In case you didn't notice, the world is going crazy right now. And whether you're a toilet-paper-hoarder, a COVID-19-conspiracy-theorist, or a hide-in-your-bathroom-with-a-glass-of-wine-person, your life is probably pretty different right now than it was two weeks ago, especially if you have a child. And especially if your child's school has been shut down for the next two weeks or longer.
So I decided to take my educational expertise, my Renaissance-Dad skills, and my parenting foibles, and come up with a list of things for you to do with or for your kids in order to keep your sanity for the foreseeable future. While events, sports, movie theaters, and other businesses are shutting down right now, there are plenty of low-cost and free things that you can do together as a family, as well as things that kids can do to keep their brains sharp while school is not in session.
1. Gardening: My nine-year-old and I spent the weekend building a new garden bed (pictures to come on the Renaissance Dad Facebook page). Once the irrigation is up and running, we'll plant berries. But the building of the garden bed was great together time, soaking up the free vitamin D to help boost our immune systems. Plant some veggies or fruits, or plant a tree. Visit the local nursery and ask for their recommendations. Help your kids learn that it is okay to get their hands dirty! And then please wash them, of course.
2. Exercise: Go on a hike, a rock collection walk, or a walk around your neighborhood. Physical activity will help break up the monotony of the day. Enjoy the weather that is getting nicer in most places and get some more free vitamin D.
3. Two words - Sidewalk Chalk! Play games or draw in your driveway. After day one when your driveway is covered, maybe you and your kids can write encouraging messages on neighbor's driveways (only if they're not cranky neighbors), or on the sidewalk in your neighborhood. When the world seems to be going crazy, an encouraging, "Smile! It's a new day" written in kid's handwriting will make even the staunchest toilet paper hoarder smile.
4. Fairy House: Build a fairy house in your yard or the park. Fairy houses are something that my kids love to build, and they really like it when I join them (which regrettably isn't very often [play Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle here]). You need nothing other than sticks, leaves, rocks, and imagination. I let my kids do most of the work and I enjoy their giggles and creativity.
5. Read: Encourage your child to read a book or twelve. Instead of giving unlimited screen time, have them earn it by reading books (for every ten minutes you read, you'll get five minutes of screen time, for example). Visit the library (if it's still open) and have your child pick out some books. Or, if you're sheltering in place or all businesses are closed, check out your library's online collection. Times like this are what e-books were invented for! Need a book recommendation? Here's a list of some of my favorite books for teens. And here's a list of my kids' recommendations for picture books, middle-grade, and YA fiction.
Here's where you can sneak in some school work.
Make them do some math. For younger children, having them graph or tally their reading and then figure out their screen time will help with some practical math skills. For older students, have them work backwards (You want to watch What about Bob?, which is 99 minutes long. How long do you need to read if you earn screen time at the rate of 5 minutes of screen time for every 15 minutes of reading?).
6. Documentaries: Have them choose a documentary. Watching non-fiction will help engage their science or history brains. Whether you're streaming or picking up a DVD at your library, there are a lot of engaging documentaries that will help make their screen time a little more meaningful. Some family favorite documentaries are Born in China and Pick of the Litter.
7. Family Game Night: Have a family game night/afternoon. We love playing games together. Here are two of our current favorites (these are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through Amazon I get a "thank you" from them without affecting your price. Isn't that nice of them?)
- Catan Junior - Yes, this is a great way to start them off early on their Settlers of Catan voyage, and it is still enjoyable for adults. Geared towards children as young as 5, all three of our kids (7, 9, 11) enjoy playing this. The rules are simpler and the game is shorter (20-30 minutes for a full game). Our 7-year-old has even won a few games.
- Harry Potter Clue - for the slightly older crowd (ages 8+, 3-5 players), this is a must for Harry Potter fans. The board is a great replica of Hogwarts, from the room names (Room of Requirement, Divination Classroom), to changing secret passages (full games are 45 minutes to 1 hour).
8. Puzzles: When was the last time your family put a puzzle together? It's been some time for us, mainly because we have so many things going on. Guess what! We have a lot of time on our hands now, so maybe it's time to bust out with our Chicago puzzle and the kids can learn about the Windy City. Spend some time listening to music, talking, and accusing each other of stealing pieces so you can be the one to put the last piece in.
9. Art: Find an artistic outlet, both for you and for your kids. I believe that everybody has some kind of artistic outlet that they enjoy - paint, draw, sculpt, carve, color, knit, sew, quilt, build. Get a coloring book and color with your kids. Build a doll house together. See if you can build a structure using all of your Legos - you've got the time. Engage the right side of the brain which, is the side that is easy to neglect, and get those creative juices flowing.
10. Write letters: For the 21 years that my wife and I have been married, I am the one who daily checks the mailbox. Why? Because I love getting letters. It happens so infrequently these days, but doesn't it feel great when you get a letter from somebody that you love? What if we took the time during the coming weeks, when everything is shut down, to reach out to the people that we love?
Essentially, instead of looking at all of the things that we can't do (eat out, go to the movies, watch basketball, use toilet paper), what if we used this time as a forced break? What if we got back to spending time together as a family, doing family things, caring for and loving on each other? I guess that means it's time to stop typing and start being with my family.