For a long time I've struggled with making dinner in the evenings. We all eat together at around 6pm when my husband arrives home from work, and so from around 5.15pm I need to be making lunchboxes and dinner. Both children are tired, getting hungry, and generally one of them is screaming. I find it all very stressful, and although things have improved over the last few months it's still a struggle. Harry would probably quite happily sit down and do something quietly, but Mia won't sit still and she's always interrupting what he's doing.
So I've put together five boxes, one for each week day evening, packed with things that will hopefully keep them entertained while I'm busy. Each plastic box is about the size of a shoebox, and they are all filled with things that we had around the house anyway, I didn't buy anything new. I collect activity books from restaurants and I put aside small things that they receive in party bags. Several of the boxes have a small Lego kit in which Harry has been given at some point.
I do still need to be involved with helping them, for example filling up Aquadoodle pens or blowing up balloons, but there is usually something new to them in there that keeps them occupied, at least for a few minutes. I set a few rules - the boxes are to be played with on the kitchen table only, everything goes back in the box at dinnertime, no fighting over the contents and not too much input from me. I also only get one out if they are not occupied with anything else.
Here are some of the things that I've put in the boxes:
Aquadoodle mats and pens
Colouring books and small packs of crayons
Mini activity books
Letter and number flashcards
Stickers and coloured paper to stick on
Small Lego kits
Simple craft kits
Small bottles and dried pasta
Beads and string
I have also kept a few things in reserve to add into the boxes to keep it fresh, and I'll probably also put some seasonal things in there too. It has worked really well, there is great excitement when I produce a box with some forgotten toys in, and it's a great way to rotate some of those smaller toys and activities.