Wondering what to do when you can't get out and explore? In these uncertain times that call for staying close to home, I’ll be posting an idea a day of things to do to keep kids busy and engaged in their world. Watch out. The longer the list goes and the potential of boredom and stir craziness sets in, the more creative the ideas will likely become!
1) It’s spring! Support the wildlife in your backyard, off your porch, or from a nearby tree with some of these bird-loving acts of kindness. The birds will repay you with bird watching activities in the upcoming mornings!
* Create a bird bath with the lid of a garbage pail. Fill it with fresh water each day.
* Make a bird feeder with a toilet paper roll or pine cone. Attach pipe cleaner or string so it can hang from a tree. Roll it in honey and then roll it in bird seed. (Warning: messy! Might want to do this activity outside.)
* Create your own binoculars with two toilet paper rolls and some tape. Add decoration! Then get ready to watch for birds in the morning.
* Draw the birds you see! Or take pictures. Listen for them and try to identify different birds by their chirps, calls and tweets.
* For the go-getter types, get a bird identification book or look up birding websites and create your own bird book.
2) Create a stuffed animal fashion show! Design clothes using yarn, string, mismatched socks, pipe cleaner, scraps of fabric, cut up rags, etc. We’ve wrapped Barbies in yarn and popped cats into socks to give them a fresh look. Then follow it up with a fashion shoot! Below is Buttons, our first catwalk model.
3) Build a Fort! Are you a cozy fort builder who makes living room forts of blankets draped over chairs, filled with bean bags and pillows for a day of reading or tea parties? Are you the backyard builder who constructs with outdoor materials you collected yourself? Or are you the practical type that builds of boxes decorated with markers, stickers and cloth curtains? Whatever your type, enjoy Fort Day!
4) Spa Day! Even boys like bubble baths. Drop in some boats, balls and bath dyes for fun. Then cozy up in robes or pajamas and rub on some lotions, make your own foot scrub, paint nails, do temporary tattoos, fix your hair fancy (or silly) and look glorious and glowing for another relaxing day at home!
5) What can you make with a box? All kinds of things! One of my favorite projects as a kid happened on a day my mom gave me access to all the gift boxes in our house and some string. I spent hours making a train of decorated box cars strung together to pull my entire stuffed animal collection.
With my own kids, we’ve made houses from giant boxes with doors that swing and windows with curtains. If you have a lot of big boxes, link them together to make a tunnel or train cars. Smaller boxes can become homes, buildings, docks or cars for Lego people and small plastic friends. Or make your own car with a box and paper plates wheels and steering wheel. For a completely different project, hide surprises for each other in boxes and play a guessing game. Or have a “very unbirthday” party with suprises in boxes. Unless today is really your birthday. Then Happy Birthday! I think I’ll give you . . . a box!
6) Go biking! All ages love a good bike ride. Check the “Biking” section of the Exploring Austin with Kids guidebook or app for great spots to bike with kids. For now, you can take advantage of the lessened traffic and empty parking lots. Wear your helmet and bike friendly!
7) Make your very own playdough! Not only is this the BEST playdough in the world – super soft and squishy – but you can custom color it. (We once tried all the food colors together. Helpful tip: it makes grey.) This recipe uses Kool Aid packets to color and scent the dough (the mysterious step #3 that is missing from our recipe). A few drops of food coloring works well too. Let it cool while you collect cookie cutters, plasticware, rolling pins, and molds from kitchen drawers and cabinets. Then have fun creating!
8) Make stuff! Pull out the yarn, string, scissors, glue, tape, paper, markers and crayons. Then go on a scavenger hunt around the house for more supplies - recycles, cardboard, sticks, flowers, bottle caps, toilet paper holders, plastic bottle tops, pipe cleaners, glitter (???), stickers, stamps, stamp pads, odds and ends, rubber bands, wine corks, bubble wrap, paper clips, magazines, boxes . . . Tip: Best place to look for supplies? The recycling bin!
Then start making. You can offer a theme or just follow your kid’s lead. They’ll know what to do!
9) Pick flowers. Find a good isolated spot with lots of flowers and get pickin’! Fill small jars or fancy vases with your finds and sprinkle them throughout your house for springtime cheeriness. In fact, I bet you have time now that you can even plant some from seed and watch them grow! Give your young waterers the job to keep them wet every day until they start sprouting. Then you’ll have made your own real live flowers.
10) Bring out the mad scientists! Collect those science activity books from your shelves, google some fun experiments, or recreate the projects you tried as a kid. (I know you all made a baking soda volcano!) If you have a favorite project, link, or photo, help another parent out and add it in the comments.
11) Do a puzzle - or a few! Here’s a challenge for young puzzlers - arrange ALL your puzzles around the room from easiest to hardest. Then dump them out (one by one! unless you’re either REALLY good or like messes) and complete every puzzle that you own. For older puzzlers - pull out that 100, 500 or 1000 piece puzzle and get started! Are you a do-the-edges-first type? By color type? By shape? Go!
12) Find your secret hiding spot. With a break in the weather, get out and explore while the creeks are flowing and everything is green! Think of greenbelt trails you’ve passed that have looked empty and begged for exploring, creek areas in your neighborhood, green spaces, or hiking trails. For ideas, pull out your Exploring Austin with Kids guidebook or app to search under “Hikes,” “Creek Play,” or “Parks” in the Table of Contents. [Note that some parks are temporarily closed or have closed their restroom facilities. Stay spaced out when exploring too.]
13) Have a fancy dinner party! Or snack or lunch picnic or high tea…. Pull out your fancy tea cups, candles, table cloths, freshly picked flowers, and cloth napkins. You can even make fancy tea cakes or little cookies to add to the occasion. Of course, you’ll need to get dressed up for this occasion. Bon appetit, mes amis!
14) You don’t need to go farther than your backyard to go camping. Ready for a change of scene? Pop up a tent and you’ve got a whole new space to play! You can make it a reading room, a place for cars, Lego building space (put them on a sheet for easy cleanup), a napping room, a doll hangout, or a game room. Or it could change every day….. Let me know what you do!
15) Cozy up with a good book! If you’ve already read everything on your shelves, check out the Austin Public virtual Library. Or if you’re tired of the screen, support these local stores who are still keeping hungry readers fed: BookPeople with online shopping and Terra Toys curbside service! Follow your favorite bookstores and authors too. Many are offering amazing storytimes each day on Instagram!
16) Game Day! Pop some popcorn and do a family Game Night. Or create a cozy spot in the living room and have gaming afternoon! My favorite game is Utter Nonsense where you draw cards with sayings, have to say them with funny accents, and then choose the winner. (It gets pretty silly.) What is your favorite?!?
17) Today is a great day to plant seeds! Plop them in the ground or a pot. Put them in a good sunny spot, water them, and watch them grow! Messing around in a garden teaches so much – patience, gratitude, wonder, ecology, cycles of life, math, language, collaboration, ownership, and care. Plus, kids are natural gardeners. They get the mystery of it. The recipe of seeds, water, and plants. The gardening tools, dirt and industry. The secret treasures hiding in the soil. Enjoy!
18) Dance Party!!! Nuff said. Kids know what to do – just put on some tunes to get some energy out!
For a more elaborate Dance Party, here are some ideas:
• Get dressed up. Is it a fancy ball that requires formal attire? A disco? Boot scootin’? 80s pop and all neon? Dance offs? A singalong with fake mics? Choregraphed dance?
• Make posters. Invite friends from your house. You can invite the whole stuffed animal crew, if they’re game. They can even dress for the occasion.
• Set the scene and decorate accordingly. Flashing lights or spot lights? Balloons? Bubbles? Crepe paper?
• Set the lighting, turn on the music, and DANCE!
19) Bake something yummy. These are our favorite cookbooks, and today we’re making homemade pretzels! In the past few weeks, we’ve made homemade bread, berry scones, oatmeal chocoolate chip cookies, banana cupcakes with cream cheese icing, and zucchini bread. What are you making?
20) Create a scavenger hunt to send to a lucky someone! (Maybe they’ll even send one back to you.) If you know their house really well, you can send super specific clues like: “walk to the backyard, swing on your swing 3 times, then look behind the pecan tree – and write down what you see” or “list the types of flowers growing in your front yard.” Even generic clues can be fun though, for example: “how many bird calls can you count in 1 minute?” or “take 5 steps forwards, go 2 steps sideways, turn around all the way; write down where you are!” or “Sit in the window and wave to people for 3 minutes. How many waves did you do?”
You can award prizes for completion like a video “hurrah!” to send by text. Put together a certificate and email it, or find some stickers or small prizes to put in the mail. Good luck!
21) Warning: Today’s activity is kinda messy . . . . make MUD PIES! I have fond memories of making these as a kid. Collecting the decorations and designing the pies was my favorite part. Lids or containers from the recycle bin make perfect pie plates. Today, we invited our dog Butter and some rollie pollies to our mud pie party!
22) Paint rocks. You can even paint them – or a sidewalk - with water for easy cleanup! It’s like ink that turns invisible! If you want more lasting power, try paint. Collect some rocks around your home. Pull out your paints and brushes. Then create paper weights, garden stones, yard art, or your very own pet rock.
23) Build a train track! If you usually build it swirly with switches, this time make it a loooooong one that travels from room to room in your house - oh, excuse me, from village to village - and line it with stuffed animals, Lego people and houses or block buildings and depots along the way. Who needs a train set? If you don’t have one, don’t fret! You can make one out of small boxes strung together. Make your own tracks drawn on recycled paper. Tape it down wherever you want your train to travel!
24) Want to surprise someone and bring cheer to their day? Write a letter or put together a special package! Do you know what people really love to get in the mail? Not bills or fliers . . . . but handmade art. So make some! Then put it in an envelope, practice addressing letters, add a stamp, and send it off. The best part . . . today we were surprised by a letter back!
25) Make a Quarantine Journal to remember these days when life slowed down and you spent more quality time together. One day when life speeds up again, you’ll enjoy looking back to reflect. Make it funny. Make it silly. Make it serious. Add photos, illustrations, art … whatever you’d like! And get the whole family involved (yes, even those who reluctantly add their parts after you ask them over and over!).
26) Water play! As the afternoons get warmer, head outdoors and play in the sprinkler or fill up the pool. For water conservation, pick a spot in the yard that needs watering – or repurpose that pool water tomorrow by filling up cups and watering plants. Two activities in one!
27) Make popsicles! They’re super easy to make - and tasty. Fill your mold with fruit juice or lemonade for a refreshing treat or look up recipes if you want to get fancier. Wait a few hours. Then eat!
Don’t have a mold? Instead, fill a paper or plastic cup, ice cube tray, or mini loaf pans. Cover with a cupcake liner (which can later catch drips) or Saran wrap to hold the popsicle sticks (or plastic spoons) in place. You can even make easy yogurt pops if you have little yogurt containers. Simply insert a popsicle stick into the lid and pop them into the freezer. Voila!
28) Hit the trails! Check your Exploring Austin with Kids guidebook for lesser known, secret hikes – or choose locations with a variety of trails and lots of room to social distance. Check websites before you head out as some places have temporarily closed. State parks require that you purchase day passes online ahead of time, with limited numbers per day. Enjoy the cooler weather and sunshine!
29) Play a drawing game. With an artist in our family, we have played lots of drawing games. With the other 3 of us being terrible artists, these have led to lots of hilarity. Here is our favorite "telephone-like" game on paper. All you need is a sheet of paper for each player and something to draw with.
30) Play Dress Up – whether that means costumes and ball gowns, make-your-own-costumes-from-weird-articles-from-everybody’s-closets, makeup and nails, or picking a family dress up theme for movie night!
31) Check out the STEAM activities at Thinkery at Home. The videos are short, easy to follow, and list needed supplies. Plus, the activities are super for both art and math minded kiddos. Build a cool zipline sprinter, do leaf art, take apart recycled electronics, make a collage with magazines and shadows, learn a fun drawing game, or make your own water play area. The activities follow the Thinkery’s vision to make learning fun and engaging.
32) Make an edible necklace! I am always amazed at the patience kids demonstrate with this beading of cereal activity. They recognize the value of not just eating the snack but of the added satisfaction that comes from eating from a necklace whenever hunger strikes! For a bright, colorful necklace, use Fruit Loops. For a healthier option, try organic Os. The stiffer the string, the easier for little hands. Tape one end onto your table. Then wrap a small piece of tape around the other end to make for easier stringing. Tie carefully when finished so all the cereal doesn’t fall off! Enjoy.