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5 Clever ways to keep your kids occupied in quarantine


Maria Sbytova|Shutterstock

Calah Alexander - published on 04/15/20

Productivity disguised as games? Yes please!

Quarantine is dragging along. We are three weeks into official quarantines where I am and five weeks into unofficial quarantine, with a tentative back to work date of May 6. The kids’ school years have officially been canceled, dashing their hopes of seeing friends and teachers again before summer. This has made even summer itself, usually so highly anticipated, seem like just an extension of social distancing. Their disappointment and sadness is palpable, and like most children’s strong emotions, it’s manifesting in an endless stream of bickering, arguments and requests for the comfort of technology and food.

Meanwhile, we parents are just as sick of this as they are. It’s hard to keep up a cheerful attitude and look on the bright side when there is seemingly no light at the end of this quarantine tunnel. But for the sake of our kids, who are even more bewildered, stressed, and disappointed than we are, it’s imperative that we do so. So this week I’ve been thinking hard about ways to keep my kids engaged in activities while minimizing my own involvement. Yes, this is primarily motivated by the need to get my own work done. But I think it’s equally as important to help my kids learn to work and  play together, hopefully coming to see each other as friends and even peers rather then just annoying older/younger brothers/sisters. So I used their mutual interests and love of competition to come up with 5 projects disguised as games…

1Science Project: Sourdough Starter

I don’t know if you’ve had occasion to search your local stores for yeast, but fair warning: you may not find it. I’ve been trying to find some yeast for Easter bread baking for over two weeks and there’s none to be had anywhere – not even on Amazon. I’ve heard fairytales about people creating their own starters, which seems intimidatingly scientific to me.  But you know who’s not intimidated by science? My geeky children, who are filled with glee at the mere mention of experiments. So today I assigned them a group project: creating a sourdough starter. Sure, it will take five days if it even works at all – Easter Sunday bread might not have been in the cards this year, but Easter lasts 50 days, so we might be good there.

The cool thing about starters is that flour and water aren’t exactly expensive, and if they fail the first time I plan on letting them try again individually. There’s literally no downside to this experiment, and the potential upside is pretty fantastic. They’re already scouring the Internet as I type, absorbing as much as they can about the science of yeast capturing. Like proper little nerds.

2Chopped: Quarantine Edition

Speaking of grocery stores, hasn’t it been almost delightfully interesting to see the random assortment of items that are and are not available recently? This has definitely inspired more creativity in my own cooking, but with the time demands of supervising distance learning and working from home, I haven’t had as much time to cook as I’d like. I finally gave up my control freak ways and decided to let the kids try their hands at a game of Chopped. If you haven’t seen this TV show, each chef is given a random assortment of items and a certain amount of time in which to create a culinary masterpiece. The first time around, I admit I insisted this be a group project with the 14-year-old supervising, but I plan to do this once a week and eventually allow them to branch out and each try their own hand. As far as the results … while I can’t say the tacos with shells made of baked cheese were a culinary masterpiece, they were at least edible. And since the kids made it themselves, they ate them without the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth. Which, at this point in quarantine, I’ll take.

3Baseboard Hero

Even though we spend several hours outside each day, my kids still have a whole lot of pent up energy. And even though we clean the house top to bottom every Saturday, there are still many overlooked areas of the house that Saturdays don’t give us enough time to get to. Like the baseboards. So yesterday when they fell to bickering, I handed them each spray bottles and towels and told them to clean the kitchen baseboards. They immediately turned it into a competition, each choosing a kitchen wall and scrubbing furiously to see who could get their baseboards the cleanest in a given amount of time. When they disagreed about the final winner, I gave them the opportunity for a rematch and assigned them each a separate room. When they were done, I proactively squelched all arguments about the winner by rewarding everyone with a Popsicle. They dubbed the game “Baseboard Hero” and have already asked when we can play again. So from my kids to yours, enjoy!

4Pick Up Scavenger Hunt

This idea is my own brain child, inspired by a game I used to play with clients at my group workouts called selfie scavenger hunt. I would assign them various locations at increasing distances to run to and get a selfie before coming back for their next location. They loved this, pretty much forgetting that they were running in their eagerness to get the goofiest or most creative selfie. I figured if it works for adults, surely it will work for kids. Now that Easter Sunday’s over, I’m going to recycle those empty Easter eggs and fill them with strips of paper with items and numbers on them. For example, “five socks” or “three Legos” or “10,000 Beyblades.” The kids will get a certain reward for each 10 eggs they complete—a half hour of screen time, or an extra snack at snack time. And to ensure the items go where they belong and not in a random closet, they have to use their school iPads to snap a picture of the items in their initial location and their final destination. Aside from writing out the items and reviewing the pictures, this is a fun and hands-off way to get your kids to keep the house picked up.

5Garden / Flowerbed Competition

In a fit of spring time frenzy, my mom recently purchased an array of seeds to plant … despite the fact that both she and I have notoriously black thumbs. When it came to the actual planting phase though, her energy dwindled, so I had the bright idea to let the kids have a spring garden competition. We assigned them each a section of flower bed and marked them off, then let them choose what they were going to plant. Given that my own instructions would be woefully inadequate, I found some through YouTube tutorials. They’ve been digging and planting and watering almost every afternoon since, each convinced he or she will be the ultimate garden winner. Granted, this is more of a long game than a quick hitter, but the competition aspect will help keep them engaged. Likewise, my sheer curiosity to find out whether or not black thumbs are genetic will keep me engaged. And the true bright side? They probably won’t be all that disappointed if they end up having thumbs as black as mine, since by that time quarantine will surely be over. Fingers crossed.


Read more:
Extroverts vs. introverts: How to get through quarantine and self-isolation


Read more:
What the quarantine has revealed to me about the importance of family

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