Fortunately, I finally struck on an idea that works well for our family. We've even used the idea for giving get well gifts when one of our little friends has the misfortune of a long hospital stay or at home recuperation from an illness. The secret is the “tummy ache basket.” It earned its name from my then 4-year old who was stuck in bed for two days with a tummy ache. I threw a few items in a basket and set it by his bed for him to explore. The contents only come out when a child is sick, so it's the only time they get to play with the items. The contents have evolved as the boys have grown, but the basket provides a bit of excitement and anticipation when they are feeling under the weather.
The contents of the basket are tailored to the individual, but here are the items in ours to provide some inspiration:
Puzzle books and fun pens. I have rainbow pens, gel pens, and pencils with silly toppers. These work best for older kids, but younger kids may enjoy a coloring book.
Yarn. A couple of balls of chunky yarn in bright colors are just right for little hands to finger knit. The basket also contains a small lap loom for weaving. One of my boys made a 21-foot long finger knit chain once that has been a garland on our Christmas tree ever sense.
Build your own playsets. This is a favorite item. I put together kits containing metal cookie tins, adhesive-backed felt and foam, wooden shapes and plain wood peg people along with a small set of paints. The boys create their own playset in the tin then decorate the people with paint and felt. Just right for crafting quietly in bed followed by a long imaginative play session.