I’m Bored, Mom: Unplugged Play at Home

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

This post originally published on July 5, 2010. Enjoy!

Summer is in full swing and I’m even basking in the sun while writing this post. Most likely your kids have looked forward to the joys of this season with great anticipation.

But sometimes when so much unstructured time floats their way, one familiar phrase invades a child’s vocabulary: “Mom, I’m bored.”

You don’t need to fall back on video games or another movie when a child needs a little play direction. Use the following ten ideas to help you enjoy the summer at home and stay unplugged at the same time.

1. Organize a backyard Olympics.

Your backyard may be fabulous, but occasionally it needs a little freshening up. Try a backyard Olympics.

Create an obstacle course with chairs turned on their sides, your outdoor table, a trampoline, the hose–whatever you have to work with. Let your kids develop the games themselves and create prizes to go to the winners of each event.

2. Make a sidewalk mural.

Get out the chalk and washable paint and plan an art masterpiece.

Younger children can be kept occupied for hours while painting with water. Older children can spend indoor time beforehand sketching out mural ideas, then putting them into practice outside.

3. Plan a home camp out.

Photo by makelessnoise

I don’t think I’ve met a child yet who doesn’t love camping. Indoors or outdoors, camping at home is a breeze. There are no big plans to make, no endless list of supplies to take along.

You provide the tent (or large sheets and plenty of clothespins) and let the kids get busy. Hot dogs on the grill and smores over an outdoor fireplace will provide the perfect end to the day.

4. Get creative with bubble prints.

Kids love the magic of bubbles. Did you know you can also use bubbles in your artwork? Try this project–outside, unless you’re really brave!

In a container, stir together tempera paint, some water, and liquid dish detergent. The more paint you include, the brighter the bubble print will be. Experiment with the ingredients until you reach a bubble consistency.

Place a straw in the mixture and begin to blow until the container fills with bubbles (Make sure your little ones don’t suck in if they try this!). As the bubbles expand and overflow, place your paper over the top and allow them to pop on the paper–leaving their print behind. Experiment with different colors if you like, then lay flat to dry.

5. Create a habitat for outdoor creatures.

Releasing our butterflies in the backyard

This is the perfect time of year to watch nature in action. We recently loved observing caterpillars transform into butterflies using Insect Lore’s Live Butterfly Garden. Releasing them was an amazing treat!

You can always use a jar with holes in the lid to create your own habitat–let your children place their critter finds inside to watch for a while.

6. Prepare for afternoon tea.

Get ready for an afternoon tea party and have everyone dress up for the occasion.

Afternoon tea isn’t afternoon tea without scones, of course, so use this recipe from Simple Bites to make a delicacy everyone in the family will enjoy.

7. Rearrange the furniture.

I spent many happy childhood hours rearranging the furniture in my bedroom. Older children may enjoy sketching out a floorplan of their proposed changes, then getting your approval before they begin their work.

Or if Dad is away at work for the day, surprise him when he arrives home with a completely rearranged living room!

8. Make mud–lots of it.

Photo by mollypop

Kids love mud, and as Simple Organic editor Katie recently reminded us, playing in the dirt is good for kids.

Take off your shoes, point the hose in the dirt, and let the fun begin. After everyone is nice and muddy, turn the sprinkler on to get everyone presentable before you head back inside.

9. Create your own games.

Children love making up rules to new games, which can be done indoors or out.

If you have an inspiring artist in the family, this game kit allows you to produce your own customized board and card games. Spend time playing the games together when the creation is complete.

10. Reach out to your neighbors.

Summer is full of outdoor opportunities, like cookouts and block parties, to get to know those who live nearby.

One of my sons, who currently aspires to be an author, has spent hours creating books for our neighbors in recent weeks–detailed stories, poems, and illustrations. Not only has this kept him happily busy, it’s also created a special bond within our community when he delivers his gifts.

A little gentle direction from us as parents can help our kids maximize their unplugged play this season.

Need help to implement these ideas and make them even more exciting? Write these and other summer activities on small slips of paper. Cut up, fold, and put in a jar. Once a week (or whenever works for you) have a child choose what the day’s activity will be.

Unplugged summer fun for all is guaranteed!

How do you help redirect your kids when summer boredom strikes?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Love these ideas (as always)! One thing I do is to jot down on a piece of paper fun, boredom busting activities (like making binoculars out of paper towel rolls and going on a nature walk, or teaching my oldest how to sew bean bags). Then, when the kiddos start to get restless, I have a handy activity ready! I try to have indoor and outdoor, for when the occasional afternoon thunderstorm ruins outdoor plans OR for when we have a slightly cooler afternoon where going out is a treat. I especially love your bubble activity, we’ll have to try that!
    .-= Paula@Motherhood Outloud’s last blog: What I Learned from Swimming Lessons =-.

  2. When my kids were younger I posted a list of activity ideas on my fridge to help them out. My girls love to have little picnics/tea parties in the yard and can set this up by themselves. I keep them well stocked with summer reading material which helps greatly.

  3. My kids usually shoot down any specific activities I suggest, so this year I made up “Kid Creative Challenge Cards” instead. Each card asks them to gather certain materials and then gives a challenge for using them. Some are geared towards outdoor activities, others for indoor play. You can download them form my blog post, http://www.liveyourart.net/2010/06/bored-yet-i-have-solution.html
    .-= Casey M’s last blog: Friday Bits =-.

  4. When my kids tell me they’re bored, I tell them that if they can’t find something fun to do then I’ll give them a job. It works.
    .-= Jennifer Jo’s last blog: To make the belly dance =-.

  5. Great list of ideas! I included this in my blog’s weekly Reading Roundup!!!
    Toni Turbeville’s latest post: READING ROUNDUP – Best Links Of The Week

  6. This is a great list! I love that most of it can be accomplished even in apartment living! I feel like us apartment dwellers often get overlooked in lists like this =)

  7. Great ideas! I especially love #7, rearrange the furniture. I used to love rearranging my bedroom furniture when I was a kid. It definitely cured my boredom. I just wrote a blog about giving your kids the gift of boredom, which is often the catalyst for inspiration. You can download a free, printable tip sheet called “50 Boredom Busters,” which can help banish boredom and jumpstart your kids’ creativity. It’s available here at http://www.sparkparenting.com/resources-TipSheets.html. It includes similar ideas to the ones you posted here, with a few dozen more sprinkled in for fun. 🙂 Happy summer!
    Lisa @ SPARKParenting.com’s latest post: Give Your Kids the Gift of Boredom

  8. Christine says:

    This is a list of very nice ideas, but what happened to the old standby my mom used to use? Her suggestion? You’re bored? You can vacuum. The idea was, make your own fun. She had things to do, regardless of whether or not we were in school. We were free to go and have fun, so either we should figure out something to do or she would give us a chore. It worked every time. I still hate vacuuming.

  9. What a great list of fun ideas!
    Teresa’s latest post: Sprained

  10. Great ideas! love the photo with the butterfly – their expressions are incredible.
    Leslie’s latest post: Happy 4th of July-

  11. Great blog! Thought you may be interested in this new website to encourage children to engage in unstructured, imaginative and creative play by introducing them to the old-time traditional games.

  12. Kristen says:

    Great ideas! Can I admit that I often ignore my children? I find that after a day or two of little Mommy-directed or outside activities, they stop saying they’re bored and get on with the business of playing. It is not long-lasting however and must be repeated after a week of summer camp or “its too hot to go outside so lets watch a movie.”

  13. Tents in the kitchen or living room from blankets is always fun!
    Great list!
    Living the Balanced Life’s latest post: Learning to celebrate your strengths

  14. My husband recently made a fire pit in the back yard. It’s encircled in rocks. We’ve left paint supplies nearby. The kids are little by little “customizing” the rocks for our pit when they’re bored.
    Alice’s latest post: Summer Reading

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