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Beyond Lesson Plans: Keeping kids engaged physically, mentally

Parents and child using app on hike
Families can use a variety of apps or virtual programs to get outdoors. (Source: Adobe Stock)

Going back to school is a time associated with learning new things, making new friends and having new experiences that will shape a child’s worldview as they continue to grow. This year, those new experiences look slightly different than in years prior, with many kids experiencing adjustment in their home and academic lives as a result of the pandemic.

The result can leave kids feeling sedentary as they sit in front of screens, absorbing lessons, news or even chatting with friends or peers.

As a result, it’s never been more important for children of all ages to participate in engaging activities. Here are a few recommendations:

Get outside. Getting outside may be the easiest way to enjoy time with peers and family. From a friend’s backyard to a local park, kids can bring personal blankets and toys and spend the day hanging out at safe distance while also enjoying the last months of summer weather. For those needing more variety, trying implementing apps or games into outdoor adventures. Dust off apps like Pokémon GO for a family walk and see who can reign in the most creatures. For those more adventurous, try playing a game of geocaching with friends or families. Designate someone to hide a treasure, then instigate a search with clues or a handmade map to search it out. Just remember to stay socially distant. The St. Louis-based Trailnet (trailnet.org) has also developed a calendar of virtual rides and scavenger hunts for families of all ages and experience levels to try.

Schedule long-distance fun. While many think of virtual playdates or Zoom calls as just sitting in front of a screen and talking, now is the time to think outside the box and turn these chats into full-blown events. Using screen-share services like Netflix Party, Steam or Kast, kids and teens can experience a movie night together, complete with side conversations and banter, all without having to leave their homes. Try playing Pictionary with Zoom’s whiteboard feature or reinvent the classic game of charades by using props found around the house. From virtual dance parties to virtual tea parties, the only limit to what can be done long-distance is someone’s imagination. 

Become a pen pal. Encourage teens and kids to take breaks from texting and messages apps to write letters or postcards to their friends. Scrapbook departments in local craft stores offer a plethora of supplies for customizing letters, from personalized stationery to stickers and much more. It is also an easy way to stay in-touch with long-distance relatives and grandparents. For individuals who may live outside of the state or country, consider picking out a postcard to send their way of a favorite local monument or place. Also, consider writing letters to individuals in need. Letters of Love is a program through Love for the Elderly where people can write letters to senior citizens. Or, try writing a letter to a soldier through programs like Operation Gratitude or Soldiers’ Angels.

Child takes remote music lesson
Kids can take advantage of online tutoring or classes that simultaneously facilitate social interaction while learning new skills. (Source: Adobe Stock)

Take virtual lessons. Has your child wanted to try dance? What about learning a new instrument, painting, or maybe just having a little extra help in their existing academics? Many institutions offer virtual lessons, tutoring, and more. Unlike some other online offerings, these virtual sessions tend to include face-to-face interaction with a teacher, much like a student would experience in a traditional classroom setting. Many community colleges also are expanding their online class catalog for teens and adults to jump into. The lack of geographic boundaries also means world-class public speakers, teachers or coaches are now opening their virtual doors to students from across the world more than ever.

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