8 ways to keep kids busy at home

By The Health News Team | March 31, 2020
Mother and daughter looking at a laptop screen

Here’s a message you rarely hear: Parents, relax your rules on screen time. At least, for now.

While recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics encourage parents to limit a child’s time in front of a TV or device, COVID-19 — the disease caused by the new coronavirus — is having some experts reconsider how strict they should be with their messaging.

With self-isolation in full swing and most schools closed, families confined in the house together are finding themselves adjusting to a new “normal.”

“Given the recent unique and difficult situations families are in, I have been telling my patients to relax their screen time restrictions,” says Dr. Ellen Rodarte, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy. “Parents are both trying to work at home and homeschool their children, while also trying to stay calm and manage life indoors. Folks need help.”

To be clear, Dr. Rodarte isn’t offering a tablet as an all-day entertainment solution. Instead, she finds balancing screen time with other activities can be useful when living in isolation. “My kids are definitely getting more screen time right now, but I’m also encouraging them to play independently, help with chores and use their devices for both fun and learning,” she says.

8 home-based activities for kids
The toughest part of powering down is finding a worthy alternative. At a time when kids can’t physically interact with each other, interacting online can have a powerful draw. However, there are ways to bridge the distance. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Educational websites
Many online learning sites, such as Scholastic and PBS Kids, are offering free classes, projects, videos and games to keep kids thinking. Museums, such as the Smithsonian, are offering virtual tours of some of their most popular exhibits, and local attractions, like the San Diego Zoo, have live cams of some of their animals.

2. Video chats with loved ones
Online video tools, such as FaceTime and Zoom, make connecting with friends and family easy. For younger kids, video story times with grandparents benefit both parties, as kids tend to have a lot of energy and older adults may be coping with feelings of isolation. Older kids can connect with classmates about homework or simply find solace in talking to each other.

3. Youth-focused exercise videos
Staying active plays an important role in being mentally and physically healthy while at home. Browse YouTube for instructional videos geared toward all ages, on everything from yoga to martial arts. For child-focused exercises with a fun, dance spin, try GoNoodle.

4. Cooking
Cooking can be cathartic, and provide lessons in math, science, patience and creativity. For homebound families, making wholesome food to share and save means less unhealthy snacking or grazing. If your children are young, try a simple recipe, such as whole-grain muffins. If they’re older, try assigning different components of a full meal, and then sit and eat together.

5. Chore schedules
If your kids are feeling stuck in the house, it may seem like a chore schedule is adding insult to injury. However, chores can break up the monotony while giving kids a sense of purpose and accomplishment. During this time of COVID-19, cleaning and disinfecting your home is crucial, and having kids help will show them the importance of home hygiene.

6. Neighborhood strolls
Social distancing doesn’t have to mean always staying inside. Getting a dose of sun and fresh air can lift spirits. Encourage your family to take a walk together, even if that means a quick loop around the block. For young children, make it interactive by adding a scavenger hunt element. Don’t forget to bring Fido; he’ll need the walk more than you.

7. Gardening projects
There’s never been a better time to dig in the dirt. Gardening will accomplish a number of things during this time of isolation, from getting some sun to teaching principles of science and biology. Buy seeds online or simply get the family outside for a day of weeding.

8. Photo albums
In this digital age, family photos are often locked away on hard drives, waiting to be printed or organized. Bringing kids in to help assemble photo books is a fun way to teach your family’s history. If you don’t want to wait for your photos to be ordered and mailed to you, try an online book builder, like Shutterfly.

“Yes, times are tough right now, but parents can use this time in ways that benefit the whole family,” Dr. Rodarte says. “When parents are busy or working, kids can learn how to stay active without parental involvement. When parents are available, time in the house together can create bonding experiences that help get them through this period of self-isolation.”

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