50 Fun Things to Do with your Kids this Winter in Quarantine (That Don't Require Buying Anything)

by - Friday, January 15, 2021

50 Fun Things to Do with your Kids this Winter in Quarantine (That Don't Require Buying Anything)

Winters, especially January and February, can be absolutely brutal with kids home all day- not much sun, not much time outside, and not much to do can be a crazy combination. Now, while so many of us are stuck in quarantine, it can be even rougher. I don't know about you, but I am a little scared to see where we are at by the end of February. 

 In my perfect world, we play for at least an hour outside, but when it is so cold and so dark, we definitely spend way more time inside. So much inside time can lead to boredom, cabin fever, and all sort of nonsense! 

It makes sense that so many parents throw their hands up and buy things to keep their kids busy (even though lots of kids got plenty of new stuff in the months before). It's a prime time to lean on junk from stores or on tv, just for survivals sake! And seriously, 9 months into quarantine, we are all just surviving.

This new stuff can be a relief for a minute, but it just fills our homes with more clutter and stress. More things to knock over when your kids are climbing the walls! Is anyone else feeling totally claustrophobic at home with all of your kids junk everywhere all the time?

For me, trying to figure out creative ways to make outside time and activities that use things we already have makes a big difference- it keeps me sane (and coming up with new ideas) and it also is better for the environment. Every item we don't buy is a win for the environment, because it means less plastic packaging, less shipping, and less of a carbon footprint. We are in such a strange moment in history, but we can still help our kids future by simply buying less. 

Here are our favorite winter activities and adventures- what are yours? Let's help each other get through this crazy season! 

If You Get Snow...

1. Make a Snow Angel- It seems like a no brainer, but watch just how happy your kid gets rolling around in the snow. Make snow angels with them! Today is as good a day as any to get in there and play.

2. Get Sledding- I have so many fun memories from sledding as a kid, do you? If you don't have a sled, you can probably borrow one from a neighbor or use an item in your house! Plastic laundry baskets make great sleds. Need another idea? You can cut two holes out of garbage bags and wear them. It works perfectly for sliding down a snowy hill! It doesn't look dignified, but it is totally fun.

3. Paint the Snow- In Seattle, we don't really get enough snow to sled or make a snowman, but even with a pretty light dusting, we can paint the snow! We take old all-purpose spray bottles and put in a few cups of water and some food coloring. Any color is super fun, but red does make your yard look like a murder scene.

4. Try Snow Shoeing- Skiing can still be a lot for many kids five and under, but you can find snow shoe rentals in lots of places that might be a really fun thing to try. A great way to slow down and really observe nature.

5. Build a Snow Fort- If you have a lot of snow, you can go big and build a snow fort! It is so fun to come up with ideas and to make them a special space outside. Plus, they will want to return to it day after day, so you can enjoy more outside time long term.

Not a fort kind of kid? You can always do a snow man, a snow animal, or a whole snow zoo! Once you start building, it's fun to see where it goes.

6. Try Ice Skating or Skiing- So many ice skating rinks (both indoor and outdoor) cater to kids with extra support for them. Right now, there are definitely fewer options for this than usual, but outdoor skating might still be a great option. You could also try skiing if there is somewhere nearby to try! 

For When You Don't Get Snow...

Not everyone gets a lot of fun snow (which at least gives you a reason to go out), but they still get wet and cold enough weather to stop spending much time outside. Here are a few things to try! 

7. Go for a Wet Hike- It can be really discouraging to get outside when it is wet or even dark by the time you have a chance. Be bold, suit up, and get out in the rain. We love our muddy buddies for really muddy weather (and we can fit warm layers underneath). I have always been able to find them secondhand on eBay or on our Buy Nothing group. I wouldn't waste money getting these new- they are just for getting wrecked anyway! 

8. Go for a Dark Hike- Consider trying a lantern or flashlight walk. You can do it in your own backyard or be bolder, but even the most skeptical kids will like playing with the light in the dark. There are so many variations to try, and they could really remember something like this. 

9. Build a Fort Outside- If you have a builder, you can still make a little house outside in the winter time. It may take a few days to finish it, but it can be a fun way to have a project in an otherwise empty winter space.

10. Start a Rock Collection- No matter the season, kids really like collecting rocks, sticks, and other little treasures. Find a cool box in the house (or even decorate it!) and go searching for new rocks to add! Maybe they would rather search for cool sticks or leaves. It's all good if they are playing outside!

11. Plant Something! I know, you don't think of this in the winter time, but you still have options. You can plant seed starters in your kitchen. Last year, we tried planting garlic and tulip bulbs late in the fall, and they turned out shockingly well! Another neat thing to try might be planting tree seeds or indoor plants in buckets in a warm and well lit area in your house.

12. Have a Winter Bonfire- Yep, it can be soooo cold, but if it isn't raining, a bonfire in winter can be a really fun way to play

13. Make a Mud Pie- We see this as a summer activity, but playing in mud can be really fun in colder weather too. It's interesting to see what the kids find to put in it. We just made leaf cupcakes for a toy Brontosaurus in our house, and the bubs forgot to complain about the cold when they were searching for lots of leaves.

14. Go Exploring New Spaces- Every day at lunch, we walk to a field a few blocks from our house. It's just a field next to a parking lots, with some trees and rocks, but the change of scenery makes a big difference in our day. Seeing something new can add a freshness to your old routine- you could try making a list of playgrounds or parks and see if you can visit them all. 

Cozy Days

Sometimes it is nice to let plans go, let outside time go, and just enjoy the time outdoors. Here are some of my favorite ideas for making memories and enjoying nesting. 

15. Embrace a Pajama Day! I get it. Everyday is a pajama day. But what if for one day, we quit fighting it and just lean into it? Is there anything more exciting (for kids and adults) than getting to spend a day at home in your pajamas? It may seem everyday now, but you can totally make a regular old day into something they remember by turning your living space into a daytime slumber party and really embracing not going anywhere.

15. Have a Movie Night - We have started a routine where we have a movie night on Thursdays. We take turns picking, so they can have their Wall-E and Pokemon, and I can start putting cool stuff in front of them (the dream is that they leave our house with lots of great classic movies under their belt). By Thursday, we are spent, and it makes the night easy, connected, and exciting without much effort.   

 Even if you don't keep it in the warmer, brighter months a weekly movie night can be a blast. Bonus points for popcorn or doing a theme, but really, they will be excited either way.

16. Play Some Board Games- Even as little as 4, my bubs love games. Our first favorites were Feed the Woozle, Uno Attack, and Hoot Owl Hoot. We are branching out now into card games like Go Fish and War, which wouldn't require a new purchase. For older kids, you could play Rummy or Splendor. Some games might be available at your local library or your local Buy Nothing group, so ask around. Even your friends might be ready for a game swap. 

17. Do a Puzzle- Does anyone else remember doing big puzzles with their family? If you have the space (and no tiny people who might eat the pieces), you could set it up on a card table in a corner somewhere and people could keep returning to it. So simple, but depending on your kid, it might be just what you need. 

18. Make Dinner all Together - If you don't have anywhere to go anyway, why not make it a cooking night for everyone? Our new thing is to give each kid a night to pick what we eat, but they also have to help making it. It's a nice way to give them some control in their world, because right now they have so little. 

 Start with simple things like pancake batter they can help mix or pizzas they can put all the ingredients on. My kids also love making breads (for real) or "soup" with all of the scraps that will head into the green waste.

You can come up with your own list to try, or if you want a kid-friendly recipe book, we absolutely love America's Test Kitchen recipe books for kids. We also LOVE RadDish for kids, and you can get lots of free ideas and recipes on their website

19. Bake Some Cookies- Totally new to making things in the kitchen with your kids? Start with cookies. It's pretty hard to resist. If you don't particularly want a house full of treats, pick someone to give them to and deliver them together.

20. Clean Out Some Toys- This sounds crazy, but if your kids seem to just throw things everywhere and not actually play with anything, take most of the toys away. You don't have to give them all away (though wouldn't that be nice)- just put them in storage! If you only have 5-10 toys per kid out to be played with, you will be shocked with all the new creative ways they come up to use the toys they already have. 

21. Treat your Delivery People- The most fun thing we have done this winter is set up a treat box for everyone who makes deliveries. We took a plastic tub and filled it with individually wrapped treats like Reese's cups, milano cookies, and pretzels. We made signs to thank them and offer them snacks. Honestly, when we made it, I was concerned no one would take anything and the kids would get disappointed, but we are getting refills a month into the experiment! It's nice to put a little positivity out in the world, and the kids love to check and see how the box is doing. 

22. Have a Hot Chocolate or Cider Party- It can be just your household, but the build up to the treat can be just as fun as the party (especially if you are making decorations or treats or a new elaborate game board to play with it). We also did an (online) hot chocolate paint and sip, and that was super fun. I bet youtube has some to try. 

23. Write Letters and Postcards- You know who else is having a weird and depressing winter? EVERYONE. So this could be the perfect time to make your own postcards, practice writing letters, and get creative sending love through the mail. Who doesn't love getting mail!?

24. Use Youtube to your Advantage - Everyone knows that kids with youtube is a tricky business, but there are some cool ways to use it in the quarantine if you are near them. My favorites have been Mo Willems drawing classes, marble runs and Rube Goldberg machines, and visiting museums remotely. We also really love watching old musical numbers with the Nicholas Brothers or Fred Astaire. You can't just let it go, but there are some cool things out there. If that's too scary, nature documentaries from Disney + were also huge hits. 

Stay Moving Inside

Cabin fever with little kids is oh so real. If outside time absolutely cannot happen, you can still think of ways to get some wiggles out with intention, rather than letting that craziness spill over everywhere. 

25. Play an Epic Game of Hide and Seek -  It seems so basic, but just starting a game of hide and seek can be super fun, and it gives you a chance to clean a little while you count and look. If you have more than one kid, sardines is a super fun option; one person hides, then everyone else looks. When you find the person hiding, you hide with them, until everyone is squished into their hiding space. 

26. Floor is Lava - My kids are currently obsessed with the game Floor is Lava, partially thanks to the song by the Kaboomers. We even watched one episode of the show on Netflix. If you are at an absolute loss, a game of Floor is Lava can be a fun way to get everyone moving without much effort or preparation. 

27. Embrace Cosmic Kids - It's quarantine, so it's required we all dye our hair a crazy color and start doing yoga with Jamie. In all seriousness, she is a great resource, and my kids get excited about her, because she is usually the only screen time they get in the course of a day. It's fun months in to see they are actually getting better too!

28. Make a Race Track (or a "laser maze" with yarn)- I used painters tape to make a race track in our basement. When they were nuts, they could go run laps while they "raced." Don't have a basement space? I have also seen "lazer mazes" made with yarn, where kids have to get through a hall without touching yarn spread all over the place. All you need is yarn and some painters tape (and maybe a hall to move through). I love this for small spaces. To make the most of the set-up (and stretch out the time), you could take slow motion videos of them doing it. 

29. Build a Blanket Fort- Ok, who hasn't done this already? If this feels like retread, think about putting a spin on it- could you do a fort competition? Make a castle instead? Build a maze? It is such a simple win, and can keep everybody busy and moving for days of play. 

30. Stage a Serious Dance Party (Freeze Dance) - At a loss? Turn some music on and just dance. If you don't already have go to's- Freeze dance by the Kaboomers is a good one for little kids, and they have about a million variations. The most important thing is that everybody works some wiggles out and gets moving. 

31. Balloon Volleyball (don't let the ball hit the floor)
- It sounds crazy, but sometimes all you need is one balloon for days of fun. We just play "Don't Let the Balloon Touch the Floor" and count how many hits we get in before it falls. Sometimes, simple just works. 

32. Blow Up the Air Mattress and Let Them Jump - I have heard lot of people are buying trampolines or bouncy houses. You don't have to spend that money if you already have an air mattress for guests. Blow it up in the living room and let them jump for a while. It could even become a special thing you do on Wednesdays to jump over the hump or something. We have done this a few times, and it was a big hit. 

Get out for an Adventure (No, Really!)

The way the world is now, it can be intimidating (and unsafe) to get out of the house, but there are still ways to move out into world while maintaining strict social distancing or not seeing anyone at all. 

33. Pick up (LOTS) of Litter- I know it's important for me to teach my kids to serve others, but that can be so hard to do right now! But one thing we can all do is to practice cleaning up the world around us when we are out for those socially distanced walks. It's as simple as bringing a trash bag with you when you go out for walks, but you can also make a bigger deal out of it and go somewhere that you know needs major help. If you live in the city or somewhere with sharps, having a grabber like this can keep things safe AND kids get super excited about them. It could just be one of the things they remember from this period. 

34. Take a Camera and Let Them Take Pictures - Have an old digital camera? That's really all you need to make a regular old walk feel like an adventure. Our kids love documenting what they see. You could also go to outdoor places nearby that might be busy in normal times, but are pretty slow now. 

35. Check out some Wintery Books at the Library- Our libraries aren't open to visit, but you can check out books. School libraries are open. You could find books that talk about winter in your area and then go looking for the things you read about.  

36. Volunteer to Plant Some Trees- Some local groups that plant trees and take care of the green spaces in our city have reopened. The events are super small, but allow you to get out and do something good! If there isn't an organized effort to plant trees or pull weeds where you are, you could organize something little too!

37. Check out Public Art (Or Make Your Own)- I miss museums, and I can't wait until they open, but they aren't the only place to go see art! Almost every community has some public art in it- go check it out! In Seattle, you can check out the Olympic Sculpture Garden, go on a hunt for Henry murals, or see the Michael Heizer down by the waterfront. Where you are has choices too!

38. Go Swimming - My biggest win this winter was booking family swims at the boys' swim school. That time was so fun even though it was just our little famiy, and something similar might be available where you are. Going to free swims with lots of people doesn't make much sense right now, but there might be private options out there that are not too expensive for a big treat. I have also seen this for rock climbing walls!

39. Go Big and Get an Airbnb- Ok, this obviously isn't an all the time sort of thing, but if you are desperate to get out of the house, maybe a weekend at an air bnb would be just the ticket! Air bnbs are great, because you don't actually have to see anyone. Maybe check out something within a few hours drive, and just enjoy being somewhere else!

Making the Most out of Winter Holidays

All the December busy times, from Solstice to Hannukah to Christmas, makes December pass by quickly. Then, January happens. Even if January and February holidays are relatively chill, giving them some enthusiasm can really add some highlights and memories to your winter months.

40. Make Valentines- Rather than buying this year, work ahead and make valentines together. You could even do extra and send them to all that family you missed! If you want lots of Valentines ideas for the year, check out this post. 

41. Learn about Chinese New Year- This year, Chinese New Years is on February 12.  If it isn't your culture, it might be a fun year to read up about it and learn more about the holiday. 

42. Celebrate Martin Luther King Day with Anti-Racist Commitment from your Family- Many of his speeches are on youtube, and you can find great books about it as well (my favorites are If a Bus Could Talk and A Place to Land). If you want to talk about concrete, standing up for people things, Say Something by Peter Reynolds is my absolute favorite for that. 

 I know in my family this year, I am trying to really focus on the fact that this is still happening and we still need to be involved to help realize Martin Luther King Jr's dream. I am steering away from things that blandly talk about peace or brotherhood, and focusing on the real issues of racism and injustice. We usually volunteer that day, so we have to figure out what we will do with that time. Some ideas: 

- Go pick up litter
- Plant trees
-Raise Money for Black Lives Matter (get political! MLK was political!)
- Get out your sidewalk chalk and decorate the neighborhood 

43. Embrace Some Silly Holidays- Sandra Boyton has a super fun calendar of silly holidays, but she also posts them on her Facebook page. We learned how to write our names in morse code, kissed ginger, and talked about hypnosis so far. It can be a simple way to add something "special" to the day! 

Winter Art

If you are stuck inside, it's the perfect time to make some art! You can use what you have, and you don't even have to have a project in mind, but if you do need a little direction, these are some of my favorite ideas. 

44. Make Snowflakes- There are tons of snow-related crafts out there, but here are three of my favorites: 

Oil Pastel and Watercolor Resists from Kitchen Table Classroom
Beaded Snowflake Ornaments from Early Learning Ideas
Snowflake Tin Foil Prints from The Pinterested Parent

45. Transform a Holiday Box- I know we can't be the only family with a stash of boxes come January. Rather than just tossing them, turn them into cardboard art! If you have them, oil pastels work great on cardboard. If not, get out a bunch of markers and stickers and make a day of it. Even toddlers can do pretty well playing inside a box. 

Want some inspiration? ArtBar blog is just awesome, and it has tons of carboard projects for if you are feeling fancy. 

46. Make Some Frosty Treats - You may not think of this as a time for frozen treats, but it can be a fun time to try making all sorts of popsicles. Try snow cones or smoothies! It can be a fun switch to just embrace the cold, and you can use juice and what fruit is available to try new flavors and ideas. We use (and use and use and use) a simple set of silicone molds like these, but there are tons of options out there, including these metal ones

47. Paint some Planets with Shaving Cream- Marbling with shaving cream is a super fun project to try- kids are always impressed with the results! We did this (with a 3 year old and 1 year old) with paper plates and a piece of cardboard we painted black. We had a shiny marker to add stars, and it really worked. 

If you have never tried this craft before, you can read how to marble paper on this post from Crafty Morning. 

48. Spray Some Paint - Save up your cleaning spray bottles (we reuse 4 year old method bottles since we started making our own cleaner) or you can buy spray bottles. Fill it up with food coloring and water. I think 1 part dye to 3 parts water worked for me, but you can play with ratio. Go outside and spray the snow when it comes. 

Our kids have so much fun doing this that they won't go inside until all of the colors are gone. My only warning is to not do too much red, or your yard ends up looking like a beautiful winter murder scene. 

49. Build a Snowman- Even if you live in an area with no snow, you can celebrate the winter by making a snowman! My favorite snowman craft is this paper chain snowman- it doesn't have to be a countdown to anything, but you could do it that way if you want! 

50. Make a Bird feeder (and Watch it Go to Use) - We just tried this... and honestly we failed, so I am going to not recommend the recipe we tried. One of the more successful versions I have seen is with peanut butter and a pinecone, but if you are looking for something prettier, these birdseed cookies from Creative Little Explorers look great. I also think this toilet paper roll version from  Fireflies and Mud Pies looks like a great reuse project. 

51. Play dough! Making your own is supposedly simple, though I have definitely failed at it. If you have never tried making it yourself before, this seems like the perfect season to try. This is the recipe I mostly hear people recommend. It's definitely worth trying, and I can say from experience that even failing is fun! 

52. Beads- It's amazing how much even small kids love beads (just not so small that they will eat the beads). For smaller kids, you can really help their motor skills- starting with beads on pipe cleaner can help keep thing steady. A baking pan can help keep the beads off the floor. Once kids are a little bigger, you can get creative and start making bead animals too! 

Read and Learn! 

It's the perfect time to cuddle up with a good book, so here are some of our favorite books for Winter learning: 

Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring (great for late winter, and looking for signs of spring coming)
Blue Hat, Green Hat - Our favorite Boynton, a fun way to talk about getting bundled and wearing the right clothes for the weather. 

So what has been working for you this winter? How are you staying busy and creative? 

50 Fun Things to Do with your Kids this Winter in Quarantine (That Don't Require Buying Anything)

50 Fun Things to Do with your Kids this Winter in Quarantine (That Don't Require Buying Anything)

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