15 minute activities for young children so you can do the housework

Today’s post answers a reader question. You can read previous answers to readers’ questions here.

I’d love some suggestions on 15-minute activities for small children (age 2 – 4). I find it difficult to get chores done around my kids (I am getting better at this) and it’s really frustrating when getting a single load of laundry on takes 20 minutes..! They’ll happily watch TV, but I’m trying to reduce the amount we resort to TV. 

If you have been reading this blog for a while you will know that when our kids were younger I used 15 minute cleaning blocks as a key tool to stay on top of the house cleaning.

For those that are new to the blog or just the concept of 15 minute cleaning blocks, I will do a quick recap first before I share some activities to keep the kids occupied.

15 minute cleaning blocks

When I had little ones with me at home and finding an uninterrupted hour to do housework was impossible, I would use 15 minutes blocks to complete household tasks. The first one for the day I would schedule for as soon as we came home from the school run. I found the kids could self occupy with greater ease when they were fresh first thing in the morning.

15 minute blocks are a powerful tool in keeping the house clean. You choose a task that you know can be completed in 15 minutes and set a timer and get started! And when you have little ones, it is often possible to set up an activity that will keep the occupied for this period of time. For us mums though, if we know we only have to stick at a task for 15 minutes it can often seem more doable, even if we don’t really want to do it.

Once the first 15 minute block was completed, if the kids are still occupied happily and you feel like it you can complete another 15 minutes task after that.

Some examples of cleaning tasks you can do in 15 minutes (0r less) are:

  • Clean a toilet
  • Wipe down bathroom benches and mirrors
  • Dust one/two room/s
  • Wipe down the skirting boards in a couple of rooms
  • Vacuum the high traffic areas of the house
  • Mop the floor in the main area
  • Wipe down the light switches and light shades
  • Wipe down and wash out the inside bins
  • Wipe down the blinds in the main area

15 minute activities for young children – my ideas

Here are some activities that worked for me when my kids were young. You have to be flexible with these activities. What might work one day for your child might not work the next. What worked for my kids may not work for yours! And because of this I also asked mums on Facebook what worked for their kids and have included the ideas they kindly shared after mine.

  • A finger food morning tea – not exactly an activity, but if cleaning time fitted with morning tea, I would cut up their favourite fruits, veg, crackers etc and set it up at their little table. I would have small tongs, small cups, containers etc so they could choose items to put on their plate. It was like playing high teas. Using a tea set if you have one works a treat as well.
  • Balloons – our kids loved balloons and there are many games they an play, like using a fly swat or hitting the balloon over a piece of string. You can see some ideas in this post – balloon games.
  • Sidewalk chalk – this is an outdoor activity so needs to be done in area where you can still see your kids if they are very little. You can start of shapes for them to copy or have them lie on the ground and do an outline of their body then have them colour it in, or show them how to draw roads for their trucks to drive on, or just let them draw what ever they want!
  • Water painting – this is an outdoor activity so requires a nice day and a fence, pavement or bricks the kids can paint. Each child has a small bucket or container and paint brush and they can paint away. You can join this activity onto the chalk drawing above and have them paint away their chalk drawings.
  • Cup stacking – most families will have some sort of plastic cups in the house. These cups are perfect for stacking on top of each other, in each other and for making sounds into. This activity is especially fun for very young kids.
  • Kitchen cooking – my kids loved using real kitchen equipment. I would get out saucepans, lids, metal bowels, spoons, whisks and set them out on the floor and let them play with them. If I wanted to get more time and was prepared to do the tidy up, I would put a king size sheet on the ground first and then give them uncooked rice to play with. They would pour and scoop to their hearts content and I would get more time, but I did have more to clean up, so it was best used when you needed to vacuum anyway.
  • Cubby house – making a cubby house with chairs and sheets or throwing a sheet over the dining table worked well for us. We would add pillows, soft toys and books  and the kids would love sitting in it listening to story book or favourite music CD or just have fun climbing in and out of it.
  • Colouring, cutting and pasting –  obviously the scissors the kids use are paper kid safe scissors for this activity. I would print out pictures that represented the kids interests at the time, for example Scooby Doo, Bananas in Pyjamas or Trains, have pencils set up for them to use and a book for them to cut and paste their coloured pictures into.
  • Water play – this is an outside activity and requires a warm day. Filling a big tub with water and then giving them cups, jugs, funnels etc so they can play with the water.
  • Cardboard boxes – I have never met a toddler who doesn’t love a cardboard box. It is worth keeping a few hidden away and the bigger the better and letting the kids climb in and out of them and play with them as they like on days when you need to get some stuff done.
  • Duplo and LEGO – all of my kids have loved Duplo and LEGO and would play contently for long periods of time with it, enabling me to get at least one cleaning block in.
  • Jigsaw puzzles – three out of our five kids would happily sit and do puzzles from about three years old, so it is worth trying to see if this appeals to your child.
  • Pegging – this requires good fine motor co-ordination so would be for kids who are capable of doing it. Give them a bunch of pegs, some small cloth items like dolls clothes and let them squeeze them on and off something like a clothes horse or a show box.

15 minute activities for young children – ideas from the PWK community

Here are some excellent ideas from the Planning With Kids community on what works for them in keeping kids entertained while you work around the house:

  • Siobhan Brister – Playdoh at the table when I’m in the kitchen. Get a load of containers, sort blocks or Pom poms by colour
    If you make your own salt dough you can cook their statues then paint them when they cool down. Give barbies a bath in a baking tray with water in it (I put a bath mat under it) dad is 4.5 now has been doing this line for at least 2 years. Then she washes their clothes!
  • Justine Amelia – I used to give them an old sock and get them dust tables, table legs, sides of bookshelves, they feel like they’re helping and I can keep an eye on them in the room I’m cleaning.
  • Deanna Coles – A couple of boxes of ‘open ended toys’ eg balls, animals, blocks, monster trucks and bring one out when you need the 15min (1st and 2nd child). Try not to do chores in your kid free time that you can do around kids Eg folding washing while they are colouring (3rd child). Try to teach young kids to play by themselves eg Why don’t you play with ‘x’ and I will play after I have put the washing on (4th and 5th child).
  • Rebecca Talbot – I bought bulk bags of different stickers – farm animals, jungle animals, vehicles, flowers etc. Then I printed backgrounds off the web – jungle scene, farm scene, streets, meadow… I find these give the stickers more context and holds my 4.5yo’s attention for longer. Depending on the quality of the creation they can then be used for the front of homemade birthday cards later!
  • Lucy Moore – Tape a piece of clear contact to low window remove the backing and leave kids with little bits of paper, straws, wool anything to make their own picture. Set up outdoor kitchen and give them little containers of flour, sauce bottles filled with water or any other ingredients going out of date to have fun “cooking”. Also give a bucket of soapy water and cloths to do the washing up this kept my toddlers amused for hours.
  • Rebecca Baker – I try to involve my kids in the chore. The younger ones can pass me pegs, or articles of clothing to hang. If I am using the clothes hoist then they even help to hang the clothes. Playing with the pegs has seemed to keep my smaller ones amused. My clothes line happens to have some pebbles at the ground, so this amuses them also.
  • Emmy Boudry – I used to give them a colander or a steamer part of a saucepan and a pile of pipe cleaners so they could thread it through and make octopuses.
  • Bron Barker – Water painting. Books from Kmart, target, big W. They are a huge hit with my youngest and minimal mess. Playdough always fills in time with a few cutters.

Thanks so much for everyone who shared their ideas. If you are after more tips on efficient cleaning check out these posts:

How do you keep your kids occupied while doing the house work?