Chief among the many threats posed by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 that’s been sweeping the nation like a 2010 Justin Bieber bop is that of prolonged exposure, specifically to children. As working parents become working-from-home parents and schools sit empty across the country, a considerable number of caregivers are wondering what life will look like under extended quarantine. The answer? Probably like one of those Family Circus cartoons where Bobby bounces off the walls and furniture and off-puttingly evangelical overtones.
All the $10-dollar, black market double-ply won’t absorb that kind of energy. What is needed cannot be looted from the grocery or hoarded via Amazon Prime. What is needed is a distraction. Fortunately, distractions are free.
For young children, the best distractions are invariably games and the best games are invariably lightly structured exercises in channeling aggression, creativity, or metabolized carbohydrates. The key for parents is having a portfolio of game options that don’t represent massive time or resource commitments. Simple games serve a simple purpose: They kill time. Amid the discussion or mortality rates and viral mutation, the only desirous death is the death of five-minute increments. Here’s how to murder them en masse.
What to Do With Quarantined Kids
Think of this as a way to play organized sports without taking the time to actually organize yourself or your home in any meaningful way.
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Prep Time: 5 minutes
Realistic Time It Will Entertain a Child: 30-60 minutes
How to Set Up: Get two chairs and prop them up roughly 10 feet apart. Tie a strong between them. Inflate a balloon. Hand out fly swatters.
How to Play: It’s tennis. The only real difference is that there needs to be a clear rule about how many times a player is allowed to hit the balloon while it’s on his or her side of the net. Two works for coordinated kids, but three is probably the best bet. If kids are struggling, a game of family doubles will do the trick. Also, tennis scoring makes absolutely no sense so skip it.
The Copycat Game
Think of this as a ‘no-losers’ version of “Follow the Leader” designed to improve toddlers’ motor skills while wearing them out.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Realistic Time It Will Entertain a Child: 15-20 minutes
How to Set Up: Setup is as simple as clearing out a section of a room so everyone can move freely about and/or explore the studio space ⏤ around 10 square feet should do. Carpeted or grassy surfaces work best, especially if you plan on going crazy and doing movements that require rolling around on the ground. If you use objects like chairs, set yours directly across from your child’s, leaving at least three feet between.
How to Play: As the name suggests, all you’re doing is engaging in an activity or motion, literally anything, and trying to get your little one to follow along. To get things started, I throw out a challenge: “Do you want to play ‘The Copycat Game’? I bet you can’t do what daddy does ….”Start with simple movements ⏤ marching, touching your toes, etc. ⏤ and work your way up to more complex gestures. Then do jumping jacks and push-ups. That’s healthy for everyone. Depending on the age of the child, you can also take turns being the leader.
Chair Hat Toss
Think of this as an indoor version of horseshoes. As simple as it is, though, it’s remarkably entertaining past-time that teaches kids to throw.
Prep Time: 1 Minute
Realistic Time It Will Entertain a Child: 10-15 minutes
How to Set Up: Turn over a kitchen chair so that its legs stick up. Find a hat — baseball is best but winter and cowboy work.
How to Play: Try to throw the hat onto the legs of the chair. That’s it. Want to complicate it a bit? Give each leg a point value. Now we’re learning about counting (but mostly just throwing a hat around). If kids are super into it, have them make DIY rings out of rope or cardboard.
The Spider Game
Think of this as a way to chase kids without actually, you know, standing up. It’s basically a classic “cat and mouse” game except that the cat is very tired and doesn’t want to move — in other words, a realistic cat and mouse game. It’s designed to help you tire out kids who have a lot of extra energy without moving from a seated position.
Prep Time: None
Realistic Time It Will Entertain a Child: 20 minutes
How to Set Up: Find a blanket, ideally something sized for a crib or a stroller. Kitchen napkins or even rags work as well.
How to Play: The player who is designated as the “Spider” (that’s you) holds the blanket like a toreador. The other player (that’s the child) runs in a designated path around the Spider who tries to catch them by throwing the blanket, their “spider silk.” If it touches the child, they are considered caught and the game begins again. For kids, this is a game of boundary testing. Miss a few times and they’ll start moving closer. That’s when you get ’em.
The Camouflage Game
Think of this as hide-and-go-seek for indoor kids or kick the can family edition. This is not ideal for those living in small apartments but is otherwise well suited to multi-child families.
Prep Time: None
Realistic Time It Will Entertain a Child: Forever, which is a curse in its own way.
How to Set Up: Designate a “Counting Zone.” Stand in it.
How to Play: Count down from 20 out loud while the other players run off and hide within eyeshot. When you hit zero try to find the hidden players without moving and call them out. If you can’t find all of them, call “15!” and put your hands out. The hidden players must run-up, high five you, then squirrel themselves away again. Repeat for 10 and 5 until everyone is found. Don’t play around furniture with sharp edges.
Arm & Leg Tag
Arm & Leg Tag is the classic chase game with a twist: Every player is “it” and the goal is to tag each person’s arms and legs.
Prep Time: None
Realistic Time It Will Entertain a Child: 5 to 15 minutes
How to Set Up: Convene in an open, soft-carpeted area of the house; clear away any furniture or other hard edges.
How to Play: When a player’s arm or leg is tagged, they can no longer use it, so they’ll have to put their arms behind their back or hop on one leg. Tagging any other part of their body is allowed, but it doesn’t count toward anything. When all four limbs have been tagged, players are out of the game, and the last player standing with at least one arm or leg wins.
The Pillow Game
Think of this as a fun after-bath game that expands creatively on the concept of charades while also getting the kid dry.
Prep Time: 0
Realistic Time It Will Entertain a Child: 3 minutes (a bit longer if you’re good)
How to Set Up: Wrap your child in a towel. Have them lay on their stomach and put your head (gently) on their back.
How to Play: After a fleeting moment of peace, your “pillow” will likely start to move. At this point, you will wonder aloud why the pillow is wiggling and ask what it might be if it’s not a pillow. From there, the kid has to act like an animal stuck in a towel, while you guess what they are by feel. (Safety note: You’re gonna get bonked if you don’t secure their arms.)