To keep your kids (and yourself) from sinking into deep pits of despair or insanity, try some of these boredom-busting virtual playdate ideas. Social distancing is a very big ask for children and teenagers. Let’s face it, we parents just aren’t quite as funny or interesting as their besties or schoolmates.
Unfortunately virtual playdates do involve a screen, but I know my strict screen-time limits went out the window the first week of lockdown, didn’t yours? I just tell myself that this is a positive kind of screen time. Virtual playdates help to maintain social connection, encourage creativity, allow therapeutic play, and add in some anxiety-quashing giggling.
Selfishly, remember there is something in this for you too: A break from being 24-7 entertainer, personal coach, cheerleader, teacher, disciplinarian and all of the other roles you are juggling these days in quarantine. Desperate times require desperate measures, right?
My own creative (or very bored children) and other resourceful parents from the online community helped me to compile this special quarantine-collection of virtual playdate inspiration. They are listed by order of age-based interest, beginning with the youngest children and ending with those prickly older teens who want nothing to do with you. Parents, there will be no judgement if you borrow some ideas to spice up your own virtual social chats or work Zoom meetings.
Show and Tell. Kids can tell each other the history of their beloved stuffed animal, favorite board game, oldest T-Shirt, funniest picture of their parents, or favorite book (book report optional).
Virtual Construction Projects. Build Lego or block cities together practicing parallel play.
Simon Says. Just in case you forgot the rules or want some fresh ideas, this creative parent came up with 100 different Simon Says Commands.
Hide and Seek. My 8 year-old and her friend came up with this one. Depending on how well they know each other’s house, one person can hide somewhere in the house and then their screen buddy has to guess where they are by asking questions. Or, hide a stuffed animal somewhere in the house and then the kids have to try to find it.
Grandma is going on a trip and she is packing in her suitcase. My family plays this on long car rides or hikes, but it works online too. The first person names an item beginning with “A” (i.e. aardvark) and then you take turns for each letter of the alphabet (B-bongo drum). The trick is that you have to repeat all of the other items Grandma is taking with her before you can say the next letter/item in alphabetic order.
Write a story and then read it to each other. Or even better, write an “add-on story” together, each one writing one paragraph, then switch stories and write the next paragraph for each other. Thinkwritten.com has more than 300 writing prompts for kids including my favorite: “Imagine that dogs take over the world, what would they make humans do?”
Online drawing content. A parent or sibling thinks of something or someone for the playdate kids to draw. Then the parent “judges” the drawings based upon whatever categories you can think up. You can even challenge them to draw self-portraits or caricatures of each other for extra giggles.
Virtual Uno. So my kids started playing this with two Uno decks going simultaneously as if you were playing with an imaginary player. You just report to your screentime buddy what card you play or draw. This does require both players to not cheat. Another option is an UNO app available for free download from the App Store or Google Play. The app even allows team play and tournaments.
Celebrity. Think of a list of 10+ famous celebrities. Email or text 5 of them to your child’s screen buddy and then give the other 5 to your child. Then have them take turns trying to guess who each other is. Questions can only be “Yes” or “No” questions. You can limit the number of questions they are allowed to ask and the winner is the one who correctly guesses the most celebrities. Celebrities can be pop culture figures (Taylor Swift), fictional characters (Harry Potter), famous animals (e.g. Mickey Mouse), or any other name that is well known to the players.
Pictionary can be played between two screen friends or you can try the "QuickDraw" version on the Houseparty App.
Put on a concert or a talent show for each other. You decide whether you want to get the whole family in on the act or not!
Group Snack Time/Lunch Hour/Indoor Picnic. Virtual school days will be much more fun for kids who have a virtual lunch break with their friends on their schedule.
Sing-a-long. My daughter has been going onto Apple Music with friends, playing the same song at the same time, and viewing the lyrics so that they can sing along together. Of course there are plenty of karaoke apps out there that you can download as well, or just make your own sing-along-play list from TimeOutNY’s list of the 21 Best Karaoke Songs for Kids. The program Caribu, designed for younger children, offers a similar sing-a-long function.
TikTok. (Age 13+) You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of this one. This popular social networking app gives teens their 15 seconds of fame. Disclaimer: I have not yet allowed my 13-year-old have TikTock, but Coronavirus might just push me over the edge. There is something appealing about getting teens moving and dancing, lip syncing and “playing” with each other in these dark times of social distancing. Common Sense Media even comes out somewhat positively in their review of TikTok and offers good suggestions for how to protect privacy and keep tiktok-using teens safe.
Discord. (Age 13+) This is a text and video chat tool designed specifically for gamers. Common Sense Media warns that it is designed primarily for adults and cautions parents to carefully supervise and adjust settings for privacy and content. I'm not advocating this as a source for virtual playdate inspiration. It's just my Public Service Announcement to prepare you for when your teen wants to download it.
Quarantine emergency: Download or Install STAT. Your (and your children’s) social lives depend on it!
Zoom: Just in case you haven’t discovered this quarantine survival tool, here is a very basic step-by-step tutorial about how to install and use Zoom (especially great for grandparents or other technology-challenged folks).
Caribu: A video-calling app that integrates children’s books and activities. Kids can read more than 1,000+ titles, color together, and even play games together like Tic-Tac-Toe.
Whatsapp video chat
With some of these creative ideas above, hopefully we can all bring some fun back into these LONG LOCKDOWN DAYS. Of course your kids seem down, they have just been sentenced to mandatory confinement of unknown length! They are going through an extreme “culture shock,” trying to readjust to life without their peers in parental lock-down land. And don’t forget about grandparents and other seniors who may be even more socially-isolated by the Coronavirus. They might love to write a story with your little one or even sing along with Caribu.
Have you found other ways to make virtual playdates more fun? Send a shout of inspiration out to Well Scripted either in the Comments section below or on Facebook. We need all the socialization inspiration we can get these days!