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By Jeff Reiland, MS, child and family therapist, Gundersen Health System

The recent school closings due to the COVID-19 virus has placed families in a difficult position. The purpose of the school closings is to help save lives by slowing the spread of the virus. Many parents are overwhelmed with the prospect of keeping their children occupied for weeks on end. Some may be tempted to rely primarily on the electronic devices to help them.

But there may be another way to accomplish this task of keeping our children engaged. While we are taking steps to create social distance, let's be careful not to create social isolation. Excessive screen time can keep kids plugged in but also disconnected from other family members.

Parents, please consider this crisis as an opportunity to create positive memories with your children. It is time to turn on those creative genes! With common household items and a little imagination, you and your children can stay active and engaged.

Ideas for limiting screen time

Instead of using the Internet for recreation, use it as a resource for ideas.

What can you do with a ball? You can play catch or go bowling. You don't need a bowling alley to have fun rolling a ball to knock down blocks or empty water bottles.

Some adults may recall a common game among young adults called "beer pong." Imagine a version of this game—the skill part—played by kids using a bouncing ball and a pail or five-gallon bucket on a driveway or a sidewalk. You can adapt the rules from an online source.

Speaking of sidewalks, if you have not had time to stock up on sidewalk chalk for the spring and summer, there are do-it-yourself chalk recipes on the Internet. There are many activities kids can create with chalk beside hopscotch. Try making a maze, a mural or a winding trail to follow.

Reuse some of those recyclables for crafts and games. Empty egg cartons make great Mancala game boards. All you need are some small smooth pebbles, marbles or beans. Need the instructions? You can find them online under Mancala instructions.

Cards, anyone? Break up a game of War with a game of Spoons. How about Trash or Golf? There are dozens of card games for school-age children to learn. The instructions for new or unfamiliar card games can be found online. How about a card tournament? If playing a card game gets boring, have you ever tried to build a card house?

Watercolor painting. Think about sending out handmade "thinking of you" cards to friends and family. Kids can use crayons or watercolor paints. If you don't have watercolor paint, try using old, dried-up markers. Soap the dried tips of the markers in a couple tablespoons of water in a glass container. Recipes for homemade watercolor paints are found online.

Bean toss. Also commonly called Cornhole, with modified rules, can be played outside, a basement or empty garage, or even a hallway. No bean bags? No beans? Try an old sock or a plastic bag with a small amount of pebbles or rice. Make a target with buckets, cardboard or even a small rope circle on the ground.

With the warmer weather and sunshine, plan a scavenger hunt or treasure hunt. No teams needed. This can be a group event. Make a list of items you and your children can find on a walk to the park or in the back yard. It may help to give some thought to what your children might be interested in finding. If you can't play outside, you can easily do this inside. Scavenger hunt and treasure hunt ideas can be found online.

Play 'Hide the Button.' Family members take turns hiding a small object, like a button, somewhere in a room while all others wait in a separate room. As family members search for the object, the person who hid it can call out who is getting warmer or colder. Whomever finds the object gets to hide it next or pick who can hide it. There are several variations to this game. You can find them on the Internet.

Build a fort. All you need are a couple of sheets or blankets and some furniture like a table and chairs. This can instantly become a cave, a castle or a cottage in the forest. Let the adventure begin!

Have a dance party. This is a fun way to get exercise and really show your moves as you rock to your favorite music.

Make a time capsule (something like a shoe box). Parents can help lead this discussion and explain what a time capsule is, and how it works. All family members can place small objects in the time capsule like a toy or personal possession and write down why they put it in the capsule. Kids can write whatever they want, a goal, a wish, what they're doing now, etc. Set a time for when your kids can open it—six months, a year, etc. Get more ideas on time capsules for kids on the Internet.

Create family conversation cards. Here is an example: If you could have magical powers that could help others, what would those powers be and who would you help? There are many ideas for thoughtful and sometimes silly conversations that will help you really get to know how your kids think. You can find conversation questions for kids on the Internet.

Read. Now is the time to pull out those classic books and take time to read out loud to your children.

Socially connect. This situation is serious and overwhelming. It is not hopeless. It's an opportunity to help children build resilience by showing them that they can still enjoy relationships and be active. You will be building positive memories at a time when positive experiences are in short supply.

Looking for more ways to stay healthy and active during the COVID-19 pandemic? Visit our Health & Wellness section of our website.

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