Greetings from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we’re finishing week 2 of our shelter-in-place order. We’ve got two parents working at home with three “distance learning” kids at home. Chances are your family scene looks a bit like ours? (AKA controlled chaos?)
If so, just remember when you start to feel a bit cooped up and cabin crazy, you actually have so much more freedom and so many more options for things to do at home with your kids than you would on a long flight! Here are twenty ideas of things your family can do at home–and not just for the kids.
There are suggestions here for younger kids’ activities, some geared toward teens and adults, and for some things to do all together. Looks like we’ll have a lot of time to fill, so no need to do everything together. 😉
Note: This post contains some affiliate links for recommendations hand-picked by me.
1. Make weird popsicles.
What do I mean by “weird” popsicles? I say go beyond those traditional homemade fruit juice and KoolAid popsicles. Look for creative layering options, like yogurt and small pieces of fresh fruit (blueberries in the freezer?) or pudding and a blob of chocolate syrup.
How about lemonade and iced tea? You can call it “The Arnold Palmsicle” (or maybe not). How about a gummy worm surprise? Just remember the rules: Everything that goes in must be edible, and every thing that gets made must get eaten–no wasting food at a time like this!
2. Create a flipbook.
Last fall, my son became a flipbook fanatic, and when asked what he wanted for Christmas? Only flipbook-making materials, thankyouverymuch! Fortunately, he got plenty–because it’s a good time for “flipbooking” (and he’d also used up every sticky note pad he could find in the house).
If your kids are new to making flipbooks, they might like this “How to make a flipbook” tutorial by Andymation. His YouTube channel is full of great tips and tutorials on other flipbooking topics as well. And if you want to get some flipbook materials shipped to your home while also supporting the artist, he’s got a online shop here.
3. Create a shadow puppet theater or just shadow puppets.
You can simply use a desk lamp and your hands to create alligators and dogs against the wall, but if you have extra cardboard boxes–perhaps from those deliveries of late–you can go a step further. Check out this wonderful DIY homemade “shadow puppet theater” created with just a cardboard box and a sheet of tissue paper!
4. Play “coffee cup cornhole.”
Chances are you’ve got some sturdy (or sturdy-enough) mugs in the kitchen for this. But if you don’t have small beanbags on hand?
Create mini bean bags by filling child-size socks or segments of that pantyhose you’ll likely never use again with rice or dried lentils. Let your kids arrange the coffee mugs across the living room rug or your deck and let the creative scoring begin.
And for an added challenge, try this with ping pong balls!
5. Start a kazoo band.
So your family may not be blessed with a colaratura soprano or amazing accordionist to entertain your neighbors like in Italy, but even if you have no musical talents whatsoever, you can still start your own kazoo band.
Hum a tune? You’ve got it. Not pitch perfect? Your audience will laugh so hard it won’t matter. And after your family’s evening kazoo band serenade from your front porch, you’ll be giving your neighbors one added gift: a newfound appreciation for social distancing.
6. Pop up some “anything-but-boring” popcorn.
My family LOVES popcorn, but so far adding nutritional yeast to the salt and melted butter is about as adventures as we get.
My friend JULIE, however, is a popcorn genius! Her family loves her popcorn with shredded Parmesan cheese, garlic salt, and butter, but she is most proud of her “salad popcorn” where she goes into her garden and cuts fresh chives, parley, and rosemary, then adds the chopped fresh herbs with a sprinkling of truffle oil and kosher salt (talk about fancy).
If that’s not to your kids’ tastes, consider this one of her kids’ homemade popcorn favorites: melted butter + cinnamon + sugar.
7. Make a sand castle!
Sure, on the beach is ideal, but in case you don’t have one nearby or yours is temporarily closed, just head for the kitchen table. Many of you may already have a bucket of kinetic sand or kinetic sand kit leftover from a birthday at the back of your closet (we did!).
If you’re not familiar with it, this weirdly stretchy and expanding sand can be stored for long periods of time and reused and reused to make castles, sculptures and just fun designs.
Tip: Use a large cookie sheet to help contain the sand during projects (you can use the box, but the lower edges of the cookie sheet are easier to work with. (That’s the mini castle my son made yesterday.)
8. Have everyone pick a new language to learn on Duolingo.
A couple of summers ago, we made a “summer learning challenge” for each of our family members to spend a certain amount of time each day getting acquainted with or brushing up on a language using this free app (recommended for 3rd grade and up).
It would have made more sense if we’d all jumped in together to work on, say Spanish–which my eldest child would be studying the next year, but we are a merry band of individuals.
We had family members “Duolingoing” in German, Spanish, Chinese, French, and Italian. Currently my middle kid, who studies Spanish at school, is working on basic Korean in Duolingo (guess what kind of music she likes).
As for me, I’d been torn between whether I should brush up on my German or my Italian. But a few days into our shelter in place, I finally realized–why not both?! I certainly have 5 to 10 minutes each day to work on each language!
9. Leave a message of kindness for your neighbors’ daily walks.
For most of us, the daily walk around the neighborhood is as exciting as it’s going to get for a while. And after the first couple weeks … a few pleasant surprises will be more than welcome! Put your kids to work on some friendly greetings and good wishes for your neighbors who are also sheltering in place.
And it doesn’t hurt to remind your kids how lucky they are to not be home alone during this shelter in place, as many of their neighbors may be (and to have someone armed with as many ideas to keep them busy as you, too!).
10. Have a “Mad Hatter” tea party.
The purpose of this activity is not so much to have a tea party but to create inventive hats (or “head dressings”) from what you have on hand around the house. Our friends have had an annual “Silly Hat Party” for years, and it is hysterical to see what people come up with.
Challenge each family member to come up with a concept and help the ‘littles’. From the craft cabinet to the toolbox, and the garden shed to the toy box, it is your chance to go crazy with your creation. And just think how your “Mad Hatter” photos will brighten the days of your socially distant loved ones and friends.
11. Make (the good kind of) playdough
In this world there are two kinds of playdough: the stiff stuff that comes in the plastic cans; and the dreamy, wonderful, therapeutic soft stuff that only moms who had too much time on their hands ever made. Good news: That mom with too much time on her hands is now you (haha–sigh). Fortunately, it turns out you can make even The Best Homemade Playgdough Recipe in about 5 minutes.
You probably already have the ingredients in the cupboard (flour, vegetable oil, salt), but if you don’t normally have on hand that mysterious ingredient “cream of tartar,” don’t worry. You can follow this homemade playdough recipe, which uses lemon juice instead (scroll way down on the page to see it).
12. Plan a destination-themed dinner.
If you could be anywhere else in the world right now, where would you be–and what would you eat?! Let everyone in the family pick a destination and plan a meal for that. T
o make it extra special, add music with an appropriate Pandora station and pull out any souvenirs you may have from a past visit. Bonus points? Print some photos to decorate the dining room with, and memorize a few phrases or colloquialisms from the area to sprinkle into your dinner conversation.
13. Learn a new dance routine
Hip-hop, Bhangra, K-pop, ballroom,, beginning ballet – you’ll find them all on YouTube. With wee dancers, you can get your Baby Shark Remix on with this Parent Jam.
Or for the school-age set through teens, here’s the basic Bhangra dance tutorial my husband got us started with (sneakers recommended–and be sure to clear the furniture and trip-hazards out of the way!). Just try! You can’t do Bhangra without smiling (or at least laughing a yourself)!
14. Do science fair NOW. Or just do some science for fun.
Get a jump on next year’s science fair project so your kid can have more time to hang out with friends in person or practice a sport next year. Need some ideas to get started?
You can browse all kinds of science fair project ideas for kindergarten through 12th grade at www.ScienceBuddies.org. You might also find some fun science activities to do ‘just because’ in the meantime!
15. Have a living room fashion show.
The “dress up box” is a start, but in this time of self-quarantine? Time to pull out all the stops. Go on, open your closets up to your kids if you dare and see what they put together!
Put on some cat-walking beats and take a seat—the show is about to begin. (Don’t forget the anything-but-boring popcorn!) Here’s a snapshot from a fashion show my kids put on for us some years back … 😉
16. Read a nightly story—out loud.
The challenge here is to find a book that will appeal to everyone. Your children’s ages, and your own literary tastes should be considered, of course!
Some of our favorites to read aloud on road trips and camping trips and when the power was out have included: The Grasshopper Trap short stories by Patrick McManus, The Captain’s Dog: My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe (the story of Lewis and Clark as told by their dog) by Roland Smith, and Harry Potter by JK Rowling.
Now HERE’s a novel idea (nyuk, nyuk). While Amazon is making a fortune off sales of so many things OTHER than books at this time, how about ordering your books online–in a way that supports local bookstores?
First, check online if your favorite bookstore’s website has online ordering (Book Passage in Corte Madera does). And if not, you can order through Bookshop.org and still help support your local bookstores.
17. Create an “inspiration garden.”
On my neighborhood walk a couple of days ago, I decided to take unusual turns and see some new terrain. When I happened upon this raised flower garden, I had to stop and enjoy all the signs and inspirational quotes and love that went into it all–for passersby just like me to enjoy!
Let the kids help come up with kind thoughts to share and browse inspirational quotes with you online. You can paint kindness words on rocks or print messages on mini chalkboards. Note the word of the day: “Resilience.”
18. Post a “thank you” for your couriers.
Grateful for all the “U.S. mail and package fairies” doing the important essential work out there with higher volumes and longer hours than ever to help keep us staying home?! I sure as heck know I am!
So I whipped up a sign to greet them at our front door since it’s better that I not (until they’re a safe social distance away)! I figure my kids can make something much nicer one of these afternoons, but for now:
PS And I JUST got a big “Thank you for the note!” shout with a huge grin from my UPS driver up at the sidewalk as I retrieved my package from the porch. 😀
19. Play UNO–in Spanish!
If your kids are old enough to know their numbers and colors, they’re old enough to play UNO. I told my kids to step it up a notch the other day and play UNO en español, helping little brother get a handle on some basics before he’ll study it in school (hopefully IN school, too!). Just remember when playing UNO in Spanish, ‘UNO’ becomes ‘ONE’!
20. Create abstract painting masterpieces…
… with no actual artistic talent necessary! Check out these crazy, messy, wonderful painting ideas in “25 Ideas de Arte Muy Locas” and you’ll be itching to get to work right alongside your Junior Jackson Pollack. For younger artists, you might want to stick with easy-to-clean up tempra paints rather than acrylic. Tip: Start saving sides of those cardboard delivery boxes for future “canvases.”
You might also like:
Also good at home – Five favorite travel toys for tots and kids under 5
For kids 5 years + – Six great travel games and toys for tots through teens
Thinking about a camping trip or road trip this summer?
The 5 best places to see California’s Giant Redwoods and Sequoias
Packing list for camping with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers
Best baby travel beds, portable cribs, and bassinets
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks
Twitter Facebook Travels with Baby on Facebook Pinterest
What?! Your kids aren’t babies anymore? Head over to Family Travel 411
Curious about this content? See my editorial content disclosure.