We all know that looking at books and singing songs and nursery rhymes with your child are important to their development and overall enjoyment but there are a number of other (inexpensive) activities well worth considering when wondering how to pass the time with your young charge and keep them occupied:
1. Playing with Water: young children just love this, whether it be in the bath, a paddling pool or simply in the sink or a plastic bowl.
Use plastic bottles for pouring and squirting, plastic tubing, a sponge, a colander, straws, a funnel, spoons and anything else that's unbreakable.
Safety tip: especially close supervision is required when babies are in the presence of water.
2. Start looking at books with your child from a very early age: this aids bonding and development and even very young children enjoy being read to. Listening to you will give them a feel for the sounds, rhythms and rhymes of language. Even small babies enjoy looking at picture books.
While books can be expensive, make sure to check out your local school fete or Op Shop for great bargains or indeed your local library.
3. Make a home-made rattle (suitable from 4 months): wash out a plastic screw-top bottle and put dried lentils or beans inside. Shake it around in front of your child and they will learn how to make a noise with it.
Safety tip: as some dried beans are poisonous and young children can choke on small objects, it’s best to glue the top securely, so that it won’t come off.
4. From 18 months old you can get into things like Play Dough. If you don't want to buy it you can make your own at home very easily (there are several 'recipes' on the internet). Show your child how to make different shapes. Keep it in a plastic box in the fridge, so you can use it again.
5. Drawing and painting: whether you choose crayons, felt tips or powder paint, this past-time is always a favourite with young children -- watch their creative side blossom! (just remember to protect any surfaces being used as things could get a tad messy).
6. Speaking of messy, kids just can't get enough of Pretend Cooking: you know the drill -- get a bowl and/or some egg cups, some mixing utensils and an array of ingredients (flour, rice, sugar, custard powder and perhaps some liquids if you're feeling brave). Perhaps one for the outdoors when the weather permits :)
7. Here's one that's stood the test of time: Sock Puppets. Use socks and envelopes to make hand puppets. Draw faces on them or stick things on to make your own characters. Get the puppets to "talk" to each other, or to you and your child.
What a blast! Who needs an iPad? The kids will be rapt and you'll go to bed knowing you've done their futures a good turn. Enjoy :)