Lunchtime Poll

Lunchtime Poll: Children are Entertaining

I spent this weekend taking care of my two nieces and two nephews, whom I collectively call my “chiblings” (children of my sibling). Things didn’t go poorly, but they didn’t exactly go well, either. They were bored senseless. Which brings me to this week’s question: how the heck are you supposed to entertain children?

Several children play on a couch and around a coffee table
Image Courtesy of NDuran Photography

Now, I know that I will be the “cool aunt” once these kids get a few years under their belts – they are only 1.5, 3, 6, and 7 years old – but until then, it is really a struggle for me to entertain them. I love to bake, but I’m unsure what to bake with them that will actually turn out edible. Last time we baked together, we made several very undelicious mini chocolate cream pies. Before that, biscuits that were hard as rocks. Likewise, I love books, but I cannot find books that hold their interest for more than a few moments. Readers, I need your help: what do you do with these kid things?


By Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller is a twenty-something blogger, cook, freelance writer and editor living in Seattle, Washington. She’s a feminist trying ever-so-hard to embrace her spaces, conventional or not. She looks forward to numerous bad hair days, burnt cremes, a soapbox or two, and maybe (just maybe) a yellow polka-dot bikini in the years ahead.

68 replies on “Lunchtime Poll: Children are Entertaining”

All I can think to do it set them loose. If you have more than one kid with you, they can play with each other. Just get them outside and hang out – watch them play or join in and do what ever they instruct you to do. Just, you know, make sure they stay in the yard.

But then, my siblings have all been dogs…

For indoor stuff, you can play board games and break all the rules or make playdough. I don’t know why but making playdough was this one kid’s absolute favorite thing to do when I babysat him. Whatever kept him from taking a knife to the furniture was fair game by me so we make POUNDS of it.

I’m stuck on the fact that you cared for four children, ages 2-7.  That’s such a varied age range, I can’t think of anything that would have entertained all of them simultaneously. Caring for them when they’re your own kids – in your own house, with all of their playthings and belongings around – is one thing.  Caring for them in another home, with limited toys/busy stuff?  Wow.  Go,  Michelle!

My only suggestions are to go old school – books, crayons, markers, puzzles.  Those things won’t work for the 2 year old as well as they will the older kids but at least they’re helpful.


At one point, we ended up setting the toddler and the 3-year-old loose on a bunch of newspaper and gave the older kids old National Geographics to cut up and paste to paper.

It worked really well, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get them to sit still for more than 10 minutes altogether!

My brothers and sister and I would play a game we called Boof! (exclamation point my idea). Stupid name for a game that must have saved my mom’s mind more than a few times. She’d blow up a balloon and we’d make the couch the “net” and take turns bopping it back and forth over the couch net like a harmless inside volleyball. It was very anticlamactic many times because it takes forever for the balloon to get across the couch and the table behind the couch.

Tip: the larger the divide between the “teams” the funnier it was because it would be difficult to reach out and “cheat”.

I’d also second (or third?) the scavenger hunt idea.

Personally, I love Amy Sedaris’s section on this topic in her book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. The two suggestions that I remember are: grease a watermelon with crisco, toss it in the pool and have the kids try to catch it AND lock the kids out of the house, tell them they’re playing burglar and have them try to find a way to break in.

Maybe too young/rude for the chiblings…

If you have a space that can get a little messy, may I recommend a cornstarch and water mixture. This will form into a glorious non-Newtonian liquid that is very fun. For bonus points you can read to them from Bartholomew and the Oobleck first if you think they will sit down long enough. (Green foodcoloring in the mixture will make it look remarkably like the Oobleck from the book.)

Also with the youngers, a cookie sheet with shaving foam in it can be great fun. They can use their fingers to draw in it, or they can build it up into shapes.

Edit: the shaving foam might not work with the youngest. Little little kids put things in their mouth too easily.

YESSSSSSS. My husband is a big physics nerd, so the mere notion of teaching the kids about “non-Newtonian liquids” would probably have him inviting the kids down for next weekend.

I like your shaving cream idea, but take your point about the young one. I wonder if I could set them up on the patio with whipping cream? It would be sticky, but that little toddler could use some fattening up, imo!

whipped cream will work.


Also, they do make non-toxic ickle kids bath foam that might work. THough you might want to hide the container later- my niece loves the stuff in her bath, but we left it in with her one time and when we turned around she was eating it like some people do with whipped cream in the can.

edible bubble bath suggestions that might work:

Someone else mentioned it, but cleaning and housework are great for occupying kids. So long as any “cleaning” things are safe around little ones, you’re good. As it happens, I was unfucking the kitchen this afternoon and Juniper Junior had a great time helping out. And mopping, oh my, mopping was epic fun.

This one summer, I babysat for three kids while their parents were at work every day. It was exhausting. They were 4, 10, and 12, which was hard to figure out how to occupy all of them at once. (The 12 year old was the worst because he didn’t want a babysitter but wasn’t responsible enough to watch the littlest one for 9 hours a day every day for weeks at a time.) Usually, I let the older boys play video games or do their own thing and just kept an eye out to make sure they weren’t getting into trouble, so I only had to actively entertain the 4 year old.

On one of my first days, I invented a game where I took some small item – a rubber bouncy ball, a Fisher Price person, whatever, and then all three kids would close their eyes while I hid it somewhere in the room, then they had to find it. For some reason they fucking loved it, all three of them, even the one who was too old and cool for a babysitter. I swear to God, by the end of the summer I never wanted to even THINK about that game again. We must have played it a thousand times.

Dressup (especially costumey type dressup; let them play with your makeup and draw mustaches and war paint on themselves, you know?), fort-building, card games like Go Fish, Uno, Old Maid, and so forth, charades, hide and seek, movies, sing-a-longs, crafts (coloring, glueing stuff together – just lay some newspaper down on your table first, making cards, beading was always really fun for me), going for a walk together. If you want to involve them in food, do the baking yourself and let them decorate stuff like cupcakes and sugar cookies. Another fun food thing is mini-pizzas; put out bowls of different toppings, roll out the dough yourself, and let them make their own pizza toppings.

Lincoln logs, Guess Who, Clue, Angry Birds (and other app games like Cut the Rope), and Wii games are all pretty good and have a wide age-range of fun, too.

Lincoln Logs kick ass.

I did end up putting some makeup on my older niece after she pestered me for hours. She’s a real “Disney princess” sort, and though I try to dissuade her, I just have to deal with the fact that this might be who she is and I may need to oblige her a little more.

Now that I think about it, I really have some great costumey items lying around that I could use for dress-up with all of the kids, not just the girls.

Scavenger hunts are fun too. It might be too soon to break out the Easter eggs (though my sister and I would play with them all year round!) but you could hide different toys and give them a list of what to look for, or play I Spy (which will help the little ones with their color words and vocab).

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