Social distancing with kids

(Paul Schattenberg/Submitted)

AgriLife Extension experts share tips to keep kids engaged at home during COVID-19 social distancing

Paul Schattenberg, Submitted

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing many communities to close schools and child daycare centers out of an abundance of caution, parents and other caregivers have been left looking for ways to keep their kids occupied and continuing their education while stuck at home.

“For parents and other caregivers at home with children during this extended period of social distancing, this presents additional challenges,” said Monty Dozier, Ph.D., director for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Disaster Assessment and Recovery Unit. “But experts tell us it’s important to keep things as routine as possible for children and to find positive ways to engage them and redirect any negative thoughts or feelings they may have.”

Individual and family activities

Stephen Green, Ph.D., assistant director for AgriLife Extension’s Family and Community Health Unit, College Station, said there are many beneficial activities that individuals and families can engage in while at home during the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to Green, some indoor activities to consider include reading books with your child, playing board games, and involving children in fun and engaging physical exercises to keep them moving.

“This is a good time to participate in family activities such as cooking and eating meals together, taking a walk around the house, gardening or completing arts and crafts projects. During this time, it’s important for children to remain physically and mentally active to avoid becoming bored and sedentary.” — Stephen Green, Ph.D., assistant director for AgriLife Extension’s Family and Community Health Unit

Green said a helpful AgriLife Extension publication to help keep young children engaged is the Alphabet Activities booklet containing 26 activities adults can participate in with their children.

“The Alphabet Activities booklet was originally developed to give daycare providers and teachers some easy, interactive and inexpensive activities to do indoors with youth,” said Alice Kirk, AgriLife Extension child health specialist and the publication’s author, College Station.  

She said the activities employ the use of everyday household items such as paper, plastic balls, beach towels and flat sheets, allowing those engaged in the activities to “think outside the box and get creative.”   

4-H activities to engage youth

There are also many interesting and educational activities available through the 4-H website, said Courtney Dodd, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension associate director for health, families and youth, College Station.

Texas 4-H is the youth development component of AgriLife Extension. It is the largest youth development program in the state, reaching more than 550,000 youth ages 5-18.

“One of the many things we encourage young people to do is be physically active and live a healthy lifestyle,” Dodd said. “These goals are always important but probably have an added importance given the current circumstances.”

She said the 4-H Healthy Living Activity Guide has 30 interesting and engaging hands-on activities to help kids develop good habits and live a healthy life.

Texas 4-H will be hosting fun and educational videos under the banner Texas 4-H Virtual Experience on the Texas 4-H Facebook page at 10 a.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through late April. The videos will be saved to the Facebook page and will be placed on Instagram. There will be links parents can use to access the related 4-H Explore Guide after each video ends. 

Explore Guides provide learning opportunities on a variety of topics and each lesson has an activity associated with it.

The dates and topic for the Texas 4-H Virtual Experience are:

  • March 24, 25, 26 – Agriculture and Livestock
  • March 31, April 1, 2 – STEM
  • April 7, 8, 9 – Natural Resources
  • April 14, 15, 16 – Junior Master Gardeners
  • April 21, 22, 23 – Leadership and Citizenship

Additionally, the National 4-H website offers 5 Ways to Keep Kids Engaged and Learning At Home as a resource to help kids maintain a sense of normalcy and keep them on track in their learning and personal development while at home.

Cooking with kids

For those parents or caregivers who may want to teach children some basic cooking skills and how to prepare some easy recipes, AgriLife Extension’s Dinner Tonight website provides hundreds of recipes to choose from along with numerous instructional videos and tips on cooking techniques, nutrition, menu planning and healthy living.

Keeping active

An AgriLife Extension resource for helping children stay active and develop a healthy lifestyle is available on the Walk Across Texas program website. The site has resources for children, including a variety of lesson plans for which many of the materials needed can be found in the home.

“There are more than 250 lesson plans posted,” said Michael Lopez, AgriLife Extension specialist in family and community health, College Station. “These lessons incorporate physical activity with a curriculum subject such as health education, language arts, math, reading, science and social studies.”

Lopez said the Walk Through Texas History program is a new AgriLife Extension program that can be used to keep children active during this time.

“Walk Through Texas History is a program designed to help Texans establish the habit of regular physical activity while learning the rich history of Texas,” Lopez explained. “It is an online, step-based program people can engage in at home or in another setting in which they feel comfortable. Participants work to reach designated distance goals while learning about Texas heroes and historical events.”

Gardening with kids

Lisa Whittlesey, the AgriLife Extension specialist in horticultural sciences who oversees the agency’s Junior Master Gardener, JMG, program, noted many activities in the curriculum can be conducted indoors or in a home garden. She said curricular resources for teachers and adult leaders can be adapted and applied for children of different ages.

“The JMG website has curricula for different grade levels and there are downloadable sample lessons for those who want to teach at home,” she said. “And the lessons are aligned with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirements, so they make good resources to incorporate for more hands-on learning.”

Whittlesey also said the Kids Zone portion of the JMG website provides access to the Junior Master Gardener Handbook, which has specific age-appropriate activities for children relating to topics from plants, insects, fruits and vegetables to soils and water, ecology, landscaping and environmental horticulture.

“We will also have JMG content available through the JMG Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram,” she said. “Some will be special lessons offered in collaboration with Texas 4-H. There will also be downloadable resources and videos.”