By ALICIA COONCE, D.O., FAAP, Community Health Centers – Tavares
Now that the kids are out of school with an extended holiday and the US government has requested that you limit your personal social interactions, you are most likely finding yourself stuck at home having a lot of free time with the kids. This can be overwhelming if you don’t have a game plan. In efforts to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is not advised to have playdates; however, here are a few things you can do to keep your kids healthy and entertained.
Remember, routines, routines, routines!
Children do much better, behaviorally, when they know what to expect. Since their daily schedule has likely changed dramatically, it is important to establish new routines for the time being. I encourage everyone in the family to continue to wake up at a normal time and maintain established mealtimes and bedtimes. If you do not have these routines currently, now is a perfect time to start!
It is very important for your children to stay active! Grab everything you can play with - jump ropes, balls, games, etc. You can use tape to tape off an area for hopscotch. Use a laundry basket and a ball to create an impromptu game of basketball. Be creative! Board games help teach children how to follow rules and encourages using skills such as counting and identifying colors and shapes. Reading with your child is a great way to help develop your child’s vocabulary. Paint-by-numbers and crafting encourages fine motor development. Family dance parties or choreographed workout videos on YouTube are a way the entire family can stay in shape. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends one hour of vigorous exercise a day for children of all ages. This keeps your heart healthy and is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety.
As always, avoid excessive videogame playing and screen time (TVs, tablets, and phones). This can be difficult when everyone is stuck at home together and unsure of how to keep themselves busy. When you can, try to utilize screen time in an educational way and limit screen time to less than two hours of recreational use (meaning outside of schoolwork) a day. When watching videos or educational shows, take breaks and discuss information learned as a family. You might be surprised what your kids have to say!
This is a great time to teach your children various “life skills”. If you are a handyman, mechanic, or particularly good cook, now is the perfect time to spend some extra time with your children teaching them what you know. A few examples of life skills that you could teach are how to do basic car maintenance (changing oil, rotating tires, etc.), cooking meals, operating a washing machine or dishwasher, balancing a checkbook, addressing an envelope, etc. My favorite part about this is that it gets kids away from the screens and encourages family bonding.
In general, doing activities together; whether it is reading, learning, or playing games, strengthens the parent and child bond helping to facilitate a healthy family life at home.
If you are working from home and need some necessary alone time, encourage your child to indulge in his or her specific interests. For instance, if your child always tells you they want to be a “youtuber or a video gamer” in a future career, suggest taking online coding classes or film production classes via Khan Academy or other resources listed below.
Don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet! I know that fresh foods might be limited, but in general, you want to stick to picking more foods that look like they do when they come out of the ground and fewer foods that do not. That means choosing more fruits, vegetables, beans, meats, etc. (canned and frozen are okay alternatives to fresh) and less processed foods like breads, pastas and packaged snacks (gummies, crackers, etc.). Be mindful of portion sizes. Don’t leave the kitchen with the bag of potato chips. Take a handful and leave the bag behind. It is easy to overeat when we are distracted watching TV or playing games. Avoid eating out of boredom! Minimize or totally eliminate sugary beverages. This includes sodas, sweet tea, Gatorade/Powerade, and ALL juices (fresh squeezed or processed). I would rather your children eat their fruits instead of drink them! They miss out on beneficial fiber and other healthy vitamins and minerals by just drinking the juice. Fruit juices are also a source of excessive calories for many children and is not a necessary part of the diet. So, what should your child drink? You got it, water! Typically, 3-4 bottles a day (16 ounces each) depending on their age. As for desserts, once a week or less. If you want to have dessert after dinner, I recommend fresh fruits or yogurts.
Remember, stick to these rules to maintain a healthy lifestyle for you and your kids both now and after COVID-19!
Below are a few resources for parents to help keep your children entertained in educational ways.
Free Educational Activities from Scholastic: (in English and Spanish), grade specific:
Virtual Field Trips from Discovery Education:
Virtual Art Museums, Zoos, Aquariums and field trips: blog site with a list of 20+ websites complete with follow up activities to do with the family.
Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems, author and illustrator of popular children’s books:
All-in-one toolkit from Khan Academy, complete with daily lesson plans and guidance to support you and your child for effective learning from home:
Don’t forget your local county library has tons of resources online including free audiobooks, music, movies and classes.