30 things to do when kids say ‘I’m bored’

Feb. 4, 2021
30 things to do when kids say ‘I’m bored’

Few things are more frustrating for a parent or caregiver to hear from a child than the dreaded “I’m bored!” Maybe it’s because we know there’s a pile of perfectly good toys in their room just waiting to be played with. Or maybe it’s because they’re clearly looking to us to solve the problem for them.

No parent or child care provider wants kids to sit around bored for hours, so what’s the right way to handle the situation? We spoke to experts to get their thoughts on the best ways to help kids get active and deal with boredom.

First, know that being bored can be good for kids

Experts agree that children today are over-scheduled and over-stimulated and recommend parents and caregivers view bored kids as an opportunity, rather than a burden. Heidi McBain, a family and play therapist, says boredom is essential for kids because it leads to increased creativity and helps them to grow in important ways.

“When a child is bored, they are learning that they need to create their own fun and entertainment,” McBain says. “They need to explore their world. They need to learn new things on their own.”

When a child is forced to come up with their own ways to entertain themselves, it gives them the opportunity to look inside and think about their own interests and passions.

Ari Yares, a licensed psychologist and parenting coach, suggests that children who say they’re bored may also simply be looking for parental or adult engagement.

“It's important to remember that a child saying that they are bored doesn't really mean that they have run out of fun things to do,” Yares says. “It means that what they see in front of them isn't stimulating or interesting. It may also be a sign that they just need some adult attention.”

Cuddling for a few moments on the couch with a child may be enough to reset their busy minds and recharge their batteries.

Then, create a ‘Boredom Jar’ 

A “Boredom Jar” is one way to get ahead of the boredom game without completely solving the problem for kids. Work with the child to come up with a list of things they like to do. Write each item down on a slip of paper and put all of the papers in the jar. The next time the child says they’re bored, tell them to choose a slip from the “Boredom Jar” and let them work on whatever idea they’ve picked.

Here are 30 ideas to get you started.

Boredom-busting ideas for active kids

1. Play a sport outside

This is such a simple idea, but sometimes kids just need someone to put it in their heads. You can make several list items out of this one — basketball, wiffle ball, soccer or football are just a few options.

2. Go for a bike ride

Depending on the child's age, a bike ride can be up and down the driveway (with you keeping an eye on them) or around the neighborhood. Older kids may even run into neighborhood friends along the way and end up having fun outside for hours.

3. Wash the car for mom or dad

Kids love doing tasks that make them feel grown up and accomplished and this idea fits the bill perfectly. The bonus, of course, is that mom or dad gets a nice clean car out of it, too.

4. Do ‘mindful movement’ videos

Apps like GoNoodle are full of mindful videos that are designed to release pent up energy in kids while helping them learn at the same time. Kids may be familiar with GoNoodle from school, and it’s easy for parents to create a family account ahead of time so that kids can use them whenever they need to dance their boredom blues away.

5. Play hide-and-seek

And oldie, but a goodie. This works for families with siblings and can be done in or outdoors. If they are playing this outside, set parameters for how far they can go to find a hiding spot.

6. Have a dance party

Create a playlist with kids ahead of time and then put it on when they choose this option. By the time they’re done dancing and singing along to their favorite songs, they’ll be too tired to be bored.

7. Make a fort

Kids love making forts and this is a great idea for those winter days when you’re all stuck inside. Let them use pillows, blankets and anything else that is hanging around to create their own private fort. Bringing in a flashlight and some stories will keep them busy for quite a while.

8. Make an obstacle course

If you have a bored toddler or preschooler on your hands, they will need your help for this, but elementary-aged kids can handle making an obstacle course on their own. Older kids will feel accomplished creating it themselves and will be excited to show you what they’ve done.

9. Clean and re-organize their room

Depending on the kid’s taste, you may hear some groans if they pick this one. If they seem less than excited to tackle it, offer up cleaning the kitchen as an alternative. Odds are they’ll make a beeline for their bedroom and end the day with a clean room that they feel good about.

10. Do a yoga or fitness class

There are tons of yoga and fitness classes on YouTube that are geared toward kids of all ages. Make a playlist ahead of time so that it’s ready to go when they choose this option. Take a look at Cosmic Kids and Kidz Bop for child-friendly video options.

11. Go on a Lego hunt

You’ll need four pieces of paper and an assortment of Lego blocks that match in color for this activity. Start by laying out the four pieces of paper and hiding the Lego blocks somewhere in the home or have older siblings hide them. Kids must then go find the Lego pieces and place them on the matching colored paper until all of the pieces have been found.

12. Go on a scavenger hunt

Have an older sibling create a list of items that younger siblings have to find in or outdoors. If you're playing with an only child or young children, you’ll have to make up the list yourself, but it will keep them busy scouring for a good amount of time.

Boredom-busting ideas for kids who love to be creative

13. Write your own story

Put together a box or jar of storytelling prompts ahead of time and tell the child to choose one to use to create their story. Ask them to make a cover picture for the story, as well.

14. Put on a play

In this activity, children can create simple plays (depending on their age) and use clothes from around the house to put on their show when they’re ready.

15. Do an art challenge

There are lots of art challenges on YouTube, such as the Three Marker Challenge, that kids will get a kick out of trying. There are also many channels dedicated to helping kids create their own art, such as Art for Kids Hub. Parents can set kids up with one of these to really get their creative juices flowing. If you’d rather not use electronics for this one, try printing out a 30-day art challenge template for ideas.

16. Make Play-Doh sculptures and put on an art show

A great activity for preschoolers, you can even put some glitter in a few of the play dough colors to make it a little more exciting for them.

17. Create a gratitude or vision board

Have some large poster paper on hand in case the child chooses this option. Ask them to put together a gratitude board that is made up of things they’re grateful for, or a vision board that represents what they hope for themselves for the year. Once they’re done, hang it up in their room so they can see it every day.

18. Draw murals outside with colored chalk

Bring out a big box of colored chalk and let them go crazy on the driveway or sidewalk. If you have an elementary school-age kid who likes a challenge, tell him to draw you something that tells a story and then have him narrate it for you when he’s done.

19. Collect rocks and paint them

In this activity, kids can search for the most interesting rocks they can find in the backyard or driveway. Once they’ve gathered them, give them some paint and have them paint the collection in whatever way they want and then display their work in their room.

20. Create chalk dolls and dress them up

Kids can trace each other’s bodies with chalk or you can do the tracing for them. Once they have the basic body shape, they can draw the faces, hair and other details and then use clothes from their drawers to dress up their chalk dolls.

21. Write a letter to a grandparent or older relative

In this activity, children will choose a grandparent or older relative to write a letter to. The letter can be about absolutely anything, and you can show them how to address and mail it when they’re done. Not only will kids be doing an interesting language skill-boosting activity, but you’ll have one very happy person when they receive their letter.

22. Do a puzzle

If you have older kids, make sure you have some puzzles around with lots and lots of pieces for this activity. Smaller kids will be happy doing several less complicated puzzles.

23. Create a ‘When I grow up’ poster

In this activity, ask kids to think about what they want to be when they grow up. Once they’ve decided on something, ask them to make a poster all about that career. Encourage them to use a computer, tablet or phone to look up facts about the career they’ve chosen.

24. Put together a time capsule

This one is so fun! Have kids collect items that they feel represent the time they’re living in. Older kids can also fill out simple questionnaires about themselves to put in the jar. Once it’s all set, ask them to put it in a hiding spot for you all to find and open up on an agreed-upon future date.

25. Create a toothpick tower

The toothpick STEM challenge is an ideal way for kids to improve their problem-solving skills while doing something fun. All you need are some toothpicks and small marshmallows.

26. Make slime

Yes, you may be tired of slime and all the slime-related messes, but there’s no doubt that this is a kid-approved activity that takes up a good chunk of time. Plus, kids are learning about chemical composition, and it’s a real sensory treat for them once it’s done. From fluffy slime to stretchy slime, there are lots of recipes available for you to choose from.

27. Plan and make your own lunch

Kids ages 7 and older can definitely do this activity. Ask them to come up with their own lunch menu (including dessert) and have them make it. Younger kids should stick with sandwiches or anything that doesn’t need to be cooked.

28. Bake cookies or brownies

Kids love baking and this is another activity that helps them feel useful and accomplished. They’ll need you or an older sibling to help, but the payoff is that you get to eat the goodies once they’re cooked!

29. Create some snack art

Give little ones a few items to use to create their own snack art and have them make one for you, too!

30. Write a letter to a soldier

Go to Any Soldier to find a list of active-duty members of the military who would love to receive a letter in the mail. Have kids write their own thank-you note to a soldier and help them mail it off when they’re done.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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