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Rainy Day? Snowing? Stuck in the House? What to Do With the Kids?
When it's raining cats and dogs outside and you're stuck in the house, chances are your kids are either staring like hypnotized zombies at the TV, squabbling with each other, or whining that they're bored. Maybe it's not even raining. Perhaps you're snowed in, it's 20 degrees below zero or a scorching 109°F. Maybe you're all quarantined due to a case of chickenpox. Perhaps a virus has you and your family "sheltering in place."
No matter why you're stuck in the house, there's no need for the kids to be bored or zoning out with the "boob tube." We all know that kids need plenty of creative play for proper development, but turning on the TV can be really tempting when you're stuck in the house for hours—or days—on end. At some point, the TV and video game console can seem like the best options, or even the only options.
If you have a crop of small couch potatoes growing in your game room, don't despair: here are 30 ideas for engaging, brain-building play. Some are more complicated than others, some require a parent's help (depending on the ages and skills of each child), and some just might keep the kids occupied for hours on their own.
Most of these ideas will work for a wide range of ages. Some may be more appropriate for toddlers than tweens, or vice versa, but most can be modified so that they're fun for everyone. Parents of toddlers obviously need to use common sense when it comes to kids working with scissors, playing in the bathtub, manipulating small items that could be choking hazards, and the like.
30 Fun Things for Kids to Do When They Can't Go Outside
1. Write a Book. Staple six or eight pages together in book form, then get out the crayons, pencils, and markers so your kids can write and illustrate their own story. If your children are too young to write, have them illustrate it and then you can write in the words as they dictate the story to you.
2. Have a Drawing Contest. This is a game my kids came up with on their own. They take turns being the judge and the artists. The judge chooses the subject, and the artists do their best to draw what the judge has chosen. The judge then chooses the best picture; the winner is the judge of the next round. The judge can throw in twists to make the game more challenging and fun, such as instructing the artists to draw with their left hands (if they're right-handed), or draw anything they want that starts with a letter "J." Sometimes they want me to be the judge, but they've figured out that I never choose one child over the other and always proclaim a tie.
3. Do Paper Mache. This one is a little more involved and messy than some ideas here, but doesn't require any special materials. First, cut old newspapers into strips about one or two inches wide. Next, mix two parts white glue to one part water in a plastic or metal bowl. Dip a newspaper strip into the glue mixture and swish it around to coat it with the mixture. Pull the strip out and run it between two fingers to remove excess glue. Lay the strip across your mold (which can be a bowl, box, balloon, or anything you like). Cover the entire mold with glue-coated paper strips and allow the project to dry completely before removing it from the mold. If you've used a balloon as a mold, simply insert a pin to pop the balloon. You can make a basket by covering an entire balloon, leaving an opening around one end. Cover half of a balloon to make a bowl or a mask.
4. Build a Fort or a Tent Town. Use any combination of sheets, blankets, furniture and large cardboard boxes to build an awesome fort or tent town. Once they've built it, let the kids use the tent to their heart's delight. They can eat lunch in their tent, play a game of Candyland, and bring in flashlights or a wireless speaker for music. If you place your pet's bed in the tent, the dog or cat just might hang out in there with them. If they're old enough, let the kids have a camp-out or sleepover-at-home inside the tent that night.
5. Build With Stacking Cups. Build a pyramid with overturned Solo cups. Experiment with different designs and shapes. Stack them as high as you can without toppling your tower over. If your tower doesn't fall on its own, having fun busting it up with a few karate chops. This very simple activity can keep kids engaged for a surprisingly long time.
6. Have a Dress-Up Parade. A rainy day is the perfect time to bring out the dress-up clothes! There's no need to purchase special dress-up clothes -- your kids will have a ball dressing up in things you find in your own closet or around the house. Dresses, high heels, costume jewelry, makeup, hats of any type, neck ties, athletic uniforms, cowboy boots, work boots, aprons and Halloween costumes are all fun for kids to wear. Wearing their regular clothes backwards, inside-out or in zany unmatched outfits is both funny and entertaining. Once everyone is decked out, put on some marching music and have a parade around the house. Don't forget to take photos and video of this memory-making activity!
7. Do Face Paint. Break out the face paint to go along with the dress-up clothes! If you don't have face paint, use water-based, washable markers or makeup such as eye pencil and lipstick, if available. Your kids will have fun transforming themselves into pop stars, animals, monsters or sports fanatics.
8. Take a Mega Bubble Bath. No matter what time of day it is, if the kids have just finished a messy activity, pour them a mega bubble bath. Not the usual bath with a few inches of water and a bar of soap, a mega bubble bath has plenty of water for "swimming" and a mountain of bubbles for the kids to bury themselves in. If you have a jacuzzi tub, turn on the jets and the bubble mountain will grow and grow. Obviously, a mega bubble bath requires close supervision and may not be appropriate for toddlers. If you're not comfortable with this activity, prepare a regular bath for your kids and find some "new" bath toys from around the house, such as bowls and spoons, measuring cups, funnels, a bubble wand and bubble soap, or clean paint brushes to "paint" the tile wall or glass bath enclosure with bathwater.
9. Cook Something! Whether brownies, muffins, bread, cookies, scrambled eggs, fruit kabobs or dinner, kids love to cook. Cooking is not only fun, it helps teach math, science, following directions, and sharing.
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10. Make Salt Dough. The original Play-Doh! It's easy to mix up a batch and costs pennies. Mix two cups of flour and one cup of salt with 3/4 to one cup of water. Use cookie cutters and a rolling pin to make shapes, or let the kids free-form whatever they like. Allow creations to air dry, or bake them in the oven on low heat, about 200°F, until pieces are dry. Baking time varies depending upon the thickness of the pieces. Thin, rolled-out creations may need only 10 minutes, while thicker, three-dimensional items may take an hour or more. Get out the paints when the pieces are dry, and this project will get its second wind as the kids add color to their creations.
11. Make an "On a Roll" Art Banner. Also called "the longest picture in the world." If you have a roll of butcher paper or art paper that goes on an easel, roll it out on the kitchen floor and let the kids draw like crazy. If you don't have a roll of paper, tape blank papers together to form a long banner. The kids can use this long, blank canvas to draw one picture after another, or make a cohesive mural, or make a big "Happy Birthday" banner for the family pet's birthday party (see idea #14.)
12. Play Animal Town. That's the name of this game at our house, anyway. The kids use shoe boxes, doll houses or the nooks and crannies under desks, tables and chairs to create a series of homes and businesses for their favorite stuffed animals. The kids then act out all sorts of adventures with their animals. One favorite is the animal hospital, where they use masking tape to bandage up their animals' boo-boos. Those poor stuffed animals have had broken legs, arms, noses and even have had their heads taped up after "brain surgery."
13. Create a Water Orchestra. Good old-fashioned fun and a science lesson all in one. Fill glass drinking tumblers with varied amounts of water. Tap each lightly with a spoon, and listen how the sound changes based on the amount of water in each glass. If possible, line them up from low to high pitch, and see if the kids can tap out a few simple tunes. If you like, let the kids squeeze a few drops of food color into each glass, just for a fun visual effect.
14. Throw a Birthday Party for a Pet. It doesn't matter if it's actually your pet's birthday, or even if you have a pet at all. This party could also be for a favorite doll, stuffed animal or a far-away relative. Blow up some balloons, set the table with mismatched leftover paper partyware, and stick a candle in something, whether it's the brownies or cupcakes you've just baked, a Twinkie out of the pantry or the peanut butter sandwiches the kids are having for lunch. Since the guest of honor can't actually blow out candles, everyone gets to blow out their own birthday candle. The kids will love it if you light their candle again and again, letting them blow it out over and over. Sing "Happy Birthday" and play some party games, such as Pin the Tail on the Donkey or Limbo.
15. Play Balloon Volleyball. Kids never seem to be too young or too old for this game. Simply blow up a balloon, knot the end, and let the kids bounce it up in the air so that it doesn't touch the ground. If the balloon pops, blow up another one. Be sure to clean up any popped balloon pieces or deflated balloons, as they are dangerous if children put them in their mouths. Move the furniture to the sides of the room if the kids need more space. If they've been stuck inside for long, they probably have lots of energy to burn off!
16. Freeze Dance. Another energy-burning option! As long as the music plays, the kids dance around like crazy. But when you stop the music—FREEZE!—the kids must freeze in the position they were in when the music went silent. Tons of silly fun! Expand on the game by awarding the most "frozen" child the prize of getting to choose what dance move the group does next. Like the balloon game, above, clear out the furniture if you need more room.
17. Paint to Music. Get out the paints, brushes and smocks -- and the music. Have your kids paint while listening to some soothing classical pieces. Change to music to hard rock, jazz or big band and observe whether or not their painting style changes. Similarly, ask the kids to paint in the mood of the music, or have them try to convey in their painting what they think the musical artist was trying to express with the piece.
18. Create an Orchestra of Pots and Pans. Get out the pots, pans, lids and some spoons and let the kids bang away. This activity fits right in with the dress-up parade. A warning, though, that some pans and lids will dent. Most of my lids have a few shallow dents because of this activity. At first it bugged me, but now I smile when I see the dents, as I remember the good times.
19. Do Designer Drawing. This activity is basically drawing a picture, but instead of simply drawing a pony or a flower or a house, this activity is expanded a bit. Ask your kids to design something—it can be whatever they're into. My daughter loves to design her own cute, furry Pokémon characters. She carefully chooses the shape of their bodies, tails, ears, snouts and markings, then thinks up a fitting name for each. My son is enamored with Christmas light displays, so he often draws a facsimile of our home, then designs a Christmas light display to go on the house, drawing in tiny little bulbs and choosing the color scheme. He also designs race cars and race tracks. Other ideas include designing the ultimate playground or swing set, bedroom set-up, hamster habitat, obstacle course, skateboard track, princess dress and crown, or fancy birthday cake.
20. Make Paper Costumes. Paper costumes are something my daughter came up with when she was about five or six. These very simple—dare I say crude—costumes are fun for kids to create and wear, but they're not exactly sturdy or long-lasting. First, cut out a paper mask and a few strips of paper. Use tape to attach a paper strip to the mask horizontally from ear to ear, and another vertically from the top of the mask extending down to the middle of the ear-to-ear band. These should do the trick to hold the mask to on your child's head. Then cut out a large torso, arms and legs, and use glue or tape to piece them together to make an entire figure. The costume simply hangs in front of your child, off of the mask, and is almost as tall as your child. Some costume ideas are a dog, cat, rabbit, octopus, kangaroo, police officer, firefighter, princess or astronaut.
21. Make Pudding Pictures. Messy but fun! For each child, place a large sheet of wax paper on the kitchen table. Then dollop a large spoonful of chocolate pudding on each piece of wax paper, smooth it out a bit with the back of the spoon, and let your kids go to town with their fingers. Younger kids can use the "pudding paper" to practice their shapes or letters; older kids can practice their cursive. Of course, an obvious option is to simply let the kids create whatever they like. If you don't have a box of instant pudding mix on hand, use shaving cream in place of the pudding. It's cleaner and less sticky than pudding, but unlike pudding is not finger lickin' good! This activity may be one that needs to be followed with a mega bubble bath (idea #8).
22. Plant Happy Planters. If you've got some potting soil and grass seed in the garage, have your kids draw faces with Sharpie markers on some of the Solo cups. Have them draw eyes, mouth, nose, and ears, but no "circle" for the head, and no hair. The cup itself is the head, and the grass that grows is the hair! Once the kids are finished drawing the faces, fill each cup with potting soil and a spoonful of grass seeds. Cover the seeds lightly with soil, water gently, and place in a window. Keep the soil moist, and the faces will grow "hair" within a week or so. Any type of seed will work, but grass seed looks especially hairlike.
23. Make Cheerio Necklaces. Fun to do, and great for small motor development! Thread Cheerios onto pipe cleaners for fun, edible bracelets and necklaces. Plain Cheerios are probably the healthiest for little ones to eat, as they have less sugar than many other cereals, but Froot Loops add lots of fun color to the creations! Froot Loops' colors also let the kids practice patterning with their necklaces.
24. Make Marble or Super-Ball Art. Place a clean sheet of paper in the bottom of a lightweight 13x9 cake pan. Place a super ball or a large marble in a small cup of washable paint. Use a spoon to coat the ball or marble with paint, and drop it into to paper-lined pan. Have the kids take turns holding the pan, tipping it to and fro, so that the ball rolls around on the paper, leaving trails of paint. Remove the ball, wipe it off, and repeat the process using as many different colors as you like.
25. Write a Letter to the President of the United States. Fun but thought-provoking. Ask your child what they would tell the president if they ever got to meet him. Perhaps they have a bone to pick with him, want to give him their ideas for running the country, or want to thank him for his hard work. Older kids can write their own letters, while you can take dictation for a younger child. Have your kids illustrate their letter, also. For nostalgia's sake (and to keep the kids busy a bit longer), send the letter by snail mail. Kids can decorate the envelope, then help address and stamp it -- many kids these days have never performed this task! Take a photo or make a scan of the letter for your child's keepsake box or scrapbook, then mail it off to: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500.
26. Make a Collage or Mosaic. You can use just about anything in the house for this craft, from paper to small toys to bits of trash. Kids can cut out photos from magazines, or cut cut tissue paper, scraps of wrapping paper or aluminum foil into small pieces for a free-form paper collage. Or, go the mixed mixed media route. Using a sturdy piece of cardboard as the backing, have kids glue on buttons, small toys, fabric scraps and more to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. For a mosaic, use the pieces to "draw" a specific image. Suggested mosaic materials include squares of colored paper, rice, beans or split peas. Keep it simple for younger children. For example, write out a large capital letter, perhaps the first letter of their name, and let them glue beans along the lines of the letter. Older children can take it up a notch, making pictures out of the materials, adding as much detail as they're able.
27. Dump Bins of Beans, Rice, or Confetti. If your little dump truck fanatic is pining to play with his trucks in the sandbox, pour some dried beans, dried rice or confetti in an empty under-bed storage bin or sheet-sized cake pan. He can use this with his smaller trucks and bulldozers as in indoor sandbox. This can be messy, especially for younger ones, so be understanding of any spills. Whether this activity takes place on a tabletop of the floor, spread out an old shower curtain under the bin to help contain the mess.
28. Hide the Coins/Coin Hunt. My kids never seem to get too old for this game. It is basically an indoor Easter egg hunt. You can use plastic Easter eggs, stuffed animals, golf balls, blocks - anything you have a good number of. For some reason, my kids always use those large plastic Mardi Gras coins (we have a tennis ball canister full of them). One child (or sometimes me) hides the coins all over the house, and the other child finds them. Lately, they've been playing a variation of this game that involves guessing as well as hiding. They hide stuffed animals and give each other clues as to which animal is hidden where. For example, the hider might give the clue "I love to eat carrots in the car," and the seeker might answer, "I know, you hid the rabbit in the garage!" The seeker then runs off to search for the stuffed animal in that spot.
29. Have a Treasure Hunt. Plot out a simple treasure hunt. If your kids are old enough, they can plot out hunts for each other. There are two ways to go about this game. You can draw a map to the hidden treasure, or set up a trail of clues. If you go the map route, let the kids each hide their own treasure, and draw out a map to it. Then, the kids trade maps and try to find each other's treasures. Or, you can go the clue route. Write a series of clues onto separate pieces of paper. Then, give the kids the paper with the first clue. It might say "rub a dub dub," which gives the kids the clue to look in the bathtub. In the bathtub, they'll find a paper with the next clue. This goes on for as many steps as you like until finally, the last clue leads them to the hidden treasure.
30. Make a Mystery Box. Place a few small toys or household items in an empty tissue box. Tissue boxes with just a slit on the top, as opposed to a large opening, work best. Have each child put their hand in the box, without looking at its contents, and feel each item to guess what it is.
Bonus idea: Don't forget about playing in the rain! My kids love to play in the rain. If it's warm outside and there's no lightning, we'll grab our umbrellas, put on our rubber boots and go on a rainy-day walk, stomping in puddles all the way. We find cupped leaves to use as little boats, and float them down rain "rivers." The kids usuallyl end up shedding all their rain gear and running around gleefully until they're soaking wet. They also love to jump on the trampoline in the rain, although I have to admit this is an activity I pass on. Once they're ready to come inside, they go straight into a mega bubble bath while I fix everyone a hot cocoa with extra whipped cream.
Start Gathering Supplies for a Rainy Day
One important ingredient to creating happy indoor days is to be prepared with a variety of supplies. If you have kids, I'm assuming you already have the basics, such as colored construction paper, scissors, crayons, washable markers and washable kids' paint. Expand on these basics a bit for super-creative fun -- but don't spend a lot of money. Before a rainy day or that big snowstorm arrives, hit the dollar store to load up on inexpensive yet interesting treasures. If you're stuck at home and cannot leave to go shopping, grab a box and fill it with things from around the house. Recycle items that might end up in the trash, such as scraps of wrapping paper, cardboard tubing from toilet paper or paper towels, bottle caps and egg cartons. Some inexpensive supplies you might already have include:
- A bag of balloons
- Disposable plastic "Solo"-type cups
- Washable white glue
- Clear tape and masking tape
- Colored tissue paper
- Pipe cleaners
- Wooden skewers
- Yarn, string and rubber bands
It's smart to keep certain items in your pantry at all times, as well:
- Cake or brownie mix
- Box of instant pudding mix
Also, before throwing things in the trash, ask yourself if they'd be good additions to your "stuck-inside-the-house treasure chest." Some basically free items that enhance creative play are:
- Shoe boxes
- Flat cardboard pieces from shirt, socks or underwear packaging
- Old magazines and newspapers
- Leftover birthday party supplies, such as blowers, plates, candles and hats
- Scraps of ribbon, yarn or fabric
- Old sheets
- Old T-shirts for painting smocks
Make colored rice! This technique also works to color dried macaroni.
© 2012 SmartAndFun
SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on October 21, 2016:
Thanks so much, E Bancroft. I appreciate it! Have a wonderful rainy day!
E Bancroft on October 14, 2016:
I love this and will share it with friends!
SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on September 24, 2013:
Thanks so much Doolebug. Feel free to add any fun things you and your kids do that aren't on this list!
Doolebug on September 24, 2013:
great ideas use them all the time
Sarah O'Brien from Pennsylvania on June 10, 2012:
Wow what a great bunch of ideas! These are wonderful, even if its not raining! hehe :) Lovely hub!
SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on February 28, 2012:
Thanks, sweetguide! And thanks for stopping by!
sweetguide from River side on February 28, 2012:
Very good hub, All are really Good Tips you mentioned. Thanks dear SmartAndFun
SmartAndFun (author) from Texas on January 29, 2012:
Esmeowl, you can probably tell we are no strangers to messes here at our house! But like you, I prefer the neater activities! Thanks for commenting!
Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on January 29, 2012:
I love all these ideas - particularly the ones that don't make a mess!