30 Screen-Free Activities for Kids When You’re Stuck Indoors

As a parent of two toddlers, getting outside with our little ones is one of my favorite things to do in the summer months. The long days, warm weather and endless opportunities for play in nature offer countless possibilities for exploration and fun that keep us all entertained for hours on end. 

Then there are the days families may find themselves indoors in the summertime. Heat advisories, storm and tornado warnings, air quality advisories, and even your garden-variety sick day, can keep you and your family inside. Unlike those cozy winter snow days, days inside in the summertime can leave us feeling a bit stir crazy. It can definitely be helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve, even with kids on summer vacation!

As I found myself faced with the prospect of an entire weekend indoors with two toddlers (and hoping to not burn through the entire Disney+ catalog right away), I brainstormed a handful of ways we could bring our favorite outdoor experiences in, so the kiddos could experience some summer fun no matter what the forecast might bring our way. Read on for 30 creative indoor activities for kids that don’t involve screens.

1. Go Camping in the Living Room

Whether you and your family are camping pros or this is the summer you were hoping to introduce your little ones to your love of the great outdoors while sleeping under the stars, this activity is sure to be a hit! Grab your tent and a couple of sleeping bags and have fun setting up camp in your living room! Bonus points if you all actually sleep in your sleeping bags for the night. For ambience, eat camping foods (hot dogs and baked beans anyone?), turn on a starry night light, set a sound machine to “nature sounds,” and tell all your favorite ghost stories (or sing camping songs!) by flashlight.

2. Star-Gaze from Bed

If exploring the night skies makes your heart sing, bring the joy of stargazing to your little one’s bedroom. Draw the blackout curtains and grab a set of glow-in-the-dark stars. Then, let your imagination run wild! You can even arrange the stars to mimic favorite constellations and talk about the stories associated with each. You can teach them about using the night sky to navigate or the different phases of the moon.

3. Have a Popsicle Bath

Nothing says summer like popsicles! If you need a snacktime break from the heat, take the sticky sweet fun to the bathroom. Your little one can splash in a cool bath and enjoy an even cooler treat. Cleanup is a breeze, and sticky hands don’t even enter into the equation!

4. Host a Bath Time Pool Party

For another fun bath time-inspired activity, this is a fun way for your little ones to cool off. Pop on bathing suits, crank the summer tunes, and use beach towels to add summer ambience to the bathroom! You can sip lemonade or snack on popsicles. Be sure to pop on goggles and explore “under the waves” as they practice water exploration like blowing bubbles, holding their breath, and seeing if they can spot fun sinker toys under the surface. 

5. Bring on the S’mores

S’mores might just be the most summery dessert ever created. Just hearing the word makes us hear the crackle of campfires and see the lightning bugs. If you can’t be outside to fully recreate s’mores experiences of your youth, try putting a spin on your favorite summer treat by getting creative in the kitchen! You can pop a couple of stacked s’mores in the toaster oven or make a s’mores-inspired treat together.

6. Play Flashlight Freeze Tag

If you’re up later and need to get some wiggles out (or just want to have a fun time as a family!) grab a flashlight and go to town. You can set limits to keep the smaller kiddos safe, like keeping staircases or kitchens out of bounds.

7. Play Indoor Hide-n-Seek

For anytime play, try good old-fashioned indoor hide-n-seek! Again, keeping certain areas of the house out-of-bounds might be helpful. Either keep it “classic,” or switch to more challenging rules like “sardines.”

Source: Nathan Dumlao | Unsplash

8. Extreme Fort-Building

This is perhaps not for the faint of heart (or those who have pricier throw pillows). But if you can resign yourself to a certain amount of chaos, engaging in some extreme (indoor!) pillow fort-building can provide hours of entertainment. For this activity, simply collect any and all pillows from the house (throw pillows, couch cushions, bed pillows, etc.) and assorted sheets and blankets and let imaginations run wild. Old-fashioned clothes pins or chip clips are helpful for keeping everything in place. A string of LED battery-operated twinkle lights can add a touch of magic.

9. Write Stories

Just because you’re stuck inside doesn’t mean you can’t bring out your creative sides. This activity is great because it takes very few items to do. Pencils, paper, and imagination are all you need for an exciting story time. Be sure to share them with each other when you’re done.

10. Build (and Decorate!) Your Own Castle

For stretches of weather that might keep you indoors for several days, building a more “permanent” structure can also be a fun challenge. Bring out any old packing boxes you might have in storage or in the garage. (We always keep a few on hand for just this type of situation). And with the help of a parent, kiddos can create their very own hide-away! From castles to cottages to rocket ships to boats, a little imagination, a (parent-held) X-Acto knife, and some water-based paints can take any old cardboard box and transform it into the backdrop for endless open-ended play.

11. Create Indoor Carnival Vibes

If you’re missing out on a fun summer fair this year, you can bring the joy of games and carnival treats right to your living room with a few creative twists. Pop up some popcorn in the microwave, assemble a handful of “activities,” and turn up a fun summer playlist to set the mood. Face painting, balance games, egg races, and other relay races, and target toss games are all easy to set up and can easily be re-done over and over. Prizes are optional, but if you have a few dollar store treats (or popsicles in the freezer!) everyone can take something “home” from their day at the fair.

12. Make DIY Flower Art

If a parent can step outside briefly to collect some supplies (or you have some fresh flowers already indoors in the form of houseplants or a bouquet), a fun way to bring the outdoors in is with a summer art activity: pressed flower crafts. From bookmarks, to sun catchers, to pinch pots and even lanterns, there are so many beautiful and fun crafts to make with this hallmark of sunny summer days. Once a parent has gathered the blooms (or even some pretty leaves), let the crafting begin.

14. Try a Science Experiment

Little scientists in the making will love doing an at home experiment together. Think the classic baking soda volcano, or simply putting different objects in water and seeing what sinks or floats. With a little creativity, kids will be amazed in no time.

screen-free activities for kids
Source: Vlada Karpovich | Pexels

15. Create a Hand-Puppet Theater

If your little ones are deep into imaginative play, they might love putting on a show for the rest of the family. In this two part activity, first everyone creates their own puppet—either a stick puppet or a hand puppet. For added fun, choose a theme or a favorite fairytale and create a puppet for each character. From there, let rehearsals begin. Little ones might just have fun carrying puppets around the house as they play. Older kiddos might get a kick out of a full-scale production with a storyline, a backdrop, and even creating DIY playbills for the other family members who attend the theater.

16. Have a Board Game Tournament

Instead of just playing your go-to board game, dust off all of the ones you have. Pick teams and see who the reigning champs are for the classics like Candyland, Monopoly, UNO, and more.

17. Host a Comedy Show

Have a little comedians in the family? Put their skills to the test with a super fun comedy show. Whether they come up with some jokes or a skit, you’re all sure to be sharing belly laughs by the ends of it. Need some kid-friendly material? Check out these jokes for kids!

18. Have a Family Olympics

For those families with multiple little ones to entertain (or some extra competitive parents?) this is your opportunity to let your talents shine! Make a list of fun or tricky things that individuals in your family can do and challenge others to see who performs “the best” (a totally subjective term when you’re having a summersault contest). Some ideas for fun:

  • Who can jump rope the longest without getting tangled?
  • The longest hula hooper?
  • Who is the most flexible?
  • Who can touch their tongue to their nose?

A “medal” ceremony to close out the competitions is highly recommended. 

19. Host a Bake-Off Competition

If you have older kids who know their way around a kitchen, they can be on their own. Otherwise, pair young kids off with parents or an older siblings into teams. Then, pick a family favorite treat to whip-up and add a creative twist to—like melted chocolate on Rice Krispie treats. Each team will make their masterpiece and then the teams will go head to head to determine who’s the Master Chef.

20. Create Giant Paintings

If you don’t have a large supply of eclectic art supplies already on hand, this might require some advance planning. But one of our favorite activities when my sisters and I were toddlers was to create “giant” paintings on a large roll of three-foot wide drawing paper that my mom had stuffed in a closet for a rainy day (courtesy of a local print shop). You can find extra large rolls of easel paper online, or cut-up brown paper grocery bags to make a giant canvas. 

21. Make a Scrapbook

This option may take some supplies, but if one parent is able to sneak away to a craft store, or you make a family trip out of it, you’re sure to have an ultra fun activity. Get photos printed, pick up a scrapbook, and grab fun supplies like stock paper, stickers, and more. You’ll make a new memory while reminiscing on old ones.

22. Create an Obstacle Course

In “the floor is lava” way, set up a fun obstacle course for your kids to complete. Make it as simple as going through a “tunnel” of couch cushions, or more interactive like impromptu hopscotch, depending on their age. No matter what, they’ll love the challenge and feel so accomplished after completing it.

screen-free activities for kids
Source: @homeoftheharveys

23. Plant a Container Garden

Container gardens are great because they don’t require any land. That means even those of us in apartments or places with small yards can reap the benefits. Pick up the supplies at a local garden shop and get to planting together. Not only is planting it a fun activity to do together, but you’ll be so proud to watch your kids help it grow over the coming weeks and months. Down the road you can even try a new recipe together with the herbs you’ve been growing in the garden.

24. Host a Sandcastle-Building Contest

If your little one is a big fan of kinetic sand, bring on the summer fun of sand castles with a kinetic sand twist! While kits exist for this type of activity, you can also get creative by DIY-ing a large batch of kinetic sand and grabbing a handful of household supplies (like measuring cups and spoons) and letting the kids’ imaginations run wild. If you’re a family that regularly collects nature objects, you can incorporate these treasures in the castle contest too!

25. Do a Bedroom Makeover

The best part about this screen-free activity is that it can be as simple or as big as you want it to be! If you only have a few hours, you can simply rearrange furniture for a new set up. Or, if you know you’re going to be inside for a few days, you could go all out with a fresh paint job. If your little one hasn’t had a room refresh in awhile, this is sure to put the biggest smile on their face!

26. Build-Your-Own Sundae Stations

A quick trip to a grocery store is all that stands between you and the sundae bar of your (children’s!) dreams. You can keep the sugar at bay by opting for chopped fruit and nut toppings, or go all out with whipped cream and chocolate sauce to dress up a pint or two of everyone’s favorite flavors. If you have a little extra time (or a few additional days stuck inside), you can even make your own (a dangerously easy and delicious way to pass an afternoon). 

27. DIY Kite-Making

Don’t just dream of sunnier days ahead, prepare for them by crafting your very own kites. Not only will this be a great distraction, but it will give kiddos something to look forward to when the sun is shining again. Either follow a tutorial online with a quick YouTube search, or head to Amazon or Etsy and pick up a kit. After you’ve put it together, let your kids decorate it however they want. They’ll be so excited to get it up in the air at the first site of sunshine.

28. Play Dress-Up

This nostalgic activity is just as fun today as it was when we were kids. Let your kids dress themselves in the wackiest outfits they can think of. You can even pick a theme to follow like pirates or princesses and see what they come up with. Be sure to let them put on a fashion show to show off their new looks. Make it an event with a “runway” made out of a runner rug, music, and, of course, an audience.

29. Go on a Treasure Hunt

This one may require a little creativity on your end, parents, but your kids are sure to love it. First, pick a “treasure” and hide it somewhere in the house. Something like a new game you all can play together is a great option. Then, make special clues for kids to follow to find their treasure. Depending on their age, these can be tricky riddles or more clear directions. Either way, they’ll have a blast cracking the code and finding the prize at the end.

30. Have a Paper Airplane Competition

Put everyone’s engineering skills to the test with a paper airplane competition! You can either look up different ways to make paper airplanes online, or let everyone come up with their own. Once they’re crafted, have a competition to see whose flies the farthest.

Meet the Author

Martha Swann-Quinn, Contributing Writer

Martha is a freelance writer and photographer who loves telling stories that focus on social justice issues, especially women’s health, pregnancy and pregnancy loss, matrescence, environmentalism, and bilingual family life. Her work has been featured in The Everymom, Parents, Kindred, National Public Radio, Brides Magazine, and Artifact Uprising, among others.

Meet the Author

Brett Nicole Hayden, Assistant Editor

As the Assistant Editor, Brett works with the editors of The Everymom on the content creation process by updating stories, sourcing images and graphics, and pitching and contributing her own articles. Her favorite topics to write about are culture, relationships, and living. She’s also The Everymom’s resident baby names and family movies expert!

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