A Few Dollars a Day Keeps the Boredom Away: Dollar Store Activities for the COVID-19 Quarantine

Last weekend it became clear we were going to end up stuck at our house for the foreseeable future. This pandemic has become serious and it is hitting too close to home.

I felt prepared with food, and household supplies, but after a little time processing the reality of what “quarantine” would mean for my family, I felt large levels of anxiety and panic creeping into my brain. How in the world would I keep my two kids occupied while my husband and I tried to work remotely? How much screen time is too much screen time during a pandemic? I did the only thing I could think of in that moment.

I washed my hands, packed hand sanitizer, and I went to the dollar store.

The dollar store is stocked with a variety of crafts, coloring options, small toys, and more. The dollar store is also budget friendly.

A few things to consider before you make the trip:

Budget

What is your budget? You may only have $10 to spend. With $10 you can buy ten activities! You may have more to spend. Either way, you can get some quality items for a small price at the dollar store. For me, I have two children and my hope was to get them 1-2 activities per day for a month. This meant I was looking for up to 120 activities. However, I didn’t want to spend more than $100 at the dollar store. I set my budget there.

Reusable Activities

Consider whether you want activities that can be reused or whether you are okay with “one and done” types of activities. I knew I could find some activities that could provide continued enjoyment. I also knew that crafts and coloring were likely a one-time use type of thing. I kept this in mind as I looked around the dollar store.

Toys vs. Non-Toys

Don’t just stick to the “kids” aisles at the dollar store. You can find activity ideas in every aisle at the dollar store. For example, a roll of tin foil can serve as the material for a sculpture contest between your kids. A box of elbow macaroni pasta can be used with some string from the hardware aisle to serve as a noodle necklace activity. Get creative and don’t limit yourself.

Here are some of my best finds at the dollar store last week:

Dollar store activities for COVID-19 quarantine

Puzzles

You can find a variety of character puzzles ranging from 24-100 pieces. I bought about 15 puzzles and my kids love them. They will play with a puzzle multiple times before getting bored with the theme.

Bonus tip: They also sell 500 piece puzzles. I purchased a few of those for myself, too!

Dollar store activities for COVID-19 quarantine

Crafts and Art Activities

The dollar store has a range of craft and art activities available. I found magic paint posters, wood crafts to paint, decorate your own sun-catcher kits, and a world map you can color.

Dollar store activities for COVID-19 quarantine

Educational Workbooks and Flashcards

I spotted some educational workbooks on the bottom shelf in the school supply aisle. They had workbooks for pre-k and up. Some are thicker and offer more pages than others but for a dollar they felt worth it. The flashcards are also fun. For littler ones you can do shapes and colors. For the older kids I found some math flashcards and a few packs of brain buster trivia questions with themes like “pets” and “ocean life.”

Dollar store activities for COVID-19 quarantine

Busy Activities

If you get creative you can come up with some activities that will keep your kids busy for longer periods of time. I snagged an ice cube tray, small tongs, and puff balls. For $4 I can ask my preschooler to sort all the puff balls into the ice cube tray by color. I can ask my second-grader to spell words using the puff balls.

The dollar store also has construction paper, clay, and glow sticks. Any of these items would be great ways to engage my kids — whether it be a glow stick party in a dark room with some popcorn and a movie, or giving my kids an item to mold out of clay. I also grabbed a couple of two-minute timers. I thought I might set the timers and ask my kids to run around the house finding as many things as they can that start with an “A” or a “B” or so on.

Dollar store activities for COVID-19 quarantine

Other Items

Finally, I found some bonus items that I thought might be useful.

  • Shrinky Dinks: Because who doesn’t love Shrinky Dinks?!
  • Potting soil, pots, and seeds: We can do our own at-home science class as we plant seeds and watch them grow.
  • Sticker Story Adventures: My kids love pretend play and these color forms give them an opportunity to re-use them as often as they’d like and also bring some of their own toys into the story.
  • Trinket Toys: I spotted some tiny dinosaurs and I thought my son might like to use those with the army guys he already has. I also found some ninjas have sticky hands. If you throw them against the wall they will “crawl down” the wall. We have a two-story entry and I decided I could be okay with my kids throwing ninjas at the wall from the second floor if it meant they were kept busy for a while.
  • Outdoor Activities: The dollar store also had some great outdoor options. Remember that “quarantine” doesn’t have to mean “inside.” This Styrofoam glider or these character kites will be great on a nice day.

Dollar store activities for COVID-19 quarantine

I stayed within my budget and walked out of the dollar store with an armful of activities that my kids can enjoy while I work from home and we stay healthy and keep others healthy. I bought two reusable grocery bags and put each of the kid’s activities inside of them. When it is activity time, they can grab something from their bag and enjoy!

I also vigorously washed my hands upon arrival at home. Because, germs.


Related: Looking for more activities to do while at home? Check out our Mega List of Indoor, Home Activities for Kids (and Mom!).

 

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Linda, a Michigan native, moved to Iowa City in 2011. She is the Director of Women in Science and Engineering at the University of Iowa but enjoy summers off with her two children: Quinn (7) and Isaac (4). Linda has been married to Jacob for over ten years. Together, they enjoy cheering for the Nebraska Cornhuskers (shhhh!), going on adventures both big and small, and playing board games (they have over 100!). Linda enjoys reality television and can often be found watching a Bachelor franchise show while curled up in her “mom chair” with her favorite quilt. Linda is often told she has two volumes ON and OFF. No matter the volume she uses, Linda is an “old soul” with a love for baking, embroidery, and old movies.

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