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COVID-19 Pandemic: So, Your Kids Are Home Now. What Do You DO?

COVID-19 blog series

As of mid-April, 55 million American K-12 students are home from school in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with millions more young children who were served in child care settings – part of a global trend which sees 1.5 billion learners out of school. Millions of parents have been figuring out a desperate scramble to make this new arrangement work alongside their own employment and family needs, while some may be feeling most anxious about this ongoing health crisis.

We know that families have big economic and policy needs to offer some relief during this time, which we’ve discussed in other posts. Today, we want to focus on activities that may help parents to get a few moments of quiet time and cure some of the cabin fever children may be experiencing. We know that many lists already exist to help families brainstorm; we hope that developing this resource from our experts will give some positive encouragement to try a few of these out!


20 Activities for children to try to alleviate cabin fever during the Coronavirus Pandemic

  1. Treasure Hunt – do this indoors or outdoors; similar to an Easter Egg Hunt only hiding small objects. Children love this and will ask you to do this time and time again.
  2. Play I-Spy whilst out walking and for younger children use colors or sounds to identify objects.
  3. Set up Hopscotch on the driveway or inside on a corridor using chalk or painter’s tape which can be easily removed.
  4. Have an indoor or outdoor picnic and play the memory game “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing ….” Each person takes turns remembering (in order) what everyone is bringing and then adds one more item each time.
  5. Play Kim’s game. Have a tray with everyday objects on it and say about ten (dependent on the ages of the children). Let them study it well and then cover the tray with a tea towel and remove an object. Show them the tray again and they have to say which object has been removed. Each child takes a turn being the demonstrator as well as the identifier.
  6. Set up an obstacle course indoors or outdoors and again let the children do this using whatever you have to hand and perhaps adding old boxes, ropes or scarves, blocks, etc.
  7. Explore Africa with the “African Wildlife Cam” situated by a busy watering hole. Tap into their imagination by pretending to go on an imaginary hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti Plains of Africa and let the children spot an imaginary herd of giraffes drinking at a water hole and re-enact this (stand with legs straight and wide apart, put arms together over your head and then bend over to drink!”) or be baboons swinging from branch to branch. The children will come up with wonderful ideas which are quite often right off the wall which is brilliant.
  8. Take a virtual field trip to Yellowstone National Park – visit the Mud Volcano, Mammoth Hot Spring and many more with a digital trip to “Yellowstone.”
  9. Listen to “Story Pirates” – to extend this then become Pirates using a tree stump outside or a couch indoors with eye patches and cardboard tubes as swords and plenty of “Arhh, Arhh me hearties.” With a treasure map and a casket of treasure this activity can last for days!!
  10. Watch the “Puppy Playroom” – what is better than a livestream of puppies playing all day long. Re-enact the puppies with each child thinking of more bizarre things puppies do!!
  11. Bird watch – from your window or balcony or on a walk. Identify five types of bird and then research them.  Record bird sounds on your camera and then try to identify them. (The Great Backyard Bird Count has passed, but it’s a great place to start and learn more!)
  12. Make a list of the animals that live in your neighborhood or your yard. Maybe squirrels, or chipmunks or even alligators or snakes. Make a note of the time of day they come out and where do they forage for food, etc.
  13. Learn about insects – log onto the Smithsonian Science Education Center to do a deep dive into “insects” then go for a walk or study a patch of ground in your backyard to see how many of these you can identify.
  14. While outside walking or in your backyard or on the rooftop of your block, close your eyes and listen – what do you hear? Car engines, or airplanes overhead or sirens of ambulances, the cry of a baby or leaves rustling in the trees or indeed silence!
  15. Study the weather – make weather charts. Study “weather” on the Smithsonian Science Education Center site. Learn about currents or air masses. Compare temperatures indoors and outdoors and in the shade and in the heat of the sun. Blow bubbles and watch how they rise and the wind directions and the rainbow colors on the bubbles.
  16. Hone those motor skills – “MamaOT” has lots of at home occupational therapy ideas from inserting pipe cleaner through a colander to pushing pompoms through a hole in a plastic container or threading ribbons through a mesh fence.
  17. Paint with water – this can be done on a wall or a sidewalk or a driveway. A large paint brush and a bucket of water is all that is needed and affords hours of activity as the fence, the house or the apartment block get painted and of course it dries so it also conducive to parent’s peace of mind.
  18. Learn how to knit or crochet. “Ravelry” is a free source (login required) for knitters no matter your skill level and is such a good way to develop fine motor skills which are sometimes sadly lacking in our children.
  19. Play “What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf” – this can be done in a corridor or outside or on a rooftop. One child is Mr. Wolf who stands with his back to the children. The children all stay a good distance away from him.  The children ask the wolf the time and he may say two o’clock and they take two steps towards him or three o’clock, etc. When he says, “Dinner time,” he runs to catch them and whoever is caught then becomes Mr. Wolf.
  20. Set up a drive-in movie in the backyard using old boxes and cartons which can be adapted and painted to make the cars and make posts for the speakers to be attached to each car. Set up a laptop on a table at the front of the movie with the cars all parked as a drive-in. Children can be waiters taking imaginary food orders (or real food if appropriate). This is really exciting to do in the dark using flashlights.

Toddler Activities – Mess free!
Toddlers love to make a mess, which is good, but in these times when keeping the children safe and well indoors is incredibly challenging, to then have to deal with mess could be the last straw. Here are some activities which will keep your toddlers engaged whilst not causing mayhem in your home!

  1. Play-doh – most children love this. It is very easy to make. Ingredients: 250g/10 oz. plain flour, 50g/2 oz. salt, 140ml/just over half a cup water, 1 to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, a few drops of food coloring. Method: 1. Mix together the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add the water and oil. 2. Knead well until mixture is smooth for about 10 minutes. You might need to add a little more flour or water until the consistency is smooth, not sticky. 3. Add food coloring and knead until color is fully blended. 4. Store in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator until chilly enough to use.
  2. Finger painting mess free! – Fill a gallon sized Ziploc bag with different colors of Tempera (poster board) paint and seal it. Lay the bag flat on a table and tape around all the edges with masking tape. Toddlers will love using their fingers to mix, move and mash the paint inside the bag.
  3. Sorting and organizing by color – Tape paint swatches inside a plastic tray, one per section. Provide small pom poms that match the section colors and let the toddlers sort the pom poms by color.
  4. Masking tape race track – Using masking tape, create a toy car track across a hardwood floor and provide toy cars, trucks, etc. This activity should keep them engaged for a while!
  5. Bubble wrap walkway – create a bubble wrap walkway across the floor or in a hallway or corridor. You need a large piece of bubble wrap and masking tape. Lay the bubble wrap on the floor and tape the edges so it doesn’t move. Children can then jump on, roll on, hop and pop the bubbles. If you are really brave, they can paint the bubble wrap and then make foot and hand prints onto a blank sheet of paper, but that is definitely not mess free!
  6. Cardboard box fort – Use the large boxes you usually flatten and dispose of to create a fort. For large boxes cut out windows and doors and your toddler can decorate these inside and out using markers and crayons. Add dress-up clothes and children will have great fun. The fort can be turned into a house or restaurant, just follow the lead of the child and their imagination.
  7. Contact paper art – Cut up leftover tissue paper into small pieces. Peel off the backing of a piece of contact paper and lay it on a window (at child level) with sticky side facing out. Tape the edges of the paper to the window using masking tape. Your child can then stick the pieces of tissue paper onto contact paper in a colorful display.
  8. Cardboard tube beads – save all the cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper. Cut them into two 3-inch-long pieces. Paint the tube pieces in different colors using Tempera (poster board) paint. Once dry, your toddler can string the cardboard “beads” onto string or knitting wool.

“Loose Parts”
Loose parts is a term coined by architect Simon Nicholson, who carefully considered landscapes and environments that form connection. He believed we are all creative and that “loose parts” in an environment will empower our creativity. Many play experts and early childhood educators adapted the theory of loose parts.

How can you provide loose parts?  Loose parts can be natural or synthetic. It is helpful to think of loose parts as something that will help children inspire imagination and creativity on their own terms and in their own unique way. Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.  There is no set of specific directions for materials that are considered loose parts. The child is the direction.

Loose parts encourage open-ended learning. Open-ended materials, environments and experiences encourage problem solving and are child centered. Children involve themselves in concrete experiences using loose parts which lead to curiosity and exploration, which occur naturally as opposed to being adult-directed. Adults do play an important intentional role in preparing, facilitating and documenting open ended learning experiences.

Examples of loose parts…

Measuring cups, pouring devices (bottles, spoons, buckets, funnels), saucepans, frying pans, recycled materials (paper tubes, wrapping and other assorted papers, ribbons, caps, lids, wood scraps, foam, cardboard, wine bottle corks!), small plungers, tools and art materials (buttons, spools, feathers, beads, straws, paint brushes, pom poms, shells, pine cones, stones, cardboard boxes, etc.)
Water, sand, dirt, sticks, branches, logs, driftwood, grasses, leaves, moss, flowers, pine cones, pine needles, seeds, shells, bark, feathers, boulders, rocks, pebbles, stones, plastic guttering, tires, balls, hoops, skipping ropes, buckets, spades, chalk, scarves, ribbons, material, blocks and building materials.  

(Adults should consider their own child’s age and development and ensure that any items used do not present choking hazards or jagged edges!)

Children choose creative loose parts over fancy toys: I’m sure you have all experienced the disappointment of giving a fancy toy to a child who ends up playing with the box or the wrapping paper instead of the toy. It is in this free exploration and creation that you can see the child’s concrete way of thinking and doing, or as the famous psychologist Eric Erickson put it, adults can see “their natural genius of childhood and their spirit of place.”  The cleverness and connections to formal learning that unfold from loose parts is amazing and is a motivation to make sure you include loose parts in your home as best you can.


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