Stuck indoors with young kids on a cold and rainy day? Just too lazy to get clothes and shoes on a screaming toddler to get out of the house? These are my tried and tested super simple/easy activities I have done to entertain my kids at home!
1. Masking tape maze
Use opaque masking/packaging tape to make a maze or a trail to follow on your floor. Put a different toy at the end each time for your child to find. You could also make a track for cars or toys. We do have carpet though so I'm not sure how this would do on hard wood floors.
2. Masking tape spider web
Haphazardly stick tape across a hallway ala halloween decoration. Make paper spiders to stick on it or have a game of throwing little scrunched-up tissue/paper balls at it and see who gets the most balls to stick. In the photo below I did the web quite high but you could also put strips low down to make an obstacle course they have to get through!
3. Treasure hunt
Hide little treats or toys all over the house. Wrap them in foil, tissue or paper to distinguish the stuff you're hiding from what's lying around already and to give them the thrill of trying to guess what's inside (we use all their current little toys- nothing new). You could write clues in the form of pictures or just keep giving them verbal clues as they search e.g. "It's on something blue in colour" or tell them whether they are getting hotter or colder.
I know painting/drawing sounds like such an everyday activity but when you lay different paints, accessories and props out nicely on a table as an "invitation to play" for them to discover on their own, you will find they will approach it with renewed enthusiasm. I like using a muffin tray to put bibs and bobs in like dried pasta, toothpicks, pom poms, tissue paper, sequins etc. You could just put out paints in primary colours and let them learn about mixing colours, print colouring sheets of their favourite cartoon characters from the web, use sponges or cut vegetables instead of paintbrushes, or go for some kind of theme like "under the sea" with blue paint, bubble wrap fish, seashells etc.
5. Tub painting
Are you terrified of the mess of paints? Put them in the bathtub naked or with a nappy and let them paint the tub or stomp on paper with easy-to-clean paints (we like Micador's easy wash paints). When they're done, you can just hose it all down and give them a bath!
6. Bubble wrap dance
Lay out a sheet (or four) of bubble wrap, blast some music and let them stomp on it to pop the bubbles. It is so worth buying a roll of bubble wrap from an office supplies store and keeping it at home.
7. Make playdough
Make your own play dough for hours of fun! This is the recipe we use. Give them props to play with like cookie cutters, dried pasta, leaves, rocks, cups, sticks, uncooked rice, cars, animal figurines etc and let them use their imagination!
8. Bake a sweet treat
Make some cookies, cupcakes, mufins or a cake together! Let them help with mixing, mashing, dipping their fingers into the batter, licking the spoon/bowl…It doesn't have to be something complex! We love this 3-ingredient banana cookie and super easy banana cake.
9. Make a volcano
Mould playdough around a small cup to create a volcano. Do this in a tray to contain the mess (we use a BBQ foil tray). Spoon in 1-2 teaspoons of bicarbonate soda, squirt in a few drops of dishwashing liquid, add a couple drops of food dye if you wish, then pour white vinegar in and watch it erupt!
10. Teddy bear tea party
Round up the toys, get out the pretend food and tea set, dress up if you wish, and have a teddy bear tea party. Or, if the kids are being good, get out the real drinks and treats. My kids actually love real tea (Hint: to rid most of the caffeine in black tea, steep the tea bag for 30 seconds then chuck the tea or put aside for yourself, then steep again and let them have that second round).
11. Pretend cafe
Get out the pretend food and cookware and let the kids pretend they're running a cafe/restaurant and you and their toys are the customers. You could even make up signs or picture menus for an extra craft element.
12. Make slime
Slime is a favourite activity in my house! Ridiculously entertaining. We use this recipe.
13. Bubble art
Put a bit of dish soap, food dye, and water in a cup, and let the kids blow into the solution with a straw. When the bubbles are almost spilling over, press a piece of carboard onto it to get a bubble imprint. Experiment with different colours to make a bubble art masterpiece.
14. Foamy paint
Make foamy paint by simply mixing shaving cream and paint! Use easy-to-wash finger paints and let the kids get their hands in there for maximum fun.
15. Build an obstacle course
The obstacle courses we set up in our living room usually consists of lots of cushions (having to jump from cushion to cushion without touching the floor), an IKEA play tunnel, our mini ball pit, a step stool to jump off, chairs, hula hoops etc…you can use anything and a little imagination really! It doesn't have to be elaborate. You can time how long it takes for them to complete the course and they can keep trying to beat their own time. You could also use masking tape to set up lines you have to walk on or circles you have to jump to etc.
Speaking of having to jump from cushion to cushion without touching the floor, an oldie but a goodie is the game of "don't step in the lava!" Throw cushions or blankets all over the living room and get from point A to point B without touching the floor!
17. Salt art
Draw patterns with white craft glue on a plastic/paper plate or cardboard, cover it with (cheap) salt, and tip off the excess. Use a pipette (we use the one that comes with baby Panadol) and drop diluted paint/food dye onto the pattern and watch as the colour travels around! It's hypnotic! Use different colours at different parts of the pattern and watch the colours mix when they meet together.
18. Build a tent
Set up a tent old school style by flinging a bedsheet over chairs. Let the kids set up their "new home" with pillows, blankets and toys…or pretend you're camping in the outdoors.
19. Recreate a favourite outing
Did your kid really enjoy a recent holiday? Trip to the zoo? Outing at the mall? Recreate and act out the outing in your living room e.g. my husband and Miss A love crashing university open days (free food, free ice cream, free balloons…) and we were unable to make one recently so they played it out at home!
20. Pretend beach
Set up a pretend beach by using a yellow bedsheet/blanket for sand and a blue bedsheet/blanket for the water. Get out the sea life soft toys and chuck them in the "water", and dump the kids' seashell collection and sand toys on the "sand".
21. Dig out old toys
Once in a while, Miss A will sit in her toy chest and pull out all her old toys from the bottom and spend ages playing with them. So get out the toys they haven't played with for a while or encourage them to dig them out themselves. You'll be amazed what you can find at the back of the cupboard, on the top of the shelf or deep inside the toy chest/drawers/boxes. You can also make it a game of having the old toys meet the new toys and introduce themselves.
Build a Lego/Duplo city. If Lego is a daily play item for your kids, try incorporating a new element like playdough or slime.
23. Stack cups
Get out a stack of colourful plastic cups and invite the kids to stack them, balance them, and topple/smash them. See who can build the tallest tower!
24. Long jump
Miss A loves to jump and one of her favourite activities when she was younger was to get out her kids' fold-out sofa bed, put a step stool up to it and try to jump as far as possible onto it. You could also use a mattress if you have a spare thin one lying around.
25. Straw play
Cut up colourful straws and let them thread it into a parmesan container. A thin-necked bottle or straw cup with lid works well too. You could also use popsicle sticks or pom poms in place of straws. Great for younger toddlers to work on their fine motor skills.
26. Kids yoga
Bust out the mats or towels and get stretching in your living room! Cosmic Kids Yoga is an amazing kids yoga channel on YouTube. They actually tell you a story (Frozen, Star Wars, Harry Potter etc) while bringing you through the yoga moves and it's ridiculously captivating. You will enjoy doing it too!
27. Dance party
Draw the curtains, turn off the lights, bust out the flashlights, get dressed up, blow up balloons, blast the music and have a dance party!
28. Doll/animal bath or car wash
Get out the baby bath or a large container, fill it with water and let the kids bathe their dolls, plastic animals, or cars. Give them a sponge, cloth, soap, and towel and watch them get busy.
29. Box art
If you have a large cardboard box at hand, let the kids sit in it and paint or draw on it. Give them a bunch of stickers too to decorate it with. You can even turn it into a car by putting on plastic/paper plates on the side for wheels and one inside for the steering wheel.
30. Kinetic sand
This stuff is awesome. Invest in it!
31. Cloud dough/moon sand
If you don't have kinetic sand at home, try making cloud dough as a do-it-yourself alternative. It has a very similar texture to kinetic sand and is made of plain flour and oil. The recipes online call for baby oil but I use regular cooking oil and it turns out just fine. I use a 1:8 oil to flour ratio e.g. 2 cups flour mixed with 1/4 cup oil.
32. Transfer uncooked rice/pasta
If you don't mind the mess, younger toddlers love playing with uncooked rice and dried pasta. Offer it to them with lots of bowls, cups, and kitchen utensils and encourage them to scoop, pour and transfer. Or, drive cars, diggers, bulldozers, trucks, and tractors through it!
33. Pom pom ball drop
Stick toilet rolls or paper towel rolls vertically onto a wall and offer up a bowl of pom pom balls for them to drop through. If you have enough rolls at hand, you could make a rainbow ball drop by colouring the rolls different colours and getting them to match the colour of the pom pom ball to the roll. You can also offer tongs or spoon to use. If you are feeling creative enough, you could also arrange the toilet rolls in such a way that the pom pom balls would roll from one to another (they need to be more horizontal and you might need to halve the rolls or cut slits out of them to allow the balls to drop into them from above).
Oobleck is simply a gooey substance made out of cornflour/cornstarch mixed with water and food colouring (roughly 1.5-2 times the amount of cornflour/cornstarch to water- keep adjusting until you reach the desired consistency). It is a non-Newtonian fluid which simply means it becomes solid when you move it quickly and liquid when moved slowly. Miss A loves chucking in her Shopkins to play in it.
35. Hair salon
One of my favourite games when I'm tired is hairdresser's. I hand Miss A brushes, combs, clips and bows and lie down and close my eyes while she pretends to wash, cut, and style my hair. It's the best!
36. Cardboard fun
Have old packaging boxes/cardboard/toilet rolls/cereal boxes/egg cartons/tissue boxes on hand? Get creative and make a cardboard city, cardboard car, cardboard figures etc…The simplest thing I've done is just print out pictures of TV characters Miss A loves, stick them on cardboard, cut them out and let her play with them. Another simple thing is to draw a face on a toilet roll and put some scrunched up tissue in it for hair. Goes lovely with an egg carton boat (the egg carton is literally the boat- no extra work needed if you're lazy!)
37. Pasta threading
Stick chopsticks or straws vertically into a ball of play dough and give your toddler penne pasta to thread through. Great for hand-eye coordination.
38. Pasta necklace
As an alternative to pasta threading, try making a necklace by threading penne through string. Colour the pasta for more fun. Or, if you want an edible necklace, try threading Cheerios cereal!
39. Read books
This sounds really obvious but there's no better way to pass time! Dig out old books you haven't read for a while or read a book and try to act it out e.g. We're going on a bear hunt!
40. Balloon party
Blow up balloons and throw them all about! Turn off the lights and shine a torch through them! Draw faces with markers! Hit them to each other with sticks/paddles! If you have water balloons at hand, fill them up and throw them into the bath to pop them.
41. Laundry basket boat
Let the kids climb into the laundry basket and pretend they are in a stormy sea by flapping a sheet on top of them.
42. Jungle/Safari hunt
Place animal figurines/soft toys around the room, make binoculars out of toilet rolls and string, and pretend you're on a jungle/safari hunt. How many animals can you spot?
43. Dress ups
Pull out all the dress ups, hats, sunglasses, scarves etc you can find and let them go wild.
44. Paint in a bag
For mess-free fun, squirt paint into a ziplock bag, seal it up, and let them trace their finger on it and move the paint around. Encourage them to trace letters or shapes if you wish.
45. Musical instruments
Make shakers out by putting uncooked rice in a bottle, guitars by looping rubberbands around an empty tissue box, drums out of pots and containers etc.
46. Research a topic
Decide on a topic tor research and centre your day's play around it. For example, elephants. Read an elephant book. Play with elephant toys. Watch elephant videos. Colour in a picture of an elephant. Dress up as an elephant. Make a trunk out of toilet rolls. Learn to spell the word elephant. You could also research a place, a sport, a vehicle etc.
47. Play a game
Hide and seek, musical chairs, Simon says, freeze, dead fish…Or bring out the toddler-friendly board games like Hungry Hippo or Mouse Trap if you have them.
48. Bath fun
Slime Baff is a powder that turns your bathwater into slime. It's a bit pricey ($10 for one pack in Australia) but it's worth keeping around for when you just need two hours of peace. I've heard of some parents who put a bit of food dye into baths to colour the water and swear it doesn't stain the bathtub or anything…but I haven't personally tried that yet.
49. Teddy bear hospital
Gather the sick toys and bring out the doctor kit! Get out pillows or blankets for the patients, strips of cloth for bandages, Band-Aids, and you can use the syringes from the kids' medicine if you don't have any pretend ones.
50. Watch a movie/TV
If all fails, don't feel guilty if you need to turn on the TV to keep the kids occupied and maintain your sanity. My kids both watch TV/YouTube every day! As long as it's part of a balanced lifestyle, isn't the ONLY thing they're doing all day, and they're watching age-appropriate shows, TV is totally fine for them!
Some of these activities might seem very simple, but never underestimate the power of setting up a scene to entice them to play. For example, they might have cooking/food toys available to them everyday and you may think aren't interested in them anymore, but when you lay those food toys out on a picnic mat with plates, bowls and spoons, and surround them with soft toys, they will be suddenly interested in playing with it!
I try to set up particular scenes with specific themes in mind but once the kids start playing with it, I try to avoid prompting their play and just follow their lead. Kids have lovely untainted creative minds and you want them to imagine anything they want to instead of correcting them to what you think something is. You see a cup, they might see a mini spaceship for their Peppa Pig figurine! You might intend to set up a picnic but they might want to pretend they're at a funfair or a food stall! Ask them to explain their picture or play scene to you instead of asking "oh is that X or Y?"
Lastly, don't be disheartened if you set up an invitation to play and they literally play with it for one minute. For young kids, any length of play is a success. You set it up and that's your job done! They decide what they want to do with it!