Entertaining the kids at home during COVID-19

Amanda Abel – paediatric psychologist.

To be honest, the thought of potentially self-isolating or worse, being in quarantine, for days or weeks on end, is literally creating a physiological sensation of anxiety that I have not felt since the early post-partum days. One of the things I’ve worried about is that my daughter (a very active 7 year old girl going on 17!), also an only child, could find being home-bound a little tough which in turn would make things tough for me.  I’m also trying to run two paediatric psychology practices (not without its own concerns during this COVID-19 period) and potentially educate said child if the school closes down! Although I’m okay with my child having some TV and a very small amount of iPad, I don’t want to fall into a habit of using these for days or weeks on end to keep her entertained. Many kids will struggle to self regulate if they’ve had too much screen time and it’s just not healthy for them anyway.

But like most things, if we’re feeling anxious a good way to move through it is to regain a sense of control.

There are in fact heaps of ways to keep your kids busy while you’re stuck in isolation or quarantine. But my recommendation is to sit down and think about it first and try to have a plan or a list like what I’ve created below.

The best way to extend many of these activities is to get your child to plan it out first. This is a good way to develop your child’s executive function skills and it helps them slow down and think about what they want to achieve. They can write or draw the plan first and then start executing it if you think that would be helpful for them.

These activities could be used simply to keep kids busy, or if you are in the unfamiliar home-schooling territory now, these activities would be great for breaks or motivators – a reward for getting some of their work done. If you need ideas re educating your child at home during school closures thanks to COVID-19 see my post here.

coloured pencils

So this is what I’ve come up with for some creative screen-free ways to keep the kids busy:

  • Create a treasure hunt
  • Camp in the backyard – even if just during the day
  • Make an art gallery down the hallway where the children need to create the artwork, then hang it up with blu tack
  • Set up a ‘car wash’ – they could clean your car, their bikes etc.
  • Have a movie day with popcorn and Netflix. Darken the room and make popcorn boxes out of paper or cardboard. The kids could even make tickets and set up a sales booth!
  • Keep the recycling and build cities with the boxes in the backyard (or inside)
  • Paint the fence with water and a paintbrush or roller
  • Take the chalk outside and decorate
  • Make a drum kit out of containers or pots
  • Make a tent under the dining table with a sheet
  • Make a cartoon flip book
  • Make a boredom box – put lots of ideas for things to combat boredom written down on paper in the box and they do a lucky dip when they say they’re bored.
  • Listen to kids podcasts
  • Play eye spy
  • Set up a tub with water and bubbles/soap and encourage some water play – not just for the younger kids! The older kids might be interested too, especially if you put lego or something similarly motivating in the water.
  • Cut a pretend TV screen out of an old cardboard box and set it up so your child can pretend to be a newsreader or TV character
  • Make playdoh
  • Give them a simple recipe to follow
  • Set up a restaurant and get the kids to prepare simple meals (sandwiches; dips and crackers etc.) for you. They can design the menu and signage as well.
  • Have your child research a topic like a different culture or country. Get them to draw the flag and write 3 facts about each country.
  • Set up a hair salon
  • Get the dress ups out and set up a fashion boutique
  • Reframe little household jobs into games i.e. get them to clean your makeup brushes!
  • Design a theme park
  • Make a zoo in the garden (or inside) with the soft toys, also make up tickets and a map.

cookies and cutters

My daughter got wind of what I was typing and she has decided to add some of her own ideas below…

  • Play with your toys
  • Read a book
  • Play with a ball in the backyard, or if you live in an apartment use your apartment backyard or the nearest park
  • Make a toy school with the soft toys
  • Pretend you’re a superhero – tie a towel around you to make a cape
  • Make dress ups for soft toys out of old clothes


So, good luck to all the parents hoping to stay sane over the next few days, weeks or months. Stay healthy! Follow me on instagram if you want more frequent tips!


Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.

Have you seen our founder Amanda Abel’s new online school for parents? It’s called The Psychology Room and her first course has been lauched – The Good Night Toolbox – with tools for parents to help their child get to sleep at night. Check it out here!

good night toolbox title slide

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