As schools continue to stay closed due to the spread of COVID-19, AgriLife Extension officials and other local officials are giving tips on how families can keep their children engaged while at home. 

When children are finished with their school online assignments, there is still time throughout the day to keep them entertained. 

“For parents and other caregivers at home with children during this extended period of social distancing, this presents additional challenges,” Monty Dozier, director for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Disaster Assessment and Recovery Unit, said. “But experts tell us it’s important to keep things as routine as possible for children and to find positive ways to engage them and redirect any negative thoughts or feelings they may have.” 

When it comes to different family activities, AgriLife Family and Community Health Unit Assistant Director Stephen Green said there are many things that both individuals and families can engage in while at home. 

Some indoor activities to consider include reading books with your child, playing board games and involving children in fun and engaging physical exercises to keep them moving, Green said.

“This is a good time to participate in family activities such as cooking and eating meals together, taking a walk around the house, gardening or completing arts and crafts projects,” he said. “During this time, it’s important for children to remain physically and mentally active to avoid becoming bored and sedentary.”

A helpful AgriLife publication to help keep young children engaged is the “Alphabet Activities” booklet that contains 26 activities adults can participate in with their children.

“The Alphabet Activities booklet was originally developed to give daycare providers and teachers some easy, interactive and inexpensive activities to do indoors with youth,” Alice Kirk, AgriLife Child Health Specialist and the publication’s author, said. 

She said the activities employ the use of everyday household items such as paper, plastic balls, beach towels and flat sheets, allowing those engaged in the activities to “think outside the box and get creative.” 

There are many educational activities available through Texas 4-H, the youth development component of AgriLife. 

“One of the many things we encourage young people to do is be physically active and live a healthy lifestyle,” AgriLife Associate Director for health, Families and Youth Courtney Dodd said. “These goals are always important but probably have an added importance given the current circumstances.”

She said the 4-H Healthy Living Activity Guide has 30 interesting and engaging hands-on activities to help kids develop good habits and live a healthy life.

Texas 4-H will host fun and educational videos under the banner Texas 4-H Virtual Experience on the Texas 4-H Facebook page at 10 a.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through late April. The videos will be saved to the Facebook page and will be placed on Instagram. 

There will be links parents can use to access the related 4-H Explore Guide after each video ends, which provide learning opportunities on a variety of topics and each lesson has an activity associated with it. 

The dates and topic for the Texas 4-H Virtual Experience are:

• Today: Agriculture and Livestock.

• March 31, April 1 and 2: STEM.

• April 7-9: Natural Resources.

• April 14-16: Junior Master Gardeners.

• April 21-23: Leadership and Citizenship.

Additionally, the National 4-H website offers “5 Ways to Keep Kids Engaged” and “Learning At Home” as a resource to help kids maintain a sense of normalcy and keep them on track in their learning and personal development while at home.

Other ways to keep children engage might include cooking meals together, baking and trying new recipes, playing board games, watching old movies and even some deep cleaning and redecorating, Children’s Advocacy Center of Johnson County Executive Director Tammy King said.

“We are all usually so busy running from appointment to appointment that we often miss out on the best things,” King said. “It is really nice to pull out old home movies, bake your favorite cookies or pop a big bowl of popcorn the old fashioned way. It is just nice to slow down.”

It’s important for children to be reassured and to limit their exposure to constantly negative news, she said.

“This virus has a very high survival rate, and kids should hear positives, not negatives,” she said. “I think the fact that our kids are home with us could be a huge plus. It is really nice just visiting and enjoying one another. 

“My daughter hates not being in school, but we are finding lots of ways to fill her time with great activities. I challenge all families to make the most of being home with your kids.” 

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