7 rainy day activities to keep kids (and so parents) happy

junk modelling

Rainy autumn weather can make leaving the house hard when you have young kids. So here are seven inspiring and creative rainy day activities from early years teacher Laura Moore that don’t involve screens…

As an early tears teacher, I’ve experienced many wet play lunchtimes so I know how tricky 30 minutes of being stuck indoors can be for us adults. I can therefore only imagine how endless wet days at home with small children might make you feel… (like a caged animal?!).

Fear not, however, as I have a few tricks of the trade to share with you. Things that can be implemented easily at home in order to occupy, entertain, distract and at the very least, save you from the stench of soft play centres for a few days…

Photo by Annie Ridout

Den building
Give children a few sheets of fabric, e.g. bed sheets and blankets, some pegs and a decent amount of floor space and watch their imagination run wild. Children will naturally source their own objects and materials from around the house and this should be encouraged, but obviously within reason if you don’t want them to use the expensive coffee table as a base.

Provide clear rules as to what they can use and remove the very precious items from view or accessible height before you let them loose. Such an activity encourages critical thinking and problem solving; it is truly child-initiated so will keep them occupied for hours. It promotes language, particularly the use of a narrative around what they have built and it encourages story telling skills.

junk modelling
Photo by Annie Ridout

Junk modelling
By junk I mean household materials that would be heading towards the recycling bin. Things like kitchen roll tubes, cardboard cereal boxes, plastic bottles, lids, and so on. Things that we see as packaging that are no longer purposeful but children see as rockets launching to the moon or houses for their teddies and dolls.

Give children some child-friendly scissors, some PVA glue or a good old glue stick, masking tape or sticky tape and you’ll be amazed at their creativity and inventiveness. All this stuff is inexpensive yet allows children to get fully immersed in their play and to take ownership of what they are building.

What we as adults must remember is that this type of play is much more about the process than it is about the final product. It will generate feelings of motivation and reward when they succeed in what they set out to do. Furthermore, exploring junk modelling supports the development of flexible behaviour as their initial design idea may need to be adapted and mended in order to function in the way they wish.

mark making
Photo by Annie Ridout

Mark making
Early writing is known as mark making. Children love it. Learning about the vertical and horizontal body movement required to make the marks is vital if we want children to be able to write with a pencil on paper at school age. So instead of writing on things they shouldn’t, provide these opportunities and let them ‘scribble’ to their heart’s content.

The best thing to do is get a large roll of paper. Left over wall paper is perfect and often DIY stores will let you have some (if not all depending on who you ask) of their tester rolls. Lining paper is another great option and it is also widely available in DIY stores. Ikea do a fantastic roll for £4 and you can even buy the holder that allows children to roll out as much paper as they like.

For small children, the writing implement needs to be chunky for their small hands to get a grip around. This can be crayons, felt tips or paint brushes and paint. It can also be toy vehicles with the wheels dipped in paint to make tracks on the paper, or dinosaur’s feet for the footprints. Doing this across a long table, on the floor or stuck vertically on the wall will provide ample opportunities to develop muscles required for eventually being able to refine their marks into actual letters. Promise! It is amazing when the change occurs.

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Sensory tubs
This is one of my favourites. Every day, I will be sure to have at least one sensory or tactile activity available for the children to explore in my class. The reason being that this type of play stimulates all the senses: touch, smell, hearing, sight and even taste depending on the material used. The good news is that you can do sensory activities at home on a small or large scale and it doesn’t always have to be messy.

All you need is a flat storage tub and the size depends on where it will stay when not being used, the age of your child and how they can access it. I have seen large under bed storage boxes being used as sensory tubs to allow for babies and small children to sit in them – really that is how to experience sensory play to the max!

Once you have the tub then all you need to decide is what to put in it. This can be water with some food colouring or bath bombs to add excitement; coloured sand; glitter; sequins; dry cereal (rice based ones that go pop when you add milk are excellent when dry to scrunch in small hands); flour; compost; shredded tissue paper; shaving foam; jelly, the list really is endless.

Magnetic numbers or letters can be included for added educational value, as can tools to help squash, mash and mix. Small world toys such as wild animals, trains, fairies, or whatever your child is interested in, are a great addition to extend role play and boost language. There is lots of literature based on the benefits of sensory play for babies and up. It allows children to make their own discoveries and to use scientific processes in an exploratory way.

Not on horseback or through the wild woods. Hunting for things like photographs of familiar people, toys, numbers, shapes or letters that have been hidden around the house. By hiding such things around a child’s familiar environment, it encourages exploration in a new way. They now have something key to look for. Children really enjoy hunting for things when at school. They would love it even more at home knowing that you are invested in the game and fully participating too.

Number hunts will help with number recognition – children need to be able to recognise numbers 0-20 by the end of the Reception year – and could prompt lots of related vocabulary and use of language. If it is too soon for numbers, why not try dots as they are on the dice? This helps to develop early counting skills and helps children to identify formations of numbers by sight.

Letter hunts help when the children are learning particular sounds. Maybe they could look around for objects beginning with the sounds they know or they could find all the letters hidden to build a familiar word. This could be great for children of pre-school age or even before they are due to start Nursery as it gives them existing knowledge that can be built upon. These games strengthen memory skills and the concept of object permanence.

building blocks
Photo by Annie Ridout

Construction toys
If all else fails, get out the building blocks and sit back to enjoy a cuppa! This is a serious option. There has been lots of research into the benefits of a certain very famous construction toy recently and I believe it can be used to develop every area of learning. It helps build imagination, it develops language skills, children can learn many mathematical skills through their understanding of what size piece they need and where it needs to go. I could go on.

Outdoor play - mini beast hunt

Get outdoors anyway
I am a Forest School leader and feel it necessary to stress the importance of putting on appropriate clothing and getting out to play anyway. There are endless opportunities for learning when it is wet outside – add paint to puddles and watch what happens; give them a small broom and get them to move the water towards the drains; drop a leaf in a puddle and watch what happens to it; go on a mini-beast hunt, looking under logs; or just jump in every puddle there is – and I promise you will come back inside feeling boosted.

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

You can find me on Instagram @lauraloveslearning for lots of play ideas or email me: lauraloveslearning@gmail.com.

Do you have any other ideas for rainy day activities you can do at home with young kids?