20 Old Fashioned Family Activities for Self-Isolation

Dealing with a prolonged period of isolation can be tough, and it can be even tougher if you have a family to take care of. This is sort of the prepper stock-in-trade, as most of us will have layer upon layer of plan for dealing with every kind of emergency, setback and contingency.

But there is more to dealing with prolonged isolation than nipping problems in the bud. Sometimes the biggest challenge you might face is entertaining your family!

Keeping the doldrums at bay is important, both for morale and for family unity. Stress relief, recreation and relaxation will help keep both bodies and minds in tip-top shape. Everybody needs a certain amount of fun and engaging distraction no matter what is happening.

This certainly applies during a prolonged disaster scenario, but it could also arise from less threatening and scary circumstances, maybe just being snowed in in the winter time or living it up while social distancing to the nth degree.

No matter why you and your family or significant other are being forced to hole-up in self-imposed isolation, we have you covered with a list of 20 old-fashioned family activities that you can make use of almost anywhere, in almost any season and any situation.

Activities for Fun or Growth, but Why Not Both?

There seems to be something of a misconception regarding activity planning during periods when you are bugging-in, self-isolating, snowed in, out of touch or whatever, and that misconception is that downtime must somehow be centered around survival, skill improvement or some other prepping-centric activity.

It certainly can be, but this overlooks the crucial fact that recreation can be just fun for fun’s sake.

Mentally and physically letting off steam is an important objective in and of itself, both in high-stress situations (where possible) and in long-term but merely boring scenarios.

Especially when dealing with children, both the very young and the older alike seem to have a sense for when you are setting them up to do something educational under false pretenses. Verisimilitude is the name of the game.

If you can get someone genuinely interested in something on its own merits you’ll be killing two birds with one stone; you won’t be beating your family member over the head with something that they don’t really want to do and they will be learning something valuable at the same time, even if it is not a hard skillset.

Think back to your own childhood or early adulthood.

Remember helping out someone in the family with a task or chore that might have seemed like a bore or annoying at the time, but in the time between when you started and the time it ended it somehow transmogrified into quality time, and an event or outing that you cherish to this very day?

The activities you do with your family during this time can become those future cherished memories, or even ongoing and meaningful family traditions.

All periods of challenge are fertile soil for growth, and the situation you find yourself dealing with will be no different.

All of the activities presented on this list have the opportunity to bring your family closer together, teach your children important lessons or help you bond with your significant other.

Some of them will merely be hobbies, but others can have important benefits ranging from skill development to physical fitness.

All are valuable and worthwhile. You’ll also note that the activities on this list do not rely on modern technology, be it a television, a video game console, a computer or a smartphone.

In a situation where you do not have any electricity or internet service, these can still be your ace in the hole.

In a situation where you do still have both of those modern utilities you can use these as part of a “technology sabbatical” to help yourself and your family reconnect with simpler but richer pastimes.

Most of them can be done year-round in almost any climate. Give the list below a read-through and see if you can’t come up with a few favorites.

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20 Old-Fashioned Family Activities

Board Games / Traditional Games

You know them, you love them, it’s time to stock up on a few of your family’s favorites and play them! Board games are a blast, and have certainly come back in a big way compared to recent years past.

No matter what your family demographics are, there is a board game out there or a similar tabletop game that everyone can enjoy.

No matter what kind of game you’re playing, board games represent a comprehensive sensory experience: Physical pieces on a board, the clatter of dice or chips, laughter, and some good-natured banter, or trash-talking.

No matter what kind of game you are playing, they’re always lessons to be learned, even if it is it sometimes that you just have to deal with a bad turn of the cards, or a bad roll of the dice.

More advanced games can teach advanced computational skills, vocabulary, arithmetic and several layers of strategy.

With everything to choose from like ancient games of chess and mahjong to modern, time-gobbling classics like Monopoly, Scrabble or Clue, you are sure to find a few that you can put in your rotation that your family will enjoy playing, and these can become traditions in their own right.

Beyond boardgames, games like Pictionary and Balderdash can teach improvisation and lateral thinking, aside from being a laugh a minute.

So long as you make sure that everybody gets a turn to pick the game they like most on game night this is sure to become a fixture at your household with your family.

Telling Stories

Telling stories, big ones and small ones, true ones and tall tales, should be an integral part of any family’s culture, and could even be an integral part of your day.

The sharing of mundane and incredibly grandiose stories is a great way to bond and build rapport with your family members and the verbal histories, legends and personal accounts of noteworthy events should make up a significant part of your family mythology.

You can make storytelling an event unto itself or integrated into another part of your daily rituals with your family. I personally like to tell stories when sitting down at the dinner table, short ones, at least.

You can make it a point that every family member tells a story about an observation or thought they had that day, or a positive memory.

Ultimately you can come up with a kind of theme for story time. Family members can talk about dreams they have, or used to have. They could even talk about regrets they still carry, and about things left undone.

You could make it an improvisational exercise, with each member of the family responsible for telling a part of a story before handing it off to the next person to build on while improvising. The sky’s the limit, use your imagination.

Even before we had the written word, we had oral tradition and it is high time to make it a part of the average American family culture again. A prolonged bout of isolation is the perfect time to do so.

Go for a Walk or Hike

Depending on how strictly you have to isolate or stay indoors, this may not be a viable activity, but assuming you can leave the house for any reason this is a great way to get some fresh air, get a new perspective on things, observe nature and get in some much-needed exercise.

Going for a walk or an easy hike requires almost no set up and no equipment beyond your own two feet although you would be wise to carry a small emergency daypack if setting out on a proper hike.

There’s something magical about traveling on foot with someone else, something that opens up the soul and the senses.

The things that you see around your town or around your region in nature will stir the spirit and chances are it will create plenty of new memories for years to come.

There’s also a very practical element that comes with walking or hiking, that being the improving of land navigation, orientation and observation skills.

Both are also extremely good for your health, helping you to lose weight, and having a major positive impact on your cardiovascular system.

You can definitely work your muscles if you choose to carry a heavier pack when you head out for your walk or hike.

If you’re the kind of prepper who has bug-out routes in mind when things get really bad, hiking them, or at least part of them, is a good way to get acquainted and get your family acquainted with the routes in case that gravest extreme does occur, and it’s time to grab your BOBs and hit the trail.


There is hardly anything better than enjoying a good meal outdoors with your family. It doesn’t matter if you fire up the grill to throw some burgers and veggies on a roaring hot fire, or go the cold supper route with a picnic basket full of sandwiches, fruit cocktail and pickled delights.

Enjoying a meal out in nature, even if nature is just the back porch or the backyard, is a joy and the novelty of it will go a long way towards beating off boredom and the doldrums.

You don’t need much to have a good cookout for picnic, and if you were going the former route and lack a grill, it is an easy thing to build a primitive grill or fire pit in short order for cooking over either charcoal or wood.

If you decide you want to use pre-cooked or ready-to-eat food instead, all you need is a way to carry the food, a ground covering to keep yourselves and your food tidy and dirt free, and some utensils.

Whatever you decide, don’t make it a major production: a simple meal well-executed and enjoyable will work wonders for morale.

But you can get the family more involved if you are typically the chef or grill master by assigning them tasks to help you with preparation or place settings, or in the case of a picnic searching out the ideal spot with the best view that will be the most comfortable.

Gathering Around the Fire

Indoors or out, adults and children alike will attest to the wonder and the magic contained in a crackling roaring fire.

In a fireplace, an outdoor fire pit or built as a simple campfire, mankind’s relationship with flame is both ancient and primordial, and simply enjoying each other’s company around the fire is often entertainment and comfort enough.

Even on a sweltering summer night in the south there is just something about a fire that will entrance the viewers.

Of course you can always spice up a fireside gathering with such time-honored activities as roasting marshmallows or making s’mores, telling stories (especially ghost stories), singing or playing an instrument. There is almost nothing that a fire won’t make better.

Naturally, as a prepper you should never pass on the opportunity to teach basic survival skills to your family.

Especially for the kids, building and tending a fire is a fundamental skill that will serve them well for their entire lives.

So as long as they are old enough to mind what you say, and understand what you are teaching them don’t build the fire and then call the family to gather round, get them involved so they too can become keepers of the flame!

Pass on a Hobby or Skill

Being home for an extended time with your family is the perfect opportunity to start laying the groundwork, and passing on a cherished hobby or skill to the next generation.

Obviously, as preppers we probably have a hundred and one skills that we are convinced our family members need to bone up on for their own good, everything from outdoor survival to water purification and improvised medicine.

This is certainly a good idea, but don’t neglect the value of passing on just a simple hobby, or a hobby that is both useful real-world skill and enriching pastime.

For instance, hunting is an excellent skill for survival purposes, and also a rewarding recreational activity in its own right.

You might not be able to get your kids or significant other out into the woods depending on the situation, but you can start passing on other skills related to hunting, like tracking, camouflage, and even the fundamentals of marksmanship with a gun or a bow.

Even tinkering on a car which many people do for fun is certainly a skill worth cultivating, since it makes you more capable, more independent, and will save you money on maintenance and repairs.

If you want to go strictly for a hobby route you might introduce your family members do whatever you are into so long as they can stand it and show even a little bit of Interest.

My grandfather got me into model-making when I was very small. It never took root with me when I was younger, but boy have I cherished those memories, and in just the past few years it seems like the call took me all at once and I gained an all-new appreciation for what he showed me way back then since undertaking builds of my own.


Sometimes it is the simplest things that can be the most rewarding. One of the simplest games that two or more people can play is catch. Any ball you want, no rules just catch and throw.

There has hardly ever been a more time honored activity shared between father and son, but you can certainly get the entire family in on this one.

There’s something satisfying about catching a ball and then throwing it back with accuracy to the intended recipient. Nothing more, nothing less.

But aside from just being one of the simplest games there is, playing ball improves reflexes, sharpens hand-eye coordination and it’s good exercise when done for a modest amount of time.

Not for nothing, the ability to throw something with accuracy will enable you to either hit a target or pass an item to someone else with speed in a pinch. Even the simple stuff has value when you have your eye on the bigger picture.

Don’t be afraid to incorporate some challenge into the event, either.

Incorporating movement, even quick reactionary movement, adds a little bit of excitement and drama to what is otherwise a completely mundane game, and will definitely get the heart pumping and the blood moving.

Birding / Wildlife Watching

Way, way before there was ever Pokémon Go, there was bird watching, and some people would spend most of a lifetime trying to track down that last one or two elusive species in their region for their scrapbook.

Besides watching for birds of all kinds, you can also look for other wildlife in your area even if it is just in your backyard. Everything from mammals to reptiles and even insect life exist everywhere in a fascinating amount of variety.

This is a great, close-to-home way to simulate the hunt, and you can get the whole family involved keeping their eyes peeled for particularly elusive or difficult to catch specimens.

Beyond alertness and observational skills, the more information you can learn about your quarry the easier time you will have adding a “trophy” to your tally.

You can improve the enjoyment factor by breaking out the encyclopedia or firing up the internet and learning everything you can about your subject critter’s behavior, from its activity, calls or other noises it makes, to what it eats and what eats it.

This is a painless way to get your family on track to reconnecting with nature, and with the greater world around them. You don’t even have to go outside to watch for birds or other wildlife if you don’t want to.

A comfy chair, some tea or coffee, and an alert mind are all that is needed, and this is an activity that millions and millions of people around the world enjoy every single day no matter the circumstances.

Make a Time Capsule

Talk about a blast from the past! Putting together a family time capsule, especially if you bury it to be dug up at a later date, is a strangely intriguing activity that the whole family can get on board with.

You can fill it with all kinds of things; things relevant to the current situation, the current year, what is in style or hopelessly out of fashion, current events, messages, notes, fears, hopes, dreams and everything in between.

Make sure to include a good photo of the family so you can compare it to yourselves later on down the line! One particularly insightful thing that you might get each family member to include is a message to their future selves.

If you’re going to bury your time capsule, make sure the container is super heavy-duty, completely waterproof, and just to be sure to take care and waterproof the contents with vacuum or zipper bags on the inside.

You might even want to place the primary time capsule inside another container just to be on the safe side.

Next, pick a spot on your property to bury it and either make it or make sure it is next to an immovable landmark. If you aren’t going to bury it, seal the box, then pack it away and forget about it.

Make sure you and your family all decide and agree on a date in the future when you will dig it up. This could be as short as five years or as long as thirty years, or even longer! Just make sure you don’t forget it and move off without it if you aren’t staying in your forever home!


The undisputed champion of childhood games and one that adults can still enjoy to this very day. Hide-and-seek is a terrific game that can teach some pretty serious survival skills.

Stealth, strategy, knowing your foe or your quarry, bluffing and more all come into play if you want to be a successful Seeker or Hider.

There is no reason the entire family can’t get involved and have a good time with this one. Even if you are playing with small children, adults can pull their punches a little bit so the kids can have a good time and I promise everyone will still be rolling in laughter by the end.

Hide and seek works best over a larger area that affords more opportunities for stealthy movement, and for creative hiding spots.

But if you don’t have a whole lot of good hiding spots in your area you can spice things up by putting a capture the flag twist on this classic game…

After the Hiders have run off to hide and the Seeker completes their countdown, then the Hiders cover their eyes while the Seeker places several flags around the play area, one specific for each player.

The hiders then have to capture their flag before they get to home base. Trust me, this makes for some pretty intense games!

No matter what, stick to the rules, stick inside the agreed-upon hiding area and absolutely no peeking!

Waterballoon/Snowball Fight

Some disagreements are best settled in the old ways, and there is no better way for the family to get out some good-natured aggression than a snowball or water balloon fight depending on the weather in your locale.

So long as nobody gets hurt and no one is playing for keeps, this is a great way to get some exercise, work on your fighting spirit and your throwing arm!

Far and away the best way to conduct this activity is to preload all your ammunition, filling up the same amount of water balloons per side or taking the time to construct nicely packed and not too hard snowballs to be cashed and retrieved as the fight rages on.

A couple interesting twists you can put on either one of these festive fights is to make it a “tale of two forts” type bombardment duel from fixed locations or to make it a wild melee with each player only getting so many snowballs or water balloons and being tasked with being the last one alive on their team or on the field.

This is arguably one of those activities that requires the most from the participants, physically, but if you have some real little ones in the household you can make this a family team event versus some standing targets.

Reading / Book Night

This is far and away my favorite family pastime on the list, and everyone in my family is a voracious reader of all kinds of books. Assuming you have some bookworms in your family, this should be a shoo-in.

You can organize this as a quiet evening together, with everyone perched on their favorite piece of furniture, comfortable and cozy with their favorite beverage and snacks, reading whatever has their interest at the moment…

Or make it more like a book club type of activity with the person who has picked the book either reading aloud from it or sharing what they are enjoying most about what they are currently reading; the characters, the plot, the writing, etc.

The benefits of learning to read well and quickly as well as understand and digest a variety of topics from fiction to non-nonfiction, academic works to technical manuals cannot be understated, as is the ability to read aloud well and speak compellingly and entertainingly.

If you have someone in the family who is just not into reading on their own or reading aloud, you can still include them by asking them to listen to whoever is reading aloud and ask good questions; being a good listener is just as important as being a good reader!

So long as there is not too wide of a gap between the audience and whoever is doing the reading, making it the book club type of activity is a great option, but if whatever is on the schedule for the weekly or monthly club night is a bit too over the heads of younger readers, don’t be afraid to let everyone read their own thing.


Cooking is definitely one of those activities taken for granted, and it’s certainly a rewarding and liberating skill to learn if you don’t know how, as well as one that pays dividends immediately as you improve.

If you have family members that are hopeless in the kitchen, start including them in meal prep.

Everybody started somewhere, and enlisting an older child to cut the crusts off their younger sibling’s sandwich is certainly not beneath their station.

Pretty soon they will be boiling water and then the next thing you know preparing a Michelin-quality three-course meal.

Aside from being a family tradition and part of a family’s mythology with recipes, traditional dishes and so forth, you can definitely make it more interesting by challenging each other to prepare new dishes in various styles.

You could try regional cuisine from your own country or items from a global menu and various other cultures. So long as you can get the ingredients you need or have them on hand this is an easy way to get in some quality time and build skills with your family.

There are many directions you can take cooking also, since you don’t have to confine yourself to the kitchen, and you can make things a lot more challenging by getting them to help you on the grill or, even better, over an open fire.

This is another skill that definitely has some survival positive connotations.

Create Art

Excepting a very few artistic families, the creation of art is a chronically underutilized method of expression and hobby, especially in America.

You don’t have to be an especially good artist in any particular medium to enjoy and get satisfaction from creating art, and the best thing about it is that you can approach it and almost any way you want!

From the sublime simplicity of working with pencils and sketching to intricate oil painting or sculpting with clay, truly the only limit is the bounds of your imagination.

Art is one of those things that for many people is enjoyable out of all proportion with the finished result. It is the creative process, the impulses and emotions that are generated by and generate the art itself that make the journey worthwhile.

Creation is fundamentally a part of the human spirit, and exercising it on a personal piece of art, either in a sublime rendering or an impressionist interpretation is a great stress reliever.

Once again, art has some surprisingly practical applications. A good artist can handily sketch a landscape, a person or a route on a map.

Those of a more practical mindset can use their artistic skills to create blueprints and draft drawings. So make it a point to get the family together, grab whatever you can use to create with, and let your artistic side run wild.

Grow Herbs

For many aspiring gardeners, starting out with an indoor or outdoor herb patch is a fulfilling and far simpler undertaking then plowing and tending to your very own full size garden.

Gardening is an awful lot of work, but you can get much of the satisfaction and quite a few of the benefits while learning about tending to living plants by growing tasty, even medicinal herbs.

Compared to a larger fruits and vegetables which require more room and significantly more time and care, many herbs are far hardier plants that are more forgiving of mistakes and the environment they are in.

Even better, you can use your herbs much sooner than fruits or veggies since they mature faster and are ready to pick and go into dishes or medicinal poultices in no time flat.

Even if you live in a colder environment, chances are there are several species of herb you can grow indoors using nothing more than the sunlight coming through the window.

A couple of small pots or containers, a handful of seeds and in no time flat you will have delicious, useful herbs sprouting. They also smell great, and will help freshen your home!

Jigsaw Puzzles

Love them or hate them, putting together a jigsaw puzzle is certainly an engaging way to get in more quality time with your family members. All you need is a puzzle, a flat surface, patience and perseverance.

The sublimely rewarding feeling of watching a puzzle go together, especially as it accelerates near the end is a strange kind of rush that dedicated puzzlers struggle to explain to those not in the know.

Many high-quality puzzles present highly attractive photographs or artwork when they are finished, and are suitable for framing as a small monument to the family working together to accomplish something.

Young and old alike can participate in assembling a puzzle and this makes it great for multi-generational families, and so long as you don’t go out of your way to get one of the mind-numbingly difficult ones that are almost impossible to put together in a timely fashion, you’re all bound to have a good time.

The best part is, you can start and stop working on a puzzle whenever you want. If all you have is 5 or 10 minutes to spare, or you need a break from some other tasks, you can sit down and work on the puzzle a little bit by yourself or with someone else.


Riddling is a time-honored activity that dates back hundreds and hundreds of years. Very few people know more than one or two good riddles these days and it is high past time that we bring back the practice.

Telling and more importantly solving a good riddle will definitely give your brain a workout and forces you to think in unconventional ways to solve a problem, definitely good practice for the trials and challenges you might face as a prepping family!

It is not entirely necessary to learn a bunch of riddles by heart to take part in this activity.

Entire books or documents worth of riddles are available for very little money or even for free, and you can set up a riddling night for the family with people take turns reading, one by one, riddles that the rest of the family or the person of their choosing has to solve.

But, in order for this to be a fair contest, you must make sure the book of riddles is kept under strict security, and no more mischievous members of the family go rifling through it to learn answers ahead of time and so get an unfair advantage.

You can definitely add some pressure to the proceedings by making a wager between the two competing parties for every riddle.

Something like chore duty, or other menial tasks are perfect. If the riddler can stump the answerer, the failed answerer must complete the agreed upon task for the riddler, and vice versa.

Scavenger Hunt

There is hardly anything more fun than solving a good mystery and that goes double for scavenger hunts, especially for kids.

Scavenger hunts are also a lot of fun for the people that are hiding the goods, since they must come up with a good hiding spot that is still accessible and leave a trail of compelling, challenging clues to help the hunters find the stash.

The prize at the end of the trail can take the form of almost anything, candy and small toys are great for children, with love notes or other trinkets being appropriate for adults.

The point is people have to get their brains in gear and follow the trail or the treasure map and all of their clues to correctly deduce the final resting place of the stash.

This is another one of those activities that seems to be fundamentally enjoyable for the entire family, and can also be used as a dry run for finding various hidden prepper caches that you might place for future contingency use.

Working Out

The family that works out together gets through it together! Building a culture of fitness among your family is not only a great way to keep everybody healthy and happy, but also the single most important thing you can do to disaster-proof them.

Fitter people are harder to kill in all kinds of conditions and from all kinds of potential causes. The end. It is never too early to get your family on board with a group workout program.

You don’t have to make every workout a back-breaking strongman competition or a grueling endurance exercise. You can do some simple calisthenics, light weight lifting and other athletic events to build muscle and endurance while shedding fat.

Not for nothing exercise is also one of the single most important things you can do for improving mood and state of mind, and it is an imperative that people take it upon themselves to stay moving, especially when they are forced to be cooped up.

You don’t even need any gym equipment. Knowing the right exercises is enough since your body will provide both of the weight and the resistance. Get the whole family together at least a couple of times a week for a family workout, and you will reap the benefits and no time.

Give Thanks

This might sound a bit sentimental to those of you who only take the time to participate in this activity on Thanksgiving, but gathering the family round to give thanks, one at a time or together…

… for everything that you have, everything that you have had, and everything that you will have is an extremely comforting thing to do in any situation, but especially when times are a little tough.

Time spent getting your mind right and focusing on the things that matter the most is never wasted. You can make this activity as simple, or as elaborate as you want.

I know some people like to go on and on until they have exhausted every blessing and every gratitude big or small.

Some people like to say what they’re most thankful for that day. Whether or not you are religious makes no difference, we should all strive to be more grateful for what we have.

Instilling a culture of gratitude and making it an active, present part of your family life is one of the most important things you can do.


A period of isolation with the family, even a prolonged one, is not a reason to give up on recreational activities that you can use to relieve stress, strengthen bonds and create positive memories in the midst of what seems so hard to cope with, terrible or unexplainable.

You can use any one or all of the old-fashioned family activities above to enjoy the time you are given with your loved ones while developing important character traits and skills!

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