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Sheltering in place with kids? Try these ideas!

By Marté J. Matthews, LMFT

While we are sheltering in place for a few weeks, how are you and the kids spending your time? Try a few of these ideas to get through these difficult weeks:

Play! Bring out toys they enjoyed when they were little. Bring out the bins of Legos, building blocks or the train set. Just be sure to bring out things for the kids to DO, not just watch. So if your kids are too little to enjoy the electric model train, leave that in the garage for now. Older kids really enjoy playing with things they had when they were younger. It’s comforting to spend time with old toys. This kind of play stimulates the imagination, maybe even some memories and stories from when they were little.

Create! Break out the art supplies, water color paints or Model Magic, or maybe dig out some old magazines to collage. Before you do though, have a talk about who does what with cleaning up. Everyone has fun; everyone has to help clean up. If the play is likely to get messy, bring out a drop cloth. You’ll ruin the fun if you say, “Don’t make a mess!”

Sing! Boost everyone’s mood with some music or Karaoke at home. Put on some music and have a dance party. Each person gets to pick a favorite song or two for the playlist.

Cook & bake! In good weather you could hold a backyard BBQ to break up the routine. Bake a favorite recipe together. Muffins and cookies are fun to make. Take the family cookbook off the shelf and bake or cook something you remember from your childhood. Make soup or chili together on one of the cooler days.

Play games! Try board games, card games, dice games, competitive or cooperative games. Pandemic seems pretty appropriate right about now. Have you played Villianous, Jaws, or Ticket to Ride? Try one of the many variations of Fluxx, a game where the rules change as you play and available in many themes including Monty Python and Chemistry. Codenames is another one with lots of variations. Check out King of Tokyo, Azul or Mysterium, depending on the themes your kids and family might enjoy.

Get out of the house! When we get a nice day, try a walk, a hike or a bike ride in a regional or county park, or enjoy a trip to the beach. Be sure to continue to practice social distancing, and bring hand wipes & soap & water to maintain good hygiene. California campgrounds and parks are closed, and all public restrooms and trash receptacles are not available, so plan ahead!

Stay in touch-just don’t touch! Talk with older friends and relatives by phone or FaceTime. Write and send old fashioned letters and include drawings from children and photos. Teach kids how to address a letter and attach a stamp! Practice typing or using voice to text software to create e-mails for family members and friends.

Screens! Just being realistic: most kids are going to be on screens more than usual in the next few weeks. However, you can still decide what is best for your child and family. Parents are leaders, and we need good leadership in times of stress. So, if your child gets moody after screen time, limit the minutes of each play session. For too many children and teens, the longer they play, the worse their mood is. Limit screen time to 20 minutes at a time, maybe a little longer, but only if they don’t get grumpy! Have them “earn” the screen time in segments. If they do 20 minutes of this work, they can earn 20 minutes of this game. Consequences can be positive, see? End screen time sessions with something enjoyable to break out of the lull and stop the arguing. Try a 100% fruit juice popsicle or taking turns on the trampoline to get the wiggles out. If this trick doesn’t work to solve the grumpiness, you may need to implement negative consequences like no more electronics for the day. They can try again tomorrow.

Need ideas for quality screen time?

KQED has a wonderful series called Mindshift. Although many of the articles are intended for teachers, most of them are helpful for parents too. Check out this article at The Mindshift Guide to Digital Games & Learning: Screen Time That’s Valuable for Young Kids for guidance and links to specific apps for kids of various ages.

Some organizations have been teaching online for years already! Pick an interesting class from the list of 10,000 classes for kids ages 3-18 at

Museums have opened up their galleries-virtually! Visit famous museums of the world at:

Good luck with this sheltering in place. We will keep posting more articles in the days to come. In our next blog post during this public health crisis, I’ll have more ideas for families from more of our staff!

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