6 ways to keep young children busy (and happy) indoors

Published on Wednesday, 21 October 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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Under-fives have energy to burn, and if you’re not able to let your child loose because of wet weather or work-from-home constraints, then don’t worry. There are lots of cheap, cheerful and uncomplicated ways to get young children moving indoors.

Here are 6 inside activities to start with:

  1. Blow up some balloons

Balloons provide floaty fun on the run and they make even the dreariest day feel like a party!

A classically popular balloon game involves your child trying to keep their balloon up in the air for as long as possible, or hitting it back and forth to a partner without letting it touch the ground, but you can also:

  • Place a small balloon between their knees and see how far they can ‘penguin waddle’ without dropping or bursting it.
  • Launch a game of single-player volleyball, which involves your child hitting a balloon over a chair, then racing to the other side to hit it back, seeing how many times they can keep the rally going.
  • Set up an obstacle course with toys and furniture, then challenge your child to get down low and blow, blow, blow their balloon from one end to the other.
  • Hand your child an empty paper towel roll and see if they can bat the balloon into a laundry basket. Alternatively, forget the bat and see if they can kick it from a start line to a finish line.
  1. Set up a tape shape game

To combine learning and laughs, grab a roll of painter’s tape (the kind that won’t leave sticky bits behind), clear some floorspace, and tape a variety of shapes and letters onto your timber boards or tiles (e.g. a triangle, diamond, rectangle, square, A, X and T).

Once the DIY game board is ready, give your child some fun instructions to follow, like ‘Crawl to the X’, ‘Bunny hop to the diamond’, ‘Slither to the triangle,’ ‘Race to the rectangle’ and so on.

You can think up new challenges as they go, and there’s also the option of adding some easy-to-tape numbers to the mix (e.g. 1, 7, 2 and 4).

  1. Read a book (a little bit differently)

To make storytime more active, choose a book that has a lot of repetition, like The Magic Beach by Alison Lester or Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss. Settle on a ‘magic’ word (one that’s repeated a lot in the story, like ‘beach’ or ‘green’) and challenge your child to stand up and sit down every time they hear the word!

      4. Weave a child-sized web

One fun idea is to criss-cross lengths of painter’s tape across the top half of a doorframe or hallway to make a web. Once the tangle of tape is ready, work together crumpling bits of newspaper into ‘spider’ balls, then challenge your child to throw their spiders at the web and make them stick.

Alternatively, you can weave a 3-D web with lengths of crepe paper overlapped all the way down the hall. Stick them high and low (with painter’s tape or Blu-tack), then dare your child to get from one end of the hall to the other without dislodging or tearing any strips.

  1. Teach a crab to carry

To bring the seaside inside, show your child how to walk like a crab (with their feet and hands on the floor and their tummy facing the ceiling). Once they’ve mastered this move, get your little one to balance a small toy, beanbag or block on their stomach and crab walk it to a toy box or other spot in their room. And repeat. 

  1. Set up a scavenger hunt

An indoor scavenger hunt will turn your humble home into an excellent adventure, and there are lots of ideas here.

How can you protect your young child’s mental health when times get tough?

The above activities will make even the most house-bound child feel smiley and free, but we can’t escape the fact that this year’s pandemic has left many under-fives feeling cooped up and off kilter.

Changes to child care routines, parents’ work and the world at large have been felt by little ones, and although they might not vocalise these feelings clearly, babies, toddlers and young children need support to navigate challenges like COVID-19.

In recognition of this, an Australian early parenting support organisation called Tweddle has identified the ‘6 Rs’ as a way of ‘scaffolding’ young children to get through stressful times.

Here are the 6 Rs – or protective factors – that Tweddle recommends:

  1. Routine

    Although flexibility is important, Tweddle says that, ‘Routines help babies, toddlers and other family members cope with stress and feel safe and cared for.’ These daily rituals can also strengthen family relationships.

    Reading a bedtime story or walking the dog together are two examples of positive routines, and play also helps littles ones to develop trust, understand different feelings and, ‘Learn that the world can be safe, consistent and predictable.’
  1. Resources
    Tweddle says that ‘feeling resourced’ in challenging times can help families feel more hopeful and less anxious, and this means feeling connected with family, friends, the community, services and resources.

    Young children pick up on grown-ups’ stress, so you can ease your mind, and theirs, by putting together a resources list to turn to as needed. This might include a list of people you can call if you’re feeling stressed, mindfulness meditation apps like Smiling Mind, and online parenting groups you can engage with.
  2. Regulation

    During uncertain times, it’s especially important to regulate your own feelings and help your young child manage theirs.

    Tweddle recommends that you respond to your child’s emotions calmly and consistently to help them develop resilience, and encourage them to share their feelings so they learn how to identify and manage their emotions (e.g. learning to breathe deeply to regulate their worry or anger).
  1. Reassurance

    You can make your child feel safe by reminding them that everything will be ok and that certain things (like handwashing or staying home) will help things go back to normal as soon as possible.
  1. Recognise emotions

    Stressful times, like the current pandemic, make many of us feel scared, anxious or stressed, but Tweddle urges us to remember to observe our emotions, ‘With non-judgmental curiosity’.

    This means trying to:
  • Set boundaries for yourself (e.g. between parenting, work, chores and your relationship)
  • Distance yourself from the feeling
  • Remind yourself that it will pass, and
  • Get support from family, friends or a mental health professional if needed.
  1. Resilience

    Resilience helps people to cope when things go wrong and overcome unexpected challenges.

    Your young child takes cues from you, so you can teach resilience by showing them that things don’t always go to plan, but you can recover, try again and things will be alright. Your child can also learn resilience through play (e.g. they might cry when a block tower falls down but learn that it can be happily rebuilt).

This is all sound advice as life continues to throw us curve balls, and we hope that your under five can burn off some energy and navigate any negative feelings with the 6 As (activities) and the 6 Rs.

Additional references

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