Let’s set the winter-y scene: a cozy fire is going in the fireplace, everyone has a hearty mug of hot chocolate (with extra marshmallows) and the kids just wrapped up a game of Junior Monopoly. Life is beautiful. But… you still have 11 hours to fill until they go to bed. Whatcha gonna do, Mommy? Mommy mommy mommy. Don’t worry, comrades, we have you covered. Here are some super-simple, screen-free, joy-inducing activity ideas to help your kids — and the whole family — while away the hours. And days. And weeks.
- Make a time capsule. We don’t even need to bury ours in the backyard… the garage will do.
- Color Sorting – Lay out different colors of construction paper and have kids work together to fill up the sheets with coordinating objects from around the house. This can fill up to an hour on a good day.
- Think it’s easy to simply pile little wooden animals on top of a boat? Think again. Balancing Barnyard is like Jenga’s cousin for the younger set.
- Backseat Drivers – We play this game that’s kind of like the opposite of Follow the Leader, where we pile into the car and the kids tell me to go left, right, or straight. They love being the boss for a change. Sometimes, we magically end up at the Coffee Bean drive-thru.
- Draw a map of the neighborhood. They know it like the back of their miniature hand by now, after all.
- Measure six feet in objects! In this Very Pandemic-y Activity, you lay out a measuring tape six feet long and have them find toys & whatever else to correspond to the length.
- Frozen Unicorns is a fun charades-type of game that will leave everyone laughing hysterically.
- Do blind taste tests with various drinks and foods. Or smell tests with spices.
- Practice tongue twisters.
- Rainbow Music Desk Bells are magical because they seem to appeal to kids of all ages. My 3, 5, and 7 year old played in (not-so-perfect) harmony for an HOUR. 60 minutes! And there’s no fighting, biting or crying because, in theory, they’re all working together.
- Create life-size drawings by tracing each other’s bodies with sidewalk chalk or on butcher paper.
- Family trivia game! “Which family member served in the Korean war?”
- What’s On My Butt – So ridiculous. So relaxing (for mom). So perfect.
- See what looks cool under a magnifying glass. Start with eyeballs, that always works.
- Semi-Virtual Scavenger Hunt – Have Grandma or whomever you like to FaceTime with call out a description, like, “something green” and watch as everyone runs around the house to find it. Basic. Brilliant.
- Declare at-home theme days, like Pajama Day, Crazy Hair Day, etc. Why let school have all the fun?
- Animal Cams – Choose any animal you want to watch and instantly add some calmness and comfort to your home. I highly recommend the pandas. Sea jellies are also soothing. And no, this doesn’t count as screen time, it’s science!!
Just get out there. No matter the weather. Bundle everyone up and head out for a brisk walk or a quick game of Red Light, Green Light. Or give them a mission, like “find four different rocks.” And, fine, a reward in the form of hot chocolate always seals the deal. Whatever works to fuel their rosy cheeks. Like…
- Holiday Lights Night-Walk – Bundle everyone up, throw the little ones in a wagon and take an evening tour around the block. Don’t forget the travel mug of something warm.
- Forage for biodegradable confetti. And since you’re outside, no need to clean up.
- Flashlight tag! Might as well take advantage of the shorter days.
- Snowball Maker Tool – The gadget-obsessed members of your pod will appreciate adding this to their arsenal.
- Winter scavenger hunt – No matter where you live, you can embark on this adventure. Here’s a handy template for the “to-find” list, or make your own.
- Learn your neighborhood birds and fauna – Download iNaturalist and Audubon apps for spotting.
- Give them a container to bring on daily walks. My kids enjoy collecting rocks and helpless bugs.
- Decorating pine cones is a classic in the “seasonal craft” canon for a reason, so bust out the felt, paint, yarn and, yes, pom-poms. Get inspired here.
- The joy of s’mores meets the wonder of science: solar pizza box smores. No fire required. (And if you don’t have a pizza box, there’s the perfect excuse to bring in pizza for dinner.)
- Remember weaving potholders?! Counting down the days until my kids are old enough for this.
- Paint by PomPom, and by paint they mean “paint.” These art kits are my new BFF because they allow the kids to get crafty without leaving gobs of paint on my dining room table.
- Make pomander balls — AKA oranges pierced with cloves in cool patterns and designs — for a craft that’ll make your house smell ah-mazing.
- Last spring we made nature windows and they’re so pretty we’ve kept them up all year. Minimal materials needed, maximum eye candy.
- These cranberry and toothpick sculptures look super fun for your budding Frank Lloyd Wrights.
- We called it stained glass in our day, but I love these Paint a Rainbow Lightcatchers. We could all use some extra light right now.
- If your family is anything like mine, you’re at some point going to have lots of cardboard boxes left over. Everyone knows these things are total fun-makers. Try this and this.
- If these Arctic Animals Origami Kits don’t spark joy, I don’t know what will.
- Paint inspiring messages on rocks and place them around the neighborhood.
- One thing kids are kind of naturally good at? Bringing cheer and light to those who may need it. Enter Love For Our Elders, a nonprofit that distributes snail mail to isolated seniors at nursing homes and hospices. So break out the crayons, markers, and construction paper one afternoon and have the family create some heart-lifting notes and pictures.
- Lucky enough to have snowfall? Have kids pitch in and help neighbors by shoveling their sidewalks.
- Leave drinks, packaged snacks and notes of thanks for busy postal workers, Amazon delivery and UPS workers.
- Stock a community fridge and help combat hunger in your community by providing basic food items.
- Hank the Cowdog – The five-episode podcast based on the beloved children’s book series follows the comical misadventures of Hank, the head of security on a Texas Panhandle cattle ranch. It features the voices of Matthew McConaughey and Kirsten Dunst and is an ace-high way to yarn the minutes away.
- This Record Belongs To ____ – Half daytime-dancing music, half bedtime lullabies, this album introduces kids to greats like Carole King, Woody Guthrie, Donovan, Harry Nilsson, Jerry Garcia, and Nina Simone, to name a few.
- Sesame Country – They might love hearing the roots behind “Old Town Road.” This is definitely a favorite Sunday morning album in our house.
- Snow Ice Cream – Four ingredients + five minutes = yum.
- Decorate cookies – One thing we can count on in this world is that kids will always love icing and sugaring and candying sugar cookies or gingerbread people. Pure joy.
- Gingerbread House Hacks – Trying even just a few of these hacks will give an extra level of flair to your sweetie pie’s abode.
- Easy Snow Day Snacks – These snacks work equally as well on rainy days. Or any days.
- Bubble Tea – By the second week of winter break, hot chocolate has lost its luster. So make way for it’s cool older cousin, Bubble Tea.
- S’mores Bars – A gooey, kid-friendly baking project.
During this time when we’re barely leaving our own zip codes, using books to escape is more essential than ever. Here are some your kids might love.
- Ida and the World Beyond Mount Kaiserzipf made its way into our library pile recently and the kids were transfixed. Ida Pfeiffer broke barriers by becoming one of the first female explorers to travel around the world. Linda Schwalbe’s gorgeous picture book is not only a joyful tribute to the explorer’s life; it’s an easy way to travel to faraway lands from the safety of your own home.
- Wild and Free Holidays: 35 Festive Family Activities to Make the Season Bright by Ainsley Arment – This heartfelt guide has projects and ideas for slowing down and enjoying time with your kids. There are a variety of levels and beautiful photo guides for making felt leaf crowns, snowflake art, and handmade wrapping paper. You can practically smell the cinnamon and oranges emitting from the page.
- The Princess in Black and the Giant Problem by Shannon Hale- Heroic friends join forces for a snowy adventure in this adorable early chapter book.
- Adventures in Kindness by Carrie and Sophia Fox – A fourth grader and her mom share ideas for how to improve our world. The book breaks down actions into big “adventures” (making Care Kits for the homeless) and small ones (try new fruits) with a notes section that will double as a journal for your kids to look back on when they’re older. Perfect for kids who are missing their local Scouts meetings.
- One Kitten for Kim by Adelaide Holl – Cozy up to this picture book with vintage vibes and be entertained by Kim’s journey through his neighborhood.
- In a Jar by Deborah Marcero – A tender and calming storybook about two friends who share a magical connection. At the end of the day isn’t that what it’s all about?