Free Fun at Home: Top 10 Pinterest Wins


Household items provide seemingly endless possibilities for children’s entertainment. Let’s go beyond hand print art and construction paper. My daughter and I tried numerous Pinterest projects in the two and a half years we were home together (age 3 to 5). When choosing activities, I hit the high points of what she needed to know before she started Kindergarten including math, literacy, science, fine and gross motor skills.

Our favorites turned out to be simple to set up and clean up (with a couple exceptions) and required minimal preparation on my part. Oh yeah, and they were virtually free. 

Our Top 10 Pinterest wins:

1. Flour, Oil, and Corn Starch Concoctions. Of all the things that can be made with corn starch, our favorite is Oobleck. Oobleck is a substance somewhere between liquid and solid. Maya was hesitant to touch it at first because it looks a lot like The Blob, but, once she started, she spent at least an hour exploring all she could do with it. I also enjoyed making playdough as much as Maya liked playing with it. She has cut it with cookie cutters, built snowmen, made letters and numbers, rolled out snakes, and so much more.

2. Vinegar and Baking Soda Experiments. Our two favorites using these simple household ingredients were Balloon Science and Erupting Candy Cane Science. The erupting candy cane experiment seriously filled an hour and a half. I put the baking soda on a cookie sheet and took it outside, so clean up was pretty easy. When she got bored of putting tiny droplets on the baking soda, she decided to dump a cup of it on top and watch it “explode.”

3. Toilet Paper Roll, Paper Plate, and Egg Carton Crafts. Toilet paper rolls make excellent bats, owls, bird feeders, turkeys, rockets, butterflies, castles, bunnies, peacocks, caterpillars; even stamps! Paper plates can be cut to make butterflies, folded to make owls, or rearranged to make angels. We’ve made plates into ladybugs, moons, planets, daffodils, hats, pumpkins, spiders, and more. I’ve cut up empty egg cartons into a variety of shapes to make snow people, bats, monsters, chickens, mushrooms, caterpillars, flowers. The options are boundless.

4. Cotton Swabs. Cotton swabs were particularly helpful for developing her fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Last Halloween, we made a cotton swab skeleton. Cotton swabs and paint made for some lovely fall trees, as well. Pinterest has a lot of others. Simply put in the search terms “cotton swab” or “qtip.”

5. Homemade Paints: Bath, Body, and Finger. Maya loves to paint and goes through it like candy on Halloween. The fact that at least half of it ends up on her instead of the paper prompted me to learn how to make my own. It’s really quite simple, and, if you are averse to using food coloring, you can even make your own natural paint colors using your spice cabinet.

6. Indoor Bean Bag Toss. This is an excellent gross motor activity. All you need is painter’s tape (or something similar), a couple of Ziploc bags filled with dry beans or rice and tightly sealed, and the energy of a child. When Maya got tired of tossing the bean bags, she decided to use this as a shape sorter.

7. Cardboard Box Building. We used cardboard boxes to make a rocket ship, a doll house modeled after this one and put together like this box village, a car wash, and a castle. The most work for me was cutting holes in the boxes since kids’ scissors won’t do the trick, but otherwise, she entertained herself for hours with these creations.

8. Color Wheel Hunt. Here’s a new use for construction paper: Get a sheet of each color and place them in a large circle on the floor. Have your kids search for items around the house, especially their toys, and organize them according to color.

9. Stained Glass Art. I always have leftover wrapping accessories lying around. For this project, you just tear up various colors of tissue paper and glue them on waxed paper to create a pretty window display. What kid doesn’t like tearing up paper?

10. Penny Experiment with Water. This one isn’t technically free (ha ha), but I’m betting you can find some pennies on a nearby sidewalk if you don’t have any in your piggy bank. You’ll also need an eyedropper and some water. Kids add droplets of water to the top of the penny one at a time and sit back in awe as they create a mini snow globe. Take the experiment up a notch by testing other liquids like oil or milk.

My #1 Pinterest Fail:

Melted Crayon Art. This is Austin, right? Home of the 100+ degree summers? You can understand why I thought this would be a good idea, but, unfortunately, it did not work. I’m not sure what I did wrong, but I ended up with scorched, not melted, crayons that ended up in the trash can. If you figure out how to do this successfully, please let me know.

Dawn M. Ambuehl-Sadek is a work-at-home mom of two girls: Maya, age 5 and Lila, 9 months. She has been writing in various mediums since she was in elementary school, including poetry, short stories, newsletter articles, and business writing. She currently serves as a teaching artist with Badgerdog and authors a blog focused on parenting and poetry.