How to Keep the Kids Busy During Social Distancing

If you're stuck inside with the kiddos, you might have a long few weeks — and possibly months — ahead.
If you're stuck inside with the kiddos, you might have a long few weeks — and possibly months — ahead. Jason Koerner Photography
Families across the nation are anxiously settling into their quarantine situations in an effort to remain safe and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that's brought the United States to a halt. Following a few tense days, parents have most likely added "despondent lunch lady," "tired toddler wrestler," and "angry teacher" to their already exhaustive resumés. Don't be surprised if some have been reduced to acting out scenes from the cult classic Mommie Dearest and screaming at their sleeping babes about wire hangers.

Furious feelings in close quarters are understandable — as a work-at-home-mom with less childcare than I need, I know firsthand the stress of tackling the challenges of parenthood alone for hours on end.

I don't feel prepared for this level of lockdown — honestly, how could anyone? — but I do know it's possible to get work done with your children lurking about, but not without the help of incentives such as the internet and candy. Below are suggestions on how to entertain your kids while in isolation without neglecting them while you work. May all of us have at least one scream-free conference call per day.

Offer Board Games and Bribes

Now is as good a time as any to dust off rotting board games or unwrap the new ones you wisely purchased but never thought you'd need so badly. Candy Land has been a hit with my partner and son during these past few days of extended exposure to one another. Actual candy used in tandem with the game — not to mention no-harm-no-foul behavioral bribery — has been useful as well. Parents have also suggested baking sweets with your kids during this period to pass the time and boost their moods, but we'll see how much you want to beat eggs and sift flour with the young ones after week three.

Make Crappy Crafts

Making crafts at home similar to the expert-level ones you see online isn't for everyone. If you're not mentally and physically equipped to assemble sensory activities using plastic bags, glitter, and glue, check out illustrator and author Mo Willems' live-stream of his daily doodling, Lunch Doodles. The man who created the relatable characters Elephant, Piggie, and Pigeon has been in residency at the Kennedy Center and is stuck at home in Massachusetts, where he's been doing a regular video series at 1 p.m. Imaginative play is always fun, so make sure your dress-up box is full, and get ready for some mood-boosting storytelling.
click to enlarge Try to keep it green. - PHOTO BY TERENCE CANTARELLA
Try to keep it green.
Photo by Terence Cantarella

Get Gardening

If you have any soil, seeds, outdoor area, or indoor space you don't mind getting muddy, check out BK Gardenz by urban gardener Sean Duggan to learn about how to grow microgreens, make compost, and do so much more. Things are gonna get real cramped real soon, so it'll be good to introduce some greenery into everybody's lives.
click to enlarge Let Coral Morphologic's Coral City Camera live-stream lull your children to sleep. - COURTESY OF CORAL MORPHOLOGIC
Let Coral Morphologic's Coral City Camera live-stream lull your children to sleep.
Courtesy of Coral Morphologic

Zip It

My kid still naps, so I have about two hours in the afternoon to work while he snoozes. You'd be surprised how much you can get done during nap time when a deadline and the threat of a world-class toddler meltdown are looming. If your littles don't sleep during the day but still require downtime, check out the hypnotically soothing underwater live-stream by the Miami-based artists and marine biologists of Coral Morphologic. Another lovely and snooze-inducing option for mellowing out a rowdy home is the Metropolitan Opera's nightly Met Opera streams.

Bring the Outdoors Inside

By day five, we'll all be missing the fresh air, even if it happens to be laced with the unmistakable scent of animal odors. That's why it'll be good to check out what's happening at zoos around the country via their live feeds: Cincinnati Zoo is keeping viewers updated about its star, Fiona the Hippo, and the San Diego Zoo has an incredible website that offers activities, games, and videos. Another way to buy you some shower time is to let the kids virtually tour Yellowstone National Park or watch live animal cams at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you live in Florida and are looking for something a little closer to home, check out the Otters & Their Waters stream presented by Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota.

Enjoy the Healing Power of Music

Kid-friendly musicians are going virtual too. Miami-bred songstress Alina Hevia's YouTube Live performances are a solid start for anyone looking for non-cartoon- or videogame-related material on the omnipresent video platform. Hevia sings in Spanish as well as English and debuted her efforts on March 16. (She's welcoming donations, which can be sent via Venmo at @AlinaCeleste.) You can also sway along to stylings of Lindsey Mills, the Gainesville children's performer known as Milly Marzipan, who will live-stream age-appropriate music on Facebook.
click to enlarge Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. - BILL SUMNER
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens.
Bill Sumner

Travel Around the World

You might be trapped inside with angsty teens or cranky toddlers pissed off about the way you sliced their apple, but you can put them in check by reminding them there's a world beyond their house. Don't miss Vizcaya Museum & Gardens' free virtual tour that lets you explore areas that the Italian-style villa typically keeps closed, such as its swimming pool grotto and certain pieces in its collection. If you're looking to see how things are going up north, you can learn more about how a Canadian farm works on FarmFood 360. If you or your young ones are craving cross-continental travel, tour the Great Wall of China from the comfort of your mask-free living room.
click to enlarge The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami - PHOTO BY IWAN BAAN
The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami
Photo by Iwan Baan

Don't Touch the Art

Many museums display portions of their collections online, many of which are receiving newfound attention in light of current circumstances. Travel + Leisure offers an excellent rundown of options for an afternoon of artistic exploration. You can add the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami to that list: The Design District institution boasts a website, ICA Channel, complete with gallery tours, artist talks, performance art, and a behind-the-scenes look at putting together an exhibition.
click to enlarge Kids explore the Frost Museum of Science. - COURTESY OF FROST SCIENCE
Kids explore the Frost Museum of Science.
Courtesy of Frost Science

Build Their Brains

This list of educational shows on Netflix should help ease any guilt you might feel if your kid had eight hours of screentime today and refused to eat anything but jellybeans. Other interactive and intellectually stimulating material is also available via National Geographic Kids, Highlights Kids, Scholastic's Learn at Home, PBS LearningMedia, and Sesame Street in Communities.

Keep Moving

Keeping your kids in motion — whether you have an outdoor area or not — won't be easy. The siren call of the couch is bound to grow stronger as you spend more time at home, and many kids will no doubt heed its cry and plant their idle asses on cushions. It'll be imperative to make time for you and the kids to stretch, jump, or even have a dance party every day. Fortunately, many Miami-based gyms have begun offering streaming classes. The plus? You can wiggle your waggles away alongside the kids. There's also Go Noodle, which offers movement and mindfulness activities, as well as Fluency & Fitness, which facilitates learning while the kids shake out all of their sillies. Additionally, Mykol Whorley — cheerleading guru, proprietor of CheerMadness, and our wonderful babysitter — will roll out no-gym workouts and story time on her new YouTube channel. You'll love her as much as we do.

Learn a Language

You might see social distancing as an opportunity to read another chapter in the book you've been trying to finish for the past three years, but why not teach the household a new language? A variety of multilingual activities are available courtesy of Chalk Academy, Conjuguemos, and Duolingo.

One last tip: Don't be afraid to set aside some crying time for yourself or FaceTime with friends and family who'll listen. This won't be easy.
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Liz Tracy has written for publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, Refinery29, W, Glamour, and, of course, Miami New Times. She was New Times Broward-Palm Beach's music editor for three years. Now she plays one mean monster with her 2-year-old son and obsessively watches British mysteries.
Contact: Liz Tracy