Editor’s note: This post was updated on Nov. 15, 2022.
If you’re looking for things your kids can do to keep occupied, you’re not the only one. Parent life is hard! Luckily, this epic list is full of play ideas and kids activities: games to keep their minds and bodies moving, indoor games, outdoor games, learning and sensory activities, cardboard box games—you name it, it’s here!
First up, 12 great learning activities:
Instead of worksheets, build numeracy skills through play. Here are some fun ideas to work on addition, subtraction, fractions, mental math, shapes, time, money, geometry, multiplication, counting, patterning, and estimating.
1. Shape Hunt
Kids (and adults!) love a good scavenger hunt. Put a twist on the search by having kids find items of certain shapes. When all objects have been collected, kids can then trace and colour in the items on a separate sheet of paper. If the objects are items that can’t be picked up, such as a clock on a wall, let kids use your smartphone to take a photo of the item.
Print out or draw a sheet with shapes and let the hunt begin.
For the youngest in the household, have them find objects that are of simple shapes such as circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles. Challenge older kids with searches for items in the shape of parallelograms, ovals, rhombuses, or scalene triangles.
This is a great game that can be played inside or out.
Math skills used: geometry
2. How High is That?
Rulers and measuring tapes are surprisingly popular items that kids love to use. Before starting the game, have kids use the measurement tools to see how high one meter or 50 centimetres is so that they have a general idea of what length they’ll be talking about.
For an outdoor version of this game, use (according to the temperature!) snowballs or wet sponges. Have one child at a time throw their item at a wall or fence and have them guess how high the mark it made on the wall is from the ground. Record their guess and have the next child guess. Have the child who threw the item use the measuring tape or ruler to determine the actual height of the throw. Who was closest?
Indoors, follow the same process as above but with a moistened, not soaked, sponge. One tip from a mom who’s been there: while they may try to convince you otherwise, snowballs should really stay outside!
Math skills used: measurement, estimation, and statistics
3. Roll to Win
Have your child toss two dice and add up the numbers that are rolled. Write down the total on a piece of paper. Reroll and keep adding up the numbers until you reach 100 (or a smaller number for younger kids).
Math skills used: addition
4. Time My Move
Choose a move and see how long your child can perform it while another uses a timer to measure. How long can they balance on one foot? How long will it take to run up a hill? How long can they keep up a balloon?
Math skills used: time
While reading is always encouraged, literacy skills such as letter recognition, writing, reading and following directions, vocabulary-building, retelling a story, letter-sound relationship, rhyming, and communication can all be practiced during active play.
5. Treasure Hunt
Hide an item somewhere inside or out and write clues for your little pirates to find the loot. Maybe they need to crawl across the couch, slide like a snail under a bed, reach behind a stool, or, if they’re outside, run to the pine tree, jump off a tree stump, dig into a hole, etc. Each clue can have words for older kids and pictures for younger ones.
Literacy skills used: reading and following directions
6. Freeze Dance Rhyme Dance
Crank the tunes and let the dancing begin. Unlike the regular game though, when the music stops, a designated person calls out a word. If the other dancer(s) can’t respond with a word to rhyme with it within a designated time period (say five to 10 seconds), that person is out.
Literacy skills used: rhyming
7. Lights, Camera, Action!
Kids will need some down time during their time away from school and odds are good that they’ll watch a movie or read a book or two. Have your kids reenact the stories while using your smartphone or tablet. Props and costumes will make this activity extra-fun!
Literacy skills used: retelling a story
Using a mix of easy and difficult words, have your kids act them out and see if their siblings or parents can guess what they are. If the kids don’t know the word they’re given, define it for them.
Literacy skills used: vocabulary-building
Find your best (little) lab coat and use games and activities to explore the various branches of science that kids love, including life cycles, seasons, planets, animals, magnets, weather, states of matter (liquid, solid, gas), volcanoes, engineering, anatomy, shadows, senses, and paleontology, and skills including problem solving, observation, predicting, and classifying.
9. Oh, The Places You’ll Go (and the things you’ll see!)
Get online with your kids and find a park or trail near your home they’ve never been to before. Let them in on the decision-making and read about the types of trees, birds, or other particular features that can be found in that location. Bring along some water and snacks and set out to find all that you’ve read about. If you do find what you’re looking for, use your smartphone to take pictures home as a memory of the day. Take photos of other interesting birds, flowers, bugs, or trees.
Science examined: animals and habitations
10. Erupting with Fun Volcanoes
Volcanoes are truly a lava fun. (Sorry—couldn’t resist!)
Fill a plastic cup two-thirds of the way full with water and add five tablespoons of baking soda, one teaspoon of dish soap, and several drops of washable paint. Mix the materials together, put the cup on the ground, and form a mound of dirt or snow around the cup to just below its rim. Now comes the fun part of the science experiment! Add one cup of vinegar and watch the lava erupt down the side of the mound. You can add vinegar a number of times until you need to add the base ingredients again.
Science skills used and branch of science examined: creating a chemical reaction and geology.
11. Balance Building
Pick uneven or unstable objects such as cards, paper cups, or rocks and challenge your kids to build as high as they can or in various shapes.
Science skills used: problem-solving
12. Static Fun
Learning about positive and negative charges is pure fun when playing with a balloon. Have your child rub an inflated balloon against their hair and see what they can stick it on or pick up. Can it stick to a wall or pick up pieces of confetti or flakes of pepper?
Science branch examined: electric charge
Fun things to do in the dark
Need a unique twist on your activities? Why not play in the dark? When the kids aren’t quite ready for bed, outdoor play is still definitely an option. Kids will be thrilled to play under the stars and might soon be asking, “what streetlights?”
Make the boxes for the course in different colours and shapes using either glow in the dark chalk or glow in the dark necklaces. You could even use rechargeable LED light strips.
Required: glow-in-the-dark chalk or necklaces
14. Hula hoops
Pull out those hula hoops and twist and shout. (Well, maybe keep the shouting to a minimum, other kids may be sleeping. Let’s go with twist and laugh?) Wrap the hula hoops with some neon or glow-in-the-dark tape and switch up the moves to keep it even more fun. Go with the traditional twist of the hoop around your hips, or spin the hoop on your wrists, your ankles, or even your head. Try changing the direction of your twist or, instead of moving from side to side, try twisting with one foot ahead of the other.
Required: hula hoops, neon or glow-in-the-dark tape
As calming as lying on a blanket during the day and watching clouds, have your kids lie down and watch the stars. Print out some star charts (there are free printables on the Internet and some amazing apps for your mobile devices) and see if your kids can spot the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Orion. Or, just like when you watch clouds, see if kids can find shapes in the patterns of dots. Do some star groupings look like they’re an outline of a dragon or maybe a happy face? Try to find the brightest stars and look to see if the moon is full.
Required: blankets or towels to lie on
16. Glow-in-the-dark bowling
No need for rental shoes in this awesome version of bowling. Gather up a minimum of six empty plastic bottles and remove the caps. Place one or two glow-in-the-dark bracelets or necklaces inside the bottles and replace the caps. Line up the bottles on a flat surface and use a plastic or rubber ball to try to knock them down. Points can be assigned for each bottle knocked down or different values can be assigned to different colours of bottles for older kids.
Required: empty plastic bottles, glow-in-the-dark bracelets, and a ball
17. Shadow puppets
Shadow puppet shows make for great imaginative theatre under the stars. Use either a wall or fence and set up flashlights facing the “screen.” Kids can experiment with their hands to make a multitude of animals, or cut out figures and glue them to popsicle sticks to move through the light.
Required: flashlights, craft supplies
And for the full list, check out 13 fun activities to play in the dark
For the whole family: Game and activity ideas for all ages
18. Board games
Board games are a fun way to boost family bonding time, but it’s not always easy for kids to sit still all night long. Luckily, there are many options that are not only great for the whole family, but will also get you moving (and laughing) together. Try everything from classics like Twister to more unique options like Throw Throw Burrito. For a whole list of ideas, see our roundup of board games right here.
19. Scavenger hunts
We love getting outside! But sometimes, you need a purpose! Scavenger hunts are not only a great way to get moving outdoors in fresh air, they’re also a lot of fun. Print off our free scavenger hunt list and head outside. All you need is a piece of paper, a pen or marker, and time to explore!
20. Indoor activities
Staying inside and hunkering down in your living room is sometimes just the ticket. So, if your next family night is going to be inside, we’ve got you covered with these stay at home kid activities. From 10 Lego games to get kids moving, to these 6 active games you can play with a pair of socks, there are lots of ways to have fun indoors if you’re willing to be a little creative!
200 other great activities for kids to do at home
Over the years we’ve published many articles with activity ideas for families to do at home. Here are 200+ of our favourites from the Active for Life archives:
- 49 fun physical activities for 2-4 year olds
- 10 games to develop soccer skills
- Five Indigenous games to play with your children
- 12 active learning games to beat the “summer slide”
- 6 apps you can download to get kids active
- 21 fun and active games kids can play at a sandy beach (Note: many of these can be played in a field or your backyard too!)
- 6 fun field game ideas
- One piece of chalk, 8 active games
- 18 activity challenges you can do with a fidget spinner timer
- 14 games kids in casts can do to stay active
- 7 kid-friendly games to play on trail walks and nature hikes
- DIY fun: 9 kid-made games from “scolf” to “floor ninja”
- 12 ways to play with a cardboard box
- 6 ideas for an active family picnic
- 8 little-known games you can play with your kids
- 7 Winter Olympics-themed activities you can play with kids at home
- 6 ways to create a DIY “risky play” playground in your backyard
- Printable: activity ideas for every season
- How to use a second-hand ladder to develop movement skill