I’m Bored – Summer 2013 Edition

Saturday July 20, 2013

Indoor Ideas for Bored Elementary Kids

It’s the Dog Days of Summer and somedays we just want to stay home and take it easy.   I’ve put together the following list of ideas for when the kids start begging for screen time or claim they are bored.

My kids are aged 5, 8, and 9 and these are ideas that I think they’ll enjoy.  I specifically looked for activities that they can do independently or with little guidance from me.


Reading is the key to earning Screen Bucks; it’s also a great way to participate in area reading contests (Our Kids has a round-up of a bunch of DC area Summer Reading programs).

My little one can’t read independently, so I’ve looked for books without words, books on CD, and I’ve encouraged big brother and big sis to read to him.  Here’s a few series my older kids have been enjoying:

Jack Stalwart — this series by Elizabeth Singer Hunt is about  a 9 year old boy becomes a secret agent; each book centers around solving a problem in a different location around the world.  The easy reading and fun storylines make it a huge hit for my 8 year old boy.  There are 14 books in this series.

Encyclopedia Brown — this series by Donald Sobol features the adventures of Leroy Brown, a boy detective who solves mysteries.   The first book was published in 1963 and additional books are still being written.  Both my son and daughter enjoy these books.


The Wizard of Oz  — you may know the movie, but did you know there is a whole series written by L. Frank Baum?   My 9 year old girl has been devouring these books.  Don’t be surprised to discover the books  vary greatly from the movie.


Survivors — this is a new animal fantasy series by Erin Hunter, about a dog named Lucky, who is trying to survive after the world has been turned upside down by a devastating earthquake (aka the “Big Growl”).   Will he be able to make it on his own as a Lone Dog, or will be need to join a pack?  This author has several other popular series about cats (Warriors) and bears (Seekers).

Elephant and Piggie  — my 5 year-old and I ADORE this series by Mo Willems.   The adventures of Piggie and Gerald are silly and fun, and accompanied by cute, expressive illustrations.  I love that I can read it to him once and he can “read” them again by himself, taking cues from the pictures.   There are a ton of these books but they are not a series (no need to read in order).


My kids don’t particularly enjoy writing, but I want them to get more practice/develop the habit.  Time spent writing is redeemable for screen bucks, so hopefully that will encourage the habit.  Here are some writing ideas:

  • Book report — write a report and give a presentation on a book they’ve read
  • Keep a Diary
  • Keep a Scientific Journal — my boy isn’t into diaries, but might enjoy recording data about a science project;  I wish I had thought of this at the beginning of summer — keeping a daily record of a summer vegetable we’ve planted would have been a great idea.
  • “Grateful/Thankful” Journal — write down 3-5 things each day they are thankful for
  • Write  a letter — grandparents, former teachers, Compassion-sponsored child
  • Write a book — the Illustory kits are really fun, but they can make their own books too


My boys (and girl) love to build and there’s so many ways to be creative with building.


  • Magna Tiles — these are so spendy, but it is one of the few toys I have never regretted shelling out $$$ for.  They spend HOURS creating all kinds of things with these.  For some reason, building complex garages for their Matchbox cars is a top choice.
  • Wooden Blocks — a classic favorite.
  • Trains — my boys have just about outgrown the Thomas years, but my 8 year old in particular still loves creating complicated train track configurations.
  • Legosyou can go for kits or generic creations.  Mine kids are partial to the Brickmaster kits and of course anything Star Wars.
  • Lincoln Logs — another fun, old school building option.
  • Dominoes — super fun to build, but can be a huge source of frustration if they get bumped before the builder is ready (tip: leave gaps to prevent catastrophic failure prior to launch!)
  • Tinker Toys — honestly, the original is better than the new version (wooden vs plastic), see if you can find them at yard sales or on eBay.
  • K’nex / Engino — my 8yo boy loves building structures with these.
  • Gears — especially good for younger builders.
  • Marble Run — we’ve picked up some sets at yardsales, the kids love this (get extra marbles from the dollar store).
  • Snap Circuits — another brainy option for my future engineer.
  • Marshmallow and Toothpick Structures — I can’t wait to turn my kids loose on this, I know they will love it.
  • Forts — break out the pillows and bed sheets!  We have a Fort-a-ma-jig and it’s related cousin, Connectables — these are made of lightweight material that make it easier for kids to create play spaces..   Building forts with cardboard boxes is fun too (raid your local appliance store dumpster), but that involves more work on mom’s part.
  • DIY — give the kids some practice playing handykid.  FamilyHandyman has a great article on ways to give kids practice with tools.  This Old House has some suggestions for tools kids can handle.    Obviously, this activity requires supervision.  For a more structured experience, sign up for a Home Depot or Lowe’s Saturday project.

Arts & Crafts


This is not an exhaustive list, but a compilation of ideas that appeal to me because they are cheap and easy.


  • Perler Beads — as far as crafts goes, these are relatively inexpensive and good for ages 5 and up.  We picked up a kit for less than $5 at our local craft store it kept my kids busy for hours!  It also required me to operate our iron, but it was a small price to pay for a lot of  quiet play.
  • Pet Rock — any age can do this using whatever paints and craft scraps to embellish their creation(s).
    Supplies needed: rock, paint (acrylic works best), brush, misc craft scraps (google eyes a plus but not required)
  • Squishy Bean Bag Balls — supplies needed: ballons, funnel, beans, scissors
  • Paper Airplanes — there are plenty of free templates and tutorials online (e.g. this, this); my 8yo son enjoys his Airplane-A-Day calendar.  There are even apps for your smart phone or tablet that give you step by step tutorials (one example).  Another idea – Star Wars airplanes!   I haven’t figured out the ideal place to launch them yet (aside from in the house) — any ideas?
  • Paper Boats — this would involve going to a creek or stream somewhere, but it would be fun to do boat races
  • Origami — more fun with folding papers.  Some can be complex, look for easy origami patterns.  My 8 and 9 year old love the Star Wars Origami book.
  • Paper Snowflakes — you don’t have to wait til it’s cold to make snowflakes!  There are tons of templates online and kids can have fun creating their own patterns.   If you’re really adventurous, check out these Star Wars Snowflake patterns (warning, they are challenging).  Tip:  use tissue paper instead of printer paper.
  • Popsicle Stick Puzzle —  supplies needed:  craft sticks, tape, makers


Just a little inspiration for different ways to get the creative juices flowing…

  • Doodle Books — my daughter enjoys her Girls Doodle Book, there is also a Boys Doodle Book and countless other doodle books to choose from.
  • Misc Activity Books — these are inexpensive and easily found just about anywhere: grocery stores, Walmart, etc.   My kids enjoy the themed ones (like Super heroes or Hot Wheels)  they everything from coloring pages to mazes and what not
  • Sticker Books — these are also popular;  search your favorite theme plus the word sticker (i.e. “Star Wars Sticker books”)
  • Ed Emberly Drawing Books — these books are wonderful tutorials on how to build a variety of stick figures.
  • Fingerprint Drawings — kids of all ages love getting messy, let them ink up their fingers and make fun designs.   If you don’t have an ink pad, just marker their finger or use tempera paints.  Here’s a round-up of ideas, the  Ed Emberly has sever Thumbprint Drawings books with step-by-step instructions.


These games and activities are both fun and keep kids’ brains engaged.

  • Checkers — ages 5+, 2 players; classic game, we like the magnetic, travel version.
  • Suspend — ages 5+, 2-4 players; this is a great, free form balance game by Melissa & Doug.  It says ages 8+, but our 5 year old does fine with it (we let him use 2 hands).
  • Gobblet Gobblers — ages 5+; a really cute, fun twist on tic tac toe.  More complex than you think!
  • Tangrams — ages 5+; manipulate the pieces to match a picture.  You can play for free online (there are severalonline versions) or purchase a set.  We have a magnetic, travel version, as well as one called Shape By Shape, by ThinkFun.
  • Blokus — ages 5+, 2-4 players; develops logic and spatial perception while kids learn to be tactical.
  • Math Dice Jr. — ages 6+; good for building math skills
  • Story Cubes — ages 6+; roll the dice and use the images on the cubes to create a story.  Can be played alone or in a group.
  • Logic Links — ages 6+;  single person puzzles
  • Dominoes — ages 6+; lots of variations on this classic game.  Our family enjoys Bendomino.
  • Chess — ages 7+, 2 players; classic game, we like the No Stress Chess version which has simplified rules my 5yo can follow.
  • Mad Libs — ages 8+; everybody loves mad libs!  Even if the kids need a reminder on the difference between an adverb and an adjective, they will be howling when they hear the stories read.
  • Speed Scrabble / Take Two / Bananagrams — ages 7+; I don’t have the patience to play the official version of Scrabble, but “Take Two” is fast and fun.
  • Boggle — ages 8+; look for words in a random grid of letters.  Requires basic spelling abilities.  Can also find online versions as well as apps.
  • Yahtzee — ages 8+; dice game that is a mix of luck and strategy.  No need to buy official game, just need 5 dice, the rules, and download a score sheet; Can also find free online versions, as well as apps.
  • Rummikub — ages 8+, 2-4 players; classic rummy tile game

CARD GAMES: Specialty Decks

  • Old Maid — ages 5+, 3+ players; Don’t be the player left with the Old Maid!  Can be played with a standard deck as well.
  • Go Fish — ages 5+, 2+ players (better with 3 or more); Goal is to collect the most sets of 4. Can be played with a standard deck as well.
  • Spot It — ages 5+, 2+ players; a fast paced matching game with multiple ways to play.  This game has been so popular, they’ve created a variety of different versions, including  Spot It Jr for younger kids.  I like that it travels well and doesn’t matter if a card or two gets lost.
  • Blink — ages 7+, 2 person game; a fast paced, easy to learn game where two player race to get rid of their cards first, by matching on color, shape, and number (a much simpler variation of SET).
  • Uno / Crazy 8 — ages 7+, 2+ players; classic game where players try to be the first to get rid of all their cards.   Can be played with a regular deck as Crazy 8.
  • Skip Bo / SpitSpeed — ages 7+, 2+players; a fast paced sequencing game where players compete to be the first to play all their cards.  Also known as Spit or Speed and can be played with a regular deck.
  • SET — ages 7+, 2+ players; a card game of quick recognition and deduction; easy to learn but challenging to play. There’s also a junior version for ages 3-8.
  • Phase 10  — ages 7+, 2+ players;  a rummy type game you play in phases.  Can be a long game.  A simpler, faster junior version exists for younger players.

CARD GAMES: Standard Deck

These games can be played with a regular ole deck of cards.

  • Solitaire / Patience — single player card game.  There are tons of variations out there, but the best known are:
  • War — two player game of luck.  Takes forever, no skill required, nor ability to hold cards in hand.
  • Slap Jack — 2+ players;  ages 5+; boisterous  game, goal is to collect all the cards, achieved by slapping the deck when a jack is showing.  Warning: may result in trashed cards and slapped hands.
  • Old Maid — 2+ players, ages 5+ — better with 3 or more.  Don’t be left with the Old Maid.
  • Go Fish — 2+ players, ages 5+; goal is to collect the most sets of 4.
  • Crazy 8 — 2+ players; goal is to discard all cards, 8s are wilds.  similar to UNO.
  • Spoons / Pig / Tongue — 3+ players (the more the better); be the first to collect 4 of a kind.  If someone beats you to it, don’t be last to figure it out!
  • I Doubt It — 3+ players; be the first to get rid of all your cards, just hope no one calls your bluff!
  • Snap — 2+ players; be the first to collect all the cards by calling Snap when multiple players lay the same card at once.

Note: if you have a younger player who can’t handle the cards very well, a card holder helper is a great tool.


Here’s some games that don’t require anything more than pencil and paper.



  • Domineering — ages 5+, 2 players; players take turns linking pairs of dots on a grid. The first player unable to move loses.
  • Dots — ages 5+, 2 player; players take turns in drawing lines between dots on a grid. The player who completes the most boxes wins.
  • Sim — ages 8+, 2 players;  players alternately join dots on a hexagon; the first player who competes a triangle in their own color loses
  • Word Square  — ages 8+, 2+ players; players create word squares with the same letters, and the one who creates the square containing the most words wins.
  • Hang Man — 2+ players; one person thinks of a word, others try and guess it before running out of guesses.  (Melissa & Doug makes a cute travel version)
  • Head Body Leg / Picture Consequences — ages 5+, 2+ players;  Players take turns in drawing a head, a body, and a pair of legs, without letting the other player see them. The point of the game is the fun of seeing the resulting pictures.

Still more ideas kids can do…


My daughter has gotten quite interested in baking and cooking.  Summertime is a good time to let kids get involved in the kitchen without being under school year time constraints.  Here are a few of her favorites, along with some of my ideas:

Make smoothies — give kids parameters (i.e. 1 juice, 2 different fruits) and let them come up with their favorite concoctions

Turn smoothies into popsicles – use a mold or even ice cube trays or dixie cups.

Plan a meal — let them be in charge of a dinner.  Tell them they must pick one protein, one veggie, and one other option (could be starch like rice or bread or fruit or a second veggie).   Help them put together a grocery list for everything they need.

Here are some of my 9 yo daughter’s favorite foods to make:

Still Need Ideas?

If nothing on this list appeals to my (or your) kids, then it’s time to get tough.  Pick something from above or you will have to pick something like:

  • Practice Piano
  • Clean Room
  • Fold Clothes
  • Unload Dishwasher
  • Pick-up dog poop (backyard)
  • Clean bathroom
  • Pick-up playroom
  • etc.

This is my attempt to keep us busy and not let our brains rot this summer.  What are your tips for indoor fun?

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4 Responses to I’m Bored – Summer 2013 Edition

  1. 1
    grace says:

    thanks for the ideas, kendra! 🙂 i made a “bored bag” for my oldest. i wrote down on slips of paper things to do – some she will find fun ( like putting on a CD and dancing, writing a letter to her cousin ) and some she might not (like reading for 15 mins or sweeping the porch) many just random (like write down all the yellow things you can think of or alphabetize the spices), whenever she says she is bored, she has to pick something from the bag and do it, whether she likes it or not. it’s kinda like “russian roulette” of activities. if she is desperate or daring, she gives it a try. and i can make her pick one if she is pestering me.

  2. 2
    Jill says:

    Great ideas – thank you!

  3. 3

    I LOVED this post – great list!!

  4. 4
    andy says:

    great list and ideas. think im gonna give skipbo and snowflakes a try soon

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