During this time of the coronavirus, school closings are causing tremendous stress for all parents, especially working parents whose child care options are limited or nonexistent. While your children are at home, providing a wide range of play activities will help ratchet down anxiety, promote healthy expression of feelings, and it might even be a unique opportunity to strengthen your relationship and attachment to one another. As a child life specialist, I have spent my career in hospitals helping children and families play as part of the family-centered care approach to healing. Today, I am going to share some ideas for keeping your children calm, happy, and occupied.
Some of the best “toys” are what we call “loose parts”, stuff you have lying around the house or in your recycle bin. Kids love to create, and cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, string, wood, paper, popsicle sticks, cotton balls, yarn, chopsticks, tape, glue, cloth, q-tips, pipe cleaners, art materials, any recyclable item, shoe boxes ….etc. are all inventions waiting to be imagined. You can put out materials without any direction, or you can give your children prompts such as “Make your own 3-D version of a corona virus”, or “Build something that would make this world a better place, either reality-based or make believe.” Once they get started, projects may morph into other ideas.
Kids Need to Move Their Bodies
Kids need to move their bodies every day. If you are able to take them outside to run, climb, and jump, that is terrific. But if you are stuck inside, children can do jumping jacks, push ups against a wall, with feet or hands, and other exercises to release pent up energy. Make exercise a part of their daily routine, and everyone will be the better for it.
Playing with Grandparents
Many of you may be concerned about your parents, and checking in with them via video chat can be good for the whole family. Play maps (see article within this publication) are a great connecting activity to do via video chat that can spark many shared stories. All you need is plain paper, pens, pencils, crayons or markers, and your childhood memories. Draw a map of your indoor play space from childhood, and then your outdoor play space, filling in all the play activities you recall from your childhood years. Have your child do the same, and your parent too. Maybe play some favorite music in the background while you all draw. Then share all the stories behind your drawings. You might be surprised what you have in common, and what play activities you’ve never talked about. Consider video taping the activity to save these wonderful memories.
Kids love to build forts and hide in them. A bedsheet or table cloth can turn furniture into a fort. Children can have a picnic, read, play, and even sleep in their fort for a change in routine.
Kids young and old enjoy playing about things they are trying to understand or are worried about. If you have a medical play kit at home, bring it out with some dolls or stuffed animals, and encourage your children to create a doctor’s office or a vet clinic. If you can, add real life medical items, like gauze, pill bottles, syringes. Give them a pencil and pad to write down doctor notes on. This activity gives children the chance to ask questions about the coronavirus. Try your best to answer questions honestly and simply. Try not to direct or interrupt their play, as they know exactly what they need to play out.
Sensory play is great for toddlers and preschoolers, but it is also soothing for older kids and adults. It can be as simple as a bin of soapy water with straws, leggos, and bath toys. Shaving cream, sand, making homemade play dough, and finger painting with pudding (and then eating it) are a few other examples of sensory play. Pinterest has many additional ideas and instructions.
Old Fashioned Games
Perhaps you will get some ideas from the play map activity from your parents.There are a ton of old fashioned games that children have played over the generations that don’t need props or toys. Hide and Seek, clapping games, pretend play, guessing games, and charades are some examples. If you play these games with your children, allow them to take the lead as much as possible. They may make up their own rules, which is great for their imagination.
All you need is some string or shoe laces, and you can teach your child some great string games and stories. There are a ton to learn on youtube, and maybe your parents have a few up their sleeves as well.
Use loose parts and art materials to create personal worry dolls. Children can tell these dolls their worries and the dolls will do the worrying while you child sleeps, so that s/he doesn’t have to. another activity to release worries involves making a play dough volcano, writing down worries on scraps of paper, placing the inside the volcano, and exploding it. There are plenty of volcano recipes on the internet.
Many of us have great childhood memories of playing board games and card games. If you have a few decks of cards, your kids can use youtube to learn a new (old) game such as Spit, War, Canasta or Pinochle. Building upon the loose parts concept, consider having your kids create their own board game and then play it with one another. The cooperative spirit of making a game can bolster sibling connection.
Minimize Screen time
The last thought I want to leave with you is this. This time, although stressful, may have a silver lining. It may be the jumpstart your kids need to get off of their devices, and into their imaginations. Encourage healthy limits on the amount of screen time your youngsters partake in. Involve them in your daily chores of cooking and cleaning, and play, play, play!