Children's Finds

On-the-Go Children’s Activities.

By: Jen Shoop

On Sunday, my son volunteered to carry “the activity bag” into Church, and I could not stop laughing at the photo I snapped (above). Why does he look like a tiny adult? I sent it to my sister with the subtitle: “Do I have to do everything around here?” and added: “Why does he have the body language of an irritated parent?” She responded: “Zach, did you at least remember to get tomatoes at the grocery?!” Ha!

A few Magpies responded to the photo when I shared it on Instagram asking what I keep in my Church activity bag, and I thought I’d share my process, which has worked really well for us. For the past few years, I’ve kept a big tupperware bin of children’s activities in my studio closet. I will periodically add to the stash and remove depleted coloring books or work pads that my children have outgrown, but my rule is this: these items only come out when we are leaving the house (at Church, at a restaurant, at the doctor’s office, for my son while sitting on the sidelines at my daughter’s soccer games) and they go right back into the bin when we return home. This means that the children find near-constant delight in whatever is in my “activity bag,” because they do not have constant access to its contents, and I’m rotating what’s offered every trip. Just before we head out the door, I’ll decant a handful of activities into my LL Bean tote, toss in more snacks than I think we’ll need (still swear by these Beaba containers for cut fruit and small pours of goldfish, crackers, pretzels, etc — great for Church, too, because otherwise the littles are loudly ripping and crinkling the snack bags), and we’re off.

A few staples in the bin (and P.S. – a lot of these would make great little gifts or stocking stuffers for the holiday gifting season) —

01. Usborne sticker books. The absolute best. Highly detailed and whimsical — these keep my children busy for long periods of time. Lots of designs available!

02. This marker set. (Makes for easy transit, works even on airplanes/in car because each marker is secured in little prongs, and they never dry out because the children aren’t able to just leave them around sans caps.)

03. Alphabet and numbers pad. (My kids love, love these?)

04. These mini search and finds come with special pens — very popular. Something about the novelty pen makes it exciting.

05. Scratch and scribble sets.

06. These artfolios from a limited edition Isaac Mizrahi collab with State. I bought a few more awhile back while on sale — these make great gifts. The children love them!

07. Paint by Sticker books. My son particularly loves these — he’s excellent at puzzles / spatial games so these are right up his alley.

08. Usborne maze books. The Highlights maze and search-and-find books or also excellent, and for younger ones, Usborne offers wipe-clean format ones.

09. Ooly sketch pads. My children love having their own designated notebooks/pads, and the animal designs from Ooly are cute.

10. Ed Emberley drawing books. We’ve built up a library of these — my daughter LOVES them. She’s becoming quite the illustrator!

11. Boogie board.

12. Specific for restaurants / doctor’s office / anything with a wait: Uno, Go Fish, Eye Found It, Slamwich, Spot It. This Go Fish set is especially well designed for little ones.

13. On the snacks front: a mom in my son’s class sends in a “tower” of snacks each day using a contraption like this — brilliant! I’m also still loving these B. Box snack containers. They’re the perfect small size, easy to open, easy to clean, and they always invite me to pair a vegetable/fruit with something crunchy.

14. Mini dry-erase board.

15. These boat totes are the best for this kind of schlepping and storage, especially since they have the flat bottom and can stand upright on their own, and they aren’t too precious that you’ll scream when a marker marks up the side or snacks spill everywhere.

16. You’ve never seen humans more worried about their hydration than my children when they realize we forgot their water bottles. Doesn’t matter if we’re gone for an hour. They are suddenly the most parched people on the planet. These Yetis are still my favorite. Easy to fill, not a ton of parts to clean, keep water cold, do not spill. They are a tad heavy for the tiny ones though.

17. From the aforementioned game list!

18. Plus plus tiles. I actually keep ours in a zippered pouch for easier transport/cleaning up.

Not seen above, but worth a mention:

+Pipsticks stickers. I actually have a subscription and we receive new stickers each month! I dole them out carefully, and I always have a few in my bin.

+Water Wow deluxe books. They now strongly prefer these “deluxe” ones with the magnifying glass.

+When they were a bit younger, they also liked the Melissa and Doug puffy stickers, magnetic dress-up sets, and the Crayola mess-free sets, but I find they’re less interested in those nowadays.

+Specific for Church: my daughter loved (!) this magnetic Church book, and it was a good way for her to understand the places in the Church. And some of the WaterWows are religious!

P.S. Maintaining wonder as a parent.

P.P.S. Motherhood emotions can be such a mystery. Sometimes, still, I’m gobsmacked by the intensity of certain transitions.

P.P.P.S. Cute finds for little girls, plus coats for little ones.

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22 thoughts on “On-the-Go Children’s Activities.

  1. Such a valuable list, thanks! Our church has a selection of activity bags that kids can grab to use during the service. But we’ve actually been going activity-free (grimace-smile emoji). It’s challenging but we found that the activities (either from home or church) were causing (loud) disagreements and sharing issues and ended up being MORE disruptive than no activities at all. But I’ll be bookmarking this for road trips and restaurants! A neighbor gave us these coloring placemats that I keep in the car and have saved us at several meals out:

    Also…lol at the hydrated children! Mine are the same. I’m trying to encourage personal responsibility for water bottles with limited success. It ends up being like the Bluey pool episode (“I need my water!” “Well, did you bring it?” Etc).

    1. HAHA on the water front — yes! This is deeply familiar. They also GROAN (audibly) when they “have to carry their waters.” The misery!

      I admire your activity-less approach to Mass. In some ways I’ve created monsters who expect distraction during Mass, which is not the right message, but…? I don’t know. They never resist going to Mass; they are quiet; I am able to participate. I was talking with a friend about this. My objective for a long time has been to simply get to Church and make it a pleasant-ish experience for the kids, with enough space for me to pay attention and absorb something from the liturgy. Since my husband does not come to Church with us, I have (perhaps weakly!) leaned on activities and snacks to make my way through many Sunday mornings. In some ways, I like that my children are able to see me focused on the Mass, in a calm-ish head space, and that they are — if even passively — taking in SOMETHING from the Mass while also happily engaged. But I have been feeling like my daughter should be paying closer attention to the Mass. I love the way she lights up at the Our Father (which she knows by heart) and beams when she sees friends, teachers, staff at our Church (connected to her parochial school). I think I will begin to dial back activities in the coming weeks because I think we’re at a point where she’s capable of more attention and less distraction.

      Anyway – you didn’t ask, but just some thoughts on why I’ve landed where I have!


      1. Oh, totally! We would encourage activities ourselves if they kept our children happily entertained (instead of drawing our attention away to referee). Also should mention that our church has a children’s message outside the sanctuary during the sermon itself, so the girls don’t have to try to sit quietly through the entire service. And this is a good reminder for me to help my oldest memorize the Lord’s Prayer so she can participate more! She does well with the weekly memory verse for school so I think she could handle something longer.

  2. Love these types of lists – we always have a card game for a coffee shop etc but sometimes I just can’t face another round of Uno Flip! It never ends!

    The water bottle comment made me laugh. We live in Western Australia and kids go nowhere without water bottles. (I recently succumbed to a pink Frank Green for my daughter and I am still in sticker shock!). If we forget a water bottle, my daughter will often stress that she might ‘catch dehydration’! xx

    1. Haha! A friend recently called our children “the most hydrated generation.” It’s so true — and so good for them. (I swear I never drank water as a child!)


  3. I so love that you included Pema in this roundup!! I might also look at Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Jack Kornfield, if you’re not already familiar!
    Also… I’m having myomectomy surgery in January, I’ll be on bed rest for at least 3 weeks, and I’d love some recs for a few pj sets! Unfortunately Lake isn’t in the budget but hopefully you have some leads on “look for less”… you always do! 🙂 XO

    1. Sending you the BEST wishes for a straightforward surgery and speedy, easy recovery. For PJ sets — let me do some recon. Will add this to my next Ask Magpie!


  4. My family is heading to Hawaii next week and I added a few of these to my amazon cart to entertain my 4 year old. He is a big fan of usborne sticker books, the sticker by numbers activities and Spot it. Going to a restaurant or doctor’s appointment is so much easier now that he can color or entertain himself. I can’t wait for my 17 month old to be as easy to entertain… Thank you for the suggestions.

    1. Oh good! I’m so glad these arrived at the right time. Let me know what he thinks / if you discover any other great distractions. 17-mo-old entertainment is SO challenging, especially on a long flight. A mom friend of mine always recommended throwing in a bunch of random “real life” things for kids that age to play with — a pack of post-it notes, a couple of bandaids, etc. Sometimes simple things like that can preoccupy their time for awhile.

      Magpies, any other recs for 17-mo-old babies on long flights??


      1. We live in Australian and travel home to Ireland a lot – long flights! Longest we have done is 17hrs Perth – London.

        You may not be keen but the best option for us is something that would make her sleep. My GP gave me some baby antihistamine which worked so well. But understand that is not something everyone wants to do. We also paid for a seat for her – we just couldn’t imagine holding her for 17 hours straight! We brought her carseat onboard which was fantastic as she was used to being in that.

        Other than that, the ipad will be what works for the longest time (not including sleep!). Toys etc are great but the ROI can be small! It can be hit or miss.

        Do what you can and know, this too will pass, and you will be on holidays before you know it xxx

        1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts — so helpful I think — especially the note: “Do what you can and know, this too will pass, and you will be on holidays before you know it.” Amen amen!


  5. Obsessed with this post! Have added almost every item and inspired to create a separate bin for going out items!

    Would to know more about how your daughter started learning how to read and if you did anything special to encourage her at home. My daughter is catching on to CVC words and we try to practice her reading a book to us but some days it gets too complicated/fussy and I am always worried about transferring stress to her when it comes to ready bc I love it so so much! I don’t want to pressure her but somehow can’t stop myself from hovering over her haha! Sorry if that sounds crazy, would love to hear what worked for you and Mini!

    1. Hi Rayna! I totally get it. Two things that helped us create a low-stress approach to reading: 1) letting her read WHATEVER she wanted, and empowering her / giving her autonomy. We’d go to library and book store and exclaim happily about ANYTHING. Comics, baby books, what have you. Nothing off limits. This meant she got really into comics for awhile, and some of them were frankly awful but they grabbed her attention! 2) reading every night before bed. I’m sure you probably do this already, but I would really try to model reading by dragging my finger under the words, asking her if she wanted to try to read or sound out a page/word, etc.

      My mom also has done a virtual story time with all my nieces and nephews every Sunday for years now (!). It is such a labor of love on my mom’s part but I do think this has helped cement a love of books in our broader family. Maybe there is someone outside your immediate fam you can enlist to do this — a reading session once a month even, and can be virtual?

      Those are some early thoughts. I’m sure other Magpies have more!


  6. In the line of things for children, I’d love to hear how you set your table when your children eat with y’all! We are in process of transitioning our child from high chair to a booster seat, and I’m thinking I’ll need to put our tablecloths and nice placemats away until the littles are a bit older?? Are table runners in? Any suggestions on keeping a pretty table, the placemats they use, etc etc are welcome!

    1. Hi Ashley! We definitely retired our tablecloths and instead I create interest on the table by placing a BIG platter or tray in the center, flanking with a few taper candles, and then rotating in either fresh flowers, potted plants, dried flowers, etc in the center. Then I use wipeable placemats for everyone, including my husband and I. I love the upscale designs from Proper Table —

      You just wipe down with a sponge but the designs are elegant.


  7. Hello! So many great activities here. My children (ages 7 and 9) enjoy the Magnifikids booklets, especially my son who likes to check off every reading, prayer, and psalm as it happens. Magnificat (for adults) is superb, particularly the excerpts included for reflection. Have a nice day, Jen!

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