All over the world, people are waking up to the new normal of social distancing and self-isolation. For families who don't have the budget or capacity to pick up an arsenal of supplies, toys, and tech to keep kids busy in quarantine, things can get even more stressful. In Spain, where I live, we're already two weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown, so my 4-year-old twins have already played with everything we have in the house, and we've had to get creative. Here are some of the activities that have been keeping my boys busy and engaged while we are in lockdown.
Repurpose What You Have to Make the Ultimate Obstacle Course
Before the coronavirus crisis, you may have thought you had a normal living room — cushions, a pouf, a coffee table, nothing out of the ordinary. When you're in lockdown, though, you discover those cushions can turn into balls of lava to jump over. Your pouf may be a death-defying spinning wheel to run around. Your dining room table might become, in fact, a tunnel of terror. At least with a bit of imagination on everyone's part.
Our 4-year-olds have been totally engrossed in the design, the execution, and the (inevitable) destruction of our homemade daily obstacle courses. With all the running, jumping, climbing, and scrambling, it's like a baby CrossFit Olympics, with all the entertainment and exercise benefits included. Squeeze a little more juice out of the circuit by adding challenges like going backward, walking super slowly, or doing it all on one leg. Soft furnishings, it's your time to shine!
Reinvent Screen Time to Get Your Kids Moving
Parents everywhere are drastically reassessing their rules on screen time in quarantine, and rightly so. These are intense days, and the rulebook can be thrown out the window, for the most part.
TV and smart devices don't have to be the enemy, though. My boys are classic 4-year-olds — eyes glued to a screen once it's turned on. I've been leaning into that to get them some quarantine exercise, by tuning into fantastic kids' workouts on platforms like YouTube. Yoga that's fun for kids? You've got it. Expert fitness instructors delivering tailor-made family workouts for quarantine? No problem. Silly and easy dance videos kids will love without realizing they're exercising? As you wish. Sometimes we even just put on random music and let our boys decide what to do (which is almost always just chasing each other around in circles, but still — it's quarantine exercise!). We don't have a huge garden or a home gym, so these kid-friendly workouts have been a great way to keep my boys moving without even having to push them. Win-win.
Get Some Peace and Quiet With Audiobooks
It's not all about burning up the never-ending supply of kids' energy, though. Now, more than ever, we all need a bit of quiet time to switch off and tune out. My boys are too young to read alone, so we've been delving into audiobooks on Spotify. And yes, it's the (10- to 15-minute) miracle every parent in quarantine dreams of. They sit, mostly quietly. They listen, imagine, make faces, ask questions, and giggle their little hearts out. It's a delight. What's more, you are free to cook, clean, or (far more importantly) put your feet up and have a little down time.
There is a selection of curated playlists accessible even on the free version of Spotify. Find one you like and choose anywhere between a one-minute or one-hour story. Press play and let the (probably brief) quiet times commence.
Use Your Old Clothes For a Fabulous Fancy Dress Party
Fancy dress for this generation of kids seems to be all about Marvel superheroes and Disney's Frozen. If you don't have the time or budget to get a new brand-name fancy dress wardrobe for quarantine, take a leaf out of our parents' approach and break out your old clothes. Last year's flouncy skirts; the dress that's too small (or too big) for you these days; that shirt that was so on-trend a few years ago but not so much in 2020 — these are your tickets to a bit of silly fun in lockdown.
On day five of quarantine here in Barcelona, my boys donned my day-glow exercise t-shirts and thought all their Christmases had come at once. We had a 7 a.m. "pants on your head" parade, too. Things can get boring real fast when everyone has to stay inside. Have a look in the back of your wardrobe and see if you have any little gems you don't mind getting a little stretched or snotty, and let the silliness begin.
Take Your Fort-Building to the Next Level
Fort-building is basically the royalty of indoor activities. It's active. It keeps kids entertained. And it creates a (sometimes welcome) physical barrier between you and your littles, giving everyone a bit of space to breathe.
When you're in lockdown, though, you need to take your fort-building game to the next level if you want to stave off cabin fever for a while. In our home, what used to just be a cushions-and-blankets affair has now become a multifurniture situation. Tunnels run from the sofa to the dining room. Tablecloths are suspended from window frames. Poufs and small stepladders have disappeared inside the structures and bed sheets have been called into active duty. These are some serious forts, and they're keeping my 4-year-olds seriously busy. If you can sacrifice a tablecloth to the cause, it'll be well worth it for the squeals of delight coming from under a canopy somewhere.
Social distancing is an act of solidarity and pure love for the elderly, for the immunocompromised, and for the brave healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus on the front lines. It's not particularly fun or easy. With a little imagination, and a bit of help from some previously taken-for-granted household items, however, you might surprise yourself at how well you and your kids can get through the day.