How to Keep Kids Busy - Ages ~7 and Up
My niece and nephew love to visit me on the weekends (And my sister is more than happy to get them out of her hair), unfortunately I don't have too many toys around my apartment, so I sometimes have to get creative with ways of keeping them entertained. This is a list of activities that should be appropriate for children approximately 7 and older, depending on the child of course, and has some indoor and some outdoor activity suggestions.
The Basics: Ball and Chalk
This seems pretty basic but I was amazed that when I visited my niece and nephew at their house they didn't have either of these! I was very perplexed, but regardless, these were the first two things I bought when they visited me. A kickball is a pretty self-explanatory 'toy', it can be used as a "super" soccer ball, for foursquare, silly basketball (I fashion my own net out of whatever I have around, a round laundry basket and a tree works wonders), or see what games they can come up with on their own, I remember playing "Crazy Shotgun", which was basically free-for-all dodgeball and might be a bit more dangerous than you'd like, but kids will be kids. Chalk is also one of the basics because without it games are much harder to create (making foursquare lines with a rock isn't as easy as it sounds). Not to mention its' use for silly drawings, hopscotch and simple cleanup (wait for rain!).
I was lucky enough to have some Chalkboard spray paint laying around and it really saved the day when it started raining. We started playing a cross between Draw Something and Pictionary and the kids had a blast. There's also a dry-erase board paint out in stores, I think kids like using dry-erase more but I like the versatility of chalk and didn't want the extra expense of the markers.
Chalkboard Surface Creation
One of the most enjoyable things for my niece and nephew was making a Volcano Experiment. Tools needed: Christmas tree holder (A water bottle with some cardboard works just as well), newspaper, markers or some type of paint ,baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring. I asked them to color the newspaper so that it looked like a volcano and helped glue it to the tree holder. Then I told them about the super secret experimentation process (this works out really well if you can put the baking powder/vinegar in cool looking containers, like an olive oil dispenser or a jar with a turkey baster, for example). Have them put some red/orange/yellow (or any color they want) in the vinegar. I'm sure most of you know that when you mix these two you get a big mess, so take it outside, put the baking powder in the volcano base and have the kids conduct the experiment!
Another fun experiment is the "Rubber Egg" experiment, this one is a fairly long process, but pretty cool! You'll need a raw egg, white vinegar, and a jar. Simply put the egg in the jar and cover with vinegar and use a lid or plastic wrap to seal it. After about a day or two change the vinegar. Check back in a couple of days and you should find yourself with a shell-less egg. Alternatively (If you like playing with eggs!) you can look up "Egg in a bottle" on Google and find another neat trick to keep the kid(s) entertained for a little while.
Another fun and easy activity is to Google paper airplane designs and see what kind/how many cool planes the kids can make. I always liked contests as a kid, so I usually try to have a contest, but I usually make it an everybody wins type game. You can also build your own obstacle course for the kids to try out, it should be hard enough for the kids to take a few tries but not impossible. Some ideas for obstacles include tossing a ball (or stick, roll of socks, rock, etc.) through a hoop, or perhaps in a certain area, a rope swing, stone hop, anything you come up with will probably work out great.
Also, never forget the simple games like tag, hide and seek, or lava monster!
Colors bath water, might stain washcloths - Check Wal-mart first for cheaper prices
I'm fortunate to live in an apartment complex with a pool and near the beach as well, which can keep children busy pretty much all day. If you're landlocked and without a pool you should check out if there are any springs nearby. This is more of a family event for me, but if there's one near your town you can definitely have a great time with just you and your (favorite ;) )kids.
Hoses are also a great way to keep children busy with minimal supervision (depending on different circumstances). One cool way to have some water fun is if you have a squirt gun and some bubbles. One person blows bubbles while the other has target practice. I recommend a cheap dollar store squirt gun because it's bound to get broken. I've found that it might not work without the right...excitement factor! A relatively new concept to me is colored bubbles, they have all kinds of colored bubbles that don't stain and simply rub off. This makes 'target practice' much easier, more fun and more interesting. (If you decide to get some colored bubbles I recommend "Zubbles", they come out much easier than the Crayola alternative).
If all else fails you can have them build their own fort using blankets, pillows, sheets, and miscellaneous cushions. They might need some help, but otherwise this activity is great because it requires little supervision (If you're not worried about potentially destroying a tidy house for the sake of the fort). If you have a tent then you can set it up in the yard (in my case on the front porch =D) or maybe you can go camping! I live in a somewhat urban area but there are a few nature walks around my town and the kids have always enjoyed exploring the trails. You could also try out some board games to pass the time.
I only have these responsibilities for maybe a day or two at a time and I know some of you have full-time kid duties, so I'll add more activities as I think of them, and if you have any to add please don't hesitate to comment!