All The Things: Occupying your cooped-up kids

Because we all need a bit of structure right now

All over the world, children are home from school in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. That means a lot of parents are at home with their kids, during a time when we are meant to STAY home, and also during a time when many of us are working from home.

It is great.

But it is necessary and honestly, I was relieved when school closures were announced here. Now I knew what to be ready for. It removed a source of worry. But with these closures going on for weeks at minimum, and potentially months, the stretch ahead is somewhat daunting.

There are a lot of ways you could try (or not try!) to entertain your children right now, and nothing in this email is meant to judge you for your choices. Those choices will probably look a lot different in these early weeks when we’re all getting used to everything than they might later. I am just hoping to pass along some suggestions for people who are looking for them.

If you would like some updates on the overall news situation for COVID-19, here are some round-up links.

Canada | The U.S. | Europe | Asia | Africa | Central and South America

I’ll do another news update email tomorrow, and maybe send some more kid-distracting ideas next week. We’ll need them.

The Youths

For reasons we don’t really understand right now, coronavirus seems to mostly spare children from the worst of its effects. In China, for example, only 2.4% of reported cases, and 0.2% of those critically ill, were children.

However, children can still contract and spread coronavirus — often, due to their general lack of symptoms, without even realizing they are a carrier. That’s why closing schools is seen as an important move to make in slowing the spread of the virus.

It’s a decision with consequences though, in particular for the most vulnerable children. Sadly, Kids Help Phone has seen an increase in call and text volume from young people who are scared about the implications of a global pandemic, struggling with mental health challenges in this anxious time, or feeling unsafe in their homes without the break school provided. The service is currently seeking new volunteers.

Talking to Kids About COVID-19

Even kids who are excited about the prospect of a very early end to the school year likely have some fear around the pandemic and some sadness around the disruption of their education, extracurriculars, and social lives.

Talk to your kids about what’s going on, sharing information that you feel is appropriate for their ages and personalities. Answer questions as they come instead of bombarding them with information, but make it clear they can ask those questions. If you don’t know the answer, find out together. And work against any misinformation your kids may be picked up about what’s happening, whether that was from friends, family members, or misguided YouTube choices.

Things are a bit less scary if kids know that they can come to the adults they trust, even if it’s hard for us to have the conversations sometimes. I’m not looking forward to explaining all of this to my son or watching him realize that he won’t see his friends for a while and may not have any more classes with his teacher. But I’d rather be there for that if he needs me than leave it for him to figure out on his own.

Science and Nature

First of all, remember than you can leave your house! Practice social distancing, of course, and maybe avoid germy playground equipment. But hikes and walks are perfectly fine.

Crash Course Kids has several science-focused playlists on topics including life science and space science. For more advanced videos, check out the regular Crash Course channel’s playlists on astronomy and the history of science.

Learn about animals through the websites and social media streams of various zoos and aquariums. The Shedd Aquarium is sharing the tours their penguins are taking in the quiet aquarium on Twitter. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is sharing live streams and Q&A sessions via its own Twitter account. And the Toronto Zoo has some great videos on its YouTube page.

Or you could make your zoology education literal by fostering a pet. Animal rescues are looking for foster homes for dogs and cats all the time, so now is a great chance to spend some time with a sweet animal who will surely be a welcome distraction and cuddle buddy.


For the youngest kids, grab some Lego or Duplo blocks and work on basic math skills like adding, subtraction, grouping, and patterns. Slightly older kids can use Lego to work on multiplication, division, or fractions.

On TV, Peg + Cat is an adorable animated show that will introduce kids to math concepts without making them realize that’s what happening. The show’s website has some fun activities and games. There is a cat!

The Crash Course and Crash Course Kids video courses are a great way to learn about a wide variety of topics, including math. Give their playlists on engineering and statistics a try.

For older kids, NL tutor Simon Jansen is offering free tutoring for three high-school math courses in the province. He also has paid services for other math courses and physics. And the Math Guru will be offering virtual tutoring sessions online and has a math podcast.

Computers and STEM

There’s no time like now to teach your kid to code, I guess! To that end, Code Club Canada is hosting virtual coding sessions. There are also a lot of fun projects available via CodaKid, including making a Minecraft server, Minecraft modding, and making a Roblox game.

Lego is a STEM toy that many parents have in their house in some form. There are a tonne of options for Lego-centric activities: design a floating cargo boat, make a balloon car, construct a pulley or catapult. You can also search the hundreds (hundreds!) of classroom activities available on the Lego site.

And once again, hit up Crash Course for playlists on artificial intelligence, computer science, and video games.

The Arts

To my child’s disappointment, I am very non-crafty. However, if you also have a child who likes to retrieve things out of the recycling bin and use them as crafting materials, let them do that because hey, it’s in your house.

YouTube is full of great videos for crafty kids — give Arts For Kids Hub a try. If you have yarn around, you make it a household project to learn finger knitting.

Authors across styles and genres are contributing content to Authors Everywhere, which has videos for everything from read-aloud stories to drawing tips and writing workshops.

Impress your kid with your musical chops by introducing them to some of the artists that were going to play at SXSW this year, watching a few NPR Tiny Desk Concerts, or learning about the construction of hit songs with the New York Times.

If you’d like them to ~appreciate~ art, park the kids in front of Crash Course playlists on film criticism and literature. You’re so fancy and cultured.

Or get them making music of their own! Moog and Korg have made their synthesizer apps available free of charge.

And once again, Lego is your friend here. You can make Lego mandalas with your kids, or have them build creations based on favourite books.

Social Studies

I don’t know how long they would take to show up, but we get these Little Passports kits that are a fun way to learn about other parts of the world.

Crash Course has a tonne of videos on history and global politics. Learn about famous landmarks around the world by looking up info and photos of them online or in books, then challenging your kids to recreate them in Lego.

And since no matter what you do, your kid will likely be watching a lot of YouTube for the next little while, it’s not a bad time to teach them some media literacy skills. Try this Crash Course playlist on exactly that, along with others on intellectual property and navigating digital information.

Phys Ed

Of course, you probably want to also get your kids moving — and get some movement in yourself while you’re stuck in the house.

The video game Just Dance is a surprisingly good bit of cardio and a lot of fun to do as a family. If you don’t have a console, you can play with your smartphone. And give the GoNoodle videos or app a try — they are very silly and very energetic.

And give yoga a try. For teens, Yoga with Adriene is one of the many options available on YouTube. Younger kids will like the themed classes of Cosmic Kids Yoga, but adults can practice along at the same time.

Fun Stuff

The usual streaming services continue to operate, of course: Netflix, Crave, Disney+, Amazon Prime, etc. If your kids are missing friends or family, consider having a virtual viewing party via video chat.

The good news is that there are lots of children’s TV shows that actually don’t suck! I am partial to Octonauts, myself. If your child is in French Immersion, streaming services offer French dubbing for a lot of shows — just pop into the options menu that allows you to turn subtitles on and off. Mouk is a cute, colourful French kids show with many episodes available on YouTube.

Don’t forget video games! The new Animal Crossing game for Switch is coming out on March 20 THANK FRIG. Your kid can build a little hut on an adorable island with no pandemics and virtually visit the island homes of their friends. In Stardew Valley they can create a cooperative farm with their buddies, and on the mobile Mario Kart game they can race them. Pokemon Go is also going to add some new features for the social distancing and self-isolating among us.

And finally, it’s fine to just tell your child to figure out a way to entertain themselves with the many toys and books and craft supplies they surely have in every room of your home. Builds character!