During cold winter weather, and while pandemic restrictions remain in place, families are spending a lot of time inside, and many people are looking for ideas to keep kids engaged and happy. Being in the house doesn’t have to mean being bored! The following low-prep activities are perfect for preschool and elementary-age children to do independently, or for families to do collaboratively. 

Scavenger Hunts

Ask children to find items around the home based on age-appropriate criteria. For example, ask children to find items of a certain color (find anything red), a certain shape (find all the triangles), or that start with a certain letter (find everything in our house that starts with the letter S). Older children can also be asked to set up scavenger hunts for adults as well. 

Tinker Boxes

Keep a box full of supplies that kids can use to create inventions. Include construction materials like paper towel tubes, straws, egg cartons, pipe cleaners, clothespins, empty cardboard boxes, and leftover plastic containers. (For very young children, avoid small parts.) Provide tools like scissors, tape, glue, rubber bands, and twine. If available, include art supplies like markers, paint, stickers, and glitter, so kids can decorate what they make. Tinker boxes are meant to be open ended, and children don’t usually need prompts to start playing.

Construction Challenges

Unlike tinker boxes, these are specific engineering challenges. For example, children can be asked to make the tallest tower they can out of blocks or the longest bridge they can out of marshmallows and toothpicks. In other cases, children could be asked to use whatever they have available: for example, they could be asked to simply make the paper airplane that flies the farthest or the ramp that makes toy cars go the fastest, without saying which materials they have to use. Encourage children to test and retest, and to try to break the records they set.

Process Art

Give children the opportunity to experiment with how different types of mediums interact with different types of materials. Provide children with a specific medium – such as paint – and ask them to try it on materials like foil, wax paper, and cardboard. Alternatively, provide one material – like tin foil – and ask children to experiment with mediums like crayons, markers, paint, and oil pastels. As children get familiar with materials and mediums, they may want to experiment with different kinds of application methods. For example, children could make paint brushes out of natural materials like sticks, leaves, and pinecones, or they might paint by putting splotches of paint in a box and rolling marbles around in the paint to see what pattern it makes.

Make Puppets, Dolls, and Animals

When children are missing their friends, encourage them to make imaginary companions. Create puppets out of socks, paper bags, or construction paper and popsicle sticks. Sew or glue together animals and animals out of discarded fabric. After making these new friends, encourage children to use them to engage in pretend play. 

Put on a Show

Use old clothes and craft material to put together costumes, props, and a set. (Puppets, mentioned in the last activity, are also great preparation for this activity.) Then put on a show! Tell a story, stage a play, or sing some songs. Older children may want to plan out and rehearse plays, while younger children are likely to be more spontaneous.

 

Mathangi Subramanian, Ed.D., believes stories have the power to change the world. Her middle grades book, Dear Mrs. Naidu, won the South Asia Book Award, and her picture book A Butterfly Smile was inducted into the Nobel Museum by Laureate Dr. Esther Duflo. Her novel A People’s History of Heaven was longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner award, a finalist for the LAMBDA literary award, and named a Skipping Stones Honors Book. A former public school teacher, senior policy analyst at the New York City Council, and Fulbright Scholar, she currently consults for Sesame Workshop. She holds a doctorate in education from Columbia Teachers College.