Activities for Isolating With Children
During chemotherapy treatment and recovery, families often need to isolate from the rest of the world to protect their child from infection.
When families are isolating for a long time, it may be seem like a challenge to find activities that keep everyone entertained, refreshed and relaxed.
Remember that children are natural experts in play and generally don’t need adults showing them how to play. Play is the language and university of childhood – give children freedom to explore, experiment, imagine and create, and they will generally entertain themselves with bountiful results.
Signpost, support, encourage and praise along the way. Children learn best with open ended challenges and real objects that offer many possibilities across different types of play. Think about how a large cardboard box can be a car, a pirate ship, a house, a hiding place, part of a den or obstacle course, a craft project, a toy store – and so much more.
At times of illness isolation, discomfort and emotional challenge, children most need reassurance that they are loved and safe, and that someone they trust will look after them throughout this experience. They look to the adults in their lives for cues to follow, to know if they should be worried or content. So try to let go of any expectations about your children’s play or learning as you isolate.
If you are looking for ideas, the following 40 activities may help when you are confined to home for an extended time. Click on any of the numbered titles to learn more. These are only suggestions. Take each day as it comes, embrace the life it brings, have fun when energy is high, and relax.
Around The House
Clutter can mount up fast with kids. Gift clutter especially can overwhelm a stressed family. Conversely, a clutter-free space induces feelings of calm, energy, lightness and freedom, and creates more space for play. So if your home feels a little too crowded, calm it down with a fun decluttering tidy up. Decluttering games are a great way of teaching young children new words, colours, numbers and life skills.
- Guess the Clutter: Give each child a box or bin to fill, and ask them to put their toys away where they belong. Give them clues to find specific items you want them to put away. Each named item collected wins a clutter-free prize, or a small contribution to pocket money. Join in the hunt to help encourage and make it fun.
- I Spy Colour: To help reinforce colour identification, set your child this challenge: “I spy with my little eye something…Red – how much red can you find?” Give your child a box and encourage them to pick up all the red toys, then repeat with a different colour.
- Clutter Bye Scavenger Hunt: A great game for clearing away lots of similar items. For example, “Can you find six cars and put them in this box?”
- Imagination Station: Decluttering can be as creative as you want it to be. If your child loves superheroes, let them dress up in their favourite outfit and fly around your home zapping away the clutter. If they are crazy about wildlife, go on a decluttering safari and pretend you are sweeping up the items with long elephant trunks that trumpet with each task done. Encourage your princess to ready the palace for a Royal ball, practicing a courtesy with each item put away. There are endless ways to make decluttering fun.
2. Turn Housework Into a Game
Involve the kids with daily tasks. While most adults view housework as a chore, young children often love helping with activities that make them feel “grown up”. Make the task more meaningful by turning it into a fun, educational game, For example:
- When folding sheets or making the bed, imagine you are pirates or explorers raising your ship’s sails on the high seas.
- When washing up or emptying the dishwasher, set your child tasks such as “can you find 6 small bowls?”
- When folding laundry, ask your child to match the socks up or sort items by category or colour.
3. Cook Up a Feast
Most young children love copying their parents, especially in the kitchen. Invite your child to collaborate with you on a baking project, meal or snack. With wooden, silicone, or plastic equipment and simple demonstration, they can help do tasks like:
- washing fruit and vegetables
- combining wet and dry ingredients
- stirring or scooping ingredients
- rolling pastry and cutting into shapes
- mashing soft ingredients
4. Have a Picnic
You don’t have to go to leave your home for a family picnic! In your garden or on the carpet in your family room – it doesn’t matter where it takes place. A vacation from the table can make all the difference to morale and appetites.
Pack a picnic basket with everyone’s favourite outdoorsy treats, or order food for home delivery, and enjoy a different perspective on your daily family meal. If you can get outside, taking meals al fresco is a wonderful way to get some sunlight and fresh air. When the weather is warm, breakfast in the garden is especially good as sunlight exposure first thing in the morning boosts the body’s daily biological clock and is the most effective source of natural Vitamin D.
Stay In Touch
5. Make Phine Calls
The telephone might be more than 140 years old, but it’s still the great connector. Get together as a family and call a few people you would usually see when out and about, or those who live far away. Perhaps set them a challenge like researching their family tree by talking with older relatives, or finding out three things about a place the person has travelled to. Teach your children how to use the telephone, the value of human conversation, asking questions and listening.
6. Have Fun with Video Chat
Whether you prefer FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Skype, or Zoom, connect online for a while. This could be with family and friends near or far away, or among yourselves at home.
For example, mum might be relaxing with a tablet in one room while dad is in another room, connected by FaceTime as he provides mum with a sports style commentary of the kids clearing up after dinner. Or schoolage children might provide a documentary style update of getting ready for bed, making the routine more fun.
7. Send Letters
Individually or collectively to family members or friends. Or share letters with one another. A letter doesn’t have to be text on paper. For example, a young child might draw a series of pictures or record a message.
8. Read Books
Have a daily family reading time that is different from your bedtime story routine. You might read a different book each day or several pages or a chapter of a longer book. You could also all relax and listen to an audiobook. Some books are read by a single narrator while others are performed by a full cast of actors, much like a radio play.
During the 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic, Audible (owned by amazon) is offering free streaming on a wide range of children’s books for the duration of school closures. Check out the Audible website in your country for availability.
Various YouTubers for children provide readalong videos for a wide range of children’s books, and a number of animated books are also available on YouTube, such as The Colour Monster, below. Search the title you’d like to read with your children to see if it is available, or simple search “kids storybook read along” for a broad selection.
9.Share a Family Movie Night
You don’t need to go to the movie theatre to have a good night at the movies. Buy everyone’s favourite cinema snacks, let the kids choose the movie (or choose a classic kids film from yesteryear for them to enjoy), and put your feet up for an evening of enjoyable drama.
10. Go on a Scavenger Hunt
Keep it simple, relaxing and enjoyable with open-ended tasks like “find something round, white, you can hug, made of wood, you like to read.”
Learn New Things
11. Water Play
Half fill a washing-up bowl with water and provide a selection of silicone or plastic utensils and containers for play. Encourage your children to experiment with the equipment. Make their play even more interesting by adding new items for them to explore, like ice cubes dyed with food colouring, bubbly washing up liquid, or materials that respond to water in different ways such as a sponge, a face flannel and strips of fabric like denim, satin and cotton.
12. Play Your Cards
A pack of cards is a hugely versatile resource. Card games range from very simple Snap or Go Fish to strategy challenges like Rummy and Hearts. A deck of cards can become building blocks, or magic trick tools. They teach about rules, turn-taking, concentration, learning from others, identifying and thinking through different scenarios, planning, decision making and consequences. All while having fun.
13. Learn a New Skill
Maybe learning to build a house of cards with your kids doesn’t spark joy. But if you have a child-friendly hobby, or you’d like to begin a new one, this may be a good time to share it with your family. Many resources online now offer the opportunity to learn and create from home.
14. Take a Class Online
Plenty of child-friendly courses are available for free online. eLearningForKids, BBC Bitesize and HelpKidzLearn are just three examples. YouTube also has many educational channels for children. Some of the best include:
- Sesame Street: Featuring the entire gang of familiar friends, this channel includes full length programs and individual videos on a wide range of topics. As always, they turn learning and personal development into a joyful adventure.
- WordWorld: A great preschool resource from the makers of WordWorldPBS, teaching language, spelling and word development through colourful animations and animal-themed stories.
- SciShow: Explore the unexpected about ourselves and the world around us. Discover fascinating facts and answer all sorts of questions like: How do we know what’s inside the earth? Where are all the tiny dinosaurs? How can a hot drink cool people down? And more.
- TED-Ed: TED Talks for kids (young and not so young)! Challenge yourself to solve a riddle, or discover the answer to questions as diverse as “how do bones make blood?” and “what makes neon signs glow?”
- Smithsonian: Educational storytelling from the Smithsonian Institution, covering history, nature, science, space, and culture.
15. Make New Instruments
Invite children to explore around your home to find a selection of items that make different sounds. Show them how different items can be adapted to produce varying sounds. For example:
- Fill empty glass bottles with different amounts of water and show how blow across the top or tapping gently on the side with different items (e.g. wooden spoon, fork or teaspoon) creates different pitch and tone.
- Fill several boxes with different amounts of rice or pasta and see how differently they sound as a a set of drums.
- Place different thickness of elastic bands around a range of plastic, cardboard, metal and glass containers, and pluck the strings to find out what sound is produced.
After a little demonstration and clear safety briefing, children will become very inventive as they seek ways to create new sound and music.
Visit Ryan’s World and discover how to make drums, guitar, tambourine, maracas and more using everyday household items.
Craft and Create
16. Use Your Imagination
It doesn’t take much for children to take flight into a crafty creative world. Give them a basket of craft materials, set them a task such as creating “the happiest butterfly” or “the silliest elephant”, and let their imagination run free. Fill the craft box with supplies such as:
- craft glue, tape or sticky dots
- empty boxes of different sizes
- toilet paper or paper towel rolls
- scrap paper and wood
- clean foil wrapping
- ice lolly sticks
- pipe cleaners
- other crafty household materials
17. Blow Your Own Painting
A very simple craft activity that encourages deep breathing – a valuable calming skill for children to learn.
You will need:
- Runny paint
- Any type of narrow tubing like a straw or IV tubing.
- Paper for drying
- To ensure children can competently “blow” rather than “suck” with the tubing before doing this activity with them. If they need help learning, ask them to make a long ‘P’ sound, or mime blowing out candles on a birthday cake.
- Put several blobs of different coloured paint on a sheet of paper.
- Place one end of the tubing close to the paper, and the other end in the mouth. Breathe in deep and blow out slowly down the straw to move the paint in different directions and random patterns as far as it will go.
- Turn the paper to create new and larger patterns.
Here are two fun paint blowing craft activities
18. Invent A New Game
Using only the items available in your home, can you help your children make up an entirely new game to play together? The possibilities are endless – a party or team game, a family board game, something involving patio chalk perhaps? A game with rules that they can teach others to play later.
19. Create Sharable Games
Create a themed WordSearch or Crossword Puzzle and send it out to friends and family. You could use this as a unique way to share updates or other information.
20. Create a Family Music Video
For yourselves only, or to share with others. Singing and dancing are great ways to expel negative energy and release a surge of feel-good endorphins.
For creative inspiration, watch the Marsh Family’s COVID lockdown adaptation of One Day More, from the musical Les Misérables.
21. Create An Obstacle Course
Young children love to move around, and they need the exercise to develop their bodies and gross motor skills. Indoors or in the garden, use furniture and household objects to create a course that encourages participants to go over, under, around, and through obstacles. Make it even more fun by inviting your child to complete the course in the guise of a particular character. For example, a mechanical robot, a giant dinosaur, a dancing princess, an excited explorer, an inquisitive scientist, or a spacewalking astronaut.
22. Do Some Yoga
Yoga offers gentle stretching that helps children develop breath control, balance and core strength, confidence and mindful relaxation. Various instructors provide yoga resources for children online. One of the best is Cosmic Kids Yoga, whose sessions are colourful adventures, teaching yoga through familiar characters and interactive stories. Designed for children aged 3+.
23. Get Active Screen Time with GoNoodle
Dance parties, yoga sessions, mindfulness activities, and games that encourage children to wake up their bodies, engage their minds, have fun and be their best. GoNoodle content is Created by child development professionals, together with athletes, choreographers and mindfulness experts for use at home and school.
Daily exercise is vital for our physical health, and one of the best ways to support our mental health too. Growing children especially need regular active play and exercise. A little gentle yoga may be all that’s possible when energy is low, but often even homebound kids are ready to take on the world. Talk with your doctor about what is appropriate for your child in treatment, and ask if they have any recommendations for online sessions you can follow.
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Body Coach Joe Wicks is live-streaming a free daily workout at 9am BST for families around the world. Past sessions are available at The Body Coach TV YouTube channel. Joe is donating all advertising revenue to the NHS Charities Together, COVID-19 Appeal.
Connect With Nature
25. Make an Animal Obstacle Course
Similar to activity #21, create a course that encourages children to wriggle, jump, crawl, and wind their way through obstacles. Challenge the children to complete each section of the course by moving like a different insect. For example, they could:
- scuttle along like a spider
- jump over something like a grasshopper
- wriggle through a tunnel like a caterpillar
- weave through slalom markers like a butterfly among flowers
- Curl up in a ball at the end, like a millipede.
26. Metamorphosis Obstacle Course
You will need to set up a simple obstacle course for this activity. This is not a race game, simply a fun activity for children to learn about the life cycle of the butterfly.
- For the caterpillar phase, children crawl through the grass or across the carpet around a series of cones or markers set up in a wiggly line.
- For the cocoon phase, children crawl into a tunnel (the cocoon). This can be under a table or through a collapsible play tunnel. They must put on a pair of wings and antennae waiting for them at the end of the tunnel, before they emerge as a fluttering butterfly. Either have a set for each child, or have one set for this game, and have the child remove the set and place them back at the tunnel end on their way back to the start line.
- For the butterfly phase, the children take flight practice by running around trees or jumping over obstacles such as swimming noodles propped up on blocks.
27. Animal Follow My Leader
Choose an animal to act out while moving around the room or garden in a circle. Have your children follow while copying your movements and sounds. Mimic different animals such as trumpeting like an elephant, stalking like a tiger, or hopping like a rabbit. Offer to swap places with your children if they are confident to lead, or each choose an animal and race across a particular space, acting out that animal.
28. Go for a Nature Walk
You don’t have to go far to have a good nature walk. See what you can find in your garden or just along your street. Encourage your child to point out trees, flowers, plants, animals, birds and insects they recognize. If possible, photograph the ones they show interest in but don’t know. When you return home, help them research these items to see if they can identify them. They may find this more fun, satisfying and memorable than simply being told.
29. Have a Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt
Keep this very simple with a list of open-ended items, such as looking for something that is white, soft, a plant, fell from a tree, or makes a noise.
30. Signs of the Seasons Scavenger Hunt
Depending on the season, nature offers all sorts of treasures for children to find. For example:
- Spring blooms with new leaves, scented blossoms, budding flowers, and hatching chicks.
- Summer shines with colourful flowers, busy bugs, ripening fruits and singing birds.
- Autumn is laden with berries and conkers amid the turning leaves.
- Winter sparkles with frosted cones, skeletal leaves, and magical icicles.
Encourage your children to take a closer look at the world around them by asking them to find five small seasonal items.
31. Be a Butterfly Scientist
Another twist on the traditional scavenger hunt, teaching children about the life cycle of the butterfly.
- Read The Hungry Caterpillar, and talk with the children about the four stages of the butterfly (egg, caterpillar, cocoon, and butterfly).
- Give each child a coloured card with the four stages of the butterfly printed and represented on it in pictorial format (for children who can’t yet read). For children who have low vision, you can use tactile representations. For example: a bean for the egg, corkscrew pasta for the caterpillar, cotton ball for the cocoon, and bowtie pasta for the butterfly.
- Each child should receive a different coloured card to avoid confusion in the hunt, and a bag with their name on it, in which to collect their findings.
- Each child has to look for each of the four stages of the butterfly hidden in the house or garden. They must look for their colour of each stage. So for example, a child with a blue card must look for a blue egg (e.g. an Easter egg), a blue caterpillar (e.g. three round sweets wrapped in blue paper), a blue cocoon (e.g. a blue face flannel, soft toy or other favour hidden in a decorated toilet roll tube), and a blue butterfly (e.g. a material butterfly, sticker, washable tattoo, craft or other favour).
32. Make a Toilet Roll Bird Feeder
Children will love this messy activity that connects with the birds.Smother a cardboard tube in peanut butter (no added salt and sugar versions are suitable for birds).
You will need:
- Honey, maple syrup OR salt and sugar free peanut butter
- a toilet roll tube
- some bird seed
- some string
- Smother the toilet roll tube in peanut butter.
- Roll the tube in bird seed.
- Thread string through the hole and tie it up in a hanging loop.
- Hang the feeder in a place where birds will be and feel safe eating.
How many birds can you count visiting the feeder? How many different types of bird can you see? Use an online resource to identify the birds in your region.
33. Drink Like a Butterfly
Crafting fun with a competitive race and a great way to encourage children to drink more.
- Create flowers out of bendable straws and tissue paper. Cut flowers in the shape of a daisy in different colours, layer them and poke a straw through the centre. The bend in the straw will anchor the flowers.
- The children must run from the start line to a row of glasses filled with nectar (juice). Do not run with straws in mouths due to danger of injury if they should fall.
- At the table, they must place their straw in their mouth and their hands behind their back. The aim is to finish the nectar without the straw touching the glass.
- If the straw touches the side, the child must run back to the start line and begin again.
- The first child to finish the juice wins.
34. Make Rainbow Flowers
This simple experiment teaches children how plants drink water through their stem and circulate it to their petals. White flowers are best to see the effect well. However, combining food colouring with coloured petals can also teach about secondary colours. For example, a high dose of blue food colouring mixed with the yellow petals of a daffodil can produce green petals, while a red food colouring may produce orange petals.
- Half fill several glasses with water and add 3-5 drops of a different food colouring to each glass.
- Alternatively, mix several colours in a single glass, as desired.
- Trim 2cm from the stems of each flower – try white carnations or daisies, or daffodils.
- Place one flower into each glass and leave overnight to see what happens.
- Alternatively, try to carefully split the stem up the centre lengthways, stopping well before the flower head, then place each stem in a different glass of food colouring to see what the outcome will be.
35. Make Natural Art
Art and crafts are always a great way to occupy children. Keep things fresh by going for a walk with the kids in search of materials they could use in their next art project. For example, fallen blossoms, petals, leaves feathers, sticks, berries, and seed pods. Use them to create a collage picture or card, to decorate a box or photo frame, or any number of imaginative projects.
36. Make Butterfly Art
A super simple craft activity can teach children about symmetry in nature.
You will need:
- Different coloured paint
- A sheet of paper
- Scisors and glue
- Some card, pipe cleaners or other household items for body and antennae.
- Fold the paper in half, then open it back up like a book.
- Splodge some different coloured paint on one half.
- Fold the paper back over and press down so the paint spreads out on both sides.
- Carefully pull the two sides apart to reveal the new butterfly, and leave it to dry.
- Cut out a butterfly shape.
- Add a body and antennae to finish the butterfly.
37. Jump Like Bugs
If you have a suitable patio or driveway…
- Use pavement chalk to draw three flowers with stems of varying lengths, and place a flowerpot in the middle of each flower. The stems must meet at the base.
- Each player takes a turn standing on a leaf (made from green felt or foam) at the base of the flower stems, and tries to throw assorted bugs and butterflies into the pots. The bugs can be any found around the house, or purchased cheaply online.
- Points are scored: 3 points for the farthest pot, 2pts for the middle pot, and 1pt for the closest pot.
38. Pin the Leaf on the Flower
An ever-popular party game, with a tactile, floral slant.
- Decorate a piece of poster board with a large flower, stem, grass, ladybird, sun, butterfly etc. The stem should be painted, but all other items should be textured to enable blind or blindfolded participants to “see” the picture with their hands. Use cotton wool, velvet, silk, foam etc. to create a tactile display.
- Give each player a green foam leaf with their name written on one side and double-sided tape on the other.
- Participants take turns to be blindfolded, and place their leaf on the poster, trying to get it somewhere along the stem. The other foam items (sun, flower, ladybird, etc.), are tactile clues as to the location of the stem.
- The player whose placement is closest to the stem wins.
39. Explore the Wild World
If you can’t go outside at all, or you cannot find any natural environments to connect with in your neighbourhood, try watching a nature documentary or webcam, or listening to a recording of nature sounds.
Explore Live is the largest live nature cam network in the world, with cameras on every continent. BBC Earth provides some of the best wildlife videography and documentaries in the world. Many wildlife programs have active educational channels – Houston Zoo is a great example.
40. Write a Nature Inspired Story
Encourage your children’s creative writing or storytelling skills with one of the following challenges (or use your own). If your child is too young to write, encourage them to tell you their story so you can write it down for them.
- Describe a magical woodland using all five senses.
- Find an object on a nature walk and tell the story of its life.
- Write a story that involves at least two of the following:
- a magnifying glass
- oak tree
- bee hive
- Describe a day in the life of your garden or street from the perspective of:
- sitting in a tree;
- a bird in flight;
- a hunting cat.
- Describe one of the following:
- a picnic from an ant’s perspective;
- a zoo from an elephant’s perspective;
- an ocean sunset from a dolphin’s perspective;
- an African rain storm from a zebra’s perspective;
- the summer thaw from a polar bear’s perspective.
Share the stories together at a family reading.