Editor’s note: This post was updated on Jan. 4, 2022.
There’s no doubt about it: trying to juggle working from home with children is challenging. Whether you’re teleconferencing, focusing on writing, or trying to balance a budget, having kids around your home office is tricky.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of 42 no-parent-needed activities to keep your kids entertained, so you’re able to focus on your work.
Having options is the key! The following activity ideas include some that even very young kids can do with limited parental involvement. Most require no special equipment, only common household items. Set-up time for most of these is minimal, so you can get the fun started in between emails or phone calls. Or, if you have older kids, you can show them how to get started and then leave it to them to set up the games.
30 indoor activities kids can do while parents work
Tip: If you don’t have a designated playroom, consider moving all the furniture in one room to the sides to make a wide-open play space.
- Toy wash: Fill a sink, plastic bin, or bowl with water. Provide towels and a box of toys that kids can wash (toys with electronic pieces should be hidden for this activity). Throw in some small cars, plastic animals, toy food, plastic keys, etc., and let your kids clean away.
- Dress up: If you have a dress-up box, pull it out and if not, create one with hats, socks, coats, purses, shoes, boots, kid glasses, costume jewelry, old dresses, jackets, mirror, brush, old cellphone, old keys (no scarves or other possibly choking items). This could also be the time to decorate that box. Provide the kids with stickers and markers and let them fancy it up!
- Car playmats: If you already own a playmat with a road design on it, set it up and find any toy that can be used with it—cars and trucks, figurines, airplanes, etc. Kids love the creative play of moving their way around the town. If you don’t have a mat, there are ones available for next-day shipping on Amazon, or use painter’s tape to create your own set of roads on any floor surface. The best thing about a homemade track is the ability to have the tape go up over small boxes or chairs and in multiple directions.
- Camp out: Set up a tent or fort and fill it with multiple items for a game of camp. Let your kids get comfy with pillows and blankets, keep them fed with healthy snacks, turn out the lights, and give them flashlights for making shadow animals. Throw in some stuffies for company, some binoculars to keep a watch on the bears, and some animal picture books.
- Bean bag target toss: Set out a box of bean bags and a number of targets for kids to throw the bags into such as hula hoops or laundry baskets. You’ll find more ideas for throwing games in our activities section.
- Rubbings art: Lay out a number of thin items such as leaves, flat pieces of Lego, coins, or buttons (for kids who know not to put these in their mouths!), a stack of thin white paper, and crayons. Show your children the art of putting a piece of paper over an item and rubbing it with the side of a crayon until the item appears. The simple act of taking the paper off the sides of a pile of crayons alone will keep kids busy for a while.
- Sensory tub: If you have a sand table that you use outdoors in nicer weather, pull it in, clean it out, and fill it with fresh sand. If you don’t have a sand table, pull out a bin or tub and fill it with rice. Place spoons for digging, funnels for pouring through, trucks, plastic animals, measuring spoons, small bowls, etc., in the rice and let your kids dig and explore.
- Ball pit: If you own a ball pit, fantastic! If not, create your own with a kiddie pool or large cardboard box. Fill your box with as many small balls as you have on hand, as well as with stuffies and bean bags.
- Toilet paper funnels: Gather up some empty toilet rolls, paper towel rolls, or (not judging) tubes that bottles of scotch came in. Tape the rolls to a wall with masking tape, provide your child with small items such as cars, small balls, dry pasta, and have them drop the items through the tunnels. For more fun, use multiple rolls beside each other or aligned to make a longer tunnel.
- Mini-stick target practice: As you probably don’t want a puck bouncing off your walls, set out some soft balls, bean bags, or make sock balls, and place some Xs on your wall with masking tape. Have your kids practice hitting the targets with their mini-sticks or a DIY stick made by duct-taping an empty wrapping paper roll for the handle and a cutout blade from cardboard.
- Sensory bag for high chair tables or floor: Fill resealable bags with items that a baby can safely squish or shake such as sand or magic sand, ice cubes, and small items mixed into a bag of hair gel, rocks, or Jell-o. Make sure the bag is fully sealed before your little one plays with it.
- Indoor “golf” course: Create an obstacle course for your kids to golf ping-pong balls or sock balls around and through. Make a line of well-spaced-apart cones or upside-down plastic mixing bowls and have your child putter their way through. Items can be placed in a straight line or around a room. If you don’t have kid-sized golf clubs, your kids can use a fly-swatter or a mini stick.
- Scavenger hunt: Create a page of photos of items that you have around the house and send your kids off with a crayon to tick off their finds. Or let them use your phone camera to capture the images. Ensure you have lots of items on the list to keep them busy for a while!
- Cereal necklaces: Set up a bowl of O-shaped cereal with plastic lacing cord (or gimp) and have your child string the gimp through the Os.
- Wash the windows (or fridge): While you may have streaks once this activity is done, this is not the time to worry about such things! Provide your child with a spray bottle of water and a rag and set them out to clean your windows (only those they can reach) or fridge.
- Make a mural: Choose a wall that your kids can reach and cover it with paper. If you have paper in a roll, even better! Provide the kids with crayons and pencil crayons and let their inner Michelangelo come out (this could be the ideal time to let them know that the Ninja Turtles are named after famous Renaissance artists!).
- Rock painting: Create some colour for your yard or balcony. Provide your kids with washable paint, paintbrushes, and rocks and let the artistry begin. Items can also be provided for kids to glue on to their rocks once they’re dry, such as googly eyes, feathers, or pom poms. Older kids can paint messages of hope and leave them in their neighbourhood for others to read.
- Secret house cleaning: Provide your kids with a broom or a Swiffer and a sock ball to pass back and forth on hard surface floors. Voilà! Your floors will be sparkling.
- Coin-sorting: If your children are old enough to know to keep coins out of their mouth, provide them with five jars and a bag of coins (raid piggy banks if need be!). Tape a picture of each coin to be put in each jar and let your child sort the “sailboats” from the “loons.”
- Ramps: A ramp is an excellent item to keep kids busy rolling balls, cars, stuffies, and bean bags down. To make your own ramp, simply tape the lid of a bin or a solid piece of cardboard to the edge of a coffee table, kitchen counter, or dining room table, or pull out a crib mattress, prop it up at the side of a crib or a wall and let the rolling begin.
- Spider web: Create a spider web (or laser beam maze) in a hallway with tape, wool, or crepe paper streamers. String the materials across each other and let the kids crawl, twist, and climb their way through the maze. Have them try to make their way through the maze in different ways each time. Can they get through the maze without touching any of the webs? Find more agility activities.
- Muffin pan sorting: For the just-able-to-sit crowd or older, fill a muffin tray with various engaging items of different shapes and colours (make sure these are large enough that your baby can’t choke). Children will happily sit and move items from cup to cup (and occasionally chew on items as kids are prone to do!).
- Flashlight treasure hunt: Hide items in one room, give your kids a list of the items (a pictured list), turn off the lights, and see if the kids can find the items.
- Magic carpet rides: If you have multiple children, provide them with towels or blankets and let them take turns giving each other rides in a safe area away from stairs.
- Sock-matching: Tick one item off your to-do list if you have lots of mismatched socks in your house needing to be paired, or separate socks already matched. Scatter the socks on the floor and have your kids match them up.
- Construction site: Provide kids with blocks and let them use their imagination to build a town, a set of buildings, or a farm where their plastic animals can play.
- Tea party: Use dishes, cutlery, and play food from a toy kitchen or use your own, set up a table, some fancy mats, perhaps some simple snacks, and let the kids bring the high tea vibes to your own living room.
- Dance videos: Kids seem to be able to operate tablets and phones from younger and younger ages. Set your child up with some music (that isn’t too loud to disturb your work), show them how to take a video (if they don’t already know how!), provide props or dress-up clothes and have them take dance videos (or other silly videos) that they can share with you (probably with much laughter) over lunch or dinner.
- Balloon volleyball: Tie a ribbon, yarn, or string firmly between two walls and voilà—you have an indoor net. Use a balloon or beach ball and let the volley begin. Find more volley activities.
- Card drop slot: Cut a slit into the top of a box or tub just larger than the width of a playing card and show your kids how to slip a card through the slot. 52 moments of fun!
12 ideas for independent outdoor play
If you have a backyard or access to another outdoor play area where you can work while kids play, why not take your “office” outside? Everyone will benefit from some fresh air and room to move, while you sit nearby with your laptop, phone, or other work material. Here are some ideas for easy games kids can play while you type or talk.
- Bubbles: Blow, chase, and pop. Kids love bubbles. If you don’t have bubble “juice” (as my kids called it), mix up your own solution with 4 cups of warm water, ½ cup of dish soap, and ½ cup of sugar. No bubble wands? Use items from your kitchen such as cookie cutters, apple slicers, or spatulas, or twist pipe cleaners into wand shapes. Instant wands!
- Penguin run: Give your kids rubber balls or beach balls and have them waddle with the balls between their knees from one end of a designated space to another.
- Noodle balloon: Pool noodles and beach balls are the perfect items for a number of games. Have your kids play a game of keep-up or provide boxes for kids to try to bat their balloons into. Warning: there might be a lot of laughter. Find more ideas for striking activities.
- Sidewalk chalk: Use this multi-use item to set up a variety of games for your kids. Draw a hopscotch pattern on the ground, provide your kids with beanbags or rocks, and let them hop away. Draw a maze with loops, lines, and curves and see if your kids can walk forward and backward on the maze. Find more hopping activities.
- Dig! If you have access to a garden bed or a grass-less area, bring out some shovels and pails and see what your kids can find. Worms? Interesting shaped or coloured stones? No ground to dig? Pull out the sandbox or the homemade sandbox mentioned above (box with rice) and hide some items within the sand for a treasure hunt.
- “Paint” the house: Bring in the painting crew without actually worrying about the colour of your walls or outdoor furniture being changed. Provide your children with paintbrushes of all sizes and a pail or two of water. Kids love seeing the “paint” go on walls or fences and instantly drying.
- Magnify the fun: How cool is it to see a flower, the bark of a tree, a crawling ant, or a stone really, really enlarged? Give the kids a magnifying glass and send them off to explore nature in a big way.
- Sponge it up: With a pail of water, one empty pail, and two sponges, set your kids up for some fun in the sun (or even in the rain!). Show your child how to soak the sponge with the water in one pail and see how much water they can carry to the second pail set short a distance away.
- Lily pad hop: Get your kids jumping with this froggy fun. Lay out tea towels, face cloths, or pieces of felt and have your kids leap and hop. Be sure not to fall in the pond! Find more balance activities here.
- Picnic in the park: Snack time meets outdoor time. Lay out a blanket, bring out some stuffie friends, provide a selection of foods and drink (no corkscrews required), and let the feast begin.
- Music makers: There are so many household items that can be used to make music. Have your kids sing and dance with pots and pans, spoons, bells, empty bottles partially filled with dry beans, muffin tins, and ice-cream scoops. Does the noise sound different if a spoon or a hand is used to tap a pot? How fast or slow can the music be?
- Kicking obstacle course: Challenge your kids to create a course using outdoor chairs, cones, flower pots, or anything else lying around. Then kick a ball around the obstacles. If you can take a 10-minute break, you can give it a try too—the kids will love it! Find more kicking activity ideas here.
Adjusting to working with (very) young colleagues is truly challenging, but having some activities for your kids to play independently while you work will make for a happy and less anxious time. When work is done, family playtime will be all the sweeter.