I saw the storm coming. My friends in Madrid, the city I had just moved away from with my two young boys, bemoaned that classes had been cancelled in the region, leaving many of them with not just children to look after, but with children who needed to continue learning remotely, as well as children to care for emotionally. Several of them are working mothers.
There’s a saying in Spanish: cuando las barbas de tus vecinos veas cortar, pon las tuyas a remojar, or get ready because it will happen to you. When children and university students in Madrid got a lie in on Wednesday morning, mine got one the following Monday in Seville when the Spanish prime minister passed a stay-at-home order.
It’s clear that, as a parent and a full-time employee, I am juggling a lot of balls, and doing so clumsily.
Having been a teacher for many years in Spain, I saw the opportunity to not just connect with my boys, who are ages 9 months and three years old, but to improve their English and get them into a routine for a long (hopefully!) summer in the U.S. with my family. This meant digging through the recycling for a few bits and bobs like toilet rolls and powdered cocoa containers, taping together old boxes for realia play and finding imaginative indoor play for kids in everyday items I could find at the supermarket.
As we stretch into the second month at home, there is a lot of imperfection. My toddler has a short attention span and is prone to tempers after so long with dear old mom and dad, and the baby is eager to pull himself up on everything – even unstable objects. I have lowered my expectations and adjusted rewards in this odd moment of our lives, but do have quite a few indoor activities for kids for young, primary-aged children:
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of the stay-at-home orders is connectivity, particularly for children staying at home. As digital natives, my kids get a kick out of visiting monuments, zoos and museum galleries around the world, or watching live cams of farm animals. My toddler has been to four counties with boots on the ground but loads of others through a computer screen.
Celebrities of all types are livestreaming for kids and sharing their talents. While I tune in to Zumba sessions while my kiddos nap or catch my friends on Zoom for Saturday trivia night, there is no shortage of fun stuff for young kids to take advantage of while connected.
My toddler can usually plug through P.E. with Joe, a British body coach-turned-gym teacher who broadcasts kid-friendly exercises sessions on his YouTube daily at 10 a.m.CEST (you can also catch previous recordings), and we love that he shouts out where his viewers are watching from.
We can’t wait to tune in to Michelle Obama’s weekly read on PBS or my local library’s story time, either. You can watch Mondays from April 20th on the PBS Kids’ Facebook page or their YouTube Channel.
Arts and Crafts
My kids love to create – painting and coloring, cutting and pasting, you name it. I’d venture to guess that yours do, too.
I bought a Play Doh kit for my elder son just before the pandemic became big news. He became fully potty trained at the same moment, so not only was the kit a reward for this developmental milestone, but also a way to keep him entertained while I needed to be in the kitchen.
We have also made enough macaroni necklaces to outfit our entire extended family – simply boil pasta in any shape and mix a cup of water with some vinegar and food coloring. We dyed Easter eggs in the same fashion, providing a fun, mid-morning indoor activity for kids while spirits are high.
Things that are easy to procure like chalk, coloring books, bubbles and craft paper (paper shops are currently open in Spain, and larger chains will deliver goods to your door) have gone a long way. I have printed their names and the date on anything we’ve created as a record. Take stock of what you have at home – you’ll likely find that anything can turn into a canvas.
Like many parents, I am trying to juggle my work life with my home life – and that sometimes means giving my kids a tablet while I have a conference call. They’d love to zone out to YouTube videos of other kids playing with toys (how is that a thing!?) but will usually spend some time on a productive skill.
My son loves LingoKids, an app for learning English that’s loaded with traditional songs, spelling practice and letter tracing (they offer free trials, too). He’ll also spend time on a special YouTube playlist I’ve slowly been curating for him to review shapes, colors, days of the week, etc. – just like carpet time at daycare.
Other ideas? Toca Boca, flashcards and easy toddler games that you can find Nickjr.
Online books and libraries
Language acquisition is especially strong with children at this stage in their development, and I’ve noticed my toddler beginning to speak in longer strings of sentences in English. We like to find books and pick a theme – The Very Hungry Caterpillar for food and nutrition, Goodnight Chicago for cities and places.
Free play, one of the best indoor activities for kids
There’s really no substitute for a child’s imagination and allowing my kids to play on their own has been one of the silver linings of this whole ordeal. In fighting clutter (and having lived in a small apartment in Madrid), we rarely have all of our children’s toys out at once, so switching games and play objects out at night allows them to “rediscover” some that often go unused. My toddler is currently into playing superheroes with just about anything, so costumes and dolls have become Ironman and Elastigirl.
Let your kiddos play, be bored and create.
The Spanish government has announced that children will be allowed outdoors once a day and with some stipulations. While I oscillate between many emotions as we stretch into various weeks of lockdown, I am relieved that my resilient, active children will begin to regain some sort of normalcy.
In Seville, we treat the street – the plazas, the bars and the parks – as our living room. While I don’t expect things to be the same for some time, taking out the trash will no longer be the highlight of my week if I can see my kids run and play outside the walls of our home.