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Kids Activities to Keep Them Busy and You Sane

March 23, 2020

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With schools closed across the country, parents working from home, and especially if you’re under a shelter-in-place order, there’s a good chance the whole family will get stir crazy soon. Finding fun activities for kids and the entire family is becoming a priority for many. 

Parents and guardians can help maintain a sense of normalcy by making sure their children stick to a regular schedule during the day. But that begs the question of how they should fill up that schedule. If you’re looking for activities to keep your kids entertained and active (at a safe distance from others, of course), and want to ensure they don’t fall too far behind in school, here’s how to start. 

Staying in school outside the classroom

If your child’s teachers sent a packet of school work home, you may already have a good idea of where to start. However, you might not have the time to review, correct, or explain each lesson. That’s where additional education-focused resources can help. 

Khan Academy is an excellent free option that offers age-specific curriculum and courses. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s put together suggested daily schedules for students who are four to 18 years old. And there are parent and teacher resources that can help you navigate the change. 

If your children are in high school, this is also a great time to start college prep. Check out the Common Application website, where you can find steps that 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders should be taking. And review its guides for preparing to apply to private colleges to gain a better understanding of the application requirements. 

High school students can also prepare for the standardized tests that many colleges require. A partnership between Khan Academy and College Board gives you access to free preparation materials and practice SAT tests. For high school juniors, it’s also a good time to start working on college essays, while both juniors and seniors can look for and apply to scholarships

Make use of technology

Your kids are missing their peers and friends, but social distancing doesn’t have to completely disrupt their social activities. If they have devices of their own, they may already be talking and playing with their friends throughout the day. But you may need to step in to facilitate this type of interaction with younger children.

After checking in with their friends’ parents, you can set up virtual playdates using FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, or whatever platform you prefer. Perhaps they can continue a school activity together but apart, or it may be an opportunity for an extended show and tell of all of their toys. 

If you’ve run through your supply of children's books—or have a teen who’s an avid reader—the Libby App gives you free access to libraries' ebook and audio collections. While some libraries systems require you to already have a library card to use the app, others allow you to register through the app based on your phone number’s area code. 

When you need to quickly find something to keep a child entertained or distracted, you can start with Common Sense Media. The site reviews and categorizes media to help you find age-appropriate movies, shows, books, games, and apps. It’s free to browse, but there’s a $3 monthly subscription if you want a curated list of suggestions based on your child’s age. 

Things that don't involve a screen

Taking time away from screens is beneficial for everyone. Even if many of the educational and entertainment options involve a screen, part of the daily routine should be outside playtime if the weather permits. If not, indoor non-screen activities like building forts, making Play-Doh, baking cookies, or enjoying craft time will have to do. 

You could also put together a list of potential chores or projects that could be done each day. Set aside an hour or two for “list activities,” perhaps with the reward of personal screen time after they complete a task. 

In preparation for an extended school closure, you may also want to consider signing up for an activity subscription box. These aren’t free—they cost around $25 to $35 a month—but they can keep things fresh and often have an educational component to them. 

For example, KiwiCo is a STEM-focused option that sends projects and instructions based on your child’s age, Sensory TheraPLAY Box encourages self-regulation skills, and Girls Can Crate is specifically aimed at empowering girls. 

Share ideas with other parents

If there’s a silver lining to the coronavirus, it’s the sense of unity and camaraderie that can emerge when we’re all in a fight together. School, street, and neighborhood groups are springing up, and people are quick to gather and share resources to help those who are facing various stressors and hardships. 

Here’s an overview of several free sites for kids activities that was shared on Reddit, and an ever-growing Google Sheet with over 275 enrichment activities for kids. 

Also, remember to take care of yourself. You may feel pressure to parent a certain way or fill the day with a specific “best” option. But it’s an unprecedented time that requires creativity and flexibility. If your child or children end up watching kid-friendly movies for half a day, so be it. They’re safe, you’re safe, and you’re helping keep others safe—and that’s the main goal of staying home. 

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Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou

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Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola is a freelance finance writer based in Oakland, California. He specializes in consumer credit, personal finance, and small business finance, and loves helping people find ways to save money. In addition to Varo, Louis works with a variety of financial services firms, credit bureaus, and educational websites, including Credit Karma, Wirecutter, Funding Circle, and Experian.

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