Holiday Fun Box Challenge: 10 Ways to Keep Kids Busy While You Cook
If you’re a parent with young children, it’s hard to prepare the holiday fixings when your kids are fighting, whining about being bored, or attaching themselves to your leg. You toy with parking them in front of a screen until you are done, but that could be hours. You’re too good of a parent for that. I developed a solution that works for kids ages four to twelve. I dubbed it the Thanksgiving fun box challenge because I use it when preparing for that feast; however, you could name it the Christmas or Easter fun box challenge if you prefer using it during those seasons.
What is the Fun Box Challenge?
The fun box challenge is nothing more than a box filled with engaging tasks to be completed, with small rewards being issued at designated levels. Laying the groundwork ahead of each holiday takes a little time, but it’s well worth it when you’re not interrupted 5,000 times while you cook. The personality of each child determines their approach to the challenge. For example, my oldest child is a gifted, over-achiever. When she was six, she didn’t move for eight solid hours because she wanted to complete each mission and earn every prize. Despite advising her to take a play break, her focus was unwavering. The interest of my youngest was more of an ebb and flow. He came and went, but whether he was working on one of the challenges or off playing, I wasn’t stumbling over him. Having more than one child creates a spirit of competition—neither sibling wants to see their counterpart win prizes and not them. Work this to your advantage!
Creating Your Challenge Box
First, you will need at least a medium-sized corrugated box. On a rainy day when your kids need occupied, get them enthused about the upcoming challenge by having them decorate the box with their own flair. Give them stickers, markers, tape, or other craft supplies and let their creativity run wild. The box might turn out hideous, but it gives them ownership and connection to the pending challenge.
Make a Checklist
Your goal is autonomy. What’s next? is not something you want to hear repeatedly, so create a clear checklist to help your child navigate his own way through the challenges. You will need between 10-20 tasks, depending on how much time you need the activity to consume. Once your checklist is completed, probably after a thorough scouring of Pinterest, gather all the materials your kids need and organize them into your fun box.
The challenges you include in your box should be achievable by all your kids, regardless of age level. Enlist your older children to assist the younger ones when necessary so you won’t be interrupted. Be sure to include tasks that incorporate play and movement so your kids don’t take root at the kitchen table, as my over-achiever did the first time we tackled this challenge. Here is a list of ideas:
1. STEM Challenges
Pinterest is brimming with STEM challenges! The simplest for little ones is providing toothpicks and the proper type of candy to build structures. Depending on what holiday you are celebrating, try candy corns or spiced pumpkins, red and green gumdrops, or jelly beans. Using a pack of straws and paper, task your kids to create a tee-pee, a Christmas tree, or a Peep catapult. For the technology portion, surrender your phone and have your kids record a holiday video for the family to view.
2. Lego Challenge
Legos seem to be an excess commodity in many homes, so challenge your kids to use them for something brilliant. They could design their own Macy’s Day Parade float, a giant Christmas gift, or an Easter basket. They could build your dream home, a robot, or a cool car. Your kids can work individually on this challenge or as a team.
Crafts span a wide variety of spectrums and can be tailored to the time and effort you want to invest in planning them. The simple route is snagging seasonal craft kits at Hobby Lobby or Michaels where all the materials are prepped and ready to go. Oriental Trading Company also offers interesting activities, like scratch pumpkins and Christmas trees, seasonal sticker scenes, and pre-assembled crafts. Be sure to avoid anything that utilizes paint. Painting means messes, and you don’t have time for that!
You can also tap the resources you already have on hand. Print gingerbread men or house templates and have your kids decorate them. Use stencils to create a seasonal scene. Provide your kids with wide strips of paper and ask them to design book markers for the family and have them laminated. Hand them a simple coloring page—if they do their very best, promise to hang it on the frig or the bulletin board.
Save leftover craft materials for your young guests on the holiday—it will give them something to do while adults socialize!
Put games in your box that can be done cooperatively with siblings or individually. Matching and puzzles are ideal choices. If your kids complete this challenge without arguing, reward good behavior with 20 minutes of gaming on the Wii, Xbox, or computer.
Online seasonal action cards are available that include such movement challenges as flap like a turkey, roll like an ornament, or hop like a bunny. Holiday action cards are fun and festive and can be read by older siblings.
Create a list of physical challenges. Your list might include jumping 50 times on the trampoline, 10 sit-ups, 15 jumping Jacks, or 20 minutes grooving to a Wii Dance game.
Appropriate age-level workbooks are readily available at the Dollar Store or your local grocer. You can also print worksheets from online educational sites. Remember, you don’t want your kids to hate learning, so don’t over-do it. A few pages is sufficient.
7. Write letters to family
The holidays present a great opportunity for your kids to connect with extended family, especially those members they may not see often. Have your kids write letters and draw pictures to send to family living over the river and through the woods.
8. Community Service
The holidays provide the perfect setting for teaching your kids the value of helping others and showing appreciation to community workers. Ask your kids to sift through their toys and find items that are in gently used condition to donate to kids who are less fortunate. Draw pictures and write letters to the military or your local police and fire departments to express thanks for all they do to keep us safe. Your kids may even get a response!
9. New Books
If your budget allows you to purchase new books for the challenge box that are geared toward the holiday, your kids would love reading them. Ask older kids to read to their younger siblings. Otherwise, scour your personal collection or borrow festive books from the library to include in your challenge box.
You have enough to juggle with all the cooking, let alone putting the house in order for guests. Include a chore list for each child in the challenge box so they can help ease your load. Cleaning up toys, dumping the trash, changing the hand towels, and sweeping the carpet are things they can do to make the house neat and tidy.
You’ve kept your kids busy and out of your hair while you hustled and bustled around the kitchen. Now it’s time to divvy out the rewards. Ideally, an incentive should be awarded for every 3-5 challenges completed. The prizes don’t have to be expensive or necessarily tangible. Here are examples of potential rewards:
- Seasonal candy or chocolate bars
- Special cookies
- Money (less than $3.00)
- Stickers on chore charts
- 30 minutes of screen time
- Glow sticks
- 15 minute later bed time
- Small toy (under $5.00)
- Bouncy ball
- A ticket for a day’s pass on chores
- McDonald’s Happy Meal
- Trip to the Dollar Store
- A helium or punch balloon
With cooking out of the way, you can relax and enjoy your company and the holidays!