When COVID took hold of our lives, visits with grandkids vanished. For grandparents living miles away from their little ones, the coronavirus became the enemy. Now that things seem to be gradually getting back to normal, grandparents are more anxious than ever to spend time with their precious grandkids. Of course, when they come to visit, it’s always a good idea to prepare ahead of time. These tips from a seasoned grandmom will help with entertaining kids from 2 to 20 when they come to visit.
Entertaining Kids No Matter Where You Live
I live in New York City in a typically small-ish one bedroom apartment. Entertaining kids when they come to visit isn’t particularly hard considering all the cool things to do in New York City. But, figuring out sleeping arrangements and down time activities presents a bit more challenging task.
In our apartment, the living room becomes the bedroom for the kids. Social distancing remains important in the city so all activities outside of the home require strategic planning. While there are numerous activities for kids throughout the city, we all need downtime.
If you have more space, dedicating a temporary playroom will delight the kids. From DIY obstacle courses to board games and stickers, these tips will help you entertain your grandkids all day every day keeping cabin fever at bay.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
With young children, a simple cardboard box yields hours of fun. Exploration and discovery through play helps keep little ones entertained. My mother, the great-grandmother of my grandkids, always had crafts ready when the great-grands came to visit. From construction paper to crayons and play dough, she kept them busy creating all types of things. Not as artistically inclined as my mother, I often turned to podcasts for tutorials on cool things to make from a simple piece of paper.
For sensory exploration, create a DIY water table using a plastic tub, cups, pitchers, spoons and a few nature items like rocks. Let the little ones use the cups and pitchers to fill it with water. Then encourage them to add the additional household items, plastic toys and rocks using their imagination. This easy DIY project encourages creativity. It’s always fun to make a note of what stories they create.
Elementary Age Kids
Fun activities for 5 to 9-year olds also include crafts using construction paper and crayons. If you can sew, engage the kids by sewing their own stuffed animal. Sewing not your thing? No problem. Take that construction paper, markers, a stapler and either a recycled newspaper or stuffing and make a paper stuffed animal. A quick YouTube search yields several ideas for this DIY project.
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Since my living space is limited, I like to take the kids outside to a nearby park where we create our own obstacle course using a blend of playground equipment and nature. An indoor or outdoor scavenger hunt always keeps the kids engaged. To make things simple, have the kids search for objects that start with an “A” followed by the other letters of the alphabet. If you have the space and time to hide things ahead of their visit, consider setting up a treasure hunt in your home or backyard. Popular with older kids, science experiments can be as simple as this cool orange fizz example. Using an orange and baking soda, you’ll work in a chemistry lesson without anyone burning down the house!
With limited space, I don’t have the luxury of keeping a toy box year round. So, I’ll hit up Amazon for small Lego sets, age appropriate children’s books and a new board game they can take with them when they go home.
Tweens and Teens
Time away from my grandkids during the pandemic was magnified when I finally saw them again. My granddaughter became a teenager and my grandsons moved into their tweens. As I plan for upcoming summer visits, my direction has shifted. At this age, WiFi and live-streaming videos and movies work for downtime. But, it’s still important to interact through games. On a rainy day, we’ll play card games like UNO or Phase 10 for hours with the whole family. Charades is also a great activity to combat excessive screen time with personal interaction.
Arts and crafts continue to grab their attention. Rather than stocking up on craft items, I prefer to find a local shop that offers painting or pottery as an activity. The kids enjoy doing something new and we can leave the messy paint brushes behind.
Over the years, I’ve turned to holiday traditions like baking cookies or putting together gingerbread houses as indoor activities. Letting the grandkids experiment with food coloring and baking not only gives us tasty treats, it creates lifetime memories.
A true foodie, my 13-year old granddaughter, Katherine, loves to cook. When she comes to visit this summer, I’ll see how she likes it in a tiny New York City kitchen! I’m sure she’ll come up with something creative.
I anticipate we’ll continue doing these things together well into their 20s and beyond.
For those of you with a big house and extra bedrooms, sleeping arrangements should be fairly simple. But in my case, with one bedroom and one bath, it’s challenging. When the grandkids visit without their parents, I turn the living room into a makeshift bedroom by using quality blow-up air mattresses. Sometimes this ends up being a living room fort making it even more fun for the kids.
When the whole family visits, the apartment is far too small for accommodating seven additional people. For that I book rooms for everyone at a hotel. We still have plenty of quality time together, but everyone has space when they need it.
Sometimes we’ll book a vacation rental that provides extra bedrooms and bathrooms, but still gives us a common space to play games and hang out together. Gathering around the table together for family meals is the perfect time to catch up on the latest happenings in their lives and to share fun family stories. Do what works best for your family!
More Planning Tips for Entertaining Kids
Let’s face it. No matter how close you are to your grandkids, if you live a long distance apart, you might not be up to date with their latest trends and preferences. With my three grandkids in Central Florida, I make sure to ask their parents plenty of questions ahead of time. What are their favorite foods for breakfast, lunch, snacks, etc.? Have they developed any allergies I need to be aware of? Are there any new movies or games they’re interested in seeing or playing?
As the grandkids get older, entertaining kids includes asking them about their preferences. Of course, you can expect to get more junk food requests from them so you’ll still want to check with Mom and Dad about limits.
If you can, create a space in your home they can temporarily claim as their own. It may just be a drawer or a corner of a room. The space doesn’t matter. Your goal is to make them feel welcome and comfortable.
Above All, Be Flexible and Have Fun!
If the pandemic taught us anything, it was to treasure our time together. Being with the grandkids whether traveling to new destinations or hosting them in your hometown is really about fostering the grandparent/grandchild bond. Flexibility in scheduling, meals and expectations is key to a successful visit and the base for creating those lifelong memories we all treasure.
Based in New York City, Terri Marshall is an award-winning writer covering cultural travel, multi-generational travel, road trips, soft-adventure, camping, cars and characters. From hanging out with penguins in Antarctica to fishing for piranhas in Peru to road-tripping through the jungles of Belize, Terri’s always up for an adventure. Drop her into a landscape filled with mountains, towering evergreens, waterfalls and a glacier or two and she’ll be in heaven. But what thrills her most of all is traveling with her teenage grandkids.
Terri serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA). She also serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Eastern Chapter for the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Terri’s publication credits include AARP, Island Soul, Girl Camper Magazine, A Girls Guide to Cars, CHILLED, World Footprints, North Hills Monthly, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Contractor and more. Follow her on Instagram at TrippingWithTerri.