Keeping Your Children Occupied While at Home (#5)

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
May 01, 2020

With our normal day-to-day lives upended, parents and caregivers have to face a new daily challengehow to keep their children occupied while at home. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information being shared online in response to this challenge. Our plan has been to highlight some of the best ideas and resources available to help keep your children busy and engaged.

Check out the first four blogs in this series at Healthy Minds...and be sure to review FCPS's Distance Learning Plan.

Make a PlayStudent Idea of the Week

"Bored at home? Make a play with mom and dad or your brothers and sisters! Make it be about anything you would like! Make costumes and props with art supplies! When you are performing the play, ask somebody who is not going to participate to record the play. When the play is finished, grab some popcorn and watch your movie! By: Sophia - 4th grade student."

  • What a fun idea Sophia. Go ahead and send us more....and the same goes for any other students. We want your ideas!

A variation on this idea would be to host a Family Talent Show. You can stream any episode of America's Got Talent for ideas. Have each of your children pick a talent whether it is singing, dancing, playing an instrument, or even performing magic tricks. Have them dedicate a little bit of time each day to practice their talent and have a show over the weekend. Costumes are encouraged!

Create a NewspaperCommunity Member Idea of the Week

"I am a retired teacher. I am helping the students in my townhouse court create a neighborhood newspaper using Google Classroom. The children are submitting content appropriate to their age, from K to middle school. Topics include restaurant, book, and movie reviews, upcoming plans for the community pool season, surveys, jokes, and a feature about our local Royal Lake. Staff meetings are held in the common area while observing social distancing guidelines."

  • That is awesome. We imagine people reading this wished you lived in their neighborhood! 

We are all not so lucky to have the option of a community newspaper, so consider creating a family newspaper. It will serve as a great way to teach your children the characteristics of a newspaper article, provide excellent writing practice, and produce a document of your family life. Here are some steps to create your own family newspaper that you may treasure for years to come:

  • Look through an old newspaper or one online to get an idea of the layout, the types of articles included, the importance of headlines, and even the difference between fact and opinion. 
  • Discuss how all family members can contribute to the newspaper. Younger children may need to dictate their stories and make drawings, while older children should be able to type them out and take photos or add graphs. Look to assign jobs and set deadlines.
  • Consider topics such as interviews of family members (how interesting it may be for a child to call grandparents for an interview about their lives); a favorite family recipe; an opinion piece on household rules or chores; an article showcasing hobbies, interests, or achievements; an advertisement for the sale of a piece of personal artwork; review of a past family trip or event; survey of favorite foods, movies, or games; family trivia or crossword puzzles; and whatever else seems like a fun way to capture a sense of your family.
  • Assemble your newspaper on a computer or by cutting and gluing articles and pictures to sheets of paper. Now sit back and enjoy reading your finished product.

Get an Introduction to American Sign LanguageSchool Psychologist Idea of the Week

Risha Lamba, school psychologist at Woodson High School, is taking this time at home to get an introduction to the basics of American Sign Language (ASL). Gallaudet University offers free online interactive lessons to learn the basics of ASL. They additionally have many videos to learn basic ASL vocabulary. This is a perfect way for students to explore if learning ASL is right for them. 

Turn Neighborhood Walks into Daily Adventures

Taking a walk is a wonderful way to get outside for exercise and stress relief. Many communities around the country are turning these everyday walks into adventures while maintaining recommended social distancing. All it takes is a little organizing spirit through the use of local social media sites to reach out to neighbors to get them to join in on the fun. Here are some of the best ideas out there:

  • Arrange a Window Walk. Decorate your windows with pictures according to a dedicated theme for the week such as flowers, dinosaurs, super heroes, abstract paintings, words of thanks to first responders or other essential workers, etc. Children love seeing all the wonderful displays, and so will you.
  • Create a Neighborhood Safari. Neighbors place stuffed animals in windows for children to discover. Children can keep track of their animal sightings by logging them into their own zoologist notebook.
  • Organize a Bear Hunt. Homes participate by hiding a teddy bear in view on their property. Families can stick a picture of a bear on their door to indicate their participation.
  • Host a Chalk Your Walk Weekend! Chalk drawings and messages of hope, inspiration, and humor are written on sidewalks to offer encouragement while navigating this difficult time. This promotes a true sense of connection that we are all in this together. There are a number of simple ways to create chalk at home using common household items if you do not have any chalk available.
  • Go on a Scavenger Hunt. Scavenger hunts are great because they do not require any community organization and can happen just about anywhere. All you or your children need to do to get started is decide where the scavenger hunt will take place (inside the house, in the backyard, around the neighborhood, etc.) and create a list or visual chart (best for younger children) of things to find. Spice up the fun with a time challenge for older children where they race against the clock.
    • You can find many lists of scavenger hunts already created with a quick Google search online. Here is an indoor and an outdoor scavenger hunt from the Spruce that use clues to add an extra level of interest to the hunt.

Draw with Drew (and Rosie!)

Do your kids love to draw? Have them join the journey as Drew (creative director of TIME for Kids) and his sidekick Rosie (4th grade student) explore their imaginations and dream up fun things to sketch. On Draw with Drew (and Rosie!),” your children can tackle a new drawing subject each week while receiving hints to help make their artwork the best it can be. Afterwards, the finished picture can be shared on social media using the hashtag #DrawWithDrew, or emailed to That drawing just may show up in the next issue of Time for Kids...which as a reminder is free until the end of the school year.

Go Ahead and Color

The act of coloring works as a bright and beautiful stress reliever, and it is simply fun. Color along with Adobe as they serve up new illustrations that you can print or finish with your favorite Adobe apps. Each week this spring, the Adobe Coloring Book will feature coloring pages from incredible artists with themes like animals, outer space, and more. Whether or not you stay within the lines is up to you.

Connect with Broadway

Camp Broadway® LLC and livestream experts, Streamable Learning™, have teamed up to present AT THIS STAGE™, a series of conversations with Broadway’s experts. Meet Broadway performers, designers, authors, career advisors, composers, and more. The events are free and use distance learning technology to provide access to any individual who has an internet connection. Audience members have the ability to submit questions during the LIVE event. View the schedule of events to find up-coming guests and for a link to join. Past events are recorded for later viewing. This is a great resource for students with a passion to be either on or off the stage. 

Take Advantage of Amazon Future Engineer

Amazon Future Engineer will provide free access to their sponsored computer science courses through the fall. These courses are appropriate for independent learners from grades 6 through 12. The courses provided include Middle School (ages 13 and older) - Computer Science Explorations; High School (ages 14 and older) – Introduction to Computer Science in Python, Computer Science Principles, and Computer Science A – Java. Interested students need to fill out this form to get started.

Participate in National Children's Book Week

Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the United States. It is the annual celebration of books for young people and the joy of reading. The 2020 National Children's Book Week will take place May 4-10 with a theme of Read.Dream.Share. Stephen King once said, "Books are uniquely portable magic." One thing is certain, we definitely could use a little magic right now so go ahead and read.

Check Out Everywhere Book Fest

The Everywhere Book Fest is a virtual celebration of authors, books, and readers that brings the book festival experience to everyone! On May 1-2, the book festival will open its virtual doors and unveil two free full days of live and pre-recorded sessions with your favorite picture book, middle grade, and young adult authors.

Read Along with PBS KIDS!

To encourage family engagement and a love of reading at home, PBS KIDS offers families a place to come together and read along with fan-favorites on YouTube. PBS KIDS Read-Alongs feature many popular children's book authors and now a four-week series with former first lady, Michelle Obama (catch her live each Monday at noon through May 11). Along with story-time of a beloved book, each PBS KIDS Read-Along is designed to encourage engagement among families who tune in, with activity ideas and questions that spark conversation.

Create a Family Book Club

Book clubs can teach valuable skills such as reading for understanding, relating reading to personal experience, and participating in a discussion by taking turns and respecting what others have to say. They encourage us to form opinions about what we read and express these opinions with supporting evidence. A book club just may light that fire to read and find out more! Here are some ways to make it fun:

  • Snacks! Pick food connected to the book, making the abstract more concrete.
  • Branch out! Find fun hands-on projects, research, or artwork related to the book to generate some excitement.
  • Rate it! Have kids really judge the book by going beyond “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.”
  • Ask questions! Get them to open their books and search for answers.
  • Keep it going! Be prepared with a list of other works by the same author or other books in the same genre.

Visit the Fairfax County Public Library Online

While all Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) buildings are closed to visitors, you can still take advantage of all the resources they offer online.

Discover Your Family’s History

This may be the perfect time to start exploring your family's history. Your children will be amazed to see their grandparents’ and great grandparents’ names listed on an old census, and who knows what else you might discover? Start building a family tree and see your family's story emerge.

  • Here is another thing to know about the Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL). It offers genealogical databases, websites, and bibliographies to aid users in the pursuit of their family history and origins. You can get lost for hours searching here.
  • Members of the FCPL typically only have access to all the resources available through including their search database, as well as charts and forms to organize your research, while inside the library. However, while branches are closed, off-site access to Ancestry for Libraries is now unlocked! The private link is only available to logged-in cardholders. Once you are logged in to your library account, look for the link in the "dashboard area" on the left side of the page. 
  • Become a part of the FCPL Virginia Room COVID-19 Project. Your experience is our history. Be a part of this historic project to collect primary source material regarding Fairfax County residents' experiences during this pandemic. They are looking for your stories, photographs, journal entries, short video clips, art images, or other digital files by June 10, 2020. Information on sending in your materials is provided.
  • Scholastic allows you to take a tour of Ellis Island and get an idea of how your ancestors may have arrived in the United States.

Participate in Wellness Wednesdays

Our Minds Matter, a program of the Josh Anderson Foundation, hosts a weekly meeting for teens to connect with peers and participate in activities focused on self-care and resources. Each week features a new guest speaker to help lead that week's discussion. The Virtual Wellness Wednesdays occur every Wednesday from 3:00 to 4:00 pm. Teens can join the meeting here. Not only will teens gain positive skills for their own self-care, perhaps this will spark an interest to get involved with an Our Minds Matter club happening at their high school.

Check Out the MyStrength App

This is a reminder about the MyStrength App which we featured in an article two months ago. It is a great tool for secondary students and adults as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The myStrength app provides a safe, secure, and personalized set of tools to help support your mind, body, and spirit. With content for youth and adults, topics include coping, sleep, anxiety, substance use, loss of a loved one, and much more. To get started with this free app, visit the MyStrength website, click on ‘Sign Up’, and enter the access code CSBCommunity.  

FCPS Mental Wellness Consultations are Available

Any FCPS parent may request a 30-minute phone consultation with a school psychologist or school social worker. Parent consultations are available for all grade levels and student consultations are only available for students in middle and high school.

Healthy Minds would love to hear from you!

Many families are trying their own creative ideas at home to keep children active and engaged. Please consider sharing any of your ideas and they may get posted in a future Healthy Minds blog.

Healthy Minds is for parents, educators, and community-based providers who are interested in supporting student mental health and wellness. It represents a collaboration between FCPS’ Office of Intervention and Prevention Services and the Fairfax County Government. SUBSCRIBE to Healthy Minds and receive a periodic digest of our most recent articles.