Making the most of isolation with your kids

Social distancing and home isolation is the new norm. It's essential to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities but there is no denying that it also has its challenges.

The most obvious of these challenges are the changes to routine, not just for children but for their parents too. All of a sudden adults are not going to work or trying to work from home, children are not going to school or daycare and normal recreation activities can no longer take place. But even through this time of change, trying to establish a new 'normal' and maintain social connection is important.

It can be difficult to explain to children why they can no longer go for sleepovers, visit grandparents over the holidays or even play with their friends in the park but it's important for children to be able to maintain social connections during this time, particularly when they are no longer going to school or childcare.

Allowing time during the day for telephone or video calls, with supervision appropriate to their age, to check in with friends, grandparents and other family will help them to maintain these important social connections.

With more time at home, the other challenge is finding ways to keep children entertained and stimulated. Routine is important in achieving this and will help ensure that time at home is contributing to the growth and development they would otherwise be receiving at school.

Children need some structure and variety in their day. As much as possible, try to organise the day so that children do the same kind of things they would be doing if they were at school or childcare, except being able to go out.

Try to mix up activities so that there are times for physical activity, active play, art and craft, reading and quiet times throughout the day.

In these difficult times, it can be harder to limit the amount of screen time children have while watching TV or playing video games, which is understandable, particularly with the added pressures of working from home, so instead try to use screen time as an opportunity for education and learning. Try to make sure that the content they are accessing is of a high quality and something that you and your child can engage in together.

And make the most of the outdoors. If you have a backyard, get children outside in the backyard for some of the day, if you’re in an apartment, take children out for short walks or supervise them playing by a door or window where they can see the outside world*.

*Please note; in homes with more than one level, make sure that window locks are used and access to balconies is restricted to prevent children falling from buildings. Kids Health, our Child Health Promotion Unit has more information about falls from buildings and keeping children safe around windows and balconies.

Here are some ways to make the most of your time in isolation with your kids, while also supporting their learning

  • A relaxation nook

Create a comforting, sensory area for relaxation and quiet activities such as reading or listening to music. Cushions, comfy mats, pillows, fairy/animal lights, blankets, beanbags can all be used to create a comforting space.  Older children might like to make their own relaxation toolbox with headphones, favourite books, list of favourite songs, some positive affirmations, eye pillows, fidget toys and so on.

  • Arts and Crafts Area

If you are able to, have a space set up for art and craft activities to make it easier for children to be creative at different times throughout the day. Some basics for your art and craft space might include are paper, pencils, crayons and textas, paints, safety scissors, glue, play dough/modelling clay, glitter and other general art and craft supplies.

  • Cooking

Preparing food is an important skill for children to learn and is something fun for them to do as well; It is a great way for children to learn while they help to prepare lunch, dinner or make a snack with you. Cooking can also be a good time to practice handwashing and is great for practising maths, science and reading skills.; Preparing family food together can also be a good time to talk about the things that might be worrying your children and can bring families closer together. Remember to always supervise children when in the kitchen to prevent burns from hot foods and drinks as well as other injuries.

  • Active Play

Whether you have a backyard or not, there are lots of ways you can encourage active play with your kids. You could build a safe obstacle course around the house, make a treasure hunt, making an area for an inside picnic, play backyard cricket or basketball or even try tennis, volleyball or badminton over the fence with your neighbours. This is also a great time for kids to spend some more time playing and exercising pets.

  • Spelling games

Spelling games are fun for children of all ages. You could hold a spelling bee or play word games by giving children seven random letters (including vowels) and asking them to come up with as many words as they can! Word Search, Word Unscramble and Crosswords are also great ways to keep children entertained.

  • Maths games

Counting games are a really useful way to get children practising their math skills without it seeming like a chore. An easy way to set this up is to fill a jar with coloured discs, beads or marbles and ask children to guess how many are in the jar. They can then sort them by colour, count up the number in each colour and add them all together to figure out how many pieces were in the jar.

  • Memory games

Playing memory games can improve brain functions like attention, concentration, and focus and can give space to critical thinking that helps children with their attention to detail. They can also improve visual recognition and are instantly rewarding when children get the answer right. The best thing about memory games is that they can be played using everyday household items. For example, you can put 10-15 items on a tray and cover it with a tea towel. Give each child a pen and paper, then lift the tea towel and let them look at the items for around 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, cover the items with the tea towel and ask children to write down as many items as they remember. The child who remembers the most can receive a small 'prize' like a sticker.

  • Slime and play dough

Kids love slime and playdough and playing with it also has many benefits. While it is often used for hand dexterity and fine motor skills, playing with slime and play dough engages all five senses and can give children something to refocus on instead of their own thoughts and worries. Slime and play dough are both super easy to make at home too! See these simple recipes for slime and play dough. Children can use plastic or blunted knives to cut playdough and can use cookie cutters to make shapes.

Please note, when searching for slime recipes, make sure you choose one that doesn't contain dangerous ingredients like Borax and boron and if cooking in a microwave or on a stovetop is needed, ensure children are supervised.

  • Books and story reading

Reading to and with your children is really important. Reading their favourite books helps them to learn how to read and how to spell some of the words in those books, it's also an opportunity for you to bond with your child and create some special, quiet time. Encourage children who are old enough to also read to you so they can practice their reading skills.

See more ideas for music, mindfulness, virtual visits and age-appropriate activities on our Kids Health website. 

Cathy Quinn, Janet Burke and Kirsty-Leah Goymour - Child Life Therapy Department
Suzanne Wicks - Kids Health Child Health Promotion Unit
Sydney Children’s Hospital Network