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Play ideas for busy parents

Let’s face it, the pandemic has been more than a little challenging for working parents with young children. What with homeschooling and lockdowns and blurred boundaries between work and home, it’s hardly surprising if you’ve used up all your play ideas and every ounce of imagination thinking up ways to keep your child occupied.

So, I thought now might be a good time to go looking for inspiration. And, with lots of worries around the impact of the pandemic on children’s development (and a lot of guilt-ridden parents over the amount of screen time children have had), I’ve put together a collection of play ideas for busy parents that are low tech, low prep, and designed to boost your child’s learning and well-being.

I realise there are lots of play ideas on the internet. But while we are redressing children’s screen time, most of us could also do with stepping away from our own screens too. So, here are some old fashioned actual books! For flicking through on the sofa with a cup of tea or reading on a bench while watching your child make mud pies.

*This post contains affiliate links

Book cover of Daisy Upton's Five Minute MumFive Minute Mum

This is a real favourite with busy parents. It’s not so much a collection of play ideas as a whole philosophy on how to get the maximum developmental benefits out of five minutes of parenting. Some of the activities are a little too focused on academics (letters and numbers, for example) for my taste – that might feel a bit like home schooling rather than relaxation for some parents. But there are so many ideas in here and a real recognition that sometimes what you really need is a way to join in play time while also grabbing a five minute sit down on the sofa.

Five Minute Mum: Give Me Five: Five minute easy fun games for busy people to do with little kids by Daisy Upton.

Book jacket of The Outdoor Toddler Activity Book, one of our recommended books with play ideas for busy parentsThe Outdoor Toddler Activity Book

There are some very simple no-prep play ideas in this book. The layout is very simple and easy to browse. Each activity is clearly labelled with a guide to how long it is likely to keep your toddler occupied for (good to know!) and the skills that activity will help to develop. Plus, there’s a handy guide to development for ages 12mths – 3yrs. Read it for lots of play ideas to keep up your sleeve!

The Outdoor Toddler Activity Book: 100+ Fun Learning Activities for Outside Play by Krissy Bonning-Gould. See also Toddler Activities Made Easy: 100+ fun and creative learning activities for busy parents by the same author.

book jacket of Play and Learn, one of our recommended books with play ideas for busy parentsPlay & Learn Toddler Activities Book

Some of the play ideas in here do require quite a bit of preparation. But there’s lots of inspiration for new twists on old favourites too, which I really like. For example, if you are getting the paints out, why not paint with a toothbrush for a change rather than a paint brush? Or, if you are building towers with bricks or blocks, why not use whippy cream as cement? Lots of small changes that inject a bit of extra fun and add a new developmental boost to regular favourites.

Play & Learn Toddler Activities Book: 200+ Fun Activities for Early Learning by Angela Thayer.

Book jacket of Sticks and Stones by Melissa LennigSticks and Stones

This is aimed at slightly older children, with activities they can do themselves. But many of the activities are adaptable to younger ones too, so a great option if you have children of different ages or stages. If you like the idea of forest school and want your kids to get hands-on in nature, this book will give you some great ideas for livening up a walk in the woods or bringing a bit of wild camping to your garden.

Sticks and Stones: A kid’s guide to building and exploring in the great outdoors by Meliss Lennig.

Book jacket of Photo Adventures, one of our recommended books of play ideas for busy parentsPhoto Adventures

This might be a bit niche but what an amazing way to fill time indoors! All you need is your smartphone, whatever props and photos you have lying around the house and a bit of imagination (sparked by the book). Older children could spend hours getting on with this by by themselves and, with younger ones, it’s an activity adults are likely to enjoy too (which is always a huge bonus). If your kids get into this, there are some more challenging projects too. A bit like real world, low tech Photoshop!

Photo Adventures: Don’t take photos, make photos! by Jan von Holleben and Monte Packham.

book jacket of The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday PlayThe Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play

These are not low-prep no-mess five-minute play ideas. The emphasis here is on entering fully into a creative activity with your child and achieving what psychologists call a state of flow, where you are fully immersed in the moment. These are play ideas for building and inspiring a creative mind. Crafts that are about the creative process rather than the final product. If that strikes a chord, you’ll find some lovely ideas in here for spending time with your child.

The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play: Easy activities and creative crafts for kids and their grown-ups by Laura Brand.

I’d love to know if you have a favourite book that has inspired your play time? Do share it in the comments so other parents can benefit!

*This is not a sponsored post – these are all books that I personally recommend! I did, however, request and receive free review copies of two of these books from the publishers. This post contains affiliate links which means that if you click through from this post and buy a book, the Positive Parenting Project will receive a small commission. There is no additional charge to you. This helps us keep providing free content. For more info, see  Disclosure Notice

photos of book covers with play ideas for busy parents in article by parenting expert Anita Cleare

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