“Mom, can I watch a movie?”
This is how I woke up this morning. A cute little four-year-old face, inches away from mine, asking for entertainment.
I don’t have a problem with TV or movies—we watch them both. But we all know they’re far too often the default choice of leisure time for children. They can easily suck away imagination, energy, and the innocence of our kids.
But during the dog days of summer, rainy days, and veritable blizzards in the backyard, it’s also hard to shoo your kids outside. So… what’s a parent to do? Not much. But there’s plenty that children can do indoors on their own without touching a remote (I’m a big fan of boredom). Here are a few ideas.
1. Read a book.
Our kids’ books are right in our living room, available any time of day. The kids know they can pull a book off the shelves whenever they want.
2. Write a book.
Even if your kids aren’t yet writing fluently, they can still create stories. Create a collection of blank books, and let your kids illustrate a story. Later, write the words for them as they dictate them to you, or they can sound out the words phonetically and write the story on their own.
(These books will make great keepsakes.)
3. Act out a book.
Does your child have a perennial favorite book? Have her act it out—the plot may take a unique turn, all her own. While I was making breakfast just this morning, my four-year-old daughter said, “Mom, right now I’m going on a walk at half past nine.”
4. Listen to a book.
Audible has a great selection of quality books for children, and Librivox has a large selection of free public domain books. Download a few to your mp3 player, and either give your child some headphones, or play the book over speakers while they play quietly.
5. Make an indoor clubhouse.
Build a blanket fort. Get your child started, and see how else they architect a little place of their own.
6. Perform a puppet show or play.
Collect hand-me-down clothes and thrift store finds as a dress-up box. Kids can create costumes for a play, with you as the audience. Or, they can let their stuffed animals star as puppets, and hide behind the couch for a dramatic reenactment starring their pretend friends.
You can also make a simple puppet show theater with a spring-loaded curtain rod and a piece of fabric in a doorway.
7. Have an indoor picnic or tea party.
Lay out an outdoor tablecloth on the floor for lunch—kids think it’s a big treat to do the everyday in a special place. Or, brew some tea (my daughter’s favorite is blackberry), and have a little tea time in cups with saucers, alongside crackers or bread for an afternoon treat.
8. Make homemade play-doh.
Play-doh made from scratch is easy, and you can make an endless array of colors with basic food dye. Spread the outdoor tablecloth on the floor, and give them dull knives, a rolling pin, and some cookie cutters.
9. Help with chores.
Chores teach kids that running the house is a family effort and that life involves work (and things we don’t always enjoy doing). (p.s.—A preschool chore chart on the downloads page.)
10. Save TP rolls and wad up your socks.
Arrange toilet paper rolls like bowling pins on one end of the hall. Stock up a few balled-up socks on the other. Bowl or throw at the pins, and you’ve got an indoor bowling alley. There’s tons of other crafts you can do with toilet paper rolls, too.
11. Get your groove on.
Even the parent can benefit from this little break in the day. Crank up the peppy music and get dancing. Even 10 minutes of jiving with release some wiggles, and it’s a stress relief for you, too.
12. Craft, craft, craft.
Our kids draw or create near daily. Keep a well-organized art cabinet handy, and your children can grab supplies whenever their muse strikes. If they want to paint, simply use that handy outdoor tablecloth again, and spread it on the kitchen floor.
13. Write a letter to a friend.
Old-fashioned letter writing is a dying art, what with e-mail being today’s communication method of choice. Let them write a letter to Grandma, her cousins, or a friend, and make someone’s day when they open their mailbox a few days later.
14. Have a playdate.
Invite your child’s friend over—this sometimes makes for an even easier day, because your kiddo has a playmate instead of asking you to play all the time.
15. Play shop or restaurant.
A notepad, pencil, apron, tray, and play food are all the kids need to play restaurant at the dining room table. Sticky notes make good price tags.
16. Rearrange the bedroom.
If your child is old enough to safely move small furniture around, let him explore his creative side and rearrange his bedroom. Depending on the result, it could be an afternoon set up or a new permanent look.
17. Two words: cardboard boxes.
Keep a few handy, and watch your child’s imagination take over: a castle, a spaceship, a sailboat for an adventure to a new world.
18. Go on a treasure hunt.
Take five minutes and hide some treasures (toys, rocks, whatever) around the house. Make a list of the items, and have your child go on a treasure hunt. If they can’t yet read, draw a sketch of the hidden item.
19. Have them help with cooking.
If they’re old enough to stir, sift, and pour, let them help you with the basics—pasta and pizza sauces, muffins, and breads are all kid-friendly. It’s a good way to teach numbers, fractions, nutrition, and basic life skills.
Boredom is good for kids. Make a rule that if your kid announces they’re bored, they’ll have to do chores. So if they truly can’t think of anything off-hand to do… eventually, they’ll think of something.