One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a teacher and a homeschooler is to have spur-of-the-moment activities in my mental back pocket when
- plans change
- co-op classes get canceled
- we're having a bad day
- a sunny day activity is ruined by rain
When our best-laid plans are derailed, these sanity-savers come to the rescue! We all need a handful of fun, engaging activities that don’t require a trip to the store or a lot of prep. Here are some of my favorites of save-the-day (and your sanity) activities using stuff you probably already have on hand!
1. Egg Drop Challenge
Got eggs and a bulging recycling bin? Your kids can do an egg drop challenge.
My children love this activity. The object is to build a vessel that will keep an egg safe on its journey from somewhere high (dropped from a raised deck or from a two-story window) to the ground. Using items in the recycling bin or everyday house items, kids can create all sorts of containers. Once they do, the next step is to release them from somewhere up high and then see whose egg made it!
2. Salt Dough
Another favorite in our home, salt dough is super simple to make and can be used to form most anything. Your kids can make beads, ornaments, handprints, favorite scenes from stories, relief maps, or science models.
Making it is half the fun. Here’s how.
- The basic recipe is 2 cups of flour, I cup salt, and 1 - 1½ cups water.
- Add the dry ingredients and then slowly add the water.
- Once combined, knead the dough and then let it rest for the time it takes to wipe up all the spilled salt and flour.
- Roll out the dough and use cookie cutters or give kids a hunk of dough and let them create.
- Once their creations are complete, bake them at 250° until dry or for about 2 hours.
- Once cool, kids can paint their artwork.
3. Bird Feeders
There are so many ways to make bird feeders! Empty milk or juice cartons, toilet paper rolls, half an orange or apple—all you need is a place to put bird food and means to hold it.
If you don’t already know what birds like to visit your area, a quick search can tell you. Find out what foods the birds you’re hoping to attract like. You don’t have to only put out birdseed. For instance, Baltimore orioles love jam. A half an orange, a little string, and a glob of jam, and you’ve got a sweet feeder. One cup of water and ¼ cup of sugar stirred together is all you need to make hummingbird food.
A couple of bird feeder building tips:
- Make sure to use nut butter, not glue, to stick food onto your feeders.
- Help kids hang feeders high enough that cats can’t get the birds while they eat.
- If the food starts to rot, remove it so the birds don’t get sick.
4. All About the Senses
Another fun activity that requires little prep or planning invites kids to tap into their senses. All you need is your spice rack and the food you already have on hand. Have kids close their eyes or put on blindfolds.
- To investigate their sense of smell, hold jars of spices under their nose.
- Put little drops of things like lemon juice or chocolate syrup on their tongues.
- Got any cold, cooked spaghetti noodles? Have them put their hands into the bowl.
Super silly and sometimes gross, you’ll all be laughing in no time! After each test, have kids write down their answers. It’s fun to see what they come up with and see who has the savviest nose, tastebuds, and sense of touch.
5. Nature Shadowbox
Kids love to explore nature, so why not encourage it with a craft? Gather a small box or wooden tray and some glue. Have kids collect their treasures, new and old, and glue them into the box.
Our shadow boxes include things like shells, pinecones, and feathers. We also have a box filled will dead bugs. (I say a nature shadowbox is better than having all these nature collectibles left around my living room!) These treasures have sparked many a conversation and lead to a lot of research.
6. Scavenger Hunt
Another fun way to play outside is to hold a scavenger hunt. Make a list of things for your kids to find. The list might include things of a certain color or texture. It might be a specific flower, insect, or tree. Kids can draw what they find, take a picture, or simply check off each item. This is a fun activity to do in your backyard or take with you on a hike.
7. Car Wash
My children, 14 and 10, were recently having a "I’m bored" day. On a whim, I mentioned they could wash the cars. You’d think I had invented the best game ever. Maybe they were really bored (we have been quarantining for a while), but I think it was fun mostly because it was something new, involved soap suds, and they got to spray each other.
8. Fairy Garden
One of our go-to activities every spring is to make a fairy garden. No need to go and buy expensive fairy houses; you already have everything you need. Empty flower pots turned on their sides become homes. Sticks become gates. Moss is grass. Wine bottle corks are seats, and flowers are, well, flowers.
Fairies can eat out of acorn tops and sleep on a bed of leaves. Your kids can also make all sorts of fairy furniture with sticks and a glue gun.
9. Obstacle Course
Kids need movement! An obstacle course, made from everyday items in your yard or house, is the perfect way to get kids moving! Have them use chairs, cups, balls, sticks—whatever you have on hand—to create a twisty path.
Maybe they have to shoot a ball through a goal or hula hoop a few times. You can include things like bubbles, chalk, bikes, and swing sets too. Kids will have as much fun setting up the course as they do running through it.
10. Garden Critters
I love walking through my yard and seeing all the beautiful veggies and flowers, but my favorite things to see are the handmade signs, fairy doors, and critters my children and I have made together. Rocks and paint become ladybugs, bumblebees, a reminder that a plant is called chocolate mint. My kids and I have put our creations into planters, along our walkway, and hidden them in rock walls. Another idea is to draw or write treasures for others to find. Hide your rocks in parks or along trails. People will be thrilled to discover them.
Sanity-savers do just that: They save us when we need a break! As a bonus, each activity above is filled with lessons! Physics, art, biology, storytelling, life skills—our kids can learn a lot, even when we pull an activity out of our back pocket to save the day from disaster or boredom.
About the Author
Kelly left teaching middle and high school English to homeschool her children and reclaim how she and her family spent their time. Followers of interest-led learning, her family's days rarely look the same, but they tend to include a lot of books, art supplies, and time outside.
Kelly facilitates local writing circles for women and children and blogs about nurturing the love of learning on her blog, Curiosity Encouraged. She loves to journal, read memoirs, hike, and travel. She seeks quiet mornings and good coffee daily.