Having kids can be the most joy-filled experience…but there can also be harrowing moments that test every ounce of your patience. Perhaps one of the hardest-fought battles is keeping your kids happy when you have to stay inside.

The good news is that for kids of any age, there are ways to keep their creative juices flowing and your sanity intact without only resorting to screen time (although if you use the right screens, there are benefits here for limited amounts of time).

As a mom of three kids ranging from age four-and-a-half down to five months, I’ve had to get creative to keep the older children happy indoors while also tending to the needs of the baby, getting my own work done, or otherwise rescuing the house from the constant flurry of clutter and mayhem.

These are the best ways I’ve found to keep kids entertained, while also secretly educating them or enriching their imagination and prompting them to continue in their creative development.

Books and Reading
Before you skip over this category because your kid isn’t a reader, don’t give up so quickly. There are so many ways to incorporate reading and books into your child’s free or school time that can appeal to even the most book-hating child or those who struggle with actually just sitting still long enough to turn the pages.

Audiobooks count as reading, as do the read-along apps that read books to your children. If you need to get work done, there’s nothing wrong with having your child get some alternative book time in.

You can get children’s books on Audible, Apple Books, and any other subscription-based audiobook site. If your child is of a pre-reading age, there are apps (like MeeGenius or Farfaria) that will read books to your children in interactive ways. Not only will they hear a story, but these apps will help your children recognize sight words and learn to integrate sustained storytime patience into their routine. It’s like going to storytime at your library but from the couch. While in-person storytime might be ideal, this will work in a pinch.

If your child does love reading good old-fashioned hard copy books, add some excitement to your home library by subscribing to Literati, a children’s book club that is divided into age-specific categories. I’ve subscribed to this for my two older children for a few years, and the books we’ve received from Literati have been some of our all-time favorites.

Household Treasure Hunt
If it’s raining outside or you don’t have a backyard, you can repurpose any space in your home for a treasure hunt. This works well for kids ages four and older, and you can even integrate house-cleaning into the search.

Let’s say your four-year-old wants to go on a hunt for buried treasure. Your map would take him or her through several rooms of the house, looking for clues that result in finding the treasure at the end. Your clues can include things like going to the unmatched sock bin and pairing them until coming across the next clue. After that, they are directed to the playroom where all of the books need to be put on the shelf to reveal the next clue, and so on. While children who aren’t truly bored may see through your house-cleaning treasure hunt scheme, others may find it great fun, like my four-year-old who thinks that sock matching and dusting are fun activities for rainy days.

Coloring and Art
Coloring books get a makeover in the form of apps, downloadable pages from numerous educational sites, and more. If you can’t get to Target to get new coloring books, fear not, these resources will give your kids endless items to color:

  • Free coloring pages from Crayola
  • Free coloring book from Lessonly

You can also repurpose any amount of home items for craft projects. Consider just how desperate you are — and how in need of fresh activities your kids are:

  • Make hats from foil
  • Make hardboiled eggs and dye them with home ingredients, even if it’s not Easter!
  • Dry erase markers on big windows or glass doors (wipeable with a clean cotton rag)
  • Chalkboard paint on a board or wall to make sidewalk chalk indoor-friendly

Times of limitation and being “stuck” inside can become your child’s greatest creative time if they’re given the tools — and the nudge — to make something new.

School isn’t just for weekdays or business hours. If you’re new to schooling-at-home or need to keep a child’s brain engaged, there are many ways to incorporate education that don’t require you to stand over them 24/7 or reading from boring lesson plans, and that can be done at any time of the day. Children are primed for constantly learning new things in their brains and the kicker is that this can be done in creative ways so that they don’t even feel like they’re being schooled.

Get a free trial of Other Goose activities, which offers non-traditional homeschooling ideas for even the busiest of parents. Utilize educational apps like Endless Reader, Endless Alphabet, and Endless Numbers for children ages two and older. They’ll learn the alphabet, sight words, and counting in fun ways that don’t seem educational at all.

And of course, there’s nothing wrong with some TV time, as needed, and it gets even better when you can choose shows that teach your child something new while they’re also entertained. Shows like Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger are educational, of course, but they can also learn from lesser-known shows like Little Baby Bum, Word Party, and CocoMelon, all available on Netflix (which now has more robust parental controls).

Playing Pretend
Perhaps the best of all, kids can make-believe and play pretend with very little — and often they need little or no prompting from us. In some cases, all they need is to be told that screen time is done for now, and it’s time to change activities. This is usually prompted when they’ve started fighting over the same toys or are generally restless and demanding that I entertain them.

They’ve created a diner out of a few cardboard boxes and some spatulas I gave them from the kitchen. They’ve driven cars by using round paper plates and sitting on the couch. They’ve gone to space by climbing into laundry baskets. Most of these pretend play times happened as they scavenged the items themselves, and all I had to do was say sure, you can have the empty laundry basket, or yes, I will give you some plates.

In times of stress or routine disruption, children may struggle more with creativity because they lack a sense of control that makes them feel safe. Having a routine at home — including one where they are allowed to be bored for awhile — will get their creative juices flowing again and inspire them to make the best of the situation. After all, kids’ brains are wired to do this better than adults — we just need to let them.

Writer Aimee McNew has a Master’s in Holistic Nutrition Therapy (MNT) and is also a Certified Practitioner of Nutrition Therapy (CNTP). Read her posts on nutrition and wellness at https://www.aimeemcnew.com/.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.