Starting to get cabin fever with your little one(s)? With below freezing temperatures, bombogenesis (okay, I just really wanted to use this word) cyclone-quality winds, and the seemingly never-ending cycle of colds / viruses this winter, we’ve been stuck indoors a lot (and it’s only the beginning of January!). In addition to rotating Bash’s toys and books so we can always pull out something “new”, I like to keep it fresh by adding activities that promote a variety of skills and will keep Bash occupied independently for long enough to enjoy a hot shower or an extra cup of coffee. Below are five of my go-to indoor activities that are super easy and have a great set-up/clean-up to kid-occupied time ratio.
Bringing The Sandbox Indoors
Bash loves the sandbox in his preschool classroom (I know because of the sand dunes that pour out of his shoes after school). Luckily for us, it’s simple enough to replicate at home using a variety of household materials. No need to buy sand or special kinetic sand, which I’ve found gets just as messy as regular sand; just use cornmeal or dried beans. (Note: I’ve tried dried rice and lentils as suggested by sensory bin posts and found that these are just too messy. Seriously, the rice is thin enough to get stuck in our floorboards and I continue to find lentils in the most random places a year later).
I like cornmeal because it’s cheap, has a nice texture, and is easy to clean up – just keep your hand-held vacuum nearby and a damp paper towel for hands. Throw in your favorite sand toys, funnels, small cups / spoons, or even toys to dig out, and voila!…indoor sandbox and occupied toddler! I keep this bin stocked at all times and just store as is (cornmeal and all) for the easiest set-up / clean-up.
Caution: Hard Hats Required
When Bash was about 1.5 years old, he got hooked on acorns at our Montessori Mommy and Me class. Initially, the activity involved transferring individual acorns from one bowl to another using a spoon / tongs / tweezers. We took the long route home from class to stop in the park to go acorn hunting and over a year later, we are still playing with those same acorns.
We’ve adapted this dump, scoop, transfer activity by adding Bash’s favorite construction vehicles and supplemented our acorn stash with dried beans. Acorns and beans are super easy to clean up and are pretty durable – definitely mommy-approved manipulative materials! Bash now lovingly refers to this activity as “rock/beans” and this is probably a 3 – 4 times / week activity for us. We even travel with our acorns and beans as it’s super easy to set-up/clean-up and there’s no love lost over a few beans.
Barnyard Animal Washing Station
This is one of our hands down favorite activities because the ratio of adult preparation:kid occupied time is phenomenal! The added bonus: clean toys (or in Bash’s words, “look, momma, kangaroo is clean!”). It can get a little messy depending on how much splashing is involved, so I like to use shallow trays (yes, we continue to repurpose our In-N-Out Halloween costume trays), squirt bottles (yup, that’s the original peri hospital bottle – so many ways to reuse this…I like it for watering plants, hahah), and have a stash of paper towels nearby.
We set this up in 4 stations:
- Sandbox: the first bucket contains toys (animals or cars) covered in cornmeal and Bash uses a paintbrush and shovel to dig them out
- Soap and Suds: Over a shallow tray with some soapy water, Bash uses an old toothbrush and sponge to scrub the toys
- Rinse: Bash uses the squirt and spray bottles to rinse the toys clean
- Dry: a small washcloth for drying the toys; simple enough!
This literally takes less than 5 minutes to set-up and I dump a huge bucket of 30+ animals or cars into the cornmeal box. Bash spends a couple of minutes for each toy to go through the cycle, so this is something I break out when I need a good hour to spend on the couch! Or, to add an extra learning component, have your child match the animal to the corresponding picture card when dry (here’s a link to a free printable set of farm animal cards). Alternatively, have the child sort by number of legs (i.e., 2 vs. 4) to practice counting and categorization.
In the summer, this is a great backyard activity using tubs or at your water table. Just sit back (wine in hand) and let your little one splash away.
Color Pom Sorting
This has been a favorite and go-to activity for the past year (so much, that I spent hours searching for my muffin pan last month only to realize it was in Bash’s closet). It’s helped Bash quickly learn his colors and practice his fine motor skills as we use a variety of implements to transfer the poms (we love this Learning Resources Helping Hands set and use it for a variety of activities).
The set-up is simple: line a muffin pan with corresponding color-coded construction paper and sort away! You can buy a pre-packaged set, but I found we had all of the materials handy at home. We like to vary it up with different transferring tools (a spoon, tweezers, tongs, etc.) and we sometimes add a colored dice to make it more of a game.
Now that Bash is a pro at colors, we are also going to start adapting this to incorporate number learning. Just swap out the colors at the bottom of the muffin tin for numbers.
Obstacle Course / Indoor Gym
Bash has always been a very active kid and loves his gym class at NYC Elite Gymnastics. So, naturally we like to bring the gym indoors on our off days to help burn off some energy. You really don’t need any fancy gym / playground equipment, especially if you’re a space constrained city dweller like us. It’s pretty amazing what a few mats / pillows and a roll of painter’s tape can do!
We usually just make up an obstacle course in our living room or Bash’s room. Some painter’s tape in a line serves as a balance beam where we practice walking forwards, sideways, passe, and jumps. Then we might add in a bear walk to the next obstacle, a series of jumps outlined by the painter’s tape. Then we cap it off with a forward roll or cartwheel on some mats. This activity takes a little more supervision as I usually demonstrate a made-up routine and then let Bash go for it multiple times until he needs a new routine. While it’s a little more interactive, it’s a great energy burner (and sometimes my workout for the day, hahah).
We’re always looking for new ideas: how do you entertain your kiddos when stuck indoors? What are your go-to indoor activities to promote independent play?