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If you have kids (or ever were one) you know that boredom can be a huge struggle. But it can also be a chance to get creative and find new things to do! When boredom hits in our house or when I have to occupy the kids while I work, I rely on some of the activities on this list.
I’ve tried to choose activities that will not only keep kids entertained, but also active and feeling purposeful. There’s plenty of ideas here that kids can do independently (an important value in our house).
To that end, most of the activities in this list require minimal parental involvement. I’ve noted the ones that call for a little more of a hands-on approach. We tend to save more involved or messy projects and games for family time when my husband and I can help out and be involved.
And if you have any tips for sanity-saving, low mess activities for kids of all ages, please share with other moms by commenting on this post!
Outdoor Activities for Kids
I always try to prioritize outdoor activities first, both for myself and the kids. There are plenty of proven health benefits to getting outside, such as:
- Fresh air (indoor air is much more contaminated)
- Exposure to sunlight (helps body wake up, keeps natural circadian rhythm in balance, increases vitamin D)
- Space to be active — climb, run, jump, etc.
- Invites imaginative play good for cognitive and social development
- Immune system stimulation from contact with healthy microbes in the soil, etc.
- Ecotherapy (time in nature has been shown to reduce stress)
Not to mention it keeps the mess from said activities out of the house!
Usually it isn’t hard to convince the kids to head outdoors (especially since we upgraded the backyard equipment), but when needed we simply require that they start their day outside.
Things Kids Can Do Outside
Many of these are fun for the whole family but can also be done independently by older kids. We also sometimes use our adventure points system to reward positive use of outdoor time:
- Family/sibling Nerf wars
- Water balloons – we use sponges, not balloons, to avoid choking hazards and plastic waste
- Build a fairy garden
- Build a gnome house (a small scale log cabin for example)
- Stargaze (look for constellations)
- Practice survival skills – Like fishing, starting a fire, building a shelter, etc. (needs more parental involvement)
- Take nature walks/hikes
- Challenge older kids to set up an outdoor scavenger hunt or obstacle course (Kids get especially motivated if Mom/Dad have to take the challenge they created after work is done!)
- Create a sidewalk chalk masterpiece
- Blow bubbles (make your own with this recipe)
- Climb trees
- Make a slip and slide
- Build a raft (and see if it will float)
- Fly a kite
- Set up a nature station with some binoculars and guide books – our kids love this one
- Have a campfire and cook a meal over it (requires adult supervision)
- Help in the garden
- Create a mini-golf course
- Nature photography (let the kids use a digital camera or old phone to take pictures)
- Nature journaling (and sketching) – this self-guided activity book helps kids see their backyard through new eyes
- Jump on trampoline
- Hold a cartwheel contest (who can do the most)
- Rollerblading or biking
- Let toddlers make mud pies (and who are we kidding, older kids love this too)
- Build a treehouse (may need adult supervision)
- Build a rope swing (may need adult supervision)
- Make rock formations
- Make dams in the creek
- Set up a travel hammock in the backyard for rest and reading
- Play badminton or spikeball
- Play Capture the Flag
- Paint an outdoor mural (we let our kids do this on the side of a storage shed)
- Show kids how to hammer nails into an old log or scrap wood (use safety glasses) – building a skill while entertaining them for hours!
- Challenge kids to complete the Dangerous Book for Boys or the Daring Book for Girls – set up a reward when a chapter or the book is completed (review activities first as some parental discretion may be needed)
In my experience, once the kids get outside, they don’t want to come back in! Sometimes they just need a little encouragement to get out there and start exploring.
Indoor Activities for Kids (Rainy Day, etc.)
When the weather is bad outside, the house can sometimes feel like a prison! Here are some ideas for busting boredom at home (and giving Mom and Dad some personal space) when kids are stuck inside:
When I have work to do but we are stuck indoors due to weather, etc. The key to self-directed activity days is to set clear expectations. Explain when you are available or not available, which activities are available or off-limits, how household responsibilities are divided, when tech time may or may not happen, and how the house should look at the end of the day/by a certain time.
Go Outside Anyway!
In many cultures, they go outside in any weather! With the proper gear, most outdoor activities are still possible and maybe even more fun.
Set Up Activity Stations
There’s a reason kindergarten classrooms have learning stations! It gives kids a variety of activities and the power to choose what they want to do first, next, and last. This can work for all school-aged kids (or older) though.
Set up different activities (they don’t need to be complicated) throughout the house or in corners of the living room so they can see all of the activities available to them. This is especially helpful for kids whose attention span may be on the shorter side. Some ideas include:
- Homemade playdough (or store-bought)
- Water play
- Pipe cleaner challenge (have kids build something from pipe cleaners)
- Moon sand
- Discovery bowl (a bowl of rice with fun toys hiding inside)
- Egg decorating (use toothpicks as paint brushes)
- Toddler activity stations
We also keep a copy of kitchen science experiments around for indoor days. I love that it’s self-directed, full of science facts, and doesn’t call for special ingredients. I also notice my older kids are more than happy to supervise when there’s food involved!
Play or Make Board Games
Just getting board games out of the closet may be good enough to engage the kids. Setting out board games gives kids choices, which is always great.
If your kids aren’t thrilled about playing board games, maybe they will get more excited if they create the games themselves!
- Grab some cardboard recycling for the game board and gather all of the random figurines and toys that have lost their home for game pieces.
- Have your kids come up with rules and practice.
- Set aside some family time for them to teach you how to play at the end of the day.
Let Kids Plan a Party
If you’re stuck at home, the days start to feel all the same. Mix it up by having an impromptu party!
Take a look at this website to see what “national day” it is (e.g., national spinach day) and create a party around that theme:
- Have a birthday party for a stuffed animal or let the kids make up their own special day.
- Find things around the house for decorations or order some online ahead of time.
- Make some snacks and tea and invite all of the stuffed animals in the house.
- Or, invite family members from far away via Skype or Facetime.
Very important disclaimer: I have the kids do all the work and then arrive at the party as a guest after I’ve finished my work.
Pull Out the (Emergency) Toys
Something I’ve been doing since my kids were little is keeping an “emergency” stash of games and toys hidden away. They often forget about them and it creates lots of excitement when Mom pulls out the “bored box.”
Here are some of the favorite toys and activities from over the years. I try to stick to low clutter, non-plastic items as much as possible, and buy from thrift shops and garage sales most of the time.
- Puzzle games like Perplexus
- Bulk Legos
- Buddha Board – A fun and relaxing way to paint with just water.
- Rubix Cube – A good old-fashioned Rubix cube can keep kids busy for hours. Try creating a contest for who can solve it first.
- Build Your Own Programmable Robot Kit – If you have STEM-oriented kiddos, this kit is a great investment.
- Design Your Own Fairy Wand – This activity is great for encouraging creativity and imaginative play.
- Microscope Kit – My kids love using this microscope to look at everything around the house and outside.
- Bath Tub Crayons – These natural bathtub crayons are perfect for preschoolers and kindergarteners (roughly 3-6 year olds).
- Boogie Board – This reusable writing tablet encourages creativity and is mess-free!
- Sun Art – This activity is one of my kids’ favorites and they can do it completely on their own.
- Kendama Game – Unique game that encourages movement (my favorite)
- Reusable Sticker Pad – My kids’ favorite was the faces sticker pad!
- Magnadoodle – A no-mess art activity
If you’re stuck inside, these activities should help keep kids occupied and happy.
When the weather is bad outside but your kids still have energy to expend, indoor movement activities are a lifesaver! Here are our favorite ways to get exercise inside without anyone getting hurt:
- Dance parties
- Obstacle courses (kid-designed)
- Scavenger hunt
- Tug of war (use a towel and have kids sit or kneel on the floor)
- The “Floor is Lava” game !
- Use masking tape to create indoor hopscotch or follow the leader
- Spider web – tape some yarn to the walls of a hallway and challenge kids to climb through without touching the string
- A door frame mounted gym like this one is our kids’ favorite Christmas gift of all time. They use it daily.
- We have a trampoline in our house for cold or rainy days. It’s great for getting little ones’ energy out when they can’t go outside.
- Indoor hammocks and yoga silks for sensory play and comfort (bonus: it helps develop their vestibular system)
Kids will often find their own ways to expend energy when stuck inside, but these activities can focus that energy so no one gets hurt or breaks anything!
Quiet Activities for Kids
At some point in the day, everyone gets tired and siblings often start fighting when they’re tired. To combat these feuds, I offer quiet activities that can be done alone, so everyone can rest and rejuvenate.
- Write letters to family or friends
- Create comic books
- Fold origami (and YouTube has plenty of origami how-tos!)
- Make puppets from old socks or brown bags
- Make necklaces with homemade clay beads
- Make tree and leaf rubbings or pressed flowers – This seedling flower press book kit is a great tool for making these.
- Make friendship bracelets
- Learn to finger knit
- Make a recycled birdhouse – Use what you have in your recycling or around the house.
- Learn about electricity with snap circuits – Build different types of basic machines like a fan, a radio, etc. with this kit.
- DIY wooden dolls with some wooden people and craft supplies. It’s like two activities in one!
- Build a bee hotel for the yard (it attracts bees that help pollinate but don’t sting)
Of course, there is nothing wrong with just setting out simple arts and crafts materials and letting kids come up with their own projects!
We love music in my house so musical activities are always on the list of things to do. Here are some of our favorite ways to incorporate music into the day (and keep boredom away!).
- Create a band – Grab a pocket strings guitar or another simple instrument like drums and make some music.
- Turn on show tunes and have the kids act out what they’re singing.
- Make musical instruments from the recycling bin and play them together.
- Learn piano (more on that in the digital section) and practice with a keyboard.
- Make wind chimes from a kit.
- Make your own music box with this kit.
Music is a fun way to pass the time and is also a great skill to learn.
Instead of just finding ways to keep kids entertained, you can encourage them to start a business! For kids that are seven to 13 years old, this book is a great place to start in inspiring them to start a business doing something they enjoy.
Set up a business incubator at home to encourage kids to think of their own charitable or for-profit venture like:
- Doing odd jobs for neighbors or around the house
- Pet sitting
- Writing books
- Selling products (bracelets, lemonade, baked goods, etc.)
- T-shirt designing (use a printing service like Printful)
- Starting an Etsy shop
For younger kids, you may need to be more involved in this activity (and maybe for older ones as well), but once they get going they will have a creative project they’ll be excited to work on alone.
Digital Kids’ Activities
I always prefer that the kids find something to do that is not using devices. At the same time, my own business is built on technology, so it’s also a world we want our kids to know how to navigate!
These fun activities use technology to teach new skills, which I think is a great use of screens!
Learn a Language
I chose Greek and Latin as my languages in school. They are really helpful in some ways (I can often figure out a word’s meaning by the root), but they aren’t that practical in everyday life.
So, I wanted my kids to learn more practical languages. We’ve chosen French and Spanish and I’m learning right along with them. We are using a free online tool called DuoLingo which makes learning languages a game. It can even be used on a phone or tablet, making it really easy to be consistent.
Learn to Speed Read
I learned to speed read in middle school. It has consistently been one of my most valuable skills in life, so I wanted to teach my kids to speed read too. This program called Spreeder un-teaches bad reading habits and retrains you to read quickly and efficiently.
I recommend the inexpensive premium version because it allows you to speed read almost anything, but there is a free version too.
Learn to Play the Piano
A friend told me about Hoffman Academy which is a resource for learning basic piano online for free. I wasn’t sure this would be as good as an in-person teacher, but so far I’m impressed. It’s really easy to follow along with and learn piano.
Of course, my house is often loud, but a keyboard with headphones helps during times when I need quiet.
Learn to Code
Coding is almost a necessity in our increasingly technological world. Many young people are learning it in their spare time or taking classes since computer science skills are quite valuable today.
Codecademy is a great place to get online instruction on how to code. It’s interesting and engaging for most kids. If your kids can read, they can start learning to code.
Learn to Cook
I think that kitchen skills are incredibly useful but many adults don’t have them. We decided to try a course for teaching kids to cook and we are hooked! It’s all online and teaches kids knife skills, how to follow a recipe, and more.
This activity does require an adult’s supervision but is a great investment of your time. Soon the kids will be making you dinner!
Other Online Activities for Kids
Here are some additional digital activities that can keep kids entertained when necessary:
- Games of Genius – Games designed to increase IQ and emotional intelligence
- Take a virtual tour of famous museums
- Try Scholastic lesson plans and activities
- Mystery Science (fun videos in exploring science topics and science experiments)
- National Geographic for Kids
- Smithsonian Institute for Educators
- Crash Course History videos
- Wonderopolis (explores questions kids and adults wonder about)
And if you’d prefer to avoid screens, check out these interesting podcasts that my kids love:
I tend to prefer screen-free activities for my kids, but we have been known to use and enjoy these digitally based resources. We just make sure to balance screens with lots of outside and creative play.
Remember: Boredom Is an Opportunity!
Rather than taking responsibility for solving my kids’ boredom, I try to encourage them to sit with the feeling and see what comes out of it. I find that instilling independence is the first step and once they are used to finding things to do on their own, they won’t be able to stop!
Still, it helps to keep this list in my Notes app for some fresh inspiration. Often the kids end up using their own creativity to come up with original ideas I never could have thought up!
What are your go-to activities your family enjoys? Do you have ideas that are low on mess and high on skills? I’d love to hear!