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20 indoor activities for little kids—besides TV

by Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

“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 to be entertained by major Hollywood corporations.

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, and a few hours of distraction just isn’t worth that, in my opinion.

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.

20 indoor activities for kids (besides TV)

1.  Read a book.

This is a go-to favorite in our family.  Our kids’ books are right in our living room, available for access any time of day.  The kids know they can pull a book off the shelves at any time and enjoy.

2.  Write a book.

Even if your kids aren’t yet writing fluently, they can still compose literature on their own.  Create a collection of blank books, and let your kids illustrate a story.  Later, you can 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 later.

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 Kids has a great selection of quality literature 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.

Corey wrote a great post on how to 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.

Amass a small collection of hand-me-down clothes and thrift store finds in a dress-up box for your kids.  They can use these to 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, and enjoy lunch together.  Kids think it’s a big treat to do the everyday in a special place, and the floor is one of those places.  Or brew up some warm tea (my daughter’s favorite is blackberry), and have a little tea time in cups with saucers, alongside crackers or sweet bread for an afternoon treat.

8.  Make homemade play-doh.

Play-doh made from scratch is incredibly easy, and you can make an endless array of colors with basic food dye.  Plus, it doesn’t have that awful commercial-brand smell.  Spread the outdoor tablecloth on the floor, and give them dull knives, a rolling pin, and some cookie cutters.

9.  Help with chores.

Many younger kids think it’s a blast to help parents with the chores, but even if they don’t, it’s good for them to do chores anyway.  It teaches kids that running the house is a family effort, and that life involves work (and things we don’t always enjoy doing).  You can find a preschool chore chart on the downloads page.

10.  Save up those TP rolls and wad up your socks.

Arrange TP 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. Here are some ideas for good kids’ music.

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.  This is another baby’s-taking-a-nap activity.

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.  Help your child 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 simple playdate.

Invite your child’s good friend over—this often makes for an even easier day, because your kiddo has a playmate instead of asking you to play all the time.  It depends on the age and the particular friend, of course, but I’ve found that when my daughter has a friend over, I barely see her.  They’re engulfed in their own little world in the playroom, content with each other’s company.

15.  Play shop.

Create different shop kits from thrift store and sale finds.  The next time you’re at a craft store, pick up some fake flowers on clearance.  Make some homemade plant labels, save some empty seed packets, and hang on to those temporary pots from store-bought plants—all these supplies will make great tools for a flower shop at home.  A notepad, pencil, apron, tray, and play food are all the kids need to play restaurant at the dining room table.

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 it could be a new permanent look.

17.  Supply some cardboard boxes.

If you haven’t recently moved or purchased a new appliance, go to your local grocery store and see if they have any cardboard boxes you could take off their hands.  Bring a few home, and let your child’s imagination take over.  They might build a castle, take off on a spaceship, or go sailing to a new world.

18.  Go on a treasure hunt.

Think of some unusual spots around your house, or plant some treasures in rooms and on shelves.  Then make a list of objects, 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.  And it’s a good chance to teach about numbers, fractions, nutrition, and providing for the family.

20.  Nothing.

Boredom is good for kids.  Children are seldom truly bored, they just haven’t lately exercised that part of the brain that requires them to use their imagination.  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.

i guess she's bored

It’s a good lesson to learn that life is not always entertaining, and that they’re not the center of attention.  And if you’ve got a typical home, there’s actually plenty they can do.  So don’t feel like you always have to provide options and events for your children.  They’ll be just fine exercising their brain.


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  1. I thought the last one was stupid. I know that children should learn patience but if they dont have anything to do, their just going to come up to you and piss you off.

  2. My boys enjoyed a pile of flour in the middle of the table with their dinky cars. They would make roads through hills and create interesting tracks in them. It was easy clean up and we stored the flour in a container to reuse… with their cars and trucks only!

  3. THIS is so stupid kids don’t need to be bored its not good because they could do sutupid thing serisously you parents need help

  4. Loved your post so well. I couldn’t do it better so I added your link to my blog about summer heat safety. “I’ve steam heat and a microwave:” Hop it is OK. Malika

  5. I’m 13 and me and my 11 year old sister just built a HUGE blanket fort in our basement… We are now playing games in it! It took about an hour but it was worth it! (: Forts are fun to build no matter how old you are!

  6. avatar
    miranda says:

    my son is 5 he loves building houses out of cardboard boxes….and out of wood.

  7. avatar
    Lois Rumsey says:

    Love this list! In our house (with a nine and ten year old) we have ‘Technology Tokens’ – each is worth 30 minutes of either TV or computer time and they get 2 of these on a school day and 3 on a weekend or holiday day. The kids set their own timers and switch off when the 30 minutes is up. It’s worked really well for us to limit screen time and encourage the kids to use their imaginations.

  8. Grow a pet TIckleMe Plant from seeds and watch how the leaves fold together and the branches droop when you Tickle It! See video…this is a winner

  9. Sounds like too much catering for the kids. Boredom is not only good. But it is essential. But not the main ingredient. Discipline and responsibility, as well as learning etiquette and humility are the primary activities in our home. And they should all revolve around biblical principles. Anything fun should be limited and highly appreciated. Today’s children are drunk on themselves. Spoiled silly. They are taught that life is all about finding ways to get what you want. That’s a quick road to a place called Hell.

  10. I LOVE these suggestions, and MUST share them with my facebook customers! I am also going to let my daughter know aobut this blog! She has 2 girsl under 3 years old! I’ll be back for sure! :-) Connie

  11. Awesome ideas, thank you. When I gave my daughter(5) choices of what she wanted to do while her brother and dad build a model… she was so excited about re-arranging her room! I would have never even thought to mention that as a fun thing to do, lol. Way more productive than playing pet shops with her!

  12. Thank you for the good information.

  13. avatar
    nivethikaa says:

    no;20 is boring for kids actually

  14. avatar
    Duncan Faber says:

    We spice up all our indoor activities by having an audiobook play in the background. We have them on when the kids are playing, cooking, relaxing… whatever. There’s lots of great sites to get them, but we use this site a lot because all the stories are free and original. Here’s the link if anyone is interested. http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/moral-stories-for-kids

  15. My kids(4 and 7) love empty cardboard boxes. When we get gear for testing the first place they go is inside the box with blankets, flashlights and their trucks. They call them their secret cave or house, and of course there are no girls allowed. I have also been getting my older son to help more with dinner, which keeps him with me for 45 or so minutes and not fighting with his brother:)

  16. this is cool

  17. My favourite indoor activity, well for my kids is to do the xbox just dance videos, we dance to the super mario dance, Dora and Micheal Jackson’s, thriller. My son loves to dance, as long as I dance with him. He also likes to play pretend and usually, I just watch him when he is in his own little world, as long as I am watching he feels like he is performing for his little sister and me. I also like to bring out the tooth picks and marshmallows and see what shapes he can make. He usually just makes abominal snowmen or little figurines and then he eats the marshmallows. There are a lot of times when there is boredom, especially since I took away a lot of the sonic video games.

  18. OUTDOORS, OUTDOORS, OUTDOORS!! Kids are indoors at school all day, looking down at their desks, reading or writing. When they’re home, get a break from computers and tv, and go outside with a ball and PLAY! (School works on the mental side, outdoors adds the physical, uplifting side- a HAPPIER day! Vitamin D in sun is vitally needed.)
    The SUN wakes us up (whether cloudy or not), exercise the key, playing any type of sport or hobby. Simple (like kicking or passing a ball, kites, bikes, etc.) or a literal sport, both fun!
    Playgrounds and parks will be the most energetic, and usually the FUNNEST for most all kids, ANY AGE- even teenagers!
    DON’T FORGET THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SUN, DAILY- NOON BEST (vitamin D and emotionally uplifting)!

  19. In about a month, I have agreed to babysit my two nephews, under age 4, for two weeks while their teacher parents chaperone a trip to Europe. I am a little panicky at the idea of entertaining them all day every day. Thanks for the great ideas and the assurance that boredom is OK.

  20. I wanted to thank you for including the piece about “nothing”. It seems like kids constantly need to be entertained these days (whether from television, insanely intricate/noisy/flashy toys, scheduled activities and even well-intentioned caregivers trying to enrich the lives of their children) that we forget about some of the simple things…including just sitting and doing nothing. There’s a lot to be said about a child being able to find something to do on their own. The rest of the ideas listed, however, are amazingly helpful when those moments of self-initiated entertainment need a little help!

  21. When my grandson was three he was very active. He loved playing with a ball so I would put a clothes basket in the hall in front of my home office door where I was working on the computer. This way he could see me every time he would ring the basket and I could see him and give him praise and interact with him while doing my work.

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  24. Greetings! Very useful advice within this post! It’s
    the little changes that make the most significant changes.

    Thanks for sharing!

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