Support healthy child development during times of limited access to activities, environments, teachers, coaches, and other parts of the community.
*First published on Medium.com on June 10, 2020
Kids need a variety of stimulation to promote well-rounded development, which they usually get from school, extra-curricular activities, playing with friends, spending time with other adults or family members, and just by being in different kinds of environments with different kinds of people. Right now, though, most of these sources of stimulation are unavailable.
Parents are reporting feeling a lot of pressure to fill in the gaps, which can feel impossible. However, if you notice that your child is spending most of the day watching TV or playing video games, they are most likely not getting enough variety in their daily lives. We don’t want to make no-screen-time rules, but your child may not know many other ways to occupy themselves while cooped up at home.
Despite the circumstances, as a licensed marriage and family therapist, my clients and I have found many ways to cope with the changes and challenges. In this article, I will share my top tips for supporting mental health, applied academics, and social-emotional education for kids during these sheltered-in-place times.
Make finding activities with kids at home an activity
To get started, make the act of finding activities to do with kids at home an activity itself. You can get started by sitting together with your family, looking up differe
nt kinds of activities, and deciding together which ones your children can do on their own and which ones you can do together as a family.
Allow your child to be a part of the process. Providing a space for them to voice their wants and needs, express new interests, speak their curiosities, make suggestions, request changes, and allow them to explore new avenues (even the silly ones) is crucial for self-esteem building. It’s important that they experience coming up with ideas and being able to “lead” an activity or an evening with the family. The new game they “invented” may be full of arbitrary rules and seem to go on forever, but the simple act of following rules that your child creates and engaging fully in their idea, helps boost creativity and confidence.
Does your child have a hard time speaking up? Give them several options to choose from, or look through a book, website, or magazine together and ask them what they think of the different ideas and concepts in each scene. Pay close attention to what sorts of things naturally capture their attention and interest, make suggestions, but don’t show disappointment if they aren’t interested in the family tradition of quilting and rugby. We don’t want them to choose hobbies to appease others, we want them to discover their callings, follow their hearts, make mistakes, and then learn from them.
Fun Things to do With Kids at Home
Are you in need of inspiration for fun things to do with the kids at home? Here are some examples of activities that promote well-rounded development and applied learning:
Cooking together: learn to read recipes, follow directions, measure ingredients, apply math skills, multi-task, use a timer, engage all your senses, and learn to cook! Maybe your child will get adventurous and try some new foods.
Building things: get creative and use items from around the house or from outside to create something- maybe a “village” for dolls made out of rocks, sticks, flowers, bark, and leaves. Maybe a track for race cars made out of books. Maybe a classic “fort” with sheets and blankets. Maybe a picture frame made from cardboard, buttons, magazine clippings, and stickers. Let’s teach our kids to be creative and resourceful.
Making up games: Challenge your children, and family, to come up with the rules for a brand new game! Let them decide how to modify the rules as you play and learn.
Obstacle courses: let your kids build an obstacle course. It helps with gross motor development, promotes exercise, and also creativity. It’s always more fun if the adults take their best shot at it too.
Charades: Charades is easy, free, and great on so many levels. It supports creative thinking, overcoming mild stress, builds confidence, helps with focus, helps with turn-taking and patience, and you can even build in social-emotional learning. Choose a theme, like: “feelings that come up during Covid”, “the things you miss most about school”, or act out different feelings. Have everyone act out their inner thoughts and emotions.
Music and movement: Put on some music and let your body move to the rhythm. This can be regulating for kids and adults alike. Challenge your children or the whole family to create a choreography together.
Grounding and Mindfulness moments and exercises: Help your family bring attention to the present moment and surroundings. This attention can be focused inward or outward. A “mindful walk” means tuning into your senses and focusing on the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations you notice in the environment. Maybe it means sitting on the floor or the couch together and closing your eyes, then asking your child to list all the objects in the room (can they remember)? Or all the items hanging on the walls. Or all the noises you can hear. You can have your child close their eyes as you guide them to walk around the room touching different objects, ask them to describe what they feel and guess what it is (is it a pillow? A bowl? A clock? A plant?).
Reading curiously together: Reading together can be much more than just reading and listening. Examples of life situations that come up in books are excellent ways to ask your child reflective questions: “I wonder what the Mama goose was thinking when she made that decision”, “Can you think of any other choices little bear could have made?”, “What do you think about that rule the teacher made?”, “How do you think the little boy felt when his friends said that?”
Spending more time at home and with limited access to diverse sources of stimulation is hard on everyone, and it is especially hard on kids. Their brains need to be engaged in different kinds of learning: not just academic, but social and emotional as well. Engaging in these kinds of activities will promote diversity in learning, creative thinking, increase your child’s capacity for reflection and overall resilience. We are living through a very unique moment in history, we need to find unique ways to connect with each other, our environment, and our minds; it may even be a good time to start journaling together, as a family.
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