fun Activities to Keep Kids Busy & Let You Be Productive

For the parents pondering how to keep their kids entertained while they busily try to navigate their day, there are a number of ways to keep your kids busy at home, with limited mess and noise. These can be lifesavers when you need to do certain tasks.

Make Playdough Creations

two young girls playing with playdough

Playdough has endless opportunities for engaged play! The key is making sure that your child has an array of tools and a little guidance on what to do with this modeling material. Parents can either roll out a canvas of Playdough and have their child create fun cutouts and designs or they can direct them to mold a specific thing like a building, dinosaur, or animal. No matter which option you choose, these items can help extend the play time window:

  • Rolling pins
  • Plastic ravioli or pastry cutter
  • Cookie cutters
  • Wooden hand stamps with various shapes
  • Feathers
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Plastic body parts
  • Pom poms

For kids that are a little older, super light clay can be a great alternative to Playdoh. They can let their creations dry and show them off when they're done.

Give Your Master Builder New Materials

LEGO kits are always a fan favorite among kids of all ages. However, when these creations come crashing down, they can make quite the racket. For the parents looking for some quiet work time, consider exchanging your master builder's hard plastic tools with quieter materials.

Marshmallows, fettuccine and linguini noodles, pretzel sticks, and plastic straws are all a grand choice for crafting castles, forts, and figures. Best of all, your kids will also love the sweet and salty treats that comprise their edible building blocks.

Try Scratch Artwork

While coloring can be an extremely relaxing activity, it tends to lose its luster over time. Help to revive this classic kids activity by giving them scratch paper! What starts as a black matte canvas chips away to become a colorful creation. When there's mystery, there always seems to be a little excitement.

Do Scissor Skills Activities

For the parents who have their kids working alongside them, consider improving their dexterity and fine motor skills with a scissor skills activity book. With the use of child-safe scissors, kids can cut out fun designs and remain engaged throughout the process!

Let Kids Start Meal Prep

young boy doing meal prep

You're a busy mom or dad who's juggling a lot of tasks. Take a little off your load and keep your kids busy at the same time by having them help with mealtime prep! What's on the menu for lunch or dinner?

  • Green beans and asparagus: Have them snap off the ends.
  • Fruit salad: Give your child a toddler safe knife, strap them into their booster seat, and have them chop off the tops of the strawberries and slice bananas.
  • Pigs in a blanket: Let them wrap up those mini sausages and line them up on the cookie sheet so that you can just slide them in the oven.
  • Kabobs: Have them fill up the skewers sticks with potatoes, vegetables, cooked sausage, fruit, or whatever cooked items you plan to serve that evening.

Fun DIY Jewelry Making

This activity builds hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Simply grab some string along with large wooden beads (if you're doing this with toddler, make sure your toddlers cannot choke on these), o-shaped cereal and gummies, noodles, or cut up straws and have your kids make some eclectic necklaces and bracelets.

Set Up a Simple Shape-Matching Activity

Grab some butcher paper, a sharpie, and the giant wooden blocks that are sitting in the back corner of the room and get tracing! The key is to find a variety of shapes. Fill the paper with these images and then grab a bin or bucket and put all the items you traced inside.

When it's time to get to work or cleaning, tape the paper down to a flat surface and have your child match the items to the shapes.

Give Them Problem-Solving Puzzles

boy playing with puzzle toy

Puzzles are a fantastic tool for building your child's logic and reasoning skills. However, for the parents who want to truly engage their child, you need to look beyond the basic jigsaw. Challenge your kids with memory -building mind games.

  • Spatial Recognition: Parents born in the 80s and 90s are quite familiar with the weirdly addictive game of Tetris! Challenge your child's geometric skills with a wooden Tetris puzzle. This brain teaser can keep them busy for hours.
  • Spelling Skills: Help your kids build their vocabulary with alphabet puzzles. They must match the letters to the ones that make up the words on the various flash cards. This can build their reading and spelling skills.
  • Pattern Recognition: Another great flashcard game, this pattern building puzzle requires kids to create the images on the 120 flashcards using the provided puzzle pieces.
  • Peg Puzzles: For the younger kids, consider peg puzzles that feature different shapes, colors, and peg designs. This can help with pattern recognition and fine motor skills.

Incorporate Montessori Missions

A big part of Montessori studies is working on practical skills for everyday life. Not only are these important things to learn, but they are also great activities to keep kids busy!

  • Sweeping: No matter if it is on the floor or on a tray, this activity is easy and engaging. Draw out various shapes on a surface using painter's tape. Then, grab some fake leaves or flower petals, dry noodles, large beads, or whatever items you have around the house. Finally, give them a broom or brush and have them sweep these items into the designated spaces.
  • Hammering: For the golfing enthusiasts, grab those old tees along with a plastic hammer and some styrofoam. This easy activity will keep kids busy and even let out some frustrations along the way!
  • Sorting: Whether it be coins, pasta, buttons, or blocks, grab some old tupperware containers and cut out slots on their tops. Then, get an assortment of items and designate a bin for each. Have your kids sort these objects into their appropriate containers.
  • Tracing: Draw a pattern on a blank sheet of paper. Then, give your child a bowl of dried pasta, small stones, coins, or any other collection of small objects you may have around your home. Then, have them trace this pattern by laying the items on top of the outline of the drawing.

Try String and Rubber Band Art

Help your kids learn shapes, recognize patterns, and build their fine motor skills with this relaxing activity. Parents can buy rubber band boards for their kids as young as three that they can reuse over and over again, or they can invest in more permanent string art kits for older kids. Either way, your children will stay busy and you can stay focused on the task at hand.

Use Story Time Apps

Ever heard of Kidly? For the busy parents who want to spark a love for reading in their kids, but don't have time during their busy day to sit down and actually read to them, this free app will do the work for you. Just download the app onto your preferred device, get your child a pair of kid-approved headphones and let them listen to an array of fun and engaging tales!

Set Up a Create-Their-Own Castle Activity

Tell a kid that they are getting a castle and they will be busy for hours; tell a kid that they also get to decorate their castle and they will be busy for days! Easy Playhouse has an amazing assortment of affordable houses and castles to choose from and with a set of washable markers, you have endless entertainment. Let your kids get creative with their colors and designs and make their little house a home.

Steps to Successfully Keeping Your Kids Busy

Anyone can come up with activities to keep kids busy, but in order for them to stay busy for an extended period of time, parents need to implement three strategies for success.

Set Goals for Kids

First, give them a goal. If there is no direction, most kids will veer off track easily. Don't just hand them puzzle pieces and a stack of flashcards and expect hours of distraction. Have them pick out six cards that they need to complete before they get up. When they accomplish this goal, acknowledge a job well done!

Have Multiple Activities for Kids to Work On

Next, always have a handful of activities to rotate through. This ensures that if your kids are quicker at completing a task, you have more means of distraction ready to go.

Communicate the Length of Independent Busy Time

Finally, keep them in the loop on how long they need to stay busy. By informing them of the day's schedule and the time you require to stay focused, they are likely to look at the end goal and not just the present moment.

For instance: "Mommy needs to make an important work call and then finish a project. It is going to take about an hour. Once we are done, we can have lunch. If you are good and complete this activity, we can do something fun afterwards!". This helps them understand why the task is important, how long they need to do it, and what they can look forward to when it is done.

Keep Kids Entertained Without the Guilt

It can be healthy for kids to do independent activities. When you have an array of fun and educational things for them to do, it can help you get done what you need too with less stress. It's win for both parents and kids!

12 Guilt-Free Ways to Keep Kids Busy So You Can Get Things Done