Editor’s note: This post was updated on Nov. 25, 2021.
Our kids have been home a lot over the last nearly two years. If inspiration for things they can do to keep occupied has run dry, you’re certainly not the only one. This epic list is full of play ideas: games to keep their minds and bodies moving, indoor games, outdoor games, park games, cardboard box games—you name it, it’s here!
First up, 12 great learning games:
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! 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
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 kids aged 2-4
- 10 games to develop soccer skills
- 13 fun activities to play in the dark
- 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 skills