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Winter Play: 19 Indoor Activities to Support Development in your Young Child

Children’s first learning experiences start with interactions, daily routines, and play activities with their primary caregivers. This informs their understanding of the world around them. Support healthy brain development and fend off winter boredom with these 19 indoor activities. You’ll help build your young child’s confidence, help them feel loved and safe while encouraging them to engage and interact with their environment.

How parents and caregivers can support play overall

Don’t worry about buying expensive toys. Consider using objects around the house such as plastic cookware, pots and pans, cups, boxes, cards, paper and crayons, small safe tools, blankets, and pillows.

  • Let children guide the direction of play and follow along. Be present and engage.
  • Respect the children’s play effort.
  • Validate the children’s efforts and extend the play themes.
  • Give the children play choices and respond to them in predictable ways.
  • Allow children to leave their constructions up for a period so that they can go back to them to expand their play themes.
  • Discuss household rules to ensure safety in play.

Indoor Activities for Children

Birth to 3-year-olds

For the early infant, play should include physical movement of the arms and legs. Infants are learning about how the body moves. They are more interested in the movement rather than the function of the toy. Interactive games, musical toys, and playing with various textures support connecting with caretakers, improving motor skills, and attending to sounds and sights around them.

As the young child learns to crawl, they enjoy exploring their environment, examining toys by pushing, pulling, and tearing. Toddlers are learning about the functions of objects by combining them in meaningful ways, such as putting a bottle to a doll’s mouth. Between 2 and 3 years, children are engaging in simple dramatic play such as recreating caretaking themes that they have observed in their home. This type of play is a building block to more mature dramatic play.

  • Color on paper and cardboard boxes.
  • Baskets for in and out play, feeling different textures and eye hand coordination. Objects to add may include ribbons, small balls, shells, calculator to push buttons, spoons, and textured clothes.
  • Fill plastic bottles with Cheerios, dried rice and seal the lid; shake the bottles to make sounds and shake during singing of finger songs.
  • Use plastic containers filled with sensory objects such as beans dried rice/pasta. Add play materials such as scoops, spoons, and cups for pouring and scooping and pretend play (Supervision needed for choking hazards). Bins can also be filled with water or snow.
  • Wrap toys up in tin foil and have the children figure out how to unwrap them. Good objects to hide are puzzle pieces, cars, crayons, and action figures.
  • Hide puzzle pieces in socks and have the children pull them out and put in the board.
  • Introduce play related to caretaking routines with toys or stuffed animals. Props for this play include plastic cups or bottles, silverware, and plates. Additional options include hairbrush, blanket, and pillow.

3- to 5-year-olds

Children are learning to be more independent, which allows them to explore with peers, forming social skills such as learning to make friends. During play, children engage in symbolic play, which includes the understanding that an object, action or idea can represent something else (i.e. a block can represent a cell phone, car, or hairbrush). Children in this age group also enjoy structured play, which helps them develop stronger skills in following rules and norms to reach a goal.

  • Scavenger hunt to find common objects in the house.
  • Sport Games include bowling games- using empty plastic pop bottles and a ball and basketball games using a laundry basket and ball.
  • Pretend play using a laundry basket as a car, train, bus, or airplane. Use a paper or plastic plate for driving wheels and add stuffed animals or dolls as passengers. Also, children can decorate the box with stickers, crayons, and colored tape.
  • Match and sort by color and size with Legos.
  • Simple social games such as Simon Says, Freeze dance, and Hot Potato.
  • Build a fort with blankets, pillows, and couch cushions. Forts can serve as a quiet space to look at books, complete puzzles, and share a snack.

5- to 8 year-olds

Children in this age range are better at controlling their emotions and behaviors. They enjoy learning about the ups and downs of friendships. Due to improved logical thinking and physical skills, they enjoy group games including sports, which helps them test their physical limits.

  • Card games such as Go Fish or Old Maid and War and Uno.
  • Games such as Charades and board games such Sorry, Checkers and Chess
  • Play “I spy” games include finding objects by color, size, shape, or function. Play hide-and seek.
  • Balloon tennis or volleyball using fly swatters or plastic/paper plates.
  • Simple cooking activities or making snacks in the kitchen. For example, decorate cupcakes, make small pizzas, and make a fruit salad.
  • Add Arts and Craft materials using objects around the house such as paper, crayons, markers, colored pencils, paint, tape, glue, scissors, paper, buttons, and cotton, ribbons. Children can make bookmarks, paint clay pots, make puppets using socks.

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