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Embrace the Great Indoors with These Fun, Free Kids Activities

From poking at Oobleck to sending snail mail, there are loads of ways to have fun while we're stuck at home.
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Recently, parents have had to deal with school closures, limited access to friends and family and closures of places to visit like zoos, museums and playgrounds. Now, as winter descends, they have to add cold and rainy weather to the mix.

As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, there may be little for kids to do other than stay home and find ways to entertain themselves. But with some creativity and a small amount of planning, parents and caregivers can help make indoor time fun and engaging.

A mother and child watch a tablet together under a sheet decorated with small lights. iStock
A mother and child watch something on a tablet together under a sheet decorated with small lights.

Danielle Corneille is a speech pathologist who specializes in working with children and is currently teaching a pod of three elementary school students in Northern California. When wildfires hit the area this summer, her students were completely stuck indoors for multiple days.

Corneille planned several activities to keep the kids entertained. Here are some of her suggestions:

  • Meet Oobleck. This science experiment involves mixing cornstarch with water and teaches kids about the differences between liquids and solids, viscosity and principles of physics. If you press on the mixture, it gets thicker; whereas if you press on it slowly, your finger passes through it as if it were water. You can also try adding different food colors to look at how colors mix and make your Oobleck after reading Dr. Seuss’ book “Bartholomew and the Oobleck.” Here is a recipe from Scientific American. Watch the video of the process below.
How to Make Oobleck, by Scientific American

  • Make slime. Like Oobleck, but slimier. Try mixing glue, contact saline solution and baking soda to make a stretchy, slippery substance that will keep kids entertained for hours. Find a recipe from i heart naptime here.
  • Design a solar oven. Using an old pizza box, black construction paper and some tin foil, you can fashion a solar oven that will heat up s’mores for the kids. This exercise teaches kids about scientific principles such as insulation and radiation. Of course, it only works on a sunny day, but thankfully, those are plentiful in SoCal even in winter! For more detailed instructions, check out NASA’s website.
  • Imagine and build a structure. Creating anything will spark kids’ imagination and teach them some math and physics principles. It can be a small home out of art supplies or a giant fort made of couch cushions that’s a perfect cozy spot to read. Corneille suggests a few different ideas, such as making a home for a favorite stuffed animal or designing a boat or raft that will float in the sink or bathtub. For specific instructions to make a boat, try this. And, if you don’t mind sugar, making a gingerbread house out of graham crackers, frosting and small candy is always a great way to get creative.
  • Make your own activity book or board game. Of course, you can entertain kids with a board game or a coloring book inside, but Corneille says you will get more interest and spark more creativity if you involve kids in making the activities themselves. She suggests creating a community play mat or town out of cardboard and other household materials (even better if it's 3D) and playing with cars or action figures on it (ideas here), designing and building your own board game and pieces (check here for ideas) and making your own game book or coloring book for a friend. Then, to get kids moving, you can also create a scavenger hunt to do around the house (take ideas from here if you need them).
  • Send mail. Another engaging activity for kids is to make envelopes out of construction paper and have kids write a letter to send in it, either to another household member or even for family far away. You can also cut out hearts from construction paper and have kids write small thank you notes (or dictate notes if they aren’t writing yet) and leave them for people in the house or drop them off at a friend or neighbor’s mailbox.

Jana Wilson is a kindergarten teacher in La Mesa, outside of San Diego, and has been teaching remotely this year. After teaching for a long time, she has lots of suggestions for what to do indoors when the weather outside is not great and she’s been asking families to take a stab at them at home this year as kids attend classes remotely.

Here are some of them:

  • “For indoor wiggles, we use a website/app called GoNoodle a lot,” she says. “They have a collection of short videos that get kids up and moving — we use it often for brain breaks at school.”
  • “I've had families create obstacle courses through their house and then kids run through them and they try to beat their time,” she says. For example, you might start in the hallway with stuffed animals to hop over, then head into a room where you have to touch the wall, do a set number of jumping jacks, and then move to the next room for another activity. “It’s silly stuff but gets kids moving and competing with themselves,” Wilson says.
  • Have a “snow” ball fight. To do this, wad up pieces of scrap paper and draw a line down the middle of a room. Each team starts with a set number of snowballs on their side. Then, set a timer. The goal is to have the smallest number of snowballs on your side when the timer goes off. “They sell large pom pom snowballs that are great for this too, but paper works just as well,” Wilson says.
  • “I'm always a fan of fine motor activities; I made my students fine motor kits at the beginning of the school year,” she says. “They included things like small puzzles, play dough, beads for stringing onto chenille stems or string, a hole puncher, colored pencils, link rings, legos — anything that gets kids working with their hands and building fine motor skills.”
  • Classic board games such as Candy Land, Uno, Go Fish are “always good for practicing various skills and developing good sportsmanship,” Wilson says.
  • “We've been sending home monthly STEM kits for the kids to do and then record themselves explaining their project,” she says. “We send home materials but not too many directions.” Some of her activities were to make a catapult with popsicle sticks, a spoon and rubber band and a pom pom "turkey.”  For more detailed instructions and a list of supplies, check this out.

If all else fails, “Having a box of random stuff for kids to create with is always a great idea,” Wilson says. “It can be recycled containers, toilet paper rolls, ribbons, string, or recycled paper. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just stuff to spark imagination and get kids being creative.”

Wilson says it’s important to remember that planning out activities is helpful, but it’s also a good idea to allow kids a chance to be creative and come up with projects on their own. They may take an idea you’ve planned and build on it, taking it to new directions you didn’t imagine.

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