This year has seen a lot of people spending more days at home than ever before, and there are a lot of questions from parents “what do we do when we can’t get out?!” We’re an outdoor family, but of course we spend some time indoors also.
I think indoor time should be used exercising our brains or our bodies (or both)! Here’s our indoor active play and games gift guide to help you make the most of your indoor time!
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Indoor Active Play Toys and Games
Whether you’re stuck inside under quarantine or inside more during shorter winter days, bringing some active play into your indoor spaces is a great way to not feel “stuck” indoors.
I’ve always encouraged kids to be active during homeschooling also. Sometimes we do have to sit at the table to do things, but I’m totally OK with reading to kids while one is up on a ninja line and the other is hanging upside down on monkey bars!
Our favorite item for indoor active play is the nugget couch. There are several reasons for this, first and foremost it’s because even by themselves they are wonderful and use the imagination while promoting exercise and tumbling.
You can build endless configurations of forts with them. For fort building, more is better. We have five (that we’ve accumulated over years), but with two or three sets you can do a ton of stuff. And with one you can have a lot of fun too, your fort building is just more limited.
The solid foam in the thick firm nuggets is extremely firm. It’s hard to find foam this solid that isn’t treated with flame retardants, so these awesome nugs are worth their weight even just for awesome crash pads!
For crash pads we use the firm nugget, or double up on the squishy ones. One squishy nugget by itself isn’t sufficient to provide fall support from some of the higher indoor things we use.
Indoor gyms are amazing, and there are a lot of different options. We went with the SportBaby Swedish Ladder because we have a small home and it was going in our living room. It’s wall-mounted and doesn’t really take up very much space so amazing for indoor active play.
This particular gym comes with the ladder portion that mounts to the wall (we added a few 2x4s to secure it), a rope ladder, rope swing, swinging rope, set of rings, a detachable triangle bar set (great for younger kids, or for cats… but sturdy enough that my bigger kids sit up there on it and hang from it too) and a long slide. Even the cat likes to play inside.
This could be a fairly simple DIY, the biggest expense is going to be the large dowels. But the value of the kits for what you get is excellent.
Other popular options if you have more space include the BrainRich play gym, and EZ Play Koala play gym. The EZ Play folds up for storage which is handly for small spaces, but the BrainRich is going to last a lot longer and support older children playing on it.
There are so many different options for ninja lines out there. Of course for most people this is an outdoor item, but because our nugget couches are such awesome crash pads and we have beams in our house already… it seemed like a great choice to bring the ninja line inside for active play.
We have our hammocks (see below), ninjafists, mobile monkey bar triangles, climbing rope, and an extra set of gym rings on ours. They’re secured with these hanging ropes which work awesome for our beam and let us easily clip and unclip hammocks or any other ninja line accessory we want.
Hammocks are one of our favorite things when the kids really have the wiggles. We definitely need one per child, so again the beam in our living room comes in very handy.
Sometimes they all hook them separately, sometimes they swing on the same hook and help give each other momentum, and sometimes they go two or three in one hammock. They also love putting nuggets and other couches inside hammocks for indoor active play.
You can really use any type of hammock for these. Right now we have Madera Art Hammocks (code: ALASKAWILDLINGS for 20% off), and I like them because they’re really thin and the kids can do more acrobatics with them than with our other ones. They’re also nice to look at (though I do wish it had the print on both sides), and since I have them in my living room it’s nice to have cool outdoor prints.
Pikler Triangle for Toddlers
The Pikler triangle is the little brother to the Swedish ladder or indoor gym. It’s really great for babies and toddlers to explore and test their mobility on. Before they can even walk, they can climb!
We have the Lily and River Pikler triangle, and have both slides for it. One has a ladder on the back side and the other has a rock wall. They’re both awesome and having the two slides really expands the play options.
While my kids have “outgrown” this as a climber, we still use it often and it pairs nicely with the nuggets. They also use it to connect the Nilo tables together, and make a bridge to the Swedish ladder.
Indoor Snowball Fight
These look like just dryer balls, but hear me out… they are SO MUCH FUN. You could probably make something with yarn if you’re so inclined, but these are so much lighter than a typical “dryer ball” which means it’s not going to damage anything or hurt when you get hit with it during indoor active play.
Sometimes snowball fights include building nugget forts to hide behind and throw them. Sometimes we have a nugget mat all across the room and it’s a game of dodging and diving.
Whatever way we do it, it is always a blast and usually we all end up laughing and stopping out of sheer exhaustion. When everyone is feeling a little cranky, dance party and snowball fight almost always solves this immediately.
Best Board Games for Kids
As my kids are getting older (at the time of this writing they are 6, 5, and 3) one of the most exciting things is playing more board and card games with them! Most of our favorite games also have an outdoor theme.
Wildcraft is top of the list because we play it almost every day. I often play it with the kids, but they can play it entirely on their own because it doesn’t require reading.
The cards all have words on them but the pictures are all you need to understand the game.
Even as young as 2 the kids memorize most of the cards, my 3 year old can now tell me 90% of the plants and “troubles” that you encounter during this hike up the mountain to get huckleberries.
Wildcraft is a team game, and you hike up the mountain together and all need to make it down together before the sun sets to win! You get “helper” cards so you can use your plants to help another player out of their “trouble”, so there is a really cooperative spirit to it.
Another favorite is CAMP!, though one that requires reading so the kids can’t play on their own just yet. This game is fun and easy, and not a very long game. It has fun camp facts (though a few of them have incorrect answers).
There are four levels of questions, my 3 year old can answer most level 1, my 5 year old can answer level 2, and my 6.5 year old can answer level 3 and occasionally he springs for the “adult” level 4.
You can find the travel version here on Amazon. We also have heard (from the TMM Team) awesome things about the Fishing Camp Board Game, which is similar.
Trekking the National Parks
The Trekking the National Parks game is a favorite of the girls’ (3 and 5) just because of the jewels in it.. but they rarely are able to sit to finish the whole game. My 6.5yo loves to play though and it holds his attention.
This game will definitely grow with our family. It’s a National Parks version of Ticket to Ride (also a classic that I think every family should own!), and like Ticket to Ride my husband and I enjoy playing this one on our own even without the kids.
Memory games are excellent for young kids. Actually for everyone, all ages can benefit from a fun memory exercise. There are a TON of memory games out there, but these three are nature/outdoor-focused and as much fun for me as for the kids.
The poop game (“Who Pooped?“) is an absolute favorite and we never tire of it. Kids’ memories are so good that even my girls who were miles from word recognition took to it immediately! I really have to pay attention to match the animal to their scat, and wouldn’t remember which was hippo vs rhino poop without the words.
One of our other favorite memory games is the Match a Leaf game (this one is VERY hard). It’s a really fun game even if the majority of trees aren’t something we’d ever see locally.
And a game you really can’t beat for beauty as well for learning common garden flowers and veggies is the Grow a Garden memory game.
DIY memory games!
Since we loved the match a leaf game so much, it gave me the idea to make some of our own memory games. They’re still a work in progress, but it’s going to be a really fun way to get all our favorite local plants, flowers, and trees into a memory game!
Puzzles are so much fun. With so many amazing landscapes to explore via puzzle, the options are endless.
Our favorite puzzles are often world map puzzles, especially the ones that have local animals or buildings or foods on the map too so we learn about places as we go, and each child picks their favorite areas/things and work on those portions.
My kids love a challenge and especially if you do the puzzles with your kids, get harder ones and see how they do with them. I like having a variety of puzzle options so we can do a 100, 300, 500, or 1,000 piece world map puzzle depending on how much time we have or how much we want a challenge.
For doing puzzles, I love having a table with a raised frame like our Nilo table so you don’t lose pieces. These tables are really excellent for so much: LEGO, art, any board game, playmobil… pretty much anything except for use as a train table which I find really limits train play.
While many puzzles are still backordered, Biddle and Bop has a great selection of beautiful and education puzzles for families.
The Bottom Line
Being indoors doesn’t have to mean the end of fun active play. As always, lead with enthusiasm and let the kids do their thing, hopefully some of these tools will help bring the fun of the outdoors in!
What are your favorite ways to stay active and engaged indoors? Let us know in the comments!
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