12 Ways to Have Fun Today with Homebound Kids

School closings challenge Texan parents to educate, entertain 

Have you become the entertainment coordinator for housebound children? They can’t, and shouldn’t, watch screens all day long, so it’s a good time to set them up for some interactive fun. From mud pies to citizen science, we’ve got a dozen engrossing outdoor activities for all ages.

Use technology to explore
Unplugging from the distractions of technology is great, but it's not always an option. There are so many apps now that can help kids explore with confidence and understand the natural world they are encountering. There are apps to identify birds, locate geocaches, create maps, identify trees or name the constellations at night. One of our favorites is Seek from iNaturalist.

Make a mud pie
Messy and creative, mud pie preparation can happen anywhere and requires little supervision. Spoons, sticks, cookie cutters and aluminum pie plates make useful tools. Seeds, pebbles, leaves and nuts from a nearby tree add interest. As they work, kids learn about the texture, absorption and drying characteristics of different soils.

Take a nature walk
Walking in nature doesn’t have to be a long, strenuous journey. For kids, a short walk with active conversation about the natural world around them is enough to grab their attention. Any neighborhood walk can be turned into a nature walk when you stop to think about what you smell, hear, see or feel. Having intentional stops every 10 minutes is a great way to turn exercise time into exploration time.

Have a scavenger hunt
You can create a scavenger hunt just about anywhere. Take a walk in your neighborhood or set up your backyard for items you want kids to discover. Make up a list of clues. You can have them check things off a list or record their discoveries by taking a photo of their finds. (Consider ages when writing up the clues.)

Build a fort
Older children can make a lean-to with sticks and branches, string a tarp between trees or build a more elaborate hangout with lumber and nails. Whichever method they choose, the important thing to remember is to let the kids use their imagination and sense of cooperation to build their special place.

Go camping in your own backyard
Got a tent? Set it up outside, throw in sleeping bags and pillows. If allowed, build a campfire and toast marshmallows while you tell ghost stories and listen to night sounds. If you have an extra tent, fill it with toys for the little ones or set up a puzzle or board game for older kids.

Make a video
Videos can be a fun way to capture and share an outdoor adventure. Be spontaneous and edit together what happened that day. Or go bigger by writing a script, drawing storyboards and using nature as the backdrop for the story. Let your imagination run free. Editing is easy on your smartphone.

Create art from nature
From Walt Disney to Monet, artists near and far have looked to nature to inspire them. Art can be a watercolor painting or a simple arrangement of rocks, sticks and leaves. Another creative art project is to let kids photograph what they see in nature — make a collage from the images or put them into a journal. Older kids might consider making a short video. You can also create something useful like a birdhouse and give it an artful flair by letting the young ones paint it and apply sticks, feathers, string or other decorations for a one-of-a-kind project.

Play old-fashioned games
Grandparents knew how to have fun without a lot of fancy equipment. Teach kids to pitch washers or horseshoes. Organize a sack race or a tug-of-war. Try tag, hide-and-seek, Red Rover, jump rope, I Spy, marbles or jacks. these games date back hundreds of years, and once they've learned the basics, kids will invent their own variations. 

Explore a mini-landscape
Using a hula hoop or length of rope, mark off a circle on the ground — or try making two circles, one in a sunny area and one in shade. Challenge kids to list or describe each type of plant and animal found within the circle. Pencil, paper and a magnifying glass will come in handy.

Fly a kite
It's sheer joy to be out on a windy March day holding the string of a soaring kite. Inexpensive store-bought kites give plenty of thrills, but it's even more fun to make your own. Use paper plates, paper sacks, gift wrapping, drinking straws and string. How many aeronautical engineers began by flying kites when they were kids?

Hold contests
Create nature-inspired contests. Who can find the weirdest insect? Who can locate the most plant varieties, or flowers? Have kids see who can gather the most sticks — great when you're trying to build a campfire. Have a field guide handy so kids can identify their finds. Or see if they can find something starting with every letter of the alphabet, or objects that resemble every letter of the alphabet.

Create obstacle courses
Let kids create their own obstacle course using things around the house and yard. Try hula hoops, small logs, different things to jump or climb over. Even the dog can get into the act. Find that old croquet set and transform the stodgy playing field into a crazier one with new twists and turns like your favorite putt-putt course.

Find more ways to get your family outdoors in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine’s “35 Ways to Get Out and Play” and “50 Ways to Get Kids Hooked on the Outdoors.”

We’ve got lots of information on our Texas Parks and Wildlife Department education pages.

Richard Louv of Children in Nature offers some good advice for helping your family get through the pandemic by using nature.

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