Activity ideas during coronavirus shutdowns

Nat Geo is asking parents what they’re doing to keep their stay-at-home children active and educated. Here's what they're telling us.

Raise your hand if your kids are stuck at home while you struggle to fill their time. Who better to come up with creative solutions than parents? Check out these ideas from the experts themselves on how to keep children engaged during this forced togetherness time. And keep checking back for new ideas. Share your ideas on Twitter.

• Take the paint set outside. It’s fun to do in your front or backyard, but think about heading out to a local recreation area to inspire kids from a different perspective. Bonus: Painting outstide is far less messy!

• Choose a photo theme every week (like “red,” “birds,” or “water”) and challenge kids to think creatively about how to capture the theme in different ways.

• For beginning readers, place stickie notes with letters on the alphabet throughout your home (for instance, the letter b on a stuffed bear). Challenge the child to find all the stickies and place them in order on the refrigerator.

• A lot of neighborhoods are hosting “safaris,” in which residents placed stuffed animals in windows for children to find. As a fun twist, have kids make their own animals out of cardboard, and display those as well.

Foster kindness in kids by encouraging them to help out an elderly neighbor. Weed gardens, pick up stray sticks, or even plant flowers. Older children can perhaps mow lawns.

• Do some shadow drawing, in which a child traces the outline of a silhouette. Use action figures, stuffed animals, or something suprising that would make an interesting shape, like a coffee cup.

• If your beaches are closed, or if you live nowhere near a beach, create one in your house. Lounge on beach towels and put on bathing suits and sunglasses. Replace sand with giant blankets, and place seashells from past trips for a “walk” to collect them. You can even go fishing for stuffed animal creatures.

• Take kids on a shape walk. Give them each a clipboard with paper that you’ve drawn eight shapes on. Challenge them to find the shapes on your walk and write down what the real item is.

• We started a coronavirus compassion pen pal project. Lots of families have signed up and are sending emails full of drawings, stories, and kindness around the world.

• Have theme days—one of ours was space and kept my son occupied for several hours.

• Schools and public libraries are closed but most have ebooks and digital audio books available for students, so they can keep reading or listening to old favorites or explore new titles.

Start a small container garden with a mix of strawberries, blueberries, spring onions, spinach, radishes, lettuces, tomatoes, etc. (They’re easy to grow in recycled plastic containers.) This teaches children about life, responsibility, science, patience, nutrition, and sustainability.

• Have them write an autobiography, focusing on this weird time in their lives.

• Teach them things that they don't learn in school, like cooking and reorganizing.

• Play indoor volleyball with balloons—it’s great for a wet day.

• Have them organize a pretend party and create their own games, like Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Musical Chairs. Then you can have the party on the weekend as a family.

• Let them do online research about a random country they’ve never heard of.

• Build an indoor cubby house with whatever’s lying around.

• Design cards to cheer people up.

• Be silly, creative, and say yes more than you usually do. Make forts, do science experiments, have puppet shows, play board games, play in the yard.

• Draw a simple map of your neighborhood, then have your child navigate from one clue to another as he or she rides their bike. Clues can be shapes, colors, letters, signs, numbers, objects, trees, etc.

• Get the Christmas tree back out and make Easter crafts to decorate it!

• Teach older kids to garden, sew, cook, bake, manage finances, change a tire, change their oil, or even operate power tools.

• Teach them tag and hopscotch and the good old games.

• Learn old-school games, like playing jacks and performing magic tricks.

• Buy inexpensive patterns and supplies off Etsy to create crafts projects at home, like making Easter bunnies from upcycled wool sweaters. This also helps support small businesses that might be hurting during the pandemic.

• Practice homesteading like the settlers in the early days: Make yogurt from scratch or ferment foods to preserve.

• Have a picnic on the kitchen floor, complete with tablecloth, basket, and flowers.

• Try art projects using common household items, like making a robot out of cereal boxes, bottle caps, and jar lids.

• Watch the Smithsonian’s National Zoo live webcams and ask kids to write a short report on what the animals are doing.

• Tour museums around the world—virtually. Google Arts & Culture has created a website to "visit" famous art museums, from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

• Video chat with classmates.

• Making a schedule to keep them from getting too overwhelmed with everything school sent home. Also making time to go outside, play music, do arts/crafts and just have general downtime. This is hard on them too.

• Lego blocks are endless fun. Also, every night is a movie night at our place.

• Flip through old photo albums.

• Write letters to grandma and grandpa.

• My daughter has been documenting her experience so she can share it with her descendants.