30+ Screen-Free Activities Your Kids Can Do ALONE While You Work at Home

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Make an obstacle course with sidewalk chalk (photo: Testors.com)

Listen, there’s no shame in occupying kids with screens sometimes—especially now since COVID-19 has us working at home, schooling at home, and basically up in each other’s business every single second of the day and night. If Frozen 2 provides 90 minutes of peace so you can get something accomplished, join a Zoom meeting without anyone interrupting, or regroup so you don’t lose your damn mind, then DO IT.

That said, with all of the regular day-to-day activities moving online—virtual school, virtual extracurricular classes, virtual camps, virtual birthday parties—kids are likely spending way more time on screens than they did pre-coronavirus.

To help keep your kids’ screen exposure down while also giving you time to do what you gotta do, here are some activities to keep your kids occupied (and let’s be honest: quiet) during the workweek, preferably without requiring parental help every two minutes!

Indoor Ideas

Maybe the weather isn’t on your side, or you just want to keep a closer eye on the kids—whatever the reason for keeping the kids indoors, these activities will keep your kids busy while they are inside.

LEGO Challenges

If your kids love LEGO, then setting them a new building challenge every day is a great way to keep them occupied. You can try this great printable 31-day LEGO challenge calendar and let the kids flex their creativity.

Marshmallow Toothpick Structures

Get the kids working on some STEM fun with marshmallow toothpick structures. All you need is some marshmallows and toothpicks and kids can have fun building all kinds of creations. If you want to instil a little more STEM into it, try one of these fun challenges.

Indoor Obstacle Course

Check out this video for tons of ideas. Helpful tip: instead of siblings competing against each other (so much crying and shouting), put kids on the same “team” and have them take turns, then try to beat their collective time.

Window Marker Mosaic

Tape out shapes on the window and let kids colour them in with window chalk or markers. Then remove the tape for a cool effect. See an example here.

Board Games and Card Games

There are lots of board games for kids as young as age 4. Matching games are good for younger kids, along with cooperative games. There are many solo games out there for only children, too, and from about age 6, kids can grasp solitaire.

Printables

Looking to supplement your kids’ learning? There are approximately 1 billion printables for kids online, but Teachers Pay Teachers has some great options. Many are free and most are less than $5.

Puzzles

Puzzles have been flying off the shelves since mid-March, and it’s no wonder. It’s the perfect solo activity. Younger kids may ask you (i.e. beg you constantly) to help them at first. But if you can nudge them to figure it out alone and then lay on the praise, you might find them working more independently. Mix it up with some 3D puzzles.

Balloons

Do we need to elaborate? Kids love balloons and will develop a million games with them on their own. But the classic is “don’t let the balloon touch the ground”. Just prepare for whatever room they’re in to be destroyed!

Set Up A Fort

What kid doesn’t love setting up—and playing in—a fort? Grab all of the pillows, blankets, and cushions you can find and let the kids go crazy!

Frozen Toy Rescue

Place some small toys, beads, bouncy balls, etc, into ice cube trays, muffin tins, or plastic containers overnight, then let kids work to “rescue” them using droppers or pipettes of warm water. You can use cups of water, but the fun won’t last as long. Bonus: stay on theme and freeze Elsa and Anna.

Fizzy Colour “Experiment”

Drop a different colour of food colouring into each cup of a muffin tin at intervals in a large container with sides, then cover with baking soda. Give kids vinegar, pipettes (baby medicine droppers work) or spray bottles with vinegar. Then let ’em loose to enjoy the “volcano” effect and uncovering and mixing colours.

Make A Mural

Choose a wall in your home that your kids can reach. Cover it completely with paper and let your kids draw to their hearts’ content. They’ll love getting the draw on the walls! Remember, you’ll still want to use washable markers for this one.

Hide And Seek

This one will take a little pre-planning on your part. Hide a bunch of your kids favourite toys around the house—think teddy bears, action figures and dolls. Let your kids know that their toys are playing hide and seek. They can spend the afternoon (or all day if you hide them well enough) searching for their friends!

Bead Necklaces or Friendship Bracelets

No time like the present to learn this essential solo kid skill! Make some for friends and family and then deliver them. Here’s a helpful friendship bracelet tutorial for beginners.

Mission Impossible-Style Obstacle Course

Grab some red yarn, head to a hallway, and create a “laser” maze a la Mission Impossible. Give your kids a timer and see who can get the fastest time through the maze.

Paper Dolls

Real talk: Whatever happened to paper dolls?! These days you can get the vinyl sticker and magnetic alternatives, which are fine, but if you want something more immediate and old-school, download free paper doll printables for kids to cut out (takes more time!) and play with. Check Etsy, too, for many options under $5.

Draw A Portrait

If you have more than one kid, you can have them draw portraits of each other. And if they are an only child, set them up with a mirror and have them draw a self-portrait. 

Around-the-House Scavenger Hunt

Develop your own unique hunt or borrow from a few creative scavenger hunts we’ve found:

  • Give kids a food scale and have them find things that weigh different amounts: something over 100 g, something under 100 g, something more than 300 mL, something around 1L, etc. (Props to my daughter’s Grade 2 teacher for this one!)
  • For younger kids, have them work on identifying shapes with a fun shape scavenger hunt—a ball for circle, a tortilla chip for triangle… you get the picture!
  • This secret code scavenger hunt is great for older kids and comes with printables so you can easily share it with your kids.

Dress-up 

If you already have a dress-up box or costume truck, pull it out and let the kids go crazy! If you don’t have a dress-up truck yet, it’s easy to throw one together. Grab hats, socks, coats, purses, shoes, boots, kid glasses, costume jewellery, old dresses, Halloween costumes, jackets, and anything else you think your kids would love. 

Dominos 

Do you have any idea how long it takes to set up a domino knock-down? Sure the payoff is short and sweet, but creating the moment takes a lot of time and patience… time that you could be answering emails or joining a Zoom call.

Outdoor Ideas

As the sun starts to shine more and more, it’s only natural that kids will want to get outside. If they are old enough to safely hang in the back or front yard on their own, these ideas are sure to keep them busy while you work.

Sidewalk Chalk Obstacle Course

Find many amazing examples online. Mix and match “stations” like walking a tightrope, jumping over logs, spinning, dancing, and hopscotch. You can even incorporate math and spelling challenges. Kids can invent and add more stations.

Car Wash / Toy Wash

Choose a favourite toy—vehicles, PAW Patrol figures, Barbies…anything that can get wet will work—and set out one bin with bubble bath, one with clean water, plus some brushes and dish rags.

Outdoor Scavenger Hunt

What’s more fun than an outdoor scavenger hunt? Set the kids up with a list of things to find outside and remember the harder the things are to find, the longer the hunt will take to finish!

Fun In The Sand

If you have a sandbox, let the kids work on building sandcastles and playing with their sand toys. If you don’t have a sandbox, grab a bag of sand from your local garden centre, pick out a few sand-friendly toys, throw it all into a large storage bin, and let the kids have their own beach day.

Bubbles

Because what kid doesn’t love to chase, blow, pop, and play with bubbles? If you don’t have any bubble mixture at home, you can make your own with 4 cups of warm water, ½ cup dish soap, and ½ cup sugar. And if you don’t have a bubble wand, try cookie cutters or make your own with pipe cleaners!

“Paint” The Fence

All you need for this activity is a few paintbrushes and a couple of buckets of water—kids can paint the fence of the side of your house and see the colour change. And because it will dry quickly, this activity can keep kids busy for a long time.

Water The Plants

If your kids are old enough, you can ask them to water the gardens. You can also bring your indoor plants outside and let them water those as well. It may seem like a chore, but adding water to any activity instantly makes it more fun for kids.

Dance Party

Set up an outdoor speaker, tell your kids to put on their shiniest outfits, and let them pick out their favourite tunes to dance to. Not only will this buy you some time, but it will also wear the kids out!

Draw A Nature Scene

Print off some examples of great Canadian landscape artists—the Group of 7, anyone?—and then set your kids up in the backyard with their own easel and paint set. Have them work on a landscape painting that either uses one of the styles they’ve seen or have them make up their own style.

Magnifying Magic

What is cooler than seeing a bug up close and personal? Give your kid a magnifying glass and let them explore the world! This one is great when paired with any of the outdoor scavenger hunts.


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  • Lynn Wilson

    Be careful with balloon activities. Young children can bite and ingest the plastic causing serious choking issues.