Fall is here! As the weather turns cooler, what can you do to keep your kids engaged and unplugged when it’s not always as easy to just go outside? Of course, fall bonfires and hikes through the leaves are amazing options, but it’s nice to have some others when going on a hike just isn’t the right choice. Here are eight ideas for some unplugged indoor fun!
1. Don’t be afraid of boredom
Don’t be afraid to let kids be bored. Yes, there might be some protests or complaints at first, but boredom leads to the greatest expression of creativity. If they’re not used to unstructured time, it could take a few tries to get used to the idea, but be patient. When they’re particularly vocal about it, I sometimes tell my kids that they can find something to play with or I can have them clean the baseboards. Shockingly, that often does the trick. More often than not, however, they come up with something far more creative than I could have planned for them.
2. Make a nature collage
Next time you go for a walk, or even just exploring in the yard, give your child a basket or bag and have them collect interesting leaves, small twigs, pine cones, pebbles, acorns, and acorn caps. Once inside, you can string them on twine, glue them to each other or paper, or you can practice counting, sorting, and categorizing. Sometimes we just make a collage of pretty leaves, and sometimes we turn what we’ve collected into Nature Man. I love seeing their vision unfold. If you’d like to, you can freeze or bake the items before using to ensure there are no little critters tagging along in your art work.
3. Hold a cotton ball race
With cotton balls, straws, paper towel tubes, and a sprinkle of imagination, you can open up a world of fun. Whether you use your straws to blow cotton balls across a wood floor or cleared counter to the finish line, or you tape paper tubes to the wall and drop the cotton balls in from the top, you can arrange them in an infinite number of different ways. This teaches young ones cause and effect and even physics as trial and error shows them how their design needs to change.
4. Bake together
Whether you make homemade bread or a box muffin mix, kids love to work alongside you in the kitchen. They’re good at peeling veggies, dumping measuring cups of flour, rolling out their own portion of dough, and sprinkling chocolate chips into the bowl. There’s no match for the pride they feel when serving the treat they have helped to prepare.
5. Take turns reading
There’s no replacement for sitting down with a good book for indoor fun. Whether it’s a memorized favorite picture book, or a new story from the library, take turns reading with your child. You can alternate pages, or if they’re not ready for that, you can read a line and they can repeat it after you. Even telling you the story based on the pictures is a form of pre-reading.
6. Create a squiggle drawing
This is a great way to spark creativity and a wonderful option when you need to occupy a little one while you are working nearby on something else. Whether it’s making dinner, folding laundry, or working on your computer, this activity still feels like you’re doing something together. On a blank piece of paper, draw a squiggle. That’s it. Just a squiggle. It can cross over itself, loop, and be as simple or as complicated as you’d like. Then have your child use her imagination to turn the squiggle into something else. If it’s a complicated squiggle, they can just color in all the spaces, but even better, what was a mindless squiggle can become a playground or a dog or an alien, whatever comes to mind.
7. Try felting
My children from four all the way to fifteen enjoy needle felting. Using a foam mat, felt background, and wool roving of all different colors, needle felting is like drawing a picture or creating a colorful design in a new way. Of course the needle is sharp and care and supervision must be taken, but even young ones can do the activity. The designs become more complicated as they grow older, but this and any other hand work is great for mental stimulation as well as having a calming effect on otherwise busy brains.
8. Eat dinner by candlelight
This is a favorite in my house. Whether it’s an oil lantern or a candle holder that fits over a jar, having dinner by candlelight when the days grow shorter brings such a calming effect to the house. Children love to be in charge of snuffing the candles at the end of the meal, and since you’re all sitting together, you don’t have to worry about unattended flames and little fingers. You can practice safety and enjoy the ambiance. Our family does a week of darkness leading up to Easter. We don’t turn on any lights in the house that week. With candles and lanterns, we go about our business in the evening. It changes perspective for sure, and it’s a little more challenging to do some things in the evening, but the kids love it and look forward to it every year.
At the end of it all, children respond well to slower and less structured activities. Some things take time to get used to, but even if you start with just an unplugged hour or afternoon of indoor fun, or even if all you do is dinner by candlelight, you will see the changes, and you never know, your kids might even start asking for more!