You Never Know Where It Might Lead

There is much to be said for the idea of capturing children’s attention by suggesting things for them to do rather than sit in front of an electronic screen, or stuff their faces. Some medical professionals subscribe to the idea that motion begets motion; that once you entice a child into doing something even a little bit active, a spark will ignite. It might lead to their finding a fascinating interest that lasts for a season, or a consuming passion that will determine their career. Many families also still practice some degree of isolation, at least relative to pre-pandemic days. So here is one last group of suggestions for free (or very economical) indoor occupations.

Kitchen table amusements

Rice grains can be used for pouring exercise, to get a feel for amounts. Supply a set of measuring cups and spoons. This does not mean you expect the child to ever cook, but it conveys the fundamental idea that measurement is considered important, and in every field of endeavor there are commodities that need to be measured according to many different standards.

Sit the child down to practice hand-eye coordination by transferring water from one bowl to another in a teaspoon, without spillage. If noise sensitive, use a plastic bowl. Or if it’s china, make silence part of the task. The idea here is to give the fine motor skills a workout and, incidentally, keep the hands busy not eating.

Music and noise

A round plastic coffee container, a round cardboard oatmeal box — either one can be a drum. Remember, the main thing a little kid wants is your attention. Sit down for a while, and take turns tapping on the “drum” with one finger. Introduce some rudimentary notions of rhythm. With any luck, a child will catch on to not only the exuberant joys of percussion, but the vast world of intricacies, nuance, and subtleties.

If you partly fill a glass soda bottle with water and blow across the bottle’s neck, it makes a spooky noise. It’s fun to sit outside after dark and send ghostly greetings to passersby.

Of course, not everything is for everyone, but a certain kind of child will latch on to some oddball skill like the Tap Code and grow an obsession, and become inspired to pursue other areas of knowledge.

Useful little abilities

A child of a certain age can be amused indefinitely by a rousing game of “guess which hand.” A slightly older one will enjoy using their skills of dexterity and misdirection to hide the object from you.

If there is a cooking or postage scale around the place, one that measures in ounces, collect a bunch of small objects that are very close in weight. Demonstrate how you hold one in each hand and feel which you believe is heavier, then how you verify it with the scale.

In many households, a jar full of pennies can be found. Age makes a difference, but with the right kid you can lay down pennies one, two, three, which they imitate by laying down one, two, three. Then let them lay down five pennies in a different configuration, which you then imitate… And how high can pennies be stacked, anyway?

By the way, a game does not always require scorekeeping. There is enough competitiveness in the world already. Just appreciate the stage where a child can be amused for an incredibly long time by doing the same boring thing, over and over. Because the secret sauce is you. Never again will they grant you their attention so fully, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Round up some other coins, and practice making change. Even knowing they will grow up in a world of digital transactions, it can’t hurt to develop this anachronistic skill. It helps with math and involves neither eating nor watching a screen.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Images by Sheila Sund, Ruth Temple, Randy Stern/CC BY 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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