The global pandemic has changed the face of life as we know it, with all manner of facilities and institutions closing, limiting access, or operating at reduced capacity. It’s dangerous to gather, and that makes schools a vector for transmission. Across the country, including in Texas, schools are continuing to close to limit the spread.
Of course, this doesn’t help the millions of parents who still have to work in this stressful time, be it in their offices or at home. It’s hard enough navigating the ever-changing sets of regulations and closures, and it’s even harder when you have rambunctious children who don’t quite understand why they aren’t going to school or playing with their friends.
With that in mind, we’ve put together this list of possible activities to keep your kids stimulated and learning during school closures. These are just some of the many ideas out there, so feel free to explore more, or leave your own suggestions in the comments below.
Choose Age-Appropriate Activities
Before getting too deep into the ideas themselves, we have to make a point to mention that children in different age ranges should have different activities. The things you plan to do for a child who would otherwise be in kindergarten are different from the activities you can set up for a child who would be attending 6th grade. Make sure to tailor your activities to the appropriate age of the children involved.
You may also want to set a specific budget for certain kinds of activities. Many activities listed below only need a few simple supplies, like water guns, origami paper, or crayons. Others might be more expensive. Keeping your budget in mind will help you choose the right kind of activity for your kids.
1. Play with Water
Down here in Texas, it’s warm enough for water-based activities most of the year. Setting up your own makeshift water park can provide hours of fun. Depending on the ages of your children, you have a lot of modular options.
- Kiddie pools can be fun to splash in and can be appropriate for a variety of ages as long as there is supervision involved.
- Squirt guns allow for a wide range of play, including competitions such as shooting targets. Try using colored water for accuracy on old white t-shirts.
- Bubble soap and bubble wands can be a fun activity for kids of all ages. Using dish soap and water in a flat pan lets kids use their hands instead of a bubble wand, too.
- Playing with the hose and sprinkler can be fun for kids too.
There’s a lot you can do with water while it’s still warm enough to play, but not so hot and dry that there are water limits in place. Just make sure to keep the weather in mind.
2. Fake (or Real) Home Improvements
A popular toy for toddlers is fake plastic construction equipment. Fake plastic hammers, saws, screws, bolts, and other tools can be enjoyable for small children, but what about the larger kids? They won’t be satisfied with fake tools; they want to actually do something.
Why not tackle a home improvement project, and get the kids to help? While you’re busy with the hammer and nails, let them use a (smaller) hammer with some blunted nails on a piece of scrap wood. Pre-drill holes so the kiddos don’t need to use too much force and hurt themselves.
If you’re feeling more inventive, you can build an entire activity board. A pegboard with a variety of boards attached can hold small tools, screws, bolts, and other basic “construction” equipment, held together with wires so it doesn’t get lost, can make an excellent busy board for kids. Let your kids experience using the next best thing to real tools.
3. Arts and Crafts
Sometimes you’re limited not just in activities, but in space. Many people live in apartments and don’t have the luxury of sending their kids outside to play, using water in the yard, or playing makeshift sports. Luckily, there are tons of activities you can do, both supervised and unsupervised, to keep your children occupied indoors.
Arts and crafts projects are a great option. On the low end, they can be as simple as coloring books with your choice of crayons, markers, colored pencils, or other coloring implements. To get fancier, you can work on crafting projects together. Build birdhouses to hang or sell, learn papier-mache, or work together to build a diorama from your child’s favorite media. The only limit is your creativity and your budget for simple materials.
4. Build an Activity Chamber
For parents who have small children in need of entertainment, but who don’t have a lot of space and don’t want toys constantly showing up where they shouldn’t, they should consider building an activity space.
Buy a small collapsible tent. This is your activity space for your child; they can keep their toys inside it and play with it while it’s all set up. Invest in small toys and toys that fold up or collapse. You can expand the play area with collapsible tunnels, and position different kinds of toys in different areas. Your kid will have a ton of fun crawling from one tent to another (or to a couch fort, a toybox corner, or a snack station) and will keep themselves mostly contained.
The best part is, with items like collapsible tunnels and tents, it’s easy to fold them up and store them away at the end of the day. They don’t take up much space at all, and they’re easy to set up and tear down as necessary.
5. Explore Virtual Tours
You might be used to visiting local attractions, like museums and zoos, but many of those are closed down or limited in availability. Being stuck at home is limiting in terms of trips out, but you can still take advantage of the lockdown events held at many of these venues, and even those farther afield.
Many museums and art galleries around the world are holding virtual tours or offering virtual explorations. Anything that strikes your fancy can probably be found and browsed through, with varying degrees of interactivity. PBS is also a great resource you can check for activities, videos, and interactive apps.
Another option is edutainment schedules provided by the Khan Academy. You can view their itineraries for various age and grade groups, along with links to activities, in this document.
If your kids like animals, explore some of the many wildlife webcams available online. Many zoos, nature preserves, animal rehabilitation centers, and conservation projects have cameras set up to monitor their animals. You can watch everything from lions and elephants to red pandas and ducks.
6. Do a Lego Challenge
Legos are an incredible toy for kids of nearly all ages. You’re never limited to just what the instruction booklet in the box tells you to make. In addition to just spreading them out for free building time, why not embark on a Lego challenge? A Lego challenge is a calendar with a new task for each day, such as “NASA needs you to design a new rocket for them” and “You are elected ruler; build a new flag for your land.”
Our pro tip? Pull out an old sheet and use that as your designated Lego play area. When it’s time to clean up, you can just pick up the sheet and bundle it up, Lego and all, for easy storage. It makes clean-up a breeze while limiting the spread of the devious little bricks throughout the house.
7. Learn a New Hobby
You’re never too old to pick up a new hobby, and picking up something you can do with your child is a great activity for both of you. There are dozens of possible ideas, such as:
- Learn an instrument. Pick up a guitar, a wind instrument, or a simple percussion. YouTube has chock full of tutorials for pretty much any instrument, from the humble guitar to exotic and less common instruments like the Kalimba.
- Pick up a craft. A box of beads and thread is cheap and can get you both interested in jewelry making. Small squares of paper are easy to come by, and origami can be incredibly complex, with endless depths of possibility.
- Perform household science experiments. The pantry is full of ingredients that can be used as chemical reagents for a wide range of simple experiments, which can foster an interest in both baking and chemistry.
- Learn a fabric craft. Simple crochet patterns can occupy the hands and mind, knitting is all the rage and can prepare you for the cooler months, and needlepoint – while not appropriate for very young children – can give you something intricate to do. You can even just get a simple latch-hook art project.
Most hobbies are relatively cheap to get into and can expand as you grow in interest and skill level. Never underestimate the range a hobby can grow and occupy.
8. Explore Local Attractions
While many of the common attractions, like museums and zoos, are closed or limited just like the schools are, you can still explore other local attractions. Public land is often open and can be mostly isolated so you don’t have to worry about spending time with other people in enclosed spaces.
Consider looking into local nature preserves or hiking trails. Dallas offers trails such as the Oak Cliff Nature Preserve, the Piedmont Ridge Trail, and the Cedar Ridge Preserve.
Just about everywhere in Texas (and beyond) has their own green spaces, nature trails, and state lands that can be accessed for a day trip. Sure, it doesn’t necessarily jive with the need to stay home and work, but if you have a free day, it’s a good option for a trip.
9. Host a Virtual Party
You might not be able to gather friends for a party at your house, but you can host a virtual party with your children and their friends. Organize with other parents to produce snack packs and set up a Zoom call for a kids group chat.
If you want a little more interactivity for your kids, you can get them all in a group to play an online game. Minecraft, Roblox, party games like Fall Guys or Among Us, and even competitive games like Fortnite can be a good way for your kids to socialize in a more party-like environment. Make sure to choose age-appropriate games for your kids.
Alternatively, you can set up a virtual watch party. Either get everyone to rent movie projectors and screens, or rent movies to watch (or even just stream from Netflix/Hulu/Disney+). Synchronize starting the movie, or use a watch party app like one of these.
Remember, without school, your kids might be missing their friends. Socializing with them in a structured environment can help get everyone a little more in touch and a little less isolated.
10. Rent a Bounce House
When your kids are stuck at home and lacking physical activity, it’s a perfect time to rent a bounce house or inflatable obstacle course to wear them out. It’s fun for the kids, it’s enough of a challenge to wear them out, and it’s both physically and mentally stimulating. Kids can come up with their own games to play on and around the inflatable, and there’s plenty you can do to encourage them.
Renting something like a bounce house is fairly cheap and easy to do. All you need is some flat, open space in a yard or driveway, access to power (or generators, which can be rented as well) to keep the blowers going, and someone to set up and keep an eye on the kids.
Whether your goal is to tire out your kids so they don’t bother you too much during work, handing them off from parent to parent for different activities, setting up home learning and tactile experiences, or just keeping them occupied, these ideas should serve you well. Which ones have you tried? Be sure to let us know in the comment section below!