Ideas for enjoyable, educational activities for kids aren’t hard to find. The trick is to remember them when the time comes. Here, I share a checklist of activities I plan to encourage each of my children to try at least once during their elementary school years. (I’ve hung it on our wall for easy access.) My goal is to expose our kids to a wide variety of games and activities in the hopes that several will become lifelong hobbies.
Essential Board Games and Puzzles
Complex strategy board games like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic or Settlers of Cattan
Other educational board games
Logic grid puzzles
Essential Quiet Indoor Activities
Listening to educational podcasts
Listening to audiobooks of classic literature and interesting nonfiction
Setting reading goals with associated rewards
Writing stories and poems
Writing and self-publishing a book
Writing a blog
Creating a website
Learning computer programming
Creating a newsletter, newspaper or magazine
Doing educational coloring sheets (such as diagrams of body organs and systems, parts of the cell, maps and much more)
Memorizing important poems and passages
Listing life goals, dreams, and future plans/activities
Learning educational songs (especially with fact lists like the presidents, the major elements, etc.)
Writing longhand letters to friends
Essential Science Projects
Treasure collecting from nature
Building science-related structures and models with mixed media
Building science-related structures and models with Lego (such as solar system models, lifelike animal and vehicle replicas, etc.)
Train set building
Playing with magnets
Breaking open and identifying rocks
Taking nighttime walks
Watching astronomical events (like a lunar eclipse, shooting stars or the Aurora Borealis)
Using a telescope and a microscope
Choosing many other science projects from science books
Optional Whole-Family Activities
Holding a family book club
Reading aloud together
Doing home improvement projects
Holding family presentation nights during which siblings do show-and-tell, hold demonstrations and teach mini classes to the rest of the family
Gardening and landscaping
Doing service work in the community
Job shadowing (visiting workplaces of people we know and learning about their jobs)
Planning and throwing parties
Planning a family trip on a budget
Starting a small business
Holding a garage sale
Putting on a talent show
Making a bat house
Making a birdhouse
Making a bee home for honeybees
Creating a store for selling candy and other small items to family members
Planning and leading scavenger hunts
Building a town or dirt racetracks in the backyard
Build a go-kart
Building playground structures like teepees, volleyball poles and more in the backyard
Learning how to shoot a gun
Optional Classes and Clubs
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts or Eagle Scouts
Singing lessons with performance
Drama lessons with performance
Optional Trips and Special Local Outings
Here, you can list the local attractions you’d like to visit and the longer trips you’d like to take.
The children’s science museum
Tide pool nature collecting
Simple Homemade Learning Games
The List Game
How to Play: Players choose a fact list and print out one copy per player. Players read over their fact lists. Then they compete to see who can list the most items on the list in an allotted time period. (Inspiration: Scattegories.)
Twenty Questions/Who Am I?
How to Play: Players choose a fact list and print out one copy per player. Players silently select a person, place or term from their fact list of choice. Then they take turns trying to guess the other person’s selection by asking simple yes or no questions. The winner guesses the term in the fewest questions, or guesses the most terms correctly in an allotted time period. This game works well with any checklist except foreign-language vocabulary lists, and is especially interesting with history timelines if you play the role of an event or person. (Inspiration: Twenty Questions.)
Do-It-Yourself Crossword Puzzles
Instructions: Print out grid paper with large boxes and create crossword puzzles using the terms you want to remember. The clues can be written on a separate sheet of paper. Crosswords using foreign-language vocabulary words can be easiest to create, since the native-language word can be used as the clue.
Do-It-Yourself Historical Timeline
Instructions: Using a simple template, create your own historical timeline with the key dates you want to remember. Hang it on a wall for easy reference.
The Math Puzzle
Instructions: Create a simple 13×13 grid. Number the vertical and horizontal rows from 1 to 12. Choose whether to multiply, divide, add or subtract the numbers, then in each box, write the value of the two numbers whose lines intersect at that point. Notice the number patterns that form. This game is especially useful for memorizing multiplication tables.
The Money Game
Practice addition and subtraction by creating your own fake money and playing “store” with a friend.
Do-It-Yourself Map Puzzles
Color a map of the world (or of a country or a continent). Cut it into puzzle-like pieces, then reinforce the back of each piece with cardboard.
Do-It-Yourself Dot-to-Dot Drawings
Print out simple photos of important world landmarks or works of art. Place a piece of paper over each, and trace them with dots. Number the dots as you go. Then try to redraw the picture by connecting them.
Educational Coloring Sheets
Challenge yourself to color and label the parts of a plant, the human body and much more. The possibilities are nearly endless for people who like to color.
Optional Pretend Play Scenarios
Camping; Store; Restaurant; Post Office; Theater/Play/Music Play; Art Gallery; Grocery Store; Zoo; Toy Store; Gardening; Making Pizza or Muffins; Teddy bear/animal hunt; Car wash; Forts; Pet Hotel; Tea Party; Hospital; Cops and robbers; Superheroes; Star Wars; Vet Clinic; Lions and deer; Monster and townspeople; Alligators and swimmers; Fireman; Motorcycle, race car, truck drivers; Airplane Voyage; Submarine; Astronauts; Queen, king, servants, hosts and guests; Tea party host and guests; Library; Aliens; movie and TV show scenarios (like Star Wars), and much more.