My list of stay-at-home kids activities for parents who need a break is in response to all the blog posts and articles out there that push the idea of how to keep kids busy at home or how to keep kids entertained at home so you can get stuff done.
Guess what? It’s not possible!
It may be the reality you are living, but it’s not a reasonable expectation. So, first, give yourself a little love and realize that you can’t do it all.
Keeping the Kids Busy and Entertained — Is Not Realistic
It’s my belief that kids don’t need to be kept busy or entertained. They need love. They need reassurance. They need comfort.
They might need some play prompts and supervision, but they don’t need BUSY and ENTERTAINMENT at this time.
In fact, most of the parents I know have the answer to that question: TV or video games. It’s super easy for us. (And it’s okay if you need to use those tools right now — with no guilt.)
I see parents trying to go along with things as usual – when the WORLD is in crisis mode. Give yourself a break. Seriously!
So why did I title this post “for parents who need a break” if I’m not promising to keep your kids busy or entertained?
Because I’m proposing your family might just want to embrace some stay-at-home kids activities that will distract you from all the cannots right now and give you a feeling of calm and security that comes from creative play.
- The calm and security of simple and repetitive tasks.
- Creative ways to express what you are all feeling through play.
- We’ll explore EASY activities you can do right now even with so many limitations on our movements outside our homes.
Plus, you have to have faith that your kids KNOW how to play. Trust that they KNOW how to use their imagination.
They just need the time and space and proper supervision to do what’s already built into their being.
I’m just giving you a break from coming up with ideas!
Stay-at-Home Kids Activities You WON’T Get from My List
Can we just take a moment and vent about the lists out there? Here is what is driving me to bang my head against the wall right now:
CRAFTS – No, I do not have the supplies for that at home, nor the energy to supervise every step.
SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS – I am already cleaning up so much, plus there’s no baking soda at the store. Plus, I’m not using the precious little flour I have to make playdough.
FANCY RECIPES – I’m already skipping aisles and racing through the store as fast as possible! There’s no way I can go to 3 different places for the ingredients involved in that ridiculous recipe.
GARDENING PROJECTS – I would love to take out my smallish front lawn and put in garden beds. It’s on the list. But every home improvement project I’ve ever started involves multiple trips to various stores for supplies.
I keep looking at the lists and none of them work for me.
So I wanted to make a list of things you can do at home without a lot of effort or expense! Some involve screens, but it’s a more interactive or enriching activity than straight movies or video games.
39 Stay-at-Home Kids Activities to Try on Their Own
Of course, stick with activities that are age-appropriate! If your child isn’t developmentally ready to do an activity on their own – then it’s not the right activity for you right now. And doing the activity alone doesn’t mean leaving your child alone! It just means the play originates with the kids rather than you serving as Cruise Director.
Now is the perfect time to try some stay-at-home kids activities that might take a little longer for them and practice your patience by letting it take some time.
Parks to Kids Day (instead of Kids to Parks Day) Family Resources page with home activities. I always promote Kids to Parks Day which is an event that happens annually in May. This is their twist to celebrate in 2020.
Try the Seek app by iNaturalist around your neighborhood. iNaturalist is the super-powered adult community/citizen science version and Seek is the kid-safe version of the app. Check out the user guide to find out what you are getting and how to make the most of using the app. It helps identify those mystery plants you’ve always wondered about identifying.
Find an age-appropriate activity on the California Academy of Sciences Learning Resources for Students at Home page. There are some that do require supervision, but others that you can set up and kids can experience.
PBS KIDS Read-Alongs by famous authors which can be paired with activities and printables.
Let Levar Burton read aloud to you. Reading Rainbow was a FAVORITE show of mine when I was a kid. Mr. Burton unlocked a love of books and stories in generations of kids. He’s reading books aloud on his Twitter page under #LevarBurtonReadsLive or #LevarBurtonReads.
Make 5 minute Cloud Dough (ingredients lotion + food coloring + cornstarch). For teens, this could be a great stress-reliever. I just want to squish it!
Chores can be fun for littles.
- Feeding pets
- Meal prep helpers
- Setting the table
- Emptying the dishwasher
- Watering plants
- Folding laundry
- Whatever else you think might be appropriate!
Laces off! What if you removed the laces from all the tennis shoes in the house so they’d need to be re-threaded (okay, maybe not ALL the shoes – you can start with one pair)? Kids who know how to tie shoes may not know how to lace up shoes from scratch. Teach it once and see how they do.
Finger Knitting for Kids if you happen to have yarn lying around. Sarah from BellaLunaToys.com shares a quick 6 minute lesson for knitting with fingers rather than knitting needles. It’s great cross-body movement for healthy child development.
Coloring slow or with different materials. You can print out coloring pages or make use of old coloring books. Maybe you will put it together into a book when all this is over. A child who has only colored with crayons can try with colored pencils. Or maybe let the kids experiment shading with a regular No. 2 pencil? Did you now Chris Van Allsburg illustrated the original Jumanji children’s book in PENCIL? (You can thank my childhood librarians Mrs. Millington and Mrs. Sullivan for that little gem. I still remember them reading it aloud to my class and my wonder that it was ALL illustrated in pencil.)
ArtforKidsHub.com for drawing and art tutorials. This is one of my nephew’s favorite activities.
Flashlight play. Simple play with a prop.
- Shadow puppets on the wall — or how about shadow dancing?
- Use it as a spotlight for an impromptu performance.
- Go outside and do a nature walk in the dark.
- Snuggle under a blanket with your child and read a book.
- This may not be the most PC use of your flashlight — but my daughter and her aunt came up with this one. She tucks the flashlight in the back of her pants so it shines on the ceiling. Then she runs around the house screaming “Ghost Light!” (from the animated short with Mater on the Cars DVD). If that’s not hilarious enough, she turns it so the light shines down inside her clothes and changes her chant to: “Firefly!!”
Stack of towels play. Put out a stack of towels and see what your kids do with it.
- Make houses and forts by taking outdoor furniture and draping with towels
- Create beds, blankets, and pillows for pretend camping
- Dress-up costumes and capes
- Come up with games, like Hide-and-Seek
- Pretend picnics
Put Play in a Bag and See What Comes Out. This is an old post, but it stands the test of time. Put some items in a bag and make a play challenge for the kids and yourselves.
Ball play indoors with a soft ball or bean bags. Pretend City even has a Gross Motor Activity video for inspiration.
Restaurant pretend. Make your dining room into a restaurant. Can the kids decorate or set the table differently based on different meals? Can they make up a creative menu for the evening? How about a bouquet for the table made out of construction paper flowers? Are the kids going to serve the food or are the adults going to pretend to be the chef and/or server?
Places for Babies to Play (except not the beach and not the playground right now) – but there are a bunch of other tips in my post for ways to play at home.
Magic Treehouse Mission Game. My son loved Magic Tree House books back when he first started reading. They were the first early chapter books he could read. Back then they had a passport game. Now they have a Mission Game which gives the kids motivation to move on to the next lesson. So if you have the books sitting around the house, then start reading! Or re-read.
No Time for Flashcards preschool activities (she has been blogging longer than me and she has a bunch of week-by-week Preschool Activity Plans for Working Parents). You don’t have to be working to use the activities! And it doesn’t have to be educational to be fun – definitely focus on the PLAY side of these activities.
Hopscotch or driveway obstacle course. Get out the chalk or painter’s tape and make something up. Pinterest has tons of ideas!
Stay-at-Home Kids Activities for Tweens and Teens
NaNoWriMo Young Writers Flash Fiction Contest to write a short flash fiction story (up to 300 words) that somehow includes these 3 words: rainbow, spider, cake. I can’t tell you how much I love the Young Writers Program – so if you have a budding creative make sure you connect them with this program so they can get all sorts of cheerleading and encouragement for their writing! (Their emails are the best thing ever!)
Earn a Junior Ranger Badge from Home to connect to National Parks when we can’t be there. This can work for younger kids, but it’s better for teens and tweens who have the ability to focus on the activities and complete on their own.
- I’m also a fan of the blog called Park Ranger John because he is an enthusiast of all things National Parks. He has an amazing list of Junior Ranger programs that can be experienced, even if you aren’t going to earn your badge online. For instance, if you are planning your next family trip in the future and you think you’ll be headed to a particular park then you can check out the activities ahead of time.
- Another idea is to have the kids pick your next family trip based on the activities!
Try playing Farkle with friends (on Facetime or a phone call). I feel like this dice game is a cross between Yahtzee and the card game of 21/Blackjack. It really requires some strategic thinking and if each household has a set of 6 dice, then the kids can roll their turn at home and still be able to all play together while apart.
Create customized BINGO cards in Canva. This web-based graphic design platform is so fun and really lets your creativity fly. Beyond BINGO games there are Instagram Stories templates and all sorts of other fun for socializing online.
Bring out old music instruments and learn to play. My son taught himself guitar from Justin Guitar when he was younger. My daughter finds piano lessons she likes on YouTube by typing in her favorite band (BTS) with “piano tutorial” or “easy piano” and she can usually find a decent lesson.
Headspace app for a quiet moment or mindful movement. We’ve been using this app for the past few weeks and we’re impressed with the activities. It has a free trial and LA County Mental Health just provided it to LA residents free of charge.
Plan a Dream Trip Itinerary. Doesn’t matter where or if you are actually going to go – or the cost! Explore a map, pick a place, pick a hotel, look at the tourism site. My daughter likes to make a Google – My Map out of her trip creations. It’s kind of fun to explore just the map and area, in addition to the order you could travel.
Write a fan letter to your favorite celebrity or author. Or local health care worker. Or local first responder. We could all use some encouraging mail. If you’ve been inspired, let them know!
LEGOS for older kids. You probably have them from when they were younger. Pull them back out and challenge them to set a scene or create a stop motion. Even if you’ve lost the instructions, we have a LEGO Ideas Book for inspiration, but there’s also a LEGO Ideas website.
Learn touch typing for free with Typing Club. Gain a skill while challenging yourself to be able to type without looking at the keyboard.
Keep a private journal or use Natalie Long’s COVID 19 Time Capsule worksheets. I’m actually doing this one and including news stories, moods, grocery lists, conversation highlights, and basically making a historical record of this strange time. It’s cathartic for me to write it out at the end of my day – and I think some teens might also find some comfort in this activity. It takes an hour out of my day and I’ve already filled up a 70 page college-ruled notebook and I’m only on Day #48.
Bake or make 5 ingredient or 3 ingredient recipes for baked goods or even family meals. Search the web or your cookbooks at home for some SIMPLE recipes using what you have in your pantry. You might be surprised with what you come up with! My daughter made us flourless chocolate cookies today that were scrumptious!
Pinterest for step-by-step art tutorials. When my daughter has the urge to draw, she heads to Pinterest to look up “art tutorials.”
Learn how to say these words and phrases in as many languages as possible with MANGO Languages. You can get free access with your OCPL library card – just scroll down to the Languages link.
- Thank You
- I Love You
Teach yourself to sew with a drawstring bag tutorial. I learned to sew in 7th grade home economics class and this was the first project we completed. Now this only works if you have a sewing machine and some fabric scraps – so no worries if you don’t.
Spa Day only using stuff you have at home. We have bubble bath, bath bombs, and face masks sitting around in bathroom cupboards. Even if you don’t, massage your hands with lotion and apply some nail polish for an at-home manicure. I’ve seen photos of sisters playing beauty shop together and even one of a dad who let his daughter paint his toenails as a reward for finishing her 2nd grade homework. If you’ve got stuff at home, make up your own special spa day.
Make a Shutterfly book of past trips or for a family book. We’ve been using Shutterfly for years to record all our family milestones. I’m sure one will come out of this time at home. We’re forcing ourselves to take photos even though it feels like there’s nothing to photograph.
Google Docs with Friends. Most teens know how to use Google Docs for school, but it’s been fun to share a doc with friends and come up with some short stories or a novel. Friends get together and talk on the phone while working on their document and laughing through story ideas.
Do the April and May Orange County Spring Count (Bird Count) with eBird and Sea & Sage Audubon. Get information on how to participate directly from Sea & Sage.
My friend Alii Goedecke has a book called One Fun Thing. It’s something I’ve been doing ever since I had kids, but never had a name for it until I met Alii. She’s still coming up with awesome ideas and pinning them to her One Fun Thing Pinterest account. Check it out for more ideas!