Kids’ sick days are a spectrum. Sometimes, sick little ones nap all day. Other days, they’re bouncing off the walls as soon as you’ve called in their absence — and you’re left wondering if maybe they should have gone to school after all.

Over the years, as a work-from-home mom, I’ve learned to have an arsenal of activities ready to keep my kids occupied when they’re home sick.

Whether I need to be on a call, emptying my inbox, or sending an invoice, there are simply times during a workday when I can’t be available for snuggling and chicken soup-making, as much as I might like to be.

I’ve come to believe, too, that it’s good for the whole family when kids can entertain themselves — at least some of the time — when they’re under the weather. It not only offers them self-sufficiency, but it also supports my mental health as a busy parent.

Here are eight simple, low key activities I offer my kids when sickness has them staying home.

There’s a reason even grown-ups like coloring pages. Coloring can be a meditative experience that distracts us from stressors — including illness — and can even help reduce negative emotions.

When my kids are home sick, I haul out the crayon box and print a fresh coloring sheet off the internet. Then, I let them go to town creating a multicolored masterpiece.

To extend the duration of their coloring session (so I can tend to a bit more work), I ask them to create multiple pages and then show me so I can choose a favorite.

If your child has outgrown coloring pages, consider offering them a similar artistic endeavor, like watercolor painting. And to preempt the inevitable question of “What should I draw?” ask them for a very specific image. (I’d go with a hedgehog in a party hat, but that’s just me.)

Anytime I’m at the dollar store, I can’t pass up the chance to check out the activity books aisle.

I never know when my kids may have a sick day, and the much-needed entertainment might be helpful. Activity books like crossword puzzles, word searches, and sticker pages are a gold mine of peaceful-yet-industrious leisure.

Our family is a reading family, and I don’t think you can go wrong by encouraging kids to grab a book any time — especially when a sick day has them down for the count.

A day in bed is the perfect time to dive into a favorite adventure series or graphic novel. If your child isn’t a reader yet, try providing them with some colorful picture books.

Back when my kids were toddlers, we entertained them with giant foam floor puzzles. Now that they’re older, a 1,000-piece jigsaw can keep them occupied for hours.

Puzzles are a classic quiet activity for people of all ages. A 2018 study even showed that puzzling taps into multiple cognitive abilities — see, it’s almost like school!

On a sick day, I don’t expect my kids to recreate the Taj Mahal out of popsicle sticks — but low effort crafts offer a form of focused play that allows me to be fairly hands-off for a while.

Try any of these easy craft ideas:

  • animals made of paper, felt, buttons, or stickers
  • a countdown calendar to your next vacation or a holiday
  • a funny face paper plate
  • toilet paper roll binoculars
  • a coffee can repurposed as a pencil or utensil holder
  • paper bag monsters

Pillow forts aren’t just for rainy days. They can be a great sick day activity, too.

If my kids are feeling well enough to participate in fort-building, I’ll have them join in on the effort. If not, I whip up my best couch cushion-and-chair structure in the living room. (Bonus points for a sheet canopy on top.)

The best part: When the fort is complete, it makes a nice hideout where kids can chill out and rest up.

What do playdough, shaving cream, and a bucket of ice have in common? They all work well for sensory play — a type of play that engages your child’s sense of smell, touch, sight, and more.

Scope out a space in your home or yard you don’t mind getting messy in (the bathtub or backyard are ideal), then let them dig in.

Rather not make a mess? When my kids were little, I’d create a sensory bag or bin full of fun-to-touch objects.

Or I’d set them up with a game we liked to call “Smelling Adventure,” where I’d line up cups of herbs, spices, essential oils, or even toothpaste, blindfold them, and have them guess the smells. (If your kid is sick with a stuffy nose or nausea, you may want to save this one for another time.)

Letter writing may have gone out of vogue as a form of correspondence, but it’s still a meaningful skill.

When my kids are home sick, I encourage them to write a newsy note to their out-of-state grandparents or catch up on thank-you cards from birthdays.

If your kiddo is old enough to write, sit them down with some stationery and have them pen letters to friends, grandparents, or even a parent or sibling who’s not home with them that day. It’s a win-win — your child will stay occupied, and a loved one will receive a letter they can cherish.

Sarah Garone is a nutritionist, freelance writer, and food blogger. Find her sharing down-to-earth nutrition info at A Love Letter to Food or follow her on Twitter.