In this post you'll find a juicy list of newly created activities, jam packed with ideas that can be suitable for all ages, these are the ones that I categorize into "output" - meaning: an output of energy.
If you're looking for the opposite of this (calming bed-time activities), head here. That is where I get into more detail about the unacknowledged truth about the importance of these activities.
For now, we'll be focusing on energy expending!
I mention when the best time to apply these activities are in my ebook which you can get through my shop here. It has exclusive insights into how to expand, and even triple your income as a childcare provider, babysitter, assistant, etc. However, if you're a parent or you're in a different type of situation then I hope you find just as much value in the list below.
Sometimes we truly go above and beyond to entertain the little ones. My intention here is to save our energy while wearing out the kiddos. With this in mind, we want to focus on activities that have this energy output as the focus.
The best time to do these types of energy demanding activities are hours before bedtime, giving enough room to end an hour or two before you want the kids to wind-down. Not directly before bed, even though it isn't the end of the world if it is. Reason being that when we get our minds spinning or our bodies grooving, our heart rate stays higher and the mental stimulation can take some time to register and process before your body/mind work together to (choose to) relax.
For this reason people often have insomnia or become "more awake" at night when it is time to sleep. If we are constantly distracting ourselves and staying stimulated, we aren't processing events or conversations, etc. As humans - we must do this to relax! As soon as we get the mental space to "process", that's exactly what will happen. Sometimes if it really isn't an option that is when our dreams become very vivid or memorable, because we are forced to process the events during the only time that we have.
By timing this out deliberately, we will be able to plan that down-time for when it is intended, followed by an onset of tiredness from the earlier activities.
One thing I highly recommend is making sure that the presentation of the activity is done correctly, especially if you are not around the children often. Generally, kids are going to be more accustomed to being entertained by others rather than entertaining themselves (due to a more electronic-focused society)...
Of course, this will all go-down differently depending on the age group.
So... creating anticipation is key! "I have an idea... actually, I have three. Does anyone want to hear them?" - would be a great tone to bring this forward with. You may choose to stick to some of these activities when you find what the kids like best and let them know (or take a mental note) of the time that the activity must end, which should be around 1-2 hours before you're intending for them to be asleep. For example, if you're hoping the kids are asleep by 9:00p.m. then you'd finish up no later than 8:00p.m. and move on to an "input activity".
I have found the best results by choosing 2-5 ideas and presenting them by writing them down first, so that it is easy to stay on track and keep the interest high. I've added more intriguing names in the quotes to capture their interest.
If you're with littler ones that don't understand the names, just find what works best.
At the end of the list I'll by touching upon some great practices for transitioning between activities (from fun to winding down) without any disappointment or upset.
Building - "Castle In The Sky": You've probably heard the recommendation of making forts, but I'm taking it to a new level. Anything can be used. It can be child sized, dog sized, or toy sized. If you've got access to a big couch set to take apart and a closet full of blankets, choose child-sized and challenge them to make something that you can fit in, or help make an unforgettable creation if you'd like. If it's more scarce on the supply end, grab the toilet paper, pair of shoes and some cups. The challenge can help the kids learn to harness their creativity as well as feel affirmed when they complete a creation as they'd set out to do! What a great habit.
The Staircase - "Climbing To Nowhere": With extra care, this one is fantastic to customize for any age and continue to be enjoyable. At a basic level, it would be to create a challenge of (supervised) stair climbing, repeated. Perhaps to reach something at the top. With little ones this one does require you to be more hands-on - but they are actively exhausting themselves each step they take! For the older ones, I recommend challenges like trying to climb the stairs backwards, with moms high heels on, avoiding a step in-between, or seeing how many you can step up at a time. *To spice this up, take the concept of keeping something out of reach for the kids to achieve and figure out how to get to. Make it more difficult by putting toilet paper rolls on their arms or wearing socks on their hands...
Avoid It - "The Game": Hot Lava Game... Ok, hear me out! This can be changed up into something way more entertaining and ongoing than you may be used to. The most effective for me has been to setup what can be jumped on (paper plates, socks, placemats, pillows...) and set an item to retrieve, which could also be hidden. For the little ones, the challenge of jumping or stepping from each item can be engaging enough!
Timed Races - "You'd Better Hurry Up": This one is great for the little ones that like to run, or compete. Using a physical timer is the key to making this activity feel more exciting because there are goals being set in stone when the kiddo gets to read their time. Create a certain challenge (hopping, backwards, eyes closed...) to complete a here-to-there type of track. It can be a great idea to add in a beloved stuffed animal or toy, turn it into a jumping and jiving obstacle course, change something each time it is completed to add difficulty, and play some dramatic music!
Dance - "Groove Town": You'd be living under a rock if you hadn't heard of Freeze Dance. It is an age-old dance game that has become popular again thanks to YouTube. A great way to spice this up is explaining Simon-says style (the essence of Freeze Dance) and either you or the kids take turns making this happen. The lazy version is just put on the YouTube video or song and hope the kids love it and stay engaged. To ensure engagement, you make it your own. Take some time together choosing a few songs to use. Perhaps you start out as "Simon", controlling the music play/stop. The more kids the better, as everyone can take a roll, and it's fun to dance with more people. The idea is to pick a certain move and call it out as you hit play. "Spin on one foot!" Let the song play for some time below a minute and pause it before yelling "Freeze!" Choose what to do with any movers. Maybe they have to pick the next dance move, sit on their hands, eat a vegetable - something with a good balance between play and humour.
Explore - "Where Is X?": This can range from scavenger hunts outside/around the house, to making a map to something hidden (separately or together), exploring outdoors, finding a playground, or even simply playing some version of "Eye Spy" or "Hot & Cold" by taking suggestions from the kids to spice up the rules!
Deliberate Movement - "Little Yoda": This is essentially exercise or yoga of some sort. However, if that's your thing you probably would've tried that already. This version is to make the child the master/leader and get them to guide through a timed session - between 10-15 minutes at a time for best focus. This is best to start out as you showing them the concept (within 5 minutes). Make sure they understand that the exercises are meant to be HIGH energy and possible for everyone to try. The rule is that the leader always has to join in too. If it's just the two of you,
Virtual Travel - "A Ticket To Anywhere": If the circumstances allow it, it can be very fascinating to go on the app Google Earth (click there for the web version) and spend some time checking out places together. Do you know what Antartica looks like? Before just going anywhere, create a mental challenge. Get them to guess for 3 things they will see, or if they think there will be more people or cars. Think of something that will keep them curious and engaged in order for it to be an output of energy.
Performance - "Guess Who": This can simply consist of classic games and/or creating a show. What are the kids more into? An engaging game, or creating a performance to present? Games like "charades" (where you act something out others guess what you are) can be easily altered for the little ones, giving them an animal show or getting them to make animal noises.
Power Of Water - "Mixing Mud Pies": I hesitate to suggest a bath because this can lead to a more relaxing activity, therefore providing time to recharge and get amped up again before bed! We want to focus on burning energy. After that, all the baths and books are welcome in order to unwind and process - while being mentally and physically tired-out from the games. HOWEVER, water can be a stimulating activity when done correctly! If you want to do a bath, think Toy Story style (click there to see a clip from the Disney short on YouTube - THAT type of bath is a great idea). Otherwise, using water for arts (use cotton balls for less mess), or finger painting (if mess isn't an issue), making mud, melting snow, sponges, dipping feet in ice-water, or anything the kids may come up with!
Window - "A Peek Into Your World": This one is to use a window or an area that can similarly be used as a creative space, such as the fridge, a whiteboard, plastic wrap taped to a wall... Windows can be an especially engaging space because it's not the usual play-area. Using spray bottles and soap can be good for younger kids, while tape, markers and paper can be a great craft mixup for those attention-seeking minds.
Paper Planes - "Jet Pilot Takeoff": The simple and age-old craft of paper airplanes can be amped up. Testing and customizing is the key here! Stickers, colours, making a "launcher", trying different designs, launching from different places...etc. They can also be saved for memory-sake or for the next time you revisit that activity.
Arts & Crafts - "A Surprise For Mom & Dad": Last but not least, if the family has close relationships with each other, it can be really exciting for the kids to make a surprise for a parent, sibling, pet, or even a friend or regular visitor like the person that delivers the mail. A great idea for this is a card with a pop-out surprise. Here is a simple idea I found on Pinterest. If the craft route is a no-no, going on a hunt to fins something special and a fun way to package it as a gift can be a fantastically engaging pass-time.
As promised, some great practices for transitioning between fun activities into winding down for the night with cooperation from the little ones.
The first thing is remember is to give a (REAL) 5-minute time warning. I say real because the kids will not forget if you do not stick to your word. It's helpful to let them press "start" on a countdown timer, or let them know an alarm will go off in 2 minutes when it's time to change activities, or remind them of what the next activity will be.
The second important variable to this equation is giving a HEADS UP! Give a 2-minute heads up, and I suggest coming with an affirmative yet eager/uplifting energy. Not the type of energy that creates dread or upset, or the child feeling ruled over. It can be easier said than done, but can be achieved by truly looking forward to practicing this technique.
The final addition is a short transition activity! Bunny hopping from the play area to the bedroom, spinning around on the walk home from the park, asking them what type of song you'll sing together as you walk to the car.
This is a powerful habit to build and a great way to practice communication while also getting to know each other on a deeper level.
So there it is! I wish you the most engaging and successful play-time, leading to a very peaceful and early bed-time.