After a summer of social distancing, we’re starting thinking about back-to-class. This usually means looking to reconnect our kids with their classmates and other friends. Pizza parties and camp meet-ups not an option this summer? No worries! We’ve got ideas for virtual playdates both kids and parents can enjoy.
Virtual Playdates, Age-by-Age
Build those social, verbal (and virtual) skills as your little one prepares for whatever back-to-school looks like this year. Connect with the parents of 1 or 2 other children to make a Show-and-Tell plan. Invite each child to present 2 -3 items to show, such as favorite toys, games or books. It may help to set a timer (or informal time limit) or to ask each child to share one reason why they like each object. During the playdate, have parents stay nearby. Be patient and give kids time to warm up and discover their online voices.
Grades 1-3: Color It Together
Encourage collaboration and idea-sharing with an online coloring adventure for 2 to 4 kids. Download and share coloring pages and collect crayons or colored pencils in preparation for the playdate. Have children to brainstorm guildelines for coloring, such as only use a certain number of colors or think up a fun title for completed page. Encourage conversation as kids color for a set amount of time, then share their progress. Wrap up by discussing plans for another crafty virtual gathering.
TECH TIP: Invite family members to a Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Facetime meeting. Encourage everyone to try sharing screens, changing backgrounds and other platform features. Confirm kids’ technology comfort levels before scheduling time with classmates or peers.
Grades 4-6: Scavenger Hunt
Upper middle grades are the time when many kids are introduced to changing classrooms and homework planners. Help them prepare with virtual playdates based on “Scavenger Hunt” challenges. First : Connect with parents to plan a list that’ll work for all households — and take the opportunity to compare notes on how your kids are feeling! INDOOR IDEAS: a weird-shaped pasta, a dictionary, a box of CDs, 10 throw pillows, something with a bird on it. OUTDOOR IDEAS: a dandelion, an old tennis ball or baseball, a water toy, a large rock (say 6” or wider). After that, share lists with kids and let them hunt. Finally, have them meet online to share and compare their discoveries. They can even use smart phones to photograph their finds to share.
Grades 7-8: Virtual Time Capsule
Add a bit of history to the fun by inviting kids to try to imagine telling their own future families about the pandemic of 2020. Make a list of things they’d want to put in the capsule (a mask, newspaper clippings, toilet paper) and memories they’ll want to share (online learning, virtual graduations, etc.). Finally, they can then decide how to compile their thoughts, images, etc., as a PowerPoint presentation, online journal or even a group blog. (Hint: This might be a great project to share with teachers in the fall.)
SHIP TIP: Anticipation can add to the fun of a virtual gathering. Set a theme (think novelty socks or jewelry, snarky mugs or books), timeline and price limit (including shipping) for a package exchange. Every participant is assigned one recipient. At your virtual gathering, “unbox” together. (HINT: Browse Zulily’s Ready to Ship Shop for affordable finds that can be shipped out quickly.)
“Virtual Playdates” for High School, College and Beyond
Grades 9+: Encourage Conversations
High school and college students may have been doing a lot of sleeping, snacking and worrying about the future this summer. If you’ve been struggling to stay connected to friends and community members, it’s likely the same for your almost-grown-ups. Share your experiences honestly. Set a positive example by connecting with your own friends for a chat or walk. Seek out opportunities to trust your child to help you solve a real problem, perhaps by enlisting the help or guidance of friends. Try questions like, “Do you know anyone who has gone to the park, mall, etc., and what did they think of it?” “Would you know anyone interested in a socially-distanced outdoor yardwork project?” And, if they finally schedule a Zoom chat with friends at your dinner hour, let them miss the meal!
Parents (You deserve social time, too!): Connect Over Things You Can Control
Finding yourself stressed out by “grown-up” conversations about the pandemic, the economy and your kids’ futures? Of course it’s important to stay informed, however happiness and mental health are important, too. Treat a few friends to a virtual meet-up that starts with a playful theme or joke. No joke! How about discussing the WORST show you’ve binge-watched or the most surprising thing you or a family member taught themselves to do during quarantine? Jointly try a new craft, such as knitting or crochet. Give yourself permission to tell your pals you need a break from the serious stuff. It might be good for everyone.