When you’re in isolation with children of any age, the weeks ahead will test your ingenuity to the limit.
With schools closed up and down the country and social distancing rules in place, keeping children of all ages entertained will have its challenges.
However, don’t despair – there are plenty of fun, low-cost and free activities you can have up your sleeve.
Here are our top tips and ideas on how to keep kids busy, calm and upbeat during this testing time.
AGE TWO TO SEVEN
Build a fort
Families are likely to be getting more deliveries than usual, so put the boxes to good use by designing a cardboard fort.
You may have to help with cutting out the doors and windows, but otherwise let your child’s imagination run riot.
Colour your tablecloth
Colouring is a great way to help kids of this age develop motor skills. Invest in a giant colour-in tablecloth, which comes with wash-out fabric pens.
There are four designs to choose from, including World Map, Doodles and Fun at the Zoo. They are reusable and cost from £22.95 from littleactivepeople.com
Bird and squirrel watching
Encourage your child to become a mini David Attenborough by observing nature out of the window.
Whether it’s tracking the movements of squirrels or learning to recognise different bird songs, encourage kids to make a project of their observations with photos or drawings.
Show how they can encourage wildlife to visit your garden or windowsill with a feeder made of half an apple, scooped out and stuffed with a mix of peanut butter and seeds.
Make a ‘calm down’ jar
No matter how calm you try to keep things, at some point tempers are bound to flare.
Becky Goddard-Hill, co-author of new kids happiness activity book Create Your Own Happy, suggests parents help youngsters by making a ‘calm down’ jar.
Dissolve three tablespoons of glitter glue, two teaspoons of fine glitter, a few drops of food colouring and some hand soap in hot water.
Pour it almost to the top of an empty jar, and screw the top on tightly.
When cooled, your child can shake it, then spend precious minutes watching the glitter swirl and settle, which should relax them.
Throw a disco
Children need to be active to keep their spirits up, says psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin.
Suggest each member of the family makes a half-hour playlist, dims the lights and puts on a disco each day.
Or try online dance classes and learn a routine.
Dance class firm Diddi Dance is now putting up online lessons. Sign up at diddidance.com
AGE EIGHT TO 12
Grow a windowsill garden
Just because they are cooped up inside doesn’t mean children can’t keep learning about the natural world.
Inspire a love of nature by helping them grow some easy flowers and veg.
To get fast results, order cornflower or pot marigold seeds online, which germinate in as little as two weeks.
Alternatively, help them grow their own salad veg by planting quick-sprouting radishes or cress.
A fruit carton, cut in half, with holes in the bottom or even an old welly boot will do the trick if you don’t have any pots.
For more tips try the Royal Horticultural Society’s guide for kids: Ready, Steady, Grow!
Start story time
Digital distractions mean children are likely to get immersed in their phones and tablets.
Parenting educator Noel Janis-Norton, author of the Calmer Easier Happier Parenting series of books, suggests setting up a daily reading time.
Set a good example by picking up a book too.
Try 20 minutes at first and build up. Take it in turns to be the storyteller.
Stage a premiere
There’s no avoiding the fact your children will be watching more TV than usual but try to make it a little bit special on occasions.
Make some popcorn, dim the lights and put on your favourite family film.
Arrange your chairs in front of the screen like a movie theatre, and ask the kids to make tickets for your showing.
Then all sit down and watch it together.
Learn to star and cloud-gaze
Do some nightly stargazing to spot planets such as Venus and Mars, identify the major constellations and chart the phases of the moon.
You don’t need a telescope either.
Even a pair of binoculars will allow you to see the mountains and craters on the lunar surface.
Download an app such as Skywalk for 99p a month.
You point your phone at the sky and it gives an instant guide to what you are looking at.
During the day, children can also learn to identify the dozens of different types of clouds and collect them with help from The Cloud Collector’s Handbook.
You can buy it as an ebook for £3.99 since bookshops will be among the retailers forced to close.
AGE 13 TO 16
Being stuck inside could be the perfect way to reintroduce the lost art of letter writing, says parenting expert Becky Goddard-Hill, who is also author of Be Happy, Be You, which has 50 science-backed happiness-boosting tips for teens.
It’s a great way to encourage teenagers to think of other people who might feel lonely during this time and reach out to them.
With some calming music on in the background, writing letters can be a really relaxing way to chill out.
Take virtual tours
The museums and art galleries may be closed but if your teenager wants to expand their horizons, there are now virtual tours of thousands of the world’s most important museums, including the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Guggenheim in New York.
The tours are so good it’s like you are actually wandering through the corridors and you can zoom in to view any masterpieces you fancy.
Look up the museums’ websites for more details.
Try moth catching
Moths are every bit as beautiful as butterflies and the easiest way to observe them up close is to hang a sheet outside.
Wait until it’s dark, then shine a light onto the sheet.
Leave it for an hour before popping out to see your moth visitors.
Take pictures and build an album on your phone comparing their amazing wing patterns.
Don’t touch them though as their wings are easily damaged.
Create a family tree
Researchers discovered that finding out about relatives and ancestors can help give young people more perspective and learn resilience.
Look at the lives of relatives who are in living memory and put together their pictures and stories to create mini biographies.
Ringing elderly relatives to ask for their recollections is also a great way to keep in touch if they are also in isolation.
It can be a useful reminder of the difficulties your family has overcome.
- Tanith Carey is author of What’s My Child Thinking? and What’s My Teenager Thinking? Practical Psychology for Modern Parents, published by DK.