Photo by Woodley Wonderworks

“Mom, can I watch a movie?”

This is how I woke up this morning.  A cute little four-year-old face, inches away from mine, asking to be entertained by major Hollywood corporations.

I don’t have a problem with TV or movies — we watch them occasionally.  But I believe that they are FAR too often used as the default choice of leisure time for children. They can easily suck away imagination, energy, and the innocence of our kids, and a few hours of distraction just isn’t worth that, in my opinion.

But during these dog days of summer, it’s also hard to shoo your kids outside — at least if you live in a climate like ours, where the norm is 100+ degrees fahrenheit daily.  Unfortunately, it’s just not safe to let kids sweat in this brutal heat for hours at a time.

So what’s a parent to do?  Not much.  But there’s plenty that children can do indoors on their own — without touching a remote.  Here are a few ideas.


1. Read a Book


This is a go-to favorite in our family.  Our library is right in our living room, available for access any time of day.  Our kids know they can pull a book off the shelves at any time and enjoy, even though they can’t read on their own yet.  And don’t forget about your public library.

2.  Write a book.

Photo by nd.strupler

Even if your kids aren’t writing fluently yet, they can still compose literature on their own.  Create a collection of blank books, and let your kids illustrate a story.  Later, you can write the words for them as they dictate them to you, or they can sound out the words phonetically and write the story on their own.  These books will make great keepsakes later.

3.  Act out a book.

Does your child have a perennial favorite book?  Have her act it out — the plot may take a unique turn, all her own.  While I was making breakfast, my daughter said, “Mom, right now I’m going on a walk at half past nine.”

4.  Listen to a book.

Audible Kids has a great selection of quality literature for children.  Download a few to your mp3 player, and either give your child some headphones, or play the book over speakers while they play quietly.

5.  Make an indoor clubhouse.

Corey wrote a great column on how to build a blanket fort.  Get your child started, and see how else they architect a little place of their own.

6.  Perform a puppet show or play.

Photo from Make and Takes

Hopefully you have a collection of hand-me-down clothes and thrift store finds in a dress-up box for your kids.  They can use these to create costumes for a play, with you as the audience.  Or they can let their stuffed animals star as puppets, and hide behind the couch for a dramatic reenactment starring their pretend friends.

You can also make a simple puppet show theater with a spring-loaded curtain rod and a piece of fabric in a doorway.

7.  Have an indoor picnic or tea party.

Lay out an outdoor tablecloth on the floor, and enjoy lunch together down there.  Kids think it’s a big treat to do the everyday in a special place, and the floor is one of those places.  Or brew up some warm tea (my daughter’s favorite is blackberry), and have a little tea time in cups with saucers, alongside crackers or sweet bread for an afternoon treat.  This is best done during baby’s naptime.

8.  Make homemade play-doh.

Play-doh made from scratch is incredibly easy, and you can make an endless array of colors with basic food dye.  Plus, it doesn’t have that awful commercial-brand smell.  Spread the outdoor tablecloth on the floor, and give them dull knives, a rolling pin, and some cookie cutters.

9.  Help with chores.

Many younger kids think it’s a blast to help Mom with the chores — but even if they don’t think it’s fun, it’s good for them to do chores anyway.  It teaches kids that running the house is a family effort, and that life involves work (and things we don’t always enjoy doing).  I’ve recently updated our family’s preschool chore chart on the downloads page.

10.  Save up those TP rolls and wad up your socks.

Arrange TP rolls like bowling pins on one end of the hall.  Stock up a few balled-up socks on the other.  Bowl or throw at the “pins,” and you’ve got an indoor bowling alley.  There’s tons of other crafts you can do with toilet paper rolls, too.

11.  Get your groove on.

Even the parent can benefit from this little break in the day.  Crank up the peppy music and get dancing.  Even 10 minutes of jiving with release some wiggles, and it’s a stress relief for you, too.  I like finding new adult and kid-friendly music at Kids Music That Rocks.

12.  Craft, craft, craft.

Photo by laffy4k

In our family, we draw or create near daily.  Keep a well-organized art cabinet handy, and your children can grab supplies whenever their muse strikes.  If they want to paint, simply use that handy outdoor tablecloth again, and spread it on the kitchen floor.  This is another baby’s-taking-a-nap activity.

13.  Write a letter to a friend.

Old-fashioned letter writing is a dying art, what with e-mail being today’s communication method of choice.  Help your child write a letter to Grandma, her cousins, or a friend, and make someone’s day when they open their mailbox a few days later.

14.  Have a simple playdate.

Invite your child’s good friend over — this often makes for an even easier day, because your kiddo has a playmate instead of asking you to play all the time.  It depends on the age and the particular friend, of course, but I’ve found that when my daughter has a friend over, I don’t see her for hours.  They’re engulfed in their own little world in the playroom, content with each other’s company.

15.  Play shop.

Create different shop kits from thrift store and sale finds.  The next time you’re at a craft store, pick up some fake flowers on clearance.  Make some homemade plant labels, save some empty seed packets, and hang on to those temporary pots from store-bought plants — all these supplies will make great tools for a flower shop at home.  A notepad, pencil, apron, tray, and play food are all you need to play restaurant at the dining room table.

16.  Rearrange the bedroom.

If your child is old enough to safely move small furniture around, let him explore his creative side and rearrange his bedroom.  Depending on the result, it could be an afternoon set up, or it could be a new permanent look.

17.  Supply some cardboard boxes.

Photo from ehow

If you haven’t recently moved or purchased a new appliance, go to your local grocery store and see if they have any cardboard boxes you could take off their hands.  Bring a few home, and let your child’s imagination take over.  They might build a castle, take off on a spaceship, or go sailing to a new world.

18.  Go on a treasure hunt.

Think of some unusual spots around your house, or plant some treasures in rooms and on shelves (in an age-appropriate location, of course).  Then make a list of objects, and have your child go on a treasure hunt.  If they can’t yet read, draw a sketch of the hidden item.

19.  Have them help with batch cooking.

Do you have a batch cooking day planned?  If they’re old enough to stir, sift, and pour, let them help you with the basics — pasta and pizza sauces, muffins, and breads are all kid-friendly.  And it’s a good chance to teach about numbers, fractions, nutrition, and providing for the family.

20.  Nothing.

i guess she's bored
Photo by yours truly

Boredom is good for kids.  Children are seldom truly bored, they just haven’t lately exercised that part of the brain that requires them to use their imagination.  Make a rule that if your kid announces they’re bored, they’ll have to do chores.  So if they truly can’t think of anything off-hand to do…  eventually, they’ll think of something.

It’s a good lesson to learn that life is not always entertaining, and that they’re not the center of attention.  And if you’ve got a typical home, there’s actually plenty they can do.  So don’t feel like you always have to provide options and events for your children.  They’ll be just fine exercising their brain.

What’s your go-to indoor activity with your kids?

by Tsh, SimpleMom

  • Joanna @ Starving Student Survivor

    I love the TP roll bowling idea! My son loves bowling on the Wii, but again, that would involve turning on the TV. Maybe I’ll dig through the garbage today to start a collection and skip buying him a toy bowling set like I’d planned for his birthday.

  • donna o

    We ‘try” to schedule EVERYTHING around here for the simple reason if we didn’t the TV would be on WAY more than it needs to be—or even the computer for that reason. I have 3 children–12,13,16,18–the 3 younger are boys! VERY active boys. We are so blessed to have a nice yard and we just put up a pool, but still, they would choose to play on their techno devices first! So, general rule of thumb around here is NO computer before 4 PM, TV is ok until 9, and if you don;t want to play with the things you own, we can certainly donate them the charity! Of course, I know they don;t play with ALL their things over the summer as much as the cold days of wonter, but it really is very important for them to interact with humans!
    I also have the luxury of being a stay at home mom—a rare luxury these days! So *I* need to plan to do things with them as well–we have an inexpensive croquet set, I can mange 3 bikes in the back of the van (if someone is busy with something else to stay home!), paddle ball with 69 cent paddles we found at Sally’s (Salvation Army around here!, and not to mention WALKS!! Also, on super hot afternoons or rainy days, we have Scrabble wars, play Harry Potter Clue, Monopoly, Risk, to name a few longer games! We’ll make popcorn, have coffee together–yes, I allow the kids to drink coffee! it’s something we share :0)! Well, thanks for a few reminders of some other things we can *do*!

  • Lyn Armstrong

    Thank you for providing such wonderful activities. Our children need outside play for strengthening muscles to sit and stand with and for developing balance as well as sensory motor skills which tell us where our bodies are in space. Its critical from an occupational therapist’s viewpoint to also provide activities to promote hand development. Unfortunately our technical advances (video games, WII, etc) don’t provide ways to develop the small muscles of the hands for writing. So please keep posting such good suggestions! You can make a HUGE difference in alot of children.

  • kelly

    3 summers ago we decided to stop watching tv (for the kids. we still watch some, but not with them) It was one of the best decisions we ever made. The kids didn’t think so at first, but we resolved to be diligent with it. It also helped with less selfishness and calmed them down too.

  • Rachel @ the science of music

    This summer, I’ve made sure to schedule enough activity so that even if we have some down time, there’s not enough down time for the kids to turn on the tv. It’s really helped. Some days, we’ve had the tv on all day, but those are a rare treat rather than the norm.
    Whenever my son says he’s bored, I tell him to scrub the bathroom floor with a toothbrush. He ALWAYS finds something else to do!

  • Stephanie’s Mommy Brain

    Building tents and forts with blankets is a favorite activity at our house! We weren’t able to get outside much for the winter and very wet spring so we’ve done most of the things on your list. Now that the weather is warm and sunny my kids are outside most of the time (Yeah for me!!). So I made a similar list last month only most of my activities are for OUTSIDE. We’re having a great time this summer working through the list. I’ve only heard “I’m bored” once so far! :)

  • Kathy @ Beautiful Mornings

    My daughters are grown women now, but you brought back fun memories of making ice cream in a bag, playing dress up and acting out scenes from Cinderella and Little Women, and playing grocery store or restaurant was a favorite, too, with Monopoly money and empty food packages/boxes.
    We always planned a Christmas craft for Christmas in July, usually an ornament that we looked forward to placing on the tree when the Christmas season finally came.
    They grow up fast!

  • Becky Ramsey

    We used to love to go to Goodwill and buy cheap prom dresses and other things to wear as costumes-provided hours of play.
    My kids also loved painting with water on a hot day (just a big paintbrush dipped in water.) They’d paint the sidewalk or even the house. Sidewalk chalk is fun too.
    We also did lots of old fashioned stuff–sewing cards for little hands and real (simple) sewing projects as my daughter got older. We’d bake cookies and give half the recipe away. The kids loved the excitement of surprising people with yummy gifts!

  • Krista

    What a wonderful list! I think I will make a point to do all 20 with my 5 kiddies this summer! We’re having a good ole playdate/sleepover tonight! Sleeping bags, movies, popcorn, make your own pizza! So much fun!

  • Michelle

    This was a great post. Thanks for the ideas. I’ve already started planning our summer this will definitely help finish it.

  • Shox NZ

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  • Millicent Heart

    good read

  • physician assistant

    What a great resource!

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