Forty-two days stuck at home with the kids. For pregnant mamas and parents with health conditions, it might be even longer.
How do you stay sane if you’re indefinitely stuck inside with toddlers in the house? We’ve rounded up our best kid-tested activities that don’t involve a screen (though there’s a time and place for that, too — we won’t judge).
You don’t need to order a bunch of fancy, expensive stuff, and you don’t need a complicated set up. Just look around your house. Chances are, you already have the supplies you need to entertain little kids.
• Seattle children hardly ever get to play in snow, so make your own snow day. Mix equal amounts of baking soda and hair conditioner to make the softest, nicest-smelling “snow.” We use a jelly roll pan to keep everything contained. Build your own tiny snowman, or just swirl it around into mounds and drifts.
• Blanket forts are the best. Throw a flat sheet over the dining table and presto, indoor tent! Imagine you’re going camping and bust out the marshmallows. Throw some pillows inside and you’ve got a cozy reading nook. Have everyone eat lunch on the floor and call it a picnic.
• Here’s the only recipe for homemade play dough you’ll ever need: 1 cup of white flour, 1 cup of water, ½ cup of salt, 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and your choice of food coloring. (Add peppermint extract for scent.) Stir everything together in a big nonstick pan for 5 minutes over medium heat. The play dough will last for months if you store it in a tightly sealed container.
• Let the kids play pretend doctor; you be the patient. The genius part of this game is you get to lie down. Toy stethoscope, toilet paper bandages and Saltines, done!
• A sensory bin will keep your kids busy for hours. Hours. A big shallow tub works best (like the kind you store wrapping paper in), then raid the pantry for bulk staples like rice or beans. Throw in measuring cups, funnels, a colander, whatever you’ve got in the cabinets. Tip: Spread a shower curtain or sheet on the ground first to make cleanup easy.
• Play hide-and-seek with the kitchen timer. The key here is that kids have to be really quiet to hear the tick-tick-tick.
• Does Costco have any toilet paper left? When the wiping is done, save the cardboard tubes to make your own DIY marble run. Tape tubes to the wall and roll marbles or pompoms through the maze.
• The very best paint in the world is … water. Send the kids to the deck or sidewalk with a bucket of water and a paintbrush and set your Picassos to work. No mess to clean up!
• Work out some wiggles with a homemade obstacle course. Scatter the couch cushions: Can you hop across all the islands (cushions) without falling into the ocean (floor)?
• Color mixing is endlessly fascinating and all you need is a few drops of food coloring. It is pure magic watching red and blue turn into purple, and purely up to you if you let your tot dump the cups together themselves or maybe just help swirl the food coloring with a straw. Eye droppers are great for practicing fine motor skills.
• More ways to see color mixing at work: Drop M&Ms into a glass of water and watch what happens when the colors dissolve. Or freeze colored water into ice cubes and watch them melt together.
• Balloon volleyball is much less destructive than regular volleyball. Balloon catch is much easier for little reflexes.
• Our next-door neighbors ordered new furniture, and their big empty cardboard box easily became my kids’ favorite “gift” this past Christmas. These are the only walls they get to draw on, so set them up with markers and crayons. String fairy lights inside and add pillows and stuffies for a kids-only clubhouse.
• Make an ocean in a bottle! Take an empty water bottle, fill half with oil and half with colored water. The waves are mesmerizing.
• Shaving cream smells good and is fun to squish. We pump out shaving cream on the coffee table and let the kids smush it around. (You’ll want to keep a towel on hand.) Bonus points for teaching kids how to write their ABCs in the foam. Invite some dinosaurs and monster trucks to the party and see what kind of tracks they make.
• It’s not bath time yet? That’s OK. Lay down some towels, fill a big pot with water and bring out the bath bubbles and rubber duckies.
• Slime is fun to make and fun to play with. Stir these three ingredients together: a 6-ounce bottle of Elmer’s glue, ½ teaspoon of baking soda and 1½ tablespoons of contact lens solution. Add a few teaspoons of water to make it stretchier, or some glitter for bling.
• A roll of painter’s tape and your living room floor turns into roadways for all those Matchbox cars. Add Post-it notes for buildings. Future urban planner?
• Make collages out of torn up strips of colored tissue paper. Set out paintbrushes and a cup of watered-down glue. Arrange the tissue on a sheet of paper, then paint the glue over the top of the tissue to adhere it. Dip snippets of yarn into the glue solution to add dimension to your piece.
• Let the kids string Froot Loops into beautiful and edible necklaces. You can put a little tape on the end of the string to make it easier to thread.
• Run a big roll of paper down the hall and let the kids go crazy drawing on it. Experiment with different mediums. Try crayons and adhesive tape first, then watercolor over it. Peel off the tape to reveal the negative space.
• Audio books! Stream e-books for free from the Seattle Public Library using the Libby app. Children who aren’t reading on their own yet love the TumbleBook Library, also free with a library card. I said no screens, but these are desperate times.
• Just remember: More than anything in the world, the thing little kids want most is attention. Your attention. A 2-minute hug party makes both cranky kids and cranky adults feel better.
Let us know what things you’re doing with your kids while you’re at home, and we may share your ideas with our readers!