"I'm Bored!"—9 Boredom-busters for Any Age Group

When it comes to frustrating things kids say, "I'm bored!" is the undisputed champ. Here are 9 age-appropriate ways to rise to the challenge when your kids complain that there's nothing fun to do.

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #580

It doesn't seem to matter how many toys, games, electronics, and pieces of outdoor play equipment a child has access to—they still complain about having nothing exciting to keep them occupied. And if they’re cooped up for an extended period due to illness, unexpected school cancellations, or stretches of poor weather, you're probably ready to run and hide!

Despite living in the twenty-first century, where they have cutting-edge technology and a virtual three-ring circus at their fingertips, countless kids find themselves bored. Here are a variety of boredom busters, grouped by age, that will help you keep your kids busy and content.

It’s great to have an arsenal of creative recommendations ready to go when your child launches into his “I’m bored” saga. Still, experts agree that boredom can also be beneficial. If you feel guilty that you’re not providing enough fun for your kids, my episode 4 Great Reasons Boredom Can Benefit Your Child shares important ways boredom can be a plus.

Boredom-busters for preschoolers

Preschoolers are curious explorers. They love to study their surroundings and can stay entertained for hours when allowed to investigate new territory. These ideas will keep them busy and foster their curiosity.

Create rain gutter fun

Head on over to your local building supply store and pick up a five- to seven-foot piece of rain gutter. Not only do gutters protect your rooftop, but they also make great race tracks for spirited preschoolers.

Soap boat races are loads of fun.

You’ll need:

  • Length of rain gutter
  • soap bars
  • toothpicks
  • colorful cardstock paper
  • hose and water

Cut small rectangles out of cardstock and glue or tape them to a toothpick to make a sail. Insert the toothpick sail into a bar of soap.

Prop the rain gutter against something to make a slight downward slope. Place the hose at the top and turn the water on. Watch how fast the soap boats rush down the waterslide!  Two or more kids can race their boats for fun prizes like a toy car, some soap bubbles, or sidewalk chalk.

Be sure the gutter length is made of vinyl or some other material without sharp edges.

Build a toy car race track

Rain gutters are also perfect for racing Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. Set them up by propping them up on the sofa, the stairs, at the end of a bed—anything to give them a little incline. Or place the two tracks together and make one massive race track. This speedy fun will keep them entertained for hours.

Craft stained glass art with bottle lids

Preschoolers love a great art project. A good friend of mine is a preschool teacher. She found a cool stained glass technique on the Happy Hooligans Art Craft Play website that has become a classroom favorite. It’s super easy and yields stunning results!

You’ll need:

  • Crayola Washable Kids Paint
  • wax paper
  • card stock (to frame your painting)
  • bottle/jar lids (different sizes make it more interesting)
  • paintbrush

For easy clean-up, place a large disposable tablecloth under your child’s work area. Anything that spills or spatters can be cleaned up in seconds—you simply throw away the tablecloth when your little Picasso has finished his masterpiece.

Give each child a section of wax paper and let them splat thick dots of different colors of paint all over the paper. Next, have them take the lids and twist and press into the paints to create colorful swirls that have a stained glass look when they dry. Frame the stained glass art with cardstock and hang it in a window for a dramatic showpiece your child will be proud to display for weeks to come.

Design a toddler toolbox

I love having a best friend who is a pre-K teacher because she keeps me tuned in to the enthralling world of early learning. Pretend play is high on her list, especially when it incorporates real-life scenarios. A child's toolbox, made with actual items adults use around the house, is one of her favorite recommendations for creative exploration.

Assemble an assortment of toddler-friendly tools in a plastic carryall (the dollar store will have lots of options) so your little guy or gal can become familiar with helpful objects that they’ll likely use later in life. Suggestions include:

  • Real tape measure (help toddlers explore the concept of size)
  • Paintbrush ( a small bucket with water and a handyman’s paintbrush allows for pretend painting)
  • Rubber mallet (grind breadcrumbs, hammer pretend nails, pound playdough)
  • Flashlight (there’s lots to discover under the sofa, behind their bed, in the toy bin)
  • Masking or painter’s tape (create maps, roadways, find ways to keep things stuck together)
  • Magnifying glass (everything looks cool under a lens!)
  • Funnel (practice pouring sugar or liquids into smaller openings or watch sand fill up in a glass jar)

Your toddler will spend hours helping and exploring with his handy-dandy toolbox and might develop some future “fix-it” skills in the process.

Boredom-busters for elementary-age kids

Kids in elementary school can handle projects that require little or no supervision, which fosters independence. Here are just a few ways to keep them busy on their own.

Connect with feathered friends

Sometimes you needn’t look any further than your backyard to create some natural, inexpensive, and stimulating entertainment. Birds are fascinating! We’re often so caught up in our hectic lifestyles that we don’t take notice of the variety of feathered friends around us.

Birding offers a little something for everyone, and it's a super opportunity for kids to gain a better understanding of what makes birds unique and special. Check out this informative video with bird watching tips to help your kids get started. Then, have them go outside and see how many species they can spot.

Don’t stop there—one of the best ways to observe beautiful birds is to build them a birdfeeder. There are dozens of practical and creative birdfeeder projects kids can make with little or no supervision. Here is a fun birdfeeder tutorial to get you started.

Paint rocks

Smooth, flat rocks are a terrific canvas to let your child’s creative juices flow. Your child can let her imagination soar with color, design, and sparkle. Provide items like googly eyes, feathers, pom-poms, or glitter that your child can glue on after their rock is painted and dry. Older kids can paint messages of inspiration and leave them in random spots throughout their neighborhood and community for others to find and read.

If you want to make sure to preserve your child's creations, finish them off with a child-safe spray sealant.

Rock painting is fun for older kids and adults, too! Why not plan a little home rock-painting party for the whole family?

Plan special outings and goals

Having special outings to look forward to helps us break up the monotony of our routines and everyday lives. Kids need this as much as adults do. Whether it’s a date with Grandma for shopping and lunch or finally being allowed to get her ears pierced, noting these plans on a calendar makes it real and more exciting.

Let your child pick a calendar or planner of his own so he can begin writing down important dates and exciting upcoming events to keep track of them. This is both motivating and will help keep him organized and on task. It’s also an excellent tool to begin logging goals and deadlines. It’s not quite as easy to be bored when you’re busy anticipating the neat things that lie ahead.

Boredom-busters for tweens and teens

The tween/teen years are a bit easier to navigate when it comes to boredom. Most stay busy by connecting with their smartphones or other electronic devices, but even that gets old when you can’t participate in the usual school and social activities. Here are some suggestions to fill empty time as well as prepare for the future.

Learn a life skill

As the mom of eight kids, I’ve always been hugely outnumbered and never had enough hours in the day to complete my ever-growing to-do list. Because of that, I had to divide and conquer in many areas of daily life to stay sane and ensure we ate more than cold cereal for dinner. One of my survival mechanisms was teaching my kids life skills that not only helped keep our household running smoothly but benefited them as well. Learning how to do laundry (a massive win for all), how to prepare meals and safely use the stove, and master the basics of first-aid were part of my kid’s early upbringing.

When your tween/teen has free time on his hands, take advantage of it. Start with some basics like sorting laundry, plunging a toilet, or cleaning the bathroom. Eventually, introduce more advanced skills like essential car maintenance, cooking basic recipes, and using a debit card responsibly.

RELATED: 9 Crucial Life Skills to Teach Your Child

Strengthen your brain muscles

Just as our body needs a physical workout to stay healthy, our brain needs mental workouts. One way to strengthen our brain is to play brain games.

Brain games are activities that stimulate your thinking. That includes puzzles like crosswords and Sudoku, but also traditional games like chess and Scrabble. It also includes creative outlets like painting, playing an instrument, or learning a language.

Surely your young adult doesn’t want his brain to be bored! Stay alert with brainteasers, puzzles, and other challenging games. There are dozens of apps available, as well as puzzle books and online brain games. This interesting collection from SharpBrains offers a wide variety of thought-provoking exercises and games to keep you sharp and engaged. Oh, and they’re not the least bit boring!


Give back

One of the most significant ways to get out of a personal slump is to stop focusing on yourself and spend your time, effort, and energy helping others. Teens are at the perfect age to spend their free time giving back. (Whether they know it or not!) And with access to the internet, it’s easier than ever to match individual interests with opportunities right in the community.

In addition to volunteer choices in your community, these resources are a terrific starting point. 

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.