Indoor Play Ideas: Household Hacks that Move Beyond the Pillow Fort


While in many ways, this pandemic has shuttered my hopes and dreams (specifically, many of my favorite local, indoor play places), I refuse to let it squash my creativity as well. So as I (literally) watched my kids bounce off the walls during these last, long months, I thought of you. My fellow mamas who, like me, have active toddlers and need a space to unleash the energy. Thankfully, most of us have very handy hack-worthy household gems scattered about that can serve us well. So when the inclement weather drives us indoors again, gather a few simple items, and build your own play space…for free!

Disclaimer: two things. First, yes, my rambunctious kids have tried each of these indoor play ideas, and in all hilarity, they are quite entertaining. That being said, you’re an adult, and you alone know how much fun your family can handle. Please enjoy with supervision. 

Couch cushion crawl tunnel (with headlamps!)

You’ll need: large cushions (ideally from couches or oversized armchairs), small toys, and headlamps.

Arrange the the indoor play space cushions so that a small child can easily crawl through with ease. Add small treasures along the inside of the tunnel that the kids have to find (such as mini, plastic dinosaurs) using their headlamps, or a flashlight. Once the treasures have been discovered, the next person takes turns hiding them in the tunnel. 

Magnificent Mattress Floor Trampoline

You’ll need: a coil-based mattress, and a fitted sheet.

Drag the mattress into an open space and clear any furniture that could be easily knocked into (or cover corners and door frames with pillows). Put on the fitted sheet and start bouncing! This indoor play space can be turned into an epic stage for a dance party or a comfy crash pad. Either way, it will help to get the wiggles out!

Painter’s Tape Balance Beam

You’ll need: painter’s tape, or another easy-to-remove masking tape. 

Clear a space on carpet, or hardwood to make a “balance beam challenge”. This can be made with one, long stretch of painter’s tape, or a wandering collection of different pieces. Tip: the more elaborate, the more interesting this indoor play activity becomes. You can use the set-up to play throwback favorites like, Mother May I, and Red Light, Green Light, or time the child as if it were a Ninja Warrior course. 

Storybook River Stone Hop

You’ll need: oversized, hardcover children’s books (at least six).

Work with your toddler to set out the books so they are hop-distance apart. The more books you have, the longer the play “river”. We ended up playing musical chairs with the books. While playing, the kids hopped continuously to any available “river stone”. Each time the music stopped, a book was removed. Get ready to giggle. 

Baby Pool Ball Pit 

You’ll Need: either a baby pool or a large, cardboard box.

Put that summer baby pool to winter use! Using a cleared space in the house, put down the baby pool (or box) and fill with ball-pit balls. If you don’t have balls, inflated balloons or all the corks from those 2020 wine bottles will do.

Indoor Toddler Sneaker Spin

You’ll Need: a toddler bike with training wheels, two large, adult-sized sneakers, a toddler bike helmet

Set down the child’s bike so that each training wheel is sitting snugly inside one adult sneaker. Make sure that the sneakers raise the bike off of the floor just enough so that the tires can spin without dragging. Strap on the child’s helmet and go for a ride! The bike should remain completely stationary while the toddler pedals along. You’re welcome. 

Balloon Basketball

You’ll need: inflated balloons or a couple of lightweight balls, a waste basket and a stool.

This might just be your easiest indoor play solution. Place the waste basket on a small stool and take turns throwing the ball into the “hoop”. Tip: use tape or other markers to up the difficulty level once the child starts getting baskets. Make it educational by setting up color-coded “hoops” so that the child can match the balloon color to the corresponding basket. 

Staircase Slide

You’ll need: 1-2 large panels of cardboard, duct tape, and pillows

I must confess that this one isn’t my original idea. Click here for the OG’s post. But it is awesome, with awesome sauce on top. To make the slide, firmly adhere the cardboard panels to the stairs using the duct tape. Be sure to leave space to the side of the panel so that kiddos can use partial steps to return to the top. Tip: short batches of stairs, such as the bottom set after a landing, work best for little ones. Give your makeshift slide an adult test-run and place pillows around the base of the stairs. Slide to your heart’s content!

Have you come up with some innovative ways for active indoor play with small children? Share your household hacks in the comments!

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Hello, I'm Heather! Born and raised in New Hampshire, I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to raise our four tiny humans, alongside my husband in the beautiful Seacoast community. As a mental health therapist by trade, and full-time mama by life, I find balance in helping my kids to explore the world through deliciously messy play, connecting with other families in the area, having a good belly laugh, and enjoying a strong cup of coffee. My passions include pouring my heart into writing, getting lost in watercolor painting, spending time along the ocean, and discovering new recipes to cook up for my family. When I'm not chasing after my kids or digging in our garden, I work to educate and share about essential oils use for mental health and holistic wellness.