21 Cheap, Non-Electronic Indoor Things To Do With Kids

Question from a reader: What do you do during the day with your children that doesn't cost money and doesn't involve excessive screen time, especially in Texas where it's hot?

A: Here are 21 ideas for CHEAP, unplugged ideas of indoor activities to do with kids, no matter the weather:

1. PATTERN Blocks-- ALL of our kids love these... from about age two until they're ten years old. They pour them out on the laminate floor, and make colorful designs and even build with them. Creative toys are an investment worth making, because kids will play with them again and again. So even if there is an initial cost, when you divide out how many times they get played with, it ends up being an extremely cheap but extremely valuable investment. Even if you can't afford it now, make a wishlist and keep wonderful ideas on hand so that when you are given a gift card, or grandparents ask what they can get for Christmas, or you have a bit of extra money, you'll have awesome ideas, rather than wasting it on a trendy toy that will lose luster over time!

2. TALK. Tell them stories about when you were a kid. Play "Would You Rather" (like, "Would you rather be a mailman or a fireman? Why?"/ "Would you rather eat a bite of a lemon or a bite of an onion?"/ "Would you rather build with blocks or climb on a playground?"). Get a book of jokes and read through it together and explain the ones they don't get at first. Ask them what their favorite color, favorite meal, favorite toy is. Tell them about things you love about your husband or wife. Tell them family stories you want to pass down to future generations.

3. Play Kitchens, plastic/wooden dishes, & play food. This is one that children from about 18 months on up can enjoy doing. They can think up meals, make imaginary fancy birthday cakes, and more. If you're thinking "I've tried that and my kids don't do that," I would bet pretty good money that it's because you have too few pieces for them to really lose themselves in their play. There's a reason why virtually every preschool and Sunday school classroom invests in these things-- they are universally enjoyable by kids & teach them to delight in simple, every day activities like cooking, eating, washing dishes, and making things for people.

4. MEMORIZE Bible Verses together. There are tons of ways to do this. Write it on a dry-erase board and keep erasing words as you learn them together. Repeat it 20x in a variety of voices and while doing different activities (baby voice, King's voice, British accent, whiny girl's voice, loud voice, whisper, standing up, jumping on one leg). This can be 15-20 minutes of every day. You'll be shocked at how much your kids can learn if you keep at this and make it a family habit!

5. Family Pick-up. We do this often. "Everyone pick up 5 things that don't belong in the living room and put them away where they do belong." Or "everyone go to your room and pick up the floor." Because everyone's doing it, it doesn't seem so bad to just go ahead and get the job done.

6. Wooden BLOCKS. Get enough blocks for them to really be creative. If you have a large family, you may want to buy multiple sets so that there is still enough for each child to play with. We all are image-bearers of God and have creativity breathed into us by God Himself. Instead of choosing toys where all the style, story, and design is decided for them, invest in toys where the creativity is not all "done" for them. Place a priority on purchasing toys that enable them to think up things, and see that they have enough pieces to bring their architectural creativity to life.

7. Coloring Books, Paper, & CRAYONS. This is an ongoing activity that they can do for a little bit every day. Set out a toy for them to try to draw on blank pages, or let them color in a pre-made coloring book.

8. MAGZ Sets-- all of our kids three and up LOVE these. It is so fun for them to build and learn about how magnets work!

9. Teach them to cook something. Whether it's something for fun like cookies, or something practical like pot roast with carrots and potatoes, kids LOVE to be included in the activities of the kitchen. Explain what you're doing as you do it (why you hold your fingers back when you chop, why we have to mix in even the littlest bits of flour into the dough, etc.) and let them take part in feeling the satisfaction of eating the fruits of their labor.

10. Messy activities like Play-Doh, Glitter Pens, Painting, or Construction Paper w/ glue & scissors. I'll be honest here and say, I don't have much patience for these sorts of things. But maybe you do. So go for it. This is MAYBE a once-every-two-months activity around here. But they do enjoy it when I let it happen, and they usually do it for at least a good hour.

11 . ROTATE your toys. Throughout this post, I have listed toy sets that WE enjoy and have on hand. But you have your own... so instead of leaving them all out, or letting the child choose, you direct their play. Pull out one set (trains/dollhouse/dress-up), and open it up in the middle of the living room floor (or wherever it is you want them to play) and then set the timer. 20-30 minutes per toy set is entirely reasonable, and if they are having a good time, they can keep going. [TIP: If they are having a rough day and picking at each other, you can even do this where each child pulls out a blanket to sits on, and you rotate toys every 10-20 minutes. "OK, put away your notebook and pen and everyone go get 5 books to look at."... "Now put your books away and go get 6 matchbox cars." Etc.] Once they're through with one set, everyone pitches in and picks it up, and you pull out a different set.

12. ED EMBERLEY DRAWING BOOKS-- These are incredible books that let your kids pick up clues about how to draw things, and teach them to see how little strokes/lines/shapes add up to one larger drawing. We have about 8-10 of these books, and sometimes I'll just pull them out and give each kid a pad and a pen.

13. Bathtime. Whether you include bubbles and bathtoys or not, this is an easy, enjoyable way to pass at least 30 minutes. Instead of doing this at bedtime, what about doing it mid-morning, or just before naptime?

14. INCLUDE THEM in your chores. Yes, I'm serious. Take them along while you sort out a cabinet, pull weeds, organize the shoes, pick up toys. Kids can get into this and do it cheerfully if you don't treat it as if it's a punishment.

15. Quiet READING Time. Right now, our kids do one hour of (mostly) silent reading every day.  I use this online timer to set the time and they know that if they talk (aside from the new reader who asks me how to pronounce a word) I'll add 5 minutes to their time. I keep interesting books on hand (children's books at all reading levels-- some with pictures, some not-- and large coffee table books I pick up at garage sales or on the clearance racks at Half Price Books), and it's their responsibility to pick the ones they want to look at. At other times, I've used quiet reading time as a way to allow kids 4 & up to rest while younger children are napping. Here are some kids book sets, or you could pick them up from friends whose kids are older, or at garage sales. And no, my kids can't all read. They can still look at the books and tell themselves the stories, or pick out things in the pictures that they enjoy looking at. If they grump during the time when they can choose their own books, they know I'll choose books for them. For my three-year-old, I have him look at books for about the first 30 minutes and then let him play quietly with toys in a pack-and-play for the remaining half hour.

16. Legos- From about 5 years old on up (it's harder when they're younger, because the pieces are small), these are a very creativity-building toy for kids.

17. Popsicle Sticks. They can build pioneer houses, make them into lines, make letters, designs. Again,  think bigger-- in terms of hundreds of popsicle sticks-- not a handful.

18. Pair children up and DIRECT THEIR PLAY. Let there be times when they play independently and come up with their own things to do. But there can also be times where you pair up specific children for a specific purpose. For example, sometimes I'll tell my 11-year-old to take his 3-year-old brother to the playroom for 15 or 20 minutes while I make dinner. Or I might tell my 9- and 5-year-olds to join up with the Legos and build together. By pairing them up, it gives them a chance to learn to enjoy time with a particular sibling, and often ends up with them choosing to keep playing the same thing longer because they get into their play.

19. Everyday things. Things like feeding the dog, taking out the trash, refilling the diaper basket, checking the mail, making sure each bathroom has enough toilet paper... little jobs that fill the time and contribute to the household running efficiently.

20. Play EDUCATIONAL GAMES. Choose some games that are super-fun AND teach something (math/anatomy/logic/reading) and then pull them out from time to time.

21. BUILD A FORT. Whether you do it under the coffee table, between dining room chairs, or strung across the hallway, building a fort is a fun way to instantly inspire creativity in your children. Whether they turn it into a sleep tent, a coloring room, a place to take care of babies, or a giggly play place, it is a great way to cheerfully extend playtime. I tend to use this option on rainy days or long days when my husband won't be home until past the kids' bedtimes.

I hope this list inspires you and gives you fresh ideas of indoor activities to try in your home!

Photo courtesy of Phiseksit/FreeDigitalPhotos.net



shannon said...

shannon~i ran out of ideas and i have 5 kids (12 and under) mostly boys, 1 girl. this will keep me busy for awhile!

Megan said...

This is great! I need this for myself... I often run out of ideas to float them when they're bored. I made a poster with these and put it on the back of the door and titled it "The Bored List". Now, I can just refer them to that and let them pick one! Thanks so much for this!

Erin said...

Love this post. So much better than some of the other lists I've seen. Thank you!!