What to do when “there is nothing to do”?

This is a guest post by Zoe Toft. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

How do you come up with play ideas for your kids? And, perhaps even more importantly, how do your kids come up with play ideas for themselves?

During holiday periods I, like many parents, plan ahead for games and activities we will get up to – using blogs I love (perhaps ones I’ve recently discovered via the Raising Playful Tots Index) but I also want to give my kids the tools to plan and create for themselves, and a rich vein of inspiration for my two kids comes in the form of picture books I read to them. Although it doesn’t always happen (and even when it does, it can be weeks after we’ve read the book) often my kids will create their own games and activities inspired by what they’ve read and listened to.

Three great books we’ve recently enjoyed (with my hope that they’ll sow the seed of inspiration when the time comes) are all about what can be done when it seems like there’s nothing to do.

Something to Do by David Lucas

Perfect for toddlers, this simply illustrated book is full of the adventures a baby bear gets up to having bounced on his dad complaining that there’s nothing to do until Dad finally gives in. Using a twig to draw, baby bear and his dad create places to explore, with no set agenda, just following the lines they make with their sticks.

Nothing to Do by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

Stunningly illustrated with immense detail this book is a delight for slightly older children. Nothing to Do celebrates how wonderful it can be to actually have nothing to do; instead of needing to rush to this activity or onto another class, instead of always being timetabled, days where there is nothing to do are actually something to be relished. Such days are full of endless, exciting possibilities – as you and your kids pour over the glorious illustrations you’ll all come up with ideas of your own, from making toy ships to watching clouds, from making paper airplanes to re-reading your favourite books.

Let’s do nothing by Tony Fucile

A great all-rounder this book will have everyone in the family laughing! Two young boys have done everything they can think of doing and all that is left to try now is – quite literally – doing nothing. It turns out, however, that doing nothing is much harder than anyone had realised! The comic strip style illustrations are full of energy and there are jokes for the adults as well as the kids in this pacey debut from one of the animators behind Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.

One of my stock go-to activities if we seem to have run out of anything to do is to put on some music and just dance with the kids. Here are some great songs that go wonderfully with these three fantastic books about doing nothing:

  • What Would You Do If You Had Nothing to Do? by Barney Saltzberg
  • Nothing to Do by Troubadour
  • I’m Bored by Barry Louis Polisar
  • I’m Bored by Kentucky T. Dutchersmith and the Rubber Band
  • Let’s Think Of Something To Do While We’re Waiting by Ricky Skaggs
  • And if you do want to prepare some activities for your kids taking your cue from these books, here are some I think would work brilliantly alongside reading these stories:

  • Try really drawing with sticks with some inspiration from this post at Art Adventures with Middle School Students, or this amazing large-scale drawing in sand done by artist Jim Denevan
  • Watch some clouds together with your kids and then enjoy making your own cloud book like this one from fun4kids, or your own puffy cloud paint like this from Bilbified
  • Play sleeping lions with your kids – see how long they can do nothing for!
  • Zoe Toft is a mum of two young girls and they really love words and they really love to make stuff.
    Sometimes they make or do something and they want a good book (or poem / song / audiobook) that continues the game, that captures some of the magic we’ve enjoyed. Sometimes it’s the other way round and they read a great book which inspires them to get the glue and glitter out.

    Either way, they’ve always got plenty of books around the house, boxes of “crafty stuff” and a desire to have fun. However, her memory is /terrible/ 🙂 So Playing by the book is Zoe’s way of celebrating and reminding herself of many of the things they get up to as a family, of the books they’ve read and loved and that you might just fall in love with too.

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    1. Came here from Zoe’s post. Wonderful post by her as usual. We have read the 3rd book ‘Let’s do nothing’ a long time back when my daughter A was all of 5yrs old, and did we have fun! She is also a bit fidgety, so we had a lot of giggles.
      BTW, could you suggest a site for activities for a 9 yr old? Sometimes we too have the ‘now what do we do?’ phase, and although she is an avid reader, we could do with some action sometimes on rainy days.

    2. I’m going to look out for these books. I need a more creative way to answer the ‘nothing to do’ complaints, my son does not like to be told what to do.
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    3. I really love this blog. Thank you for providing such great ideas. I have invented some of my own in the spur of the moment using the stuff we have at home. Playing with my 20 month old daughter is definitely the most fulfilling part of my day especially when I see the effects on her development. You can never hear enough of someone saying how bright your child is;) Thanks for the continuous inspiration!


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