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It’s been just over a year since most of the world shut down and terms such as, “social distancing” and “mask up” became a part of our everyday lives.
And as hard as it’s been on us adults… it’s been much harder on our kids.
Kids are social creatures.
They need other children to interact with. They need to keep busy. To play. They need stimulation and to be entertained.
Many children have become virtual learners… which means loads of screen time.
Others are attending school in masks and keeping their distance, having to fight their instincts to high five or hug a friend.
If you think about it, there are some positives to take away from both scenarios… such as discipline, awareness and technological savvy.
Yet, the children are still left needing something more.
They need to live like kids.
Kids who play, explore, laugh and learn.
The good news is, this is still possible!
In this article, I’m going to outline 19 virtual activities for kids.
They can be done alone, with siblings, friends or family. Whatever works for you.
The goal is to fill your children with memories they can look back on that aren’t dictated by these unprecedented times… but rather driven by pure joy and creativity!
1. Enroll In An Online Art Class
No matter how old a child is, art is a wonderful outlet for letting creativity flow and expressing emotions.
Art can be extremely simplistic… from finger painting, to sculpting play doh, to coloring on a sheet of paper.
It can also be more skilled… such as oil painting or using pastels and working with clay.
Many local museums, art studios and schools offer art classes online.
Some are free, some aren’t.
You can usually sign up per class, or for a series… and supplies are often included with the cost, if one applies.
There are also schools that offer outdoor or socially-distanced private parties in-studio, which can be a great alternative for getting a few friends together.
If you prefer to take a more professional route, websites such as Udemy, offer paid courses according to age and skill level. All are done completely online.
2. Use Your Local Library (which often has fun events)
My kids used to love going to story time at their local library.
Or just going to sit on the floor and sift through books they may want to take home.
There was even a toy kitchen and blocks the younger kids could play with while their older siblings chose their titles.
Today, that just isn’t an option for us.
Many libraries require books to be cleaned and quarantined for 7 days after they’ve been returned, before they can be checked out again.
Space is limited and communal toys have been put away.
Lucky for us, though, our library has a wide selection of books we can download online.
They also offer online book clubs and story time.
As the weather warms up, many libraries will offer outdoor arts and craft or story hours.
You can typically find a list of activities on their website or by calling your local branch.
3. Meet with Family Members
Unfortunately, keeping our distance has translated into our kids not seeing some of their closest relatives in quite some time.
Grandparents, aunts and uncles… close cousins.
People just aren’t throwing the parties and barbeques they used to. Spending holidays apart.
I know, first hand, how hard it’s been for our kids not to have the extended family over for birthday cake.
And that is where virtual gatherings with family have come into play… Zoom, Skype, Google Duo, FaceTime, WhatsApp.
We’ve had family from all over, even Europe, gather online to sing happy birthday and watch our kids blow out their candles and open presents.
Beyond the traditional celebrations, we’ve met online for each other’s music recitals and family game nights.
There are apps and websites that allow you to play family friendly games together in real time. Games like bingo, pictionary, trivia and charades are some of the most popular.
Nothing can replace being together in person, but this is a creative way to get close to it again!
4. Play Social Video Games
If we are being realistic, we can’t talk about virtual activities for kids without discussing video games.
Video games have always been popular… but this year, they’ve exploded!
In fact, I have mom friends addicted to Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch, the game where you create your own private island and interact with other residents.
Admittedly, I am now one of the many.
Seriously, I fight with my kids for screen time.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Since we’ve been spending so much time at home, especially during the winter, my kids’ schedules now include online game time with friends. (Check out this list of things to do with friends online for more ideas.)
The weekends are especially packed with invites… as I’m regularly coordinating with other parents and rearranging our calendar to ensure each of our children gets time on the video game console, tablet or computer.
We have 4 children. I’m now a scheduling guru. I could plan parties.
Add to the online experience the desire to want to verbally chat while they’re playing, and it’s a whole new ballgame.
I’ve had days where my son is playing on my laptop while using his kindle fire tablet to video chat with his buddy… and one of my daughters is playing on the switch, while using my cell phone to FaceTime her girlfriend.
But I can’t complain… it’s another way for them to socialize and feel one step closer to normal.
5. Try An Exercise Class Online
With so many team sports and athletic programs having to change the way they do things, keeping kids active and engaged has been a battle for many parents.
Team sports, if done outside, have been able to continue in some capacity with safety measures in place. This typically means smaller teams and little or no parent interaction.
Activities that typically take place indoors -, such as dance, gymnastics, karate, basketball and swimming – have had to jump over different hurdles to keep themselves up and running.
In fact, many of them have resorted to small group or online classes… which makes the experience quite different. And for some, not worth the money.
Lucky for us, there are many exercise programs to be found online.
YouTube has tons of free workouts for kids… you just need to deal with the occasional ad.
And many local community centers, like a YMCA, have put classes online as well for easy access.
But whether or not you choose to pay for a subscription or course, online exercise classes are a more cost effective way to test the waters and see what may interest your child in the future.
And it will help them burn energy… which is one my personal favorite virtual activities for kids!
6. Become Explorers: Go On A Scavenger Hunt
I am blessed to live in an area where hiking trails, mountains and rivers are within a short drive (or walk) from our house.
But even if you live in a suburb or city, there are plenty of spots waiting to be explored.
Spend some time online with your kids printing out maps of different areas.
Or go on a website to help you create a scavenger hunt that can be done with friends from a safe distance outdoors.
Maybe there are fossils in your area, just waiting to be dug up?
Fully virtual scavenger hunts are also growing in popularity, among both families and teachers, and you can find tons of printables online.
7. Painting Rocks
Yes, this is a real thing.
There are even Facebook pages dedicated to it.
Arts and craft supply stores are selling kits now… to ensure you get the perfect, paintable rock.
PS, these are not necessary… but the rocks are smooth. And kids like getting new things. So win/win.
Once you’ve got your rocks and paints (or permanent markers work), simply gather a few friends online and have the supplies handy.
Paint the rocks anyway you want. Many of the ones I’ve seen have a message, symbol or word of kindness or hope printed on them.
When you’re done and they’ve had time to dry, take your kids for a drive or walk to place these rocks in different places.
The idea is for other kids to find them and take them home.
But the catch is you can’t take a rock without leaving a rock.
It’s a fun and uplifting way to let others know they are not alone, even when it may seem that way.
8. Join An Outdoor/Nature Club
There has been a real push over the last year to spend more time outdoors together… which makes it the perfect opportunity to explore the nature around us and maybe even learn a bit in the process.
Whether it’s investigating the indigenous species in your area, or preserving the natural lakes and rivers, there is a lot to be learned from starting or participating in a nature club.
Many of them start online, bringing groups together and offering video presentations… and eventually end up outdoors.
9. Find A Penpal
When I was a child, I met a girl on vacation in Florida. We hit it off and became fast friends for the one week I was there.
Before we left, we exchanged addresses and made a pact to keep in touch… write letters, send postcards.
Email was not so big then.
We were going to be penpals, which at the time seemed so exciting and fun.
I always wanted that for my own kids… but in the age of tech, it’s much easier to meet someone you like and find them on Facebook or Instagram afterwards.
Which is fine. Whatever works.
But one thing hasn’t changed.
Our kids need to meet new people. And since they aren’t getting out the way they used to, it’s important they still have the opportunity to do so.
Enter the online penpal search.
Thanks to the internet, we are able to go online and match our kids with others sharing similar interests.
Many of these websites are parent-controlled and approved, taking a bit of the fear out of things.
In many cases, you can search for penpals by location preference, choosing someone in the same state or country… or even abroad.
Whether or not you choose to have them write letters the old-fashioned way, or exchange emails and set up video chats instead, it will do your child a world of good to connect with others.
10. Schedule Virtual Playdates
Playdates do not have to stop just because we need to tweak the definition of it a bit.
Personally speaking, my children have not hosted or been to a playdate inside someone’s home for over a year. There is just something about wearing a mask indoors while playing barbies that seemed to turn my kids off to the idea.
That being said, we’ve hosted a number of playdates outdoors with the same few families during this time. Our kids run free outside, snack at separate tables and wear masks if within a few feet of each other (like on swing).
I’ve encountered other families who feel differently, though… and that is their right. It is all about comfort level.
And that is why the virtual playdate has been such a hit in our house.
As I mentioned, kids are social creatures. They are always looking to make new friends, especially when they are young.
Our youngest daughter (she’s 7) once asked me why a certain new friend couldn’t come over? It wasn’t outdoor weather… so, I explained that the girl wasn’t comfortable wearing a mask inside for very long and suggested an online playdate instead.
I set up a video chat with the other mom and the girls immediately ran to their bedrooms and pulled out dolls to start playing with. They introduced their stuffed animals. They even had a snack together in their respective kitchens.
They were laughing and singing songs. Dancing at one point.
It lasted for two hours… and not much was different, other than their physical proximity.
11. Take a Virtual Vacation
The travel business has taken a real hit, especially when it involved flying.
Most people are just skeptical to do so.
Add to that theme parks and resorts operating at limited capacity, with all sorts of new rules and restrictions in place, and we found ourselves asking “Is it worth the money for this kind of vacation?”.
Is a Disney World with masks the kind I want my kids to remember? Or the types of pictures I want in our photo album?
Virtual Vacations are a great way to bring a bit of the experience to life… from the comfort of your own home and without any stress.
12. Sign Up to Learn Magic Tricks or Host A Magic Show
Apparently, online magic school is a pretty big deal these days.
I actually didn’t know about this one until recently.
If your child is the inquisitive type, you can arrange for a private or semi-private magic lesson from an industry magician… from the comfort of your own home via Zoom.
Invite other friends and host the ultimate playdate!
There are also companies that provide magic shows for a fee, where you are able to invite a certain number of guests to join in the fun online… making this one of the virtual activities for kids that would make a great birthday party!
13. Take An Online Field Trip
Museums, zoos and aquariums have seen a drop off in visitors over the past year… especially the indoor exhibits.
In an effort to keep people interested, and hopefully one day return, many of these places offer online “field trips”… where kids can tour the facility.
Some of the tours utilize technology that allows guests to zoom in and out, rotate and actually see things up close. It’s rather remarkable.
Best of all, most of these tours are free. You can find some of the top ranked ones here.
14. Follow Authors or Artists On YouTube
I remember the day famed child book author and artist, Mo Willems, unveiled “Lunchtime Doodles with Mo”… a free YouTube program via the Kennedy Center.
My kids were so excited to sit down at their craft table and cast Mo on the television, teaching them how to draw their favorite characters and listen to him read one of his books.
Mo even addressed the issue of being at home and made kids feel safe, while keeping them occupied.
“Lunchtime Doodles” became so popular that other artists and authors soon followed suit. Even celebrities are now involved, reading their favorite children's books to kids online.
A simple google or YouTube search will get your where your kids want to go for a little after school retreat.
15. Take A Coding Class
If you fear that your kids are going to be hooked on technology, why not try and make it more of an educational experience by enrolling them in an online coding class.
My 10-year-old is obsessed with Minecraft. He loves creating online worlds… and has gotten his younger siblings into it as well.
So, when I explained that coding was behind all of the popular video games, he was intrigued and wanted to learn more.
With very little effort, I was able to find a local coding school that offered online courses… or a hybrid of online and in-person.
There are also fully virtual coding programs and websites available to anyone with a computer. Many of them are free, while some require a fee for premium education (such as more advanced coding techniques or access to an online instructor).
16. Take Music Lessons Online
Music is such a wonderful way for kids to express themselves. There is a reason babies respond to it so early on… it’s easy to sing and dance and hum.
And while learning an instrument and how to read music may not turn into their life’s passion… it is still a great way to open their minds and expose them to new outlets for creativity.
Many music schools have started to offer live, private lessons online. The average cost is roughly $1 per minute if you’re starting out.
If you’d prefer to learn unsupervised, you can download videos on YouTube or try your hand at a website like skillshare… which does offer free trials.
17. Try Yoga
Calming the mind and relaxing the body are important for keeping us centered.
Some people prefer to do this by heading outside for a walk, hike or bike ride. Maybe some fishing.
Others like to go for massages regularly.
But many people have been turned on to yoga… and found great success with it.
And yoga for kids has really gained momentum, working wonders for children with certain conditions, such as ADHD and autism.
18. Watch A Wildlife Cam
No matter where you live, there is beauty to be found in nature.
Birds, bears, eagles, foxes, frogs, snakes, turtles, coyotes and deer are just some of the beauties in my family’s backyard.
But even if you don’t have up-close and personal access to creatures like these where you live… you still have the chance to experience the wonder from home thanks to live, streaming wildlife cameras.
Local conservancies, rescues, national zoos, parks, wildlife refuges and aquariums have been posting footage of babies being born and animals wandering around their natural habits for years… in hopes of raising awareness and educating future generations.
The San Diego Zoo has a number of cams going throughout the day and night… and is definitely worth a gander for curious kiddos.
19. Learn To Cook
They say that cooking brings families together.
Some of my earliest memories are making homemade ravioli in my great grandmother’s kitchen. Now that I’m a mom, the hope is to create those same types of memories with my kids.
The best part about cooking or baking together, besides eating the fruits of your labor afterwards, is that it doesn’t have to be restaurant quality… although it doesn’t hurt to try.
Online cooking classes are some of the best virtual activities for kids to take part in.
They teach math, and patience, while fostering creativity.
There are chef-led classes, such as Sprouts Cooking Club… but many community centers and colleges offer online courses as well, at a lower cost, if not free.
But if you want to get fancy, you are certainly entitled to try taking a Masterclass with your kids to learn from some of the world’s most famous chefs!
Final Thoughts On Virtual Activities for Kids
During a time when we are being asked to spend more days and nights at home… there is very little point in fighting the role technology plays in our children’s lives.
It is everywhere.
They are using it for school, for socializing… even exercising.
And then there is the entertainment factor.
So instead of trying to win any “parent of the year” awards, do your kids a favor and embrace what is in front of them.
The world of virtual activities is vast. There are options for all interests and needs… you just need to look for them.
Outschool is a great one-stop resource, specializing in bringing kids together for online courses in all areas.
Look… your kids will never stop wanting to actually hang out with their friends in person, but depriving them of the next best thing would be a mistake.
Embrace technology and use it for good.
Finally, if the you feel like you're running out of patience, read this article where we share some tips about how to be more patient with kids even when you're stressed.
Finally, if you want to level up your parenting skills, then check out this resource that will show you how to get your kids to listen WITHOUT yelling, nagging, or losing control.
Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She holds a dual B.A. in English and Film Studies. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications, and blogs. As a happily married (and extremely busy) mother of four… her articles primarily focus on parenting, marriage, family, finance, organization, and product reviews.