Finding ways to keep the kids happy, healthy and active is proving harder than ever.
This was true pre-quarantine, it has most certainly proven true during quarantine, and it will likely be true in the awkward ‘post quarantine’ stage where businesses continue to open but the transmission rates continue to grow.
Especially if trying to avoid excessive screen time or buying ridiculously expensive new toys that they will become bored of by the next day.
So, what to do when your kids utter those dreaded words – “I’m bored”.
For a flash from the past, here are my family’s all-time favorite games from when I was younger. No equipment, toys, fancy box sets or batteries required.
Classic Family Favorite Indoor Games
These games are the tried and true fall backs for when you have nothing. No toys, no props, no nothing. I will freely admit that absolutely none of these are new. In fact, you probably remember playing a few of these yourself.
The Floor is Lava
The premise is as old as time. The floor is lava, if you touch it you ‘burn up’. Therefor everything and anything may be used as a barrier between you and the floor. Pillows, couch cushions, furniture. No, there is no point to this. You just jump from furniture to furniture and cushion to cushion while trying to avoid touching the floor. But after an hour or so of jumping, laughing, and the occasional ‘I burned up!’ you have happy and, hopefully, exhausted kids.
Don’t Let it Touch the Floor
Essentially the same as ‘The Floor is Lava’ but for an object, not you. Anyone who has ever seen how kids behave around a half-way deflated balloon will be automatically aware of how this game works. You have an object, something light weight and hopefully non-destructive, and you cannot let it touch the floor. It gets bounced from person to person, around and around without touching the floor and without holding onto it. Similar to volleyball… except without a net… or a field… or an actual volleyball.
A classic party game for a reason. Simon says jump, you jump. Simon says scratch your head, you scratch your head. Do a ballerina twirl… Ah! I didn’t say ‘Simon Says’.
Red Light Green Light
Red light, green light, yellow light… purple light? Mixing up a classic by throwing in your own moves brings a new dimension to this classic. Green means go. Yellow light means you can move forward, but only in slow motion. Purple Light, you can move forward but only by crawling. Black Light is moonwalking backwards. Disco light? I think you can imagine what you need to do now. Go wild, make up your own, and get your groove on!
Races and Contests for Family Time
If your kids are a little older or leaning towards the competitive side, nothing beats a good old fashioned competition. And you have more to work with than you might think!*
I can’t take credit for this. I have seen versions of this across entertainment media but, believe it or not, I am not thinking of the Tom Cruise scene. The first version of sock skating I ever knew, was watching Pippi Langstrumpf slide across the floor of her front hall with a pair scrub brushes strapped to her feet and a spotted horse following closely behind. Whether you are skating in socks, scrub brushes, or something else, nothing beats the feeling of sliding across a smooth floor and gliding to a perfect stop.
Have pillowcase, will travel. Or pillow, or towel, or stuffed animal, or anything really! The only rule in moving from A to B is that your booty may not lift from the ground. You can use hands, feet, arms, legs or prehensile tails to scoot yourself along. Go in a straight line or wind a course around your house. Name your trusty stead (especially if it’s a pillow or stuffed animal) and pretend you are in Mario Cart. You can even throw ‘turtles’ (stuffed animals) at other players along the ground, although it does not slow them down much.
*ProTip – parents if you are playing this game with towels, fold up the towel and spray a little Endust on the side that touches the floor for added speed and for lemony fresh hallways. Because as everyone knows, endust totally makes the towels scoot faster! (I won’t tell them if you won’t)
Egg and spoon races, while plenty of fun in an outdoor space that you will not have to try and clean, are less fun in your own living room. Balance races don’t have that same problem. Balance books on your head, hold a plastic tea set on a tray or any other hindrance that requires the use of your arms to balance and stops you from moving as fast as you possibly can. This is a great way to ‘race’ without having the kids tearing through the house at Mach 3, and can also be set up relay style. Pass off the object to a partner and work in teams, or repeat the same course with multiple objects for additional difficulty.
Limbo & Reverse Limbo
While once upon a time my back was capable of limbo, that is no longer the case. Luckily I am still capable of reverse limbo, which is basically jumping hurdles. We start with the bar at chest height and limbo until the last person can limbo no more, at which point a running jump is required. Make sure your limbo stick is light weight and not held firmly in place so that when someone eventually doesn’t quite make it, the stick is what falls and not them. Also, let them try jumping higher than seems possible. The girls I nanny have been doing versions of this for a while and, believe me, as alarming as it is to watch at first, they can get some serious height and distance going.
Creative Games to DIY
Half of the fun of these games is actually in the setup process. While I can’t guarantee you the same enthusiasm when cleaning up at the end, I can say that they will buy you a little bit of extra time and engagement.
Tossing balled up socks at a laundry bin can get surprisingly competitive. Especially when that bin starts moving to create more difficult tosses and even trick shots!
My personal favorite is the ‘two bounce’ shot, where you need to bounce the socks off two separate surfaces and make it in for the shot to count. Have a single toss or set up an entire course of increasing difficulty and create your own indoor frisbee golf! Only, more sock-like.
Everyone, at some point in their lives, has stacked up plastic cups for the sole purpose of knocking them over. This is that, with projectiles. Use pillows or stuffed animals as your ‘bowling ball’, set up the cups in a pyramid, or two, or in whatever increasingly complex layout you can think of to make them more difficult to knock over. The only limitation is the ends of your imagination.
The best example of an indoor mini-golf course that I have ever seen was created by Keith from the Try Guys HERE. Get creative, use shoes and furniture and pillows as obstacles. Use cups or hats or coffee mugs as the holes. Use brooms or Swiffer’s as clubs and, if, in need of a ball, there are always those balled up socks from before.
Family Games For Active Problem Solving
Some of these activities might be a little challenging for tiny ones, although they can certainly be scaled up or down to fit most age ranges. Even still, maybe don’t let the toddler pull an Indiana Jones.
String and painters tape can create an impenetrable ‘laser’ grid. The backs of sofas are walls for scaling. Delicately balanced broom sticks and jingle bells become alarms. After the first run the kids will inevitably want to add more and more onto the course, and, while I can’t guarantee that they’ll be as enthusiastic about the clean up as they are the set-up, it will buy you several hours of active engagement.
Nothing beats a well-drawn map and a fantastical prize. Or, if you’re a busy parent, a hastily drawn map and some leftover candy. Sketch out a rough drawing of your house, or at least the part that you are willing to engage in the game, with an X marks the spot. Or multiple X’s if the prize is in parts (collect all the beanie boo’s, collect all the Horcrux’s). Or one X leading to a clue and then another clue and then another clue. Come up with a back story, like you are conspiring with the kids hamsters to pull down the moon because it’s made of cheese but if you do that it will crash into the earth and squash us! The more ridiculous the better, and have fun.
*Pro tip, if you draw the map once really well, put it in a plastic cover or Ziploc bag and mark with dry erase markers. This way you can reset to a new game without having to redraw the entire map.
This requires just a little bit of planning, but it is, by far, my favorite option for when you have things to get done. I like to use this one when I have laundry to do or paperwork to file, but it can also work if you are on the clock and working from home.
Set up a goal, or a mission that the kids must accomplish (bonus points if you deliver the mission on a voice recording). Arrange challenges, obstacle courses, riddles, clues, and objectives. And the best part? All of this MUST be accomplished without alerting the ‘bad guys’, aka, YOU.
If you are able to take breaks to occasionally thwart their efforts, aka catch someone in the act and put them in ‘jail’ so that they have to be broken out, all the better. If you can sneak problem-solving and coding into the mission, bonus points! But whatever you do, make it fun.