12 Awesomely Easy but Incredibly Ugly Indoor Activities for Kids

I am of the opinion (since you ask) that what parents want are easy and effective activities to keep their kids busy, especially when they are stuck indoors. They don’t need (or want) to spend more time setting up a project then the kids spend engaged with it. Am I right?

Easy (yet ugly) indoor activities for kids that really work.

If you’ve been following me for any length of time (bless you), you know my favorite indoor activities are those my kids can do by themselves. I don’t spend a lot of time creating beautifully designed DIY projects. You won’t see my homemade toys featured on design blogs and pinned 300,000 times. However, what you will find right here are extremely easy ideas that normal (or lazy, like me) parents can actually do.

Today I am rounding up my favorite easy but ugly ideas. It’s okay if you don’t decoupage your cardboard boxes, color coordinate your clothespins or cover tin cans with washi tape in order to keep your kids entertained. If you like doing that, great! I am not in any way knocking my fellow bloggers. Indeed, I envy their ability to create gorgeous ideas and their success speaks for itself.

However, all bloggers know they have embarrassingly ugly posts in their archives.  I’m pulling mine out for you in all their ugly but awesome glory. These ideas are not pretty. But who cares? They will entertain your kids.

Warning: These pictures are not pretty, they lack proper lighting, and may even be are slightly out of focus. CLICK on the orange links below to see the original (and ugly) project

That last one is my favorite. I originally titled the post, “How to get siblings to work together.” Go on. Click on it to find out why.

So what about you? How much effort do you put into helping your kids entertain themselves? Are your projects beautiful? Are they so-so? Or are they really quite ugly, like mine? No matter your design talent, we can all agree on the objective: happy, busy kids.

Don’t forget, you can find more easy ideas (some might even be pretty!) on our giant list of indoor activities.

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  1. says

    Thank you! The only reason i can comment here is because my son is occupied with an baking tray filled with ice (an idea I’m pretty sure I saw here?) and yes, I do like looking at those nice pictures of pretty kids toys and activities but have to admit, the most photogenic things are not always the ones that keep them occupied.

  2. Jacki W. says

    Oh my goodness, my soul needed this right now! Pinterest has a way of making me believe I’m the only mom who doesn’t always do show-quality crafts.

    • Erica MomandKiddo says

      Ya know… I love looking at Pinterest (I’m an addict) but part of it is because I know my stuff will never look like that. So I’m just an admirer from afar! :)

  3. Rachel says

    I love you for posting this! I do like to sometimes make toys “pretty” for my daughter BUT a few months ago I made her a simple foldable castle out of a moving box. I didn’t decorate it because in the past she has lost interest with cardboard toys pretty quickly. With this toy however she has played with it off and on for months and every time I see it I feel guilty that I didn’t decorate it for her. She doesn’t seem to mind but I think its a pressure I put on myself because of pinterest projects I’ve seen. Thanks for being real!

  4. says

    OK, girls, I’ve barely been able to keep up with my overflowing blog list, but when I saw the heading for this one, I HAD to look :) I have a few things to say that I HOPE will help you take some unnecessary weight off your shoulders. I need to state that my son is now 28 and married, so I’m speaking with some experience in this area. I can also tell you I’m grateful I didn’t have the internet or Pinterest when he was young!

    The first thing I HAVE to say is: Erica, you are NOT lazy!!!!! NO way, Jose! A lazy mother doesn’t do all these wonderfully creative things for her kids; she is completely satisfied with them only using electronic things that only require a power button. I am NOT an easy person to impress, and I am continually impressed by your creative posts, Erica 😀

    You and other mothers who take the time to even think of AND do these things are giving your kids great gifts! They are learning so much and having fun at the same time:

    — that store-bought, fancy toys aren’t always the most fun AND not always necessary

    — how to be resourceful with materials to construct things other than what they were intended for

    — how to think creatively

    — that their mom helped fill their childhoods with fun, imaginative projects and pastimes

    — not to mention the academic-related skills, whether mathematical, scientific, etc. and supporting their abstract reasoning.

    –just SO many things!

    OK, that’s the first part of this. I’m going to tell you a couple of little anecdotes:

    Set-up: I am an artist and generally creative person. Throughout my life I have been involved with some form of creativity, entertainment and decor on all different levels, from being an 8-year-old trying to build a cardboard carnival, to back in high school decorating the halls for a pep rally, to building a life-size boardwalk out of cardboard for my son’s 6th grade party, to his high school Projection Graduation (I wish they would do away with this), to working in Entertainment & Decor professionally, to my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding, not to mention very elaborate, themed birthday parties ’til he turned 10 (I did all the work, it wasn’t hired out).

    When my son got older, he told me that of all the parties, the ones he actually remembered clearly were not the most elaborate ones, and he was 3 and 4 for those. Not that he didn’t remember the other ones, but at that age I believe he was more impressionable. And it wasn’t the “prettiness” of them—it was the activities. They remember the FUN. And he actually said I always made his childhood imaginative and creative, and it was with this type of stuff you do, though I was working so wasn’t home as much as I would like to have been (divorced) so didn’t do as many things or as often. Anyway, they do NOT care about “pretty” and won’t unless THEY themselves are naturally artistic and visual and have a tendency to want to decorate. And if they want to, let THEM do it and help them IF you need or want to. Parents who think they have to be doing everything WITH the kids is also not allowing them to do and learn and BE for themselves, and they also need to learn that mom and dad have other things to do, too. To do full-blown craft activities typically requires a lot of time and adult assistance—and a lot of times—expense.

    Anyway, I see nothing wrong with wanting to do that at all, but to think that’s what SHOULD be “THE” way to entertain kids is simply unrealistic for most parents, and not necessary. I can’t see any of you feeling inferior or inadequate on any level because you don’t have the time or desire to make fancy crafts and projects. Maybe, IF your kids and you want to, make a special day a year when you do something fancy lol It seems to me the stuff these other moms are doing that you ladies are comparing yourselves to is “pretty,” but that’s not the most important factor, in my opinion. Being wholesomely entertained and educated is what is, and you do that in spades!

    Wow, I’m getting long-winded here, but obviously, my feelings about this are strong! :) Because I’ve done what I’ve done and know what I know, when we were doing Project Graduation, I was in charge of Entertainment and Decor. For years the parents would transform the school hallways and rooms to be some “other world” for a night. They spent all their weekends, countless nights (and days) doing this, PLUS having to spend a lot of time and effort fundraising to pay for the whole shebang. I’m always involved in a transitional year, which ultimately means twice as much work because no one can compromise unless they do BOTH options. Some people, like myself, thought the work involved was ridiculous and unnecessary. Others refused to let go of the tradition. Ultimately we ended up doing the entertainment off school property, but STILL had to decorate part of the school for when then came back for breakfast. I desperately tried to make the point that decorating the school is a waste of time and money. Put some balloons, a few signs, etc. to make it festive, but it doesn’t have to look like “Disney World” or “Under the Sea” or “Cabana Night” or whatever. The money should go largely toward entertainment because THAT is what matters for the kids to have a good time. They sort of listened.

    Anyway, I’m telling you this because I’ve had experience along these lines and I’m not even sure I’m getting the point across. I just REALLY don’t want to see any of you mothers beating yourself up about something like this. Not taking the time to make “fancy” crafts should NOT be the kind of things you feel “guilty” about. Concern yourselves with “crafts” if you WANT to take the time and do these things. More than anything, the kids will remember the FUN, and your effort in creating it, even if it’s as simply as cutting a hole in a box to drop blocks in. The kids actually PROVE that “pretty” isn’t even something they consider :) When you actually want to SHOW or TEACH them how to decorate something with that being part of what you want the acivity to be, then worry about it :) Just think of the joy you’ll experience when your kids turn around and cut a hole in the top of a cardboard box for THEIR kids 😀 😀 😀

    And if you haven’t checked out this book yet, you DEfinitely should :D…


    P.S. Sorry for the length of this. I really couldn’t help myself.

  5. Veens says

    Yep I totally agree with you..my DIYs will never be good-looking – but they do keep the tot busy! Thank you for all the inspiration!

  6. says

    Writersideup has a lot of good points. Pinterest can make all of us feel inferior, but we should take pride in who we are and what we value. You value books over crafts, and this is what I keep coming back to your blog. I don’t expect to see pretty crafts here, but I expect to see honesty, humor and great books and game recommendations.

  7. mary says

    Let me speak as a professional. I have been working with kids with special needs for over 20 years. For the past 5 years I have had an integrated classroom of preschoolers ranging from significantly delayed to cognitively gifted as many of our kiddos with autism are. I have spent much of my Florida vacation drooling over pinterest projects I can’t WAIT to try. What I can tell you is that kids learn from beautiful activities and embarrassingly plain ones. I chuckle at the amount of fighting last week over a container of colored buttons to sort that I made out of boredom during the super bowl. What I want to say is that anything you come up with for kids to do lends itself to learning! Pat yourself on the back for offering your kids something besides TV! And let’s admit it. .. sometimes we create the lovely activities for ourselves. .. the adults :)

  8. Laura Brenden says

    THANK YOU! I just posted a link to this list on 5 Music Together Facebook pages I manage in New Jersey, where the weather has gone bad once again. Love these:)

  9. says

    I completely agree- cheap and easy is the way to go. As long as the activities are entertaining, that is all that matters. Thank you for these simple ideas for indoor play!

  10. Holly B. says

    Awesome Post!!! Most of these are perfect for my 18mo twins to stay busy while I homeschool big sis and bro! Thanks!!!

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