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Learning Through Play: 101 Ways To Keep Young Minds Occupied At Home

Parents, right off the bat, let me say that there is no right way to be feeling about the current situation. Relief, anxiety, excitement, dread are all normal. We’re all figuring this out as we go along and doing the best we can. Virtual high-five!

This is not a homeschooling post per se. This is about the importance of play as learning, and letting our kids play to restore some balance we don’t always manage in our typical over-scheduled lives.

Here’s the good news if you’re stressed about making sure your kids are still learning why they are at home: they are. I recently attended a workshop with a local homeschool coordinator. The biggest thing I took away was a reminder that all play is learning.

Why Kids Need to Play

Play is how kids learn about the world. Theoretical and Applied Playworker Bob Hughes (awesome title!) lists 16 different types of play [1] that are central to physical, mental, emotional, and social development. By manipulating objects and trying things out (“I wonder what will happen if I give the dog a haircut?”), using their imaginations to role play different scenarios, and moving and challenging their bodies, kids play to learn:

Play builds neural connections and motor skills. Through play, kids get to act out adulting (as in playing house), tap into their creativity, and discover their passions.

Importance of Play

Play is not optional. There is a reason that it’s Primal Blueprint Law #7 [2] and Mark has written about it frequently here. (I’ll put some links at the bottom.) Yet, we all know that kids don’t play today like they used to for a variety of reasons. If this time at home offers one thing, it’s time for playing. This means getting free play, movement time, social time, music and arts time, and family time—checking a bunch of Primal boxes.

I’m not just talking about the kids, by the way. I’m talking about the adults in your house too. How much do YOU play in your normal life? I’m guessing not enough. A lot of the ideas here are fun for the whole family.

Play to Learn: Indoor and Outdoor Activities for Kids

For obvious reasons, I’m not listing things that involve going to parks or other public places. If you can still go for bike rides or kick the soccer ball around outside, great! You can do these inside or in your yard if you have one. I also didn’t list too many options that might necessitate shopping for materials. Pick the ideas that work for you given the ages of your kids, what stuff you already have at home, and how much space you have.

Before You Begin…

If you’re like us, you have a stash of art supplies, board games, boxes of legos and blocks, and sports equipment stuck on shelves and in closets. Dig it out and take inventory. What do you already have in your home that your kids can play with? Even bigger kids enjoy revisiting things like blocks and playdough, especially when they’re stuck at home.

Creativity Stations

I have a friend who, when her kids were little, would put out a craft or art project every night. When her boys woke up in the morning, it was waiting for them to explore at their leisure. It made for a lot of fun and peaceful mornings in their house. (Yes, she’s a supermom.)

I’m adapting this idea by designating a “creativity station.” Realistically, you might as well call this the “mess station.” Maybe it’s a card table in a corner of the living room, on the deck, or in the garage. I’m just giving up my kitchen table for now. Lay out a bunch of supplies and let them have at it. These stay out for several days at my house, then we clean it up and get out something else. Here are some ideas:

Art labs




Science lab

3-D creations

Archeological dig

Family Time

71 More Activities for Kids

  1. Color the driveway with chalk
  2. Use chalk (outside) or masking tape (inside) to make hopscotch or foursquare
  3. Make noodle or bead necklaces
  4. Draw a comic
  5. Illustrate a favorite book or story
  6. Listen to a song and “draw” what you hear
  7. Origami [24]
  8. Make a flexagon [25]
  9. Gather up broken crayons make something new [26] with them
  10. Move like an animal [27]; take turns guessing which animal the other person is being
  11. Primal essential movements [28]
  12. Resistance exercise with (light) hand weights and resistance bands
  13. Make an obstacle course
  14. Jump rope
  15. Hopping on one foot contest
  16. Do a handstand
  17. Play hacky sack (make your own filled with rice [29] or flour [30])
  18. Put on as many clothes as you can, then try to do jumping jacks or burpees
  19. Learn to breakdance [31]
  20. Yoga [32]
  21. Meditate [33]
  22. Make a drum kit with bowls and buckets
  23. Make “instruments” like castanets and boomwhackers [34] with household objects
  24. Build a pillow fort
  25. Build a cardboard box fort, paint and decorate it
  26. Build a catapult [35]
  27. Build a Rube Goldberg machine [36]
  28. Make a birdhouse
  29. Identify birds [37] or bugs [38] in your backyard
  30. Learn about animal tracks and make your own [39]
  31. Weed the garden
  32. Dig a hole
  33. Plant an indoor herb garden [40]
  34. Cook together
  35. Learn about food preservation; make sauerkraut [41] or yogurt [42]
  36. Smell boxes: place objects with a distinctive smell—a candle, an orange cut in half—inside an empty tissue box and take turns guessing what’s in there
  37. Touch boxes: same as above, but you have to reach in and feel the object without looking
  38. Learn to tie knots [43]
  39. Make a solar oven [44]
  40. Learn how to build a fire (supervised, obviously)
  41. Make a sundial [45]
  42. Learn how to use a compass [46]
  43. Get a bucket of water and test what sinks or floats
  44. Learn to sew
  45. Follow a finger knitting tutorial [47]
  46. Crochet a small project
  47. Make a t-shirt scarf [48] out of an old shirt
  48. Make tissue paper flowers [49]
  49. Play charades
  50. Make puppets and put on a show
  51. Play hide and seek
  52. Play sardines (the opposite of hide and seek – rules here [50])
  53. Make the letters of the alphabet with your body
  54. Play 20 questions
  55. Play I spy
  56. Make a word chain [51]
  57. Dig out the old point-and-shoot camera and learn to take pictures
  58. Cloud watching
  59. Build towers and knock them down
  60. Yard scavenger hunt [52]
  61. Find something in the house for every letter of the alphabet
  62. Make a yarn spider web
  63. Juggle
  64. Speak pig latin
  65. Learn a new language [53]
  66. Use a magnifying glass to explore objects up close
  67. Freeze little plastic toys, marbles, etc. in bowls of water, then test ways to free the toys most quickly. Try different techniques like rubbing, spraying with warm water, or sprinkling with salt.
  68. Blow bubbles; make your own bubble solution and bubble makers [54]
  69. Bring some flashlights in a dark room or closet and make shadow puppets
  70. Balloon “hockey” with balloons and brooms
  71. In the snow: fill spray bottles with water and food coloring and “paint” the snow

Give the Kids — AND YOURSELF — A Break

The idea isn’t to keep your kids occupied every minute of the day. It’s ok if they complain about being bored every once in a while. If they are like most modern kids, they aren’t used to having a ton of time on their hands. Present them with options, but let them figure it out on their own if they are old enough.

Your house might be messy and chaotic right now. Your kids might be too. They are certainly not immune to the stress and anxiety in the world, especially your older kids. It’s ok if you don’t have a schedule with neat blocks of school time, movement time, snack time, and chore time, and if your kids haven’t gotten out of their pajamas in a week. Your kids are going to be fine no matter what.

This is not nearly an all-inclusive list. What else has your family been doing to have fun while #stayinghome?


More play activities and lots of homeschooling resources from Unschool.school [55]

100 Ways to Play from the Boston Children’s Museum [56]

More play activities and homeschool ideas from Beyond the Chalkboard [57]

Related posts from Mark’s Daily Apple

The Definitive Guide to Play [58]

The Lost Art of Play: Reclaiming a Primal Tradition [59]

15 Concrete Ways to Play [60]

Why You Absolutely Must Play, Every Day! (plus 10 Pointers for Successful Playtime) [61]