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Keeping kids happy and engaged at home

April 12, 2020
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With schools and daycares closed during the coronavirus pandemic, parents have a new challenge: balancing working at home, caring for kids, and home schooling. 

If you're a parent, you may be looking for ideas to keep kids learning and engaged while also finding time for play, expression, and physical activity.

“There are many ways to approach the plan for how to support kids while they aren’t attending daycare or school in a traditional way. Parents know their children best and there isn’t necessarily a ‘one size fits all’ plan that will work for every child and family,” said Jessica Hagerman, child life specialist and manager of Child Life & Healing Arts at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

“It’s helpful to consider all of the aspects that make a child who they are, including their age, development, educational needs, learning style, interests, energy level, and ability to focus. These may all contribute towards figuring out the best plan that will meet their needs,” she added.

Here are some tips for making it work.

Develope a schedule for kids

Parents may want to consider creating a routine for some sense of normalcy and to keep the environment somewhat predictable during these very unpredictable times.

“Children may feel a lack of control with all that’s going on around them, so it’s also a great idea to include them in some of the decision-making, and to give choices about activities and plans when appropriate. Staying connected with their school to understand what resources may be available and their requirements for keeping up with academics should certainly be a part of the plan,” said Hagerman.

Make sure to add some fun into the mix

“This may also be a great time to create some extra fun, memorable experiences in hopes that children as well as parents will look back on this time in a positive way,” added Hagerman

There are many online resources available to families with ideas for games, activities and suggestions to keep children occupied and learning during this social isolation period and beyond.

A simple search will bring up a wealth of resources and ideas.

Find a balance with screen time

“We also suggest that families find a healthy balance between screen time and screen-free activities. While there is so much to do and learn in the digital world, moderation is important to ensure children are also still engaging in other activities to support their overall development. When children are actively playing and creatively engaging in their environment, it can support their development in incredibly positive ways,” said Hagerman.

She noted this is not an easy time for some parents, many of whom may be juggling being home with their children while still trying to work from home, or who may be trying to coordinate the many aspects of life that are affected by this pandemic.

“Sometimes screen-time may be the one thing that keeps your child content while you sign into that conference call. Being aware of what your kids are accessing when they are on the screen can make all the difference,” said Hagerman.

Outdoor activities

Hagerman also encourages fresh air and exercise and notes that social isolation doesn’t have to mean staying inside – but that it does mean that you should be responsible when you are outside.

“Avoiding public playgrounds and ‘high touch’ areas like climbing structures, or places where others may congregate, is really important for health and safety during this pandemic. If you don’t have a yard or an isolated outdoor space to play, going for walks or riding bikes in areas where you can keep a safe distance from anyone other than those you live with is a good way to still get out and moving. It’s a good idea to be prepared with hand-wipes or sanitizer for any little hands that like to touch everything,” said Hagerman.

Other outdoor activity ideas may include:

  • Creating a chalk obstacle course
  • Treasure hunts
  • Hula-hoop races
  • Planting a garden
  • Having a picnic
  • Blowing bubbles

Indoor activities

For indoor activities, there are always the classics like board games, card games, puzzles, arts and crafts, and movie nights.

“You may also have some home improvement projects around the house for kids who are old enough to help. This may be a great time to clean out that old toy chest, sort through your bookshelf, organize the Tupperware drawer, or put away winter clothes,” said Hagerman.

She noted that now may also be a great time to create a family time capsule. You can download a free copy of “My COVID-19 Time Capsule” created by Natalie Long of Long Creations.

“In 5, 10, or 20 years from now, you can look back at how you and your family made it through all of the COVID-19 changes,” said Hagerman.

Activities by age range

Infants (0 – 12 months)

  • Read a book: Your infant loves to hear your voice!
  • Sing a song: Babies love soft rhythms and tunes.
  • Play peek-a-boo: Baby loves to see your face appear and disappear behind your hands!
  • Tummy Time: Your baby can build muscle strength by spending time on their stomach. Always supervise your baby while on their tummy. Give baby something to look at or explore while doing tummy time.
  • Go for a walk: If the weather is nice, fresh air is great for your baby. Be sure to stay 6 feet away from others and don’t let other people touch your baby or stroller.

Toddlers (1 year – 2 years)

  • Pots and Pans Band: Take out your kitchen ware and let your kids create their own music with wooden spoons!
  • Sorting and Stacking: Toddlers love to sort and stack! Find a muffin tin and an assortment of trinkets for them to sort in to each section, or use blocks, cups, and Tupperware containers that they can stack and build!
  • Dance Party: Toddlers love to dance! Put on some music and dance with your toddler. You could even mimic your child’s moves for your own exercise similar to James Corden’s Toddlerography on “The Late Late Show.”
  • No Mess Painting: Drop dots of paint on a piece of paper or canvas. Then cover with plastic wrap and tape the edges well. Let the toddler push the paint around, creating a no mess piece of art! You can also let them get messy and finger paint if you’d like.
  • Animal Mimicking: Shout out an animal and have your toddler make the noise and pretend to be that animal! It helps them learn, exercise, and create. Help your child act out being a dog, a fish, or an elephant!

Preschoolers (3 years – 5 years)

  • Backwards Day: Have mac and cheese for breakfast, then do the whole day in reverse, let kids wear their clothes backwards, and end with pancakes for dinner!
  • Build a fort: Use blankets, towels, pillows, and stuffed animals from around the house to build an awesome fort where kids can pretend to be explorers, watch a movie, or read a book!
  • Build a zoo: Using blocks, boxes, or household items, create habitats for your child’s stuffed animals! Kids can decorate each exhibit with coloring pages and make up names and backstories for their animals.
  • Look and Find: Look around and find an item in the room. Ask your child if they can find the item and bring it back to you! You can make it easy or challenging. Set a timer and challenge each other.
  • Shadow Coloring: On a sunny day, line up your favorite toys in the sun. Trace the shadows onto paper and then you can color in your favorite toys! You could use cars, LEGO figures, dinosaurs, dolls, stuffed animals…anything that makes a shadow.

School-Aged (6 years – 10 years)

  • Scavenger Hunt: Create a list of items that can be found in your home or yard. Set a timer to see who can find the most the fastest!
  • Sidewalk Chalk Drawing Competition: Yell out an object, animal, or image and let your kids try to draw it on the driveway! You can also do this with paper and markers inside on a rainy day.
  • Have a special family dinner: Put a table cloth or sheet on the table, have everyone dress up in their best outfits, use the good silverware and have a fancy dinner together!
  • Create your own game: Have kids make up their own board game, card games, sports, or challenges. Be sure to have instructions and rules. Who knows? Maybe it will become a real game we can buy in the store one day!
  • Science and Slime: Look up recipes that you can make at home for slime, cloud slime, molding dough, oobleck, etc! Kids love to mix the ingredients and use their creativity.

“If you haven’t already joined the slime craze, we suggest trying the ‘Baystate Slime’ recipe (below). This one is a favorite around our pediatric unit,” Hagerman added.    

Homemade Baystate Slime

  • 5 oz school glue
  • ½ TBSP of baking soda
  • 2 TBSP of contact lens solution

Add a small amount of food coloring or acrylic paint for color. Consider adding shaving cream for “fluffly slime” and experimenting with adding small items like beads, glitter or other trinkets to provide texture.

Tweens (11 years – 13 years)

  • Chopped Junior Cooking Challenge: Give your kids 2 or 3 ingredients they must use in their dish! Be sure to supervise your kids in the kitchen, especially with knives and the oven.
  • Try a Tik Tok: Have your child teach you a popular Tik Tok dance! Even if you’re not good at dancing or feel embarrassed, it will make your child feel good to teach you something that they love.
  • Connect with friends online: Use free apps like House Party to video chat with friends, but you can also play games like Heads Up and Pictionary through the app!
  • Dress-Up Apples to Apples: Similar to the card game, challenge your child to pick out an outfit for a specific event: concert, school, skiing, beach day, etc. Set a timer and have the kids race to their rooms and select an appropriate outfit. Judge who you think picked the best one! The winner picks the next category. Make sure the kids know they have to fold and put away all of their clothes at the end of the game!
  • Recreate Childhood Photos: Go through old photos, in print or digitally, to pick out some of your favorites. Try to recreate the image using props, the same family members, and poses! This will be a fun trip down memory lane and is guaranteed to bring the laughs.

Teens (14 years +)

  • Learn a new skill: Use YouTube or online resources to learn how to sew, code, play an instrument, or cook!
  • Drawing/Writing: You can look up writing and drawing prompts online and see where your creativity takes you!
  • Pokemon Go or Harry Potter Wizards Unite: Augmented reality games can be played outside from a safe distance from others or even from the car. If your teen is playing, be sure to have a designated driver who has eyes on the road and is not engaged in the game!
  • Exercise: Practice skills from your favorite sport or try classes online like yoga or Zumba!
  • Learn a new language: Rosetta Stone is offering free courses for students!

Hagerman also suggests the following websites for some additional experiences to consider:

For more information on the coronavirus, visit baystatehealth.org/covid19.