Got cabin fever? Try out our favorite indoor activities for kids that will keep them active and happy, even in the cold winter months.
I should probably disclose right from the start that our house does NOT have a “no running” rule. If you feel strongly about that rule, some of these activities may not work for your family. However, come January when you’ve all been cooped up inside for a few months, you may reconsider. I know I did.
Winter is hard for me. I grew up in California where we thought 50 degrees was cold. Even in winter, I could go outside and ride bikes or play on a playground, and my mom made sure to shoo me outside regularly to make sure I got my wiggles out.
Now I live in Utah where we get days where the highs are in the teens or twenties , and I really can’t take my kids out to play (I know you Alaska people are chuckling right now). I’m all for bundling up and playing outside even on cold days, but with a toddler who refuses to wear gloves and an inversion that makes the air quality really bad, we don’t last very long. So despite trying to embrace the fun of sledding and snowman building, I’m still left with many hours a day inside with extremely energetic children.
The importance of exercising
Now, I’m never going to be on the front of the Wheaties box for my excellent fitness and dedication to working out on a regular basis. However, I know how much better I feel when I get moving each day, rather than being a blob on the couch.
My kids are the same way. They don’t know how to express it, but they are much happier when they have been active during the day. They eat bigger meals (and are too busy to snack all day), they go to sleep better at night, and they are calmer during the day. Exercise also helps them to keep building muscles as their bodies grow (so fast!), and they get to practice a variety of important gross motor skills. Read more about the benefits of exercise in kids here.
The problem with winter
In the summer, getting exercise is easy. We go on walks in our neighborhood and hikes in the nearby mountains; we play soccer and tag in the backyard; we play in the sprinklers and throw water balloons at each other. We move all the time as a part of our natural play.
But in the winter… it gets tricky. My boys still love to run and move in the winter time, and if left to their own devices, I’m confident they would still get get enough exercise. The problem is that most of their ideas for indoor exercise are destructive or dangerous (or often BOTH). So, my challenge is to channel all their energy into activities that don’t result in holes in walls or broken bones.
The following are some of the fun ways we keep ourselves moving indoors during winter.
Fun indoor activities for winter
This is one from my own childhood that my kids now love. We usually did it when my mom and dad weren’t home (shhh…), and maybe that’s why I love doing it with my kids so much. I feel like a cool mom or something. But they love it, too. Simply pile up all the blankets and pillows you can find, then run and jump on top of the pile over and over again. It’s like playing in a pile of leaves, but indoors.
My kids love to use their imaginations. During a pirate-themed preschool unit a few months ago, I created this game that requires my kids to visit different “islands” to collect treasure coins. Where does the exercise come in? Each island is associated with a different action (jumping, running, spinning, etc.) that they have to do in order to earn the treasure. It’s a low-prep game that is sure to entertain your little buccaneers. Read more about it here, and download the free printable game map that goes with it.
Little boys love anything dangerous…and if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! This engaging preschool learning game is a great way to get kids moving their bodies in the context of a “death-defying” challenge! Bonus: you can turn it into a simple learning activity to practice letters, numbers, sight words, math facts…just about anything! Read all the details of how we play it here.
Red light, green light
This simple playground game is a classic, and for good reason. It doesn’t require any supplies, but if you want to make it more visual, you can make a simple stop/go sign by taping red and green circles of paper to a popsicle stick (like we did).
In our simplified version of the traditional game, one person (the “policeman”) stands at one end of the room and holds up the stop (red) sign. The other player/players stand at the other end of the room and wait for the “green light” to be shown. The players have to stop and go according to the policeman’s directions until they are able to cross the whole room and tag the policeman. My kids have a ball with this game, and as a parent, I love how it teaches self-control (players have to stop on command) and following directions.
Have you ever done Cosmic Kids Yoga? It’s storytelling and movement wrapped together in a colorful video presentation. Jamie (with her delightfully British accent) takes kids through all sorts of yoga poses while she tells tales about everything from Betsy the Banana to Norris the Baby Seahorse. There are even Frozen, Harry Potter and Star Wars themed episodes for older kids. I’ve been a long-time fan of yoga for myself, and I think it’s a great way to introduce kids to the concept of mindfulness in a fun way, all while moving and stretching.
One game both of my boys love is playing with activity dice. Just write different movements on the various sides of a die, and then kids take turns rolling and following the directions shown. There are tons of free printable versions out there. Try this counting & gross motor version from I Can Teach My Child or this animal version from Twitchetts. You can also just write on a square cardboard box or print out a blank dice template to make up your own. Or, if you want something more lasting, try these instruction cubes with pockets (affiliate link) that allow you to change your dice at any time. They look awesome, and I’ve seen them used in lots of fun ways. One of these days I’m gonna just order them.
The possibilities are endless. You can make different versions for different topics of interest (dinosaurs, farm, zoo) or seasons (Christmas, Halloween, Easter). I love that this game allows you to focus on specific gross motor skills you want your child to practice (jumping, turning in a circle, etc.) while keeping it fun.
Simon says or follow the leader
Here are two more classics that require absolutely no prep. my boys love to play both of these, I think because they get to have a turn telling Mommy what to do for a change. One time while waiting in line for a museum to open, we played Simon says for something like 20 minutes. That’s like an eternity for a 3-year-old. To add an extra level of exercise, try using this free printable list of Simon Says ideas from What’s That Smell. For follow the leader, make being the leader extra special by designated an official “leader hat” that the leader gets to wear. My boys love the fuzzy bear hat, pictured above.
Indoor obstacle course
Gather items from around the house, or just use the furniture as it stands, and make an obstacle course for your child…think American Ninja Warrior. Explain (or demonstrate for young toddlers) what you want your child to do (for example, crawl under the kitchen table, go around the couch, hop on the pillows, walk across the blanket “bridge”, and tag the door to finish). You can make it as complex or simple as you want. Little Man (4) will do the same course over and over again, trying to go faster each time. I sit on the couch and time him and cheer him on. Ours are never as extreme as this dad’s version, but by the end, the kids have always gotten a good workout.
Dance party or freeze dance
When I’m in a mom funk, my go to activity is a dance party. Turning on music and moving helps me to enjoy being with my kids, especially in the late afternoon when I really just want to flop on the couch with my book and read. Sometimes we’ll play freeze dance. Sometimes we wear costumes. Sometimes, we use our homemade shakers (put some rice or beans inside your leftover plastic Easter eggs and tape them shut…don’t forget the tape). A few weeks ago, I turned on some Riverdance on YouTube and the boys and I attempted Irish clogging. It was hilarious, and it ended up creating some quality memories with my little ones that I treasure.
Here are some more fun ideas I found that I’m excited to try with my kiddos this winter:
- 10 Indoor Ball Games – Frugal Fun for Boys
- UNO Workout – Creative Southern Home
- Alphabet Exercise Cards – Homeschool Share
- 10 Jumping Activities – Hands on as We Grow
- Action Songs for Energetic Kids – Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds
Now it’s your turn! What fun indoor activities do you do with your kids?