Keeping Kids Active While Indoors

Cammie Bates, MPhys, LAT, ATC – Physical Activity and Nutrition Health Educator

Are cold temperatures and shorter days making the kids a little restless?  Winter can be a difficult time to keep kids active when it’s too cold to play outside.  If they end up stuck inside with “nothing to do,” there are many simple games and activities kids can play to stay active and have fun.  Indoor play is also a great opportunity to let kids use their imagination for free play.  The USDA recommends 60 minutes of active play every day for kids’ physical, emotional, and mental health development.  Here are a few ideas to get kids of any age moving.


  • Act Out the Animals
    Most toddlers love animals.  Pretending to be an animal is a great way to combine movement and education.  During this game, call out an animal and have your child walk, run, skip, or jump around the house pretending to be that animal.  Add music and have him/her freeze in place when the music stops.  Examples of pretend play may include: acting like a bear, a monkey, a flamingo, a frog, a kangaroo, etc.  Use the game to share some fun facts about the particular animal.  After a few tries, let your child choose an animal and you take a guess what it may be.
  • Have a Dance Party
    Pump up the music and let the kids get loose to some fun tunes.  Join them and get your exercise groove on, too.  Mix up the play list with fast-beat songs to increase their heart rates and slow-beat songs to catch their breath.  Improve balance by pausing the songs and having the kids strike a pose, such as freezing a pose while on one leg.  Encourage them to really get active and try new moves: shake, wiggle, turn, bend down, jump up and down, move forward, backward, and side to side.  Add a few “instruments” with cans, buckets, utensils, etc. to add to the fun.

Elementary School

  • Build a Fort/Maze
    This activity uses kids’ brains and strength as they pull, tug, and stack different objects to create an indoor fort or maze throughout the house.  Use pillows, cushions, or blankets.  If they’re old enough, try adding boxes, buckets, or even chairs.  Use tape or crepe paper to build a maze.  Challenge the kids to see who can move through the maze the fastest or add exercises they have to do at certain points in the maze.  For instance, when they reach the middle of the maze, have them do jumping jacks, side bends, or another age-appropriate exercise.Kids playing with a homemade indoor maze.


  • Yoga for Kids
    Yoga is not just for adults; it is incredibly beneficial for kids, too.  Visit Kira Willey who sings yoga sequences for kids in her songs.  Need inspiration for specific poses?  Here’s a list of 58 fun and easy poses complete with instructional images and descriptions.  The Poe Center has also published a series of kids’ yoga exercises at #PoeFit.


Middle School


  • Indoor Basketball
    Many kids love basketball, and it’s easy to bring the game inside.  Simply get two buckets or laundry baskets and place them on opposite sides of the room.  Use a pair of folded socks as the ball.  Have kids pass and shoot the “ball” (no dribbling in this game).  Play for a specific amount of time or points.  Switch up the teams or have the kids play the game on their knees to make it more challenging.


  • Balloon Games
    There are many games which can be played with balloons and string.  Use string to loosely tie balloons to the players’ ankles.  Players try to pop the others’ balloons without having their own popped.  Another fun option is balloon volleyball.  The object of this game is to propel the balloon over a “net” or object as many times as possible.  The challenge is only one player plays at a time meaning he or she must hit the balloon from each side of the net to keep the ball in play.

High School


  • Exercise Videos
    There are thousands of exercise videos online your teenager and you can do together: yoga videos, ten minute HIIT or Tabata videos (timed body weight exercises), Zumba dances, and more.  If your teen is creative and enjoys dancing, ask him or her to choreograph a dance routine to do later or put on a dance recital for the rest of the family.


  • Workout While You Watch
    If your teens want to watch TV to relax, make a deal with them.  During every commercial, challenge them to do specific exercise, such as a plank or running in place, until the show comes back on or it switches to a new commercial.  If you have exercise games, such as a Wii Sports or Fit, EA Sports Active, Zumba Fitness, etc., play a few rounds with them.  Choose the more active ones.  You’ll have fun, get exercise, and spend quality time with your teens.

Are you interested in more activities? Here are a few additional resources for more inspiration.

Schools on the Move Challenge

Parenting: 18 Activities


Nibbles Newsletter

Jump Bunch

Cold or dreary days do not have to mean sitting inside and not playing; there are many ways to keep active, and remember spring will be here soon.


Davies, A. (2006). My First Yoga. Retrieved January 14, 2017.

Kids Yoga Poses. (2016, November 14). 58 Fun and Easy Fun Yoga Poses for Kids. Retrieved January 14, 2017.

Jensen, E. (2005, May). Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd Edition. Retrieved January 14, 2017.

Make Way for Play. Retrieved January 15, 2017.

Tilak, V. (2015, September 29). The Benefits of Yoga for Kids. Retrieved January 15, 2017.

Interested in bringing this topic to your school or organization?

The Poe Center offers a wide variety of Nutrition and Physical Activity classes for preschool – 12th grades.  Call 919-231-4006 or go on line to schedule a program.

Play Hard, Stay Fit

Grade Level: 2nd – 3rd
Program Length: 45 minutes

Is “play” physical activity? You bet! This session will examine the questions of “What is exercise?” and “What does it mean to be healthy or unhealthy?” Participants experience the correlation between nutrition and physical activity; calories in = calories out. They will discover their personal fitness likes and dislikes and the risks associated with poor health behaviors while learning how physical activity benefits every aspect of their lives.

For the Classroom: Travel the Tarheel State


Active kids learn better.  Research shows a correlation between increased movement and increased learning that extends into the classroom.  There are many ways to keep kids active during the school day beyond PE classes and recess.  As little as 10 minutes of physical activity during class has a positive impact on a student’s ability to learn immediately afterwards.  From brain breaks and energizers to activities that support subject areas, there are lots of ways to get the class moving.

Here’s a creative active lesson to teach North Carolina geography. You can find this activity and many others in this helpful K-5 Classroom Energizers packet.

As you travel across the state (demonstrate using a map pointing out locations), act out these actions and more

  • Hike the Appalachian Mountains
  • Climb to the top of Mount Mitchell
  • Raft the Nantahala River
  • Act like an elephant at the NC Zoo
  • Fish the Outer Banks
  • Fly a kite at Kitty Hawk
  • Swim in the Atlantic Ocean