How to Keep the Kids Busy When They Can’t Play Outside-MainPhoto

How to Keep the Kids Busy When They Can’t Play Outside-MainPhoto

Like to take quizzes? Try this one:

When it’s too cold for my children to play outside, I:
a) Let them watch unlimited television and videos
b) Organize a marathon session of board games
c) Force them to clean their rooms
d) Lock myself in the bedroom with 2 seasons of Downton Abbey and a bottle of merlot

And the correct answer is, well, not d.

The holidays were wonderful, weren’t they? The kids were excited about Christmas and family visits. You had the opportunity to make cookies together and decorate the house with handmade paper chains and you have all the photos to prove it. Then vacation was over and the kids went back to school.

Read Related: 5 Family-Friendly Winter Activities

Days later, the winter weather—ice storms, snow and sub-zero temperatures—set in, closing schools and making it too dangerous for the kids to be outside longer than it takes to go from the car to the front door. With a bit of planning and clever use of supplies on hand, you should be able to keep the kids from fighting and the house from needing a makeover when winter strikes with a vengeance.

You know the bad weather is coming; the TV weather reporters are outdoing each other with tales of armageddon. As frantic shoppers elbow each other stocking up on bread, milk, and toilet paper, make a run to the discount stores and stock up on supplies of your own. Depending on the age of your kids, a few simple toys can buy hours of activity. For the cost of coloring books and a new box of crayons, you can buy some contentment, if not silence. Older kids might like a model kit or a craft kit. And there’s always bottled bubbles. They don’t stain and in a place like a warm basement, they provide quiet fun.

If the basement is warm enough, and the kids are small enough, dig out the plastic swimming pool from last summer, fill it with warm water and turn the basement into an indoor pool. You can’t hurt the concrete floor. When the water gets cold, hand out chalk and let the kids get creative. Or hand out paint brushes and buckets of water and let the kids “paint” the walls.

If the weather caught you unprepared and the weathercasters are scrambling to explain how none of their sophisticated systems forecast the catastrophe outside the front door, make do with supplies on hand.

  • Hand out rolls of toilet paper (assuming you stocked up) and let the kids wrap each other into suits of armor or princess dresses and be sure to take photos. Find the recipe for homemade play dough and have at it. Bake the items till they harden, and then mix together flour, water and food coloring for paint. It’s sloppy but fun.

  • Let the kids fix dinner, with help of course. You’ve got to cook anyway, you might as well get them involved. Little kids can snap the ends off green beans. Older kids can use a knife to slice carrots. Have them help you make biscuits for dinner. They might not be uniformly shaped but it’s  guaranteed, your kids will never have any that taste better.

  • Dust off the board games and play a round. Older kids will tire of Chutes and Ladders but they can put up with it for a half hour to entertain younger siblings, giving you time to fold laundry or make a phone call.

  • Let your kids have a room and close your eyes to what happens there. It’s only one day, or two at the most that you’ll have to shut off the door to hide the mess. Let them set up a blanket tent, hand over a “camp” lunch and remember you can clean up once the school reopens.


  • Hit the library. You may have to explain to your kids that before iPads and e-readers, the library was how one acquired reading material. If you don’t have a card, sign everyone up. Find out when the toddler book time is. Let everyone check out a few books and once home, let everyone chose a “secret” place to read. You might find them reading in the closet by flashlight or on a nest of pillows on the floor of the family room.

  • Hit the mall. Many malls have a “children’s playground” for toddlers to run off steam. After an hour of that, treat everyone to ice cream before heading home. You might even have the chance to speak in complete sentences to people your own age.

  • When all else fails, pop a bowl of popcorn, grab the snuggly blankets and park on the couch with a G-rated movie you can all enjoy. One day of video saturation is not going to turn their brains to mush.

Relax and enjoy the time with your kids. There’ll be time to clean up the house and get things back on schedule when the weather lets up. Before you know it, they’ll be off to college and on to their own lives, where they can complain about how their kids are stuck inside and driving them nuts.