Keeping Your Cool with Indoor Play

 Scorching hot summer days can also make it difficult to get outdoors and can result in long days indoors beside the air conditioner. Those days can provide excellent opportunities to develop your child’s gross and fine motor skills.

 Messy Play

Messy play is very important to your child’s development and lets them explore different media and sensory experiences. In order to minimize the chaos, try to prepare the environment in advance with towels, smocks, and plastic tablecloths or shower curtains so that you and your child can enjoy the activity without worring about the eventual clean up. There does not need to be a specific outcome with messy play, it is an opportunity for exploration. Constant supervision is required for younger children if participating in activites with water and/or any item that could be easily swallowed.

  • If you have a bathtub, this is a great place for water play. Let your kids wear their bathing suits if they want and use plastic toys and containers to let them play in the water. If you don’t have a bathub, use a basin.

  • Finger painting helps to develop awareness of individual fingers and to strengthen muscles in the palm of the hand.

  • Using Playdoh is also good to develop strength and grip in the hands, use cutters and molded surfaces to create interesting shapes and textures. Homemade Playdoh can also be made using recipes available on the internet.

  • Flour in a baking pan is a fun way for children to develop fine motor skils by drawing shapes in the flour. Water on a blackboard (using a sponge or paintbrush) can also be used this way.

  • Half fill a large plastic bin with uncooked pasta, lentils, or rice. Let the children go on an archeological dig by hiding small toys inside the bin and letting the kids try to find them. This activity develops their ability to discriminate between different textures.


Art projects let a child’s imagination run wild. Any sort of drawing, colouring, painting, or modelling can keep them entertained and help them to develop valuable skills.

  • Dry pasta can be used in multiple ways — to make jewellery, paintings, or sculptures.

  • Rolling up paper beads for jewellery can be good exercise for the small muscles of the hands and also helps develop bilateral coordination.

  • Collage involves cutting pictures from old magazines to create a picture. This is an excellent activity for devloping fine motor precision. As the children place the items on their collage they are developing skills in planning and spatial awareness.

  • Help the children to create a puppet show. If you don’t have puppets, they can make their own, using cardboard, ice cream sticks, or even old socks.

  • If your children aren’t motivated to do art for art’s sake, present them with a challenge, such as creating a camp site for their Lego people to camp at, or a farm for all their small toy animals to live on.


Cooking and baking are great activities to involve your kids in during indoor play, though you may want to avoid running the oven during the hottest part of the day.

  • Depending on their age, children can be involved in all apsects of the planning, from choosing the meal to finding items in the grocery store.

  • Children will need supervision when preparing food. There will be mess here but it is a great opportunity to stir, roll, knead and cut out shapes.

  • Older children may enjoy putting together a recipe book of the things you make together. Cooking activities can be particularly helpful for any picky eaters as this increases their sense of control and may be an opportunity for them to try new foods.

  • This activity can also develop into an indoor picnic on a rug in the living room.

Physical Games

Physical games don’t just have to be for outdoors!

  • Clear space in your living room and create an obstacle course for the kids to complete using chairs, sofa cushions, blankets for tunnels, whatever you have in the home.

  • Pull a mattress off the bed to make an indoor trampoline for your kids to burn off energy and practise gymnastic skills.

  • Relay races can be fun once the area is cleared of hazards. Ideas include balancing tea bags on your head, modified egg and spoons races, etc.

  • Use a balloon for an indoor game of volleyball. Try to keep a big balloon from touching the ground.

  • Make doing the laundry a fun family activity – children can test their throwing accuracy throwing rolled up socks into hampers. Wringing out clothes or sponges is a great exercise for the muscles in the hands, and using clothes pegs helps build finger strength.

  • Bean bags are fun for throwing games and for learning basic juggling which is challenging but so helpful for bilateral coordination. If you don’t have bean bags, the kids can make their own from old socks filled with beans or rice and sewn shut.

  • Empty the linen cupboard to make your own forts. This activity is particulary good for strengthening if they can use larger cushions, e.g. from the sofa, to make the fort.

Body Awareness

Body awareness activities help develop children’s sense of their own body and their movements in space. These games are particulary suitable for clumsy children.

  • “Simon says…” style games are helpful for developing these skills. Start with basic commands such as “touch your nose”, “touch your left shoulder” and move onto cross body movements such as “touch your left hand to your right knee.”

  • Find a large piece of paper or open a large box and draw around your child. Have them help to name and decorate the body parts.

  • Hokey Pokey is a fun way for younger children to practice identifying their own body parts.

  • Create a dressing-up box with old clothes and costumes. Children can let their imaginations run wild. Playing with buttons and zips and laces can help with fine motor control and dressing aids body awareness.

Fine Motor Activities

Make a fine motor circuit using some of the ideas below:

  • Games such as picking up and moving delicate items with tweezers (such as tissues, cornflakes), dropping water using eye dropper, and drawing on tisue paper help to develop a child’s ability to regulate pressure and to use delicate touch.

  • Sorting small items in the palm of your hand helps to develop hand manipulation skills, i.e., give your child a handful of coins and have them place the coins into a container one at a time using only that hand.

  • Line up a row of pennies and turn them over as quickly as possible. Record every child’s best time and encourage them to beat it in the future.

  • Move a small object from a closed Ziplock bag to another Ziplock bag.

  • Thread beads or large pasta pieces onto a piece of string/ribbon.

  • Thread nuts on/off bolts.

  • Line up dominoes on their sides.

Keep the Fun Going

Some other classic indoor games include:

  • Jigsaws, charades, and Pictionary all develop fine motor and cognitive skills.

  • Lego and other construction toys help their spatial awareness and motor planning as well as developing grasp and release skills.

  • Memory games: Fill a tray with an assortment of small objects, then after the kids have had time to memorize the items, remove one and see if the kids can guess what is missing. Alternatively, get them to write down or draw as many items as they remember once the tray has been removed.

Even on the hottest summer days in Shanghai, you can turn your own home into an oasis of fun. Your kids will love trying something new and discovering activities they enjoy and you will feel great knowing that they’ve spent time developing important skills through creative play.

– contributed by Alena Murray, Occupational Therapist, Olivia’s Place Pediatric Therapy Center