As soon as the schools closed for the latest lockdown there was a huge focus on homeschooling and the various ways parents can help prevent their children falling behind academically.
Yet little has been said about the fact there are entire weekends and evenings where you’ll need to find ways to keep your kids entertained when the usual soft plays, swimming pools, zoos, craft centres and other go-tos are closed. What’s more, this latest lockdown comes during the cold winter months. Making outdoor walks and parks less appealing.
This is not to mention that the upheaval may well be impacting the mental health of children, so having downtime, and being given time to relax and play, is vitally important.
If the very thought of all of this is giving you cold sweats, we’ve compiled a list of fun activities for all ages, capabilities and budgets to inspire you to get your children playing and chilling. There may even be a few in this list that help you take some time for yourself. We won’t judge!
Socialising and family activities
Age ranges: All
If you or your kids are yearning for social contact and missing loved ones, Teleparty (formerly known as Netflix Party) lets multiple people stream shows together meaning you can keep up with your favourite series with grandparents, cousins, school friends and more, even if you’re miles apart. Install the free Chrome or Microsoft Edge extension, click the Teleparty icon and share your viewing link with friends. Once everyone has joined the link, the show will begin, and the extension has a built-in chat function that lets you send messages to other people in your party as the show is playing.
Age range: All ages
Taking the concept of Netflix Party to another level, Kast is a real-time party video sharing app with screen capture, voice, text, and video chat. It lets you play games, watch shows, hang out, teach (or learn) a new skill and anything else you can imagine. Your children and their friends could study together, or you can watch films with friends and loved ones in isolation. All parties are private by default.
Age range: All ages
Created by the team behind live-streaming app Meerkat, and later bought by Fortnite’s developers Epic Games, the Houseparty app saw a huge surge in signups once countries went into lockdown the first time – rising from 304 on the Apple App store to second in Social Networking apps in a matter of weeks. And it’s already climbing back up as the third lockdown took hold. The reason it’s so popular is that it lets groups of friends get together via video call and play online games like Quick Draw, Trivia and Heads Up. It’s also possible to drop in on “house parties” being hosted by friends. By default, parties are open to everyone in your Houseparty friends list, which has left a few parents worried, according to online forums, but you can change this to make parties private in Settings. Described as the “face-to-face social network”, one of Houseparty’s USPs is that it’s not resigned to mobile devices, being available to download on iOS, Android, Chrome browsers, and Macs.
Siemen’s DIY Science challenges
Age range: Designed for Key Stage 2 (7 to 11) but suitable for all ages with adult supervision
Siemens has a series of DIY videos designed to encourage families to conduct at-home science experiments using common items found in kitchen cupboards. Create lava lamps using oil and food colouring; build towers made of spaghetti; make Coke cans implode and more. Each video guides viewers through the experiment before revealing the science behind why it works. Siemens has also produced a collection of interactive games aimed at getting children into engineering, from designing a rollercoaster, to discovering which energy is used to effectively power a farm, and programming a self-driving car.
The Silver Spoon for Children
Age range: All
Get your little ones involved in making their own meals, and hopefully make fussy eaters less particular in the process, using the Silver Spoon collection of recipe books designed with family meals in mind. Based on the English version of the bestselling book, Il cucchiaio d’argento, the Silver Spoon for Children version features a collection of easy-to-make Italian dishes for kids to prepare, presented clearly with step-by-step picture guides. Publisher Phaidon also sells The Silver Spoon: Recipes for Babies which helps parents make nutritious meals for babies and toddlers.
Play board games online with friends and family
Age range: All ages (smartphone required)
Nothing can quite replace the experience of sitting around a table and playing the likes of Monopoly, Risk, UNO! and other popular board games with friends and family. Something that many of us would have missed dearly over Christmas. Thankfully, there are a number of alternatives.
If Monopoly is your go-to game, the Monopoly app is available on iOS (£3.99) and Android (£3.99 but currently on offer for £1.19) and has an online multiplayer mode that lets you play private games with friends and family.
Alternatively, if you’d rather play a game of UNO!, you can get the app for free on iOS and Android and play with friends online. We love the fact it also comes with a 2v2 mode which means two people in your household can take on two members of another.
Age range: All ages
Storyline Online is an Emmy-nominated site set up by nonprofit The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) Foundation to promote and improve children’s literacy. It streams free videos of actors, including Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Kristen Bell, Viola Davis, Kevin Costner, Sarah Silverman, Betty White, Wanda Sykes and dozens more, reading children’s books. Each book includes supplemental curriculum developed by teachers, aimed at strengthening comprehension and verbal and written skills for English-language students. Reading aloud to children has been shown to improve reading, writing and communication skills, logical thinking and concentration, and general academic aptitude.
CBeebies Bedtime Stories
Price: Free (with a TV licence)
Age range: All ages
In the same vein as Storyline Online, a selection of CBeebies Bedtime Stories, read by a huge range of celebrities, are available to stream via the BBC iPlayer. This includes Tom Hardy reading Under the Same Sky, Robbie Williams’ Jazz Dog, Robert Webb reading Santasaurus and more.
Price: £69.95 for the starter set which includes the Toniebox and a Tonie toy. Individual Tonies and their accompanying audiobooks cost £14.99 each
Age range: 3-7 due to the choking hazard of the Tonies
The Toniebox introduces your children to classic stories (The Gruffalo, Stick Man, A Christmas Carol) and their characters via a miniature smart speaker. Each speaker is fitted with a stand on which to put figurines, or Tonies, that are designed to look like the characters from the stories. When your child places a Tonie on the box for the first time, its story will download directly onto the Toniebox and will begin immediately.
There are also CreativeTonies, and a TonieApp that lets you and your children make their own recordings and share them with friends. You could record a grandparent reading a story for a child to listen to at bedtime, or create original stories with friends. By combining storytelling with play, the Toniebox can help develop your child’s imagination while introducing them to stories without screens or fiddly controls.
Age range: All
Amazon-owned Audible recently put a selection of its children’s audiobook stories online for free, allowing young people to stream each, in a range of six languages, via their phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. These books are usually only available with a monthly Audible subscription. The service will be available “for as long as schools are closed” and the books are separated into six categories: Littlest Listeners, Elementary, Tween, Teen, Literary Classics” and Folk and Fairy Tales for All. English titles include The Velveteen Rabbit, The Owl and the Pussycat, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (read by Scarlett Johanssen), Jane Eyre, Frankenstein and Grimm’s Fairy Stories, but there are also more region-specific books in Spanish, French, German, Japanese and Italian.
One Third Stories
Price: £19.99 a month or £191 a year upfront
Age range: 4 to 9
One Third Stories has been developed with early readers in mind. It combines many young children’s love of story books with language learning, via a monthly subscription box. Each box is tailored to your little one’s age and interests and the stories start in English before ending in either French, Spanish, German or Italian, depending on the box you select.
To introduce children to each foreign language, individual English words throughout the stories are replaced with their equivalent word in your chosen language. As the story progresses, more words are replaced. This not only teaches children foreign words, but the words are presented in context making them easier to remember and understand. The boxes each come with audiobook versions, so children can listen to pronunciation, as well as games and other resources that help reinforce learning.
Price: From £11.50 a month
Age range: 4 to 12
If your little ones are budding chefs, or you’d like them to be, the Foodini Club subscription boxes are a thing of culinary joy. Think Hello Fresh but for kids. For £11.50 a month, the Foodini Postal Club will send your child a box containing pre-packaged dry ingredients, such as flours, spices, herbs, seeds etc, alongside one sweet and one savoury recipe focused on seasonal fruit and veg. There are also illustrated shopping lists and an activity pack. You can also buy single, themed packs as and when you need them, for Easter or for parties.
Price: From £12.46 a month plus $4.95 (£4.25) shipping to the UK. The monthly cost depends on which subscription length, and which crate you choose. Shipping costs vary and this price may fluctuate in line with currency conversions. US shipping is free
Age range: All
No matter what your children are into, there’s a KiwiCo crate to satisfy their curious minds. At the youngest end of the spectrum, the explore and learn Panda Crate contains activities suitable from birth until they reach the age of two, at which point they can graduate to the play and learn Koala Crate. There are then crates developed for keen scientists, engineers, artists, geographers and more. In addition to hands-on projects that your children can play with and build, each crate comes with an age- and interest-appropriate magazine and access to online tutorials and further fun. The most advanced boxes are designed for ages 14 and up, meaning even adults can take the chance to learn a new skill or find a new hobby.
Mister Maker Craft Box
Price: £5.95 plus 98p postage every two weeks (subscriptions can be cancelled and restarted at any time)
Age range: 3 years and up (due to the choking hazard of small parts)
It shouldn’t all be about structured learning while your kids are at home, it’s vital that they have time to relax and get creative, which is where Mister Maker’s Craft Box comes in. Produced in partnership with the BBC and toucanBox, each box is full of the materials your Mini Makers will need to build projects inspired by Mister Maker and the Shapes’ TV shows. This includes stickers, wall charts, colouring books, puzzles and games. There are 12 boxes, each with their own theme – from space to the ocean, robots and the circus – and these boxes are delivered fortnightly.
Fun and play
Age range: All ages
While there are myriad sites and resources to help your children learn through fun activities, there are few that focus purely on play. Despite the fact it’s so important for the development of childrens’ social skills, self-esteem, imagination, creativity and emotional intelligence. This is where MakeTime2Play comes in. Its mission is to help you with ideas and inspiration to get your children playing. You can get regularly updated play activities via the MakeTime2Play facebook page, app and website, and activities are categorised by age or by the type of play – physical, creative, social, behavioural or inquisitive.
Price: From £18.04
Age range: 6 years and up
Perfect for older children, Escape Kit sells a series of “print and play” packs that turn your home into an escape room of sorts. Each pack revolves around a theme, such as Harry Potter, superheroes, pirates, space and so on, and teams of children, adults or a mixture of both have to unravel clues and complete puzzles to solve the mystery. The kits were designed with parties in mind – and the minimum age is six years old – but they can easily be completed as a family, or via video call with teams of friends in other locations. Prices start at £18.04 but you will need a printer (and scissors) in order to print and prepare the pack contents.
Nasa’s Space Place
Age range: All ages
If you can see past the somewhat dated web page, Nasa’s Space Place is a treasure trove of science experiments, games, puzzles, recipes, challenges and more. All designed to teach children (or adults…) about space and physics while in the pursuit of fun. Our favourites are those involving food, including one activity where you can make an edible asteroid, as well as sunspot cookies! It’s not immediately clear which activities are suitable for which ages so it takes a little bit of navigating through but there is a page of print-ready PDFs which shows many of the activities, all in one place.
Age range: All
At the top, possibly extreme end of keeping your children entertained – or at least that can be your justification for buying these for yourself – is this collection of arcade machines. There’s a tabletop Cosmic Arcade machine (£495), which runs classic 1980s games including Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Time Pilot and Shao Lin’s Road right up to a £3,895, full-sized Guitar Hero. At the cheaper end of the scale, Liberty Games sells Table Tennis and Pool tabletops that can be used to turn your existing dining furniture into playable platforms.
Age range: 1+
Smart Games makes a range of STEM magnetic construction kits for a range of ages to teach them about physics though play. The GeoSmart Ski Patrol, for example, comes with 31 pieces that can be used to build multiple remote-controlled vehicles each with their own turbo motors. There’s also a SmartMax model, designed to introduce babies and toddlers to the world of magnetism, called My First Totem. This set features eight colourful magnetic building blocks, with different sounds, styles and textures that can be combined in various ways. In addition to physical toys, Smart Games has made its range of 18 educational online games, which encourage logical thinking, free to play at SmartGamesLive. This collection usually costs around £11.
And finally… if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with everything that’s going on, BT is promoting its Skills for Tomorrow courses, designed to help parents navigate the various challenges – and benefits – of helping their children stay safe online.
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