Coloring books are the easy way out
Think of coloring book alternatives.
You want to keep your kid busy, but not in front of the TV. You want a drawing activity. After all, drawing helps improve important dexterity skills. (Whereas coloring - holding a crayon in your fist and scribbling - might not.)
Since this is a children's books site, it probably won't surprise you that I have an idea for combining a drawing activity with reading.
Go grab a favorite picture book
It should be one your child is quite familiar with. For this activity, you hold onto the picture book, while your child gets handed a whole bunch of blank paper.
Read the first page of the picture book to your child. Tell your child that his/her job is to go now and draw a picture the words describe.
Instruct your child that you want to see a beautiful picture with lots of detail. No quick scribbles.
Whether your child tries to draw the picture from the book from memory or comes up with a new picture of his/her own invention...it's all good. Because with this coloring book alternative children are developing
Just as importantly, you're helping your child learn how to visualize. As your child grows older and moves from picture books to chapter books, that's important.
Children who picture in their mind the images from a book are much more likely to become enthusiastic readers, don't you think?
Remember to praise your child's artwork...
...but don't be afraid to ask for more detail. When a page is finished to your and your child's satisfaction, it's time to move on to the next page.
Once your child finishes with the book (it certainly doesn't have to be completed all in one session), piece it together in some fashion that it can be kept for posterity.
And don't forget to give your child the pay-off of reading the book accompanied by his/her illustrations!
If your child enjoys this project as much as I hope...
...you may want to take it to the next level. There's a special page on this site that walks you through the process of writing a picture book yourself for your child to illustrate.
Kidpix - an alternative to online coloring
Have you heard of KidPix? It's children's drawing software that will blow your (and your kid's) mind. It's about a thousand times more creative and intensive than fill-the-space-with-color coloring.
My daughter goes to a great school, and they use KidPix intensively. Not only does it encourage creativity, but it encourages a mastery of valuable computer skills.
Want to know more? Check out my Kidpix page.
Dance Mat Typing
Thanks go to my daughter's computer lab teacher for this one. When she was in kindergarten, he searched out a learning-to-type site for the kids that wouldn't overwhelm them with advertising and pop-ups.
What he found was Dance Mat Typing. I've seen the kids in action with it, and wow. They love it. It's playful. It talks to them. It guides them.
If your child's a pre-reader, learning to type certainly helps with learning letters. And if your child is already reading, well, in this day and age there's no such thing as too young for typing.
Dance Mat Typing can give your kid a neat head start. That's a lot more than some online coloring page is going to do.
Also, if you find yourself coming up short on activities to entertain your child, know that the popular children's magazines are filled with activities and games.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.