It's been approximately 94,592 days — give or take — since many parents across America have taken to social distancing, as a means to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. In order to continue to survive these stressful, uncertain, and frequently maddening times, I've found it to be useful to add a little whimsy to quarantine with some imaginative ways to make being-at-home fun for kids (#QuarantineWhimsy, I'm trademarking it).
Knowing how vitally important it is to hunker down right now doesn't make it easy, especially when you're a parent. Kids + limited space + uncertainty + the stress of uncertainty + still needing to work x the number of people in your house = "SERENITY NOW!" But getting through the day is easier when you can keep things a little bit fun and light. You'd be surprised how little it takes to really dazzle your kids when there's nothing else going on. And, as we all know, a kid's mood is contagious — good or bad — so we can try to make it good. (I think this was what Emma Donaghue's Room was about? /s)
Millions across the globe create this kind of magic each December, when the Elf on the Shelf rides into town with his boneless limbs, and you'd be forgiven for wondering, at this point in time, if perhaps the Elf should come out of retirement to inject a little magic into these very long at-home days (I'm thinking we call him The Stuck-At-Home Gnome, or Leprechaun on the Peppercorn), but that's a drastic solution.
If you want to join the #QuarantineWhimsy, here are some easy, noncommittal ideas to get you started...
Colors, Colors, Colors
One of the most useful things I've ever brought into my house is food coloring. You can get all-natural, organic food coloring but I'm currently rocking some chemical-ladden neon ones in tiny plastic bottles. Add food coloring to ordinary meals for an unexpected visual treat. It sounds very basic, because it is, but you'd be surprised just. how. excited. my kids get over pink or green milk with breakfast.
You can do this to lots of things. Pancakes. Rice. Mashed potatoes. Oatmeal. Yogurt. THE TOILET. The sky's the limit here folks... well, I guess the limit is "soft-ish, light-colored foods" but, you know.
From the Tooth Fairy to the Easter Bunny, from mischievous leprechauns on Saint Patrick's Day to Santa, the ultimate jolly old elf, kids get pumped when they think a mythical being has graced their home. Now, granted, their excitement is probably influenced by the fact that most of these mythical creatures leave toys and money and stuff, but I think we can use "supernatural holiday visitor" as a model to keep things fun under quarantine.
Romper's Samantha Darby leaves glitter under a flower for a fairy her daughter "knows" lives there and in the morning there's sometimes a piece of candy or something small. It's not an every day thing, but it's a nice way to break up tedium and help the kiddos get in a happier mindset.
Mystery Pen Pal
Maybe, one day, a mysterious letter appears on the front porch or kitchen table. Maybe it's a letter from a mermaid or a squirrel who lives in the yard or a time traveling invisible wizard. Encourage your kids to write back! Start a correspondence. (If they can't write you can help them, or they can draw pictures.) Admittedly, this is high-level of commitment but, well, if you're stuck inside and bored as well it might provide a helpful creative outlet.
Ever notice how grade-school classrooms are full of child-made decorations. That's because they're cheerful to look at, promote creativity and fine motor skills, and occupy precious time that must needs be occupied. Take a cue from elementary schools (and from Rapunzel in Tangled, who painted every surface of her tower during her 18 years of isolation) and get your kids to work. It'll let them feel ownership over their space and be a fun way to spend time. And, really, don't decorations make us cheerful? I mean really, just think about how happy Decorative Gourd Season makes you. Or how much merrier you feel when the Christmas tree is up. how much happier do we all feel during Decorative Gourd Season? Isn't life more cheerful with a Christmas tree up? (Hell, get those out if you want because why the hell not?)
You're all at home, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever you cannot wear costumes 24/7 if you want. And, as a certified Halloween freak, I can assure you that costumes make everything more fun. Just got for it. My daughter is currently wearing a home made ghost costume (which, incidentally, took her about an hour and allowed me to get work done) and it's made the day that much more pleasant. Also, I'm about another two or three stir-crazy days away from just wearing my wedding dress around the house for fun because, again, why the hell not? #Covid19GotMeLike
You don't need anything special here. Take household objects or toys, scatter around your home (and yard if you have one) and let them go nuts. If you want to make it themed, by all means, but, honestly, your kid will not be paying attention to how Instagram-worthy your efforts are. They're just going to be excited to have something new to do. (And, if my children's attempts to find literally anything are any indication, this will take hoooooours.)
Inspired by Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems (which your kids should absolutely watch, BTW), throw some paper and markers at your kids and create your own library. Maybe you do a different story every day. Maybe you create a character together and write a daily adventure for them. "But Jamie," you say, "I don't have a creative bone in my body! I can't do this."
Your kids don't know that. You can say anything and they will think it is genius and run with it and they will make it creative. All they really need is the prompt. (And that's often just as true for adults.) Again, this is another higher-level commitment activity, but it's an option.
God Help Me For Suggesting This: Whip Out The Elf On A Shelf
This is a "Break Glass In Case Of Emergency" option but... it's a tried-and-true-adored-by-children option so... maybe? IDK, these are, truly, chaotic times.
Stay healthy — and whimsical!
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.