When the summer is so hot it drains your will to live (or it resembles monsoon season!) or the winter is too cold for comfort, there will be times when the kids have to stay indoors all day. Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs and computer games will only keep them occupied for so long. But even a sweltering, rainy or freezing day can be fun with these great indoor activities…
1 Cushion mountain
It’s a simple as it sounds: a huge pile of cushions and pillows in the middle of the floor for older babies and toddlers to scale. As well as keeping them amused it’ll give their muscles a workout in lieu of the playground if it’s too wet or chilly to go out! (Don’t leave your baby or toddler unsupervised for this activity, and position the cushion mountain well away any furniture they could bang into if they roll off.)
2 Tunnel vision
It’s amazing how long a special hidey hole will keep a toddler or pre-schooler occupied as she trips back and forth from her room to bring all her toys in there with her. Just throw a couple of sheets over the table or some carefully positioned chairs for an instant den.
3 Rug racetrack
Lay out your child’s books in long lines to form smooth roads for his toy cars to race down. Liven it up with large books inverted over the ‘track’ to form tunnels.
4 Alphabet treasure hunt
Give your child a large empty yogurt pot and tell her to fill it up with as many small things as she can – the catch is that each has to start with a different letter of the alphabet.
5 Indoor snowball fight
Loosely wodge up sheets of old newspaper into balls and let fly – the great thing is they’re too lightweight to break anything!
6 It’s pouring…
Half fill a large bowl or pan with uncooked pasta, oatmeal, rice or beans and give your toddler a variety of spoons and yogurt pots to scoop and pour to her heart’s content (don’t leave her unsupervised if she’s under 3, as she might put objects in her mouth).
Cut a hand-sized hole in a cardboard box or an old shoebox. Place a mystery object inside it and give your child three chances to guess what it is by patting, prodding and squeezing.
8 Air hockey
Put a table-tennis ball on the kitchen table and give each child a straw. The trick is to keep the ball from falling off the table by blowing at it through the straw!
9 Fruit fantasy
Cut, chop, slice and dice a selection of fruit (veg too, if you like), give each child a paper plate and let them create a work of art – a collage, an abstract, a funny face. The rules of the game dictate that after you’ve guessed what it is (or they’ve told you if you’re clueless) they have to eat it!
10 What’s wrong?
Get your child to wait outside the room while you go around ‘mismatching’ things in the room: for example, you could turn ornaments to face the wall, lay photographs on their fronts, move the cushions from the sofa to each corner of the room. Involve yourself too: turn your clothing inside out and put your shoes on the wrong feet! When your child comes back in he has two minutes to find and put right every wrong.
11 Re-use and recycle
Suggest a household object to your child – for example, the TV, the vacuum cleaner, the kitchen table – and get him to think up five totally new things you could use it for.
12 Observe and absorb
Get the kids to hunt around for 10-15 small objects from around the house (think spoon, coin, wristwatch, button, key, etc). Lay them all out on a tray or the tabletop and let your children study them for a minute or so, then cover them with a tablecloth or towel. Now get the kids to list as many of the objects as they can remember – the winner is the one who manages to list the most (you can help younger children who can’t write by jotting the names of the objects down for them, but let them do the remembering all by themselves). A variation on this is to let your children see the objects and then get them to turn their backs while you remove a couple. Then see if they can work out what’s missing!
13 Fan the fish
Cut fish shapes out of a piece of kitchen paper or a tissue, give each child a piece of cardboard or a folded newspaper to use as a fan and get them to race their fish across the room by fanning them.
14 The big picture
Cut a hole an inch square in a sheet of paper. Now position the paper over a picture in a book or magazine and see if your child can guess what it is by studying the portion he can see through the hole.
15 Paper bag puppets
Paper lunch bags are ideal for this – let your child decorate her puppet with her crayons, felt tips, glitter glue and scraps of fabric and wool.
16 Indoor basketball
This couldn’t be simpler. Just place a large box as high up as possible on a shelf or bookcase, or wedge the handle of a large sieve through the crack at the top of a door. Now see how many ‘hoops’ your child can shoot, using a balled-up sock or a rolled-up newspaper ball.
Easy-peasy: give the kids a blown-up balloon each and see who can keep theirs from touching the ground for the longest time.
18 First things first
Give your older child a list of common objects: you might include coins, bicycle, airplane, lightbulb, TV, ice cream, computer, car. Now ask him to think carefully about what each one does and what it’s made of, and then list them in the order he thinks they might have been invented.
19 Indoor hopscotch
If you have hard floors, chalk a hopscotch grid for the kids; on carpets, mark it out with masking tape. If they like this one, buy a pack of cheap floor tiles at the local hardware store and paint the numbers on – then you can just arrange them on the floor next time.
20 Plan a pizza
Time this for early evening and you won’t have to slave over getting the dinner ready! Give your kids a ready-made pizza base each and four or five bowls of pre-chopped ingredients – the usual suspects: mushrooms, tomatoes, pepperoni slices etc – so they can design their own pizzas for dinner.