The other day I got the chance to preview the galleys for fantastic Joel Henrique's upcoming book, Made to Play. They were awesome (he is a genius, by the way), and I can't wait to get my hands on the actual book. This was one of the ideas we played with immediately that couldn't be simpler: draw stick figures, cut fabric clothes, play. I would say that we got a good twenty minutes out of this activity, which is saying something for the four year old.
Speaking of which: my social little four year old has absolutely no desire to ever, ever, ever play by herself. When I put her in quiet time, she would rather stand by the door waiting for me to come get her (shouting, "is quiet time over yet?" every thirty seconds) than entertain herself. Consequently we do not do quiet time very much any more because all that yelling from her makes me feel grumpy.
This is in stark contrast to the seven year old, who very much like your seven year old, is kind of like a child MacGyver. She can find a baby wipe and a spaghetti noodle under the table in the kitchen and in seconds devise an exciting game that most likely has to do with greek mythology, romantic love, and looking at herself in the mirror (her three favorite things right now) and we won't see her for hours. If I'm really lucky the four year old might get assigned a small role in this game (say, as the spaghetti noodle holder in the corner), which starts out being a great thing but then usually ends up with the four year old yelling: "but I wanted to be the mom!" (reflecting a serious misunderstanding of the game, which infuriates her sister even more).
Oh well. Lots of love,