Keeping Kids Entertained Indoors
Updated: Mar 15
There are many reasons we sometimes have to stay indoor with kids and keep them entertained. Someone could be sick, its winter and very cold outside, its extremely hot outside, and the list goes on and on. The inspiration for this post is the COVID-19 Virus and the schools shutting down. Most schools have provided school work for the kids but that doesn't fill the entire day. If you are like me and would rather not have your kids stuck in front of a screen to fill the time, then we as parents need to come up with something for them to do. For this post I specifically focused on older kids bc they really aren't used to staying home. Do I think we will end up watching an extra movie here and there...Yes! No judgment. Just some tips to keep us all sane and our kids engaged in life around them.
While everyone else was stockpiling toilet paper, I was stockpiling all of my screen-free activities for kids.My goal is to make this time off of school an opportunity to have some personal time with the kids and work on some stuff we usually don't have time to complete. Living in Germany we have a lot of cold days in winter and not very many kids to play with on our street.We play a lot at home, so I've put together a list of some of my older kid's favourite things to do around the house....Let the stay vacation begin.
List of non-screen activities to entertain kids and keep mom sane
Create a fun stem project at home. Slice old pool noodles so they look like donuts and give the kids wood skewers and toothpicks to build with. This is a huge hit at our house. The same could be done with marshmallows and toothpicks or playdoh balls and toothpicks. Pool noodle pieces are fun bc u can really build some big structures. I stay away from the marshmallow and toothpicks because my kids just end up eating them and then I'm trapped in the house with them...yikes.
Table ping pong using paper plates and ping pong balls. If you have a table ping pong set...even better. We got a set that can attach to our dining room table from a friend. It has filled many winter days with my teenage son.
Use ping pong balls and red solo cups... to play beer pong. Just kidding. Set up cups with different points at different distances like a carnival game . Have kids take turns trying to get the balls in different cups. Have a little one working on addition be the score keeper.
Look up a "how to draw" object online and draw step by step with the kids. My kids love this. We usually pick something pretty simple that even the little kids can make. I let each kid pick the next thing we draw.
Ask your kids if there is a goal they have for this break. We do this at the start of summer each year. I ask if there's a project or goal they have for summer. My daughters have models that they got as presents that are very time consuming. Our goal is to try and finish all or some of them.
Nerf gun war. Enough said. Everyone in the house loves this activity. When it's over give your kids containers to collect bullets. The one with the most wins!
Have your teen make a meal. They have to give you the grocery list and make the entire thing (maybe with some help).
Decorate cookies together
Make homemade spa treatments at home. My kids all love to make face masks..even the boys. Pinterest, people!
Makeover Monday. Pull out old make up and let them go to town. When ur teen boy doesn't have friends around, you'd be surprised how much he loves to do makeup and paint his sisters nails.
Dance Party. Everyone gets a turn playing DJ and pick some songs.
Look up easy science experiments on Pinterest. If you don't have Pinterest, get it. I have to force myself to do science experiments with the kids because they love it. Once we are doing it, I'm glad I did.
Make window murals. Put painter's tape/masking tape around a large window in your home. Put a tarp or towels on the ground. Let the kids paint a scene. Kid paint is so easy to wash off. My big kids spend longer doing this than even my younger kids.
Go on long walks. It will get kids energy out and it's good for their overall health...mental and physical. If it's raining, let them splash in puddles, get muddy, and explore. Let them go off the beaten path, explore, or lead the way.
Set up a time to journal everyday. If you know me, you know I am quite obsessed with travel journals. Let the kids glue leaves they collected on walks. Draw a funny picture of mom yelling at them. Give them a creative outlet to express themselves.
Make comic strips. Give kids a theme to make a comic strip about. My oldest likes to be funny and draw so he will happily sit down to illustrate his humour.
Make theme days to spice things up. Ex: today we are going to read, draw, make moon themed snacks , and talk about the Moon. Put pillows all over the floor with blankets and act like space walkers.
Tattoo Tuesday. Have kids use washable markers to draw tattoos all over eachother. Take a picture and then throw those kids in the bath. To really stretch out this activity and let them explore their imaginative side, set up a chair and table as a tattoo salon. You can have kids sketch out pictures of tattoos they want to do as samples for customers. Put out some fake money and make a tattoo salon for them.
Never underestimate imaginative play with tween and older teens. My older kids are not the only teen and tweens who like to pretend. Before moving to Germany we lived on a street full of elementary age, tweens and teens. The kids would play imaginatively for hours. They played city, hotel, crime scene, military, school, fashion magazine, veterinary office, restaurant, weather reporters (this was during a hurricane), and the list goes on and on. When teens actually have down time, you'd be surprised how much they like to make up imaginary scenarios .It's still their way of understanding and acting out what they have learned about the world.
Hide and Go Seek. My teens will play this anytime and anywhere.
Pick wild flowers on a walk and teach your kids the lost art of flower pressing.
Make a spring nature collage. Go on a walk and have your kids pick up anything that reminds them of spring. Tape contact paper to a window and let them stick on their spring treasures. Later, have them pretend they are a professor talking about the first signs of spring (again pretending helps every time).
Card Games. "Uno" is very hot in our house right now. Everyone understands it and doesn't fight very much when they play it.
Lego table. Dump a bunch of legos on a table and have your kids build an imaginary city. This is my teen's go-to activity. He says he's, "helping the little kids build".
Make masking Chances are your kids already probably do that. Put a bunch of supplies on the ground and tell them to build a fort. This is an activity I actually don't do with them. They like to show me what they build but during the process my older kids do better negotiations among each other, if I am not around.
Use masking tape to create obstacle course around the house. Set it up between chairs in a criss cross pattern and make them squeeze through.
Go out in your garden or deck and paint nature. Let kids paint rocks, sticks or just a plain piece of paper. The best part is they are outside and not inside. String something up so they can display their art work. Have them hold a fake art opening and let them explain their piece. Be prepared to be tickled with what they say.
Build a Fort. Chances are you kids already probably do that. Put a bunch of supplies on the ground and tell them to build a fort. This is an activity I actually don't do with them. They like to show me what they build but during the process my older kids do better negotiations if I am not around.
Playdoh is not just for little kids. My tween and teen love playdoh (pssst and so do their friends that come over). Chances are people don't think to give it to them anymore so they get really excited when you present them with it. Heres the thing: I invested in playdoh for each kid. One of the things my older kids get frustrated about is when the little kids mix the colors and they don't get their own control of their creations...mostly due to the little kids. My kids each have their own set of colors. I write their first initially on each lid so they know who's is who's. That's also helpful during clean up time because it's easy to spot who didn't clean up their stuff...that's if the siblings didn't already tattle to you about it. They all share the random playdoh tools. Let them use plastic utensils and stuff from the kitchen if you don't have playdoh tools.
Teach them a new skill. Maybe teach them to change a tire, post a letter, trim the bushes, chop fire wood, change a lightbulb.
Ask older kids for help around the house. I have my big kids help with my little kids. Each know how to bath the little kids, go over reading, help them make a snack, read them books while I cook dinner, brake up an argument, take them for walks...If you need something done, have them do it. Show appreciation afterwards and it makes them feel good.
Play with your pets. Have them try to teach a skill to your dog or cat. My kids are quite cat obsessed so our cats are a huge source of entertainment.
Have them make an obstacle course in the garden . Give them a timer and let them time eachother. It doesn't have to be fancy. They have imaginations. Tell them "this part here is lava your walking over"...which brings me to my kid's favorite game.
Play "Hot Lava"! I'm not sure if others have an actual name for this but we call it "hot lava". We usually play it outside and some says, "cement is hot lava in 5, 4, 3 ...". Everyone has to run and find something to stand on that is not lava. This is a huge hit. My dark children especially love when someone actually gets stuck in lava.
Donation day. Have kids go though clothes and toys and get rid of things they don't want or need. My kids are very good about getting rid of stuff they actually don't use. Let's get organised. I always say to the younger kids, "let's look for some things that you don't use , so we can give them to kids that don't have anything". This always makes them empathetic and willing to accurately give up stuff they don't use.
Come up with a dance or play. This is more popular when you have multiple kids around but you will suddenly notice how opinionated your non-dancing teen can be when it comes to choreographing a dance sequence for a show. Of course you are the audience. If they get into it, this can at least buy you 30 minutes of getting a task done while they busily work at their craft.
Make a proper movie night. Have them spend the afternoon making movie flyers and taping them up around the house. My kids like to make tickets and a ticket counter to buy them . Have them make the snacks for the movie. Have them wear dress up clothes like it's a famous movie premier. Ok, I will say, my teen doesn't dress up but he does love making the snacks and poster.
Balloon tennis. Blow up some balloons and have the kids whack them with paper plates or inflatable bats. They can also do this outside. If your balloon hits the grass and pops, you are out!
Invest in some non-screen activities. I know it's not Christmas or birthday but I think it's important to stock up on few helpers that will keep kids entertained without screens. Some of my kids favourites: Hama beads or Perler beads, sticky straws, sticker books, play doh, plus plus, legos, necklace kits, rainbow looms (pull those out from a few years back), puffy paints (yes! 90s style), magnetic tiles, building play, tinker toys, mad libs, advanced colour by number, "how-to draw" books,
Have an afternoon tea. Brake out the mad libs or conversation starter cards and chat. My older kids love tea and they will happily sit to chat.
Put small plastic toys in ice trays, fill with water and freeze. Pop them out and let kids chisel away until they get the piece out. Who doesn't like to hammer away at something
Order some seed packets online and have kids grow some window flowers or plants. I am actually a terrible green thumb but my kids love it.
Pull out those amazon boxes and have them make a diorama. Let them use lego pieces or playmobil on the inside. My kids German schools actually did this once and we loved it so much, that we continue to do it.
Big boxes? are some tunnels or fake cars.
Pull out jinga and have them build with the pieces.
Paint sugar cubes like bricks and have the kids build brick house models. I like to paint them first bc this helps prevents them from trying to snack on the while they create. I said "help".
Pull out some old magazine and have them make a collage.
Find a classic novel to read to teens aloud. Pour some tea and get cozy. I usually give the little. kids a quiet puzzle in the same room for them to do while the listen. I've been waiting to read "Oliver" to the kids for awhile so I am going to attempt that. If you've never read Harry Potter to your kids, this is a great time. My older kids have read it before but they always sneak into the room when I am reading to the little kids. Reading around to older kids is still something they enjoy and it is actually really good for them.
Write thank-you notes, old postcards, or letter s to friends and family. Ok, this really isn't my teen's favourite thing to do, but once he sits down and works on them, he enjoys it. With four kids and very generous extended family, there's usually someone in our family that needs to write a thank you note from time to time. In order to include everyone in the activity, I call it "let's write to someone we love". With how much we travel, we always have some postcards that were never done. Just us? My little kids love writing those and the Nanas' never care if we visited these destination years ago. They just like hearing from their grandkids and it improves kids writing skills.
Have kids make a poster version bucket list to present to the family. They can use magazines, markers, stickers to illustrate their dreams.
Have kids write a book, They can add chapters every day. You can also keep an ongoing chapter books that each kid takes turn each day writing a chapter. They can get pretty funny and randome. For little kids, have them tell you a story and you write it down for them in their chapter. You tween and teen will probably think the little guys are funny.
Make a cozy book nook for everyone read their books together. My nook is often my bed and my kids like to crawl in with their own book and read along side me.
Tips for Implementing screen-free activities in your day
Have a schedule for school work, exercise, and screen time. If kids know what to expect everyday, they will be less stressed and less likely to say they are bored.
The less screen time, the more you will find your kids are better at entertaining themselves. After my kids watch tv or play on the iPad, it takes them awhile to remember how to entertain themselves.
Plan some type of exercise everyday.
Schedule screen time near the end of the day as a reward for cooperating earlier in the day. I'm all about the bribe. If it's scheduled and you stick to it, kids are less likely to ask all day to do something on a screen.
Give yourself some grace. If parents are happy, kids are happy. Don't feel like you have to be activity planner all day. It is ok if you let your kids have technology time. You don't need me to tell you that. We are all doing the best we can.
Organize crayons, glue stick, tape , scissors, pencils, coloured pencils, markers, mini staplers, erasers, rulers, sketch pad, travel journal , and pens. My kids each have their own set of tools, just like at school. Even with their name on it. This keeps everything organised and I feel like those are enough tools to create a lot of masterpieces'. I have some extra are supplies and activities that I keep organised but this helps give.them some responsibility for they stuff and keeps the fighting down when they can't find something.
Learn when people need space, including yourself. Chance are your teen or tween aren't used to being around you and siblings all day. Nor are you. Encourage your kids to tell everyone , nicely, when they need some space. It's also ok to tell older kids, "I just need space for a few minutes to think about some things".
To get kids excited about an activity, you might have to join them. Sometimes my kids don't need very much encouragement and will get started with an acitivty and entertain themselves. Sometimes they aren't even willing to try something until they see me sit down. When they are grumpy and not willing to do a "fun" activity, I stay calm, sit down and do the activity anyways. I'm basically saying, "it's ok if you don't want to do this activity, but that is where my focus is at this time . You are more than welcome to find something else to do (screen-free)"Usually, my grumpy kid will casually get involved and turn their grumpy attitude around.
What do you and your kids like to do at home for fun? Please Share
I'll be posting on my instagram Reservations4Six what we are up to everyday for this forced staycation. Thanks for reading,