One of the hardest challenges about home schooling in “these weird times” is keeping the kids engaged every single minute. I’ve done a combination of finding educational resources online on my own, using our school’s remote learning cirriculum and teaching them how to do basic tasks around the home, like make microwave popcorn, slice onions and use the washing machine. Since I still need time to myself, the questions of “What do I do now?” stumped me at first. Letting them have screen-free free time didn’t work because it inevitably turns into a wrestling match outside the door of my husband’s office. I can’t force them outside all the time, even though I sometimes wish I could. Here’s a list of 30+ learn at home activities you can put in your “What now?” arsenal.
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30 Learn at home activities your kids can do when parents need a break (with printable!)
Your mileage will vary based on the age of your kids, their personalities and how your home is set up. I’ve divided these into five minute, 15 minute and one hour categories, although some of the one hour activities might not take up an entire 60 minutes and some of the five and 15 minute categories might provided a longer break for you. Um…I meant enrichment for your child. Yes. That’s what I mean. Totally.
These learn at home activities are more constructive than educational. With some adjustments, you could make them more academic intensive, such as adding flash cards or math problems in the mix but these are mostly designed with keeping your kids occupied and productive during learning at home when “teacher” isn’t 100 percent available (or just needs a break.)
If you need a visual reference, I’ve created this printable. You can keep it on your fridge or family bulletin board, if you have one. Just click the link below to access – it’s totally free!
Five Minute Learn at Home Activities
If you need just a little break, here are some great ideas for things your kids can do by themselves.
Our favorite is Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube. Most of her videos are longer than five minutes, so you can easily put these in the 15-minute category, too. It’s easy enough to pause a YouTube video and come back to it later and even five minutes of physical activity is a good thing.
Play Dough or Clay
You can let your kids have a free for all with Play Dough or modeling clay. You can also give them specific prompts, such as “Make a sculpture of your favorite fruit.” If you really want to walk on the wild side, you could have some sort of contest to see who can make the best, silliest, tallest, etc. sculpture. The sibling rivalry is strong in my house and this one is playing a dangerous game for me.
I watch out for free printable coloring sheets online like this post featuring free Disney coloring pages and dole them out when I want to introduce something new. We have an art cabinet where we keep our colored pencils, markets and crayons so I can literally just tell my kids to shut up and color. I don’t really tell them to shut up but sometimes I want to. #truthbomb
I give my kids a list of five exercises and tell them to do one minute of each exercise, using our Echo Dot as a timer. Yep, sometimes Alexa is my babysitter and I’m not afraid to admit it. My kids have been in athletics all their lives so they know enough basic warm-up type and strength exercises to get them through five minutes. If this isn’t something you do a lot of, prepare to spend some time teaching them a few moves.
Five-minute dance party
We have Spotify connected up to our Echo Dot. Our kids can easily pick a song and bust out their dance moves.
I like this one because it makes my kids tired and you can do it just about anywhere. We have a covered back porch so this one works if I really need to kick my kids outside and the weather is bad.
If you have more than two kids, you can grab one of these Chinese jump ropes to change things up a little.
Paper Airplane or Origami
If you’re looking for a quiet activity your kids can do by themselves, have them start on an origami product. We have this book that includes lots of simple designs and easy-to-follow picture instructions. It’s free on Kindle Unlimited and about $12 if you want a paperback version.
Read or look at a book
Go take a break and look at a book. I wish my kids would get lost in books the way I did when I was their age but they don’t love reading. Still, if I need five minutes to myself, this one is a no-brainer.
Read more: Free things your kids can learn online
15 Minute Learn at Home Activities
Here are some suggestions when you need to keep your kids busy a little bit longer. If your kids really love one of the activities in the five-minute category, you can also have them do that for longer.
We have a back porch area that our kids can chalk on. We also move our cars out of the driveway and let then chalk out front. This one requires some supervision on my part because I don’t like my kids hanging out in our front yard unsupervised. Your mileage will vary based on the age of your kids and how your neighborhood is set up.
A large bucket of sidewalk chalk goes a long way and isn’t very expensive. We’ve bought one for each of our kids which might be a little bit of overkill, but it saves some battles and will come in handy when the kids have friends over.
Work on a puzzle
I like to pick the most complex puzzle my child can handle. Obviously, I’m not going to give a nine-year-old a 5000 piece adult jigsaw puzzle but the idea is to challenge them and keep them busy. If it’s a more complex puzzle, put it on a card table or an area of your house that can be a dedicated puzzle zone. Fifteen minutes is a great length of time to work on a puzzle but you can shorten or extend it based on schedules and interest.
I put this one in the 15-minute category because of the mess and cleanup involved. I usually just let my kids paint on regular paper, although you have lots of options with paint by numbers kits and paint with water, which is relatively low mess.
If you can handle a little mess, fill a sink or dish pan up with warm, soap water and let your kids “wash” their toys. You can have them wash down any plastic toys as well as wash their action figures, Barbie dolls or any plastic items from your kitchen that you want to loan them. This is a great activity for younger kids and if the weather is warm, you can move it to the porch or patio.
Bike, skate or scooter
Again, this depends on how your neighborhood is set up, the ages of your kids and how comfortable you are with them playing outside without supervision. We need to have an adult outside for our kids to be on bikes, skates or scooters.
If you can return calls or get work done from the porch or have a neighbor watch out for your little bikers (what we do in normal, non COVID-19 times) this type of active time out can work.
Mad Libs or Jokes
If you have two or more kids at home that can handle basic reading and writing, Mad Libs are a great way to pass the time. This is also a fun activity you can do as a family.
There are lots of joke books for kids out there. This is one of our favorites. I’ll warn ya – you’ll be subjected to hours and hours of cheezeball jokes.
Everybody’s got jokes at our house.
Create with LEGOS or Blocks
This one could also go in the five-minute category, depending on your kids’ ages and how intense they get with their pretend construction.
Every child is different…for a child who isn’t into building, five minutes would be a long time. For a child who could play with blocks or build with LEGOs for hours, this can work for longer amounts of time.
Play a card game or Dice game
Play a yard game
If you’ve got badminton, corhole or washers set out, give them a timer and tell them to get after it.
We also like this giant inflatable bowling game, which can also be moved indoors if they weather isn’t great.
Look for new recipes
My kids are completely into cooking and baking right now. Sitting them down at a table with a pile of cookbooks and a pen and paper will definitely kill some time.
If you have older kids who can use the internet independently, you can have them search for recipes on Pinterest and pin to a designated family recipe idea board.
We really love this Instant Pot Recipe Book for kids. It’s written and laid out in a fun and easy way and the recipes make great family.
Play Hide and Seek
Obviously, you’re going to need a willing sibling for this activity. With two adults working at home and some areas of our house “off limits” for shenanigans, I find that quickly going over the rules every time we start hide and seek is a very good idea.
There are all kinds of online photo challenges that can keep your kids busy, both inside and out. Just Google for inspiration and make up your own. You can also print something out for your kids to follow along with.
One of my favorite things is to give my kids a word to spell in pictures. They’ll have to find letters in the objects in our house or find some other creative way to get the pictures. You can start simple and have the kids spell their names or combine this school and give them a harder word they have to spell correctly in pictures.
One Hour Learn at Home Activities
Many simple recipes can be done start to finish in less than an hour. Look for quick breads, cookies (there are a lot of great no-bake recipes out there, too), or anything from pre-made mix.
This assumes that your kids are old enough to observe basic safety rules in the kitchen and/or that you’re nearby, just in case. Most tweens that can operate an oven safely can handle a simple recipe. It’s really great to see your kids create in the kitchen when you’re hands off (or even hands nearby in case they get stuck.) And, you get to be the official taste tester.
Make a blanket fort
I’ve listed this under a one hour activity because you have to have time to plan a really great blanket fort and once you get it set up, have time to enjoy and have fun in it. Outside of my kids’ room and playroom, there is only one area of our house that really works as a blanket fort, so you might want to think about setting limitations on where they build.
We also give our kids limitations on what they can use in their blanket fort, which are pretty loosey goosey – the linens in the master bedroom and master bath are off limits but we essentially allow them to use any other blanket, sheet, towel or pillow in the house. If you are more particular (I’ve entered the land of “I just don’t care” with the exception of my own bed) then specify the rules at the get go.
Ice block treasure hunt
Take a variety of small toys and trinkets, place it in a container of water and freeze to make an ice block with treasures inside. You can use mini toys like Polly Pocket or little green Army men or colored jewels or stones from the craft store. This article does a great job with ideas as well as things to give your kids to chip away at the ice.
Ice block treasure hunt can be fun for older kids, too. Instead of using toys, freeze coins. You can make it more interesting by turning it into a contest, such as the first one to collect $2.00 in change or challenge them to find coins minted in their birth year. You can also give older kids more things to use to help melt/chip the ice, such as hammers or chemicals…just be aware that some household chemicals that melt ice, such as rubbing alcohol or salt, might damage your grass if you’re using it outside.
String laser maze
If you want to bring a little Spy Kids or Mission Impossible into your home, challenge your kids to create their own laser maze with red yarn. You can use another color of yarn if you want but red is more laser-like. Here’s a great example on how to set this up. Younger kids might need help on the front end setting this one up.
Play a board game
There are a few games out there that can go ON. AND. ON. like Monopoly but there are a few that you can have a reasonable expectation of being done in around an hour:
Make a craft
I don’t love doing crafts but my kids do. Some crafts need to be planned for and depending on the age of your children, you might need to be more hands on, defeating the purpose of giving you a break. I keep a craft cabinet stocked with supplies for times like these. If you’re more of an artsy person, you may want to incorporate more arts and crafts to your arsenal of learn at home activities. Pinterest has a lot of ideas.
Older kids might be more apt to do a more complex craft on their own but younger kids are usually entertained by gluing beads or shells onto a paper plate or making a little box out of popsicle sticks. You can also challenge them to make something creative out of recycled material, such as toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, or plastic bottle caps.
Make an obstacle course
This is one probably best saved for older kids or kids who can follow clear instructions, i.e. use only soft materials like pillows or blankets, no jumping off the roof (haha, you think I’m kidding), no using XYZ objects. etc. It’s really fun to see what your kids come up with but make sure you’re keeping at least one eye on their safety.
Play dress up
We keep a tote of old Halloween costumes and other discarded items – a scarf I was going to throw in the Goodwill bin, an old military uniform, you name it. We also have a selection of Star Wars character masks and Avengers character masks that are fun to create games and plays with.
You can approach this a couple of different ways: Let your kids do all the work in creating a scavenger hut to try out on each other or to try out on the adults in the household. You can give them ideas or give them parameters (telling them they have to come up with a 100 item scavenger hunt list will keep them good and busy) OR you can create some lists ahead of time that will keep your kids occupied for a chunk of time.
I know, I know. It’s a mess made with glue that your kids will inevitably leave on your nice dining room table to dry up but kids of all ages love making slime. You can find literally thousands of slime recipes on the internet, to include edible slime, glitter slime, seasonal slime, and more. My favorite is this basic slime recipe that comes out perfectly every time.
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