Play Advice · The Educated Parent

How to Extend Any Activity

So you spent 20 minutes putting together an awesome activity for you child. You know they will love it. You took your time plotting and placing things just right. You introduce your child to the mind blowing activity you have for them…they play for 6 minutes and then declare they are done.

Cue the tears mama! This is such a discouraging situation. Every mother on earth has been there. I myself will encounter this sometimes. But I have some tricks up my sleeve. I call them EXTENSIONS. I rarely have an activity where I don’t use one of these ideas.

So when planning an activity make sure you read over these tips so you can trick your trickster into engaging longer. Next time your munchkin declares the activity over, or they are bored, call on your inner Extender Super Powers and keep the play time going!

How toExtendANYActivity

Don’t forget to click below to get your own printable reminding you what extender powers you have at your disposal!!


  • Start Small – This seems simple but I think a lot of activity planners still don’t start simple enough. Children can get overwhelmed just as we do. If you have planned a fantastic sensory activity, say slime, and you put out tongs, a spoon, 12 toys to burry in the slime, a magnify glass and a drink of water you might notice your child bouncing from one item to the next but not really enjoying ANY of them. It is like the chaos of Christmas morning. If I were to smart small I might only put out the slime. I’d give my munchkin a good 10 minutes quality time with part of the activity and then start introducing other goodies.
  • Ask Discovery Questions – When you notice your child starting to lose interest in what they are doing start asking questions. The question type is important. If you ask yes or no questions very little ideas are created in your munchkins head. Questions like, “Do you like it?” or “Is it soft?” are great questions they just won’t get much critical thinking or creativity happening. They don’t spark any new ideas or excitement. Questions that prompt your child to think ahead or solve a problems are the best questions to ask if you want to extend an activity.
  • Add Surprises – Our children, just like most people, love a new twist on an old idea.  This can be a switch in environment (inside to outside, change up the play room for an activity, bring a table to a different room) or an unusual tool for a usual activity (a cleaning sponge in the bath, celery and carrots as the paintbrush, kitchen spatulas and mixers for outside play). Spend a minute before an activity and think of one thing that might make them pause when they see it.
  • Follow Your Child’s Lead – This can be very hard for the controller mother. I know this because I am a bonafide control freak. Often we set up an activity and think. “Oh I’m so excited to see how cute this craft turns out.” Then our children enter the area and we suddenly have all 5 colors of paint on one section of the paper and our dreams for a beautiful finished product are gone. I am not against a few kind suggestions. “Do you think the other side of the paper is lonely? Should you put paint over there instead of more on the pile you have?” Maybe this will be a great discovery question and things will go your way. Most likely it won’t. THAT IS OKAY! Think of the things they are discovering. Color mixing, the process of adding colors, the pride in something they have done on their own, even just being mesmerized by the process. Often in an activity (Especially art I have noticed) your child will take the activity in a whole different direction. If you allow that to happen your child will be MUCH more invested in the process because it is there idea. I have also found that I end up adding different tools or items to an activity if I am letting them lead. A child will say, “I need to move this thing…” Then I will appear with a plastic spoon and they carry on with their wonderful plan. That is how you let your child lead.
  • Add a Goal or Mission – This one is SO important.  Children love to be working towards something.  This can be as simple as putting a bucket out for them to put all the little toys you have hidden in the bean sensory bin in.  If this doesn’t cut it for your child, get a cupcake pan and hide the number of toys that coordinates to the cupcake pan in the beans so they know how many more they have to find as they go.  You know your child, so think about what gets them REALLY excited. Sometimes a challenge mid activity can be a great extension. “I wonder can you find enough pinecones to build a bridge across that ditch you have dug?” The best sight is to see that glint in your child’s eye that says, “Mission Accepted Mom!”


  • Put All Your Props Out – THIS IS HUGE PEOPLE! Game changer. Never give your child all the toys at once. Save some surprises. This goes hand in hand with Start Small. If you are doing play dough save over half the tools for later. The play dough itself is exciting. Then as your child asks for something or their attention starts to wane you can introduce more items.
  • Say Good Job – Although it is so natural to want to praise your child for all the accomplishments along the way during an activity, this can communicate the wrong message.  Often children take comments such as, “Good job,” to mean, “You have completed the task!”  I have seen this happen many times and EVERY time I want to kick myself in the rear end. When in doubt keep your praise to your self and let them be busy. Also children can be very much “in the groove” until interrupted by a Mom’s praise.  Let your kids play without judgement (good or bad).
  • Aim for Cutsie Only – Activities can feel very overwhelming when we are doing them with an “end” in goal.  Often, for moms, we are inspired by cute or beautiful or clever looking projects.  We get excited and overeager with our expectations and can forget who we are working with and who we are doing it FOR.  Cute can be fun for certain projects, but remember that the process is ALWAYS more important than the finished product.
  • Give Up on a Good Activity – If your activity is not going well it can usually be fixed.  This does not mean that you have to continue it that minute.  Maybe a toddler needs some food or a nap first.  Maybe a mom needs to lower her expectations.  Maybe you both need a new environment, but there is always a way to change one or two aspects to extend the fun and learning.

The Extra Super Mom Mile

  • Find Your Inner Child and Play With Them – VERY simple. I often use activities so I can do the dishes or enjoy a moment to read a book. I love a little quiet time. I often remind myself that my children LOVE when mom wants to play with them.
  • Have a Learning Goal You and Your Child Want to Learn More About – If there is ever an opportunity to create an activity around something your child wants to learn more about you will find a lot more engagement out of it. If your child has a lot of questions about clouds you might plan a shaving cream activity outside where you try to create different clouds you see in the sky. If your child asks how cars work you might want to make your own cardboard car and talk about the different things it needs to run. With play your child is always learning but having a learning goal can help you child become even more invested.


To help you remember these simple tips we put together a simple printable for you. Take our tips and hang them in the playroom or on the fridge to help you remember what to do next time your activity feels like a flop.


Click here to print your own HOW TO EXTEND printable


Click here for a smaller version


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