How to Keep Kids' Minds From Melting During Coronavirus School Closings

As of this moment, large school districts are closing as the coronavirus spreads through the world. Though the majority remain open, maybe you’re one of the unlucky citizens living in a community affected by COVID-19. Maybe you just want to plan ahead for how to keep kids busy during their indefinite hiatus.

As unprecedented as most of this pandemic is, we do at least have some practice in the area of entertaining kids at home when school’s out. But when it’s just the occasional sick day, snow day, or bizarre school holiday (seriously, New York City, WTF is Anniversary Day?), we often go to some lazy old standbys: TV, iPad game, podcasts, LEGOs, every Disney movie ever made. From what we can tell by dispatches from Europe and Asia, that doesn’t go well after a few days of COVID-19 quarantine.

Some schools are following the CDC’s recommendation to develop a plan for “distance learning,” in case of prolonged closures. Online classes will probably feel like a godsend after a few days at home. That is, as long as our own kids don’t figure out how to circumvent the system like the clever kids in Wuhan, China, who got their online learning app, DingTalk, removed from the Apple store by leaving it bad reviews.

In the absence of any school-sanctioned online education, though, we’ve gathered this little list of apps, websites, and real-world activities to fill the gaps for you and your kids. We sincerely hope you don’t need it until the next planned school holiday!

Have Them Train to Be Your Personal Chefs

Little kids can be in charge of planning meals and decorating menus, but if you have a kid old enough to read and follow directions, we suggest you empower them to make a meal for the family. Food Network has some ideas for cooking with kids, and there are tons of cookbooks around to help with this as well.

Watch & Play PBS Kids

You no doubt already know how super-educational all the shows on PBS Kids are. When you have your kids play games related to the shows they watch, either online or on the PBS Kids app, they become a little less passive in their entertainment and can apply all the stuff they learned. 

Turn Their Bedroom into a Classroom

Kids thrive on familiar routines, so how about encouraging them to re-create their school life at home? You can get out some paper or poster board to have them decorate their walls like their classroom, or even purchase some of the decorative tools teachers use. Maybe young ones will want to organize their toys as if they’re students in this school. The more involved this game gets, the busier (and more comfortable) they’ll feel.

Combine Online & Real-World Learning

Of course, iPad games are fun, but we don’t want our kids so sucked into the screen they forget their three-dimensional bodies. That’s why the Osmo tool is so brilliant. Using a mirror gadget attached to the iPad’s camera, the educational Osmo games involve physical objects you place on the table in front of you. Kids of all ages can play games that teach reading, coding, art, engineering and more.

Start a New Book Series

This could be the long block of time we always dreamed of having as kids in which to dive completely into a series of books. Get them into something truly addictive and you won’t hear a peep until dinnertime. (And thank goodness for eBooks and audiobooks, for anyone who can’t head out to the bookstore right now.)

Experiment With Online Learning

Online learning sites like Outschool were made for days like this. Well, actually, they were made to give parents and kids options for extracurricular classes beyond what’s available in their hometown, but this is certainly a good time to take advantage. You can sign your kids up for all sorts of courses, ranging from sewing to chemistry, video-game design to singing, and they’ll get to join small, live classes with real teachers for a set number of weeks.

Turn Them into Multimedia Artists has tons of craft ideas for parents and kids on its site, as we as lesson plans for teachers. Even if you’re not quite ready to give a lecture on the meaning of Robert Rauschenberg’s work, you certainly know how to hand your kids a stack of magazines, catalogs, and newspapers; along with some scissors, paint, and glue. It might be a pain to clean up later, but multi-step projects mean prolonged quiet time.

Explore Other Civilizations

Or, should we say, Civilisations. The BBC created an augmented reality app to go with its expansive 2018 art history series. Museums may be out of reach right now, but your kids can still explore ancient works of art from all angles with the help of a mobile device.

Zen Out & Color

Take a tip from generations of substitute teachers. Sometimes, all you need is a great selection of coloring pages and some brightly colored markers.

Mine YouTube for Educational Gems

We usually think of TED talks as classrooms for grownups, but older kids will understand many of the videos on TEDed’s YouTube pages. Most are only around 5-6 minutes long, but if you select a whole playlist, say “Our Changing Climate” or “Exploring the Senses,” you’ve got longer stretches of solid educational viewing. AsapSCIENCE and John Green’s CrashCourse are other educational channels that give YouTube a good name.

Make Them Card Sharks

Long before our phones made Solitaire and online poker addictive, kids were shuffling and stacking to while away the hours during winter breaks. In case you forgot how to play cards in real life, has some refreshers. Along the way, your kids will learn math, problem-solving, and negotiating skills.

Launch an Animation Studio

Have your mini movie moguls bring out their action figures, Play-doh, and any kind of video device and create their own feature film. You can instruct them to begin by writing a script and storyboarding, or they can improvise the whole thing. If they’d like to try their hand at stop-motion animation, there are tutorials here. 

Brush Up on Those Math, Er, Gaming Skills

Just don’t tell them they’re practicing math. Sites like SplashLearn let kids think they’re lucking out on screen time, when really they’re learning essentials for the Common Core. We have more suggestions of educational apps for kids here.

Puzzle It Out

Maybe the simple act of putting together a 1000-piece puzzle doesn’t teach much more than patience. If that concerns you, put on an educational podcast for them to listen to while they sort through those tiny pieces.

Break Out the Board Games

If you’ve got more than one kid, or if you’re not quarantined from your neighbors, now is the time to bring out Monopoly, Clue, and everything else in your arsenal. Why else do you own them? Check out our list of favorite family board games here. 

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