10 ways to safely entertain your children at home
Please note: this article is based on the information available when it was published on Friday 13th March 2020
A few months ago, the idea that millions of people would be quarantined at home while a virus swept the globe would have sounded like a far-fetched movie plot. But here we are.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, is having a massive effect on daily life for many people, with events cancelled, schools closed and people asked to work from home.
Obviously these are minor inconveniences given that people are also sick and dying, but they still pose problems, particularly for those facing the prospect of entertaining bored children at home for an extended period.
Fortunately, we can help. We’ve pulled together this extensive list of Parent Zone-approved activities that you can enjoy with your kids. And better still, some of them will even keep them safely occupied while you try to get some work done.
1. Become an Internet Legend
It’s quite possible that your child will have been sent home with a robust lesson plan, in which case it’s only the downtime you need to think about. But if their school hasn’t been able to organise that, look no further than Google’s Be Internet Legends.
Developed in partnership with Parent Zone, it’s a multifaceted programme designed to teach seven to 11-year-olds the skills they need to be safe and confident online.
There’s a downloadable family pack, stuffed with fun activities plus a link to Interland – an exciting online game which brings Be Internet Legends to life. Why not play it together – and see who can get the highest score?
2. Get creative in Minecraft
Minecraft barely needs an introduction – after all, it’s the best-selling video game of all time, a sort of Lego for the digital age in which you can create your own adventures and play any way you chose.
Despite its popularity, though, plenty of parents have yet to experience the thrill of joining their kids in this virtual world. And that’s a shame, because it’s an easy and hugely enjoyable thing to do: just create your accounts and, so long as you’re all on the same network connection, you can play together on multiple devices.
What’s more, it’s generally a safe game to leave them alone with, if you aren’t able to play alongside them. As with any online game, you need to take a few precautions – and our expert guide to Minecraft has plenty of pointers for you on that front – but it can be a wonderfully creative way for them to spend a few hours.
READ MORE: Staying safe on Minecraft
3. Get coding
The idea of learning to code can seem daunting, but there are plenty of online resources that make it easy and fun for kids – and even their technophobe parents.
Scratch is our favourite: you create programs by dragging and dropping colourful icons and following simple logic, with no need for pages of code. It's aimed at eight to 16-year-olds and is surprisingly powerful, with some users turning out amazingly advanced games on it. There’s also a simpler version, ScratchJr, for five to seven-year-olds.
Parents should be aware that there's a big social element, with users able to follow each other, comment on projects and send direct messages, but there are robust parental controls and a zero-tolerance moderation system that make it a generally safe environment for teens and tweens.
4. Spend some time in Digiworld
Developed by Telenor Group in partnership with Parent Zone, Digiworld is an interactive curriculum to help five to 16-year-olds develop digital resilience, so they can be safer online.
It’s available in 13 languages and includes a fun game plus downloadable worksheets and supporting guides to help parents, carers and teachers play and learn alongside their children.
READ MORE: Digiworld
5. Train your kids to spot fake news
The internet can be a wonderful source of information, but clearly you can’t always trust everything you read on it – particularly if it’s on social media. Children are more susceptible than most to fake news, so why not use your time at home to give them a primer?
You could talk to your kids about how a situation like coronavirus can be misreported, discuss how you go about finding the most reliable information and debate which sources are most trustworthy.
READ MORE: Fake news: a parent’s guide
6. Do some digital meet-ups
Being cooped up with your children for a week or two might be tricky at times, but being left entirely isolated from human contact is surely worse. That’s the situation potentially facing many older people during the current situation.
So, if you can’t visit grandparents, great-grandparents or other older family members and friends, why not meet up with them digitally instead?
Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Facebook and many, many other services have video-calling facilities, so give the grandparents a call and let them see a friendly face.
7. Watch some movie and TV classics
Fortunately, there's plenty of great content available across the platforms – including lots that you could consider at least vaguely educational. For instance, you could sit the kids down with a David Attenborough nature documentary, or the wonderful Horrible Histories.
Every platform has parental controls, but we'd still recommend that you keep an eye on what they're watching – or better still, watch with them – because many of the filters are easy to circumvent if your child knows what they're doing. And they will do.
READ MORE: Amazon Prime parents’ guide
8. Get board not bored
Before computer games were even a twinkle in Atari’s eye, board games gave generations of children hours of entertainment – and there’s no reason why that should change now.
Scrabble, whether in Junior or full guise, is a brilliant tool for improving vocabulary and spelling, chess and draughts are good for logic and reasoning, and for younger kids even something as simple as ludo or snakes and ladders can help with numeracy.
Charades – though not a board game – can teach self-expression and creativity and if you want a fun game without any obvious educational value, we recommend the amazing Exploding Kittens (so long as you’re OK with fart jokes).
9. Cook up a lockdown feast
Most children love cooking – particularly if it involves sugar and chocolate! There are plenty of good recipe sites online, including many that are aimed specifically at kids. BBC Good Food, for instance, has an extensive section for children.
To increase the creativity, suggest your kids hunt through the cupboards and make a list of what they find; Supercook and All Recipes are just two of the sites that will let you search for recipes based on ingredients.
For maximum fun, you could give one of Roald Dahl’s famous Revolting Recipes a try. But be be warned – most of them could never be described as healthy!
10. Get some exercise
Spending a week or longer inside would leave most people a little stir-crazy, and kids in particular have lots of energy to burn off. If you’ve got a garden and the weather is good, then you’re sorted on that front – just give them a ball or a bike and let them loose. If not, you could take them to a park or playground, so long as the official advice currently allows that wherever you are.
Failing any of those options, you can at least encourage your children to get active indoors.
There are countless videos and guides to yoga and other exercises online – but you should always make sure you use a trusted source that’s specifically geared towards the right age group and monitor that they’re doing it correctly.