Unprecedented, unusual, unwanted; shelter-in-place life is all that and more. Yet, according to medical experts, it’s also undeniably necessary, and governments around the world have demanded that their citizens follow shelter-in-place orders in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. For many of us, that means working at home while our children are at home too. This is more than just a juggling act; it’s an act of sainthood. In fact, entertaining, educating, feeding, and tending to children while trying to work should probably qualify as an Olympic sport too, especially when we’re talking about young children. Therefore, to help make this situation more tenable, and so parents can get some work done, we’ve compiled a list of activities that kids can do on their own.
But first, a dose of reality
Let’s be realistic; allowing children a few extra hours of screen time so you can have an uninterrupted hour to get some critical work done is not a doomsday scenario. The problem starts when those extra couple hours become all day, everyday hours. The activities below, therefore, are about providing alternatives to too much screen time. They’re categorized according to age and the approximate amount of time they’ll keep kids occupied.
Toddlers (12-36 months)
Shape sorter toys offer some engaging playtime and will help teach your toddler how to categorize and name shapes and colors. They’re perfect for when you just need a quick minute to get something done.
Chunky puzzles are good at developing a toddler’s problem solving and fine motor skills, and for encouraging patience. You can expect three-year olds to play by themselves for up to 15 minutes while doing their puzzles.
Wooden block sets are a perennial favorite for toddlers because they’re fun to bang, stack, and knock over after they’re stacked. They’re also good at building visual and spatial skills.
Picture books can keep a toddler engrossed for a good 10-15 minutes especially if the books have different textures and colors, and can make sounds.
Videos, when watched in moderation, can be a learning resource for kids of all ages. However, for toddlers, experts recommend viewing time to be limited to 15-minute increments rather than watching the entire video in one sitting.
30 – 45 minutes
Going loco for locomotives! Trains tracks are another winner for keeping toddlers occupied. While most toddlers won’t be able to build the tracks on their own, once built, they’ll have loads of fun moving the trains along the track.
Online story reading is another engaging and even soothing activity. There are many wonderful online story sites available, especially now that so many authors and illustrators are sharing and reading their stories online for free.
Fort building is a time-honored and creative activity for kids of all ages, but for younger children, parents will probably have to do most of the building, although toddlers can help by bringing pillows and favorite toys to keep inside. And while toddlers shouldn’t be left alone for long stretches of time, don’t be surprised if they don’t want to come out of the tent!
Primary school age and preteens (4 -12 years)
An hour or more
Playdough, whether store bought or homemade, is fun and entertaining for kids of all ages. It also supports early childhood development skills such as creativity, imagination, and small muscle coordination. Plus it can keep kids busy for hours! That’s right! Hours!
Indoor treasure hunts are great fun for young children and when done right can keep them occupied for hours too. Simply create a list of items for them to find around the house and designate a spot to put the items they find as they search and let them have at it! For children who can’t yet read, you can draw instead of write the list items.
Audiobooks can also keep kids entertained for long periods and there are many organizations offering free audiobook access while school remains closed. Obviously, if your children can read on their own, encourage them to do so. It is the foundation for learning and will help keep them from following behind in their studies.
Create a play box that has coloring books, sticker books, maze books, puzzles, magnifying glasses, bubbles, and any other simple, but fun activities they enjoy. The play box gives them some autonomy in choosing their toys and entertainment, and you can change it up from time to time to keep them interested.
Building toys like Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, and Knex are classics for a good reason. They’re magically engaging and improve spatial, math and engineering skills. Plus, most kids will sit with these toys for hours!
Skyping with grandparents is another fun activity. Ask grandparents to read to your child or play some guessing games to keep your young ones occupied. Older kids can just talk and share with their grandparents, but whatever the conversation, this is an activity that will benefit everyone.
Age-appropriate board games and card games are ideal if you have more than one child at home so they can play together. Younger children can be entertained for at least 30 minutes, while older children can be entertained for hours depending on the game. And with cards, after they’ve tired of card games, they can build card houses!
Homework time is unlikely to be greeted with a chorus of cheers, but homework has to be done and homework time means work time for you. You can ignite your kids’ interest in learning and keep them busy by encouraging them to visit sites such as the San Diego Zoo’s live cams of animal life, NASA’s SpacePlace and Scholastic’s Learning Journeys for younger kids, and Khan Academy for older kids.
A brief word about teens…
Teen social life can be made even more treacherous by ‘quarantime’ because it restricts social activity to social media and messaging apps. However, since so much of the teen experience is about their social life, these apps are their lifeline. Even video games where teens talk and holler with their friends offer a form of socializing. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to limit their screen time.
A security warning
The stay-at-home directive has turned the Internet into our umbilical cord to the outside world and as a result Internet use has jumped by more than 70% since Covid-19. This increase has given cyber criminals a vastly expanded attack surface, so cyber attacks such as corona cyber malware and others are on the rise. Now more than ever, we must be vigilant about our cybersecurity and the measures we take to ensure that our Web camera, microphone, email, browsing activity, etc., are safe from hackers.
A little corona kindness…
The list of activities above is just a starting point for keeping your kids active so you can work, but there are, of course, plenty of other creative options. Just remember that while infants and toddlers clearly require more hands-on attention than older children, every age group has its own challenges, so a little corona kindness can go a long way towards making corona ‘quarantime’ a lot easier.