The reality of the pandemic is here. Across the country schools are closing, social distancing is encouraged, and parents are panicking and asking the question: how do I keep my kids busy during school closures?
As a work-from-home mom this is a dilemma that I face with every snow day and school break when we don’t have travel plans, so the pain that many parents are feeling is a discomfort I am all too familiar with, but I also have solutions! So, I thought I would pull together a list of activities for kids during school closures and quarantines.
Given my passion for food and cooking, many of my recommendations are fun recipes. I tried my best to share recipes that are made with very common ingredients in the hopes that you will have everything you need.
But not everything is food! Below there is a section that includes some of my family’s favorite house-bound activities, as well as some other ideas that are especially relevant given our current situation.
Finally, as we dive in, I just want to say that I hope that this post will serve as a living resource during this stressful and scary time. Please share your own ideas and projects in the comments so that we can all support one other.
Cooking Projects for Younger Kids
Little parental involvement needed
Yogurt Berry Parfaits: One of my favorite food projects with littles. You can set out the different toppings and then let them build their own parfaits!
Avocado Franken-Toasts: Originally a Halloween recipe, this is a fun one for letting their creative juices flow. If you thinly slice the avocado and toast the toast, then they can spread the avocado and put different items on top to build faces (pepper slices, olive and pickle pieces, cheese pieces, you can really get creative with topping options!)
Fruit Kabobs: If you’ve got skewers that the kids can handle, then you can just cut up the fruit and let them build the kabobs.
More parental involvement needed
Chocolate Banana Ice Cream: This one is always a hit, but does require using a blender or food processor, so you will want to help out.
Spinach Balls: If you make the mixture for this one and handle the baking piece, your kids can be in charge of forming the balls, which they will love since it is super tactile and satisfying. (Plus, you might even convince a kid to give spinach a try!)
Dark Chocolate Bark: You’ll need to be a bit more involved with this one since the melted chocolate does get hot, but you can let the kids do all the toppings and also the breaking of the bark. Feel free to get creative with your toppings on this! Dried fruit, salty chips, and nuts are all great options.
Nacho Average Nachos: This could be a fun making lunch activity. Let sprinkle the cheese and toppings and then all you’ll have to do is take deal with the oven.
Chocolate Marshmallow Clusters: Like the chocolate bark, you’ll need to be involved when it comes to the melted chocolate, but your kids will have a blast crushing the pretzels, mixing in the goodies, and forming the clusters. If you don’t have the pretzels or marshmallows, you can get creative by adding different things like other kinds of salty chips, popcorn, nuts, and other candy you’ve got knocking around.
Peanut Butter Bites: You’ll need to help with the mixing, but then you can let the kids form all of the balls for some sensory fun.
Cooking Projects for Elementary and Up
Little parental involvement needed
Blueberry Oat Bars: Other than overseeing the oven and maybe melting the butter, these delicious bars can be measured, mixed, and assembled by your kiddos!
Fiesta Tostadas: These super fun “Mexican pizzas” are easy for kids to assemble. The only help they might need is getting them in and out of the oven.
Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies: Your kids will LOVE making these cookies because the ingredients are so wacky and different.
Soup-er Easy Black Bean Soup: Have your kids make dinner! You might want to oversee the stove usage, but this simple soup will make them feel so proud and you’ll have extra time to work, hide in the bathroom, whatever.
Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Bars: You might need to help your kids with the oven for this one, but other than that they will happily be able to make the rest on their own (and they’ll love the banana smashing!).
More parental involvement needed
Jack-O-Lantern Pizzas: This is another one of our Halloween recipes, but who says they can’t just be “funny face pizzas.” You may need to help with the grating and sauteeing of the sweet potatoes and the use of the oven, but the kids will have a blast assembling their pizzas and building funny faces on them.
Miraculous Macaroni and Cheese: You and your kids will not be able to believe how simple this dish is to make! It truly is miraculous! You may need to help them with the handling of a hot casserole dish.
Garden Quichelettes: These are such a fun little meal to make and you can use whatever you’ve got knocking around as fillings. Let the kids to all the mixing, pouring, and even chopping (with supervision).
Other Cooking/Food Activity Ideas
Kids Cook Real Food
If you are looking for a way to keep your kids occupied in a productive manner, I am a HUGE fan of the Kids Cook Real Food online cooking classes (affiliate). They are interactive, fun, and really do teach these essential skills.
The Spice Game
When my kids were really little and wanted to hang out with me in the kitchen we would play the spice game. I would let them pull out all the spices to smell and, if it was one that would be fun to taste (not too spicy or bad tasting when raw), I would put a tiny bit onto their hands for them to lick. They thought it was tons of fun and I got to teach them about lots of different flavors.
“Cooking” for Toddlers
Give them a big bowl and then smaller bowls with water, flour, spices you don’t care about, anything else you think might be fun, and let them mix. In the past my kids have also thrown in condiments and food coloring. A fun, and contained, mess.
A friend suggested this as a meaningful activity that I am hoping to do with my own kids. We are living through a historic moment that has big feelings and dramatic changes to our regular routines associated with it, but life also just continues. So have your kids journal (if they are too young to write they could draw) about what their days are like—what are they doing to stay busy, what are their thoughts and feelings about what is happening, what questions do they have. Doing this will help them to process, but will also be something they can look back on years from now to remember what they lived through.
If your kids aren’t big writers, another way to do the same thing as described above would be to create video journals where they talk to the camera or interview each other each day.
Make a Movie
Once when my cousins were house-bound during a hurricane they spent hours and hours making hilarious movies with their stuffed animals. Your kids could do this too!
Getting outside is going to be key to maintaining our sanity (we’re planning on scheduling this into our days), but my kids also like to exercise with me, which is something we don’t often have time for during normal life. So I am planning on inviting them to join me when I do YouTube workout videos (I really like PopSugar and MadFit videos, no connection to these channels, just like their videos). It will get some energy out and keep us all strong.
A classic. Let them rip that couch apart and build it into something new. I bet you’ll get at least an hour to yourself. Winning.
Another great way to get energy out, be silly, and have fun together.
Scavenger Hunts (indoor or outdoor)
Another fantastic friend suggestion! While we tend to think of these as a search for Easter eggs, scavenger hunts can be done anytime! You can hide things for them to search for (candy, Lego people, playing cards, coins, etc.) or make up a list of types of items to find (a flower blooming, a red car, a book with the word “night” in the title, a photograph of a pet, etc.).
Puzzles can provide hours of fun and, if set up in a special spot in the house, can sit out to be worked on over days.
Family Fun, Too
There will also just be a lot more family time. Here are some ideas for fun activities you can all do together.
My kids (ages 9 and 11) absolutely LOVE this game. It requires a minimum of 4 people, but is a great way to get creative and be silly.
This brilliant suggestion came from a friend. As she says, “anything from Goodnight Moon to Shakespeare.” This is a great way for kids to practice their reading skills at any age.
Do you kids know how to play your favorite card games from childhood yet? How about poker (or when I was about 12 my parents taught my brother and me Bridge)? Or just pull out a family favorite!
A playground classic that can easily be replicated on your driveway with chalk. You could even have family tournaments! If you need help agreeing on the rules, here is an overview.
As I said at the beginning, I really hope that this list of ideas of what to do with your kids during self-quarantine or and social distancing will be a living resource for everyone as we try to stay sane and safe during this crazy time, so please do share your ideas in the comments so we can all learn from one other and if I come up with more ideas, I’ll also add them to this post.