Social distancing doesn't mean your kid can't hang out with their friends. With schools closing in response to the spread of coronavirus, kids are missing the social interactions they'd typically get at school, or even on a normal weekend. Thankfully there are apps perfect for virtual playdates that cater to children of all ages and can help your child connect with their buds whether they live across the country or down the street.
Elementary school educator Amy Lowe tells Romper that virtual playdates are important to have so children can socialize and interact with each other, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. “Kids need to talk to someone their age. Interaction is key when we are in a stressful environment, and having a familiar face is reassuring,” she says. She encourages parents to set up a regular time for kids to video or chat friends and family members. And thanks to several apps — like Caribu, Messenger Kids, Marco Polo, Zoom, and Netflix Party — kids can do so much more than just talk to each other over video chat.
Keep in mind that depending on your child's age, specific apps might be better suited for them and their buds. “At any young age, children can't often maintain focus on the video device for long, so parents should prepare themselves to mostly be having an adult conversation while pointing the camera at their ever-moving children," Montessori educator Kathryn O’Neill tells Romper. But even kids who appear not to be interacting much with each other on virtual playdates might "still enjoy the occasional glance at their peer," she adds.
Technology is certainly a blessing in this unique situation we're in, and screen time with friends is the new way for kids to play with friends. Here are six interactive tools your kids can use to stay connected and keep the playdate from going out of style.
For younger kids, Caribu is an interactive video-calling app where kids can draw and read with friends or family members from right within the app. Kids can color or play games together, but it’s a one-on-one experience and not meant for a large group playdate, and this may be for the best. O’Neill tells Romper that young children actually do best on one-on-one playdates rather than large group video chats.
2. Messenger Kids
Messenger Kids is a kid-friendly version of Facebook Messenger, and it offers options like kid-friendly filters, reactions, GIFs, and emojis. The drawing tool option is an extra cool feature that could potentially work well for a playdate. Everyone in the group can draw together and compare art if they get bored of sending each other silly filters and stickers (but let's be real, they can probably do that for hours). Parents can control, review, and manage their kids’ contacts on the app with through the parent dashboard.
What started as a corporate communications tool where folks could have virtual video conference calls, Zoom can be easily adapted for virtual playdates — even if it’s just the kids talking “face-to-face” with each other. Bonus: There's a free option of Zoom currently available. “I love the idea of a video conference show and tell," Lowe says. "I would encourage the parents to coordinate with a craft or activity for the kids to do prior to their virtual playdate.”
4. Marco Polo
In the spirit of keeping the play in playdate, Lowe suggests kids get creative and channel their inner thespian by acting out a play. One way to do this is to use the app Marco Polo. If kids aren't signed on at the same time to play and chat, they can leave each other videos, chats, and photos. “This is a great option for people who aren't in the same time zone but want to keep in touch as well,” O’Neill says.
5. Virtual Tours
For older kids, O’Neill suggests utilizing virtual tours of museums and national parks across the country. Set the kids up to tour the same place at the same time and let them chat their way through the experience. "Unstructured conversations about these tours would also be a good way for children to stay connected with their friends when they cannot spend physical time with one another," she says.
6. Netflix Party
Netflix Party is the new take on the classic movie date with friends. With Netflix Party, you can host a watch party via the app and have everyone watching the movie together in the app in real-time. Kids can see and talk to each other during the movie through the app (chaotic but fun for young children), or they can opt for the quieter movie experience by using the text chat option only.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.