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Indoor activities for the whole family during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Jeff Reiland, MS, child and family therapist, Gundersen Health System

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Children learn best through play where their imaginations can grow. However, the task of staying active and engaged with our children for weeks, and possibly months, seems daunting. To make it even more challenging, parents aren't always able to get out to stores to find supplies.

The following ideas are activities that your family can do with common household materials and your imaginations. The ideas were created by Gundersen internship students from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Have fun! Build lasting memories together.

Categories game

Have one person choose a category (e.g., animals, cereal, things you see in the sky, things with zippers, etc.). Go around in a circle and have each person name one thing that fits the category until someone cannot think of a new item. At that point, someone else chooses a different category. If you have a large group, you can eliminate those who can't think of a new item and get down to one winner.

Paper pictionary

What you'll need: Paper, pencil and scissors  

Each person will pair up with another person. One partner will draw something on a piece of paper from their environment, or something they are thinking of, while the other tries to guess what their partner is drawing. Each partner will have a chance to draw and guess.

Hide and seek with objects

What you'll need: 10 objects of your choice (e.g., balloons, paper plates, plastic cups, etc.)

Label the objects 1-10. Hide the objects around the house. Have kids work as a team to find the objects in order. If they find 6, for example, when they are trying to find 3, they leave 6 in place and must try to remember where it was. Once the objects have been found in order, designate a new person to hide the objects.

Sorting objects

What you'll need: Small boxes or containers and small items around the house (e.g., buttons, toys, coins, bouncy balls, cotton balls, etc.)

Place a bunch of small items into a box or bin. Ask children to look at the different objects and sort them by color, shape, size and so on. This fun activity allows children to practice their fine motor skills.

Mystery box stories

What you'll need: Shoebox and art supplies (e.g., construction paper, toothpicks, scrap felt pieces, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, etc.)

Put miscellaneous art supplies into a shoebox. Have each person take five items and make something out of them. Each person then has to make up a story using his or her item. Children can write about their objects, as well.

Q-tip blow dart game

What you'll need: Handful of Q-tips, plastic cups and straws

Begin by building a tower with the plastic cups. Put a Q-tip inside of a straw and blow at the target. You can challenge yourself to see how fast you can get your tower down.

Cereal puzzle

What you'll need: Cereal box, scissors, ruler and pencil

Cut out the front side of a cereal box. Use a ruler and pencil to turn the front of the box into a bunch of squares. Cut out the squares and you have yourself a homemade puzzle for children. To add a challenge, cut the box into random pieces instead of squares.

Milk jug catch 

What you'll need: Two plastic milk jugs, scissors, tennis ball and masking tape

Take two plastic 1-gallon milk jugs, and cut off the bottoms using a scissors. Tape the edge with masking tape so that it is not sharp. The milk jugs can then be used as a makeshift mitt to play catch with. Using milk jugs makes it easier for young children to catch the ball.

I-spy bottle

What you'll need: Empty water bottle (label removed), uncooked rice, hot glue gun or tape, small items to fit in the bottle (e.g., pennies, buttons, marbles, beads, bobby pins, feathers, paper clips, buttons, tokens, screws or nails, etc.)

Clean and dry your bottle. Alternate filling the bottle with rice and the small items. Stop filling the bottle once it is three-quarters full, so you have room to shake the contents of your bottle. When you are done filling the bottle, glue the cap on securely. Option: Make labels showing what items to spy in the bottle.

Cotton ball races

What you'll need: Masking tape, cotton balls and straws

Create a line for each player using masking tape. Make sure each player's tape is the same length. Using a straw, each player will blow the cotton ball along the line until they reach the end. If the cotton ball goes off the line, the player starts back at the beginning. If playing alone, create a maze with the tape and see how quickly the player can get to the end of the maze.

Fingerprint painting with water

What you'll need: Paper and non-toxic paints or stamp pads

Have your children use each finger of their hand to create an object out of only their fingerprints. Easy and fun examples include: flowers, caterpillars and stick figure family portraits.


What you'll need: Cardboard or paper, markers and scissors

Draw your own design—abstract or simple—on your cardboard or paper. Next, cut puzzle-like pieces into the cardboard or paper. Have another family member try to piece together your picture. If you have several pictures, then you'll have more puzzles to create and solve.

Box forts and houses

What you'll need: Cardboard boxes, duct tape, decorative supplies and scissors for adults to cut out the doors and windows

Depending on the size of boxes you have, you can make a life-size fort or create a homemade playhouse for your children's dolls and action figures. Let them have fun decorating.

Disappearing drawings

What you'll need: Construction paper, small paintbrush and water

No paint? No problem! Children can dip a paintbrush in water and paint on construction paper. Children will find it magical once the water dries and their painting or letters disappear. This activity also works on sidewalks.

Sink or float?

What you'll need: Waterproof objects (e.g., plastic toys, orange, orange without peel, sponge, toothpick, paperclip, etc.), container to hold water (e.g., baking pan, mixing bowl, sink, bathtub, kiddie pool) and towel for keeping things dry

Place objects in water and see if the objects sink or float. Children can predict whether they think certain objects will sink or float. To challenge older children, ask if they notice similarities and differences in objects that float or sink.

Tin foil boats

What you'll need: Tin foil, pennies, scissors, rulers (optional), container to hold water (e.g., baking pan, sink, bathtub, kiddie pool, etc.) and towel for keeping things dry

Use a square piece of tinfoil (about 4-inches by 4-inches) and shape sides on it to create a boat. Set the boat in the water and see how many pennies it will hold until sinking. Children can get creative and design different styles of boats to see which design holds more pennies. Children can also predict how many pennies their boat will hold before trying it out. This simple science experiment includes concepts of design, weight and surface area.

Penny experiment

What you'll need: Penny, eye dropper or straw and cup of water

Place the penny on a table or desk. Hold the eyedropper or straw close to the penny, and place one drop of water at a time onto the penny. See how many drops of water will fit onto the face of the penny without spilling over the sides. Kids will be amazed. Next, try a nickel, dime and quarter.

Check out these fun activities to try outdoors with the whole family.

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