Fun DIY Activity Kits for Kids
These supplies will make the miles whiz by. And with no loose or loud parts, they’ll help adult passengers retain their sanity.
- Make-your-own “road diary.” Include a map of your route, a checklist of sights to spot along the way, paper and a pencil secured to a clipboard, and a manila envelope for collecting bits like postcards.
- Crayola Model Magic. It’s postmodern Play-Doh: a spongy substance that dries in 24 hours and doesn’t stick to clothing—or car or airplane seats.
To buy: $14, crayolastore.com.
- Pocket Etch A Sketch. The two-by-three-inch screen makes this classic perfectly portable. Have kids draw a far-off mountain vista—or the bag of peanuts from the snack cart.
To buy: $8, etchasketch.com.
- Images Travel Pack. Roger Burrows’s mosaic-like patterns can be colored with the pencils in the sealable pouch. Perforated pages make it easy to post kids’ creations.
To buy: $15, barnesandnoble.com.
- Book on CD. Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (ages 4 to 8) runs two hours and 33 minutes. Downloaded onto an iPod, it’s pure soundproof pleasure.
To buy: $15, barnesandnoble.com.
- Magnetic Chinese checkers. The compact board doubles as the carrying case. (The magnetic pieces won’t scatter when you hit turbulence from winds or a sister’s elbow.)
To buy: $9.50, amazon.com.
Day at the Office Kit
So your little pal is joining you at work today? These time-fillers will keep him occupied—and you gainfully employed.
- Lincoln Logs. Considering all the horn-tooting toys out there, it’s no wonder this classic has quietly endured. Your lumberjack will build for hours with no help from you.
To buy: $45, amazon.com.
- Tinker Toys. Noticing a trend? Good old Tinker Toys, also devoid of sound effects, can be emptied onto your office floor and modeled into endless robots, spaceships...
To buy: $40, fatbraintoys.com.
- Fractiles-7 travel set. She’ll arrange these magnetic tiles into all kinds of kaleidoscopic designs on the black steel board. Later, make a color photocopy to post on your wall.
To buy: $27, sears.com.
- Puzzlemania books. When his short attention span reaches its outer limits, hand him any book from this series. All are chock-full of secret codes, puzzles, and other brain teasers.
To buy: $7, barnesandnoble.com.
- Laptop Buddha Board. Inside the sleek, businesslike case is a mat on which your child can “paint” a picture with water. After the image fades, the mat can be painted again.
To buy: $12, fatbraintoys.com.
- The Super Colossal Book of Hidden Pictures. Take this Highlights-magazine collection, add a box of crayons, and dial into that conference call without fear that you’ll be interrupted.
To buy: $10, amazon.com.
Visiting the Grandparents Kit
When the kids aren’t in town, Gramps can store these art supplies and games in his garage.
- Giant Wonderfoam World Puzzle Mat. Your child’s first activity can be to piece together this foam map of the world, which can double as a carpet protector.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find similar floor puzzles at csnstores.com.
- Paper-airplane book. The World Record Paper Airplane Book, by Ken Blackburn and Jeff Lammers, teaches kids how to fold and throw everything from biplanes to space shuttles.
To buy: $17, amazon.com.
- Arts-and-crafts materials. Raid the aisles of an office-supply store for colored pencils and paper, markers, foil stars, hole punches, brass fasteners, Post-it notes, scissors, tags, and pads.
- Design-your-own note cards. Guess what? Ordinary index cards fit just so into ordinary coin envelopes. Have kids mail daily doodles home.
To buy: Index cards, $2 for 100; coin envelopes, $24 for 500; staples.com.
- In-out clock. This simple storefront sign is a great time-teaching tool—and might be just the prop needed to instigate an afternoon session of Shopkeeper.
To buy: $6, officemax.com.
These comforting activities and objects will help keep your patient in good spirits.
- Color Change Wavy Straws. These serpentine straws change color when a cool liquid is sipped through them. (And they sure make flat soda a lot more fun to drink.) Four to a set.
To buy: $2.25, theraproducts.com.
- Yes & Know books. The magic pen reveals invisibly printed answers to quizzes, games, and puzzles. They’re one of the happiest, most mindless ways to pass a few hours.
To buy: $2.35 each, leemagicpen.com.
- Mesh receipt pouch. Use this small zippered bag (or any resealable one) to hold the Yes & Know pens, plus sick-day staples like tissues and a toy thermometer.
To buy: $4, containerstore.com.
- Make-a-Plate Kit. Serve her saltines on a special plate personalized with get-well wishes. Inscribe the dishwasher-safe dish, then mail it back to the company to set the design.
To buy: $18, makitonline.com.
- Magnetic Mosaics. She can arrange the magnetic tiles into a chicken pox–covered self-portrait—and move her masterpiece from bed to floor and back again without spillage.
To buy: $25, amazon.com.
For places not generous (and wise) enough to provide paper place mats and crayons, tote along these five-star distractions.
- Maze Craze books. Each of these story-puzzle hybrids leads kids on adventures alongside dinosaurs, mummies, or pirates, rescuing them from the boredom of adult conversation.
To buy: $4, barnesandnoble.com.
- Neodymium Science Magnets. The world’s strongest, these magnets work through a table and even a hand. Watch Dad’s fork dangle magically from your son’s palm! Four to a pack.
To buy: $8, instockscience.com.
- Sticker Activity Books. Available in dozens of themes (animals, race cars, ballet). Little fingers decorate the scenes with the included stickers.
To buy: from $1.50, doverpublications.com.
- Scratch & Solve Tough Hangman. Pint-size diners will love this challenging take on the classic game. Scratch-off circles reveal where a letter fits in the puzzle. No playing partner needed.
To buy: from $2, barnesandnoble.com.
- Notebook. Any basic spiral style will do. One of your children can sketch the salt and pepper shakers; another can compose her dream dish (French-fry tower with sides of ice cream and gummy candy).
- Mad Libs. This game is still the [adjective] way to learn parts of speech. The kids can write a doozy between ordering and eating.
To buy: from $4, amazon.com.