Simple Activities for Excited Kids

As Christmas gets closer, the rising level of excitement becomes almost palpable in our house. That means I need to plan a few activities to give all that energy somewhere to go! I certainly don’t want to spend more time finding supplies or preparing the activity than my children will spend engaged in it. Here are a few ideas for keeping anxious hands busy using simple supplies you may already have in stock.

Sweet Structures

One activity that is often easy to pull together this time of year, is building structures using toothpicks and gum drops. Simple. It takes about ten seconds to prepare, but the kiddos will easily spend half an hour building. Sticking toothpicks into gumdrops, they’re creations will resemble something between a complicated molecule and the Taj Mahal.

Stringing Along

Fill a bowl with beads, noodles, or cereal, thread a few through a strand of yarn, and then set it all out on a table.  Before you know it, kids will jump right in, sliding pieces on until they run out of string (which is why I tend to cut very LONG strings!).

As a variation, you can create a button snake from a spare button and scraps of felt. Button afficianados (like my toddler) will scramble to button and slide, over and over again!

Another variation is to use a pipe cleaner instead of string. The stiff pipe cleaner is a bit easier to thread through the beads, and as a bonus, you can twist the ends together to form a bracelet, a wreath, or simply bend the ends to create a candy cane.


Dig In

There’s a soothing effect that comes from sensory play. It’s almost entrancing. As children scoop, pour, dig, and spread, the open-ended nature of this play keeps them engaged for as much as an hour. There are plenty of fascinating high-end sensory play tools, but you can set up a sensory activity in a matter of minutes pulling straight from your kitchen.

Grab a container — a cookie sheet, casserole dish, mixing bowl, or storage bin — and add a simple medium. Take a peek into your pantry and grab some salt, flour, rice, pasta, dry beans, or popcorn kernels. If all else fails, just use water! Toss in some spoons, measuring cups, and perhaps a few toys. Set it out on a towel or tablecloth to catch the overflow.

Get your children started and explain the parameters, and before you know it you’ll have your next “to-do” crossed off before your kids lose interest in their play.

Open the Door

Of course, the simplest time-tested method for helping kids burn off anxious energy is to send them outside! Bundle them up and send them out back and they’ll likely find plenty to do.

If they need a little enticing (and you’re lucky enough to have snow) send them with some colored water in spray bottles or emptied dish soap containers and encourage them to paint the snow!

Freeze colored water in a variety of containers a night ahead of time and send them outside (or put them in a sensory bin) to be used to create colorful ice structures. You’ll soon find a colorful winter wonderland in your backyard — as well as happy, busy kids!

What are some of your favorite ways to keep excited kids busy during the holidays?

About Amanda

Amanda Morgan is a full time mom to three busy boys and a part-time trainer and consultant for a non-profit children's organization. She also writes at Not Just Cute, a blog full of ideas that are more than just cute, for preschoolers who are much more than cute too.

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  1. Perfect timing!

    My kids were literally running circles around our house this morning while I was making breakfast and I was thinking hmmm….how are we going to release this energy in a way that doesn’t make me crazy??

    Love your ideas. Thank you!


  2. Melissa Skinnell says:

    Love this! Other variations/favorites at our house include: building with toothpicks and mini-marshmallows, making a doll-sized skating rink by freezing water in a big bowl overnight, building igloos with sugar cubes and frosting as glue, making cards or pictures with all of those stickers (where do they come from?), playdoh + cookie cutters, making collages by cutting out stuff from catalogs/magazines, a mid-day bubble bath playtime…

  3. Can you write more about the button snake? I think it’s what’s in the photo, and I know my little one would love to play with something like that!

    • Certainly! It could take on many forms, depending on what scraps you have on hand. I made mine by sewing a button onto the end of a strip of felt, and then sewing the other end on an accordian fold so it created a sort of “backstop” (hopefully you can see it in the picture). Then I cut shapes from felt scraps and snipped a hole about the same size as the button. Some people make them with ribbon and a button on each end. You could google “button snake” and probably find several tutorials. Enjoy!
      Amanda Morgan´s latest post: Weekend Reads 12.17.11

  4. This couldn’t come at a better time – we have lots of cold rain happening here and restless boys! Thanks!

  5. I love sensory play for my kiddos! We do seem to run out of time often for play during this hectic time of year, but even a pan filled with flour or corn meal as I cook dinner does the trick! 🙂
    Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site´s latest post: 7 Tips for Better Baby Sleep in 2012


  1. […] can find me over at Simple Kids, writing about a few activities that will keep those excited hands busy as the excitement of the […]

  2. […] table merry and bright?  Contributor Amanda Morgan has a great post in the archives here on Simple Activities for Excited Kids (it is so hard to sit still and stay calm this time of year, isn’t it?) and this Printable […]