The Lazy Mom’s Guide to the Confinement Blues: 19 Ways to Keep Kids Busy

Schools are shuttered. Businesses are restricting their hours. Sports teams are canceling spring games and practices. Parents are telecommuting while kids are home for extended spring break.

How do we all stay sane while confined to our homes during this COVID-19 pandemic?

I have four kids ages 5 through 13. Honestly, I only survive summer vacation because we can go somewhere every day. If we stay at home, I know only these three things will happen — they will fight, eat all the food and beg for screen time. Schools are sending work home and the magic of the internet makes online learning possible. But what about the rest of the time?

From a mom who hates crafts and would make a terrible teacher, here are 19 easy, low-prep (read: lazy) suggestions to make the next few weeks tolerable, if not occasionally enjoyable.

1. Board games. Just play them all. My kids have been asking about playing a full Monopoly game where people go bankrupt and someone actually wins. It’s happening this week.

2. Puzzles. The bigger the better.

3. Books. Pick a classic chapter book your kids haven’t read. “Charlotte’s Web,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “Robin Hood” or “Peter Pan” are all fun. Read a chapter a few times a day and then watch the movie when you are done. As an added bonus, most of these books are available for free on Kindle or through the public library’s digital book system. I love to read out loud to my kids, but if you dread it, try audiobooks instead.

4. Go outside. Right now, we are supposed to be practicing social distancing. This doesn’t mean that you must lock yourself inside your home. Take a walk, go to a park, hike and play in the yard. Encourage your kids to become expert bike riders or skateboarders. The spring sunshine will make everyone feel better and wear the kids out, so they sleep better.

three kids take a hike
Anelise, left, Iris and Matthias Sacco take a hike.

5. Cooking and baking. Teach your kids how to scramble an egg or measure flour for a cake. Try new recipes. If you’ve never baked bread, see how it turns out.

6. Life skills. Everyone needs them, and this is the perfect time to think about what your kids might have missed. Kindergarteners can learn to tie shoes and high schoolers should know how to apply for a car loan. While you’re at it, teach them how to do laundry and change the sheets. I think this will pay off immediately!

7. Documentaries and educational videos. Whatever your kids are interested in, there is a documentary on it! “Planet Earth” is very fun. My kids would watch endless episodes of the PBS shows “Time Scanners” and “Secrets of the Dead” on Amazon Prime. YouTube channels like “Smarter Every Day” and “Lab 360” do the science experiments for you so you don’t need any supplies, time or science know-how.

8. Early spring is a great time to start a garden. Try planting some things from seed. Even if you just plan to transplant them in a few pots on the porch, you’ll have something you grew. Spinach, peas and green beans are quick and easy. Tomatoes don’t need a lot of space. Flowers and herbs can be planted anywhere.

9. Write letters. This has become a lost art amid modern instant messaging technology. Knowing how to address an envelope is a great skill. Plus, kids love getting snail mail!

Subscribe to Weelunk

10. Art projects. Yeah, I said it. And I hate crafts. But grab a ton of supplies like paint, clay, crayons, cardboard pieces, scissors and glue, and let them go to town. Maybe part of the project can be cleaning up afterward. Or if you have a porch, take advantage of the nice weather and let them make a mess where it will wash away with the rain.

11. Exercise. I’m throwing this one in because I need it to maintain my sanity. I’ll include my kids in the workouts now, too. There are lots of steaming services (my favorite is “Daily Burn”) and free resources on YouTube.

little girl on yoga mat with weights
Iris Sacco fits in some exercise time.

12. Expand your music repertoire. Don’t just listen to what is popular on the radio. Try classical, jazz, blues, opera, folk and more. Find out what is popular in other countries and listen to that, too!

13. Become a virtual library patron. The Ohio County Public Library has a lot of free resources. Not only can you get digital books, music and magazines, but you can participate in free music lessons, find resources to learn a new language and join a wellness program. Your library card also gets you access to “The Great Courses,” which has hundreds of educational videos about any topic you can imagine.

14. Learn something new. Find out what your kid is curious about and spend some time searching for more information. How many people live at the South Pole? How big is an aircraft carrier? How many languages do they speak in India? How tall is the tallest person in the world? Google to the rescue!

15. Take advantage of all the great resources that have become free for a short period of time! Lots of digital educational resources are offering a few weeks of free access to programs that typically have a monthly fee. (Scholastic, BrainPop and Kahoot)

16. Travel from your living room. Yahoo makes it possible to virtually visit museums like the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Guggenheim in New York. Google Maps has interactive features that will let you explore landmarks like the Great Pyramids and the Taj Mahal.

17. Redecorate. Paint a wall or rearrange the furniture in the bedroom. Put new pictures in frames (You know you only print them every five years. Now’s your chance to catch up!) Make a photo book of your last vacation and let the kids caption all the photos.

18. Get out all the activities you’ve been putting off. I know I have lots of paint by numbers, craft projects and science experiment kits that have been bought for my kids over the years. So often, it feels like we don’t have a whole afternoon to spend on them, or I don’t want to have to clean up the mess. No more excuses.

19. Finally, take care of yourself mentally and physically. If you don’t feel well, there is no shame is declaring a movie day. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make this time a fairy tale. It’s hard and unexpected. So be gentle with yourself, your kids and the school district.

And stay safe and wash your hands!

Stacey Sacco is a Wheeling native. She is a content writer and the former production editor of InWheeling Magazine. She reluctantly left Wheeling in 2019 for her husband’s job and now lives in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, with her husband and four children.