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How to Keep Kids and Teens Busy: Free and (Mostly Free) Fun Ideas

The Children’s Book Review | March 14, 2020

As parents, there are many times we find ourselves wondering how we are going to keep kids and teens busy without busting the bank. With most of the schools in the USA closed for an extended spring vacation due to the coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, this question is more prevalent than ever. In times when social distancing is required, places of interest—where many people congregate—are off-limits. So we went on a search, while also pulling from our personal parenting arsenal, for activities to share with you. Many of the choices here are free or ‘mostly free’ (assuming you have a few kid-friendly items in your closets and drawers) and also include getting some fresh air and interaction with nature. We all know that screen-free time is best, but there are a bunch of ways to put screentime to good use, too, so some of the activities will require a computer or device that has access to the internet. Since we’re all in this together, we’d love to add your suggestions to our list, too. Be sure to drop your hot tips into the comments below.

Indoor Activities

Read a Book

Read! I bet you knew we’d kick off with reading. If your kiddos need some motivational tips, we’ve got you covered with literacy activities that work for families.

Be a Helper

There is definitely a trick for making chores fun and Scholastic has nine clever ways for doing just so. Donate some allowance from doing chores to your local foodbank. Check in on at at-risk neighbor by doing a Facetime check-in for company while keeping distance.

Build a Fort

Get creative and build a fort. Then get ready for imagination play, reading a book, or play card games inside it. Stringing some fairy lights can make it feel even more inviting and magical (even for the teens). Pinterest has you covered for fort inspiration.

Audiobooks and Podcasts

The ultimate chillout activity. Listen to audiobooks and family-friendly podcasts while relaxing in bed or crafting.

Listen to Music

Turn on a favorite playlist to chill, throw a dance party, or have a singalong—pull out some pots and pans for the youngest kids. For younger kids, author and singer-songwriter Emily Arrow has a great YouTube channel for music time and is offering a live singalong the week of March 16, 2020. And don’t worry, you can catch each show on her YouTube channel if you miss it live.

Arts and Crafts

There’s always Pinterest for loads of ideas, but here’s some basics to get you started: Drawing, painting, sticker books, play-doh, and modeling clay. You may enjoy checking out our Learn to Draw on TCBR series. Author-illustrator Carin Berger has some great activities on her site, such as coloring pages and making shadow puppets. Mo Willems also invites you to his studio to draw, doodle, and explore with him in the Lunch Doodles videos.

Game Time

Puzzles, games, and cards, oh my! We absolutely love family game time. Some of our favorite games are from Gamewright, including Sleeping Queens and Rat-a-Tat-Cat.


Pull out the building toys stashed in the closet like LEGOS, MagnaTiles, Tinkertoys, Zoobs, and Lincoln Logs.


For kiddos that thrive on learning, our favorite workbooks are the Kumon and BrainQuest series.

Science Activities

It’s the perfect time for a little science experimenting. Make a paper mache volcano erupt. Perhaps your kids have received a science kit for a birthday present, and it got stashed in the closet right next to the building toys. Now is the time to pull these out and use them. Also, this site has tons of science kits for homeschooling: https://www.homesciencetools.com/

Cooking and Baking

An activity that is both yummy and fun: Cooking and baking together! And, yes, reading recipes count towards your daily reading minutes.

Outdoor Activities

Neighborhood Walk

Head out on a neighborhood walk with the free and fun I Spy Walk printable from the Mess for Less site.

Backyard Number Fun

Create a fun number hunt game that gets kids moving and counting in your backyard. It’s a collaborative game of hide and seek, and, once again, you can find the details on the Mess for Less site.

Nature Hike

Go on a hike! Fresh air is good for you! Take a sketchbook with you and stop and draw or write about what you see. Or make this an indoor/outdoor activity by writing or drawing in your journal once you arrive back home. For younger kids, pack lots of snacks! REI has even more tips for making hiking fun.

Bike Riding

Head out on a bike or scooter ride—pedaling through puddles or setting up a racecourse makes it extra fun. Here are more tips for making biking even more fun than the average roll down the sidewalk: https://activeforlife.com/10-ways-make-biking-fun-for-kids/

Educational Screentime Activities

Note: Some of the educational apps we recommend require a subscription after a 30-day free trial; however, you can set a reminder to cancel the subscription before the billing cycle kicks in.

Virtual Museum Tour

Take a virtual tour of 12 famous museums right from your couch, including the Guggenheim in NYC and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

ABCmouse.com® Early Learning Academy

If you’re looking for a fun, engaging, and educational program that is smartphone, tablet, and computer friendly, ABCmouse.com® Early Learning Academy is a great digital learning resource for children ages 2–8.

Adventure Academy

From the creators of ABCmouse, this educational app is for children ages 8-13: Adventure Academy.


ReadingIQ offers a library of over 7,000 books for kids of all reading levels, ages two through twelve. We’ve used the app for everything from potty training entertainment to working on listening comprehension skills to logging reading time for elementary and middle school students.

Typing Practice

A great way to put screentime to good use is to play fun games that improve typing skills. Our favorites are ABCYA.com and TYPING.com.


Yes! Educational programming exists and the We Are Teachers site has a list of 30 Educational Netflix Shows to entertain and engage.

Watch Broadway Plays and Musicals

There will be plenty of teens that will enjoy this activity. Playbill has shared a list of 15 Broadway plays and musicals that you can watch on stage from home. Take this activity to the next level and create your own play!

Bianca Schulze curated this list of How to Keep Kids and Teens Busy: Free and Mostly Free Fun Ideas. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Reading Tips and Writing Tips.
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Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review. She is a reader, reviewer, mother and children’s book lover. She also has a decade’s worth of experience working with children in the great outdoors. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s specialist bookseller, the goal is to share her passion for children’s literature to grow readers. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she now lives with her husband and three children near Boulder, Colorado.

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