30 Great, FREE Ways to Spend Time Together

30 Great, FREE Ways to Spend Time Together

It seems like the Corona virus has taken our world hostage. One day, our kids are rocking it out every day at school, regularly visiting the library, attending services at our church, and cheering for their favorite sports team, singer, or speaker at public events.

The next day, it has all ended. It makes one up look upward and scream:

What happened to “normal”?

Well, for the time, being it is MIA – missing in action.

All signs point to the fact that “normal” will return, in due time. But, what do we do while waiting for that to happen?

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Here are 30 ideas for spending time together as a family, that do not require money – or going out to public venues.

#1:  Bake Cookies

  Nothing is better for bonding than cooking together. Decorate your baked creations with colored frosting after they cool. Here are a couple of my favorite childhood recipes to get you started.

Chocolate crinkle cookies

Snickerdoodles

Sugar cookies

#2:  Binge Watch Your Favorite Movie or Television Series 

Once again, we have some favorites in this category.  We switch it up a lot.  One year we may binge Star Trek. While other years, it may be Andy Griffith. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was our choice two years ago. It was the extended version of the movies! So, it was a serious commitment!

A great way to see television programs and movies is through Amazon Prime Video.  You can get a 30 day trial right now.  Click here for more information.  

#3:  Go for a Walk in Your Yard

It’s hard to keep kids cooped in the house all day long. Even if your yard is small, you can certainly create some entertainment in the out-of-doors for a portion of the day. Old fashioned games like hopscotch, jump rope, or tag will help keep the house calmer after you come inside. Just be sure that the neighbor kids don’t come over if you are deliberately avoiding social contact or live with an older person or someone whose health is otherwise compromised.

Can’t go outdoors?

Let one of the children play “tour guide”, while the rest of you are “tourists”. Have them lead you through the home, describing important pieces of art and the history behind them. If there isn’t a great story, have them make one up; impromptu speaking is an important skill.

#4:  Work Puzzles

One of my favorite childhood memories is working puzzles with my mother.  Every winter we worked puzzles in the dining room on a little square folding table.  Puzzles help children learn problem solving skills and improve eye/hand coordination.

This body puzzle is one of our all-time favorite puzzles. We’ve worked it countless times. Even though it’s only 100 pieces, it’s actually quite challenging, with the bones on one side and the organs on the other. Great fun!

Don’t have any puzzles on hand? Here are FREE on-line puzzles.

#5 – Listen to Audio Books

  Check your local library for a huge array of audio books.  You’ll find every genre and something for every member of the family.

 The Focus on the Family adaptation of Dickens’, The Christmas Carol, is really well done and very engaging even for the little ones.

Is your library closed? Ours is. No problem.

Check out these on-line sources for free audio books.

  • Librivox – Free public domain books read by volunteers from around the world
  • Lit2Go – A free depository of stories and poems, searchable by reading level, collections, authors, books, and genre.
  • LoyalBooks– Free public domain eBooks and audio books. Features full color images of the covers of books and is highly searchable by genre and language. Each book has also been reviewed, rated, and ranked with stars by readers or listeners.
  • Oldradioworld.com – Not audio books, but this site features complete programs from the golden age of radio. The database is searchable by type of program. Our family seriously loves this stuff!

#6 – Color Together

I have loved coloring since I was a young child. So, sit down, relax, and build family togetherness with this great activity. Make a photocopy of the same page for everyone in the family and then talk together as you color. Admire everyone’s finished picture and then hang them all up on the fridge or send the children’s masterpieces to Grandpa and Grandma or a favorite aunt or uncle! They will love this act of kindness!

Together: A Mommy + Me Coloring Book has side-by-side pages with one drawing for the parent and the other for the child.  I love this idea!  

#7 – Plan a Family Read-aloud Day

One or two times a year, we pick a chapter book to read.  We start right after breakfast and continue throughout the day, taking breaks for snacks and meals. It is SO much fun! The kids ask for it every single year!

This gives us a chance to read books that aren’t related to specific school subjects. They are just books that we want to experience together!

#8 – Have a DIY Craft Day

We have all of our arts and crafts supplies organized in our art closet. This is the perfect time to plan an entire afternoon dedicated to creating festive crafts together. I seriously just start dragging items out of the closet and put them on a large table. I place some of our craft idea books next to the pile . Finally, we grab scissors, glue, and paper and let our imagination run wild!

#9 – Play Board, Dice, and Card Games

Games hone your child’s critical thinking skills, improve logic, and encourage healthy social interactions. Games were one of the first ways that my children learned the concept of “taking turns.” Additionally, when you are five years old, there is nothing better than proclaiming that you just beat Dad at a game of skill. Here is a photo of items that I gathered from our game closet. 

Farkle is probably one of my personal favorites for all ages. It’s fast paced and even younger members of the family can understand and follow the rules. And, hey, you can find it at an amazingly low price at Amazon!

Phase 10 comes in a dice or a card game and is by the same people who brought you Uno. The card version is super inexpensive. We have the dice version and it was a gift. Phase 10 is another game which would be fantastic for cheap family fun. Get it from Amazon! You just can’t beat the price. 

#10 – Make Hand Shadows on the Wall  

Kids love making shadows on the walls! It’s a simple, old-fashioned activity. I like the ease of making bunnies and birds. My older boys did a dynamite wolf and duck! You can take turns with each person making a shadow which other family members just try to identify. After you have identified the animal then everyone in the family gets to make that animal’s sound. You vote on who did the best animal voice impression! 

#11 – Build a Blanket Fort

My boys love doing this! Gather up blankets, clothespins, pillows, and blankets and let your future engineers have at it! After they have built an elaborate “cave”, read books  inside, and later let them sleep in it overnight.

#12 – Write a Play and Perform It

Years ago, when we studied the Pilgrims, I had my boys pretend that they were coming over to the New World on the Mayflower. They created a script, gathered props from around the house, and then acted the treacherous sea voyage out for me.

Supply a general topic or let their imaginations run wild. When the kids are finished creating a script, then Mom and/or Dad have to willingly play whatever part they are assigned in the play.

#13 – Tell family stories 

My boys love to hear stories about how my husband and met, how we grew up, and how we’ve seen God work in our lives and meet needs. They ask to hear the same stories over and over again. Brew a pot of tea and have a completely open Q & A session.  We let them ask whatever they want.

#14 – Go on a Scavenger Hunt

We did this once for a friend who was celebrating a birthday. He had to decipher the answers to riddles to figure out the location of the next clue.  At the end of his quest, he found his gift.

Have your kids help draft the riddles and figure out where to hide them. Bonus points when the text in the clues rhymes. We had as much fun creating the riddles as we did watching our friend figure out the meaning of each clue and finding his gift at the location of the final clue.

#15 – Have a Family “Cook Off” Contest

SO – MUCH – FUN!  Seriously!

The 15 year old sous chef and I are totally hooked on watching cooking shows on Netflix. He is a worthy opponent when it comes to improvising in the kitchen. It’s great fun to plan and execute a family cook off night. 

Divide up into teams, choose a theme (like desserts or soups). Be sure there is one strong cook in each group. Each must then create the designated category of item within two hours, You can either provide the same standard ingredients for each team or broaden the possible finished dishes by allowing them to incorporate any ingredient that they find in the house. 

BONUS! You now have food all cooked and ready to eat for the next couple of days! 

#16 – Science Invention Challenge

Gather 20 random (and unrelated) items from around the house and place them in the middle of the table. Divide up into two teams. Each team selects ten items from the pile. The challenge is to create a new (and useful) invention using all ten items in 30 minutes. It can be a new scientific invention or solve a common problem. Bonus points if it is functioning and has a great story behind it.

#17 – Make a Movie

This activity includes everything from writing and producing the video to popping popcorn and hosting a family-only world premier.

Kids love to play “movie director”. So, let them take turns. Be sure they have a special hat. Give them a chair labeled, “Director”. Create a bull horn out of poster board for them to shout directions like, “Action!” and “Cut!”.

In the meantime, older siblings or adults can run the camera equipment and create a family masterpiece worthy of Academy Award status. After you finish your creation, be sure to pop popcorn to eat while watching during your premier party.

#18 – Draw Mazes and Take Turns Solving Them

Mazes are a totally fun way to spend a couple of hours.

You can approach this activity in a number of ways. I’m going to give you three variations on this activity. With each one, I would suggest that you divide into teams and assign a time limit for creating the maze.

For a traditional version, divide into teams and give each group paper, rulers, pencils, and a pack of stickers to create obstacles within their maze.

For a more modern twist, give each group a huge pile of Legos and a base plate. They must create their maze using only Lego bricks.

Finally, you can create a life-sized maze. Use your indoor space, yarn, furniture or big pieces of cardboard for participants to try to make their way through in a specified amount of time.

Those who are taking their turn trying to solve the maze of another team should be timed. The opposing team who solves the maze in the least amount of time is declared the winner.

You can create more drama by adding provisions like:

  • Solve the paper maze using only your less dominant hand.
  • Solve the Lego maze, by navigating a marble through the maze.
  • Solve the physical maze, by blindfolding a team member.
  • The other teammates then help them solve the maze, using oral cues only.

#19 – Create Indoor Obstacle Courses

Think “American Gladiator” in your basement. Kids love jumping, zigging, zagging, and climbing. Now I will admit that I have a serious problem with control issues when it comes to messes in my home.

However, my younger sons have loved creating obstacle courses and then competing with one another to achieve a flawless performance in the least amount of time. I do put parameters on how high they can climb and what items can be used to create the course. But, this has been highly successful in our family.

#20 – Clean Out Closets and Organize

Okay, this may seem like a “not fun” thing to do together, but hear me out. My kids have loved tackling organizing projects when we do it as a family. We take everything out of the closet and put it on the floor.

Create three piles:

  • Donate
  • Keep
  • Throw out

Organize and put back the items that you are keeping.

#21 – Let Your Children Teach You a Skill

My children know how to do any number of things that leave me clueless. Computer skills are a really good example. Every once in a while I deliberately ask them to teach me something that I don’t know how to do. Given their vast knowledge and my meager understanding, there are plenty of choices in this area.

Even if your child is young, please take the time to periodically seek their advice, input, or knowledge. Switch traditional roles and let them be your teacher.

#22 – Have a Story-Telling or Tall Tales Contest

Here is a list of items you’ll need for this activity:

Mary Pope Osborne is the author of our very favorite book of tall tales. I read it to my boy a lot when they were young. Reading some traditional tall tales is a great catalyst for family fun. Here’s a list of elements consistently found in tall tales.

After completing your reading and research, divide into teams. Be sure each group has paper, pencils, and crayons or colored pencils (for illustrations).

You can then set each team loose with no further input. Alternately, you can create a list of parameters, writing topics, characters, and setting on several 3 X 5 cards. Each team selects cards from three piles: topics, characters, setting. Set a timer for 30 minutes and create a masterpiece.

Read the finished books aloud. Be sure to show the audience the amazing illustrations in your book.

#23 – Write Letters or Create Cards

Grandparents, older relatives, or church shut-ins love to receive notes, letters, and drawings from young people. A stay-at-home day is the perfect opportunity to let them know that they are remembered and loved.

Pass out paper, pens, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, and coloring pages. Have everyone in the family create expressions of love for those who need a word of encouragement and love.

#24 – Have a “Backward Day”

Try to do as much as you can backward for the entire day. Can they say a sentence or recite the alphabet backward? Wear their shirt and a hat backward? Eat backward meals (supper for breakfast and breakfast for supper)? How about walking backward (carefully)? Write backward? Use your imagination and have fun!

#25 – Take a Virtual Museum Tour

Don’t let the fact that we are all stuck indoors keep you from visiting world-class museums. Here is a list of 12 International museums from Southern Living Magazine, who offer on-line virtual tours. You are sure to discover new favorites and learn a lot in the process.

#26 – Have a “Create a Smoothie” Contest

Coming up with new smoothie flavors is a family pastime. It’s easy to do. Get out an array of frozen fruits, some kale or other vegetables, flavored extracts, ice, and spices. Then, set to work brainstorming and creating new flavors.

There is a magic formula for the perfect smoothie consistency and it’s as easy a 3-2-1.

  • 3 parts fruits and/or vegetables
  • 2 parts liquid (water, juice, milk, plant-based milk)
  • 1 part thickener (Yogurt, applesauce, fruit or vegetable puree)
  • flavorings to balance sweet and bitter (almond or vanilla extract, cinnamon, cardamom, pumpkin pie spice, cocoa, stevia, or molasses are some ideas.)

#27 – Play Music and Dance

You can find every genre of music on YouTube. Listen to them all. Critique them.

  • What did you like?
  • What did you not care for?
  • What worldview was expressed by the lyrics?
  • How did the performer express himself or herself?

Have one family member create a unique, new dance and teach it to everyone else. Can you dance to a musical style as though you were hearing another style? For instance dance “rap” while listening to a ballet?

#28 – Sing Family-Style Karaoke

Karaoke became easy with the advent of YouTube. Search your favorite artists and songs. Find a video, which lists the words as they are sung. Project your computer screen onto the television and sing to your heart’s content. Be sure to pass around a hairbrush or a similar “mic-like” object to each designated singer.

#29 – Play Musical Instruments Together

My husband grew up with his mother or aunt playing the piano, while the extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents) all stood nearby, adding vocals to the mix.

Sharing moments like this with children can be and incredibly memorable and important part of expressing family togetherness and love.

No instruments? No problem.

If you don’t have any musical instruments, then make them. Challenge the kids to see what items they can find around the house to make music.

Pots, pans, and lids provide percussion, while an empty tissue box with rubber bands strung across it can become a guitar. Be sure everyone comes up with a unique version to achieve the greatest depth of sound together.

#30 – Paint or Draw, Using On-Line Tutorials

Art inspired by an on-line tutorial – Philip – age 10

You can find a multitude of high-quality art tutorials on YouTube and on the worldwide web, in general. We have used this free resource for free art instruction multiple times and been pleasantly surprised at how well we were able to follow the (sometimes advanced) techniques.

You can do some pretty amazing things with an inexpensive assortment of paper, colored pencils, and paints.

Your turn!

How do you keep your kids happy and busy when school is out for an extended period of time and you are stuck indoors? Leave your best tips in the comments.

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