Get creative: Indoor and outdoor games for the whole family


Family games

Photo: Getty Images

I am writing this on the eve of my daughter Maddie’s 11th birthday. In the morning she will get a few presents, we will go on a walk and do a scavenger hunt. Maddie’s three neighborhood friends who would have been over for a slumber party will instead drive by and wave out of their car window to wish her happy birthday. In the evening, we will choose one of our favorite Disney movies, make a popcorn bar and her daddy will tear pretend tickets made by my seven-year-old. This is our new normal.

At Texas Children’s Hospital, my role as a child life activity coordinator in the Cancer and Hematology Centers revolves around creating normalization through play, programming and activities. Together with families, we master ways to play while a child is hospitalized, isolated from their normal lives because of compromised immune systems, away from school and friends. 

Although I am still working, I also now find myself employing my job skills at home to creatively construct a life for my own three children in isolation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. How do we all find a little normal? A balance of play, education, physical activity and social connection, albeit from afar.

Some form of schedule helps as a loose snapshot of how the day should unfold. Our family’s includes a normal eating routine: breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between, we have time for school, something creative, physical activity, chores, time doing something together and time doing something apart. And of course, time for play. My role in the hospital focuses on play so I am excited to share ways to have fun with children while they are home – some new and some classic:

Outdoor fun:

  • Play DIY laundry hamper Frisbee golf.
  • Walks and bike rides are as popular as ever. Add extra fun by making an outdoor scavenger hunt list: find a big rock, a bird, a barking dog, tall grass, a bug, a red car, something bumpy/smooth and something you think is treasure. Some neighborhoods are even putting teddy bears in windows for kids to find.
  • Play water hose tag or limbo.
  • Create paper plate tic-tac-toe.
  • Gaze at the stars. The free SkyView Lite app helps identify constellations and planets.
  • Eat out…side. Dine in the backyard and let someone serve as a waiter/waitress to take orders.
  • Use sidewalk chalk painters tape to create a work of art.
  • Fill a bucket with water and make a boat to enjoy boat races in a pool or indoor bathtub.
  • Create a timed obstacle course and record how many seconds it takes to run and touch different trees, parts of the yard and add obstacles to jump over or under.
  • Host a paper airplane contest.
  • Create a fairy garden.
  • Play kickball, baseball or hot potato.

Indoor fun: 

  • Nerf gun targets: Set up little toys and try your hand at target practice.
  • Enjoy a movie night or matinee.
  • Play Solo cup putt-putt golf.
  • Enjoy classic games like hide and seek, charades, Pictionary and Simon says.
  • Create a weekly mural by laying out a long piece of paper that everyone in the house must add a drawing to each day.
  • Build a fort or a tunnel with bed sheets.
  • Have a dance party.
  • Perform a shadow puppet show.
  • Play a classic board game.
  • Create an at-home beauty salon.

Writing letters, phone calls and video chatting with friends and family can be done anywhere and go a long way in making loved ones feel near. My hope is that although many adults will remember this as a very stressful time, children will remember this strange part of their life when they spent full days in pajamas, took long evening walks, talked to their teacher on a computer, had mommy and daddy around a little more, and life was a bit slower and closer for their family.