10 Ways to Keep Your Kids Occupied and Keep Your Sanity

. April 19, 2020.

The growing number of COVID-19 cases has triggered a wave of alarm and preemptive action across the globe and, closer to home, schools, libraries, and even churches have closed their doors. While social distancing is a necessary—albeit overwhelming—way to stem the coronavirus outbreak, many parents have been left floundering for ways to keep their kids occupied at home as they count the minutes for their day-to-day routine to go back to normal.

For many parents, letting their children play video games or watch TV for a reasonable amount of time is fun for the kids and gives you a much-needed opportunity to get things done. However, if none of that screen time offers any educational value or family bonding time, you may want to explore other solutions to help keep your kids from getting cabin-fever and keep yourself from going stir-crazy. Moreover, if your child is experiencing depression and/or anxiety because of the coronavirus pandemic, engaging in activities that promote family bonding can help reduce the incidence of depression and anxiety in children. 

Here are 10 fun (and cheap!) indoor activities you can do at home with kids of all ages.

1. Set up an indoor campground.

Bring the sleeping bags and tents up from the basement or down from the attic and turn your family room into an indoor campground. No sleeping bags or tents? No problem. Create a campground by arranging chairs in rows of two in the family room, draping a bedsheet over the chairs to create the tent, and piling pillows and blankets underneath to create a sleeping area.

You can make your indoor campground as elaborate as you’d like with items you already have in your home. String Christmas lights across the top of the tent to create a starry night scene. Enjoy the glow of a campground “fire” made with paper towel tubes, tissue paper, and LED candles. Set up lawn chairs outside the tent and serve hot dogs, chips, and trail mix, play cards and board games, or do an easy “camping” craft like making beaded necklaces or braided bracelets.

Add to the camping aura by having the kids help you make indoor s’mores in the microwave, oven, skillet, or, for a more “outdoorsy” experience, over a well-ventilated sterno flame. Last, if your kids are old enough to appreciate a spooky story, lower the lights and switch on a flashlight as you go around the group and tell ghost stories. 

2. Host indoor Olympic games. 

If you look in your kids’ toy boxes and closets, you’ll probably find that you have enough games and activities at home to arrange back-to-back and create a challenging obstacle course for your kids to compete in, tantamount to a kiddie indoor Olympic course! 

You can kick off the indoor “Olympic games” with an opening ceremony where each child gets to parade onto the course to a theme song of his or her choosing. Depending on your child’s age, your child may want to grab a favorite teddy bear to serve as his or her Olympic mascot. At the close of the opening ceremonies, get your stopwatch and scorecard ready and time your little Olympians as they compete in consecutive games of skill and physical fitness such as:

  • a ring or beanbag toss, a mini golf course competition (a broom, a ping pong ball, and a plastic cup can be used in place of a golf club, golf ball, and golf hole), or a ball throwing  competition into boxes of decreasing sizes, with a point given per successful shot for each of these activities;
  • a sack race or a boiled egg and spoon race with a marked-off finish line and points given to the first person over the finish line;
  • a hula hoop competition with a point given for each second the competitors can hold up their hula hoop;
  • a pyramid cup-stacking race with points given to the first person to successfully stack his or her cups into a stable pyramid;
  • a physical endurance competition where points are given for the number of jumping jacks, push-ups, and sit-ups the child can do in three 30-second intervals; and
  • a mad dash crabwalk to the final finish line to close out the indoor Olympic games.

 At the end of the games, be sure to hand out prizes to each child, whether the prizes be stickers, dollar bills, or, if planned ahead, inexpensive pre-ordered gold medals. 

3. Send the kids off on a scavenger hunt. 

Staying indoors can be a blast when the kids are set off on a scavenger hunt to seek and collect common household items. The scavenger hunt can be subject to a time-limit where each child competes alone or as part of a team to see which team collects the most items first. Go online for free, printable indoor scavenger hunt checklists listing everyday household items for seekers to find.

4. Throw a costume party.

Let your kids raid your closet for hats, scarves, and costume jewelry to throw a costume party. Add snacks and a tea set to make it a tea party-themed ball! Clear a space for a catwalk and let your little models parade their fashion choices for you. 

5. Put on an airshow with popsicle stick airplanes.

All you’ll need for this creative craft is popsicle sticks, a cutting tool, craft glue or a hot glue gun, and paint if you’re not already using colored popsicle sticks. Find age-appropriate tutorials online to guide your child as she cuts and glues popsicle sticks to create toy airplanes. You can add a propeller to the airplane by twisting a pipe cleaner around the nose of the aircraft. For added fun, create a runway by taping sheets of construction paper together along a table or floor or by laying down a section of cardboard complete with runway markings. 

6. Hold an art show.

Grab smocks for your kids and spread out watercolors and brushes, crayons, markers, or colored pencils on a table along with poster board or construction paper. Provide glue sticks and safety scissors to allow for added artistic touches. Once your little artists have created their masterpieces, hang up the artwork and host an art show complete with glasses of apple juice “champagne” and hor d’oeuvres.

7. Make Play-Doh come to life.

Kids will enjoy following any of the numerous YouTube tutorials showing them how to make Play-Doh animal creations such as turtles, crocodiles, and unicorns, and a Play-Doh park scene featuring trees, flowers, and a duck pond.

8. Bring out your child’s inner chef.

Give your child an apron and set up a toppings bar to make homemade pizza or your own ice cream sundaes. Other kid-friendly foods you can easily find recipes for online to make together or let your older child make alone are Emoji-inspired rice cakes, berry parfaits with yogurt and granola, and no bake cookies

9. Expand your child’s knowledge with easy science experiments.

Amaze your children while having them brush up on their science skills with these easy science experiments that you can do in your own home and with products you likely already have. Click on the “Experiments” section of sciencebob.com to learn how to do such simple scientific experiments as: make ice cream in a plastic bag, build a soap-powered model boat, and make a static-powered dancing ghost.

10. Relax with low-key, family-bonding activities. 

If your days at home are better-suited for more low-key family activities, consider starting a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle that you and your child can work on and frame once completed. Older children may be interested in starting a scrapbook or smash book with you. Other ideas for low-key fun for children of all ages are playing Mad Libs as a family, building a Lego village together, or playing tried-and-true family-friendly board games such as Clue, Monopoly, Scrabble, Chutes and Ladders, or Candyland. 

During this time of uncertainty when anxieties are running high, make the best of a bad situation with these fun and family-friendly activities that will help keep your child busy and help keep you a little calmer. 

Dolores Smyth is a parenting writer and mother of three kids ranging in age from preschool to junior high. Dolores knows a thing or two about keeping kids of different ages busy when school is unexpectedly canceled. You can follow more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.