I am all for being outside with our children. Most of our best family memories have taken place outdoors. Our son was born at Fort Hood, and while the summers were brutally hot in Texas, I really enjoyed that we could be outside year-round for the most part. In fact, I’ve gotten so used to the mild winter temperatures that I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do when we are stationed in a place where we can’t be outside year-round.
We try to get outside any minute we can, playing in water, making mud pies, drawing with chalk, walking around the neighborhood, swimming at the pool, playing at the park. In fact, I’m quite sure that our three-year-old son wouldn’t mind if we put his bed outside right next to his dirt mound and construction vehicles. He’d only need to come in for meals and the occasional bath. But, unfortunately in most places there are to live, there will be days when being outside is neither convenient nor comfortable. In my experience, these have marked the longest days of motherhood for me. Days when we can’t explore and feel the sunshine on our skin. Time seems to go extra slowly within the walls of our home.
I try my best to let my creativity flourish on days when we find ourselves stuck indoors. I’ve got a collection of ideas stored in a little box in the back of my mind for such times, and I want to share them with any other parents out there who could use some rainy-day inspiration.
- Bake. This is usually my first plan when I know we are looking at a day cooped up in our house. Not only is it fun and interactive to get kids involved in the kitchen, but I find it to be a cozy and therapeutic activity baking a treat at home when it’s cold or raining outside. It’s basically a rule in our house that if it’s raining, we bake. Cookies, muffins, cakes, breads — there are no limits! If you wake up to a gloomy, rainy day, break open your favorite cookbooks and let the sky (i.e., the contents of your refrigerator and pantry) be the limit. I like to make sure that I always have basic baking ingredients on hand, so if I’m not prepared, we can at least make some chocolate chip cookies (a family favorite). This is a time to let go of your control freak cleanliness, and let your toddler pour flour and oil and vanilla extract, dribbling it on the countertops and floor. This is a day to embrace the mess, and it’s worth it when you see the joy of your little one getting to cook with you.
- Movie picnic. Another simple go-to of mine … movie picnic! Spread your family picnic blanket on the floor in front of the television. Make or order a pizza (I like to make the kids mini pizzas on naan bread) or make popcorn and get out some candy or other fun snacks. Throw all the pillows and blankets you can find onto the ground and snuggle up with your babies. Depending on the ages of your kids, their attention spans might not be able to handle an entire movie, but you can at least enjoy it while it lasts.
- Board games. Rainy days are a great opportunity to get on the floor with your kids and teach them a new game, or play a favorite game with them. Some of our favorites are Memory and High-HoCherry-Oh! We also like the other classics like CandyLand and Chutes and Ladders, although our toddler son is still in the early learning phases with those. If your kids aren’t old enough for board games yet, get down on the floor with them and do puzzles or help them with shape sorting and stacking blocks or cups.
- Craft table. This is another favorite of mine that our children can almost count on when we are stuck inside on a rainy day. I usually wait until they’re napping, and I set up our kitchen table with a PEVA fabric tablecloth, and an array of plastic plates, each containing a different craft item we have on hand … crayons, paints, stickers, stamps, pom poms, construction paper, googly eyes. I like to break out the big pieces of paper, and if I’m feeling really fun that day, I might even spread out a roll of huge paper on the floor.
- Forts and play structures. We love making forts using our play couch or our fort-building kits. We like to make forts big enough that I can fit in them too, and we make sure to bring lots of fun things into the fort … my son’s favorite toys, pillows, blankets and stuffed animals. I also make sure to leave some sort of peephole so he can see the television from inside his fort.
- Sensory bins. This might be my all-time favorite indoor (or outdoor) activity. We have a sensory table that can easily be moved inside or outside and is very versatile in function. Each month, I go to the local craft store and buy items to make a sensory table appropriate for that month or season. During winter months, I’ve made a snowman sensory bin with Playfoam and Styrofoam snowflakes. I also did a Christmas one with mini ornaments and a Christmas cookie station with playdough, sprinkles, mini cookie cutters and a mini rolling bin. In the fall, I love to make sensory bins with corn and leaves and acorns and pine cones and mini pumpkins of all different textures and sizes. You can get really creative with sensory tables, and you can find lots of ideas and inspiration online for cheap and simple ways to make your littles some sensory fun.
- Fun baths. I learned this idea from one of my favorite mom influencers on social media … basically that adding water to anything makes for a fun activity. If you find yourself killing time on a rainy or chilly afternoon stuck in the house, draw a bath and surprise your kids with a bath time surprise … popsicles, Legos, pompoms, music and singing, a bubble bath, a color bath or whatever else you want to try.
I’m not sure if it’s the elementary teacher inside me or the fact that I raised a tiny human during the COVID-19 pandemic and was forced to get creative indoors, but I’ve slowly come up with a list of activities for “a rainy day” it helps to have on hand, as well as be prepared for in advance for when you unexpectedly find yourself stuck indoors with young children. The best attitude to have on days like this is to embrace it and use it as an opportunity to do something new and make new memories with your children; and also, to embrace the mess because let’s be honest, if you’re stuck indoors all day with little ones, it’s going to get messy one way or another, so you might as well make a fun mess.