Michelle is a stay at home parent doing her best to keep herself and her children active and sane during social distancing.
As I write this during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, my children are two (almost three) and five and a half. I’m lucky that they are at the age where they are not babies, but they are also not old enough for online school. They have friends, but home is still the center of their universe. Still, there is only so much Netflix they can watch, and at this age they are full of energy.
Here are some easy and cheap-to-free ideas for things to do to keep young children active when your options are limited, whether due to social distancing or any other reason. These ideas focus on activities you can do around the house and yard—and some that venture out into the neighborhood, assuming it's safe to do so.
Fun Activities for Kids When You're Stuck at Home
- Count Items Around Your Neighborhood
- Do a Scavenger Hunt
- Play Hopscotch
- Make Your Own Chalk Paint
- Create an Obstacle Course
- Go Camping in Your Backyard
- Make Nature Walk Ice Cubes
- Have a Dance Party
- Play Musical Pillows
- Play Stuffed Animal Hide and Seek
1. Count Items Around Your Neighborhood
All around the country during the coronavirus pandemic, neighborhoods put on bear hunts where people put stuffed bears in their windows or somewhere else visible from the street. My kids loved going on walks and looking for bears. However, you don’t have to wait for the next trendy hunt. Make one up!
You can count squirrels, dogs, birds, fire hydrants—anything that is plentiful around your neighborhood. You can make a competition around counting cars. Each person picks a car color, and whoever gets the most of their color wins! We did this and had my five-year-old make tallies every time he saw a car in one of the colors we picked. So, look at that—you can even make it educational by incorporating math!
2. Do a Scavenger Hunt
You can find free printable scavenger hunts to do around your neighborhood or backyard. Just search for 'scavenger hunts for kids with pictures' and click on the images. My kiddos loved marking off the pictures as they found things. They liked these so much that we did several of the hunts many times. We did variations of different outdoor scavenger hunts, mainly neighborhood, nature walk, and backyard hunts.
If You're Stuck Indoors
If the weather is nasty or going outside is not an easy option where you live, then do an indoor scavenger hunt. Just change your search terms to 'indoor scavenger hunt for kids with pictures'.
Bonus Tip: To make it easier for the kids to mark things off as we walked around, I taped the scavenger hunt print-outs into notebooks (see the photo above). This way, they have something hard to write on. And they feel pretty important!
3. Play Hopscotch
Got chalk? When drawing on the driveway is not cutting it anymore, there’s more to do with that chalk: Play hopscotch. Remember this game? If not, here's a quick rules summary.
Bonus Tip: You can get creative making different variations of the game. Instead of numbers, you can use shapes or letters. You can make the hopscotch square pattern into different shapes and formations. And all that hopping around is bound to use up enough energy that the kids will take a nap!
4. Make Your Own Chalk Paint
Got more chalk? Buying chalk paint is expensive, but you can make it cheaply and easily:
- Gather up little stubs and pieces of chalk and put them in a Ziploc baggie.
- Smash up the chalk bits with a hammer. Or, better yet, let your kids do this! My children had a good time helping with the hammer (under supervision, of course). At first, my two-year-old was reluctant, but then she got pretty into it. Just make sure that you break it all up until it is in very fine pieces.
- Finally, just add water.
We used paintbrushes to paint on the driveway and the fence in our backyard. If you are braver than I am, you can put the paint in spray bottles. The color is much more vibrant when it dries than when it's wet. If you need to wash the paint off, it washes off easily with water.
5. Create an Obstacle Course
Use random stuff and create ways for the kids to run, jump, or crawl. For one of our obstacle courses, we used a kiddie pool, soccer ball, chalk, a little slide, and patio chairs. Since my kids are young, I set it up at first, but then my five-year-old had fun adding to it.
If You're Stuck Indoors
If the weather is bad, or going outside is not happening where you live, then just do an indoor obstacle course. My kids once made an indoor obstacle course with empty cardboard boxes and wood blocks.
Bonus Tip: You can add to the outdoor or indoor game by making it a follow-the-leader game. Another variation is to time your kids on completing the course. Have your kids see if they can improve their time with practice. If you have competitive kiddos, you can time them to see who can do it the fastest.
6. Go Camping in Your Backyard
Tent collecting dust? Set it up in the backyard! My dad used to do this for me, and I loved it. My kids went crazy for it, too. To add to the backyard camping experience, I set up some camping chairs right outside the tent. My kids collected sticks, and we had a pretend campfire. Then we made s’mores! And no, we did not cook them on the pretend campfire or a real fire. I used the microwave.
How to Make Microwave S'mores
Here is how to make perfect microwave s’mores.
- Large marshmallows
- Graham crackers
- 1 large Hershey's chocolate bar
- Put one marshmallow on one graham cracker and place it in the microwave for 20 seconds.
- Place two Hershey's chocolate squares on the warm marshmallow and top with another graham cracker.
Now you’re ready for the perfect camping food without leaving your home!
7. Make Nature Walk Ice Cubes
We got this idea from my daughter's teacher, and it was a big hit.
- Collect things in nature: leaves, sticks, flowers, etc.
- Place these items in an ice cube tray and fill the tray with water.
- Allow at least 4 hours for the ice to freeze.
I took my kids for a walk down our street and let them collect things in nature. They picked up sticks, leaves, rocks, berries, and acorns. When we got home, I had the kids help me select and put the items in an ice cube tray and then fill it up with water.
After the items were frozen, I took them out of the ice cube tray on a towel and let the kids explore. About an hour later, I called the kids over to see what had happened to the ice. By then, it had all melted. We talked about the difference between a solid and a liquid. Science and fun all rolled into one!
Bonus Tip: This can also be done with matchbox cars or other small toys, too.
8. Have a Dance Party
We take turns picking out songs to dance to on Prime Music; I’m sure you could also do this on apps such as Pandora, Spotify, and Google Music. The kids love picking out songs and seeing what songs their dad and I will choose. The "Feeling Silly" playlist on Prime Music is kid-friendly music for getting your boogie on.
Here are some suggestions for individual songs that are kid-appropriate that my kids love (and that are not too annoying for us adults):
- "I Like to Move It"
- "Who Let the Dogs Out"
- "What Does the Fox Say"
- "The Cha Cha Slide"
OK, maybe some of these songs are a bit annoying, but they're better than "Wheels on the Bus" on repeat!
Bonus Tip: Give the party a twist by playing freeze dance.
9. Play Musical Pillows
This is musical chairs but with pillows.
- Take couch pillows and put them on the floor, then crank up the music!
- Have someone be in charge of pausing the music. (If you don’t want to be the one having to get up and down from the floor, have this be you. Kids are closer to the ground, so this game is a lot easier for them.)
- Make up different things to do during the music. Here are some suggestions: hopping, skipping, tiptoeing, and walking.
- When the music stops, the players sit down on a pillow.
You can do the “no one loses” version that we play where everyone gets a pillow or the more competitive version where there is one pillow less than the number of players for each round played. For the competitive version, the player who does not get a pillow is out. Keep taking away a pillow until there is only one player left. That player is the winner.
10. Play Stuffed Animal Hide and Seek
Children love to play hide and seek, so why not do it with their stuffed animals! Have your kiddos pick up the stuffed animals they want to play with and take turns hiding and seeking. Just make sure to count how many animals you are hiding before you hide them to make sure you find them all. And please don’t hide little Suzy’s lovie that she can’t go to sleep without. You don’t want to get in a situation where someone hides that lovie so well no one can find it!
Try These Activities to Get the Wiggles Out
These are just a few ideas that I hope will help get those wiggles out and keep everyone sane. If you have more ideas, please post them in the comments. The more ways we have to keep the kids busy during difficult times, the better. If your kids are stuck at home when you're reading this, fingers crossed that they'll be back on the playground sometime soon!
Farrah Young from Lagos, Nigeria on May 22, 2020:
These are quite unique and creative tips for keeping the kids busy and entertained. Thanks for this list.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 21, 2020:
I got rid of my tent for hiking but I can build a great one. Ice cubes not so much as we make our sandwiches at lunch breaks on hikes - in the shade.
Today I resolve to play more "boy" type stuff with my son. He is just plain laughing too much. He must do some hard things ;-)