Local schools are now closed, until at least April 6, to contain the spread of COVID-19. Libraries are closed. Restaurants are closed. Many parents are scrambling for childcare, or scrambling to suddenly homeschool their children, or just scrambling to stay sane and calm.
It’s hard coming up with fun stuff to do with kids when you’re also balancing work changes, uncertainty and anxiety. So we asked three creative Addison County parents to share their recommendations.
KURT BRODERSON, executive director of MCTV and technology coordinator at Ilsley Library:
As the Technology Coordinator at the Ilsley Public Library, people will probably expect me to say “There’s an app for that” when they find themselves out of school and looking for something to do to be productive, keep learning, and have fun at the same time during what seems like a trial of unknown duration. I’m going to flip those expectations a bit, and save my tech response till the end.
Instead, remember that we live in Vermont, and as long as you avoid re-grouping kids together when they’re supposed to be separated, there’s a lot you can do, and I’m not just talking about vacuuming!
As my friend Ryan Kildea pointed out on Facebook, take this opportunity to “get outside. You can stay away from folks and still walk the dog, build a campfire, or sit on your front stoop. Fresh air and sunshine does wonders for perspective. Turn ordinary into joy. A meal on the living room floor is a picnic. A walk in the backyard is a scientific exploration. A dive into the recycling bin is a craft or engineering feat.”
The technology piece I offer is based on a Youtube video I watched the other night, Photography to Another Level. Check it out, and if you’ve got a cell phone, try to emulate some of the photography ideas you see. Post them on Facebook, and tag Ilsley Public Library. I’ll be looking for them!
Lastly, here’s list of education companies offering free subscriptions due to COVID-19-related school closings.
TRICIA ALLEN, children’s librarian at Ilsley Public Library:
My eldest is 11 and now capable of keeping herself occupied with books, drawing, writing, and self-initiated craft projects. My middle child is 9 and loves to read and play LEGOS. He has recently discovered LEGO stop-motion which has lead to long periods of sustained creativity (yay!). My 7-year-old is the tricky one. Boundless energy. Not yet an independent reader. Not a fan of independent activity period. Here are some things that have worked well with him, and we will likely be pulling out soon:
Craft projects: Making and baking clay beads (think sculpey or FIMO), stringing friendship bracelets.
Food: My son LOVES this cookbook: Sandwiches! We have successfully tried several of the recipes included. Also, mixing together guacamole or bean salad, and making hard boiled eggs (and decorating them with crayons) and oatmeal with mix-ins. Dinner takes 3x as long with any of my kids involved, but it is a great experience when we plan ahead for it!
As my youngest has recently shown a flair for playing mancala, I think he’s ready for us to pull out the old deck of cards to play/learn the classics: War, Go Fish, Old Maid, Hearts — and the inappropriately named favorite from my formative years: Egyptian Ratscrew.
Searching for salamanders! We wait excitedly every spring for our first sighting of a red eft! The kids love seeing these little amphibians, and one of our favorite dog-walking trails is crawling with them by mid-summer. The prime salamander-sporting location is about a mile out from the trailhead, so the possibility of salamanders is a great motivator in getting them to walk far! We stop at a designated spot in the woods by a bend in the river and look for the efts, but also try to observe what else is happening in this one location as the weeks and seasons change. Along the walk we look for other cool things (once, we found an owl pellet!) and build fairy houses. Monitoring the verbal pools for frog and salamander egg masses is another favorite trail activity.
We keep bees, and the kids like joining us in their tiny bee suits. This year my husband is planning to let the kids design and paint their own beehives. And I’ve been thinking that maybe I’ll get a seed catalog and have them pick out what they’d like to grow. We have raised beds, but you could do container gardening too!
For indoor stuff, we like playing matching games. We have a couple of cool bird matching games, but I also had one made out of family photos on a photo website and it’s been fun to match ourselves! The old standbys, pillow forts and dance parties, are also popular.
I’ve been thinking of starting a bread baking tradition if we’re cooped up for days. When I was little my grandmother made bread every week. Whenever I visited she’d break off some of the dough and let me make my own special little loaf, decorated with red hots and m&ms. It’s such a special memory. And with bread running out at the grocery stores, it might be time to start making my own.
We’re a little worried about missing our friends—and grandparents—if we are in for longterm social isolation or quarantine. So I’m trying to think of ways to stay connected. When one of my son’s friends was badly injured a couple of years ago, we started making audio stories (on the free voice memo app that came with my phone) to send to him while he was in the hospital. That might be something we pick up again. One kid could start the story and send the recording to a friend, who picks up where the first one leaves off. And then you just go back and forth with the audio (or video) drama!
And when I just need a break, an alternative to screen time is podcasts. My 6yo has been really engaged by The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. And all of us enjoy the public radio folktale podcast Circle Round. I make a podcast for kids, too, called But Why, at VPR. We take questions from kids all over the world and Melody Bodette (a Middlebury resident!) and I find answers. If kids are asking about coronavirus, they might like our newest episode. But not my kids—they hear enough of my voice every day and typically don’t want to have to hear even more from me in their podcast escapism!!