Stuck inside? Make cabin fever fun by trying something new.
Set a new world record. The youngest person to write a bilingual book is six years old and youngest professional videogamer is six years old. Guinness World Records has a long list of records they encourage kids to break including most balloons burst in 30 seconds, tallest toilet paper tower in 30 seconds, largest bubblegum bubble, most dice stacked with chopsticks in a minute. Check out the kids’ area of the site for challenges as well as their and links for educators.
Stage an indoor snowball battle. Grab some paper from the recycling pile, crumple into balls, and throw.
Yarnbomb a piece of furniture. Too complicated? Just wrap it in brightly colored yarn or fabric strips.
Turn your daily lives into a guessing game. Take turns issuing a challenge and writing down everyone’s guesses, then prove each other right or wrong. The proof part is particularly fun as everyone hurries to count, measure, and calculate. Kids might choose to guess how many shoes are in the house. How many books. How many countries are represented in a drawerful of shirts (as long as they have origin tags). Guess the measurement of each other’s heads. How many inches it is from the front door to the TV, the computer, the bathroom. Guess how many days or hours each person has been alive. How long each person can stand on one foot. Well, you get the idea. The kids will not think this is fun if you have them guess how quickly they can put away their Lego. For more ways to make fun into math and math into fun, check out these 100 Math Activities and Resources.
Communicate via banana. Write a message or draw a picture on the skin of a banana using a toothpick or pencil. It’ll darken within an hour.
Paint without using your hands. Try taping the brush to a remote control toy, dangling it by a string, or rolling it across the paper. Or you might paint as this talented young artist does, by holding a paint brush in your mouth.
Start inventing. Save cardboard boxes and cardboard tubes of all sizes, along with string, rubber bands, lids, paper clips, yogurt cups, and so on. Distribute equal amounts of this “junk” so kids can build whatever they choose —- like a junk marble run or egg drop (from a window). Try a specific challenge, similar to the old TV series Junkyard Wars. Kids can invent sorters that send pennies down one chute and dimes down another, bridges that hold weight, catapults that toss ping-pong balls, or simply let inspiration hit.
Make a batch of Make Ahead Pizza with this recipe from Attainable Sustainable.
Help out the birds (and squirrels, they’re hungry too). Fill orange halves with birdseed, make a birdseed wreath, or coat pinecones with peanut butter and roll in birdseed. Keep the binoculars and bird guide close for bird watching. To attract even more birds during the winter, consider putting a heated bird bath on your deck or porch railing.
Play with tape. Rolls of painter’s tape or masking tape can spur new play ideas. Toy vehicles and action figures can travel along roadways made of tape stretched along on the floor. Overpasses, buildings, and other roadside features can be made from shoeboxes and other cardboard discards. Tape a giant checkerboard on the carpet, then use two sets of matching items for playing pieces. Tape a hard-surfaced floor to mark out hopscotch or skellzies. Stretch tape, sticky side out, across a doorway and take turns throwing crumpled paper at it to see if it sticks.
Make paper dolls (or paper dinosaurs, robots, elves, whatever) from stiff paper, connecting the limbs with brads. Then cut out accessories. Use large sheets of paper to draw backgrounds. These paper characters can act out stories with endless variations.
Camp in. Put up a tent in the living room, construct forts using couch cushions, or toss a sheet over a table. Such secret hideaways are a portal to make-believe. (A flashlight per kid really amps up the fun.)
Make the easiest homemade cheese. You need only one ingredient other than milk.
Build geometric sculptures. This simply requires toothpicks and miniature marshmallows. It’s a great way to make free-form sculptures while discovering some principles of geometry. As the marshmallows dry they’ll adhere ever more tightly to the toothpicks. After a day or two of drying the kids can decorate their sculptures with markers or paint if they’d like.
Make marshmallow shooters and target shoot with those leftover marshmallows.
Set up an obstacle course. Release some pent-up energy with a temporary indoor obstacle course. It might consist of a few chairs in a row to wriggle under, six plastic cups to run circles around, a squared off area to perform ten jumping jacks, then three somersaults down the hall before turning around to do it all in reverse. Older kids can set up a simple obstacle course for smaller kids. The adult in charge might want to put safety rules in place before the frenzy begins.
Learn to play a free instrument you already have. Really, it’s in your kitchen.
Go through old photos to see how places where your family came from have changed. You can pin them on Historypin.com, send them to the area’s historical society, or post them on social media tagged to the town.
Paint the tub. Just mix up some bathtub paints, then put kids in a (dry) tub to paint away. When they’re done they can clean it up and themselves with water.
Puzzle it out. Set out a big, somewhat complicated puzzle and leave it out in an area where everyone can work on over a period of days until it’s done.
Make Flarp. It’s said to have the same properties as Silly Putty, except it also farts. (You know this will be a hit.)
Get moving. Balance a book on each head and see how far kids can walk before it falls off, use pillowcases for gunny sack races, tape zigzag and dash lines on the floor to follow for a run and jump race, bat balloons back and forth, turn on the music and dance, call out animal names (snake! kangaroo! sloth!) and move as those animals move, tape bubble wrap to the floor and jump.
Mix up some elephant toothpaste.
Make a movie. Steven Spielberg started making movies as a kid so be sure to save your child’s film for posterity. Fame may hit. (Spielberg’s mother let him dump cans of cherry pie filling in the cupboards that slowly oozed out so he could film a horror movie. She probably wanted a free afternoon to watch her soaps, but there’s something to be said for creative license….)
Perform good deeds. Bake some goodies to share with a neighbor, local firefighters, or your librarians. For more family volunteering ideas, check 40 Ways to Volunteer, Toddler to Teen.
Draw on the windows. Use washable window markers to play tic-tac-toe or hangman. Or draw some sunshine.
Snowy out there? Check out 15 Smarty Pants Ways to Enjoy Snow.
Goo around with homemade (and safe for toddler) slime.
Make your own family board game. Keep it simple for small ones, add twists and more complex questions for older kids. Together you can incorporate inside jokes, everyone’s names, favorite places around town, whatever your family decides.
Go postal. Consult 38 Unexpected Ways to Revel in Snail Mail to find out how you can find a pen pal, register for a mail exchange, mail strange objects without packing them in a box, and more.
Make Cosmic Suncatchers using glue, food coloring, and plastic lids.
Get your kids to predict the future. Better yet, write to your future selves. The kids may want to write to themselves as they’ll be in ten years or at your age. Don’t make this a child-only activity. Sit down and write to your future self too. You’ll want to include a description of an average day, list your favorite foods and activities, and imagine what you’ll be doing at that future date. Now seal those envelopes, write “Do Not Open Until ______” on the outside, and keep them somewhere you’ll remember.
Start throwing things. Juggling boosts brain development and reinforces a growth mindset. It’s also fun once you get the hang of it. Here’s more about juggling including how-tos.
Create sock puppets. Add features like ping-pong ball eyes, yarn hair, and a cardboard mouth. For more ideas grab a copy ofHow to Make Puppets With Children or 10-Minute Puppets. Once your puppets are ready, create a theater out of a large cardboard box, practice a few scenes, then put on a performance.
Play vocabulary-boosting dictionary games. Trust me, these are actually a lot of fun.
Record a broadcast. For inspiration, you might listen to a recording of an old radio show, like the original 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds, then make your own audio story complete with narration and sound effects. Toss in some campy advertisements for extra fun.
Learn magic tricks via KidZone magic tricks and About.com’s easy card tricks for kids. You might also want to consult Knack Magic Tricks: A Step-by-Step Guide to Illusions, Sleight of Hand, and Amazing Feats and Kids’ Magic Secrets: Simple Magic Tricks & Why They Work.
Stage a treasure hunt. First, hide a prize. The prize doesn’t have to be a toy (it could be a snack or pack of crayons). Next, hide clues. For non-readers the clues can be rebus pictures, digital photos, or magazine cut-outs. For readers try riddles, short rhymes, or question-based clues. Each one should lead the child to a spot where the next clue is hidden. If you have more than one child let everyone search for clues and figure them out together. Or stage treasure hunts for each child in turn using the collaborative efforts of those who are waiting. Once kids are familiar with treasure hunts they can easily set them up on their own. To get you to play they may turn off your cell, hide it, and chortle gleefully while you track it down.
Slide on the steps. Flatten cardboard from a large box and place over stairs so kids can race cars up and down, roll balls, or pretend to be mountain-climbers. Couch pillows at the bottom help cushion sliding mountain climbers.
Have a picnic. Yes, a picnic. Fling a tablecloth or beach towel on the floor. Eating on the floor may be novel enough but make sure the meal consists of picnic-y finger foods for real authenticity. You might want to fire up the grill to cook hot dogs and roast marshmallows. If you’re eating on a tiled floor in the kitchen consider amping up the fun by ending the picnic with a brief rainstorm you impose with a squirt bottle. Then again, maybe not. The kids will get you back some day.