The weather outside may be frightful, but the prospect of having the kids home doesn't have to be. 

By Brigitt Earley
December 11, 2020
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child smiling while making paper snowflakes
Credit: Choreograph / Getty Images

Snow days have always been tricky. A single phone call—"School's cancelled!"—changes the whole day, sending parents everywhere scrambling to keep their kids occupied from sun up to sun down. But this winter, moms and dads face a new and unique challenge: keeping their kids busy at home for days on end. Though many schools are still in session (at least in some capacity), there's no telling what the coming months will bring. If we learned anything in 2020, it's to expect the unexpected. Whether in-person school gets cancelled or not, chances are kids will be spending a lot more time at home this winter. And with social distancing restrictions still in place, there will be fewer opportunities to occupy this extra time with trips to play places or play dates with other kids. 

What's the best way to limit cabin fever and keep everyone—kids and adults alike—sane without resorting to hours upon hours of screen time? There are plenty of indoor activities that spark creativity, promote learning, encourage imaginative play, and—most importantly—are fun enough to keep whining and groans of "I'm bored" at bay (at least for a few precious hours). Here, some clever ideas to inspire you.

Plan a treasure hunt.

Hide a few special treats and prizes around the house, then draw up a treasure map to help guide the kids' hunt for the goods. While you do this, challenge the kids to come up with pirate costumes to really play the part. If that sort of activity takes more effort than you can muster, here's an alternative idea: Turn to Etsy, where you can find tons of printable indoor scavenger hunts. All you have to do is download, print, hand out, then come up with a special prize at the end.

Bake your favorite recipes.

Give the kids a cookbook to sift through, and let them pick out a new-to-the-family recipe to try. Making something like a kid-friendly dessert is a great way to keep little ones busy while also teaching important skills. Kids will not only learn how to cook, but they'll also absorb important math skills through measurements. Plus, you'll all have something delicious to show for the hours spent.

Do arts and crafts.

By arts and crafts, we don't mean setting the kids up with a coloring book and some markers and then walking away. For more of an activity, consider a bigger project—like making fluffy slime, assembling a wreath for the front door, designing personalized T-shirts, or crafting homemade gifts for loved ones. 

Try a science experiment.

Bring science class home or introduce little kids to STEM learning with at-home experiments, like growing crystals, making indoor "snow," creating lava lamps, or making ice cream. All of these projects can be easily done in the kitchen with little setup, little mess, and little effort, but are plenty engaging, plus have big educational benefits.

Hold indoor Olympics.

Plan a series of four or five games—everything from board games, to card games, to "minute to win it-style challenges are on the table. Then, have the kids help you with a few related crafts—making a big scoreboard and some medals for the forthcoming medal ceremony. If you're really feeling inspired, you can even craft a torch from paper and host a torch relay before the games begin. Spend the afternoon cycling through the planned games and challenges, keeping score along the way. Once the last is complete, tally up the scores to declare a winner.

Get moving.

Dealing with a lot of pent up energy? Try exercising together. You don't have to go outside to do it. These days, there are plenty of online options that'll get you moving right in the comfort of your warm living room. Consider something kid-friendly and fully directed like Cosmic Kids Yoga. Another option is to let the kids get creative and design their own P.E. class for the rest of the family to participate in. 

Host a "pool party."

Even if the wind is whipping outside, the heat is cranking inside, so why not pass the time with a tropical pool—err, bath—party. Dress the kids in their favorite bathing suits, give them some goggles and small pool toys and let them splash around. You can even get creative by serving some tropical fare for lunch before or after bath time. 

Build a fort.

Set out a stack of pillows, blankets, and old sheets, then let the kids have at it, constructing the most incredible fort they can. (Of course, you can also buy kits specifically made for making complex forts.) Building is only half the fun, though. Once their castle, spaceship, cave, or pirate ship has been erected, they'll face hours of imaginative play inside.

Host an indoor picnic.

If the kids aren't typically allowed to eat anywhere but the kitchen table, delight them with an indoor picnic. Do things just like you would outside—set up a blanket in the living room, pack a special lunch complete with treats like juice and cookies, then "travel" to your destination. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even pull up a YouTube video of a far-flung locale you've always dreamed of visiting—like the Alps in springtime. Alternatively, set the scene with a sound machine that has bird, ocean, or wind sounds.

Put on a play.

Challenge the kids to turn a corner of your family room into a theatre. You can give them some cardboard boxes, markers, and old bed sheets, so they can create a stage complete with a curtain. Then, encourage them to get creative by penning a script. Have a box of old costumes at the ready to inspire character creation. Schedule a performance for the end of the day, complete with a cast party over dinner and dessert. 

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