55 Cheap or Free Things to Do with Your Kids While Social Distancing

Although social distancing has made life look a bit different, there are still tons of free ways to create fun times and memories with your family.
Last updated Mar 24, 2020 | By Stephanie Colestock
Family dancing in living room

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Life looks a lot different today than it did just a few short weeks ago. Due to the impacts of the coronavirus, households everywhere are learning to adjust to new social distancing practices, school cancellations, and remote work guidelines.

As an introvert who already works from home, social distancing hasn’t been all that difficult (yet). However, the hard part has been having my husband and kids home 24/7. We are still learning how to navigate this new normal as a family (without losing our minds).

One of the best ways we have found to maintain everyone’s sanity is simply to keep busy. But with playgrounds, shops, and trampoline parks off-limits, this has meant coming up with new and exciting ways to keep the kids occupied.

Here are 55 things that your family can do together while social distancing. The good news is that these activities will give you plenty of wonderful time as a family — the great news is that they are all free (or very cheap)!

Outdoor activities

With spring upon most of the country, outdoor activities are a great way to stay busy and enjoy some beautiful weather. The best part: You can do the vast majority of these in the comfort of your own yard.

1. Go cloud-watching

We are lucky that this lockdown is happening as the weather turns beautiful, so we can do things like cloud-watch. Lay out a blanket and look for fluffy formations with your littles, and see who can spot the silliest cloud shape out of the group.

2. Plant some seeds for a garden

You may want to start your seeds indoors, then transfer the plants to your outdoor garden once they’re established. This is a great time to plant fruits, certain vegetables, or even spruce up your home with some beautiful flowers.

3. Draw with sidewalk chalk

Leave letters for neighbors, make a silly mural, or create a washable “stained glass” masterpiece with sidewalk chalk and some painter’s tape. Our neighbors even took their math lesson outside the other day and did long division on the driveway.

4. Play games in your yard

There are so many outdoor games to play with your family, whether it’s a competitive round of tag or simply tossing the football back and forth. If you aren’t up for sports, opt for a round of red light/green light or Mother, May I? instead.

5. Organize a neighborhood hunt

Our neighborhood is keeping kids busy with a series of hunts, which allows everyone to interact in a social distancing-friendly way. For St. Patrick’s Day, we all put shamrocks in our windows and the kids walked the ‘hood counting all they could find. Tomorrow, we are putting out teddy bears so the kids can go on a bear hunt.

If your neighborhood doesn’t do anything like this, start it yourself! Send out an email, make a post on the local Facebook page or simply drop some flyers in mailboxes. It’s a great way to involve everyone.

6. Camp out in the yard

Want the fun of camping with your kids without the hassle of packing a ton of supplies? Pitch a tent in the backyard. You’ll get to enjoy a night under the stars — complete with fire pit and ghost stories, if you dare — but still be close enough to the fridge and a bathroom (just in case).

7. Go stargazing

Count stars, find constellations, or compete to see who can spot the first moving satellite with a backyard stargazing session. There are many free apps that make identifying stars easy too. (Pro tip: the best time to stargaze is around a new moon.)

8. Have a picnic lunch

Whether you put out a blanket by the lake or in your front yard, enjoy lunch in the sunshine with your family.

9. Go fishing

I used to fish all the time with my dad as a kid, but these days, it doesn’t feel like anyone has that kind of time… until now.

Grab a pole, some worms, and a nice folding chair. Then, go teach your kids the art of patience.

10. Fly some kites

Spring is a great time to fly a kite. Wait for a windy day and head to your backyard or the nearest field for some high-flying fun.

Don’t have a kite? You can easily make one from supplies you probably already have at home.

11. Play hopscotch in the driveway

I was surprised to learn that my kids had no clue what hopscotch was! Grab that sidewalk chalk, draw out some squares, and get silly on the sidewalk. When you’re done with that, you can play other chalk games together, such as tic-tac-toe or four square.

12. Have a squirt gun or water balloon fight

Grab a hose, some squirt guns, or fill some water balloons and wage (friendly) war on your whole family!

Stay social

Just because you have to keep your distance from others doesn’t mean you can’t still stay socially active.

13. Write letters to loved ones

One of the hardest parts of social distancing is not being able to spend time with those you love, especially if they are older or immunocompromised. Instead, brighten their day with a handwritten letter. You can even talk about what you hope to do with them soon, when things go back to normal.

14. Interview a family member or friend

Practice your interview skills, pretend to be a reporter, or just find out something you never knew about those around you. Interview your kids about their future plans or have them call the grandparents to ask about their childhood experiences.

15. FaceTime with loved ones

Thankfully, we live in the age of technology, so we can still see our loved ones even if we can’t physically be there with them. FaceTime friends and family members — whether they’re down the street or across the country — and keep in touch with those you love.

16. Practice TikTok dance moves

These days, TikTok is all the rage, with kids practicing and performing dances to post on the social network. Learn some new ones, practice them with your kids, and find ways to put a unique family spin on the videos. Then, post and challenge others to join in.

17. Virtually meet up with friends

Last week, my son’s second-grade class had a virtual meetup, where all the kids logged in to Zoom at the same time and got to visit. It was a lot of fun (if not a bit loud) and they all loved seeing their friends after a week away from school. Plan an online meetup with neighbors, team members, or classmates through a free platform and let everyone catch up.

18. Start a book exchange

Trade your kids’ outgrown books for new ones, declutter the house, or even start an online book club with a neighborhood book exchange. This can easily be done through a group text thread or in a local Facebook group.

(It seems that books are pretty low-risk when it comes to transmitting the coronavirus, but you can keep them in the garage for a day if you’re worried.)

Get creative

Let the quarantine creativity begin!

19. Make a family tree

It’s always fun to teach your kids where you — and ultimately, they — came from through a family tree. Involve the grandparents (via phone) if you need help with this one.

20. Draw a map of your house or neighborhood

Challenge your kids to draw a map of your neighborhood, street, or even just your house — include as many features as possible. See who can do this from memory first, then go for a walk to see whose was the most accurate.

21. Tie-dye shirts

You’ll need supplies for this one, but it’s a blast. Get some plain white T-shirts (or socks, aprons, tea towels… whatever), dye, and rubber bands. There are plenty of tutorials online and on YouTube, and you’ll have some groovy family apparel in no time.

22. Paint a picture of your family

Grab some brushes and start painting. Everyone can do a self-portrait, assign each person a different family member, or have everyone take turns creating a family portrait. (If you’re all as artistically challenged as my family, this will be a hoot.)

23. Make your own movie

From script to costume design to the final screening, work with your family to create your very own movie. Then, make some popcorn and gather on the couch for the big premier.

24. Dye Easter eggs

With Easter right around the corner, what better craft to do as a family than dyeing eggs?

In some areas, eggs are hard to come by right now. If you can’t find eggs in your supermarket, consider decorating construction paper eggs or even painting rocks as an alternative.

25. Paint a family masterpiece

When I was about 12, my mom had all of us kids work together to make a family masterpiece. She bought a big canvas and we each got to paint our own designs in our own style and colors. In the end, it was a Picasso-esque work of art that showcased the uniqueness of our family.

26. Have a costume contest

Using only the items you have in your home, see who can come up with the best costumes. Have categories for the silliest, scariest, and most unique.

27. Write and share spooky stories

Have everyone create a scary story, either with a prompt or entirely on their own. Then, grab a flashlight and take turns telling those stories to the group after dark.

28. Listen to music together

Jam out to a variety of songs, take turns listening to someone else’s favorite genre, and even learn some new dance moves with an in-home jam session. Bonus points for Phil Collins-style air drum solos.

29. Put on a magic show

Know any fun magic tricks? Don’t worry, if not — the internet has you covered with plenty of beginner ideas you can master in no time. Then put on a magic show to showcase your new tricks.

Family Fun

Although no one is celebrating the reason we are all at home, it’s still a great opportunity to enjoy fun family activities that you might not otherwise think to do.

30. Play a board game

Remember family game nights? They used to be a weekly thing in households when I was a kid — now, I feel like they’re a rarity.

Grab a board game or three and challenge your loved ones to a few rounds. With no school tomorrow, you can enjoy a game of Monopoly, even if it lasts for hours.

31. Build a blanket fort

All it takes is a few blankets to transform the living room or a bedroom into a magical world. Pull off the couch cushions and get to work.

Pro tip: the spring clips from dad’s toolbox are infinitely better than clothespins and chip clips when it comes to holding blankets together.

32. Cook a family meal

Teach the kids about cooking while you make a family meal together. You can even take turns being head chef each night, in charge of creating the menu and assigning tasks to the other sous chefs.

33. Have a Lego competition

Unleash your inner kid by hosting a Lego competition with your actual kid. Set a theme for the creations or simply see where everyone’s creativity takes them.

34. Have a movie night

Make a pillow pallet on the floor, pop some popcorn, and settle in for a fun movie night with the family. Some studios are even offering early releases for movies that are technically still in theaters (such as Onward), so you can enjoy them from home.

35. Do chores together

No one enjoys chores, but they’re an unavoidable part of home life. Make them fun by jamming to some tunes and tackling tasks as a family.

Keep learning

Just because the kids aren’t in school doesn’t mean there can’t still be a whole lot of learning going on (for everyone).

36. Teach your kids about financial responsibility

Now is the perfect time to start teaching your kids some basic financial lessons, if you haven’t already. Depending on their age, this might mean working on a family budget, showing them how to write a check or balance a checkbook, or even discussing the recent effects on the stock market.

37. Do a science experiment

Whether your kids are young enough for the baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano or need something more exciting — like a DIY electromagnet? — you can find plenty of at-home experiment ideas online.

38. Listen to a book on Audible

The whole family can cross some reading off their list with an audiobook or three. Audible is offering free stories for kids right now, and many public libraries have free downloadable options for members.

39. Teach your pet a new trick

Your dog is probably ecstatic that the whole family is home for the foreseeable future. Involve your pet in the fun by teaching them a new trick, now that you have the time to really work on it.

40. Learn a new game

Card games, chess, a board game you’ve never seen before… this is a great time to learn a new game yourself or teach your kids how to play something from your childhood.

41. Teach your kids to sew

With the disappearance of home economics, few kids today learn basic household skills like sewing on a button. Grab a needle and some thread and show the kids how it’s done. Who knows? They might find themselves a brand new quarantine activity in the process.

42. Learn a new skill together

Have you always wanted to be able to change your own oil? Want to re-tile the bathroom but aren’t sure how? This is the perfect time to learn a new skill — and cross something off the to-do list — as a family. YouTube is your friend.

Stay active

It can be tempting to stay in your pajamas for days on end, watching Netflix and playing on iPads. But for your mental and physical health, be sure to get moving, too.

43. Enjoy a hike

With warm weather upon us, hiking is a great way to see nature and get out of the house. Many local and national parks remain open, though some are limiting visitors to ensure social distancing. If there are lots of people at the park, take a walk in your neighborhood instead.

44. Ride bikes together

How often do you get to ride bikes with your kids these days? Grab some helmets and find a great trail, or just cruise the neighborhood together.

45. Do yoga or exercise as a family

Go for a family jog, set up a bodyweight circuit in the basement, or unwind with group sun salutations. However your family prefers to exercise, make it fun (and hold each other accountable) by doing it together.

Many yoga studios and gyms are offering free live streaming and recorded classes online in response to the shutdowns. When all else fails, you can also find plenty of ideas and workout videos on sites such as YouTube.

46. Get active with GoNoodle

Created by child development experts, GoNoodle is a fun way to get your kids moving around. Videos for the family are free, so gather around the screen and get ready to get your sillies out.

Get the house in order

You’re stuck at home anyway… might as well use this time to knock out some of those perpetual honey-do tasks.

47. Do yard work together

Now is a great time to pressure-wash the driveway, mulch the garden, or rebuild the deck. Involve your kids in age-appropriate ways as both a family activity and a learning experience.

48. Spring clean those closets

If you’re anything like me, springtime is already your “clear stuff out” season. Why not get the whole family involved while you’re all home? Gather up unused or outgrown items to donate or toss.

49. Rearrange a room or two

Want to redecorate but don’t have the budget (or ability) to go shopping for new decor? Try simply rearranging things.

You’d be amazed what a difference you can make by simply moving a bed, mounting a TV, or rearranging a bookshelf.

50. Clean your cars together

You probably aren’t doing much driving right now, but that doesn’t mean your car(s) can’t be neat and tidy.

Get the whole family involved: someone can be in charge of gathering important items while someone else gets to vacuum. Then, everyone can help with the washing, drying, and even waxing (complete with a thrown sponge or two).

Enjoy quiet time

Although you’re sure to get cabin fever at some point, be sure to also just enjoy some time at home together, relaxing.

51. Have an at-home spa day

Personally, I would love a pedicure and a massage right about now. To appease both the family budget and local health directives, though, I’m hosting an at-home spa day instead.

Take turns giving back rubs or scalp massages, do a family face mask, and paint each other’s nails. No, it probably won’t be the most relaxing spa day you’ve ever had, but it’ll probably be the most memorable.

52. Take turns reading chapters of a book aloud

Reading a book together as a family is a great way to foster a love for reading in your kids, find new conversation starters, and knock out that book list. Take turns reading to really involve the whole family and let the younger ones practice their comprehension skills.

53. Challenge yourselves with new puzzles

Puzzles are a great way to challenge the entire family, especially if you’re stuck indoors due to bad weather. The best part about puzzles is that you can stop at any time and come back to them later, which makes it an easy challenge that’s always running in the background.

54. Check out free online streaming and shows

There are so many exciting shows, performances, classes, and events that are available online for free in response to the coronavirus containment measures.

The Met has begun streaming free encore presentations. You can watch a slew of exceptional, filmed Broadway plays and musicals. Free online classes are available through Ivy League schools and institutions such as Scholastic. And ballets and symphonies across the country have begun live streaming performances for their audiences to enjoy.

No matter what interests you, there are now opportunities to view the things you love from the comfort of home, without spending a penny.

55. Eat a meal together and have a conversation

Sometimes, the best activities are also the simplest.

With sports, extracurricular activities, and demanding work schedules, family meals are a rarity in some homes. Even when everyone does sit down to eat together, it might feel rushed or even involve folks buried in their phones.

Try using this time to institute a special family mealtime, even if it’s just a couple of days a week. Leave devices in another room and engage in conversation while you eat… you’d be surprised by how something so basic can be so special.

Final Thoughts

This is an unprecedented time in the world. Life seems to have been turned on its head, and the pressure of your whole family stuck at home for weeks can be overwhelming.

Luckily, there are so many resources you can use to make this time as fun and exciting as possible. Between learning new things, creating family projects, or even just being silly together in ways you might not have had time for before, you can make the best of social distancing with those you love.

We hope that these ideas give you a good place to start when brainstorming for your own family. Stay well and make lots of great memories!