States may be loosening quarantine restrictions, but socializing will still be a long-distance activity for the foreseeable future. We are still learning about COVID-19, but what we do know is that it can live on surfaces for up to three days, which means that in-person playdates and trips to the playground are still a no-no in most areas.
Some kids haven't had any meaningful play time with friends in two months. Here are some creative ideas for helping them remain close, though they may be advised to stay far away.
1. Set up a virtual playdate
Houseparty, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom—the options for video chat apps are endless and they make it easy for kids to get in some digital time with friends. Whether they are meeting up with a playgroup, a school class, or are chatting one-on-one with friends, video chatting will help kids stay connected.
Try to keep expectations of younger kids relatively low. Screens can be a strange new way of understanding people socially and younger kids don't tend to immediately launch into talking about their day the way older kids do. Sometimes it can take 15 minutes for younger kids to warm up and feel comfortable.
Let them set up your phone or a tablet and do a bit of parallel play with their LEGOs, Magnatiles, dolls, paints, or stuffed animals. Or help them break the ice by having a parent read a favorite book that might get their imaginations going. It's OK if they aren't chatting away, but with virtual interactions sure to be a constant part of their lives for a while, virtual playdates will help get them used to that mode of interaction.
For older kids, something like a virtual study session is just as beneficial as a set-up social event. They don't even have to talk to each other to get the benefits. Sometimes just having a friend nearby can give them comfort.
2. Have a virtual scavenger hunt
You can keep this simple for little ones or can get really complex for older kids. Older kids will enjoy tackling any sort of hunt and reporting back as they find things.
For smaller kids, a one-item scavenger hunt is an engaging ice-breaker. Have them hunt around the house for one toy or object of a certain color and then show what they found. Then let each kid take a turn being the leader who calls out a color or a texture for their friends to hunt for in the house.
If you want to get your kid off their tablet or device and outside, consider organizing a neighborhood scavenger hunt. Communities across the globe have participated in neighborhood "I, Spy" hunts for teddy bears, super heroes, and rainbows propped up in windows, drawn on sidewalks, or taped to fences. It's gotten so huge that Quarantine Rainbow Connection even has a Google map of participating homes that span across the world.
3. Have a game night
Minecraft and Roblox are no-brainers—and if your kid is online at all they are probably already playing these games against their friends. Pokémon Go is ever-popular and lets kids to interact with friends, encourages a bit of outside time, and tracks friends activities in the game. Nintendo Switch and Xbox systems allow friends to team up or face off through a whole catalog of games through their online paid options.
If you want to stay away from online games and try to be a bit more low-fi, Battleship was practically made for socially distanced competition and games like Hangman and Charades lend themselves perfectly to competitive play while honing interpersonal skills that aren't so easily worked on through gaming apps.
4. Host a virtual fashion show
It's a dress-up party, but each of your little fashionistas will feel like a star on the catwalk when their sartorial selections are flashed across their friends' computer monitors. If you're using an app like Facetime, you can even encourage kids to add filters to give layers of drama to the show. Let them dig into their costume stash or give them a bin of some of your or your partner's clothes and accessories and let them have at it. This is a creative and highly interactive way to connect virtually.
5. Have a video chat puppet show
This is a fun way for younger kids, who may be shy about talking to their friends, to take on a persona of someone else and get good and silly. Let kids brainstorm ideas for where they are going (a day at the beach, a trip on a submarine, space exploration) and let them have their puppets act out what they do there and what they talk about. It'll get their imaginations going and allow them to express themselves in creative ways.
6. Host a movie night
Set up a comfy spot on the couch, pop some popcorn, and set your kid up with a friend or a few of them for a long-distance viewing of their favorite movies. Netflix Party, Rave, and AirTime are all apps that synchronize videos, allowing for anyone in the group to pause, play, rewind or fast forward while keeping everyone at the same spot in the movie. They also allow for private, safe, invite-only chat or video chat features to allow kids to talk and interact during the movie.
7. Let them make and share mini films
Harness their inner auteur and let them have a mini film festival with friends. There are so many fun apps out there to get kids started with little or no film knowledge or equipment beyond a cell phone or device. Shoot a film, load it up for viewing, and host a virtual watch party for kids to enjoy showing their movies to their friends.
Stikbot and Stop Motion get kids in on the fun of stop-motion animation, and Puppetmaster lets kids animate just about anything with puppets—all are great entry-level film-making apps where kids can get good and silly and share a bit of humor with their friends. Load them all up to a private channel on YouTube or Vimeo and watch them through the Rave or AirTime app for a private watch party where they can feel like they are at Sundance together making their big screen debut.
8. Engage in parallel play
If you're in a neighborhood with wide sidewalks, break out the scooters, big wheels, skateboards, tricycles, or anything that can safely be ridden along the road. My family does a nightly scooter ride where we pair up with a neighborhood buddy and they scooter ride on opposite sides of the street together. Get kids racing from end to end, or encourage them to come up with fun, imaginative missions to accomplish together from other ends of the street. It's a fun way for kids to expend some energy and get some much-needed exercise with friends.
9. Head to the drive-in or go stargazing
COVID-19 has prompted a resurgence of the drive-in movie theater. Restaurants nationwide are taking note, even converting their empty parking lots into drive-in theaters. If you're lucky enough to live near one of these drive-ins, it's a perfect social-distancing outing.
Driving to a lot for a night of parallel star-gazing from the back of the car is another option. Hot tip: Grab a set of walkie talkies with decent range and drive to your destination caravan-style. Kids will love the novelty of chatting over walkies and you won't have to give up your phone. An added benefit is kids can use them to talk about what they are seeing—either in the sky or on the silver screen.
10. Write letters
It's time to get old school and teach your kids the art of letter writing. If you're looking for a way to improve your keyboard-savvy kid's penmanship, this is the perfect, subversive way to do so. And letter writing is a lesson in the mechanics of how to address an envelope, and add a return address and stamp. Kids can get creative with what they send—drawings, origami, collages, stickers, or even secret messages and treasure maps made by crayon-resist drawing are all great options.
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