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Jan 10 2013

The Best Ways for Busy Parents to Occupy a 5-Year-Old

By at 3:48 pm

I’m lucky that Ronia loves to have books read to her, and on Shabbat you’ll often find the three of us curled up on the couch reading from a stack of our favorite children’s books.

She’s also recently gotten into chapter books, and is loving this gorgeous illustrated edition of The Arabian Nights so much that we read two thirds of it over one Shabbat. But we’re busy people, and sometimes we just don’t have the time to sit and read to Ronia. I have to make dinner, or do 15 minutes of work, or focus on the drive to Trader Joe’s. So we’ve developed an arsenal of games, activities, and things to listen to that keep Ronia happy and allow her dad and me to take care of business.

Things to Listen to

1. Barefoot Books PodcastsThis is my number one diversion tactic, and it is a miraculous one. Not only is it great for car rides and the downtime between getting home from school and having dinner, when I need to be in the kitchen, but it’s also wonderful for those times when she’s on the edge of a meltdown or generally feeling upset. The stories are usually 8-18 minutes long, and come from all over the world. There are new ones every week, but Ronia has favorites that she’s happy to listen to over and over again. Barefoot Books also has a comprehensive website with activities, songs, and more, but to be honest we’ve just stuck with the podcast (which is free) and are incredibly happy.

2. Audio Books. When we went on a three-day-long road trip this summer I downloaded a couple of audiobooks and they were big hits. The key is to choose books that you might also enjoy and that are long enough to be really useful (i.e. at least 45 minutes). We all loved listening to 101 Dalmatians together, and Ronia has also enjoyed The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. I recently got the audiobook of The BFG from the library and uploaded it onto my computer to save for a rainy day.

Games

3. I Spy. A classic. Ronia sometimes likes to change it up and “spy” things that she hears, smells, etc.

4. Make a Mistake About It. Jesse came up with this one as a kid, and it’s kind of genius. Basically, you begin telling a common story but mess it up a little bit. “There once was a girl named Cinderella and she lived with her stepmother and two stepsisters on the top of a very big beanstalk.” Or: “Little Red Riding Hood headed off into the forest carrying a basket of treats for her friend the Frog Prince.” This is hilarious to Ronia, and is fun for the writer in me, too. Go through the whole story, but make a mistake every sentence or so and let the kids correct you.

5. Playing with the Dog. We have a lovely and very tolerant dog who can provide Ronia with hours of entertainment. While I wouldn’t suggest getting a dog just to amuse your kids, it is an excellent side benefit.

6. Parody Songs. We just started these and Ronia is amazing at them. Take any song she knows and make the first line either about her or the dog or one of us or anything, and she will just take it from there, making up semi-fitting lyrics as she goes. Last week she came up with verses and a chorus for Bertie the Red Nosed Doggy (a parody of Rudolph, of course).

7. Engineering Toys. Admittedly these aren’t super portable, but when we’re home and we need 15 minutes to clean up before bedtime, or someone needs to take a work call, we point Ronia towards her Magnatiles and Roominate where she will happily play for an impressively long time.

Last Resort

8. Coffee Shops. When we really need to get some work done we sometimes all decamp to our local coffee shop which helpfully has shelves full of kids books and a chalkboard that Ronia loves to play with. She gets a hot cocoa and we can usually get a good hour of work in before she gets bored.

Truly the Last Resort

9. Reading Rainbow. Ronia gets to watch almost no television, and is limited to two “screen times” per week. Most weeks, one of those times is a Reading Rainbow episode we’ve checked out from the library. She loves them, and since I’ve been harboring a serious crush on LaVar Burton since I was Ronia’s age, I love them, too. Episodes are half an hour long.

Do you have indispensable tips for keeping little ones busy and happy? Share below! 


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