America's First Au Pair Program

Trusted live-in child care - since 1986

Fun Activity Ideas

Activities by Age

Under 6 months, babies like to watch and listen, so:

  • Play music

  • Play games with them that move their arms and legs (pat-a-cake, this little piggy, etc.)

  • Position them in different places so that they can see different things

  • Talk to them when you are feeding them or changing their diaper

  • Read them books, hold them so they can see the pictures – they are not too young!

Starting around 6 months, babies like to:

  • Bang and shake whatever they can hold

  • Squeeze squeaky toys

  • Bite on toys

  • Kick at soft toys suspended above them

  • Play peek-a-boo

  • Roll a ball once they can sit

  • Imitate sounds

Around seven months, babies also enjoy:

  • Bath toys

  • Different textures to feel including safe household items

  • Blocks

Around one year, babies start to enjoy, with your help:

  • Nesting toys

  • Puppets

  • Toy phones

  • Shape sorters

  • Large cars to push on the floor

  • Toys with buttons, knobs and dials that pop up or make sounds

Between the ages of one and two years, toddlers can:

  • Push and pull toys

  • Ride sit-on toys that have no pedals

  • Play pretend games in a playhouse

  • Attempt simple puzzles (the best have knobs)

  • Enjoy being part of simple household chores like laundry (name colors, count socks, putting laundry in and take it out)

  • Play with toys in a sink or basin of water

  • Play with toys in sand in a basin or outside

Playdough
Combine 2 cups of flour and 1 cup of salt. Add 1 cup of water and 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil. Mix and knead well. If too stiff, add more water; if too sticky, add more flour. For colored play dough, add food coloring to the water before combining it with the other ingredients. STORE IN AN AIRTIGHT CONTAINER. If left out in the air, the dough will harden.


Texture coloring
Put different textures under drawing paper (scrap paper or the back of junk mail works just fine, you don't need fancy drawing paper) and then color with a crayon. Try a comb, corrugated cardboard (that's the bumpy cardboard from heavy boxes), sandpaper or different kinds of fabric. Or cut shapes out of light weight cardboard (old cereal or cracker boxes), put them under the drawing paper and rub the crayon over the top to make designs.


Crayon etching
Completely cover the paper with heavy crayon markings of different colors. Then color over all the colors with one other color (black works best). Make a picture or a design with a toothpick or other pointed but not sharp object. It will scrape away the top color to show the colors underneath.


Paper bag masks
Use a large brown paper grocery bag for a mask by cutting out holes for the eyes (try it on the child to get them in the right place) and then coloring the face in fun ways with crayons. You can make different characters - a monster, a king or queen, animals, etc. Cutting holes for the shoulders can also be helpful.


Make your own rhythm band
Tissue paper taped over a comb makes a great kazoo. Make shakers out of beans or rice inside a container, a drum out of an empty box or plastic milk container. If you use cardboard containers, the child can decorate the outside. Play along to any music with a good beat. Make paper hats (from folded newspaper) to add to the fun or a paper flag to have a parade if you have more than one child.


Space helmet
Cut an empty plastic gallon milk container into a helmet shape. Pretent you are on a trip into space.


Make a bird feeder
Go for a walk to find a pine cone at least 4 inches long. Cover the pine cone with peanut butter and maybe bits of bread, crackers or cereal stuck to the peanut butter. Hang it from a tree by string or yarn and watch the birds come eat it. Try to hang it away from any place a squirrel can get to it.


Go Fishing
Tie a piece of string to a stick. On the other end of the string, tie a magnet. The child can catch paper clips and other lightweight magnetic items you can find in the house. You can also put the paper clips on pictures cut from magazines.


Soap bubbles - Outside Please!
Put soap flakes (Ivory flakes) or liquid dish washing soap (like Joy) in a cup or bowl mixed with water. Make sure the child knows how to blow - not suck - through a straw, and then let him make bubbles. A little cooking oil mixed in will help the bubbles to float in the air without popping right away.


Water Painting
If you have an old paint brush, use it to paint fences, houses or the sidewalk with water. You will be surprised how long this activity stays interesting.


Secret hideout
Put a blanket over a table or between two chairs to create a tent or cave. Its a great place for a picnic or a "club."


PAPER ARTS

Basic Bookmaking: Use white or colored paper and a stapler. You can add a cover with themes depending on children's interest (wrapping paper, magazines, art work).

More elaborate bookmaking with older kids - you can sew the pages together and make a really nice cover by covering some cardboard with nice paper.


Flip Books:Using small post-it pads, draw a picture on each page that looks just a little bit different than the one on the previous page. When you flip the pages really fast, you can see some action.


Paper Chains:Kids can really get into these: Take many strips (about 2 x 8 inches or 5 x 20 cm) of construction paper (white paper will do too) and staple the first one into a circle. Form the next circle and loop it through the first one. Keep on going until your chain has the desired length. This is a fun project when you use "seasonal" colors, like red, white and blue for the 4th of July celebration, or orange and black for Halloween.


Origami:Use any kind of paper to fold fun things out of paper. Pick up a book at your library for ideas.


CLAY & CO

Make your own Silly Putty: You need ½ cup of Elmer's Glue, or any kid-friendly white glue, liquid starch (local drug store, grocery store) and food coloring if desired. Put glue in a small bowl and add liquid starch until it covers the glue. Add food coloring. Start mixing with your hands - it is very messy at first. Keep squeezing until it gets the consistency of Silly Putty or a very soft rubber ball.


Oobleck:You need ½ cup of corn starch or potato starch (very powdery) and water, food coloring if desired. Stir water into the bowl with starch, bring to the consistency you like. Very messy, best done in the kitchen next to a sink, or outside.


Sculptures: Use cereal boxes, boxes from shipping, tissue boxes, empty toilet paper rolls, bottle caps and corks, empty and clean yogurt containers, and uncooked pasta to make fun sculptures or houses. You can glue or tape everything together, depending on the comfort level of the child, and paint the sculptures. If you use tape, try to get masking tape, which is easy to remove.


Cooking:Especially elementary school-aged kids enjoy cooking. They can help with basic cooking, making fun sandwiches, bagel faces. Be cautious with everything concerning safety. Use only plastic knives if children cut. Point out danger spots in the kitchen (oven and stove, knives, running hot water, microwave and more)! Pick up a kid's cookbook at your local library, or look online for recipes.


Cooking:Don't forget that children love to role play. They may take their favorite stuffed dog for a walk or play a big fantasy role play with you in the backyard or on the playground!

If you put up a play with the children, make sure the parents will watch it! Use furniture inside to get the right setting for your play.


Games:You probably remember a lot of card games, marble games, games with dice from when you were younger. These are a lot of fun to teach to kids!

You probably remember a lot of card games, marble games, games with dice from when you were younger. These are a lot of fun to teach to kids!

Homework is important because it helps children practice and strengthen academic skills, teaches time management, initiative, self-reliance, and resourcefulness. Homework also teaches children responsibility, the sense of accountability for mistakes and successes, and a respect for authority outside the home.

Support, encouragement, patience and guidance are basic in helping children with their homework. Not every type of help will work with each child. Here are a few ideas:

  • Agree on a quiet place to do homework.

  • Check with Host Parents if the television, music or computer can be on while the child is doing homework.

  • Agree on a reasonable homework schedule. Should homework be done after school or after dinner or after a short break before dinner?

  • Should home privileges be taken away form a child that doesn't complete homework or puts it off?

  • Can the child use the computer, talk on the phone or get together with friends before homework is done?

  • Try to determine how long the child can keep concentrating on work. It may be best to build breaks into the homework schedule.

  • Avoid getting into a power struggle over homework.

  • Ask your host parents for ideas if you are having a problem.

  • Helping with homework can be frustrating for everyone involved. Do not get angry, try to remain patient.

  • Let your host parents know if you think the amount of homework is overwhelming the child.

  • Never do the homework for the child.

  • Be enthusiastic and positive when the child makes a good effort.

Do you have a child with homework and a younger child who has none? Sometimes younger siblings wish for "homework." If this is the case you can give the younger child an "assignment" while the older child does homework. Coloring a picture or cutting pictures out of a magazine are activities that may help a younger child to feel like he or she is also doing homework.

Special thanks to Sandee Plescia, Community Counselor in Illinois, for her contribution on this topic.

Activity by Season

Gardening

One way to spend time outside with the children (any age from two up) is to work in the garden. A garden is more than just plants. It's also a home for birds, bees, butterflies, earthworms and other creatures that help the garden grow.

Children love to care for other living things, and plants are an easy choice that can give a great sense of accomplishment. Check with your host parents about where you can garden. Ideally, your little garden will have at least six hours of sun a day.

For outdoor gardening you will need to buy some seeds. If your garden has less than six hours of sun, choose seeds that can grow in "partial" sun. Select flower seeds that germinate quickly. The back of the seed packet will tell you how long before the plants sprout. Marigolds and morning glories are easy to grow and will come up quickly. Buying vegetable seeds will allow children to eat and share what they grow. Radishes are the fastest growing vegetable - from seed to salad in just three weeks. Green beans, tomatoes, summer squash and cucumbers are other good choices, but they do take longer. Be sure to plant extra seeds because not every one will germinate. This is an important lesson for children - mistakes are natural and an inevitable part of life. If you are starting late and want to make sure you will have a vegetable harvest, you can also buy small plants at a local plant nursery.

Before you plant the seeds, use a shovel, trowel or spade to loosen the soil. Remove weeds, stones and grass from the area. If the soil is very hard (like clay) or very sandy, it would be a good idea to add peat moss or compost to the soil. You will also need a hose or a watering can so that the children can water the earth when it doesn't rain. If the plants look droopy or the soil feels dry, it is time to water. It is very important to water even before the plants sprout. It is best to water early in the morning or in the late afternoon.

Gardening includes other simple science lessons, all concepts that children can understand. Plants lean or turn towards light. Plants use water, but some of it evaporates into the air. What happens to the water that has evaporated? Without water plants will dry up and die. Plants come from other parts of the world, and sometimes their form gives clues to their origin. Can you find seeds that are native to your country?

When you go out into the garden, take care of the plants, pulling up weeds gently and also any sprouted seeds that are growing too close to another plant. But also look around and look closely at the ground to find birds and bugs that are a part of gardening. You can discuss how living things rely on plants to live, and how the plants need their animal friends. Birds spread seeds; earthworms loosen the dirt for the roots of the plants. What do bees do?

Look for books about gardening in the library. Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss is a wonderful book for very young children. Take photographs of your gardening project. It will be surprising and satisfying to look at the starting photos at the end of the harvest. And don't forget to put on sunscreen before you do your gardening!


Learning about Insects

Talking to children about insects is a fun activity in the summer when there are so many around!

Some easy facts for you to know:

  • There are more kinds of insects than any other kind of animal.
  • They live all over the world, even in ice and snow.
  • They never have more than 3 pairs of legs. If it has more, it's not an insect!
  • All insects come from eggs.

Outside Activity: To learn more about insects, go on a hunt outside. Collect the insects you find in a jar and then examine them with a magnifying glass.

Recipe: Make a snack of "ants on a log." Spread peanut butter on a stick of celery and then add raisins on the top.

Read: Children up to age seven will enjoy "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle. Look for it in the library.

Inside Activities

  • Make a caterpillar from a cardboard egg carton cut in half lengthwise. Turn each section upside down to paint with water-based paint. Use pipe cleaners to make the antennae. Draw or glue eyes and a mouth.
  • Make a butterfly by putting small pieces of colored tissue paper in a clear sandwich bag. Seal the bag. Squeeze the bag in half with the sealed edge at the top. Twist a tie around the middle and adjust the end of the twist tie to make antennae.

Autumn is a season of change. It's a great time to go out and help children explore what is different in the world around them.


Fall is apple season. Apples come in many varieties, colors, shapes, and sizes. Some are wonderful to munch on, others are best when cooked.

Apple Sauce

Apple Sauce is very simple to make.

  • Remove the core and quarter the apples. If you leave the peel on during cooking, it will give the applesauce a pink color.

  • When the apples are very soft, remove any peel that is left, have the children help mash the pulp or put it through a sieve.

  • Add sugar if needed.

Try making Dried Apple Rings

  • Peel, core and slive as many apples as you like into 1/8 inch rings (Macintosh or Golden Delicious apples work best).

  • Have the children dip each ring into a mixture of lemon juice and water to help the apples keep their color.

  • Pull a piece of string through the center of each ring and hang in a dry, warm place.

  • They take 1-2 weeks to dry and become chewy.

Leaf Prints

Make Leaf Prints by painting one side of a leaf with tempera paint and then pressing it down gently onto paper to form the leaf pattern.

Make designs for fun, or use large sheets of paper (tissue paper, brown paper or even newspaper) and save the painted paper to use as gift-wrap

Leaf Art

Place some leaves between pieces of wax paper and iron. This will keep them from crumbling and give the leaves a glossy sheen. You can then glue them onto paper - try adding bits of bark and seeds too. Hang them in the window or use them as placemats.


Pumpkin Carving

Start the Halloween season off by going pumpkin picking - check the newspaper for farms where you can go into the fields and pick your own pumpkin! You can limit the size by telling children they have to carry their own.

Carve the pumpkin just a few days before Halloween if you want it to be nice on Halloween, as pumpkins rot quickly. Work with the children to plan the design on paper and then draw it onto the pumpkin before you begin cutting. Cut off a lid to clean out the inside of the pumpkin and design holes large enough to let light shine out when you're done. With a special safe knife designed for pumpkin carving, the children can help carve the pumpkin. Check with your family to see if they have one of the special knives - they sell them in supermarkets if you need one. Always cut away from yourself using slow steady cuts. Scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh (this is a messy but fun job!). See the seasonal calendar for October for recipes using the seeds and the pumpkin you have cut away.

With fewer hours of daylight and colder temperatures, you may be looking for more ways to stay busy and challenged. Try these ideas, look for links on this page to other activities, and check the seasonal calendar.

ABC's of Winter Fun

  • A is for Art - try drawing, painting or gluing
  • B is for Baking - bake a dessert together for dinner
  • C is for Clay - Use non-hardening clay or play dough to shape and mold
  • D is for Dance - put on a lively tape
  • E is for Exercise - be sure to get some everyday
  • F is for Friends - invite some over
  • G is for Greenhouse - find a local greenhouse to visit to enjoy the sights and smells
  • H is for House - make a playhouse from a large appliance box
  • I is for Ice skating - take the children to a local rink
  • J is for Jigsaw puzzle - be sure to pick one that isn't too difficult
  • K is for Kitchen science - try a safe experiment
  • L is for Library - borrow some new books
  • M is for Movie - make one with a video camera, or watch one
  • N is for Necklace - make one out of cereal or macaroni
  • O is for Origami - learn to make simple paper creations
  • P is for Puppets - socks make easy and fun puppets - put on a show!
  • Q is for Quiet Time - everyone needs some of this
  • R is for Reading aloud - choose a good book and a comfortable place to sit
  • S is for Seeds and Suet - put out food for the birds and watch them eat
  • T is for Tent - make one from old blankets and chairs
  • U is for Unplugged - do a day with no TV
  • V is for Variety - try something new everyday
  • W is for Walk - take one in any weather (be sure to dress appropriately)
  • X is for Xylophone - make your own with glasses, water and a metal spoon
  • Y is for Year - make a calendar or scrapbook to remember the year
  • Z is for Zoo - visit the animals

Indoor Gardening

Children love to watch things grow! Try this very simple and fun indoor gardening project: Take a root vegetable (potato, carrot, turnip or beet) and cut off the top 1-2 centimeters. Hollow out the inside. Tie a string around the vegetable and fill it with water. Hang it in a window and watch what happens! Don't forget to add water as needed.


Make your own snowstorm

Create your own snowstorm whenever you want! Find a clear glass jar, any size, with a tight fitting lid and no label. Cut a piece of aluminum foil into teeny, tiny pieces. The easiest way is to first cut strips then cut across the strips into little pieces. The smaller the pieces, the more it will look like real snow. It takes a lot of flakes (and patience) to make a good snowfall.

Don't stop until you have enough to at least completely cover the bottom of the jar. Cut a small evergreen branch for your tree.Fill the jar with water, add the tree and one drop of dishwashing liquid and put the lid on. Turn the jar over, give it a shake and put it down right side up. Watch the snow fall!


Build a Playhouse

Glue 4 Popsicle sticks (available in craft departments) in a square to make a frame. Decorate the frame with glitter, lace, yarn, feathers, stickers, confetti or whatever you have on hand. Mount a picture from the back and be sure to date it! You can also glue a magnet on from the back so that the picture can hang on the refrigerator. (This activity is suitable for children 3 and older)

Fun Wherever You Are

Scoops with milk jugs: Cut the bottom off plastic milk jugs. Toss and catch lightweight balls or beanbags. As children get used to it, try throwing from a greater distance. This might be too hard for preschool age children; if so, they can try balancing a tennis ball on the neck and racing with it. How far can they go before it drops?

Here is an idea to use outside when it is clear, or indoors on a rainy spring day . Make an obstacle course - this idea can be adapted for any age group. Gather chairs, tables, boxes, stools, traffic cones, etc. and arrange them with the children to create places to climb on, crawl through, and go under and around. Try different variations; invite friends over to try it too.

CAR GAMES

Keeping children happy during long car rides or even during car pools around town can be challenging. One helpful approach is to engage them in car games - games that can be played by children ages 3 and up from the safety of their car seat or seat belt. These games come in handy any time a child is waiting and can't be off exploring or playing. Always play along with them!

I see something
This is the easiest game for young children to play. Choose something that both you and the child(ren) can see and start by giving a clue by saying "I see something . (then say its color or shape). The children then take turns asking you questions about what you see. You can only answer "yes" or "no" questions. The person who guesses first can be the next to give the clue, or you can just take turns so that everyone gets to play if there is more than one child. Older children can play by thinking about things that everyone knows but that might not be in front of them, such as a favorite stuffed animal or a piece of furniture at home.

Twenty Questions
Similar to the above game, this game is for any school age children. One person thinks of something and identifies it to the other players simply as a person, place or thing. The players take turns asking questions which can be answered with a YES or NO. After 20 questions are asked, if the players have not already guessed the answer, each player gets a chance to make a guess. Then a new player tries to stump the others.

Alphabet Game
Children who are reading and can easily see out the window of the car can play this game. One child starts with A and has to find a word on a sign visible from the car with the letter A. The child has to identify where the letter was spotted. Players take turns until the alphabet is complete. You can decide if license plates can be used.

Initial Game
This game is best for middle school and high school age children. The first player thinks of someone who everyone who is playing would also know and tells the others the first letter of that person's first and last names. It could be a personal friend, a politician, an author or even a television or movie character. The other players ask yes or no questions until they identify the person or give up.

Fishing at home (for children over 3)

Look around the house and spend some time with the child finding things that will stick to a magnet. Tie a piece of string to a stick. At the other end of the string tie a magnet. Put paper clips and other things that are magnetic in the "pond." Or cut out paper fish and put a paper clip on each one.


Make a life-size paper doll (for children over 3)

Have the child lie down on a large piece of brown wrapping paper and draw an outline around the child. Let the child use crayons, markers or paint to put clothes and a face on the "doll." It can also be a collage by cutting out fabric pieces for the clothes and yarn, string or even styrofoam pieces for the hair. In warm weather go outside and trace the child on the sidewalk with chalk and then color in clothes and hair.


Paper Butterflies: Fold a piece of paper in half. Open the paper and drop small amounts of paint on half of the paper. Fold the paper in half again and rub your hand across the paper to spread the paint colors that are inside the folded paper together. With the paper still folded, cut out the shape of one side of a butterfly. Unfold the paper to see both sides of the butterfly. Allow the paint to dry, then draw the body and add antennae if you wish.


Children as young as three would love a Secret Hideout. This can be created out of a corner of the yard, under some branches, in a large appliance box, or by constructing a hiding place with blankets. Eat lunch in the hideout for a special treat. Imagine you are being discovered by pirates, or that your hideout is on a desert island. The same structure can be used in many different ways. School age children might enjoy building a hideout themselves (with your help). Cut a swinging door and windows into a large box from a refrigerator or a stove. Decorate with paint or markers. Furnish with small furniture or pillows. If there's some extra fabric around you could even add curtains.

I really feel like I have a family in America after being an au pair. My host family is going to visit me and my family in Sweden this winter and I cannot wait to see them!
Sandra, au pair from Sweden