Parenting in the Pandemic: Keeping Children Active One Year Later

As we approach the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 uprooting our lives as we knew it, most people are eager to return to their pre-pandemic routines and activities. However, the reality is that it will likely be some time before things fully return to “normal”. Unfortunately for most people, the appeal of “shelter at home” activities wore off a few months after the pandemic began. This means that for almost a year, parents have been tasked with the ongoing challenge of “getting creative” to keep their children active and entertained at home. This is no easy feat, especially with such limited options. As a result, parents are feeling fatigued, children are feeling bored, and parents and children alike are turning to screens to fill the endless hours. If this has been your experience, please know that this is a universal struggle and you are not alone. As we face the continued unknowns of the coming months, it may be helpful to take a moment to reflect on how your family has been spending time and make space for some new and different “COVID-safe” activities. These ideas may help.


Virtual Social Activities

Social connection is central to mental health. Children (and especially younger children) may not instinctively initiate “virtual” or otherwise “COVID-safe” get-togethers. Therefore, it may be beneficial to think creatively regarding how to help your children safely connect to others. Potential options for creative virtual group activities include:


  1. Help your child develop a routine in which they have a regular phone call or video chat with a close friend or extended family member.
  2. Have a virtual “scavenger hunt” in which an adult names off items that the children need to find within their home and the children are tasked with locating these various items (e.g., “Find something red and round!”). Set a timer, and every child who finds the item before the timer goes off wins a “point”. 
  3. Have a virtual show-and-tell: encourage children to share their favorite toy, game, or pet with friends/family and take turns talking about why it is that they like their favorite so much.
  4. Have a Netflix “watch party” in which children watch Netflix movies with their friends/family. You can make it extra fun by preparing popcorn and wearing pajamas.
  5. Set up a video call in which children can play games that translate well online, such as 20 Questions, Pictionary, or Charades.
  6. Set up a virtual dance party via video call. 


Outdoor Social Activities

Getting outside and staying active is also important for emotional wellbeing. If and when you are able, arrange socially distant outdoor gatherings. Especially as the weather warms, there will be increasing opportunities to gather in safe and active ways. Many outdoor activities can also be enjoyed with just your immediate family. Some ideas include:


  1. Go for a hike or a walk in a beautiful natural setting. Bonus idea: you can create a nature “Scavenger Hunt” for your walk to make it even more exciting.
  2. Explore a state park.
  3. Plant a garden.
  4. “Camp out” in the backyard. 
  5. Have a bonfire and make s’mores and other “campfire treats” such as hot dogs over the fire.
  6. Draw with chalk.
  7. Tie-dye old shirts and sheets, etc. 
  8. Pack a picnic and take it to a park to enjoy with your family.
  9. Do yoga outdoors. 
  10. Build an “obstacle course” indoors or outdoors and see who can complete it the fastest.


Creative Indoor Activities

Even if you’re able to get out of the house and/or gather safely with others, you will still likely have some hours to fill at home. Some ways to get creative at home include:


  1. Learn a new craft with your child, such as knitting, crocheting, or embroidery. These days, you can learn just about any crafting skill from home by googling written and video tutorials online. 
  2. Start a “family cookbook”. Enlist your child in helping you select and create recipes and record your favorites in your growing account of family recipes.
  3. Listen to audiobooks that you and your children can enjoy together. 
  4. Play board games and card games. You can even “create” a new board game with your children. 
  5. Learn magic tricks with the help of internet tutorials. 
  6. Involve children in “spring cleaning,” and compile items to sell or donate to charity. If you find it safe, have a socially distanced yard sale.
  7. Plan a future get-away: involve your children in planning the details of a future weekend trip or vacation. Whether you plan to go somewhere near or far, your children will enjoy taking part in planning out all the fun details. 
  8. Have a dance party. Your children can help make the playlist and you’ll all get a great workout busting a move in the living room.
  9. Create a “COVID” time capsule: fill a box with memories and mementos from this past year and seal it up to be opened years from now. Include notes about what you’ve been grateful for throughout this difficult time to weave in some positivity.


Remember, because each individual child and parent has a different threshold for “together” time, it is important for both you and your child to maintain time for “solo” activities, as well. Therefore, aim to balance time together with time alone. Increasing your family’s engagement in valued activities, overall, will help you and your children continue to make meaningful family memories in spite of these difficult circumstances.

By: Meghan McMackin, PhD, Supervised by: Misti Nicholson, PsyD

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