Award-Winning Teacher Shares No-Cost Indoor Activities That Build Babies’ Brains

Baby hands in flour

New baby, new stroller, but not-so-great weather outside? All that time stuck inside can have you running out of things to do. It’s okay if you’re going a little bit stir-crazy—anyone who’s ever had a new baby knows exactly how you feel. 

We talked with Ann Fisher, a KinderCare award-winning teacher, about some of the best indoor activities you and your baby can do together, no matter the weather or where you’re traveling. (These can easily be done on the go, like at Grandma’s house). The best part, according to Fisher, is that all of these ideas use materials you already have at home. That means they’re 100 percent free—because you shouldn’t have to buy anything else when you’re already spending a small fortune on diapers!

“The important thing is to show your baby how excited you are to teach them something new,” Fisher said. “You just have to be down at their level and make lots of eye contact. Talk to your baby about what you’re doing and ask questions. It’s okay if they can’t answer you yet—it’s all about the interactions you have while you’re exploring and learning together.”

Here are five of Fisher's top tips for indoor fun with your new baby.

1. Explore a World of Smells

Spicy cinnamon, sweet vanilla, crisp mint—your pantry is already stocked with tantalizing scents that help your baby learn about the world. It’s easy to grab a couple of spice jars and introduce your baby to new smells right in your kitchen.

Here’s how to do it: Take an empty spice jar (the smell will still linger) and hold it under your baby’s nose. Choose plastic instead of glass so your baby can play with the jar after taking a whiff. They will love all the new smells, and you’ll be putting old things to good use—it’s a win-win!

Safety tip: Make sure the jar is big enough that it won’t end up in your baby’s mouth, and always keep a close eye on them.

2. Reuse All Those Old Boxes

Have a million empty Amazon boxes lying around the house? Turn all that cardboard into a brain-building activity for your baby—it’s never too early to start playing pretend!

Whether you make a box fort to explore together, a maze for crawling through, or a make-believe drum set, your old cardboard boxes are filled with imaginative possibilities for play.

When you’re all done, it’s easy to break the boxes down and either store them for next time or recycle them.

3. Let Your Baby Be Your Sous Chef for the Day

Sure it may be quite a while before your baby can whip up a meal from scratch, but you can still introduce them to exciting new materials in the kitchen.

Need some ideas? Next time you’re baking, save a couple handfuls of flour in a bowl and let your baby feel its soft, silky texture—just be sure to keep raw flour away from your little one’s mouth. You can also sub in other textured baking materials for your baby to feel. Even a small bowl of warm water will do the trick!

For older babies who are building their fine-motor skills by grabbing and holding everything they can get their hands on, mix things up and give them some baby-safe kitchen tools like a few measuring cups and a whisk.

4. Bring the Outdoors In

Snow, sand, dirt—wherever you live and whatever the weather is like outside, you can let your baby dig their little hands in right in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a bucket and some extra wipes for the inevitably super-messy fun!

Getting down and dirty lets your baby practice fine-motor skills and explore with their senses. Just scoop a few small shovelfuls of (pesticide-free) snow, sand, or dirt into the bucket and bring it inside for your baby to play with. Adding some “homemade” sandbox toys like a big spoon and a spatula makes the game even more fun.

(Pro tip: To keep cleanup easy, consider laying down a sheet of cardboard or a plastic tarp on the floor before you try this one!)

5. Put on a Show with Flashlights

Babies love light and color, and this fun indoor activity provides both with items you already have around the house. You’ll only need a small flashlight and a colored plastic container (like a kid-size cup or Tupperware bowl) to make an at-home night light that your baby can reach for during tummy time. Here’s how to do it.

If you don’t have a container that will work, your baby will still have plenty of fun watching as you trace shapes on the wall and floor or put on a shadow puppet show.

These are just a few ideas for indoor activities that your baby will love, and with a little imagination, you’ll discover even more. Whatever you decide to do, remember that what your baby really needs most is time with YOU!

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