One of the things I love most about being a parent is watching relationships bloom between my three children and their extended family, especially their grandparents! Over the years, we’ve learned that visits with grandparents are fun, but time spent with young kids in adult homes goes much more smoothly when they’re occupied with entertaining, engaging toys and activities.
At my in-laws’ house, for example, there’s a mud kitchen in the backyard, a room upstairs filled with books and imaginative play props, and a closet full of curious odds and ends, lovingly collected by my mother-in-law throughout the years from various shops. All these different spaces provide opportunities for my in-laws to play with their grandchildren, as well as hours of fun, independent playtime for the kids when they visit their grandparents.
Though my in-laws’ house has some great play areas specifically designated for children, I understand that not everyone is able to devote this amount of space and resources to creating a play area in their home for infrequent family visits. I do, however, believe there are a few small things anyone can do in their home to make young children feel welcome (and stay entertained).
First, designate a kid-friendly area for your grandchildren to play. It’s important to identify a space that’s safe, easy to access, and within view (or earshot) of adults, depending on the ages of the children. It doesn’t have to be an entire room or even a space visibly devoted to just children’s toys. My mom, for example, has a beautiful antique cupboard in the corner of her living room that fits in well with her decor and displays colorful dishes, but it also stores toys and books behind the lower cupboard doors. The location of this cupboard is ideal as it’s easily accessible to the kids, and it’s in the area of her house where we tend to gather most of the time. The grandchildren can play and have fun in a safe space, and the adults can casually supervise (or jump into a fun game!) as needed.
Once you’ve identified the best space in your house for kids to play, think about what toys and activities you’ll want to provide. There’s really no need to go out and buy a bunch of new toys. Some of my kids’ favorite things at their grandparents’ houses were actually toys that belonged to my husband and I when we were kids! A few tried and true favorites that span multiple ages include books, wooden blocks of various sizes and shapes, an assortment of Legos, board games, Play-Doh, and/or paper and pencils to color with. As long as you have even a small variety of quality toys and fun activities that can grow with the children, they’ll be happy.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of a bit of a mess! I know from personal experience the high level of chaos small children can create in a very short amount of time. This is not to say that kids need to be given free reign of your house to do whatever they wish, but any amount of playtime will invariably create a mess, so it’s important to keep in mind that this is completely normal (and temporary!). Taking the time to clean up the play space afterwards can and should be expected with kids of all ages. That being said, if there’s a particular activity they want to do that you know will be especially messy (painting, for example), then feel free to send them outside and let them create to their hearts’ content in an area that won’t leave you needing to wipe down the walls afterwards.
In the end, you can use these guidelines to create a space in your house as basic or elaborate as you’d like for your grandchildren when they come to visit. The most important thing is that everyone is enjoying themselves, and that you’re right there creating memories alongside them!
Lauren Swan is a freelance writer