I’m a big believer in using your imagination for play. This stems from my childhood. I grew up on a farm in the 1980s with no cable, the closet neighbor was a mile away and I was an only child until I was 6 1/2, so my parents helped me engage my imagination. My dad would help me build forts and create treasure hunts using Post-it notes. As I got older, he would write secret messages with lemon juice on notecards and then teach me how to hold it over a flame, safely of course. Some of my favorite childhood memories are from dreary, rainy days spent with my dad. And now some of my favorite memories as an adult involve doing these same activities with my son.
My couch would be happy to tell you that its most frequent use is for forts. Fort building is a daily activity at our house. Yes, it makes a mess. Yes, it’s a ton of fun. Our son knows what’s up for grabs and what’s off limits for the fort. Otherwise every pillow in the house would be commandeered. I highly recommend starting a fort kit with items like spare sheets you’ve accumulated over the years.
What you’ll need: Pillows, blankets, old sheets at minimum. Couch cushions, bungee cords, rope, clear storage container lids that can be used as a sun roof.
The object of the game is to go from one clue to another throughout the house until you reach a prize at the end. The number of clues depends on the age, the child’s ability to read and the parent’s patience to develop the clues. For younger children, you need to place the clues out in the open and potentially help them read the clue. For older children, you can hide clues in jars, under lamps or behind art on the wall.
What you’ll need: Post-it notes or small pieces of paper. A prize for the end such as your child’s favorite treat or a $1 bill.
Essentially, it’s homemade invisible ink through a basic chemical reaction. Get a small bowl of lemon juice. Dip the paint brush in the lemon juice and write your message. Then hold the paper over the open flame. It’s magic (actually science).
What you’ll need: Lemon juice, small watercolor paint brush, white paper cut into small pieces, a candle or other open flame used by an adult. I’ve read a light bulb works, too.
You’ve likely seen the videos of this on social media. Line your stairs with flat cardboard and then ride down on a pillow, blanket or towel. It’s not for everyone. The first time we did it I decided we might need to use a bike helmet just to be on the safe side. I highly recommend a pile of pillows at the end for a soft landing.
What you’ll need: Cardboard, pillows, blankets or beach towels.
Floor is Lava
There are many ways to play this game depending on your child’s age. Essentially someone yells “The floor is lava!” Everyone has to the count of five to make sure their feet aren’t touching the floor. We play with pillows, blankets, couch cushions and the couch.
What you’ll need: Pillows and blankets at minimum.
Bank or Store
Pick objects from around the house or favorite toys to create your store. Set them up on a table or on the floor. Decide who is the customer and who is the cashier. Set a timer for an agreed amount of time and then switch roles. You can even put on costumes. This activity can be as simple or as elaborate as your children feel like making it.
What you’ll need: Fake money (you can purchase or make your own), items from around the house for the store, garage sale stickers or masking tape for price tags.
Our son came up with this one on his own. Think laser maze from a bank heist movie. This works best if you have a hall in your home. Hand you child the tape. Explain that they need to run the tape from one side of the hall to the other at various angles, essentially making a web as they go. Then you let them crawl back through and try not to break any of the tape. Slightly annoying due to the hallway being occupied, but fairly entertaining.
What you’ll need: Hallway, a roll of Scotch tape, step stool if your child is old enough.