By: Mindy Scirri
Despite the current limitations on social activities like sports, outdoor games, and playgrounds, we all still need to stay active and connected to others. Whether you have been homeschooling for years or find yourself “accidentally” homeschooling because of the pandemic, you may find it even more difficult to incorporate socialization into your school day. Parks and museums may not be options right now, but there are still some social distancing activities for kids that will allow socialization while safely social distancing:
Social Distancing Activities for Elementary
Our youngest kids may find the changes most dramatic as their days may have been filled with playdates and social learning activities to a larger degree prior to COVID-19. Here are a couple of ideas to help your little ones connect with peers through activities:
- Virtual Scavenger Hunts: Have your kids compete against each other and friends in scavenger hunts at their houses. Create a list of items or categories of items and see who can find them all first. These can be household items that are already available (e.g., a sponge or three favorite toys) or items from nature that kids need to find in the yard (e.g. an interesting bug or three signs of spring). Hold a video conference and have the kids take portable devices with them to film their discoveries. At the end, let the kids share what they found for each item or category and talk about their items.
- Quaranteam Challenges: Join the private Quaranteam Challenge Facebook Group and check it each night to get the next day’s challenge—something creative, using what’s in your home, and appropriate across age groups. Examples are making the most creative Lego construction, writing the funniest short story, painting the most creative artwork, or taking the best outdoor photograph. Monday through Thursday, Challenge Creators set and judge the “competition” and then announce a winner. Join with others in your kids’ friend groups, so they have something to talk about on the phone or video chats.
Social Distancing Activities for Middle School
Socialization is very important for middle schoolers, and they also like their technology. You can use these facts to your advantage when thinking about activities where they can safely social distance. Consider these:
- Virtual “Playdates”: While you may not want to use the term “playdates” for middle schoolers, you can encourage your kids to play via technology. They can interact through online video games, competitions like Minecraft Challenges, or through online “board” games like chess or battleship. As long as screen time is not excessive, kids can really benefit by talking or chatting with friends while focused on engaging activities.
- Collaborations: Choose a theme and ask kids to create a short movie clip/scene at each of their houses. Then have them work together to edit the movie into a single finished product. Alternatively, have them write pieces of a larger work or parts of a presentation and collaborate through Google Docs/Google Slides or some other sharing platform to create a finished product.
Social Distancing Activities for High School
While some high schoolers may be very comfortable spending time alone, many are missing the fun social events that can be the best parts of the high school years. While you may not be able to replace activities like going to the mall or prom, you can help your high schooler connect in other ways:
- Long Distance Movie Nights: Movie theaters have an atmosphere all their own, but you can set up a virtual experience that enables some socialization. Have your teens access movies (or documentaries for learning purposes) and watch/discuss through video chats or even over the phone. Netflix Party now offers the ability to watch movies in a coordinated way with online chat available throughout the show.
- Contributions: Brainstorm with your high schoolers how they can help society get through this. Find a way for them to thank essential workers, boost spirits, or provide activities for others during this time. For example, my high schooler has a mission to provide people with something to read during this time by writing and posting chapters of fan fiction twice a week. He has nearly 2,000 people reading and commenting on his work and has had individuals post that they have been inspired to do the same!
Other Tips for Social Distancing with Your Family
Keep a Routine: In a time when everything is uncertain, you can help your kids by keeping some things rather constant. Try to maintain regular sleep and activity schedules, being sure to include playtime and other activities your kids enjoy. If at all possible, try to schedule in time to be outdoors daily.
Set Project Goals: Use this time to set and accomplish goals for the family. Choose from home improvement projects, self-improvement projects (e.g., learning a new language or how to change the oil in the car), or group activities (e.g., family reading time). You can even watch documentaries or take virtual tours of museums together for some whole-family learning.
Be Active: Plan a time each day to do some exercise (like gym/recess), for an hour if you can. Go hiking, walking, or bicycling if you have access to safe areas or just play ball or do some gardening in the yard. If you cannot get outside, check the Internet for free exercise options like GoNoodle: Good Energy at Home and YMCA’s yoga for kids, or try “weight-lifting” through bodyweight exercises or with items around the house that are safe to lift (e.g., laundry detergent or canned goods). You can use the Multi-Game Fitness Card Deck to vary your fitness exercises or the Move Your Way Activity Planner to set goals for becoming more active.
Connect with Friends and Family: Use the phone or video chat technology to stay connected with friends and family. If you are temporarily homeschooling, have your kids reach out to teachers and classmates. Remember that extended family members are staying home too and would probably love to hear from you.
Find Appropriate Levels of Awareness: Newspapers, news programs, and even commercials are full of updates and information about COVID-19 and its effects. Be sure to find age-appropriate levels of awareness for your kids that allows them to understand enough to not feel confused but also not too much so that they feel depressed or overwhelmed.
Be Patient: This time is unique and challenging. Remember that everyone deals with the pandemic and social distancing in different ways. Model positive thinking, healthy eating, and good habits, and acknowledge that anxiety is normal. Try to bring stress-reduction techniques and positive attitude building naturally into the household. Today, at dinner, ask each family member to say something for which he or she is grateful. Smile and celebrate those things!