Winter Boredom Busters!

Happy 2012 Practical Parenting readers!  New year: New feature.  I get a lot of email from parents asking about “bigger kid” issues.  While I try to respond to email as quickly as possible, I thought it might be nice to start addressing some of those questions here.  Enter “The Big Kid Corner”.  Once a week I will address big kid concerns, so feel free to send them along.  Please keep the great questions and feedback coming! 

By now you’ve all survived (and hopefully enjoyed) the holidays and are busy cramming in a few last vacation activities before the kids head back to school.  Depending on where you live, you might or might not be cooped up due to the cold.  And if you aren’t cooped up yet, you probably will be soon.  Turn off the TV and put away the video games!  Below are few indoor activities to keep big and small kids busy when the weather forces you to stay inside.

1.    Bear Hunt:  (Small kids) After reading “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, stage your own bear hunt.  Hide a teddy bear somewhere in the house, gather supplies (coats for a blizzard, umbrellas for rain, snacks, etc.), and start searching for the bear.  Once you find him, run back to the start, retracing your steps along the way!  Kids love to play up the unexpected and go on an “adventure”, even if it’s in your own home.  Make use of that magical thinking and get to it!

2.    Obstacle Course:  (Big kids, modified for little) Kids love to take apart couches and rearrange furniture, don’t they?  Why not make that work to your advantage and do something productive with the mess?  Use couch cushions, coffee tables, and chairs to create an obstacle course in your family room.  Cushions can be lined up and made into tunnels, tables can serve as an object to circle (several times) or race cars across, and old paper towel rolls can be taped together to make a giant tube for rolling marbles.  Get creative and make sure to require ten jumping jacks between each activity on the course.  This will keep them interested and wear them out.  Win/win.

3.    Scavenger Hunt:  (Big and little kids) Kids love to find things. Small pieces of plastic found on the sidewalk are treasures to them.  Create a list of items to find around the house (remember to use clip art pictures for non-readers) and give each child a list and a bag.  Younger kids should have the same items; older kids can have their own lists to add to the challenge.  Set a timer and see how many items they can find during the allotted time.  And maybe read a magazine while you wait.

4.    Hallway Bowling:  (Big kids) Another great use for old toilet paper rolls?  Bowling pins!  Line up the toilet paper rolls at the end of a hallway and use a rolled up sock or soft indoor ball to create your own bowling alley.  Whoever is waiting a turn should be doing jumping jacks, jumping rope, or hula hooping.  This is fun and sneaks in a little exercise.

5.    Write a Book:  (Big and little kids) Younger kids love to play pretend and use those active imaginations.  Sometimes older kids no longer know how to channel those creative thoughts (as they take on more physical activities and engage in less imaginary play).  Using construction paper and plain white paper stapled together, have your little ones draw pictures of a story and ask them what to write under each picture.  For big kids:  On individual slips of paper, put some writing prompts into a hat and have them choose one and just write.  *If you have more than one child of the same/similar age, you can encourage “joint” story writing, where each child writes one sentence at a time (switching back and forth) until the story is complete.  Sometimes an hour writing stories by the fire is the best activity around.

6.    Play:  (Big kids) Have an actor on your hands?  Have the kids write a play, create the scenery, and direct and act in a play.  This could go on for hours.

7.    Puppet Show:  (Little kids) You don’t need a fancy puppet theater to put on a puppet show.  Just a couch. Help your kids practice using puppets and creating stories for a few minutes.  Remove the couch cushions and have them hide behind the couch to put on the show.  The plot lines will be short but the fun will be endless.  Enjoy the show!

8.    Spoon Races:  (Big kids) Do your kids still have some energy to burn?  Give them a spoon and a Ping-Pong ball and tape off a racetrack around the kitchen floor.  The challenge is the finish the race without dropping the ball.  Go back to the beginning if it falls!  It might take a few laps around the course for them to realize that slow and steady wins the race, but the energy expended will be worth the effort.

9.    Cardboard Castles:  (Big kids) Don’t ever recycle a large cardboard box.  Do you hear me?  Never!  Supply your kids with a large box, scissors, markers, paint, and various other art supplies and ask them to make a castle or fort.  And those premade ones sold at certain large retailers?  Where is the adventure in those?  Being creative is what keeps growing and thriving.  All they need are a few supplies.

10.                Backwards Day:  (Big and little kids) Ok, so this one isn’t exactly an activity…but have you ever tried to do everything backwards?  It’s no easy task.  Start by having them put their clothes on backwards and then require that all things be done backwards.  They can play games in reverse, write a story from end to beginning, and eat a sandwich with the peanut butter on the outside.  If nothing else, backwards day is guaranteed to get a few laughs.

11.                2 Truths & 1 Tale:  (Big kids) I am originally from Connecticut, I love sushi, and I played ice hockey in college.  Can you spot the tale?  Form a circle and have your kids come up with two true statements and one false statement, and have the other players try to spot the tale.  Older kids get really into this and come up with some very funny stories.

12.                Make a Happy List:  (Big and little kids) Are you still hearing complaints of boredom despite near non-stop indoor activities?  Maybe it’s time for some perspective.  Get a large piece of paper and make a family happy list.  No item is too big or too small for this list.  Follow it up with a bucket list of family activities you look forward to doing when the weather improves.  Sometimes you just need to stop the action and sit back and reflect on the positive.

When in doubt, bundle them up and head to the nearest indoor pool or skating rink for a little indoor exercise.

What is your favorite boredom buster?

About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)