If you're stuck at home with the kids thanks to COVID, no doubt screens will be your saviour. But how can you use technology to your advantage without your children turning into zombies from watching hours of TV a day?
CHOICE staff are currently working from home due to the lockdown in Sydney, and those of us with kids are also homeschooling or looking after preschoolers. We asked CHOICE parents and carers to share their best tips for using tech creatively to keep kids busy and active – and hopefully quiet, so you can get some work done!
Try some interactive drawing apps and videos.
How to foster creativity with technology
- "For older kids, get them to type the start of a story, then email it to another friend to write the next part of the story. They can pass it back and forth to complete the story" – Jason
- "Try some interactive YouTube drawing videos, such as Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems" – Jane
- "After watching Matilda my partner dressed up as Miss Trunchbull and chased my (delightedly) screaming child around the house threatening to throw her into the Chokey. Said child then had a chance to be Miss Trunchbull and chase the adults through the house. I think post-movie dress-ups will become a regular feature at home!" – Alice
- "Try online piano tutorials of pop songs; making stop-motions with Lego characters and other filmmaking activities; music instrument and beat-making apps, and some drawing and designing apps (but beware that some are more 'gamified' than you think)" – Tracy
- "Ask small children to help you digitise the million artworks they've brought home from daycare. It'll give them something to do, and hopefully reduce clutter at the same time – winning!" – Alice
- "If you're allergic to craft, there are some great colouring apps for iPads that will keep the paper mess to a minimum" – Alice
- "Sydney Story Factory has some fantastic creative writing resources" – Siobahn
- "The Educating Young Engineers website has some LEGO activities specifically designed to inspire young engineers" – Tracy
- "You can download the Cards Against Humanity Family Edition to play together" – Alice
Ask your school about online resources.
How to keep your kids' brains engaged during screen time
If your kids are going to be staring at screens instead of playing with their friends, they might as well expand their brains by learning about the world.
Here are some more ideas from CHOICE staffers:
- "Space and nature documentaries are great for older kids. Neil DeGrasse Tyson's update of The Cosmos and Brian Cox's Human Universe are big hits in our house, as are adventure docos like Touching the Void, The Dawn Wall and My Octopus Teacher" – Tracy
- "Instead of letting your kids just watch TV or stream YouTube all day, encourage them to listen to age-appropriate podcasts, audio books or stories. Spotify has lots of free stories for kids, from toddlers to older children. There's also a news podcast for kids called Squiz Kids" – Pru
Spotify has lots of free stories for kids, from toddlers to older children
- "You can ask your kids' school what online resources they use. My niece would log onto a maths one where she would compete against kids from other schools, even in the holidays, plus another site where she was coding" – Siobahn
- "Send kids on a photography mission into the backyard. They can then share their photos with friends and family, or use the internet to identify the birds, plants and insects they see" – Alice
- "World Book Online has made its collection of more than 3000 eBooks and audiobooks available for free. They have books suitable for all ages. Project Gutenberg also has more than 60,000 free eBooks" – Pru
How to travel without leaving the house
We might be stuck in Australia indefinitely, but that's no reason to give up your dreams of showing your kids the world. Here's what CHOICE parents will be doing to expand their kids' worlds:
- "We can't travel at the moment, but instead I'll be sending the kids on a virtual tour of a museum" – Rachel
- "You can take the kids to see penguins, lions and baby snow leopards at the Melbourne Zoo" – Jason
- "And there's the royal albatross nest cam in Dunedin" – Tracy
- "And live cams from the San Diego zoo!" – Pru
And some more ways to explore the world – and beyond:
- Taronga Zoo has Taronga TV that brings footage from both the Sydney and Western Plains zoos to your living room
- Visit the Guggenheim Museum in New York
- Check out the British Museum
- Take a virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park
- Explore the surface of Mars on the Curiosity Rover
- Go on a virtual tour of 11 different farms, from minks to pigs to apples to eggs
- Take a virtual trip to Paris to see the incredible artworks in the Louvre
- Virtually visit the Great Wall of China
- Go to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris
(We found these and many more great suggestions in the Facebook group Family Lockdown Tips & Ideas.)
Technology can ease feelings of isolation for kids as well as other friends and family members.
How to use technology to beat social isolation
Whether you're homeschooling while working from home or stuck in a different state (or country) to your family and can't visit, these can be lonely times.
Technology can help ease the feeling of isolation – not just for kids, but also for family members and friends who you might be separated from by various travel restrictions.
- "Use FaceTime or Skype so the grandparents can read books to your kids. Or have the kids read to their grandparents to practice their reading skills." – Alice
- "If your kids can't go to school, encourage them to video conference or Skype with their friends, and maybe share what they've been doing all day to keep up the social interaction." – Pru
You could also ask family members to take the kids to the zoo – virtually, of course. See our suggestions above for great places to 'visit'.
How to keep your kids active by using technology
- "Have a dance party with a favourite Spotify playlist" – Marianna
- "Our taekwondo academy not only does live Zoom classes but also has a bunch of historical classes available on YouTube. We've managed to clear a space in the kids room upstairs so our kiddo enrolled in martial arts can get some 'ya yas' out and keep busy for 40 min" – Andrea
- "P.E. with Joe is a good workout for kids and parents alike" – Alice
- "I can highly recommend Just Dance for a break, some exercise, and comedy value." – Kate
- "The stopwatch feature on your smartphone can be a secret weapon against boredom: tell your kid you're going to time how quickly they can run from one end of the garden to the other (or around the dining table if you're in an apartment). For older kids, they might like to try to beat their personal best times" – Alice
- "Cosmic Kids Yoga is great, as is Storyline Online" – Jane
How to keep your kids (and yourself) safe
- "If you're letting them use your iPad, ensure the relevant locks and restrictions are in place (to avoid unexpected purchases!). When my daughter watches YouTube, I use the YT Kids app instead of the standard app – this ensures she doesn't see inappropriate advertising and it remembers all her shows (and means Peppa Pig doesn't always pop up as a suggestion on my own YouTube)" – Pru
Do not click links or pay for anything unless you can verify the source
- "Position your equipment near an outlet if possible so you don't need to run cables across the floor, creating a trip hazard. If this isn't an option, try to run your power leads in corners and against surfaces. Run an extension lead to your workspace and plug all your equipment into a powerboard – that way you only need to run a single cable along the floor, rather than one for your computer, monitor, phone charger, etc. And make sure cables for other devices are bundled up safely on your desk. Dangling cords are a magnet for kids and pets" – Peter
- "Scammers are likely to take advantage of the current situation and you may start receiving emails or texts with links to educational resources, information, free content for kids and so on. Do not click links or pay for anything unless you can verify the source. If it seems a bit too good to be true, it probably is" – Peter