A little planning can help make this difficult time easier.
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With massive public closures to prevent the spread of COVID19, some 300 million students around the world are currently home from school for what could be weeks. This will certainly be a stressful time for many families, but with a little planning and imagination, it can also be a time to to make memories, explore, imagine, learn, and play! Here are our tips, advice, and ideas for low-screen, commercial-free options to keep kids engaged – and yourself sane – through quarantine or social distancing. (And remember: wash those hands!)

Have some screen-free activities on deck. 

If your local health department doesn’t advise against it and you have a good sense of your family’s risk, consider taking the time now to gather a few low-cost items for fun activities. Stock up on books from your local library (thoroughly wash your hands before and after visiting!), scoop up some board games or decks of cards, or get supplies for art projects. 

Can’t, or just shouldn’t, get to the library or the store? Our 7 parent-tested tips offer lots of ways to swap screen time for play time, like encouraging sensory play, rearranging your living room furniture, and building activity kits you can reach for any time. For more ideas, check out our 101 screen-free activities for kids of all ages, or this post on encouraging play by Dr. Jenny Radesky! 

If you can, get outside. 

If no one is showing symptoms and you don't live in a crowded, dense area, it’s OK to get outside! If you have a backyard, that’s the best place for kids to play. If you don't have a yard or other outdoor space, but live on a quiet street, take a walk together as a family -- just be sure to maintain proper distance, which is 6 feet or more, if you see a neighbor. 

If you live in a dense urban neighborhood where it's not possible to be outdoors without coming into close contact with others, unfortunately, going outside might not be safe. In those cases, bring the outside in! If the weather is warm enough, keep your windows open to bring in fresh air. At the very least, keep curtains tied back during the day to let in some sunshine and natural light. 

Set good boundaries, but don’t fear boredom or overplan. 

At first, kids might need a little extra structure and guidance as they figure out what to do with all this new time. If you’re working from home, talk to your children about when you’re unavailable (except for emergencies) and when you’ll be able to play, and offer them options for screen-free activities they might try while you’re working. As your quarantine continues, don’t worry about keeping them entertained: kids might complain about boredom, but being bored allows them to create their own meaning, be resourceful, and get to know themselves (which means fewer complaints of boredom over time!). When young minds are free from constant input, they develop the will and the creativity to find their own fun! 

Try something new. 

Without the hustle and bustle of everyday routines, there’s a lot of space to explore new activities, or to deeply explore something you’re already interested in. If your kid likes to write, this is a great time for them to try writing a book or a play – you can stage a reading, or even put on a performance! Maybe you’re raising a budding musician who can use this time to write new songs, or a visual artist who can make a mini art show. A bigger creative project is a great way to channel any anxious energy! 

Take a break from online learning. 

Lots of schools are moving to online learning, which might mean your child has to be on a screen for several hours a day. If that’s the case, you’ll want to keep an eye on how they’re handling additional screen time. If you notice it’s affecting them negatively or not suited to their learning style, contact your child’s teacher or principal to arrange alternative activities. And regardless, take extra care to build in screen-free activities like coloring, reading together, or playing games throughout the day and after school work is done. This guide from our Children's Screen Time Action Network offers kids suggestions for self-directed educational, screen-free activities that don't feel like extra work!

If you’re a parent concerned with privacy and technology, you might have questions about the apps or platforms your children are using while they’re away from school. These resources from Common Sense Media and AppCensus are a good place to start to learn more about a particular product or platform. 

Have honest, age-appropriate conversations about what’s happening.  

Your kids, no matter how old they are, will no doubt have a lot of questions, and probably some uncertainty or even fear. In uncertain times, parental reassurance goes a long way. The Child Mind Institute has a great guide to talking to children about coronavirus and COVID19, which includes tips on how much information to share and how to manage your own (also completely normal!) anxieties and uncertainties. 

This also means being honest about what’s different in your home. For instance, some families choose to let their children watch more movies or television during illnesses or school closings.  If you are changing rules about screen time, technology, or anything else, talk to your kids about why the rules are changing, and be clear these new limits are a time-limited exception, not the new normal. And make sure to return to, and enforce, your regular limits when the quarantine lifts.

We know families have a lot on their plates right now, and that you don’t need one more thing to worry about! But by thinking ahead, doing a little planning, and trusting your kids to make their own screen-free fun, this difficult time can be made a little easier.

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