Trapped inside because of cold weather, rain, or a chicken pox quarantine? Just plain bored? It’s probably driving your little ones nuts, and chances are it’s draining your sanity as well. You’ve already tried television and exhausted your supply of toys. Here are some ideas for new activities and changes of scenery to help you stop the indoor insanity. We’ve included a few out-of-your-house adventures, too, for those whose kids aren’t contagious. After reading through the list, you might create an inclement weather emergency kit with a few toys, craft supplies, and books that you can pull out when the weather drops below ten degrees and a case of the stuck inside blues threatens to strike. – Oz Spies
1. Bring the Outside Inside
Snow on the ground? Heap a bunch into pots and pans and sculpt away. Wet, cold, and constantly changing, it’s especially interesting to texture-oriented babies and toddlers.
2. Indoor Camping and a Picnic
Pretend the power’s out and set up a tent in the living room. Don’t have a tent? A rigged-up sheet will do just as well. Surround the tent with stuffed animals, and then eat lunch while sitting on the carpet. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can also cuddle in front of the fireplace (or stovetop, or microwave) and make s’mores.
3. Homemade Play Dough
If you’ve got flour, water, and salt in the cupboard, you can make homemade playdough. Food coloring or vanilla extract can spice it up a little. Since the ingredients are all from your pantry, it doesn’t matter if a bit ends up in the sculptor’s mouth during the creation of a miniature Eiffel Tower.
4. Pretend You’re a Tourist
Your town probably has lots of attractions that you’ve never tried. Even art museums that seem targeted to adults can have hands-on, interactive activities for kids. Planetariums or science museums are always an option, and you can also try obscure museums you’ve never hit before, like the Captain Kazoo museum. Other cities have museums just for kids filled with hours of indoor fun. Search the American Association of Museum’s directory to find more options across the United States. If you’re far from museums, many still have online resources, like the Smithsonian Kids site. And hey, even when it’s cold outside, there are still animals at the zoo – and some of them, like the reptiles, are roaming around in the warmth of an indoor area. Dash from inside space to inside space and enjoy having the zoo all to yourself. Indoor aquariums are also an option.
5. Go Exploring
Don’t want to spend the money on admission to museums? Then explore free or low-cost indoor attractions. Go to the train station and watch people coming and going. Check out an art gallery or the library. Visit the tallest building around and ride the elevator to the top. Request a tour of the local fire station. Get on the bus or subway and see where it takes you. You might find a new grilled cheese hot spot in a part of town you haven’t visited in years.
6. Build a Fort
This old school entertainment is still good today. Get out the pillows and blankets and start piling them up. Then, after building the fort, let your kids get out some energy and crash down the walls. Diving onto a few pillows won’t hurt, and it’ll likely inspire a few giggles. Later, you can use the same supplies to create an obstacle course.
Go to someone else’s house and use their toys – or, if you don’t want to venture out into the cold, invite them over and ask them to bring along a few toys or games to share.
8. Be Crafty
Crafts can be a great distracter, especially when you’re stuck inside because someone’s under the weather. Get an early start on Valentine’s Day Cards by doing a little vegetable stamping – cut a potato in half, cut the flesh into the shape of a heart, then let your child dip it in some paint and stamp the potato on construction paper. Grandparents will love whatever masterpieces are created. Other craft possibilities include fun with stickers, gluing together paper chains, stringing necklaces of dried pasta, or sewing cardboard cards with yarn.
9. The Lava Game
Imagine that the floor is covered in hot lava, and encourage your child to figure out how to get across the house without touching the floor. Note: this is not a good option for homes with a firm “No climbing on the furniture” policy.
10. Hats Off to the Chef
Even kids as young as two can mix up some real – or fake – food. Make English muffin pizzas and let the kids pick their own toppings. Stir a batch of cookie dough. Roll up the little ones’ sleeves and let them knead some sticky bread dough. Follow a recipe, or just wing it and see what comes of combining maraschino cherries, oatmeal, almond butter and marshmallows. Best of all, they’ll have something delicious – or at least edible – to try afterward. Try http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/cafe/ or www.weelicious.com for recipes.
11. Play Dress Up
Get out the Halloween costumes and the uniform you saved from your first job at a diner. Let your kids dig through a pile of hats and scarves and anything from 1982, and see what sort of things they come up with. Even those too young to get into rhinestone sunglasses and tiaras can have fun putting on and taking of an extra-large hat or stomping around inside wearing rain boots and dragging an umbrella.
12. Dance Machine
Put on some tunes and bust a move. One of the worst parts of being stuck inside is the pent-up energy. Teach your kids to pop and lock, do the running man, or even do-si-do. Note that this can be especially fun when combined with Activity #11.
13. Make an Indoor Winter Wonderland or Carnival
Pull out the cotton balls and have a snowball fight. Afterward, use those same cotton balls and glue to make snowmen. Or, create an entire indoor carnival, complete with beanbag games and stickers for prizes. Toothless carnies optional.
14. Engage in Retail Therapy
No actual purchasing required. Check out the local bookstore, where there might be a story hour. Or, run around inside the warm mall – many malls have a toddler-friendly play area. Since malls often open before the stores open, morning people (or those forced to be awake by an early riser) can hit the mall and just walk around.
15. Mad Scientists
Try hands-on science experiments using stuff you’ve got in your kitchen. Polish old pennies with lemon juice or watch yeast grow and fizz. Younger kids can see who can blow the biggest bubble out of wands made of homemade pipe cleaners dipped into your own bubble solution.
16. Pull out the Board and Card Games
Candyland, Checkers, Go Fish – these are classics. Even if your children are too young to play by the rules of a given game, you can throw a bunch of cards down on the floor and ask them how many matches they can make. If you’d rather encourage your child to play alone and she’s old enough, encourage her to build a house of cards or dominos.
17. Is it Safe? Then It’s a Toy.
Go around your house and grab anything that your child doesn’t usually play with. Pots and spoons, of course, are a given. But you can also use Kleenex boxes – really, if your one-year-old is happy pulling out all the tissues for fifteen minutes, it might be worth the mess – old yarn, brooms, calculators, magazines, and more. Challenge your daughter to a Tupperware stacking contest and see who can pile up the most plastic. Older kids can make collages out of catalogs and younger ones can just destruct to their heart’s content. A big empty cardboard box filled with balled up socks or cotton balls can be fun for a one-year-old, and the same cardboard box can become a custom-made rocket ship for older kids.
18. Beach Party!
Your tub? The pool. Your kitchen? The beach. Make sand castles out of a little flour mixed with water. Hide a plastic crab in a bowl of oats and see who can dig it up. Wear your swimsuits. Get out the goggles and put your head underwater. If your child’s not much of a beach person but you’re still up for imaginary travels, you can also pull out the atlas, close your eyes, and pick a country. Spain? Well, then, that’s your destination. Research the country online, mix up a Spanish tortilla of egg and potato for lunch, and spend a few hours imagining you’re visiting the Alhambra or watching a flamenco show, using whatever props you can find or create.
19. Indoor Tumbling
Throw down a few pillows, push aside the coffee table, and teach your child how to do somersaults or cartwheels.
20. Simon Says Sshhh…
Want a little silence? Try a game of Simon Says, or Hide and Go Seek. You can swap off who’s Simon. Start with standing on one foot or hopping in a circle, and work up to Simon Says no talking. It might get you three minutes of quiet time.
21. Paper Creations
Draw, color, and paint. Make origami. See whose paper airplane can fly the farthest. Fold paper hats or paper dolls. Spread out an old newspaper and trace around your child, then let him color in the life-size version of himself.
22. Play Places
Many towns have indoor play places, whether they’re free ones at fast food joints or elaborate trampoline and bouncy-house-filled heavens that you can access for a fee. Yes, they are germ havens, but if you’re desperate, do a lot of hand washing and go out to explore. If your town doesn’t have one, consider hitting the local gym and spending some time running around the basketball court.
Sand and water tables are billed as a summertime activity, but you can still engage all five senses in the winter. Experiment with crunching tin foil or squishing Jell-O. Have your child close his eyes and touch something with an interesting texture – corduroy, shaving cream, faux fur – and guess what he’s feeling. Fill up a muffin tin with dried oatmeal. Get out an old box and dump in dried beans or pasta, then add a scooper. Just a panful of water on top of a few towels can be fun for little ones, and older children can fill up containers with food coloring-tinted water by using an old medicine dropper or a funnel.
24. Nurture Your Budding Picasso
Mix up some instant pudding or pull out a Snack Pack, and you’ve got everything you need for pudding finger painting, an especially good sort of painting for those under two who are inclined to taste the art supplies. Older kids can sponge paint with sponges cut into shapes or letters and can make prints by dipping a cookie cutter or kitchen gadget into paint and pressing it on paper. Let your child compare the paint blots from a whisk and a slotted spoon.
25. Get Dramatic
Or, dig out some old, clean socks and a few markers, and make sock puppets. Rig up a sheet between two chairs, and take turns being the puppet master. For those who are more Pink Floyd than The Sound of Music, take out a few flashlights, affix colored plastic or tissue paper over the lights with rubber bands and, voila, you’ve got all you need to create a homemade light show.
And if all else fails . . . Go Outside!
Bundle up and get a little cold or wet. Unless it’s twenty below with thirty mph winds and going outside is truly dangerous, heading out for even for ten minutes can hit a toddler’s reset button. Pile on double or triple layers, get one of those plastic covers to toss over the stroller. Go sledding, build a snowman, cover the yard with snow angels, and experience the winter wonderland.