As a small business owner who has worked from home since my kids were babies, I know how difficult it is to have housebound kids while you’re trying to work. If you’ve also ever tried working from home with young kids I think you can relate to the ‘BBC Dad’ trying to keep it together while his toddlers gatecrash his very serious TV interview!
To help you prepare for a scenario where your kids are going to be at home, mostly indoors, for weeks (or even months), here’s my curated list of toys, games and activities that should keep kids busy, having fun and learning – while you try to get some work done.
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Best toys to keep kids busy – Best Educational Toys
I am a big fan of toys that encourage endless, open-ended play ie toys that don’t just do one thing. Here are some of my favourite educational and creative toys for indoors that will keep kids busy for hours.
Honestly, who can go past LEGO, a tried and true distractor for all ages.
I actually prefer DUPLO for learning and teaching due to its large size. Planning with Kids and Childhood 101 have some great posts about how to use DUPLO to teach numeracy to toddlers, LEGO and literacy learning and DUPLO play and learning ideas.
Baby 2.0 loves building ball runs and has been so obsessed with GraviTrax since he spotted them – so we finally relented and bought the GraviTrax Starter Kit for his birthday. The look on his face when he opened the wrapping paper!
I like GraviTrax‘s sturdy construction, levels of building difficulty and capacity for open-ended play. Baby 2.0 has been learning about force, velocity, inertia and gravity through hypothesising and experimentation through playing GraviTrax.
Magna Tiles are another construction toy which teaches maths, science and creativity. I don’t know what it is about magnets but they are so much fun! The magnets also allow kids to build big, complex structures that they otherwise might not be able to do using simple building blocks.
We have a Geomag magnetic construction set which use magnetic poles, metal balls and plastic panels as the building blocks. However, I only recommend Geomag for kids 5+ years who are not going to put the balls into their mouth.
We discovered Snap Circuits when I enrolled Baby 2.0 into a PrimeSCI science class for kids in Grade 1. Snap Circuits are kits with various components that teach kids how to design and build models of working electrical circuits and out of all the activities in that PrimeSCI class I noticed how engaged the kids were when playing with the kits.
Kids who are 6+ will be able to independently play Snap Circuits; if they are under 6 years they will probably need some help because if you get one component wrong then the circuit won’t work.
5. Kinetic Sand
I know what you’re thinking. SAND – ugh what a mess!
Well, Kinetic Sand is soft, squeezable, mouldable and fantastic for sensory play. Even older kids will enjoy experimenting with it – I’ve noticed it in the toolkit of child and adolescent psychologists.
Kinetic Sand is easy to vacuum so even there is a bit of a mess it might buy you some time while you do your work interrupted!
We also have some sand moulds but you can use any random containers and utensils.
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Tangrams are classic toys that teach kids to understand patterns and geometric concepts like angles and symmetry.
Kids of different ages will get something different out of trangrams – from sorting into colours and shapes to creating complex patterns and undertaking geometry challenges. We keep a tiny packet of tangrams in our travel toys collection.
I think all game-playing has the advantage of teaching kids what it’s like to follow rules, how to take turns and sometimes how to work together. Here are our family’s favourite games that aren’t just fun, they are also learning tools and offer ‘teachable moments’.
There is so many version of Monopoly these days that it’s clear that this family favourite is not going away. I’m still partial to the original classic Monopoly with the London locations, with Melbourne Monopoly a close second when playing with my kids as they’re familiar with the landmarks.
There’s even Monopoly Junior for kids 5+ that’s faster and simpler.
Playing Monopoly is great for practising maths skills, particularly arithmetic, learning about statistics and probability when you’re strategising your moves around the board and geography and history if the locations are notable. Older kids will also learn basic economic principles such as debt obligations, mortgages and income inequality.
Another classic board game Scrabble. As an only child, I used to spend hours playing Scrabble against MYSELF (Joyce 1, Joyce 2, Joyce 3, Joyce 4) which is why I am now an absolutely ruthless Scrabble player!
If kids are playing against other kids or against adults I suggest letting them use a dictionary. How else will they learn new words?
I also don’t tend to score when playing with kids as the strategising comes later – I’m just getting them to see connections between letters and to practise their spelling at this point.
There is also a Scrabble Junior version which is more letter-matching.
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Boggle is a timed word search game which comes in a neat portable package containing letters and a timer. It’s great for basic spelling skills such as forming plurals and learning lots of short words that you never knew existed!
It’s good for kids playing solo (who try to beat their own score) or for kids of approximately the same age or literacy ability. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well with kids who are very different in reading ability as it’s frustrating to always lose to your older sibling!
There’s also a Boggle Junior for preschoolers learning their ABCs, but it does require adult assistance.
Bananagrams uses elements of both Boggle and Scrabble. The aim is to arrange your tiles into a grid of connected words faster than your opponents and you need to be the first to complete a word grid after the pool of tiles has been exhausted.
It is another word game that’s good for kids challenging themselves in time or kids of approximately the same age or literacy ability. Because Bananagrams can be played by players at any reading level, the game is useful for children who are learning to spell.There’s also My First Bananagrams Word Game for made for younger players and designed to increase reading skills whilst being super fun.
The classic dice game is good for kids of all ages because the rules are easy to follow and you can win with a combination of luck and strategy.
It teaches arithmetic (particularly addition and subtraction) and probability.
Codenames requires two teams, so unless you have 2+ (older) kids you might have to get involved in this game too. The benefit is that the games are quick and replayable – so you could take a brain break by promising your kids a game of Codenames in return for 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time afterwards!
The two rival spymasters know the secret identities of 25 agents. Their teammates know the agents only by their Codenames. The aim is to compete to see who can make contact with all of their agents first.
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13. Gravity Maze
Gravity Maze combines our love of marble runs with a STEM logic game.
It’s a solo game and easy game to play without adult supervision, though it’s not recommended for very young kids because of the small marble. Kids will learn logic and spatial reasoning, creative thinking and visual perception and reasoning.
Educational Indoor Activities
Looking for activities that will keep kids entertained without too much active supervision? My answer is art supplies, activity books and more books!
14. Art supplies
I like to use as much recycled and reusable materials in art-making so we collect cardboard boxes, bits of ribbon, random packaging and head to Resource Rescue regularly. When I do buy art supplies I trust Crayola for their crayons, coloured pencils and markers/textas.
If you’re leaving your kids to do art unsupervised then try to stick to art supplies that aren’t too messy like crayons or coloured pencils with a roll of butchers paper or the back of A4 printouts. As my kids are now 7yo and 9yo then I can also trust them to use markers/textas responsibly.
Personally I don’t love using paints, watercolours or inks at home because with little kids it just goes everywhere! And NEVER have permanent markers/Sharpies within a child’s reach (here’s how to clean off permanent marker of almost anything in case you need it).
Usborne makes a fantastic range of educational activity books for kids of all ages filled with puzzles, drawing, colouring, dot-to-dots, mazes, spot the difference and so on.
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Another range of activity books that my kids enjoy are those published by Lonely Planet Kids. Not only are they filled with activities, they contain interesting factoids about the world around them.
Titles include ‘Adventures in x Places‘ such as ‘Adventures in Famous Places‘, Adventures in Cold Places and ‘Adventures in Noisy Places‘, a range of ‘Let’s Explore…’ books such as ‘Let’s Explore City‘, ‘Let’s Explore Mountain‘ and ‘Let’s Explore Ocean‘ and ‘How x work’ such as ‘How Airports Work‘ and ‘How Cities Work‘.
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If your kids are reading independently they might enjoy word games activity books that contain puzzles, crosswords and word searches.
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Maths workbooks during my school years were dry and boring – not any more! Learning maths is great fun with the aid of great maths activity books for kids.
Baby 2.0’s favourite subject is maths and he is enjoying working his way through Eddie Woo’s Magical Maths by Australia’s best-known maths teacher. Incidentally, his more literary-inclined, less maths-enthused sister Lady AB owns Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths.
Baby 2.0 also loves doing sudoku with his grandfather, which goes to show that primary school-age kids are not too young for sudoku!
The Monster Book of Sudoku for kids is great for kids 7+ years. It starts off with simple puzzles that gradually get harder.
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19. Have a stash of books and ration them out as needed
If you’re able to then visit your local library to load up on books or make a reservation online so that your reserved books can be delivered to you (check out Melbourne’s best libraries for kids).
You can also purchase new books from Melbourne’s best children’s bookshops, many of whom are offering pickup or local delivery.
There is also the option to purchase online from Amazon, though note if your book is being shipped from overseas and not their Australian warehouse there will be a delay.
We are a book-loving family so I have many kids book recommendations!
- CBCA Book Week shortlisted books;
- best books about germs and hygiene for kids;
- best ANZAC day book for kids; and
- best Mother’s Day picture books for kids.
20. Prepare some podcasts and audiobooks
We love listening to podcasts for learning and there are so many good quality educational podcasts for kids. Here’s a list of the best non-fiction podcasts for kids and best fiction and story-telling podcasts for kids that we enjoy.
Note that But Why?, Brains On! and Science VS all have interesting, accessible and evidence-based episodes relating to the science of microbes, hygiene and infectious diseases.
If you’re a library member you can borrow audiobooks for free:
- CloudLibrary offers access to thousands of eBook and eAudio titles through its range of free easy-to-use apps. Download the CloudLibrary mobile app from the App Store or the Google Play Store.
- Borrowbox is a digital library of the latest eAudiobooks and eBooks, featuring a wealth of Australian content. Download the Borrowbox mobile app from the App Store or the Google Play Store
- RBdigital has borrow exclusive eAudiobook titles from bestselling authors and most audio titles are available for loan even when checked out to other users, so you can access popular titles right away without having to wait. Download the RBdigital app from Google Play or the App Store.
You can also purchase audiobooks from Audible.
21. Turn on the TV
Here’s my list of the best TV shows on ABC Kids and ABC Me that you can watch for free.
As a library member, you may be able to stream award-winning films for free via Beamafilm
Good luck parents, keep safe and healthy and see you on the other side.
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