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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor
| May 21, 2020
Thanks to the global health pandemic, many parents have been hunkered down at home with their kids for what may seem like an eternity. As the parent of a precocious two-year-old, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to keep your child entertained while working from home right now. And that go-to list of activities that's been in heavy rotation for weeks is probably not-so-much fun anymore for your children.
We've looked far and wide to craft a list of kid-friendly things you can do while staying safe and at home. All of the items listed are either free or have a small fee, so they won't put a serious dent in Mom's or Dad's bank account. The activities range from a virtual video game coding course to participating in a family fitness session via YouTube. Take a look.
Age group: All ages
Participating in a fitness class with your family is a fun way to get some quality time, while sneaking in some exercise. Since many people are still sheltering in place, visiting a gym or taking a group class is a no-go. Instead, you can go online to find a variety of free fitness courses you can stream from the comfort of your home.
My family and I recently discovered the Walk at Home channel on YouTube, which offers a variety of low-impact workouts centered around walking in place. They range from 10- to 30-minutes videos and are themed. For example, there's a 15-Minute Family Mile workout, as well as a Wake Up and Walk! session that's ideal to do first thing in the morning. We usually set aside about 20 minutes before we eat lunch to do one of these workouts a couple times per week.
There's also the Smile and Learn channel on YouTube, which has a Yoga for Kids video playlist. Each workout lasts about 10 minutes and incorporates music and cartoon characters to help kids to stay engaged.
This is another at-home activity that takes minimal effort -- and gets the kids away from the TV or tablet screen. All they'll need are some blankets and a little imagination to help construct a fun hideaway in the living room. Mom and Dad might even be able to get some work done while the children play.
Watch Sesame Studio's How to Build A Blanket Fort video on YouTube with your child for some inspiration. Two school-age girls show you step-by-step how to set one up in a matter of minutes. Think your kids might want a fancier set up? RedTricycle.com has a photo round-up of extravagant indoor fort ideas -- from a cardboard box castle to a teepee tent.
If you have kids, chances are they own multiple sets of LEGO building blocks. Lucky for you, the toymaker has made it a little bit easier for you and your kids to enjoy hours of fun right at home. Every month, you can go to the LEGO website and download a step-by-step guide on how to construct one of their mini-build structures using the blocks your children already have for free. Some recent mini-builds include a flower pot and watering canister, a panda and a rabbit with carrots.
You can still round up the kids and explore your neighborhood as long as you follow the social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC: Stay at least six feet away from anyone outside of your household, and wear a facial mask that covers the nose and mouth for anyone over the age of 2.
You'll also want to take into consideration when is the best time of day for a stroll around the block. This is typically when there's the least amount of people out and about at the same time you are. This is a go-to move for my family. We usually head out right after breakfast. That's when most of the families with older kids in my neighborhood are starting their virtual school day. Or we'll head out in the evening around dusk when many of our neighbors might be eating dinner. Doing this helps lessen the chance that you'll run into groups of people and essentially hinder your chances of effective social distancing.
If you're looking for a more brisk outdoor activity (that will help zap some of that amped kiddie energy), the same rules apply for taking your kids on a bike ride.
Many parents have assumed the role of school teacher while cities remain on lockdown and physical school locations are closed throughout the rest of the school year. Since financial education isn't part of the traditional curriculum, now is the perfect time to squeeze in some age-appropriate money lessons in your son or daughter's school day. It's important to keep an open dialogue with your kids and allow them to ask questions.
In our story Smart Ways to Talk to About Money With Your Kids, we recommend how to kickstart such conversations with your little ones. For example, explaining to them that you have to pay a different amount for each item in your shopping cart at the grocery store. The story also mentions how playing money-themed board games such as "Monopoly" or "The Game of Life" can be a way to help introduce your kids to the concept of spending and saving.
You can even print out money worksheets from Education.com that have lessons you can teach at home such as identifying the different types of coins or how to count dollars and coins.
If you're looking for an inexpensive way to spend a Friday night, try this: Pop some popcorn, make a batch of cookies and get ready for a family movie night. Even better, make it the ultimate binge session by watching a movie series such as The Secret Life of Pets (if you're watching with little kids) or Harry Potter (for pre-teens). Chances are your kiddos won't make it past the first film before they start dozing off, so you'll get the chance to kick back and relax once they're tucked in.
Preparing a meal with your kids is a smart way to teach them about nutrition and how to follow step-by-step instructions. There are a variety of kid-friendly recipes available online that are simple and don't take much time to make. This includes and FoodNetwork.com has an entire section on its site dedicated to recipes the entire family can make together.
Also, you'll find plenty of YouTube food and lifestyle vloggers with tutorials on preparing meals with children. You'll discover tips on precautions to take, such as turning the handles inward on all pans being used on the stove, to prevent kids injure themselves as they try to help. (Check out this clip from TV personality Tamera Mowry-Houseley where she makes tacos with her husband, son and daughter.)
There's even a money lesson to be learned here. By planning your meals for the week in advance with your children, you can teach them to stick to a budget for food -- tight shopping lists at the supermarket and no need to scramble for expensive food delivery.
Since playgrounds are still off-limits in most areas, try building a backyard obstacle course where your little and big kids can safely play. And we're not talking about a set-up that requires buying a bunch of stuff or hours of set-up time.
We searched for video tutorials on YouTube and Pinterest using the term "DIY backyard obstacle course." What we found were a variety of ideas that parents can quickly assemble using items you likely already have at home. This includes folding chairs, pool noodle floats, laundry baskets and hula hoops.
An activity we spotted that's sure to give your child a workout was a "tunnel scramble" station. It requires pool noodles and wooden skewers to construct a tunnel that kids can army crawl through. If you don't have pool noodles, you can buy some online at Lowes.com for $2 each and have them shipped to your home or opt for same-day curbside pick-up at your local store location.
A number of museums -- stateside and abroad -- are offering free virtual tours. So if your summer travel plans were ruined due to the coronavirus outbreak, there's still an opportunity to expose your kids to new cultural experiences.
At the Louvre in Paris, virtual visitors can experience their Egyptian Antiquities exhibit, which has sculptures of the Great Sphinx of Tanis and Horus on display. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, which is based in Washington, D.C., is offering virtual tours of past exhibits no longer on display, as well as current ones. This includes Fossil Hall, the Butterfly Pavilion and Mammal Hall. At the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey Bay, Calif., visitors to their website can watch a live web cam of a variety of their aquatic displays -- from sharks to penguins to moon jellies -- daily up until 7 p.m. PST.
Keep in mind that some museum exhibits are better suited for older children (ages 8 and up) versus younger ones. So parents may want to check them out first before watching with little ones.
Age group: Toddlers
With many state-run buildings remaining closed until further notice, many public library systems have transitioned their regular story time sessions to online. For parents looking to cut down on how much TV their kids are watching throughout the day, participating in a virtual storytime session can be a happy medium. In addition to reading books, many also offer sing-a-longs and other participatory activities free-of-charge.
In Prince George's County, Md., the public library system hosts live bi-weekly book readings that are followed by an interactive sing-a-long session for kids ages 2 to 5. For families with young children in Meredith, N.H., the Meredith Library has a video archive posted on its website that includes 31 storytime clips, as well as one arts and crafts video. The Los Angeles Public Library System offers virtual story time sessions using a felt board for babies, toddlers and big kids through Zoom, as well as on Instagram Live. Keep in mind that you may be required to register in advance in order to participate in these virtual library activities. So be sure to visit your local branch's website for specific details.
Television networks geared toward children's programming also are offering virtual story time sessions featuring prominent personalities. For example, PBS Kids in partnership with book publisher Penguin Random House launched a Read Along series, which is livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube. As part of this series, former first lady Michelle Obama has been hosting Mondays With Michelle at noon EST. She's been reading classic children's titles such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Miss Maple's Seeds. My toddler has especially enjoyed tuning in, because she gets to read along to books she already has at home in addition to discovering new ones.
Screenshot via Zumbini.com
Being stuck in the house during these unprecedented times can be tough -- especially for working parents with a rambunctious toddler or two. On those hectic days, when there's not enough time for a family walk around the neighborhood to help them burn off some of that pent-up energy, try participating in a virtual Zumbini class.
What exactly is Zumbini? It's like Zumba, for kids. They get to participate in a 30-minute early childhood development class that uses singing, dancing and interactive play to help your son or daughter (up to age 4) improve their motor skills. The classes, which are normally held in-person at designated locations by licensed instructors, have temporarily transitioned online since the coronavirus outbreak using a video conferencing program such as Zoom. My daughter has been participating in Zumbini since age 1 and loves it. Fast forward to now and it's been especially helpful to have the online option. While she's jumping and dancing around living her best life, I'm counting down to how quickly I can get her to take a nap once the class is over.
Registration is required, and the cost is $10 per class. To find out if there are virtual Zumbini classes being offered by instructors near you, you must go to www.zumbini.com/en/virtual-classes, type in your zip code and hit enter. Next, you'll get a list of results for Zumbini instructors that are hosting online sessions, their class schedule and contact information.
Age group: Elementary school age and up
All of Microsoft's brick-and-mortar locations remain closed until further notice. So while their in-store learning sessions for school-aged kids (including their popular coding camp) have been postponed, the tech giant now offers free virtual workshops. This includes a two-day Literary Skills for Emerging Readers course for children ages 6 through 8. The sessions are aimed at helping younger students improve their reading comprehension skills using Microsoft's Immersive Reader program.
They even offer a two-day course for children ages 8 and up that focuses on how to code your own video game using Microsoft's MakeCode Arcade program.
To participate, you'll need to register in advance using Microsoft's event calendar. Once you input your zip code into the search tool, it will find virtual workshops being offered near you. Not all stores offer the same online courses, if at all
Visiting your neighborhood splash park may not be an option this summer, but you can create your own backyard oasis that will help keep your kids stay cool all season long. BobVila.com offers up some DIY ideas using materials you might already have around the house. Here are two of our favorites:
Build your own slip-and-slide using plastic sheeting covered with baby shampoo. Check out this step-by-step guide.
Construct a water-balloon pinata by filling several balloons with water and stringing them up between two trees or poles. Give your child a stick, and get out of the way as they burst the balloons (watch this YouTube clip to see exactly how it's done).
And don't underestimate the fun your kids will have running back and forth through an old-school oscillating water sprinkler. They're available at HomeDepot.com for as little as $8.
Like other kid-friendly courses that would normally be conducted in person, virtual arts and crafts classes are starting to pop up. Many are no cost, while others are available for a small fee. So if your son or daughter enjoys participating in creative activities at school, they can keep it up at home, too. Here are a couple courses we like:
Every Friday at 3 p.m. EST, GoodHousekeeping.com hosts an arts and crafts course on Facebook Live. It lasts about 30 minutes and appeals to a variety of age groups -- so even Mom and Dad can get in on the fun. One of their recent classes included clay ornaments using acrylic paint and kitchen-pantry staples for the clay.
Also, if your children have an affinity for nature, consider signing them up for Nature's Art Club. There's a $10 monthly subscription fee that gets the entire family access to an archive of art projects with a plant or animal theme, video tutorials, coloring pages for younger kids that you can download and print out, and a private Facebook group where you can interact with other families.
This is a fun activity to do with your kids, especially since there's a delicious reward for them once the vegetables are ready to harvest. Try everything from green beans (which take up to 65 days to grow) or tomatoes (which take about 60 days to grow). You can purchase vegetable seeds for planting for as little as $4.20 on Amazon.
If you're a novice, you'll want to start out small. The Old Farmer's Almanac recommends that beginners make their backyard vegetable garden 11 rows wide with each row measuring 10-feet in length with access to plenty of sunlight. You'll also want to make sure there's enough space between each row for easy access to remove weeds and harvest the vegetables when ready. If you live in an apartment, condo or townhome without a backyard, you can still grow certain types of veggies using plant containers or pots on your balcony. The Natural Ways channel on YouTube highlights several types that are best to grow this way including beets, short-rooted carrots and radishes.
Check out the site KidsGardening.org for tips and tricks on how to maintain a vegetable garden with your little one's help. And after you eat, tack on this personal-finance lesson for dessert: Calculate how much money the family saves each time it procures veggies from the garden rather than the grocery store.
If you have a home with a backyard that's big enough to accommodate children running around having the time of their lives, add this activity to your to-do list. A backyard scavenger hunt is easy to do and doesn't require spending any money. You can dig through your kids' closet full of toys to find items to use, such as a small bucket, toy shovel or a beach ball. Then hide the objects in places such as a tree house, garden watering canister or patio chair.
Pinterest is a gold mind for inspiration here. You can print out sample scavenger hunt lists for the kids to use and tweak to your liking.