Parents have a daunting task this March Break and beyond, with travel plans cancelled, schools closing for several weeks and many people working remotely because of the coronavirus outbreak. We polled our newsroom to find out how parents are planning to keep their children entertained at home these next few weeks. Read their tips below. Reporter Wency Leung spoke to a parenting expert for advice on how to structure kids’ days, for your sake and for theirs. As we all know, screen time is going to be a battle, so we have some picks for movies you’ll all enjoy watching, along with roundups of new books. Read on, and please share any special activities you’re planning to do with your kids in the comments section.
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Create some structure to your day, as everyone will be craving routine, advises parenting expert Beverley Cathcart-Ross, founding director of the Parenting Network. No matter what age your children are, make sure to incorporate around an hour of quiet time every day, as well as time for physical activity, she says.
During quiet time, they can read books (the younger ones can flip through them), play in their rooms or have a nap. It’s okay if they get bored, she says. The point is to give everyone a break.
When it comes to physical activity, encourage them to play outdoors if they’re able, or if you’re home-bound, try yoga, dance parties, or push-ups and sit-ups, or even just challenging them to see how many times they can climb up and down the stairs, Ms. Cathcart-Ross says.
Ask your children to put together a performance for you, she suggests. They can come up with a play or dance routine, or allow them to play dress-up with your wardrobe.
Younger children will enjoy making forts with cushions and blankets, she says. Let them hang out inside with a flashlight, and when they’re done, have them clean it all up again. This also teaches them to put things away, and figure out how the cushions fit on the couch, Ms. Cathcart-Ross says.
A great way to keep toddlers and preschoolers amused is to let them scrub their toys in a sink full of sudsy water, she says. This also helps them develop their dexterity.
Bring on the silliness
Let them do things that are out of the ordinary, such as having a picnic on the living-room floor, Ms. Cathcart-Ross says. You can let older children take charge of putting out a simple spread of sandwiches and finger foods. As a bonus, this takes care of one meal in the day.
Have a backward day, where they get to wear everything backward, or get them to put on their pajamas for dinner and have breakfast for dinner, she suggests.
Older children may get a kick out of researching world cultures, finding out how other people live, how they dress, and what they eat, she says. They can then research recipes and put together a meal.
And put them to work for you, she adds. For example, you can ask them to plan out future road trips you wish to take, or have them create your meal-plan for the next week, and get them to make your online grocery orders, Ms. Cathcart-Ross says.
“I would put kids to work. Kids don’t do enough to pitch in and they love it when they do something they enjoy, and they feel like they’re contributing,” she says.
– Wency Leung
What to read or stream
Movies and TV
Tips from Globe staff
Baking cookies is always my go-to. Classic chocolate chip, but I try to mix things up every now and then. I’ll pull out cookbooks to show them recipes – another way of eating up time and getting them excited – and we’ll all pick one together. They help me make them (what kid doesn’t love cracking eggs?) and I tell myself it teaches them math. And then they help me put them on the baking pan. It fills a lot of time, and then – cookies!
– Dave McGinn, reporter
We have books of experiments and craft projects we are going to crack open. We’re also planning a schedule that includes self-directed play time and some reading and homework-type tasks, and time for each parent to work! I may also schedule “recess” outside and regular team dog walks. The hardest thing will be to ration screens, which they will prefer to all activities.
– Shane Dingman, reporter
We’re going to try to implement school structure and routine as much as possible: designated outdoor time (“recess”); free choice (playdough, drawing, Lego, board games), homework time (reading/math) and inevitable TV/screen time. I’m also stocking up on do-it-yourself activities like magnetic blocks and K’nex, so we can work.
– Lara Pingue, digital editor
Some ideas I’ll be doing with my five- and eight-year-old daughters:
- Raiding craft kits at the back of the closet.
- A giant toy clean up.
- Teaching my older daughter to knit.
- Getting my older daughter to help my younger daughter learn to read.
- Nature walks.
- Signing up for Disney+
– Jill Mahoney, reporter
My sister-in-law just downloaded DuoLingo, the language app, on her phone for my nine-year-old nephew to learn French. It turns learning a language into a game, with French, Italian, Portuguese and many other options.
– Maryam Siddiqi, lifestyle editor
My eight-year-old is an explorer so I was thinking of pulling out some of our “old” digital cameras that we used to take on vacation. We never use cameras to take photos with the kids that often so they’ll think they are pretty neat to play with. I’ll craft a list of 20 , 50 or even 100 different suggestions for scavenger hunt photos to shoot: take a photo of your brother’s ear, a squirrel, something you find under a rock, a crack in the sidewalk, airplanes, clouds, a red car, a library book, what you ate for lunch, daddy’s slippers. Then we can upload and print what he has found to create a photo board, collage or book that tells a story. I’m hoping that will be a project that takes a few days.
– Clare O’Hara, wealth management reporter
We’re going to try to play school. My husband suggested it and the boys instantly glommed on to the idea of “teaching” each other different classes. My oldest, William, who is almost 9, has grand plans for running STEM classes that mostly involve teaching his little brother to code on the iPad. Seven-year-old Campbell is in charge of reading and writing. Ethan, 4, wants to run art and gym class, although he’ll have a hard time pleasing his older brothers – they’re already mocking his warm-up plan: “Let’s all pretend to be cats!” I have no idea if this school will actually get off the ground, but it’s worth a shot. We have a new Nintendo Switch hidden away as a backup.
– Kelly Grant, health reporter
Blanket forts for imaginative play is a fave activity of my parent friends. And then you can read books inside. Seems fun. Heck … maybe I’ll do it.
– Emma Graney, reporter
What about looking out the windows and counting all the critters they see, trying to find them in a mammals-of-Canada guide online if they don’t know what they are and then learn something about them? They could also post their bird sightings on eBird, or if they can get photos, post all their sightings, plants, insects and animals on iNaturalist. Both are contributions to the store of data available for scientists to use in their research. It’s called citizen science.
– Kathryn Mills, editor
We plan to create an obstacle course in the basement, have two daily dance parties, and learn to sing complete versions of favourite songs, including I Got You Babe, Time to be Awesome and Jamaica Farewell. We are going to practice reading and writing with the 5-year-old, and do (earlier than planned) potty training for the 18-month-old.
– Kelly Cryderman, reporter
My parents used to get massive rolls of paper and line an entire wall outside our house or the dining room table with it. They’d let us go to town painting and doodling for an afternoon until the paper was full or our masterpiece was done. Sometimes we would make a story and draw out the scenes along the whole side of the house or shed, as long as it wasn’t too cold or rainy.
– Sierra Bein, digital editor
We have three shelves of baby and toddler books that my four- and six-year-old haven’t looked at in ages. They’re both at different stages of learning to read, so my plan is to sit together and the older one can read to the younger one, then they can decide whether to keep or donate each book. It’ll be a walk down baby lane for me, and it’ll give them something educational to do. Also, I want to hook the laptop up to the TV for a slideshow of the tons of baby pics and videos we’ve never had time to look at as a family.
– Lori Fazari, digital editor
My 13-year-old daughter is launching her babysitting business since she figures a lot of parents are now caught off-guard and may not want their kids in camps or daycares. She’s working on a website. We have a community Facebook page that is private where she’ll advertise, as many other teens do. Her rate is still being worked out but probably $10 an hour. Aside from that, for older kids it’s a great time to work on cooking skills, learn to sew, etc. – all those life skills we are usually too busy to teach them. And the weather is turning nicer – riding your bike is something “socially distant” to do together. (It’s how I plan to stay fit while I avoid the gym for the next few weeks!)
– Dianne Nice, morning editor
My 14-year-old daughter and I have been drawing and painting together. We sit at the table and each do our own thing, no phones. It’s made me return to art, which was once my first love, and which she loves as well. It keeps our minds focused on something positive and creative. We’ve also been baking. And I gave her Emily St. John Mandel’s great novel about pandemics, Station Eleven, to read, because literature is often the best way to work through anxiety. She’s fascinated by pandemics, and social media is feeding her a lot of garbage, so we’ve also been watching Netflix’s excellent documentary series Pandemic.
– Elizabeth Renzetti, Berlin-based columnist and feature writer
Here are some ideas from our house from my 11- and 14-year-old kids:
- Walks or hopefully bike rides by the lake.
- Practising our jump shots on the basketball hoop in the driveway.
- Finally painting the living room we all want to redecorate (the kids are okay at the roller part, not so much on the edging!).
- FaceTiming cousins and friends we don’t get to visit very often.
- Working on our golf chipping with soft short-distance golf practice balls in the field behind our house
– Rachel Brady, sports reporter
Some of my friends in Italy are paying their kids €5 an hour to clean the apartment, since cleaners can’t come any more. That’ll keep kids occupied!
– Eric Reguly, Rome-based European bureau chief
My oldest is 19 (her university made all her classes online) and my youngest is 15, so I’m looking for teenage diversions (these are mostly chore related):
- Baking, or teaching my son how to make an easy meal or two (my dream to have dinner ready when I come home from work!)
- Sending them outside – there are lots of dead leaves that need raking and bagging on our lawn.
- Start looking for a summer job: preparing their resume, walking into stores to fill out applications in the neighbourhood and/or applying online.
- Teaching my daughter how to sew – finally time to try this!
- Clearing out their rooms of old toys and clothes – preparing for garage sale season or even charity bin dumping. Plus switching out their winter clothes for spring/summer clothes.
- Also it might be a good time to redecorate their rooms with new paint, new curtains, move the furniture around.
– Catherine Dawson March, First Person editor
My 11-year-old son is a picky eater and I am a poor cook. A recipe for disaster, you might say. Walking home last weekend from an excellent dinner at a friend’s house, I optimistically declared that I was going to learn how to be a better cook, once and for all – once I could find some time to focus on it. Looks like I’ve got my chance. Our March Break project concerns my cookbook collection. Each day, my son will choose a recipe – something he would actually eat – and we will cook it together, both of us learning. For day one, he chose from Canadian Living’s Best Recipes Ever, spinach miso soup “without the spinach or mushrooms” (or zucchini). It’s a start.
– Marsha Lederman, Western arts correspondent
Check the free online resources of your local public library. With Toronto Public Library, for example, by logging on to their website you can read newspapers online. You can also use your library membership number to register on Kanopy and Hoopla, which have movies and TV shows, including content for children. And unlike Netflix or other streaming services, it’s free.
Another idea is try to interest your kids in low-tech science experiments. See if they can make ice cream without putting the mixture in a freezer, using sandwich bags, ice cubes and salt. Or build a projector with a shoebox and a magnifying glass. The details can easily be found with a Google search.
– Tu Thanh Ha, reporter
Go old-school and start a family jigsaw puzzle. Leave it out on a table and you may be surprised at how often kids circle back and work away at it. Pro tip: tape together a couple of pieces of parchment paper and use it as a mat underneath the puzzle, so if you need the table to serve dinner you can pick it up and move it.
Learn a musical instrument! You know you’ve always wanted to. Music stores like Long & McQuade have stores in most major cities and great rental options. Go for a one-month rental and check out all the YouTube tutorials that offer free lessons for beginners. Or go pro and sign up for online classes with Keith Richards. Then plan a family concert – if you set a goal for yourself (I’m working on Rocketman) and a date to perform, you’ll be more motivated to practice.
Take some time to think about others while you’re at home. Ask your kids to think about someone in your neighbourhood who may be feeling isolated or need a little help. Make a list of things you can do for them (without exposing them to germs), like pick up their dry cleaning or bring them some freshly baked cookies, and take something on every day.
– Carol Toller, head of editing
Audio books. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is good; The Lord of the Rings trilogy read by Rob Inglis is extraordinary. All available to download for free from the library, LibriVox, etc. Really saved us a number of times, particularly on long road trips, but also very good to have playing in the background while they have Lego/Hot Wheels going on in their hands. My boys are now 14 and 16 and they like to cook. One of them makes hummus from scratch regularly, and the other one likes to make cinnamon buns and pancakes as well as macaroni and cheese. So, I expect that will keep them occupied as well.
– Sonali Verma, senior product manager
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