At the time of this writing, COVID-19 is taking over headlines around the world. Here in Western Washington, we’re looking at requests that we all stay home as much as possible, which is exactly what our family has been doing since I already work from home, my husband now is also working from home, and there isn’t really anywhere to go anyway since just about everywhere I usually take Little Monster is now closed.
We also had planned to go on a few trips in the coming months, but right now, we’re just waiting to see what happens. Because literally none of this has gone in any way that seems normal or predictable, and I have a feeling that it will just keep right on being unpredictable for another month or two or three. Also, I miss being able to buy toilet paper and paper towels.
While we all try to flatten the curve together, I am sure we’re not the only family that hoped to travel this spring or summer or fall and is now not too sure whether it’s a good idea. To that end, I’ve been trying to think about ways to capture the spirit of travel without actually traveling. From educational opportunities to things to do that are just pure fun, here’s what I’ve come up with. And, yes, there are some screen-time ideas below. If that’s not your bag, just skip right on past those, but in this house we are housebound and bored and have done a lot of virtual travel to Arendelle lately.
A Trip to the Beach
We love beaches. Beaches are the perfect places to go with kids of all ages, and they aren’t too shabby for grown ups either. We tend toward Northwest beaches because they’re nearby and have great sand and awesome, wide-open water views. Chances are, we will get to a beach sometime this year, but as I am currently losing all hope that I will ever leave my house again, I am not too sure. So I bought some “play sand.” The one I got said right on its page on Amazon that I could “bring the beach to my home.” Yes! Now we’re talking. This is similar to Kinetic Sand, in that it’s moldable sand mixed with a polymer that makes it feel kind of magical. Put it into a large bin and make some sandcastles. Maybe make some flower leis to go with it (or in the case of a Northwest beach, put on your most windproof rain jacket and a hat and prepare to enjoy the scenery while the rain comes at you sideways…just kidding…kind of…depends on the month).
Practice a Foreign Language
Duolingo makes a version of its awesome language app for kids who are four-years-old and older. The language selection is not as broad as the adult version, but the lessons are a lot more fun. Have some fun with it. Pair a Spanish lesson with a taco platter or pair a French lesson with making some crepes or quiche. Or if that sounds like too much effort (it totally sounds like too much effort), pair a lesson with an age-appropriate YouTube video that shows some of the local culture. You can get Duolingo for Kids for Apple devices, but unfortunately it’s not available on Android. However, you can find the full Duolingo on the Google Play store store and kids who can read can use it just fine.
Awesome Travel Books for Kids
If your kids are out of school, there’s no finer way to keep them busy than reading! (If they aren’t book lovers, they may disagree, but hey…books are good things and they know that somewhere deep down in their hearts). Books about travel and far-flung destinations can be fun reads, as well as get your kids learning about other cultures and experiences, which is really what travel is all about. There are all kinds of options, but if you’re not sure where to start, here are some options:
The Lonely Planet Kids Travel Book: If you don’t love the idea of apps or videos, and you just want a good book to set your kids down with, this one is a good way to go. Each page has a different country to learn about, mostly via fun facts and trivia. There are also other The Lonely Planet Kids books focused on topics like cities and national parks.
Everything & Everywhere: A Fact-Filled Adventure for Curious Globe-Trotters: This super colorful book filled with illustrations focuses on 15 cultures from around the world. It’s less of a book to read than a book to look at with all kinds of images associated with the cultures represented in the book with words under them to say what they are. Yes, there are some pictures of wine and people smoking shisha, but what is travel but a real look at the world (and, obviously, I’m letting you know so that if you don’t agree, skip this book).
Playtown: Airport: A Lift-the-Flap book: Even if you have very young kids, there’s no reason they can’t have fun “traveling” from your living room. There’s no fun like lifting flaps in board books, is there? And even better if there are airplanes involved.
Travel-Inspired Scavenger Hunt
One of my favorite ways to entertain my Little Monster is by printing out “toys” for her. It works amazingly well. If your children are younger, I highly recommend printing out their new favorite book or show characters as it will save you a ton on your toy budget. But that’s not where I’m going here. If you want a fun indoor activity that’s cheap too, print out photos of landmarks from around the world. Include a snippet of info or a factoid about each place with the photo. Then hide them around your house. Provide clues if you are clever enough to design a series of clues, or just tell the kid or kids how many are hidden around the house and kick back while they try to find them all. At the end, have them tell you a bit about the places or landmarks they found, ask which are their favorites and why. Also I am not responsible for damage to your house if your kids tear your bookshelves down looking for said hidden photos. Set appropriate limits for where the photos are hidden based on your own kids and your own space and the age of your kids!
Depending on the ages of your kids and how you feel about screen time, if you can’t travel, apps can be a great way to learn more about the world. And there are all kinds of apps to do this, from reading subscription apps to geography games and beyond. Most of these aren’t free, but are not overly pricy either.
Barefood World Atlas: Only available for iPhones and iPads, Barefoot World Atlas is pretty neat. It’s not free, but kids can zoom their way around a 3D globe filled with landmarks and learn about countries, cities, people from around the world, cultures, and more.
Stack the States: For kids 4 and older, Stack the States is a ton of fun. Your kids will learn state capitals, geography, state shapes, and trivia through fun games. The app is available on iOS, Android, and Kindle.
Stack the Countries: Stack the Countries is a lot like Stack the States, but with – you guessed it – countries instead of states. It’s also available on iOS, Android, and Kindle.
A Globe or Maps
You know. Those things that used to be in your elementary school classroom. If you have space for a globe, kids just might enjoy taking a spin around a real-life globe. Ask them to find countries. Ask them where they live. Ask them where their relatives live, or where Krakens live, or where Santa lives. Alternately, tack maps up in your hallway or on a spare wall. My husband grew up with maps lining his hallway and he loved it. It fostered a love of geography and, to this day, he still remembers much of his geography so he’s really useful during a game of Trivial Pursuit.
There are all kinds of subscription boxes you can sign up for. If you’re looking for a travel-based box, Little Passports is a fun one. You can pick from a few different types of boxes and some are more STEM based than travel based. If you’re looking for travel in a box, World Edition (kids 6-10) and USA Edition (kids ages 7-12) both deliver souvenirs, activities, journals, and other fun ways to learn about a new place.
Had to Cancel a Disney Trip?
There are likely a whole lot of families out there who had their sights set on a Disney vacation, but for the time being, Disney parks are closed. Even once they open again, many may feel cautious about visiting a theme park during a time when social distancing is the thing to do. It’s tough to balance the awesomeness of Disney with home activities, but you can try to capture a little bit of the Magic Kingdom in your living room or yard. Try making a day or a week filled with Disney – bust out costumes if you have them, watch some Disney movies, make Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes for breakfast, have the kids design their own Disney theme park in a drawing or with Play-Doh or whatever creative medium you have on hand.