Home due to Coronavirus? 10 creative ways to keep kids, teens busy and engaged
With help from the CDC, we answer some of Google's most searched questions about the coronavirus crisis. USA TODAY
Note: This story has been updated since schools closed.
A 14-day or longer period of isolation is no joke for parents who already know the challenge of keeping kids and teens engaged. The challenge is even harder when it is not advisable that they spend time with their friends.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with 12 creative suggestions for having fun and continuing learning as a family.
Did you know the Boiga guangxiensis is a species of snake of in the Colubridae family? Or that The Five Pagoda Temple dates back to 1727 in a Buddhist region of northwest China?
You can learn about these things and much more by visiting Wikipedia and using the random Wiki generator to pull a topic at random for the website’s deep archives.
Use Wikipedia to learn more about geography, science, history, the arts, sports, pop culture, true crime and pretty much anything else. Random Wiki can be used as a prompt for short stories, poems, essay topics or drawings; as a launching point for family discussions; or as a first stop in a deeper investigation of any topic. Keep in mind: Wikipedia is an open platform that can be edited by anyone, so facts should be double checked with standard sources of information such as encyclopedias and traditional media.
Go: Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
These are stressful times. Whether you have done yoga for years or have never unfurled a mat, it’s a good time to explore some of the ancient practice’s soothing benefits. And why not explore cat stretch, downward dog and crow (all common asanas, or postures) as a family? Everyone from toddlers to teens can get in on the act. There are tons of good, free yoga classes available online (start with YouTube). Or order a deck of Yoga Pretzel flash cards and learn a few poses each day.
Go: Yoga Pretzels: amazon.com/Yoga-Pretzels-Cards-Tara-Guber/dp/1905236042
Plan a dream vacation
If your family is feeling bad about derailed spring break trips, and the threat of infection hanging over all of us, it may seem an odd time to plan a trip. But how often are you all sitting home together in need of distraction? No one says you have to pull out your credit card. This is about aspirational travel. Whether your drive around Prince Edward Island, hike through Yellowstone or journey to Spain becomes reality or not, it can be fun — and educational — to research it. And all those beautiful photos on travel websites and blogs are better than watching “Stranger Things’’ for the fourth time. Need daydream inspiration? Check out Atlas Obscura.
Go: Atlas Obscura: atlasobscura.com/
Follow a live cam
There are few things more soothing than watching animals at play. Wildlife centers and zoos throughout the globe offer live cams so you can tune in anytime to check out how your favorite wild things are doing in real time. Many of them are also offering "zoo schools'' for online learning.
Zoo and Aquarium Schools: Zoo school is in session: Bringing the zoo (and aquarium) to you during the coronavirus pandemic
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo Conservation Biology Institute offers live cams of naked mole-rats, panda, lions and elephants. From the Philadelphia Zoo, you can watch the penguins glide around Penguin Point.
To think globally, check out the live feeds of explore.org, which offer the chance to observe manatees, Grace gorillas, hummingbirds and much more. And don’t just settle for watching: Commit to checking in at the same time each day and keeping a log of what you witness, Googling around to learn more about your favorite wild things and searching streaming services for National Geographic Explorer documentaries that can offer opportunities to learn more as a family.
Philadephia Zoo: philadelphiazoo.org/penguin-point-cam/
'Camp' in your own backyard
When is the last time you pulled out the family telescope? Warmer weather and clear nighttime skies offer an opportunity far from the flat screen to gather together and learn about the heavens. Consider downloading an astronomy app that uses your smartphone’s gyroscope and compass to determine what you can observe in the night sky.
You could also use your flashlights to read bedtime stories gathered 'round a firepit and sharing s'mores.
Bedtime stories with Grandma and Grandpa
Has the coronavirus scare meant cancelling plans with elderly or distant relatives? Texting and phone calls don’t necessarily make up for missing time together. But what if you create a new tradition?
Bedtime is story time for little ones, and a great time to use a video chat app such as Skye, WhatsApp or IMO to connect and let Grandma and Grandpa (or other special people in their life) take over the role of storyteller. They can choose favorite storybooks to read aloud and share them with some stories from their own childhoods — or ones they make up for the occasion.
If extended separations are necessary, perhaps this can become a weekly tradition — and the older kiddos can even take a turn reading a favorite story to them.
The very hungry caterpillar
It might not be the best time to have to go out and hunt for crafting supplies, but if a project can be fun and interactive without requiring a trip to the store, have at it.
Check out this very simple craft project that celebrates the timeless wonder of Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.’’
It’s super-easy and doesn’t require that you go out . (If you don’t have googly eyes available, you can get create and make them from other items such as small buttons or seeds).
My husband got lost in a complex National Audubon puzzle of backyard birds over the winter holiday break. And at some point, everyone in the house wandered by the table we left it on, taking a stab at a feather, a beak, a claw …
Magnificent puzzles by both Audubon and National Geographic offer opportunities to work your brain and spatial skills while learning about nature.
And you can always check out a National Geographic Explorer documentary or stream a nature podcast while you puzzle over the pieces.
Sometimes nothing quite cuts it like getting your hands dirty to blow off stress.
What better way than making your own slime? Kids of all ages love the ooey, gooey of it. And you can use clean up time as an extra lesson on the importance of thoroughly washing hands.
Slime-making offers some valuable STEM lessons. Check out the website below for dozens of ways to concoct it.
Bingewatching & Playlists
Remember mix tapes? If you’re over 40, you undoubtedly either received or created mixed tape — or the CD equivalent — at some point in your life, for a road trip, a new love, a breakup recovery package.
Two current shows you can stream with older teens on Hulu — “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’’ and “High Fidelity’’ — are celebrations of the power of music in very different ways, and are both escapes from the news right now. And “High Fidelity’s’’ premise is built around the power of a perfectly crafted mixed tape.
Want to share the fun with your kids? There are plenty of digital means of crafting your family’s homebound playlist.
A few more ideas …
Everyone in your household has their favorite subjects. This is a perfect time to indulge little wizards in a rewatch of the “Harry Potter’’ films; ask Dad to read aloud from his favorite funny book; pull out the family photos and work on a digital album together; gather the colored pencils and create your own comic book. Make a list of all of your ideas and hang it.
Tammy Paolino covers restaurants, breweries, food trucks and arts events for the USA TODAY New Jersey Network. She’s an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered the Garden State for more than 30 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-486-2477 or on Twitter @CP_TammyPaolino. Help support local journalism with a Courier-Post subscription.