The Best Indoor Toys, Books, and Games for Kids
Likely you’ll be spending more time at home this winter as we continue to battle the COVID pandemic, which means it’s essential to have a variety of indoor activities on hand. We suggest a variety of games, activities, toys and books both for independent play as well as fun for the whole family as you are spending extra quality time together.
Look for activities that:
- Promote learning - With many children spending more time at home than at school, we want to keep their brains working while making sure that we are keeping learning fun.
- Offer sensory engagement - During the winter your children might not be able to spend as much time outside, so look for games and materials that can stimulate their senses while remaining indoors. (These are our favorite sensory toys).
- Are fun! - You want your children coming back for more. While we want to promote learning, we also want to offer opportunities for our children to relax, tap into their creativity and use their imagination. Don’t forget to look for activities and toys that allow your children to kick back and be a kid.
Our Top Picks
- The Best Educational Game: Qwixx at Amazon
- The Best Strategy Game: Sequence at Amazon
- The Best Game for Little Kids: Zingo at Amazon
- The Best Hands on Learning Game: Osmo Genius Starter Kit at Amazon
- The Best Movement Game: Throw Throw Burrito at Amazon
- The Best Game of Questions: Guess in 10 at Amazon
- The Best Card Game: Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza at Amazon
- The Best Game for the Whole Family: SKYJO at Amazon
- The Best Fine Motor Activity: Jewelry Making Kit at Amazon
- The Best Coloring Activity: Play House Fairy Tale Castle at Amazon
- The Best Open Ended Activity: LEGO at Amazon
- The Best Imaginative Play Activity: The Original AirFort at Amazon
- The Best Science Activity: Dino Eggs Dig Kit at Amazon
- The Best STEM Activity: Obuby Kids Construction Fort at Amazon
- The Best Mess Free Activity: ORSEN LCD Writing Tablet at Amazon
- The Best Learning Through Play Toy: BlueZoo Alphabet Robots at Amazon
- The Best Sensory Toy: Squishies Squish Toys at Amazon
- The Best Creative Toy: Magna-Tiles at Amazon
- The Best STEM Toy: Elenco Snap Circuits Jr. at Amazon
- The Best Art Toy: Aqua Magic Doodle Mat at Amazon
- The Best Fantasy Series: Harry Potter Series at Amazon
- The Best Teacher Recommended Series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid at Amazon
- The Best Poetry Collection: Dr. Seuss Beginners Collection at Amazon
- The Best Action and Adventure Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians series at Amazon
- The Best True Story: The One and Only Ivan Series at Amazon
What to Consider When Purchasing Indoor Activities and Toys
- Child Age - If you have multiple children finding toys and activities that will engage a range of ages can be a challenge, but our goal is to keep everyone entertained for longer periods of time. Pick materials that are age appropriate, but that leave room for growth and extension over the long winter months.
Vidya Sundaram, co-founder and CEO of Family Engagement Lab, says “I love reading books in the winter. If your kids are younger, try reading books to them that are a few grades up in difficulty. They will learn new vocabulary and hear what fluent reading sounds like from you. With older kids, ask them to pick a book for you both to read and discuss together.”
- Mess Factor - Some days kids need to just get down and dirty and make a mess, but if the thought of this makes you squeamish (think slime!) then pick your activities carefully. This is also a great opportunity to create responsible kids who are capable of cleaning the mess they make, but chances are they will still need support from you.
- Space Required - If you don’t have a designated playspace, make sure you inventory your breakable and valued furniture or decorations before letting your children engage in a rounding game of Throw Throw Burrito. Creating a safe place during designated times will definitely help your children get those winter wiggles out without worry of breaking your valuables.
How We Chose Our Favorites
We consulted with experts, parents, and special education educators to get the lowdown on what you need to know to choose the indoor games and activities for kids this winter. We also tapped into these experts' advice to find out which brands were best and easily available on Amazon.
The Best Games for Kids
The Best Educational Game
Qwixx is a wonderful family dice game for when you want to have fun, a little competition, and trick your kids into practicing their math facts! Short games of about 15 minutes are perfect for keeping limited attention spans engaged. Younger children may need help with strategy but should still be able to practice their math. Kids won’t even realize they are brushing up on their mathematical skills and learning because the pace is fast and they will be having fun the whole time!
“Our family received this for Christmas and has thoroughly enjoyed it! Ages 7 to 57 had fun playing it over and over again this Christmas. Turns are fast, and everyone gets to participate in each turn. It helps teach logic and strategy, but mostly it's just fun. In particular, Qwixx is a great game for those times when you want to do something fun with the kids, but you don't have a lot of time or energy for something complicated. Fun, fast, and simple.”
The Best Strategy Game
Sequence allows you to play as individuals or in teams, which makes this an ideal game to include younger players who might need a little support. We chose this larger version because it makes it easier to see for all involved. Be prepared to get competitive, the more children play the more they will start to pick up on strategy.
“This game is terrific for the whole family or just two people, no matter what your age is! We've been playing Sequence for a long time and have played with people as young as seven up to age 89. It is very easy to understand and follow the rules. The Jumbo Sequence edition is easier to play on for all players compared to the smaller game version. Buying this game will not disappoint!!! Everyone should own one.”
The Game for Little Kids
Zingo is a great option for including younger children as it is geared towards children four and older. It’s the picture version of Bingo, a great way to enforce vocabulary, hand eye coordination and matching. Young children will enjoy being able to slide their own chips out of the dispenser and independently look for matches on their Zingo card. Cards are double sided for extra playing opportunities.
“Zingo is one of the greatest games for young children! It teaches them patience while waiting a turn, as well as numbers, letters, sight words/pictures, and it is very easy to operate. I have 3 kids 2, 4, 6 - and they all love playing this game together. My 2 year old does lose interest by the end, but that is expected for her age. She does have a fun time for the first 15-20 minutes though. My boys think this is the greatest game though, and it is one you can play with the whole family.”
The Best Hands-on Learning Game
If you already have an iPad, this is a really great educational game addition. (It also comes in other tablet forms). Games are displayed on the iPad, but also come with hands-on materials to really engage each learner. Games have different levels so children can continue to be challenged as they master skills, or you can tailor learning to different ages. For children who are already spending extra time with screens, we like this option of including hands on manipulatives as well.
“Honestly, at this point, my son and I are battling over who gets to use the Osmo. I’m more hooked on the numbers and he’s hooked on the tangram pieces. I just love when things are fun and educational. That’s how I grew up. I fell in live with learning through all the games I had. I wanted my children to experience that too, but it’s so difficult to find great material that’s up to date. This Osmo come SUPER close. I’d let him play this all day no problem. He’s learning and he thinks it’s all a game. Fooled him. Lol! Definitely buying for all my friends!”
Best Movement Game
Throw Throw Burrito is super fun, but bound to get a little rowdy. It’s basically a mix of dodgeball and a card game; even though the foam burritos are soft we recommend you clear the area! For those winter days when you’re stuck inside and need to get a little energy out we definitely recommend this game of agility.
“We bought this for the COVID quarantine of 2020 and this is so much fun! This kids really loved this game. It is a fun family game and the kids keep asking to play days after getting it. Was easy to learn and play. My 5 year old was a bit too young so we just team up and he is my burrito wing man. I'm hoping the burritos last and the dog doesn't get one during the action of the battles. They seem not so durable as they are made of foam, as to not hurt anyone with the flinging, but super cute...”
The Best Game of Questions
Guess in 10 definitely falls under educational games, which is an added benefit! Each game set has a different category (Animals, Things that Go, World of Sports, etc.) and you have up to 10 questions to figure out what object is on each card. This is a perfect game if you’re looking for a short break or want a full-blown family game night. It’s a great one to pack up for on the go as well.
“What a fun, educational game! Our entire family, ages 7 - 70, enjoy playing. We all learn something every time we play.”
Best Card Game
Get ready for a laugh with this card game. It’s nice and portable, the size of a deck of cards, and each game only takes about 10-15 minutes to play, so it is a great option if you’re looking for a quick activity to break up the day. Chances are your children will get sucked in and want to play over and over again! This card game is great for memory and quick thinking, keeping those little minds sharp.
“We love this game! I got it with my eight year old in mind but we were able to teach our four year old too. ... Object is to get rid of your cards. There are silly special cards here and there which require you to all do a silly movement first. I would say a six year old or older could play. Like I said, our four year old could figure out the rules, but she was slow to get her hand to the pile which got frustrating. Fun game for on the go and even adults can have fun with it.”
Best Game for the Whole Family
SKYJO is a fun card game, but be prepared to commit to at least 30 minutes. Children will benefit from practicing their math skills (counting, adding and estimating), and it’s more luck than strategy so perfect for younger children who want to feel included without needing help.
“I think that I remember Seinfeld saying, "There is no such thing as fun for the whole family." Usually, I agree with him. However, everyone in the family seems to enjoy this game a lot. It is easy to learn, entertaining, and rewarding. There is a nice combination of skill and luck, and players can catch up quickly if they fall behind.”
The Best Activities for Kids
Best Fine Motor Activity
From bracelets to necklaces to beaded mask chains, jewelry designing is making a comeback. Let your child’s creativity flow with this jewelry making kit that includes everything needed to get started, including the necessary tools. Beware of all the small beads, but with careful precision you can avoid a major mess. Kids will strengthen their fine motor skills, concentration and hand eye coordination while tapping into their artistic side.
“My 2 year old daughter, 5 & 10 year old nieces played with these things for hours. They made rings, bracelets, headbands, necklaces, even what they call the worlds longest snake. It was fun watching them play, I even made a few bracelets with my daughter.”
Best Coloring Activity
Take your child’s coloring up a notch with this cardboard fort. Not only will they get to enjoy coloring in the castle design, but it makes a great imaginative play addition along the way and well after it is completed. This is a great long-term activity for when you’re stuck inside during the winter. Customer recommendations suggest reinforcing the inside seams with duct tape for extended play.
“I'm honestly surprised by how long this little castle has lasted. We're going in 3 weeks and it is free of any rips and has not come apart. We've even moved it from room to room and my kids have had various blankets and toys hung on the top of it and it's still intact. It's fun to color (even for the grownups) and my kids fit in there nicely together (they're 8 and 6). For the price, this one is a win for us!”
Best Open-Ended Activity
It doesn’t get much more classic than LEGO. This is an excellent open -ended activity that both boys and girls can get into. Whether following a design or creating themselves, there is no wrong way to build with LEGO. This is also a great long-term activity that your children can keep coming back to and adding to day after day. Be prepared for a mess, but a LEGO storage case might be a good option for avid LEGO lovers.
“Has there really ever been a negative LEGO review? Besides stepping on one. LEGO are fantastic and I love watching my children’s imaginations explode with ideas!”
Best Imaginative Play Activity
The only thing you need for this AirFort is a box fan, and a great imagination! Gone are the days of blankets and furniture strewn across the house, your children are sure to love having this play fort during the winter months. Whether a cozy reading nook, a bear cave, an igloo, or many other endless options, your children can let their imaginations soar while hiding out.
“This is one of those items where we say, "Why didn't I think of that?!" This fort is perfect for children of all ages. It is durable, easy to put up and easy to store. My 4-year-old got this for his birthday. My 4-year-old and 8-year old love building forts. However, we never have any chairs to sit on, blankets on the beds or pillows on the couch because they use them all to build it! With this fort, it is simply one piece that meets all those needs. It is easy for kids to get it and out of and spacious for multiple kids at once. My 4-year-old can even set it up and blow it up on his own. No longer do we spend hours building it, we can spend hours just enjoying it! If you're on the fence about buying it, jump on down on the side of clicking 'buy now'. You won't regret it!”
Best Science Activity
For the dino lover, budding scientist, or just curious kid, this Dino Eggs Dig Kit is a great hands-on learning activity. Not only do they have to carefully excavate the dinosaurs out of their eggs, but they can delight in learning new facts and the history of each dinosaur.
“Bought this for a 3 year old's birthday party and it was a huge success! The kids were younger than the recommended age of 6, but with help from parents, they were engaged the whole time and it wasn't as messy as you might have thought. We soaked the eggs for a little over 5 min because it took a while to get the plates together and the activity area cleared out, and the eggs still held together and were easy to carve open! The kids thought it was a lot of fun.”
Best STEM Activity
Put kids' creativity, imagination and engineering skills to the test with this easy to build fort construction set. This construction set is great for kids as young as five, but is sure to engage older children as well. There is no shortage of designs they can create and build, making this an ideal activity to come back to over and over again.
“Great addition to a home learning kit for kids. Helps with both kids imagination, building skills and hand coordination. Comes with enough parts to make a good size cube or house, add a sheet and my kids went nuts.”
Best Mess-Free Activity
There are definitely days where you want your child to be creative without having to deal with the mess, enter the ORSEN LCD Writing Tablet. This tablet has the look of a lightweight tablet, but it’s just like writing on paper. You can lock the erase button so that drawings don’t get accidentally erased, and when you’re ready unlock to clear the slate. Use it as a learning tool or just a mess-free, waste-free way to draw and color.
“This is perfect for teaching my toddler how to learn letters and numbers! I can write them easily and erase to start over again in 2 seconds and without leaving any streaks. Easy to use and I really like that it has a lock feature so you don't accidentally erase. I can see this being fun on road trips too without any mess! Very happy with these so far!”
The Best Toys for Kids
Best Learning Through Play Toy
These alphabet robots are a great learning tool for younger children. Each letter of the alphabet transforms into a different robot. It may take some hand eye coordination practice for little fingers to transform them back and forth, but once they master it the fun will ensue. Whether practicing letters, spelling, or just having fun playing with robots, this toy will be a hit.
“My 3 year old got these for his birthday and absolutely loves them. We still have to help him change into the robots and back into letters. However, he is working on fine motor skills with manipulating them. He loves playing with the robots but mostly likes lining up the letters and saying the alphabet.”
Best Sensory Toy
Kids who have found themselves stuck in the house are probably a little more fidgety than usual, and these fun squishy sensory toys are a good way to relieve some of the stress and jitters that come with being cooped up. They are also adorable little figurines that can be used in imaginative play, and are mess free, making them a win all around.
“My kids all loved these. The majority of them are cute and they are all very soft and squishy. (There is one caterpillar/maggot shape that isn't the cutest but any kiddo that likes bugs might enjoy it) They all came individually wrapped so they didn't stick to anything and could be protected from hair and dust.”
Best Creative Toy
Magna-Tiles are a wonderful open-ended creative activity. These are perfect for young children as they don’t have any small pieces; however, the older the child the more patience they will have for designing carefully. The translucent colors make these great for a using on a light table, or up against a window. They are also an endless amount of fun just on their own for building various designs and 3D shapes.
“This is the second of this set. My kids are obsessed. They are 4 & 2 and my son has happily been playing with them almost EVERY SINGLE DAY since his third birthday a little over a year ago. I’ve seen him grow in his ability to build, design and create. He’s used these in the sunshine to watch colors create “new colors'' via shadows. He’s gotten better at learning balance and stability. Great STEM toy that is worth the money. These have been thrown/dropped on our tile floor dozens of times and not one is chipped, scratched, or has a loose magnet. Simply an amazing!”
Best STEM Toy
The Elenco Snap Circuits are a great option for older children interested in science, technology and engineering. They are easy to use and durable, and have numerous options for extended entertainment. Upgrade kits are also available for children who master this set and are ready for an even bigger challenge. If you think your child is ready for an introduction into coding, this would be a great toy for them.
“Bought as a gift. Child is very happy with them and parents love what he's learning so they have bought them to gift other kids in their circle. Snap circuits are fantastic. My 13 year old still likes them though he has moved to soldering and building his own computer and electronics. He had his kits for 8 years and was able to pass them on to another child. They hold up well to frequent play and wipe down easily (when you're worried about germs). We initially got a junior set and bought additional sets to add to them as needed. You can even get them with a piece that includes the Arduino chip to add computer coding to projects. Options are endless”
Best Art Toy
If you’re looking for a mess-free art toy, then look no further than this Aqua Magic Doodle Mat. Just add water to the paint pens, and your child can doodle away mess free. After a few minutes their doodles will disappear and they can start all over again. For some doodlers it might be a good idea to snap a picture of their work before it disappears, but you no longer have to worry about wasting paper or art supplies making their way onto furniture and walls.
“This set is ADORABLE. A large mat, some stencils and foam shapes, and FIVE water pens. This is the best set I've found at this price point. I cannot wait to give this to every friend with a toddler! Especially with the older kids doing their virtual learning, this is great for keeping the little ones occupied!”
The Best Books for Kids
Best Fantasy Series
Harry Potter has been a favorite for many, many years, geared towards readers eight and older, but Harry Potter would also make a fun read-aloud series for younger listeners. Wizards, magic, and non-stop adventure all packing in together. Once you finish the series a fun movie night would be a great winter activity.
“I bought this set for my son for Christmas when he was in first grade and started reading the books aloud to him. He is now in fourth grade and has almost finished reading "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" all by himself! Unless you've been living under a rock you're familiar with the wizarding world of Harry Potter -- and the excellent storytelling, imagination, magic, and life lessons contained therein -- so the quality of the series itself was never in doubt. The quality of the set was equally good. It came shrink-wrapped, in perfect condition, and has held up for four years with no issues. I highly recommend this set!”
Best Teacher-Recommended Series
There are 12 books in this box set, which is great because they are hard to put down! These humorous graphic novels are engaging, fun and easy to read. If you have a new reader, these books are a great choice. The short text broken up by cute graphics will keep kids engaged, and there's nothing better than curling up with a good book on a cold winter day.
“My daughter has heard these books on Audible as her bedtime story since before she knew how to read. Now she’s old enough to read them and she loves the set. Her favorite book is the “write your own book”. So hard for her to put it down!!”
Best Poetry Collection
With five of Dr. Seuss’s classic books included, this is a great option for those just beginning their reading journey. The whimsical, creative, outlandish poems are always a hit with younger children, and these are fun stories to share as a family or have an older sibling read together with new readers. The make-believe stories will inspire imaginations, prepare for giggles to ensue!
“Over almost 10 decades, Dr Seuss books have been some of the most popular books for children. Not only are they delightfully entertaining, they also teach important life lessons. This set contains some of his best. Every child should have these books!”
Best Action and Adventure Series
This five book series is geared towards children ages eight and older, and is jam packed with adventure, action, fantasy and magic. Author Rick Riordan, called "storyteller of the gods" by Publishers Weekly, engages his readers with tales of Greek mythology intertwined with thrilling adventure.
“I bought this as a fidget for my 10 year old with autism. He loves it!! He plays with it all the time. Anyone who picks it up loves it. It’s interesting and relaxing!! Has held up to his very rigorous play for a few months now-which is impressive.”
Best True Story
The One and Only Ivan is a lovely story about friendship and seeing the world through someone else's eyes. Author Katharine Applegate took inspiration from the Atlanta Zoo’s gorilla, Ivan, telling the story through his point of view. Your children will likely come away with a new perspective and maybe even a few life lessons.
“The One and Only Ivan is an incredibly touching story. Loosely based on the life of the famous Atlanta Zoo based gorilla Ivan, the story inspires both empathy and sense of morality for young readers. Themes and other literary devices are easy to discern, and the lessons derived are complex, yet simple enough for kids to digest and store for use throughout their lives. My 9 year old son came away from this read with a whole new sense of and respect for animals, especially those involved in exhibitions around the world. It really is a must read for all young people.”