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6 indoor games for young children from UNICEF’s Child Development experts

Child learning and playing at homeEarly moments matter in a child’s development.

When young children play, they exercise their vibrant imaginations and boost their creativity. Even in the simplest of children’s games, there is much more going on than meets the eye. Through play children learn the skills that will equip them for life’s challenges — like how to solve problems or why it’s important to share and other social skills that will help them navigate our complex world.

Globally, UNICEF works to support children in their early years as it is a time of incredible brain growth and development never repeated. Alongside adequate nutrition and nurturing care, play has a vital role in giving children the best possible start in life.

While the 6 activities below sound like fun and games, they are all informed by our play-based approach to early childhood development and are designed to help your little one develop their fine motor skills, social skills, decision-making ability and creativity.

Have fun learning!

6 indoor games for young children

1. Get moving with your children indoors

Build an indoor spider web. Using wool, build a spider web somewhere in the house. For example, between furniture or under the dining table. Then, challenge your child to make it through the web without touching the wool.

Activities like this are great for children’s gross motor skills, like balance and coordination. They’re also great for problem solving and can be easily adapted to any age or ability.

Here are three more movement and fun activities to try:

1. Dance to the music: Turn the music on and swirl around with your babies, toddlers or preschoolers.

2. Socks-toss: Prepare clean socks and a basket as a goal. Stand at a distance and try to throw the socks in the basket.

3. Frog hop: Hop on non-slippery surfaces with some towels as obstacles to make it more fun. You can also show your children to imitate other animals like a rabbit or kangaroo.

2. Cook with your child

Preparing food with your children provides so many benefits, supporting their social-emotional development, language development and cognitive and physical development. Not to mention, children also often love to cook with their parents or carers.

Some simple cooking tasks for toddlers and preschoolers are stirring pancake batter, putting toppings on pizza, rinsing vegetables, or setting the table.

Cooking provides an opportunity for talking and building vocabulary and helps with early numeracy skills as you count and measure ingredients. You can also teach your children some basic rules of cooking as well as health and hygiene. For example, why we need to eat well-cooked food, or why we need to wash our hands before handling food.

3. Tell and make stories with your child

Telling stories is important for language development. Even if your child is a baby, storytelling can still build foundational literacy skills as they start to understand the rules of the language they are interacting with and recognise the words used around them.

Using a rich vocabulary, even with very young children, helps them develop a rich vocabulary of their own. Telling stories is also a beautiful way of sharing your family or your community’s history, culture and identity.

Make a book with your child. With your children think of a situation that has made them laugh a lot, something very fun or funny that has happened to you as a family. Then make a homemade storybook about what happened. To make the book, children can draw the story or choose pictures from magazines and decorate the cover as they like. If they know how to write, they can also write the story out in their book.

4. Organise a treasure hunt at home

Make a set of clues that will lead your child around the house in the search for treasure. The clues can be clever questions that make them discover corners or objects around the house.

Through a treasure hunt, children can learn new problem-solving skills, and engage their curiosity and creativity. You could even set up “challenge stations” such as do five star-jumps, or balance on one leg for 10 seconds. This can promote physical development and is also a great opportunity to practice numbers.

The treasure can be something your child really likes to eat or a homemade ‘voucher’ for doing some special activity with you.

For younger kids, you can hide individual letters and once collected ask your child to put the words together from the letters they found.

5. Get creative! Make a computer with recyclable materials

Encourage your child to build a structure or object with recyclable materials, like their own computer and keyboard. They could use cardboard or paper boxes for the screen, an egg box for the keyboard, and then paint letters and numbers on the keyboard and put a picture or screen. You can encourage your child to play with the computer by suggesting they send imaginary messages to friends who are far away.

If cardboard computers are not your child’s thing there’s cars, robots, cities — the list is almost endless. I still remember making a cardboard city with my cousins when I was about four -– it had houses, skyrise buildings, a school, cars and a train.

This activity is a fantastic exercise in creativity and problem solving as your child uses the materials they have to make what they imagine. It also encourages your child to practice putting things together using small, controlled movements, which helps build your child’’s fine motor skills – the foundational skill for writing.

6. Get musical – how about a home concert?

This activity requires pots, pans, plastic dishes and spoons. Together look for a song that your child loves and then turn the kitchen into a concert room (sorry neighbours). Following the rhythm of the song, your child will play with the utensils as if they belonged in a band.

Making music is not only fun and energising for children, it’s great for many aspects of their development. This is because making music requires fine motor skills (such as being able to grip and squeeze objects), as well as linguistic and mathematical precision, and creativity ─ firing up several areas of the brain.

Tapping into these skills means developing the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain which allows messages to get across the brain faster and across different routes.

Making music together with your child can be a great mood booster for you both by lifting your energy and producing a healthy dose of endorphins. Even listening to sad music can be helpful and cathartic – making it easier for your child to get in touch with their emotions.

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UNICEF and Early Childhood Development

Even in the most remote and challenging settings, UNICEF is working to make sure children not only survive but thrive, ensuring they have the best development possible and are ready to learn at school on time. In the Asia Pacific region, UNICEF supports early childhood programs in countries like the Solomon Islands, Laos, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste.

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