Your kids are stuck inside. Perhaps it’s raining or snowing, or maybe it’s too dark to play in the backyard. What to do to keep them from bouncing off the walls?
Here is a list of 17 exciting indoor activities for kids to keep them occupied and happy. All the items mentioned here are based on personal experiences and memorable childhood experiences. These are the activities from my youth that I still look back on with a nostalgic fondness. I’ve included relevant supplemental printables to several of the activities.
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1. Build a Cardboard Box Fort
When I was about 7 or 8, my brother and my friends and I would build large box forts in the sunroom. This wasn’t hard to do, and a lot of fun. We’d spend hours crawling through the tunnels of boxes, fighting imaginary enemies, and drawing on the walls. Here’s how to do it
Take those old moving boxes out of the garage. Grab masking tape and markers, and let your kids create their own play area by taping the boxes together. Then, let them bring in lawn chair pillows as flooring. They can decorate the walls with marker and crayon. They’ll build cardboard swords and have an amazing time.
Additional in-fort activities:
- Secret message – You don’t need an enigma machine for this, just a piece of paper with the code. Replace letters with numbers, symbols, or alternate letters, and let your kids write to one another. It’s even cooler if they can put the message in a bottle and leave it hidden in the fort for the other to find.
- In-fort snack – Bring your kids some cheese and crackers while they’re playing in the fort. Or maybe some pop tarts. Pop tarts were amazing then, and they still are today.
2. Practice Drawing
If your kids like to draw, now’s the time to brush up on those art skills, and Tim’s Printables is here to help. Print off a few drawing tutorials. Learn how to draw exotic and unusual animals such as a tapir, a blue crab, or a toucan.
If your kids want to play around in the world of their own imagination, download a couple of finish the drawing activities. Creativity is often sharpened by parameters. These finish the drawing printables will provide a framework for you children to work within. Some of my personal favorites include: What’s swimming in the water, Draw the space ship, and Draw the superhero.
3. Play a Classic Adventure Game
When it comes to great story telling and a mental challenge, a classic adventure game is the way to go. When I was a child, my favorite game was The Secret of Monkey Island, a game published by Lucas Arts. You play as Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate, who travels to Monkey Island to save his love, Elaine Marley.
By combining objects you find in the game world, you solve puzzles in order to progress the story. But don’t expect this to be easy. Some of these puzzles are remarkably challenging and creative. Best of all, this game is filled with witty humorous dialogue that will have both kids and grown ups laughing. This clever writing comes from the brilliant minds of game designers Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer.
A few years ago, The Secret of Monkey Island was remastered. In this new edition, you can switch between new and old graphics. Voice over dialogue is also now included.
The Secret of Monkey Island is available for Windows at GOG.com.
Other games I recommend:
The Curse of Monkey Island – The Third game in the series, with amazing Disney quality drawings and animation.
Grim Fandango – Another hilarious Lucas Arts game, albeit a bit darker than Monkey Island. You play as Manny Calavera, a grim reaper in the land of the dead.
Freddi Fish – Help Freddi Fish find the missing kelp seeds. This adventure game is a great option for younger players. Also by Ron Gilbert.
Here are few printables that were inspired by the Secret of Monkey Island:
4. Read a Book
While reading is an obvious indoor activity, I wanted to mention it because there are several books on my shelves at home that I want to share. These are the books that meant the a great deal to me growing up. Both the Mysterious Island and Treasure Island are in the public domain, so I have included links to their free ebooks at Project Gutenberg.
- The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne – Union soldiers escape the Confederacy in a hot air balloon, and land on an island that’s, well, mysterious.
- Redwall by Brian Jacques – Medieval mice v.s. medieval rats.
- Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl – A boy and his father go hunting for pheasants. When I was in sixth grade I did a book report on this but I accidentally pronounced the word “pheasant” as “peasant”, which certainly changes the meaning of the story.
- Aliens Ate My Homework by Bruce Coville – The first in a great sci-fi series for kids. Tiny aliens land in Rod Allbright’s room and together they fight evil space villain BKR. Sequels include: I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X, The Search for Snout, and Aliens Ate My Body.
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – Jim Hawkins meets Long John Silver and together they search for the treasure of Captain Flint.
- The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner – Four orphans build a home inside an old boxcar.
- Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury – 12-year-old Doug Spaulding experiences various preternatural occurrences in his hometown during the summer of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois.
5. Write a Story
Next on the list of exciting indoor activities for kids: Write a Story! The Tim’s Printables ebook Creative Writing Prompts for Kids has over 100 writing prompts that will help your kids start writing.
Here’s a few sample writing prompts:
- If you were granted one super power, what would it be? How would you use it, and what would be the consequences of this power?
- Write a conversation two dogs would have if dogs could talk.
- Describe your life if you were born in the same location one hundred years from now.
6. Read Comics
If your kids love comics, send them over to ergocomic.com to read my comic strip series Ergo, starring inventor George Ergo, his hunter-gatherer robot named Arrowbot, and his artistic younger sister, Tessa Ergo. It’s the perfect comic for kids who like inventing, technology, adventure, and science fiction.
You can download the first issue of Ergo here.
Here’s the first Ergo comic:
7. Break Out the Legos
If you don’t mind a mess of lego blocks covering the floor. Nowadays Lego is often tied into movies and other famous brands like Star Wars, Marvel and Batman. Many of the older sets featured original lego themes, like pirates, knights, divers, and the wild west. Perhaps you still have some of those old sets hidden in the basement. Dust them off and let your kids build!
8. Listen to an Old Radio Program
Number 8 on the list of indoor activities for kids: Listen to an Old Radio Program!
Many years ago, the radio was the main medium for entertainment and news. Some of these radio programs were top notch, and are still entertaining today.
If you’ve ever watched the 1967 version of Disney’s “The Jungle Book,” you may recall the iconic voice of Baloo. This was the voice of a radio star named Phil Harris. Long before he did voice work for Disney, he starred in a comedy radio program with his wife, Alice Faye, called “The Phil Harris-Alice Faye” show. Many of these radio programs are available on youtube. They’re still very funny, and bring up a feeling of a simpler time.
Some of my favorite episodes are:
Each episode has classic songs too. One of my favorites is “Is It True What They Say about Dixie?” in which Phil references the Suwannee River, which runs through the Okefenokee Swamp. A beautiful place to visit, where you can kayak among the alligators.
9. Create a Zoo with Toy Animals.
Have your kids collect all their play animals. Lay out some large sheets of paper. Let your children decorate the paper as terrain for the animals. They can build trees out of construction paper and toilet paper rolls, and fences for the animals out of popsicle sticks. If your kids have a bunch of dinosaurs, why not transform the zoo into a Jurassic Park?
10. Play with Action Figures
When I was a child, one of my all-time favorite things to do was to play with my action figures, particularly Batman figures. (And also Star Wars Micro Machines.) I’d spend hours setting up perfect scenes, building elaborate plots and stories. I believe that this playtime helped me sharpen my ability to write stories and comic strips. This repetition of building scenarios that involved characters I loved allowed my imagination to flourish. Free playtime is in my opinion essential to allowing children (and grown ups) to discover their interests and those things that give a person a strong sense of meaning.
11. Watch a TV Show
Sometimes it’s nice to just relax and watch a few tv shows. Here are some of my favorites from when I was a kid. Perhaps you liked them too back in the day. If your kids aren’t familiar with them, introduce them to these great series.
- Batman the Animated Series
- Batman Beyond
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Pinky and the Brain
12. Play with the Dog or Cat
Assuming you have a pet in the house, take some time with your children to focus on your pet. There are several interesting puzzles you can buy for a dog for instance, where you can hide treats inside the puzzle box, and then the dog has to try to get them out.
Place a treat inside a shoe. Next, place the shoe inside a shoe box. Put the shoebox inside a backpack. See how fast your dog can get to the treat. Time him/her to see if they improve with repetition.
I don’t have any cats, so I can’t give much advice on playing with them.
13. Watch a Movie
Movies: perhaps not the most original of indoor activities for kids, but I wanted to share anyway, because there’s several movies I’m very fond of. Furthermore, when the day’s over, and it’s time to relax, a movie can be a wonderful experience. Here’s a list of my favorite movies that are appropriate for all ages.
- Aladdin (1992 version)
- The Lion King
- The Jungle Book (1967 version)
- The Iron Giant
- 101 Dalmatians
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
- Free Willy
- The Incredibles
- Star Wars
14. Play a Board Game
Here are five board games that will bring the family closer together (or perhaps make everyone mad at each other.)
- Thirteen Dead End Drive
If you and your kids want to try your hand and coming up with your own board game, Tim’s Printables has several handy templates to help you get started. Take a look!
15. Have an Extreme Dot-to-Dot Race!
If your young ones are looking for a real challenge, print out an extreme dot-to-dot, and let them race to see who can complete the picture first. Here are four of the most popular Tim’s Printables dot-to-dots.
16. Play Piano
Need a good song to practice that sounds impressive without being impossible for a beginner to master? Try learning one of these popular songs. Simply search youtube for a nice video tutorial, and practice a bit every day until you master it.
Fun songs to learn:
- The Entertainer by Scott Joplin
- Cruella DeVil from 101 Dalmations
- Imagine by John Lennon
17. Play the States and Capitals Game
Around the dinner table, my father would ask each of us in turn, “What is the capital of so-and-so?”
Now could be the time to help your kids learn the states and the capitals.
You can download a list of states and capitals here.
18. Visit an Online Museum
The list of exciting indoor activities for kids continues with a visit to an online museum! Specifically, the Smithsonian. I took a look at several online museums, and the Smithsonian is in my opinion the only one that’s really great. The user interface is solid, the images are sharp and there are plenty of nodes to explore, making it feel a bit like you’re playing Myst. That said, online museums have a long way to go. I wish for instance that you could navigate just like in a video game. Also, ambient background sounds would help make the experience more immersive. Finally, it would have been nice if you could zoom in and read all the signs and info boards. Eventually, I am sure, it will get to that point. Until that time, the Smithsonian exhibit is your best bet for feeling a sense of immersion, holding your interest, and containing a bunch of information that kids will find interesting. If you can’t bring the kids to the field trip, bring the field trip to the kids.
Those 18 indoor activities for kids should keep you and your children happy and entertained for many hours. I hope some of the ideas, books, games, and content are new to you, and will help you discover valuable new interests. Please feel free to share your experiences with any of the indoor activities from this list. – Tim