When rain or snow puts a damper on playing outside and cabin fever is driving everyone bonkers, these quick play-and-pretend ideas will keep kids occupied and happy for hours:
Put on a Show With Homemade Puppets
We've all created puppets out of cotton socks, paper bags, markers, and a handful of buttons. But kids can get really creative with a cool grab-bag of puppetry accessories that you gather and store in a special Puppet Box. As you're cleaning the house or shopping at grocery, thrift, or dollar stores, keep an eye out for fun adornments for homemade puppets.
Collect and buy: glitter, dried beans, sequins, tinsel, pipe cleaners, string, ribbons, yarn, buttons and appliques, holiday decorations, stickers, seashells, etc. (beware of small objects, though, that could pose a choking hazard for small children).
Also keep your Puppet Box stocked with must-have items like glue, scissors, washable markers, Popsicle sticks, and a needle and thread (when sewing, supervise young kids or do sewing projects yourself). Also, keep a few small cardboard boxes — folded and flattened for easy storage — to cut out and color for nifty background scenes and props.
Build a Fort
Get out some old sheets, blankets, or comforters and drape them over the living or dining room furniture. (Be extra careful around breakable and valuable items.) Use ribbons from your sewing kit, or hair scrunchies and hair ties to secure the bottoms of the fabrics to chairs and tables.
Have kids create a secret password that allows outsiders (e.g., Mom and Dad, siblings) into the private hideaway. Give your kid a battery-operated camping lantern, sleeping bags, camping-themed books, and flashlights for that added outdoorsy appeal.
Create a Rainy-Day Dress-Up Chest
Keep an eye out for interesting old clothes items and accessories around the house, on discount racks, and at dollar stores or thrift shops. Stock up on scarves, funky hats (cowboy hats, sombreros, team baseball caps, construction hard hats, etc.), costume jewelry, shoes (adults' and kids'), shirts (oversized white shirts for doctors' lab coats, Hawaiian shirts for a luau, etc.), dresses, skirts, and jackets. Collect any piece of clothing or accessory that could lend itself to make-believe.
Put the items in a sturdy plastic storage bin or cardboard box. Then pull out the dress-up chest for plenty of imagination-powered entertainment during rainy or super-snowy days.
Make Thank-You Gifts
Kids often like to thank their caregivers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, babysitters, neighbors, and childcare workers. Bake a few batches of cookies that your child can lovingly decorate and wrap with colored plastic wrap and ribbons; or create thank-you cards on regular old printer paper or construction paper. Add special glued-on adornments like family photos, ribbons, glitter, and buttons (again, beware of small objects that could pose choking hazards for babies and toddlers).
Help improve kids' spelling and letter identification skills by letting them type and print out their own messages in fancy fonts on the computer. Instead of doing crafts just to get through the day, this project will help kids feel like their time and efforts are being spent on a greater purpose — giving to someone they care about.