7 Inexpensive Ways to Keep Your Kids Entertained During the COVID-19 Crisis

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on April 22, 2020

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A mom and her two young children washing dishes in a bright kitchen.

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Stuck home with kids? Here's how to keep them busy without breaking the bank.

Stuck home with kids? Here's how to keep them busy without breaking the bank. 

When they first announced that schools would be closing in my neck of the woods due to COVID-19, my initial inclination was to panic -- not just over losing childcare and juggling work and homeschooling, but keeping my three children entertained for what might be weeks on end. And now, over a month later, I have no shame in admitting that the past five weeks have been challenging. Thankfully, I was able to get creative early on and find ways to keep my children occupied without emptying my savings account

If you have young children -- which I'm defining as under 12, but past the infant stage -- it pays to incorporate some of the following activities into your routine. Not only are they relatively cheap, if not always free, but they just might help your kids learn a thing or two.

1. Borrow ebooks or audiobooks through your library

If you have an e-reader you're willing to let your kids use, see if your library lets you reserve books you can borrow electronically. Many libraries also have an audiobook rental program. Each week, we make a big deal of letting our kids pick the books they want. That way, it's exciting when their books become available. 

2. Take them on a virtual museum tour

Though museums may be closed to the public right now, you can still navigate a number of them from the comfort of your couch. Gather your kids and take a virtual museum tour. Mine really enjoyed the Smithsonian.

3. Invest in free or low-cost learning games

My kids' online school only takes up a few hours per day, but I'm able to extend it a bit longer by letting them play educational games on their laptops. My five-year-old twins do an intro-to-reading program, while my eight-year-old likes online crossword puzzles. A simple Google search will help you uncover free or very inexpensive tools that keep your kids busy.

4. Host movie nights

My kids really enjoy going to the movies, kicking back in front of a big screen, and eating popcorn to their hearts' delight. Since we can't go to an actual movie theater, we try to make a big deal out of movie nights in the house. We'll frequently rent one on Amazon or tap our existing collection, heat up a bunch of microwave popcorn, then make a night of it. 

5. Bake your way through the day

For the modest cost of ingredients, you can occupy your kids and have something tasty to show for it. Every few days, I'll have my kids decide what kind of dessert they'd like to concoct. My eight-year-old will then be tasked with finding a recipe for that treat online. From there, we'll find a time to bake it, and I'll let my kids measure, pour, and help as much as they can -- and enjoy the reward once we're done.

6. Get outdoors

I'm a firm believer in the benefits of fresh air, and so I've made a point of taking my kids outside pretty much every day since this ordeal started. When it's raining out, we'll put on jackets with hoods and toss a ball around or take a short walk. When it's nicer, we'll bust out our bikes or have a series of games and relay races in the backyard. And on weekends, when my schedule is a little more flexible, I'll send my kids on a scavenger hunt on our street (it's a small cul-de-sac and yes, I have my eyes on them the entire time they're looking for clues on their list). 

7. Give them chores

This strategy probably won't work with older kids, but my five-year-olds love doing work around the house, so I've made a point of giving them things to occupy their time. In the past week alone, they've sorted laundry, swept crumbs off the floor, and helped dust the furniture. They stay busy, and my home gets a touch cleaner. Everybody wins.

Let's be clear: I may be painting a sweet little picture of a family living harmoniously in quarantine, but most days, there are screaming sessions and meltdowns galore (and, ahem -- it's not just the kids). This situation isn't easy on anyone, but one thing that's helped me get through it is keeping my children busy. The more they have to do, the less they miss being at school, seeing friends, and getting out and about. And the fact that I've managed to keep them entertained without breaking the bank is something that's allowed me to avoid stress during an otherwise trying time.

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