By: Laura Basi, PT, MPT
With the cold winter weather and limited ability to participate in many activities due to COVID-19, it can feel challenging to continue to find ways to keep children active. Fortunately, with a little creativity and imagination, there are many ways to help your children stay active indoors and have fun while you do!
I have listed the following activities and ideas to give you ideas as a starting point, but remember, some of the most engaging activities are when you place your own twist on them! Nearly all of these activities can be modified to fit your child’s unique needs, and don’t require buying extra toys or supplies. So don’t be afraid to change, break, or make your rules. You may even want to challenge your child to develop their own unique game or activities after taking inspiration from some of these existing ideas!
- The Floor is Lava
There is an actual board game one can purchase with this name, but it’s easy to create your own game with household items. You can create a course across a room or even throughout the house to navigate that has a start and finish with the goal being that you cannot touch the floor (the lava) — creativity wins here. The game can easily be tailored to age/ability level (and parent tolerance for furniture climbing). Try using couch cushions, pillows, toys, and other objects that can be used to jump to and from safely!
- Simple Exercise Training Routine
For elementary school aged kids who like to feel like they’re “training”, a good way to tackle a few exercises for building strength and endurance is by completing a number of reps that match the date. For example, my son Will and I do jumping jacks, squats, sit ups and push ups every day…. 1 of each on the 1st of the month, and build up to 30/31 of each by the 30th/31st of the month…we break them up into smaller sets as the number gets high. Our goal is to complete them all in one day.
- Have a Dance Party
Put on a favorite song and dance/move any way you like to — this appeals to all ages because the kids can choose the songs. To get increased time out of this activity, try setting a timer and announce the family will be dancing for a set amount of time or a certain number of songs- perhaps one song per family member so that everyone gets to choose one. Make it even more fun by hanging up lights (a string of holiday lights works excellent) and otherwise darkening the dance party’s room.
- Play Freeze Dance
For younger children or those with limited endurance, play Freeze Dance. Parents can pause the song at random, at which time everyone dancing must stop in place. Kids 10 and under will find it funny to freeze in silly poses (or see their parents do so!), and the pausing will allow a brief rest break for those that need it. As a bonus, freeze dance works on pairing movement with listening skills and practicing starting/stopping on cue, something that kids with coordination disorders may need extra practice with.
- Movement and Action Songs
For preschoolers, many movement songs can be found on the web. This list here from Preschool Inspirations has many good ones. In addition, on youtube, I like Freeze Dance (The Kiboomers) and Listen and Move (TheKidsCartoons) because they prompt kids to vary their movement (i.e., dance, hop, skip, twirl, tiptoe, gallop, etc.).
- DIY Stationary Bike
For kids who need to practice pedaling for bike riding or for active kids who need to move, a bike with training wheels can be brought inside and transformed into a stationary bicycle. Modify the bike to become stationary by placing the front wheel on a towel and training wheels propped inside a pair of shoes to lift the back wheel enough that it will spin when the child pedals.
- Keep the Balloon Up
Keep the balloon off the floor gets everyone active and can be played solo or as a whole family – for families who enjoy some competition, hang string or yarn across the room as a “net” and play volleyball with the balloon.
- Board Games
Family Board Games that get you moving: Twister, Hullabaloo, Pancake Pile-Up, Floor is Lava
- Minute to Win it
Minute to Win It games are various 60 second challenge games based off the international game show of the same name. The games are engaging and practical because they all utilize everyday objects you probably already have around the house. A quick internet search will result in hundreds of ideas and you can also easily make up your own games for more fun. https://www.familyeducation.com/family-games/our-favorite-minute-to-win-it-games-for-kids
- Prone Scooter Board
For those with a skateboard, clean off the wheels and bring it inside to use as a prone scooter board — have your child lie on the board on their stomach and challenge them to get across the room only using their arms.
- Build a Fort
This one is a classic for a reason. Kids love the process of building forts! This activity encourages creativity and problem solving as kids figure out what materials to use and how to keep the fort from falling apart. Make sure your child takes the lead and participates in the building so that they are lifting, pushing, and pulling pillows, cushions, furniture, blankets, etc., to help create the fort. Modify your level of involvement based on your child’s age and abilities. Just make sure to challenge them to be creative and be active!
- Build an Obstacle Course
Younger children might enjoy turning this into a pretend game of animals in which the course is their animal home. Older children might enjoy acting like ninja warriors on their obstacle course. Be creative and incorporate lots of variety (climbing under, climbing over, jumping down, jumping over, crawling, reaching). Painters tape works great to place lines for walking or jumping over without damaging floors. Use sturdy furniture or objects for stepping/jumping from one area to another.
- Create a Cocoon
For kids who like/need deep pressure input or those who just enjoy pretend play, spread out a bedsheet or beach towel and have the child lie down along one edge as a caterpillar – the child can grasp the edge, or parents can tuck the edge between child’s arm and torso. The child then rolls themselves up in the sheet/towel, turning into a tight “cocoon” with only their head sticking out – they can push against the sides of the towel, imagining they are growing their wings. When ready, they roll in the reverse direction to unroll the sheet/towel and burst out as a new butterfly. This activity can be done on its own or incorporated into other “animal walks.” These walks could include:
- Bear walking (walking on hands, feet, belly, and face down).
- Bunny hopping (small jumps).
- Frog jumps (big hops).
- Crab walking (walking on hands and feet, belly and face up).
- Cosmic Kids Yoga
For kids who enjoy following along with a story, Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube and Amazon (free and subscription based options) is an excellent resource with a LOT of variety in length of time and story content. I recommend this program for children 3 to 8-years-old range who have difficulties with strength, postural control, balance, coordination and motor planning.
- Create a Dance/Gymnastics Routine
Creating a routine can be done solo or works excellent with a sibling set. For extra fun, add in performance clothes, create a “stage” and encourage your kids to put on their show.
- Spray Bottle Activities
For hand strengthening, let kids play with spray bottles and squeeze bottles (could finger paint on the shower wall and then let them spray it off and then wipe it down or spray/squeeze water into cups). You can find countless spray bottle activities here.
- Stuffed Animal Bowling
Set up stuffed animals in a circle around your child and specify which animal the child should knock down. The child will need to turn their body and roll ball to knock down and stuffed animal. A great toddler movement activity!
- Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Child sits in a laundry basket, and caregiver will push the basket or tilt it side to side like they are on a boat. You can do it to the tune of Row, Row, Row, Your Boat or other songs.
I hope these ideas have helped you think of fun activities and games to keep children occupied and active in these unusual times. Remember that with a little creativity and imagination, the possibilities are endless! For more information on physical therapy services at Easterseals, visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/physical-therapy.html.