More than 120 Productive Free Time Ideas and Activities for Kids and Teens

One thing my kids knew never to say to me as they were growing up was, “Mama, I’m bored.” The “b” word always earned the bored child an extra chore, because heaven forbid he/she run out of things to do! I was just trying to help them out! Heehee. I didn’t leave them hanging, though, having to figure out what fun thing they could do. When they were old enough to be bored, I created a Productive Free Time Ideas for Kids and Teens. Whether you homeschool or just need ideas for weekend fun, this list will start your kids off on a path of fun and learning.

Printable Productive Free Time Lists for Kids and Teens, Great ideas for self-directed play and learning

What is Productive Free Time??

The idea of Productive Free Time is to let the children or teenagers choose an activity to do from a list you provide based on what interests them. Most of the free time activities will include some kind of potential learning, use of imagination, and skill development–hence the “productive” in the name. It encourages them to explore their interests and empowers them to make decisions on their own. When your child sees this great huge list of possibilities for them to choose from, they are unlikely to get bored ever again!  

It’s easy when parents or grandparents are tired to give in to the kids watching mindless television or only playing video games. By having this list, you can offer your kids or grandkids lots of options of things to do instead. I rarely had a complaint from my kids that they couldn’t find something fun to do because they had lots of fun options on our lists.

Why are Self-directed Play and Learning Productive?

When our kids come to us complaining that they are bored or don’t know what to do, they unknowingly are giving us the power over their happiness. If you want to get deeper, this feeds into a victim mentality, actually. They become powerless, expecting to be entertained. Yikes!

While I did get involved in their learning activities regularly as a homeschool parent, I also encouraged them to pursue learning things they were interested in separate from our school curriculum. They learn how to learn for themselves, which is a life skill that will serve them all of their lives.

Self-directed play is also very important. As I mentioned above, giving our kids choices for play and exploring their world and interests empowers them and puts them in control of their own happiness. The possibilities in the world can open up to them and they see how many choices there are in the world. They won’t be expecting someone or something else to always entertain them.

No more bored kids with these self-directed productive free time activities
My son loved learning magic tricks. Here he is performing for my youngest daughter’s birthday party. My oldest daughter is his assistant.

What Activities are on the Productive Free Time Ideas for Kids and Teens?

When my kids were quite young and would come to me and ask me what they could do, I tried to be creative and give them ideas. After a while, rattling off a list of options for them to choose from day after day got tiresome, so I created a huge list of self-directed activities for them to do alone or with a sibling/friend.

I grouped the activities into different categories ranging from board games, crafts, dress-up, computer games, outside play, listening to music or audiobooks, and much more.

Productive Free time List of activities for teens and children

When to Use the Productive Free-time List with Your Kids

So, I homeschooled my kids. As many of you have learned during this quarantine time, me homeschooling my kids does NOT mean that I have magic abilities! Haha! There were days we all got tired of each other and needed our space or days when school wasn’t working and the kids needed to learn a different way. Productive Free Time Ideas for Kids and Teens works great during these times.

When they were younger I scheduled in Productive Free Time during most afternoons. They would get finished with school around 1 pm and then I would let them choose from our lists what they wanted to do. Most of the activities did not involve me at all. This is the time I would catch up with lesson prep or housework, fix supper or take a break.

We also pulled out the lists on rainy days, hot summer days, blustery winter days, or any time the kids needed ideas of what to do.

It’s a great motivator to get kids away from the screen. Many parents schedule or allow only so much screen time these days as it tends to be addicting, doesn’t it? Screen time can even be worked into the productive free time list–allowing for specific activities for a limited amount of time.

Productive Free Time Ideas for Kids and Teens -
My youngest daughter was into bugs. Here she is with her three-legged grasshopper, Buddy. She took care of him all summer.

What Supplies Do I Need for Productive Free Time

One of the beauties of the Productive Free Time List is that you use what you have. Or, if there are activities you want your kids to be able to do, you will want to be sure to have the supplies available. For instance, my kids were generally not involved in organized sports. They needed exercise times and a release for their energy throughout the day. So we invested in a large outdoor trampoline, a good-sized above-ground pool for summers, a mini-trampoline for winter-time, and other miscellaneous fun exercises “equipment” like bikes, sit-n-spin, indoor exercise bike, treadmill, or whatever. My kids loved to dress up, so I collected a box of miscellaneous clothes and accessories. It’s amazing what you can find inexpensively at thrift stores or yard sales!

As you go through the lists I provide, select the ones you think your kids will be most interested in. Or better yet, ask them. Start collecting supplies for those activities,  and put them in a box so that all your child needs to do is take the box out and begin.

Over time we collected a lot of materials, toys, and equipment for various activities. If you’re not homeschooling, though, you may want to focus on more of the fun playful activities. Start by using what you have or one or two specific activities your child wants to do. Having the supplies on hand for the various activities really helps in the success of Productive Free Time.

Productive Free Time Ideas for Kids and Teens -
Dress-up was a favorite of my kids. I think they were “islanders” here.

Organizing Your Kids Productive Free Time Supplies

Plastic shoe boxes or other plastic boxes with lids organize lots of supplies or toys and stack nicely on a bookshelf. Label these with masking tape and a permanent marker or with one of the fancy label makers if you have one. I had a box for play-do, crayons, markers, misc craft supplies, small animal toys, paint, science supplies like magnets and compass, etc. Keep all of the supplies needed for an activity in one box. It makes finding the supplies and clean-up easy. It’s also very inviting to see the organized toys or supplies and aids the kids in self-directed play and learning. **For any boxes that you contain activities that you need to supervise,  be sure to put them on top of the bookshelf and out of reach.

Keep a folder on your computer desk-top with Productive Free Time friendly games or apps. Or have an iPad/tablet specifically for this with apps installed.

Productive Free Time Printable Worksheet Downloads

You can download my Productive Free Time Ideas for Kids and Teens at the link below. There is a free PDF version and an editable DOC version. As my kids grew up, the list changed with them. Some activities are better for different ages, obviously. So it’s nice to have a version you can adapt for your family.

Let me Hear from You

I would love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments how you are using this list or what some of your kids’ favorite productive free time activities are.

Download Your Own Productive Free Time Ideas for Kids and Teens here.

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How to keep kids from being bored with productive free time activities.

58 thoughts on “More than 120 Productive Free Time Ideas and Activities for Kids and Teens”

  • Great ideas! My fiance and I were just discussing how, when we were kids, we didn’t dare bother our parents with “I’m bored” because they would make us clean, lol.

    • Haha! It’s a great parenting hack! 🙂

      • Yes! Great way to think of it.

  • Great tips on helping kids stay entertained. I think this is relevant for adults too right now with so much time spent at home. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you. I actually create my own list of things I want to learn about or projects I want to do in my free time–like blogging, genealogy, learning about herbs, etc. It works great for any age.

  • Loved some of your pics! Lol… great ideas and great read. We definitely had to think outside the box during quarantine. I hate the “I’m bored” proclamations! I ended up doing all kinds of research for things to keep a 10 and 12 year old busy, that did not involve technology, but taught them something in the process!

    • Thank you! Yes, my list could have helped you during the quarantine!

  • This is a great post! It can be hard to keep our children from getting bored. I love the idea of having thing available that they can do in one area so they can be productive anytime, and each child can pick their own things to do!

    • Thank you. Yes, it takes a bit of planning, but once you have supplies and the list, it runs pretty smoothly.

  • The love the idea of kids having at least semi-unstructured free time that doesn’t include electronics. Kids just need to play more and use their imaginations. These are great tools and ideas in prodding them in that direction.

  • Douglas Jasper says:

    Awesome post. Our son is saying he is bored so this seems like a great idea !!!

    • Thank you. Try out the free printable and see if it helps!

  • Great read! I’m not a parent but I think this is awesome. So many kids are glued to tablets and electronics now, this adds fun variety and creativity

    • Yes. And it goes beyond entertainment. Discovering what things you enjoy and how to research and learn the skills to do it is also a big part of productive free time.

  • What adorable photos! I home schooled my kids too, and we did a lot of productive free time, even though we didn’t call it that. We had lots of dress up clothes, boxes of legos, shelves of library books, and lots of recreational equipment. They also had musical instruments. The best part of homeschooling was there was so much time to play!

    • That was what I loved about homeschooling, too! Play is so important for kids!

  • This is such a great idea, especially this year when everyone’s time at home has been extended longer than anyone ever imagined.

    • Yes, this quarantine is what inspired me to share these ideas.

  • Tricia Snow says:

    Great tips! When kids are not in sports I can imagine it would be tough to find stuff for them to do.

    • Yes, sports does take up a lot of their free time, for sure.

  • I do this on a daily basis. My kids think it’s my job to entertain them 24/7. I tell them go play. When asked what to do, my response is always, whatever you want. What makes you happy? They usually get very creative and that’s exactly what I hope for. Imagination and creativity!

    • Yes. This list could really help them. It’s a great jumping off point for imaginative play!

  • Notice it’s always the kids that are bored! Haha Great ideas! Buddy must’ve been quite a pet!

    • Yeah! Well, I’m rarely bored, but of course, I could never admit it to my kids! Haha! And Buddy was well-loved! 🙂

  • This is a great idea! I love the idea of having the list at the ready. When my kids were young and teens I would suggest a few ideas, and let them choose. If they kept saying they were bored I would say to my little kids, they could choose a chore from the chore list. They were usually able to find something fun and constructive to do at that point. LOL.

    • Exactly! We think alike! Haha

  • Lisa Manderino says:

    I always feel like a more productive parent when my kids are having productive free time.

  • Great post! I have a closet that’s just for stuff like this. We have boxes filled with all sorts of different activities that I pull out when they’re tired of their usual toys. And one of the boxes is just scraps from crafts but they always end up building creative stuff out of the leftovers.

    • Awesome! That’s such a great idea.

  • Very cool concept- combating boredom with a predetermined list. Now if I can do that with my boyfriend… LOL

    • Hahaha. Hmmm, now I’m thinking of how one could do that… 😀

  • Great post! My boys are at the age where “I’m bored” results in doing chores so they have been pretty good about staying productive and getting creative.

    • Awesome! It’s so empowering when we have choices!

  • Suzan | It's My Sustainable Life says:

    Great suggestions for easing up the “Mom, I’m bored” issues!

  • This is such a great idea! I feel that a lot of kids these days are lacking imagination due to the amount of technology. This is great way to combat that!

  • Great ideas! When my toddler grandson gets rambunctious lately, we just head outside to water the flowers, weed the garden, or look for veggies ready to pick and bring inside and then enjoy the tasty fresh food!

    • Ah, toddler life, when everything is new and exciting! So fun!

  • I remember when my kids used the B word. I gave them a choice between a chore or finding something to do. I wish I had to list. They are in their 20’s now.

    • Mine are in their 20’s, too, and I still never use the “b word” to me. Ha. While they may get lonely, like during this time of isolation, I don’t think they are actuall bored. They know how to find something to do on their own.

  • Great ideas for kids to be entertained and at the same time hone their skills!

  • Teens and Tweens can be tough. I can’t imagine how the current state of affairs is effective them. Great tips to keep them engaged.

    • I know, right!? And thank you!

  • Lots of great info here, thanks for sharing! I pinned your post to come back to later(:

  • Great idea! I did something similar when my kids were young and they grew up to be such creative adults.

  • The best thing that ever happened to my family was staying in the National Parks for the past week. NO WIFI!! It was fantastic! So much family time and bonding. Great ideas in your post!

    • Camping and being unplugged is wonderful for all of us, isn’t it?!!

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