As an early childhood educator, it breaks my heart to watch children as young as two and three, participating in online preschools. Little kids are not supposed to sit still in front of screens. They need to use their bodies and all five senses to learn and make sense of the world around them.
Many toddlers and preschoolers are begging for playdates and refusing to participate in Facetime calls with their friends and families. The situation is understandably stressful for children and parents alike. So, we have put together a few suggestions to help your young kids learn while maintaining connections with their family and friends.
Imagine Friends in Pretend Play.
Have you ever watched your kids transform chairs and pillows into a castle, or turn an ordinary cardboard box into a car or even a pirate ship? These simple and fun activities can actually be used to help children remember their friends and loved ones. For instance, when playing with your children try to incorporate the names of their friends. Maybe say things like “If Max was here playing with you, what do you think he would do?” Or “Let's pretend this toy is Eve, what should Eve do?” Help kids remember their friends and use their imagination.
When children imagine their friends and include them as a part of their play, it can create a new feeling of closeness and connection. This pretend or make-believe play is not only extremely beneficial for kids' development but is also simple and fun!
Create a Keepsake for a Friend.
You can encourage your child to make cards or small keepsakes for their friends and family members, these will be treasured forever! Discuss ideas with your child to create a gift. Talk about about their friends' likes and dislikes, memories and so forth. When finished, mail the keepsake to the friend. You may want to encourage that friend’s parents to work on something similar with their child and reply back and watch the friendship grow. This is also a great opportunity to incorporate sensory activities. Sensory play is extremely beneficial for a child’s development and early learning. But it can be hard to think of something that will be easy, fun and educational without being expensive. So, here is one idea for you to try.
Activity: Decorate a Friend's Name
Early readers and writers can attempt to write and get crafty with their friends' names. This fun exercise will also give children a chance to pratice their fine motor skills!
- On a thick paper or cardboard, help your child write the name of her friend.
- Decorate the name with materials you have around the house. You may want ask your child about his friend's favorite colors or characters, likes and dislikes; and decorate the name accordingly.
- Mail this card and request the other family to do the same.
Plant a Friendship Garden.
It takes patience to grow a garden, it has to be taken care of and watered daily. Forming strong friendships is very similar in nature. Once someone becomes your friend, it takes time and efforts to communicate with them and grow the friendship over time. Parents can help their children maintain ties with their friends during this period of isolation by planting a friendship garden.
- Use a planter pot or even an egg carton to plant some seeds (beans are the best.)
- Talk with your child about their friends and dedicate each seed to a friend.
- Everyday help your child take care of the garden and watch it grow.
- Once the garden blooms and everyone can be together again, your child can give plants to her friends.
Plan Interactive Activities for Virtual Playdates.
Though virtual playdates are often challenging to organize, they allow kids to see that their friends are still there. These playdates don't need to be more than a few minutes and can be as simple as your child showing her friends the coloring she did or a tower she made from blocks and her friend can do the same. You can also make these video calls interactive by doing simple activities like decorating cookies or taking turns to make shapes out of playdough and letting other kids guess them. The goal is to give small children tools to interact with each other.
Have you tried these or similar activities? Did your child enjoy them? If so, please log in to comment.
Pallavi Rana is an early childhood educator based in San Francisco. She has been guiding and assisting children and parents for the past 12 years. You can follow Ms. Rana on instagram.
 Kaufman, Scott Barry. “The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 6 Mar. 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beautiful-minds/201203/the-need-pretend-play-in-child-development.
 “Exploring the Benefits of Sensory Play for Children.” Oac, www.oac.edu.au/blog/sensory-play/.