The Stuck-Inside Guide to Surviving Anything

Image: By Abbey Dupuy. All rights reserved.

Image: By Abbey Dupuy. All rights reserved.

This week, we had a string of very, very cold days.

My philosophy is usually that there is no bad weather, only bad clothes, and my kids play outside all year in all kinds of precipitation.  Unfortunately, this week, the wind made my face hurt any time we opened our front door. I had to admit defeat…we were stuck inside.

What to do for nine hours until dinner time?

We try to make screen activities (computer, iPad, movies) the very last resort. That way, I know I have them as a backup if everything falls apart. Also, we’re not dependent on them if the electricity goes out.

Here are 20 of our favorite “unplugged” ideas to make the day fly by.

1. Declare a holiday.

Make up your own, or look here for a calendar of fun holidays. Just saying, ‘Today’s a holiday! It’s _____ (insert your holiday of choice)!” makes the day seem brighter and more festive. We declared it Rainbow Day and made our own colors and sunshine. The kids wrapped their own toys in pillowcases and pretended they were Rainbow Day gifts to each other. (And whenever things felt grumpy, I just said, “Hey, it’s Rainbow Day!” It actually made a big difference.)

2. Play with water.

I know, it sounds messy…but it isn’t, really. It’s just wet. It doesn’t stain, and it wipes up with towels. You’ve got towels, right? Great! You can definitely handle it.
Here are some ideas to try:

  • Have your child stand on a stool at the sink and help wash dishes.
  • Put water in a large plastic storage bin with some simple toys (measuring cups, bath toys, spoons, etc.), set it on the floor, and make your own water sensory area. My children like to make little toys swim in “the pool” and pretend it’s the Olympics. Sometimes, they just splash. Resist the temptation to guide them too much – just see what they come up with.
  • Use a little dish soap and the sink sprayer in the kitchen to have a car wash with toy cars.
  • Set up some glass jars with different levels of water and tap the jars with a spoon to make music. You can even tint the water with food coloring. (My children like to do all the filling, pouring and mixing themselves. I help a bit with the food coloring. It’s hard to get just a drop or two to come out.) It helps to have a kid-sized pitcher that’s easy for small hands to maneuver.

3. Build a fort.

Use whatever you have. The quick version at our house involves opening the kitchen table to widen it, turning the chairs around and putting a quilt or two over the top of it all. It’s not fancy, but it feels more exciting to do ordinary things inside a tent. Try reading, coloring, play-dough, Legos, games, or just snuggling and being silly.

4. Have an extraordinary snack.

Do something unusual. Make the snack into an activity. Try using snack ingredients to tell a story, or eat something related to a book you read earlier. Let your child pick a bunch of ingredients to combine and see what you come up with. Try eating snack in a different place, like inside a closet or in the bathtub. Pretend you’re eating in a submarine or a space ship.

5. Have a picnic inside.

Put a blanket down and eat your lunch on the floor somewhere. We ate in the fort under the table after packing our lunch in our picnic basket.

Best thing about a picnic under your kitchen table: When you realize you forgot the sippy cups, you can go grab them from the counter.

Try the Picnic Game: “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m taking _____” (using something that starts with the letter A). When it’s the next person’s turn, he says the thing beginning with A and adds something that starts with B. Continue on through the alphabet. 

6. Have an “Inside Day Kit”…

…with toys, books, and other items that you only bring out on days when you can’t go out to play.

Our kit includes:

  • Window markers and window crayons (because drawing on the windows is just more fun than using paper)
  • Sticker books with reusable stickers (they work on windows, too)
  • Silly Putty
  • Glass stones (like you can find in the craft section of many stores) and containers to sort them (little nesting boxes with lids or egg cartons)
  • Special craft materials (like sparkly pipe cleaners and stamp pads)
  • A few special board games
  • Twine and clothespins for making clotheslines to hang things on. (I’m not sure why this is so entertaining, but it always works here.)
  • Ten plastic cups and a small ball for indoor bowling
  • Partial decks of cards (useful this week for playing Post Office, sorting by color and number, lining up end to end in the cracks of the hardwood floor, dropping through the open leaf of the kitchen table onto the people below inside the fort, and throwing by handfuls into the air while yelling, “Rainbow Day Party!” Really, the possibilities are endless.)

7. Build an obstacle course…

…from chairs, couch cushions, boxes, the laundry drying rack, whatever you have on hand…and use a stopwatch to time each other as you go through it. Or, just take turns assigning movements (“now hop on one foot to the end of the hall and back”) and time each other to see how long it takes. See if you can beat your own record.

8. Show your child how to go through the house with a mirror pointed up at the ceiling.

If you look down into the mirror as you walk around with it pointing up, it feels like you are walking on the ceiling. If you never did this as a kid, you should try it, too. It’s fun, and it’s always good to get a different perspective.

9. Put on a play or a concert.

This could be with puppets, toys, Lego guys or live actors. If you need a script, use a favorite book. Read it aloud and let your child make the action happen. Sometimes we draw the characters on popsicle sticks and hold them up from behind a sheet. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can kill half an hour this way, easy.

10. Skate on the kitchen floor in your socks.

Try it. It’s still as fun as you thought it was when you were little. Put on music and go for it.

11. Play balloon tennis. Bat the balloon back and forth. See how long you can keep it going. Try balloon basketball, too…dribbling a balloon is one of life’s unsung pleasures.

12. Make a snow measuring device and put it outside.

Use a plastic cup, a jar, a yardstick, whatever you have. See how much snow you can collect. Check it throughout the day. Feel free to add food coloring.

13. Try some Snow Art.

Put a piece of heavy paper on a baking sheet or jelly roll pan. Put powdered tempera paint on the paper in any design you like. Then put it outside in the weather, preferably in a location where you can watch it. The snow will fall on the paint and create art.

14. Play hide and seek. It’s a classic for a reason. Your kids will think it’s fun. You might, too!

15. Give your kids rides around the house in a laundry basket.

Let them make car noises. Stop and put more gas in the car. Follow traffic laws…or don’t. Do donuts in the living room. Pretend to go through the drive-thru and order food. Tie multiple baskets together to make a train.

16. Build a structure with jumbo marshmallows and toothpicks. 

17. Use painter’s tape to make roads on the floor.

Give your child one piece at a time – have her go place it on the floor and come back for another piece. Try making the road go up over a pillow or under a chair. Pull out toy cars or trains and let them drive all over the road. Try adding pictures from magazines (or draw your own pictures) to make a whole city. If they get into it, it can take all afternoon.

You can also use that painter’s tape to make a hopscotch grid in your hallway if you need a more active game.

18. Blow bubbles inside.

(Why is this more fun than blowing them outside? Who knows? Try turning on a fan if you want to get really crazy.)

19. Make human sandwiches by putting each other between pillows.

Try stacking lots of pillows up to make club sandwiches. It’s silly. That’s okay. Bonus points if you pretend to eat each other.

20. If all else fails…put them in the bathtub.

All at once, if you can manage it. This, at our house, is like magic. If you’re brave, let them finger paint in there before you put the water in. Or add bubbles.

Remember, simple is good. Sometimes all you need to do is change the usual location of something normal (like eating snack) to make it seem like a totally amazing, new experience.

Watch out…if you have too much fun on the next day you find yourselves stuck inside, you and your kids might start wishing for bad weather more often!

What’s your favorite unplugged activity for days when you’re stuck in the house?

Copyright 2015, Abbey Dupuy

Image: By Abbey Dupuy. All rights reserved.


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  1. One word, Abbey: BRILLIANT. Today, I didn’t get a chance to pull this out, but I’m planning to print this and place it somewhere where my enterprising 10yo can find it. (She’s good at being the leader…and she has a big crafty streak too.) With the winter we’ve been having so far, I’m going to neeeeeeeed this list!!! 🙂

  2. Printing and saving for the next snow day. Hoping to have a couple this year. But for I think I need a quick stop at the dollar store to but balloons for balloon tennis. Can’t wait to try it!

  3. How did I miss this? It is WONDERFUL!!!

    One more idea for your partial decks of cards and slightly older twins, because Sam could do it right now: Crazy Eights. Just put as many cards together as you want and play. It’s ridiculously entertaining, because you don’t know what’s in the deck.

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