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Published on April 07, 2020

closeup of child fingerpainting

Helping Young Children Stay Busy and Happy

During these uncertain times, it’s important to create a calm and caring environment for young children.

Kids of all ages may be sensing the stress and anxiety their parents feel. For young children especially, it is important to discuss hand washing hygiene and not touching our faces as well as other steps.

Parents should answer questions kids may have simply and honestly, taking into account how much they can understand. Remember to be aware of how often you have the news on and what you say about the outbreak in front of kids.

Here are some tips for keeping busy and coping with social distancing with children:

  • Create a schedule for your family. Even though now is a time we can be more flexible with our schedule, kids thrive when they know what to expect. Helping create a schedule for them to follow can help them adjust more successfully to this transition. For younger preschool age children a visual schedule can be helpful, for older school age children a more detailed schedule with specific ideas and chores can be more useful.
  • Bond together. One positive aspect of this outbreak is families are able to have more time together. Share experiences with your children such as cooking together or completing a family project. Cooking together is a great way to teach important math skills to children.
  • Get outside take the kids for a walk or a bike ride. Create a scavenger hunt. For example, find a stick, a leaf, something that is green, etc. You can make this as simple or difficult as you would like. Avoid public playgrounds as the equipment is not sanitized or cleaned.
  • Have kids face time or call friends or family. Even writing letters to friends or family can help.
  • Board games or crafts are a fun way to spend some time together as a family. Mo Willems’ Lunch Doodles is a fun live video that teaches children to draw some fun characters.
  • Start working on an indoor garden; this could also double as a science lesson as you talk about different parts of the plant and the life cycle of a plant.
  • Go on a virtual tour. Many zoos and museums are offering virtual tours including: Cincinnati Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Yellowstone National Park, British Museum of London, and Van Gough Museum in Amsterdam.
  • Get moving indoors. Some good YouTube channels for kids’ movement are Go Noodle and Cosmic Kids Yoga. Some gyms and dance studios are offering free live classes during this time as well. Create an indoor obstacle course.
  • Create an indoor scavenger hunt.
  • Read together.

Ideas for toddlers and preschoolers at home:

  • Finger paint. If you’re nervous about a mess, put paint in a Ziploc bag and tape to the table and let young kids practice drawing on that.
  • Play dough and sidewalk chalk.
  • Letter matching Easter eggs: write the lower case and capital letters on halves of eggs and let kids match them together.
  • Have an alphabet or color scavenger hunt. Find something that starts with each of these letters or find something that is red or green.
  • Make a bird feeder together.
  • Straw games: create a straw maze and blow a light ball through the maze.
  • Moon sand: mix 8 cups flour to 1 cup baby oil. This creates a fun sensory activity and is easier to clean up than regular sand.
  • Stem challenge for older preschoolers: use tooth picks and marshmallows to create a structure.
  • Letter/ number bingo for older preschoolers.

A wide range of online learning resources for kids are out there. For reading, sites such as Scholastic, Starfall.com and Abcya.com are great. The Epic app is another good source of reading resources. For math, parents might try Prodigy or Mathslide (both quite fun, too!) as well as the sites including Pbskids.org and Coolmathgames.com.

By Patricia Bates, Family Life Educator, Women’s and Children’s Community Outreach Education, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center

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