With kids on winter break, you’ve probably already started hearing that familiar refrain, What can I do?
And at some point, you’ll probably want to find an activity that does NOT involve screen time.
Here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing. As you browse these, you’ll have to keep in mind your children’s ages and skill levels, how well they work/play together, and how much supervision they need (and you have time for). Use our list as a starting point, and adapt as needed for your own family.
We’ve tried to list plenty of things that only require common household items, but we’ve also suggested inexpensive kits to order online.
Activities for kids and families stuck at home
Remember that during these days of isolating at home, you can still go outside! If you have a yard, why not use it!
♦ Order some sidewalk chalk from Amazon (or Michael’s, or Staples) and draw pictures on the driveway. Start over again after it rains.
♦ If you have enough people in your family, teach the kids to play Kick The Can.
♦ Draw a Hopscotch grid and play a few games.
♦ Order sunflower seeds, plant them, and watch them grow. The seeds are large enough for little ones to handle easily, and they sprout quickly indoors — then you can transplant outside.
♦ Give very young children a paintbrush and a bucket of plain water and let them “paint” the side of the house.
♦ Wash the car together.
♦ If it’s warm enough, run through the sprinkler with your clothes on.
♦ When they’re bored with the sprinkler, have a water balloon fight.
♦ Have a scavenger hunt — or an Easter egg hunt or Treasure Hunt — in the yard. You can just hide objects, or incorporate clues into the game.
♦ Jump rope! Teach your kids some of the old jumping rhymes you remember, or find some through Google or YouTube. With just two people, you can tie one end of a rope (clothesline works well) to a railing and let one person turn while the other jumps. You can even learn to jump Double Dutch, if you dare!
♦ Play tag, if you have enough people. Try Freeze Tag for a new variation.
♦ Pack a picnic meal and sit on a blanket outside to eat it. For little kids, this will be quite a novelty. They can help with making sandwiches, carrying the basket, choosing a spot, spreading the blanket, etc.
♦ Play Follow the Leader in the yard or while walking down the street.
♦ Lead a nature walk in your own yard, or while walking on your street. Tell children the names of plants, bugs, and birds you know.
♦ Blow bubbles, with liquid you make out of dish soap. You can make bubble wands by cutting rings out of plastic lids.
♦ Camp out on the deck overnight, using an air mattress and sleeping bags.
Think about the things you do together over the holidays and let that inspire you.
♦ Bake cookies and decorate them. You can even package them up and leave them at a neighbor’s doorstep as a fun surprise.
♦ Make paper chain garlands and hang them up to decorate the living room. If you don’t have construction paper, cut up a magazine. Try out some of these fancy versions — like garlands of shamrocks or hearts.
♦ Cut out fancy snowflakes from printer paper. It’s always fun, no matter the season.
♦ Make a birthday cake with candles. Let each child take a turn blowing them out.
♦ Have you seen the news stories about people decorating their front windows and front yards, to bring a little joy to others in these challenging times? Go for it! Get the kids to help string up holidays lights or create bright decorations.
♦ Create handmade greeting cards or out-of-season Valentines to send to grandparents and other family members you cannot visit right now.
Teach your kids something new that they can do or practice on their own. Some ideas include:
♦ Juggling — start with scarves, which fall more slowly. Order a book, or find resources online.
♦ Trying out origami. You can buy a kit online that includes paper and instructions. Or use whatever paper you have (you’ll have to cut it into perfect squares first) and print out instructions you find online.
♦ Making stamp art by cutting potatoes into “stamps.” This was all the rage when we were kids!
♦ Learning to play Solitaire.
♦ Learning to do Cat’s Cradle with string.
♦ Learning to use a yo-yo, and to master new tricks. (We suggest ordering a yo-yo and book of instructions online.)
♦ Writing in a journal every day. Kids can jot down notes or make lists about what they did, how they felt, and why life is different now. Remember, they are living through a pandemic that is a historic first.
♦ Playing those old hand-clapping games you learned on the playground. Little girls love these — they’re ideal for sisters.
Don’t forget about artsy-craftsy ideas, even if you think you’re not artistic.
♦ Gather leaves and flower petals outdoors, then arrange on wax paper to make a design. Have an adult cover with more wax paper, then put newspaper on top and carefully iron the wax paper together.
♦ Make “cathedral windows” with little bits of colored paper arranged and ironed between wax paper. Let kids hang their creations on their own bedroom windows.
♦ Make a collage by cutting up pictures from a magazine. Or cut up really small pieces from the pictures and make a mosaic.
♦ Decorate Easter eggs. You can order a kit from Amazon, or use the method you prefer.
♦ Make string art by “drawing” a design on paper with glue, and then putting yarn on the glue.
♦ Make paper dolls and dress them with scraps of fabric.
♦ Make paper airplanes and fly them.
♦ Write letters to each other in “invisible ink” (lemon juice) and then hold them up to heat source (we used to use incandescent light bulbs) to make the words appear.
♦ Make a flip book. Remember those? Draw a picture in the corner of each page of a drawing pad, changing the picture just a little bit from page to page, so it looks like the figure is moving.
♦ Make tiny mason jar terrariums with moss and other small plants you find in the yard.
♦ Make snow globes. Instructions here.
♦ Make puppets from lunch bags or socks. Decorate with felt, yarn, stickers, etc.
♦ Create Mardi Gras floats out of shoeboxes and have a parade. I did this with my niece for her Kindergarten assignment.
♦ Take turns posing and drawing portraits of each other, then take photos of each person with their portrait.
♦ Make easy carnations out of tissues or tissue paper. Add them to the Easter bonnet craft, or create a bouquet. I loved doing this when I was a child!
♦ Let kids decorate a wall. There are several ways to do this. You can let them draw with colored pencils and figure you’ll paint over it later. Or you can tape up large sheets of paper and let them loose.
♦ Let kids use painters tape to create a design on walls or floors. It is easily removed.
♦ Decorate white t-shirts with fabric markers. This set on Amazon is child-safe and non-toxic.
♦ Make bean bags out of fabric scraps. If you don’t sew, you can use old socks. Fill them with rice or dried beans, if you can spare these grocery staples, and tie them closed with dental floss.
♦ Out of coloring books? Print free coloring sheets you find online.
♦ Make tie-dyed t-shirts. (Instructions here.)
♦ Repurpose all of those boxes your deliveries are coming in. Let kids use them to build a fort or a robot. Or help them create a car, a rocket ship, or a boat — you can help with the cutting. Little kids can decorate a box creatively to use as a toybox or storage in their own room.
Play indoor games and other activities that incorporate movement.
♦ Have a dance party. Teach each other new steps or make some up. Jitterbug, anyone?
♦ Do the Hokey-Pokey.
♦ Teach teens to play Charades as a family activity.
♦ With kids too young to play classic Charades, have them pantomime an animal while everyone else guesses what it is.
♦ Give the kids a paper bag filled with random objects and have them create a skit together, using all the objects. (Or have them make up a story.)
♦ Have a “snowball” fight with balled-up, crumpled paper. I have teacher friends who let kids do this to work off some excess energy.
♦ Play Simon Says.
♦ Play a simple toss game with bean bags you make or buy. Choose the size of the target container (and the distance kids must stand back) according to age and skill level.
♦ If you have bubble wrap around, let kids pop the bubbles or stomp on them.
♦ Blow up an air mattress and use it for a trampoline.
♦ Put on a fashion show or costume costume. Let kids put together an outfit from their own closet and show it off by walking down the “runway” while you cheer them on.
♦ Play Hide ‘n Seek. People can hide, or you can hide a stuffed animal and let the kids search.
♦ Keep a balloon up in the air for as long as possible, without letting it touching the ground.
Choose from these miscellaneous activities that include the obvious choices.
♦ Do jigsaw puzzles together.
♦ Play board games or Jenga.
♦ Teach your kids classic card games. Play gin rummy for pennies.
♦ Have a singalong. Let everyone have a turn picking a song.
♦ Pick a song you loved when you were growing up and teach everyone the words. If you don’t have it in a current playlist, you can find it on Spotify.
♦ Make a time capsule and hide it in the attic or bury in the yard. Let kids decide what to put in it. Talk about what times are like now and what people in the future might think when they find the capsule.
♦ Paint each others fingernails and toenails.
♦ Paint each others faces. You can order face paints, or just use lipstick and eyeliner that you have on hand.
♦ Play Hangman. (Or Tic-Tac-Toe for little kids.)
♦ Look through old family photo albums together. Try to explain the clothing and hairstyles of the day.
♦ Build a fort in the living room by throwing some blankets over a folding table. Give them a flashlight and let them hang out there while you try to get some work done.
♦ Play Twenty Questions.
♦ Play I-Spy, looking for objects that are a certain color or that start with a certain letter.
♦ Eat dinner or play board games or read a story out loud with the lights out, by candlelight. For some reason this is a novelty that kids love.
♦ Make a collaborative drawing. One person draws a shape, and then the next, taking turns until the picture is finished.
♦ Write a collaborative story the same way. Each person tells one line of the story, letting it go in unexpected directions. You can do this even with little kids. Write it down as you go, and then make a big ceremony out of reading it back.
♦ Write actual letters, on stationery you make yourselves. Send them to friends and relatives.
♦ Dress up in fancy clothes and have a tea party. Let everyone introduce themselves with a new name, and play a new character. Speak with accents.
♦ Make capes and dress up like super heroes. Talk about what super-power you have (or want), and how you could use it.
♦ Read stories out loud.
♦ Do crossword puzzles and word-find games. You can find printables for kids here, or google for others.
♦ Teach kids basic skills from a craft or hobby you’re good at. When I was 8 or 9, I’d sit quietly forever practicing embroidery stitches.
♦ Play memory games using word chains. One person starts with a phrase like, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring apples.” The next person repeats the phrase and adds an item, and it keeps going — with everyone trying to remember and repeat the previous chain, while adding an item. You can play with any category, or make it harder by requiring each new item to start with the next letter of the alphabet (apples, bagels, candy, etc.) You can find other age-appropriate ideas for different types of memory games here.
Don’t forget about kitchen-y activities. Not all of them involve food, and if you’re home-schooling, some can be incorporated into science lessons.
♦ Make your own play-dough. This is time-tested recipe my mother used to use: Mix 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup salt, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, 1 cup of warm water, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Stir over low heat until it balls up. Cool. Divide into 3 or 4 parts and add different food colors to each. (Instructions here, or google for variations.)
♦ Make homemade slime. It may not be quite the rage it was a few years ago, but maybe it’s time to bring it back. (Instructions here, or google for variations.)
♦ Teach older kids how to follow steps in a recipe and how to measure. Start with something simple, like brownies.
♦ Make homemade butter. I remember doing this in kindergarten. You just pour heavy cream into a large jar with a tight-fitting lid, and then take turns shaking it. We all sat in a circle, shook the jar till our arm was tired, and then passed it to the next person. We ate our homemade butter on salty Ritz crackers afterward. (You’ll have to pour off some remaining liquid, which is buttermilk. Instructions for the activity here.)
♦ Let little kids make Jello or pudding from a box.
♦ Make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then cut them into fancy shapes with cookie cutters.
♦ Freeze your own popsicles out of fruit juice or Kool-aid.
♦ If you’re making your own hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes, let kids help.
♦ Play restaurant, and let the kids pretend to be the cook and servers. Let them bring you cheese and crackers.
♦ Perform science experiments. Start with these — then google for more or order a book.
♦ Make rock candy by growing sugar crystals in a glass. You probably did this as a kid — if not, you can find instructions here.
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