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When it seems like the world is on fire, but you still have kids: Fun, easy indoor activities

8 easy indoor activities for kids stuck inside due to wildfires
Canadian wildfire smoke creates unhealthy air quality in NYC
Wildfires in Canada have blanketed much of the northeastern U.S. in a heavy blanket of smoke, making outdoor activities hazardous.Lokman Vural Elibol / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Wildfires from Canada are bringing heavy smoke into the U.S., leaving nearly 100 million people under air quality alerts. For many parents, in addition to the usual concerns about health and safety, they've got to keep little ones busy indoors (just as, in many parts of the country, the weather was finally getting nice enough to go outside).

Because yes, even as the world burns, we've got to keep those kids entertained.

This is something parents in western states have a lot of experience handling. In 2020, western fires created unhealthy conditions from Oregon to Southern California, and millions of parents had to keep their children indoors. Smog and unhealthy air days are a regular occurrence in the L.A. area. published this story in 2020 with ideas from West Coast parents, so we're turning again to that advice to help East Coast parents who are now in the same (smoky) boat.

“It’s been extremely surreal,” Kirsten Russell, a mother of two in Wilsonville, Oregon told TODAY Parents at the time. “This is their childhood in 2020.”

Kirsten Russell and her sons, Connor, 4, and Jackson, 2, in 2020, when wildfires ripped across the West Coast.
Kirsten Russell and her sons, Connor, 4, and Jackson, 2, in 2020, when wildfires ripped across the West Coast.Courtesy Kirsten Russell

“With a preschooler and a toddler, (we do) a lot of fort building, playdough, building, creating, dance parties, the floor is hot lava ... getting creative as best we can without going to buy new supplies,” Russell said, adding that the family spends most of their time in an upstairs playroom, because it’s harder to breathe downstairs.

This is a familiar scene for Janelle and Jeff Boek in southeast Portland.

Janelle Boek shared the view from her home in southeast Portland in 2020.
Janelle Boek shared the view from her home in southeast Portland in 2020.Courtesy Janelle Boek

The Boeks have been honest with their daughter about what is going on and are trying their best to ease the anxiety of staying indoors.

“The last few days we have been playing board games — a lot of Sorry and matching games,” Boek said. “We did some stretches and deep breathing this morning — it was much needed.”

For parents who have exhausted board games and indoor forts, here are eight suggestions from the TODAY Parenting Team:

For the future secret agent

Indoor "Laser" Maze (Jennifer Landis)

“Let your kids train to be secret agents by setting up a laser maze made of yarn taped to walls, tied to doors and otherwise strung across walkways and hallways to create a maze.”

For the at-home chef

Baking Challenge (Rachel Campos-Duffy)

“How many times have you wanted to make a chocolate cake from scratch or prove you can make a flaky crust as good as your grandmother’s, but you just don't have the time? A day indoors is the perfect opportunity to enlist the kids with no time pressure or worse, dinner guests to impress. This treat is just for you and the kids, so if the soufflé deflates, you can still eat the yummy remains with no stress! You'll be surprised how into cooking and experimenting with exotic or sophisticated recipes kids are these days. I think it has a lot to do with the popularity of all those cooking and baking challenges on the Food Network — especially the ones that feature kids. What's better than the smell of home baked treats wafting through your house?”

For the slime obsessed

DIY Slime (Nina Parrish)

“This experiment is better for older elementary and middle school kids as it requires the use of a detergent called Borax. In this lesson, kids learn about polymers while creating their own glitter slime. The best part is, the glitter stays stuck INSIDE the slime!”

For the budding artist

Window Markers (Two Came True)

“Window markers are super cool and fun for kiddos. The best part is that they are also easy to clean up. Let your kiddos write and create designs on your sliding glass door, random windows in your house or even your shower doors. Play a game of Tic Tac Toe, or keep a tally of every time you see a car drive down the street. Whatever it may be, these markers are great at making the time pass. And what kid wouldn’t love drawing on something other than paper?”

For the DIY-ers

Make Your Own Finger Paint (Julia Christensen)

“To distract bored little hands, make your own non-toxic finger paint using items found in your kitchen. Search online for an exact recipe; it will likely be a combination of corn starch, sugar, water and food coloring. Create the paint on your stovetop and then let your child get creative after it cools. Remember that the food coloring may stain surfaces, so be sure to use this craft in a controlled (perhaps cling wrap-covered) environment.”

For the child on the go

Homemade Race Track (Olivia Johanson)

“This works best on any kind of floor (use blue painter's tape for hardwood floors and masking tape for carpet) and is remarkably easy. All you have to do is lay out some masking tape around part of your living room floor and draw little lines in the center to make each strip look like a road. You can add some obstacles in the form of toys to make it more challenging. Then race your kids or get them to race around the track together.”

For the future engineer

Super Stacker Towers (Nina Parrish)

“This activity is perfect for a kid who likes to build but may not be quite so enthusiastic about completing their homework. Write items that need to be learned or studied on cups, stack them up, and turn learning into a game!”

For the photographer

Regular Day (Paul)

“On a regular day just like any other, get an alarm clock and set it to go off at intervals; an hour is normally good as you are likely to be doing something different each time. Take a picture of whatever you are all doing when that alarm clock chimes and you can build a collage at the end of the day. The kids will eagerly anticipate the alarm going off and it can provide for a great memory when you look back on it in a few years’ time.”

And if you’re a parent who just cannot adult any more, this genius nap time art lesson is pretty high on the list of hacks to pull out in case of emergency.