Simple Play Stations For Busy Days

simple play stations for busy daysEvery parent has those days at home when you HAVE to get stuff done. Maybe it’s work , homeschooling older children, or maybe you are fighting a bad cold and just don’t have the time to plan and play like you like to. Before you reach for the remote try simple themed play stations instead. This may look like a lot of work to set up but trust me it took 5 minutes. If construction isn’t your child’s thing don’t worry I have ideas below for 6 more themes. You may need to look through the toys in your house to see what you can use but once you write a list it will be a snap to put it together when you need it. What a set up like this does is gives your child stations to move to and from and gives you a little extra time to get things done. The day we did this I was sicker than a dog and this kept my almost 3 year old happy while I tried to get work I normally do after her bedtime done early so I could have a good sleep that night. She did end up watching some PBS Kids but much less than she would have if I had not set this all up.

  1. Choose the theme. Your best bet is to choose something that your child is really interested in. A new theme is best introduced when you can act as a guide.
  2. Choose what stations to set up. Again this isn’t a time for too much novelty . Old favorites, things they can do independently and toys that they love . Toys they love but have been put away for a while work great. My stations were :playdoughdress up , puzzles ,and books. Gather your toys and materials for the stations. Keep it simple you don’t need to make huge sensory bins or elaborate block areas. I had a puzzle, some playdough with a little people construction worker and some Duplo, a few pretend play props and some books on the theme.theme days
  3. Play . theme puzzleShow your child the stations ( space them out to your child’s liking) and ask them which they want to start with. theme playdoughMost kids will go to each briefly and then go back to each for a second look to really play. theme dress upWhen my daughter went to the book station I asked her to please read the books first by herself and then I would come and read them to her. This gave me enough time to pause what I was doing and join her.theme books

Other Theme Ideas

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Princess Books  , pink playdough with sequins or beads, princess costume or crown for dress up, build a castle with blocks, make a princess bracelet with a pipe cleaner and pony beads.

Ocean : Books about fish , Tub of water with sea animals, swimming goggles for simple pretend play, under the sea pictures ( blue paper and fish stickers) , fish puzzles.

Bugs : Books about bugs, playdough bugs (add some straws and googly eyes)  , egg carton and pipe cleaner caterpillar, draw your own bug ( crayons and paper) ,bug puzzles.

ABCs : Alphabet books, playdough with alphabet cookie cutters, alphabet stickers on paper, letter rainbowing, alphabet puzzle.

Cars and Trucks : Car books, make tracks in playdough with cars, make a city with blocks and cars, simple car wash, draw a road on paper and fill it with car and truck stickers.

Cooking : Books about food, cook in the sink, paint with a potato masher, simple grocery store play in the kitchen.

Make Your Own Museum

If you are a regular reader you may remember that my son stopped napping and we started doing quiet time instead. Most days we still use the 1-2-3 approach but some days we mix it up to keep things fresh. One of his favorite things to do is to turn his bedroom into a museum. What I love about it is he is coloring on a vertical surface which is important for wrist development all the while he is also developing a love of museums without ever leaving our house!  Here is what we do.

  1. Gather your materials. You will need some color wonder coloring pages. I use both blank and coloring book ones. You will also need some painters tape and color wonder markers. Now feel free to use regular paper , markers and / or crayons but I am not that brave when I am not supervising. Remember this is for quiet aka “Mama is downstairs working out and watching How I Met Your Mother reruns” time.
  2. Tape the pages up around their room. You want it all over the room because after they are finished they are going to give you a tour of the gallery.
  3. Let em’ go.
  4. Workout, read, go to the bathroom in peace .
  5. Time for a tour.  He cracked his dad and I up with the names he gave his paintings. My favorite was ” Splish Dot Squash” .
  6. After the tour we add the new creations to a permanent collection. 


Touch the Art: Brush Mona Lisa’s Hair by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo is the inspiration for this post and my son’s new found love of Renaissance Art. The book is a board book with touch and feel aspects to it. The text is cute but not a story, each page asks the reader to do something with the touch and feel item . The real gem is bringing the art to young eyes. The book includes wonderful masterpieces : Girl with A Pearl Earring , Birth of Venus, The Arnolfini Portrait and more!

Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan is a great book not only about Jackson Pollock but also about how an artist goes through the artistic process, their influences and what their life is like. This book is perfect for older children but my son loved looking at pictures and Jackson Pollock’s dog! I would suggested this for anyone with budding artists!

Hugo and Miles In I’ve Painted Everything by Scott Magoon is going on my Christmas list. I have renewed this book for months from my local library. I finally have to return this book and I just don’t want to! The book is all about Hugo a painter who has painter’s block. He goes to Paris with his best friend Miles for inspiration, and among the sites, the masterpieces and thanks to the Eiffel tower he finds it! I love this book and my son just eats it up. He wants to go to Paris to the “Moosay Dor-see” to see Van Gogh and climb the Eiffel tower thanks to Hugo!

Quiet Time 1, 2, 3 ! Quiet time tips for parents to end the power struggles.

quiet time tip for parents

When I wrote this post for Muffin Tin Mom it got such a huge response from her readers and my own that I am doing a follow up post with ideas for what I call Quiet Time 1, 2, 3!  If you haven’t read the post where I expressed my exasperation with trying to get my son to nap when I have an infant who also needs my attention I encourage you to pop over to Muffin Tin Mom and read it. This is my post of ideas for what we do now that nap time has been put to rest. Ovee the years I have heard from countless parents how this post stopped their quiet time power struggles. I am thrilled to know these quiet time tips helped bring a little peace to your home.

Quiet Time 1, 2, 3!

Kids need predictability and some children like my son really, really need it.  For quiet time we always use his bedroom. I encourage you to use the same place every day. Also as you can probably guess I would suggest doing it at the same time every day too. At the very least always do it after the same activity, whether it’s as they come off the school bus, after lunch or after another daily activity.  Then there is no argument , everyone knows that after this it’s quiet time. Also something that I have noticed is that if I randomly say ” Hey in 5 minutes it’s quiet time.” My sons feel like it’s a punishment . That is so far from my goal . I have to remind myself to make it fun and interesting not an exile from the family. I am sure it can feel like an exile if I am not careful, which must be hard with a new sibling.

OK enough about that… you aren’t reading this to hear about my adjustment , you are here to read about ideas for your own child’s quiet time!

We have 3 small rugs in my son’s room and I usually lay the activities out on there so he sees, I also use his bed. My main prop though are cards with the numbers 1, 2, 3 on them. I lay them down with 3 activities my son must do before he can have free choice. I use MUST loosely. If he doesn’t do them I don’t worry too much, they are more like offerings . However if he opens the door and says ” Can I come out yet?”  before 45 minutes I will require him to show me he has finished all three activities. The point isn’t to force him to do anything. The magic of  1, 2, 3, is that it gets him focused on play and not on the door and trying to be “done”. So far it’s been magical for us.

Here are some of the activities I have laid out for him that have been helpful and fun for us.

quiet time 1 2 3


These are favorites. I rotate about 10 different ones and am always on the lookout for more. Make sure they are able to complete them without your help or you will hear “I need heeellllp!” before you even get down your stairs.

Toys and Books

It’s amazing how if you focus on one toy all of a sudden something forgotten is met with renewed enthusiasm. Our favorite toys are Mr. Potato head, plain old blocks, Little People and LEGO. Books are usually offered in themes or I will ask him to choose 5 , and provide his Woody doll with them asking him to “read” them to Woody.quiet time 123

Art and Writing

We have done a few art projects that have worked great. Stickers and sticky back foam have been great quiet time art tools. I have cut a container full of different color shapes from the sticky back foam and given them to him to simply create, match the shapes or colors with paper. With stickers I gave him paper with a basic scene  on paper for example- a volcano and palm tree for dino stickers, igloo and water for penguin stickers etc.. quiet time 123

Writing projects like this one have been well received too. I give him fun cards to write to people he chooses . The goal for us isn’t perfect letters, but rather simple practice with pencils, adjust the goal and expectations. Remember make it too tough and you will have a frustrated child seeking help , too simple they will be board and looking for you too.  We also use magna doodles for name writing practice, and drawing whatever he chooses. Provide a mirror and you can make a self portrait station too!

Color Wonder coloring pages have been great as well. I give him 2 pages to choose from with a stiff file folder to use as a desk

Conventional coloring pages with crayons were risky and a wall did get some extra decoration, so it’s on the shelf for now but it might work for you. Again I would give a few ripped out pages not the whole book which can be overwhelming. If they are not the type to be overwhelmed , by all means give then the book!

Pretend Play

quiet time 1,2, 3

This is last because it’s been our saving grace. He loves it. Some days I just lay out his dress up box. Often I set up scenes like this Home Depot . We use an old lap top as a cash register, a name tag and phone for most our set ups, then use his toys and books for the other props. So far we have done a post office, library, grocery store, coffee shop, home depot, a doctor’s office and veterinarians.

Not all children need so much structure, but some like my son are simply overwhelmed by the options available when told to go into their room and “play”.  If you want more details about any of these feel free to ask in comments, as well as leave your own suggestions!

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