mindful living, effortless style

our favorite indoor toys

Our Favorite Ways to Play Inside

Isn’t that structure amazing?  C spent a solid couple of hours constructing it the other morning. And then promptly fell asleep on the couch (something he hasn’t done in nearly a year!).  It was created using a very cool building set that was sent to us last month called Fort Magic.  And thank God it was because this time of year in Seattle the kids and I are stuck in the house more than usual and things can get a bit dicey if I’m not careful.

Is this happening to you too?  In case it is, I thought now would be a good time to look back on those super popular toy guides we put out just before Christmas to show you some of the things we bought and loved.

I also wanted to share with you guys a few of my favorite go-to activities when hanging out at home with the littles.  A quick review of my phone’s photo stream and I found I actually have plenty of shots of the things we play with most.

Three things before we get to that, though…

  • Be sure to come back here tomorrow for a chance to win a Fort Magic kit of your own!
  • Remember how I was lamenting about having trouble figuring out dinner time?  I think I’ve cracked the code, and the answer my friends has been freezer cooking.  I’ll share more later but for now here’s what you need to know – I’m teaming up with my friends at the meal planning site Relish! to put on a new POYEL eBook, this one all about freezer cooking.  It’ll be complete with 50 or so recipes, meal plans, shopping lists, and even printable sticker labels. Sign up for MPMK’s newsletter here to be the first to know when our new freezer cook book is out!


  • How do you handle bad weather with the kids?  Do you hunker down at home or bundle them up and head outside anyway?  (I’d say we’re about 50/50.  Mostly because I’m a big whimp in the cold and I’m blessed to have a part-time child care provider that doesn’t mind getting wet and to have C in outdoor preschool 7 hours a week.  This makes me feel less guilty about staying in and playing some days.)

Now onto the fun stuff, my list of the top 10 ways to tucker the kids out when stuck inside, in no particular order…


#1 Fort Magic

As I mentioned, Fort Magic, kindly sent along one of their popular fort building kits recently and, after a month of playing with it, I can see why it gets such stellar reviews on Amazon.  I was amazed to see how both C (4 yrs old) and S (2 yrs old) were able to build structures several times larger than they are completely independently. The kit is actually intended to build a whole slew of impressive structures ranging from bonafide “forts” to submarines and cars.  There’s an instruction book that shows you how to assemble the frames and then you add your own sheets/fabric to finish it off.

So far we haven’t even bothered with the sheets. The kids love building stuff even without them (they especially love one-on-one time building with Daddy).  What I really dig is that most of the time they use it to create completely unique structures of their own design (you know how much I covet open-ended play).  Finally, the biggest bonus, is that this set is perfect for play dates.  Last week we had two four-year-olds and two two-year-olds here and they all had a blast working together on it while my friend and I actually got a chance to chat – how often does that happen when you get four kids under the age of four together?


#2 Doodle Cook by Herve Tullet

I first wrote about this open-ended activity book here.  Back then I was excited about the potential but C wasn’t quite old enough to try it out.  Recently, it’s become our new routine to break out Doodle Cook for one-on-one time as soon as S goes down for a nap.  We take turns with the steps for “cooking” our art and C thinks it’s fantastic.  I’ve also been writing down the date and C’s age on every page that we complete.  My hope is to hold on to it as a really nice keepsake from these special times spent together.


#3 Mid-Day Baths

Who says baths have to be at night?  The best part of a mid-morning or afternoon bath is that the kids can play as long as they want (which is a great time killer).  This is one I use often when we’re hanging out at home or if the kids are sick.  If you look closely at this picture you can see that the kids are actually using bubble solution and wands to blow bubbles in the bath – another great trick for extending the fun.  (P.S. We also love our Boon Bath Pod for storing all our bath toys in an attractive/non-gross-and-moldy way).


#4 Magnatiles

A deluxe magnatile set was the kids’ big Christmas present this year so I had big expectations and, I must say, they’ve all been met.  Again, I was surprised that my 2 year old loves playing with these every bit as much as my 4 year old.  Their creativity is unlimited and they often bring in other toys (cars, action figures, other blocks, etc.) to support their play with these.

I was first turned on to these blocks by multiple preschool and kindergarden teacher reviews reporting that they’re the most popular toys in their classroom. Because of those glowing reviews, I was willing to invest in this set (they’re not cheap) and my ROI so far has been huge.


#5 Painting with Sponge Letters 

If you have a preschooler in the house than you know how fascinated they can be with letters.  My littles think it’s a special treat when I bypass the standard brushes and break out these sponge letters during art time.


#6 Sensory Box

I’ve been touting the benefits of sensory boxes pretty much since the moment this blog began. (Yes, they’re a little messy but really all you need is a towel underneath and clean up is minimal.) These boxes are excellent for stimulating the senses and getting in some fine motor development. Once your kiddos are used to playing with them, they also almost guaranteed to give you 30 – 60 minutes of time to get stuff done around the house.  Which is something of a miracle.


#7 Bristle Blocks

The unique spindly structure of bristle blocks makes them favorites of both my 2 and 4 year old.  C likes them because they operate differently than other types of blocks and S was hooked at an early age because these were the easiest blocks for her to manipulate.


 #8 Puzzles

I feel like we actually got turned on to puzzles a little late in the game for C.  I always thought they were a little too tough for him… and then someone gave him this box set of 8 Thomas puzzles for his third birthday and his whole world was changed.

He can lose serious chunks of time working on all sorts of puzzles independently now and this alphabet/number puzzle game from eboo (on of our favorite brands) is currently in heavy rotation. At 2 1/2, S has also recently really gotten into puzzles, especially this larger floor option.


#9 Hot Wheels Race Tracks

If you’re surprised this one is on the list, I’m right there with you.  This somewhat flimsy plastic toy is the kind of thing I usually avoid.  But a friend gave it to C a few birthday’s ago and we’ve found that these tracks are great on days stuck inside – especially if you hide them from the kids the rest of the time! (P.S. for some reason this is ridiculously overpriced on Amazon – I’m thinking maybe because it’s the old model and no longer made? – but there is a newer, much more reasonably priced version here.)


#10 Drill

This was another item from our Christmas gift guides that I bought for C but both kids really enjoy. It’s a fun dramatic play toy that also builds fine motor skills and teaches pattern recognition.  Plus is there anything cuter then a girl and her drill?

That’s our list – hope it helps the next time you find yourself stuck at home.  Is there anything you would add?

Question of the Day

How do you handle bad weather with the kids?  Do you hunker down at home or bundle them up and head outside anyway?  (I’d say we’re about 50/50.  Mostly because I’m a big whimp in the cold and I’m blessed to have a part-time child care provider that doesn’t mind getting wet and to have C in outdoor preschool 7 hours a week.  This makes me feel less guilty about staying in and playing some days.)

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie February 28, 2013 at 4:14 am


And letting her make her own snacks. Given a certain amount of freedom, she’ll spend 20 minutes just looking through the cupboard trying to decide on what to make before all the time of even making something begins. Afterward I can give her a dishtowel and she spends another 20 minutes “cleaning.”


mpmk February 28, 2013 at 11:53 am

We’re also big fans of play dough. And I’m so intrigued by that snack idea. Have you seen all those shots of “snack stations” floating around Pinterest?


Stephanie February 28, 2013 at 11:55 pm

I have seen those snack stations but we don’t have anything anywhere near as elaborate. She has a drawer with her plates, cups, and silverware and she knows where to find her favorite ingredients in the cupboard. She has a stool so she can reach the counter. She’s only 2 1/2 so she still needs quite a bit of supervision in the kitchen. But she loves to work in the kitchen!


mpmk March 1, 2013 at 12:05 am

That is so very cool that she’s already so independent and interested in the kitchen. Plus, as you said, if finding the ingredients is a good time-killer then why fix what ain’t broke?


Gina February 28, 2013 at 9:20 am

If its above 32 we head outside – even if its just for 10mins – My kids just do much better with a little fresh air everyday!

When we are stuck inside my kids love to play with rice and pasta – I give them funnels and measuring cups and spoons and they have a blast (my 2 and 4yr old). They also like playing with shaving cream, painting, and my 4 yr old loves to play “Sink or float?” He goes around the house and collects objects and then he tries to guess if they will sin kor float!

And the mid-day bath – yes! That is a life saver – both my kids LOVE the bath so if things are getting tense all I have to say is “Hey, lets take a bath!” and the kids go running upstairs!


mpmk February 28, 2013 at 11:54 am

I totally agree Gina – even with opportunities to burn off energy inside, my kids seem to just do better with some fresh air… also, my kids are playing with their rice sensory box as I type this ;).


Karla February 28, 2013 at 10:33 am

I was very intriqued by fort magic, but then just about died at the price tag. How many can really afford this? Even for Christmas? I don’t spend that on my child at Christmas or his birthday. Someone I know has straws and connectors. Still not cheap in my mind, but much more affordable.


mpmk February 28, 2013 at 11:57 am

I agree Karla, this is a big ticket item for us too – it might be something I’d do as a joint Christmas gift (we tend to stick to a big gift and maybe one or two small things) but definitely not an everyday purchase. The good news is, forgive me for originally forgetting to include this in the post, we’re giving a set away tomorrow! So be sure to check back and in and enter for your chance to win.


Nina February 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Ohhhh I want one so bad! We’re a big fort building familu!


Ana February 28, 2013 at 4:29 pm

I bought my kids Fort Magic for Christmas and it is well worth the money! It is the one toy they are STILL playing with all of the time. Even my son (11), who normally loves to play video games, jumps in for hours to play with my younger children (6 & 8). You can build huge forts with this kit and they have a lot of designs you can try. My kids love building from the manual and also creating their own forts. Now all of their friends love coming over to build too! I highly recommend it!


Karla March 1, 2013 at 10:41 am

Was so glad to see the giveaway today! However, I only have one child so there’s absolutely no way he would ever receive fort magic. Even if I had multiple children, they might (emphasize might) get it as a gift, but that’s all they would get. Seriously, I spend around 50 bucks at Christmas and maybe 30 on his birthday. When you get gifts from a couple other people and you’re paying for a party or purchasing gifts for others it all adds up. Its not about the gifts anyway.

Back to my main point. I’m all about quality toys. I’d rather save for something that won’t fall apart. However, I’m also all about hand me downs and garage sales.

Thanks again for the giveaway.


gina February 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm

That how I feel about magna tiles – I think my kids would love them but at over $100 I just cant do it…..


mpmk February 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm

I hear you guys on toys and cost – one good idea is to keep any eye out on craigslist and eBay. Maybe not so much with Fort Magic as it’s a newer product but magnatiles have been preschool/daycare staples for years. You never know, you might get lucky!


mpmk February 28, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Oh and consignment stores too!


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