By Danielle DeSimone
With schools and day cares closed, playdates cancelled, and social distancing required to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus pandemic, many military spouses are suddenly at home with their children, full-time, with endless hours to fill with homeschooling and activities.
This sudden change in schedule, plus the added stress of the coronavirus pandemic, can be particularly challenging for military families – many of whom might already have a deployed service member, or now have a family member who is actively working, in some way, to help combat the disease.
To provide a helping hand to military spouses who are single-parenting 24/7 on their own during the COVID-19 pandemic, the USO is here to do one of the things that the USO does best: entertain.
But in this case, rather than entertaining the troops at a USO show, we’re compiling a list of entertainment and educational activities for military kids (or any kids!) around the world, which parents can use to keep them busy during their time at home.
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, home to the famous Fiona the Hippo, is providing “Home Safari Facebook Lives” every day at 3 p.m. EST, where visitors can safely tune in from home and learn about a new animal from within their enclosure.
This enthusiastic mom shares a new video on science every Wednesday, providing both fun experiments and educational demonstrations.
National Geographic Kids provides a one-stop-shop that offers games, videos and the means to explore the world around them – all from their computer screens. Great for animal and adventure-lovers!
Looking for a way to teach children and keep them entertained? Disney Nature is providing online curriculum, lesson plans and fun activities for students in grades 2-6, all of which focus on protecting the planet by learning about nature.
Wishing you were on another planet right now? NASA can help you get there! Kids can launch rockets, build a Moon habitat, solve space puzzles and more! NASA provides out-of-this-world activities for grades kindergarten-12 and higher education, so the big kids can get involved as well.
Take a dive underwater with any of the Georgia Aquarium’s eight live webcams, where kids can watch resident Beluga Whales, African Penguins, Southern Sea Otters and giant Whale Sharks and more swim past the camera.
To help educators and families alike during these challenging times, Mystery Science is now offering its most popular science lessons for anyone to use for free – no account or login necessary. Perfect for grades kindergarten-grade 5.
8. Get Your Hands Dirty and Grow Something!
It can be hard to make math fun. So, try puzzles instead! Everything from Sudoku to free online math puzzles will keep even the most inquisitive minds busy for a while.
The Math Learning Center, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the instruction of mathematics, is offering free lessons and publications for students in preschool to grade 5.
11. Greg Tang Math
This entire website is dedicated to making math fun for children in kindergarten and elementary school by taking a problem-solving approach, igniting curiosity in young learners.
12. Maker Stations
If kids are starting to get sick of staring at a computer, tablet or cell phone screen, Maker Stations is a great alternative, with plenty of interactive crafts and activities, made with basic materials found around the house. These activities were made specifically for elementary school children looking to learn more about engineering math and science.
13. Put on a Play
Dust off those old Shakespeare collections, download some scripts online or write an original play! Children can easily be entertained for hours with inventing plots, creating stage sets, making costumes and practicing their lines to get those creative juices flowing!
14. Make a Music Video
With a smart phone, a speaker and some stellar moves, kids can easily make their very own music video and share it online.
Resources such as Classics for Kids provides resources to teach children about classical music, with recordings, games to learn how to play music, activity sheets and lesson plans for music-learning.
16. Become Famous on the Internet
With the closure of schools, many high school theatre students suddenly had to give up their dreams of performing in their spring plays and musicals. For seniors, this can be especially difficult. That’s why Tony Award-winning Broadway star Laura Benanti is giving kids an online audience: she encouraged students to record themselves singing or performing, and to then tag her and use the hashtag #SunshineSongs so she could watch.
Thousands of at-home performances are now being shared around the world and watched by other actors and Broadway stars, like Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda!
17. Family History Collection
Trapped inside with no one to talk to except family members? Perfect! This is an excellent way for children to interview family members about their childhood, and about their larger family tree. Interviews can be recorded, written up as stories or even turned into homemade illustrations. Remember to always do so safely, either with family members already living in the home, or virtually, so as to stay in line with CDC social distancing guidelines!
Now, more than ever, the stories and memories of our nation’s veterans are precious reminders of the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made for this country. The Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project encourages Americans to collect personal narratives (through interviews) and visual materials of veterans “so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.” This is a great way to interview a family member in your home about their military experience, or a friend or neighbor - virtually - via the phone or video-chat.
19. Virtual Museum Visits
Museums all around the world have opened up their doors – figuratively speaking – for visitors to stroll through their galleries and exhibits on virtual tours. The Smithsonian Museums are not only a great place for kids to “visit” the dinosaurs or take a peek at rocket ships, but are also an excellent resource for online learning.
Visual Arts Activities
Author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka (most famous for his “Lunch Lady” series) has created a series of videos that provide a daily guide to different aspects of drawing and illustration for aspiring artists.
To provide a connection to art during these trying times, the Kennedy Center’s Education Artist-in-Residence, Mo Willems, will be digitally inviting guests into his studio every day at 1 p.m., where they can improve their drawing and creative skills with anything they have on hand – pencils, markers or crayons.
22. Leaf Crafts
Utilize what you have around your home by making art with leaves from nearby trees, if you have them! This list of leaf arts and crafts shows kids how to make everything from a leaf crown, to stamps, to collages.
23. Shaving Cream Marble Art
Warning: this can get messy. But if you don’t mind your kids’ hands getting a little dirty, shaving cream marble art projects are both entertaining and beautiful activities.
24. Make an Encouraging Poster
Across the world, neighbors are reaching out to each other – at a distance – to spread encouragement through the coronavirus pandemic. In Italy, children have been creating posters decorated with rainbows and the phrase “andrà tutto bene” or, “everything will be alright.”
The idea has carried over to Germany, where military families on U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden have begun to participate in USO Wiesbaden’s “Creating with Grace” community project, which encourages children and families to create their own motivational rainbow posters to hang in windows or outside on balconies. Bonus: when going on responsibly socially-distanced walks with children, this can make for a great game of I-Spy!
Active Movement Activities
Joe Wicks, a YouTube fitness instructor, has decided to become a PE teacher for the millions of children around the world who are now out of school. Every morning at 9 a.m. GMT, Wicks livestreams child-friendly and fun workouts, with the option to watch them later on his YouTube channel, for those who aren’t on U.K.-time.
26. USO Kaiserslautern Kids Zumba
Join the USO team at USO Kaiserslautern, Germany, for Zumba classes livestreamed on Facebook, which are designed specifically for kids!
For those lucky enough to be social distancing with a backyard, check out these more than 200 activities that provide creative ways for kids of all ages to get moving (both inside and outdoors).
Need to get the jitters out? This online collective provides music and moves to lead dance breaks when kids are stuck at home. Hip Hop Public Health also has a number of educational videos, comics and other dance activities to promote health among children.
29. Cosmic Kids Yoga
For kids are in need of a little rest and relaxation, Cosmic Kids Yoga offers quick, 10-15 minute videos of yoga instruction and mindfulness, designed specifically for children.
Reading and Language Arts Activities
30. Celebrity Story Time
Celebrities such as Josh Gad (the voice of Olaf in Disney’s “Frozen”), Amy Adams and Jennifer Garner have begun livestreaming themselves reading books to children on their personal social media channels, all while raising money for children affected by school closures.
Storyline Online also has a large library of online stories, read by various actors for children of all ages and reading levels.
Amazon’s Audible, which sells digital audiobooks, radio and TV programs and audio versions of magazines and newspapers, is offering Audible Stories: free stories for kids in six different languages and the promise that “as long as schools are closed, we’re open.”
This nonprofit sends children’s books to astronauts at the International Space Station, where they record themselves reading to kids around the world from space.
As many libraries across the country begin to shut down amid COVID-19 concerns, librarians have shifted their services and have gone digital. This means that libraries are ensuring their communities have access to more audiobooks and ebooks, as well as getting creative and hosting book discussions on social media.
34. USO Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program
While many USO locations have had to close their doors to prevent the spread of coronavirus, USO staff are still hard at work, boosting the morale of our military families and military children.
Even though USO airport locations have temporarily suspended operations, they are still dedicated to supporting the military community. The BWI Airport USO Lounge is now offering daily story time readings and educational resources for military children to tune into, along with the option for volunteers to “guest-read” stories as well.
35. Story Writing
Encourage children to write their own stories! This is a great opportunity for them to flex their own creative writing skills, and maybe even host their own story time hour at home once they’ve finished their stories.
For those military kids overseas who are looking for a little more competition, USO Naples recently announced the 2020 Month of the Military Child Art & Essay Contest, in which military kids can share through their own words what it’s like to be a military child – and we can celebrate their resiliency.
36. KidLit TV
This online resource offers fun videos and tutorials to learn about literature and art.
Although kids can’t go to a beloved Scholastic Book Fair, they can utilize the publication and education company’s free, daily lessons and projects to get reading.
38. TIME Magazine’s “TIME for Kids”
TIME for Kids, the school-based publication, has launched a new, digital library of TIME for Kids magazine issues – completely free of charge. The issues have writing for students anywhere from kindergarten to grade 6.
Research by Sandi Gohn and Danielle DeSimone
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