A quiet house is a lovely thing. It can also be suspicious. Are the kids reading their library books or are they covering the couch in Vaseline again? Are you going to need a plumber this time? Here are four (and a half) activities that will keep them engaged while you sneak in an hour of quiet time.
1. The analog technology trick
This activity takes a bit of preplanning but is entirely worth the time spent on it. Start by hitting garage sales, second-hand stores or your local Buy Nothing group. You are looking for analog technology — typewriters (electric or manual), VHS cameras or mini-cams, handheld Dictaphones or cassette recorders. It doesn’t matter how outdated, as long as it still works enough to be interesting.
The set up: stage your technology in a place where it will be readily noticed and easily accessible. A coffee table is a good choice here — something low enough that the kids will automatically want to touch it and feel empowered to do so. Make sure old cameras are charged and have (rewound) blank-ish tapes in them. If it’s a typewriter, fill it with paper.
Now for the most important step: Do not say a word about it.
Do not mention it in passing. Do not refer to “something on the table for you.” Do not leave a note encouraging your child to explore it. Do not assign any value to it at all. Just get your coffee and go do your thing. If they ask you about it specifically, brush it off as ‘just an old typewriter’ and go back to work.
For the next hour, you won't hear anything but kids trying to be very quiet about exploring a cool old typewriter they found but aren’t sure they are allowed to use.
Warning: The spell will be broken as soon as you return to the room so make sure you use the bathroom first.
2. Take apart junk
This is another activity that begins with a trip to the thrift store. This time, you’re looking for cheap, small appliances that have visible screws, seams or bolts. Toaster ovens, old speakers even VCRs are good choices here.
The set up: Make sure their workspace is clear of everything you value. Gather up hand tools like screwdrivers, wrenches and (if you’re brave) a hammer. Once you’ve gathered all the supplies you have, set out the junk and let them figure out how to take it apart.
Warning: Make sure you know where your phone is at all times.
3. Kitchen chemistry
Kitchen chemistry definitely holds the record for being one of the highest recommended activities in our household. It’s an easy activity that has the benefit of leaving part of your house cleaner! (Note: a different part will be messier).
The prep: Start by cleaning out the pantry cupboard. You are looking for bits of expired dry foods, spices, oils and vinegars. Things like old tapioca pearls that never got used up or an expired box of rennet are great things to experiment with. Five-year-old baking powder? Absolutely! The chunky sediment from the bottom of the red wine vinegar? Gross, but also, Jackpot! Add that to your ancient baking powder and you may just see a chemical reaction.
Put each of these ‘reagents’ in a separate dish and load all these dishes onto a tray. Add a thermos of warm water, three (or more) mixing bowls and at least two spoons. This is your kitchen chemistry set.
The set up: A patio table is highly recommended for this activity although a plastic sheet on the kitchen table works well too. Set some strong boundaries about where the water should go after the experiment. Remind your child that, unless they are a geologist, tasting science is generally frowned upon. If your child is a sensory-seeker, you may not see them for some time.
4. Glow stick sauna
If your child is old enough to be trusted in the bathtub by themselves, this is a great activity. Better yet, two kids who can then make a huge mess together!
The set up: Have kids get their sauna clothes on. Swimsuits are good but shorts work just as well. Draw a shallow bath. Put on some fun music. Add a package of glowsticks and turn off the lights. Oh, heck yeah. That’s some fun right there.
Reminder: Do not leave young kids unattended in the bathtub.
Bonus activity: Digging a hole
It may sound simple but digging a huge hole is one of the most satisfying ways there is to get super dirty! If you have soft dirt and a medium-sized shovel, (and you don’t mind a huge hole in your yard) cordon off a spot away from power or sewer lines, and let them go to town.