How’s your pandemic going? If you are anything like the 2,000 parents of school-aged children recently surveyed by Fat Brain Toys, your kids have announced, “I’m bored” an average of six times a day, had five temper tantrums a day, and created six “career-best” messes in the past few months. The result, for many households, is that the kids have turned into “screen zombies.” Because what else are you supposed to do? This hardly seems like the best the time to limit screen time.
Also, it’s gotten hard to know anymore how much screen time is too much. School, reading, research, entertainment, and socializing all comes in via screen. This doesn’t change the reality that too much screen time, whatever amount that is, can lead to poor outcomes including obesity, sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, and attention problems. You’ve probably seen the meltdowns and irritability first hand.
Ordering the kids to “Go outside and play!” – a classic parenting move for centuries – might not feel available during a pandemic or when air quality is poor. So I rounded up a collection of solutions to the “I’m bored” lament that won’t make an epic mess, aren’t dangerous to your kids, and are engaging enough to set your kids up with them while you take a Zoom meeting or phone call with little interruption. Or maybe you’ll find some time to put down your own screen and play?
An engrossing box of excellent blocks
KEVA Maple 400 Plank Set, $179.93
You might be amazed by how much time – silent, creative, and engaged – a bright child will spend building a castle, village, or universe if you set them down with a flat surface and enough high-quality maple blocks made of wood to render what’s in their imagination. You might have encountered Keva blocks in a children’s play area in a museum before all this sheltering at home. Owning your own set, though, is well worth the investment. After the kids are in bed, you will probably find yourself – wine glass in hand – recreating King’s Landing, a Death Star, or the utopia of your own imagination. So, it’s not as if you kids will outgrow them. Also? Cleanup is easy.
Learn about magnetism and chain reactions with this magnetic building toy
Building blocks are not merely engrossing, creative, and fun, they teach some elemental STEM skills. This magnetic set takes that idea a step further by allowing kids to experiment with magnetism and chain reactions while they build. This isn’t a dry lesson in science. This is hours of building fun that leads to a visceral understanding of the concepts. Also? A child that’s engrossed in building a spaceship with a chain reaction core won’t interrupt your meeting to say, “I’m bored!”
Learning circuitry is child’s play
Circuit Explorer, $29.99
You know why we all have iPhones today? In no small part because, when he was a child, Steve Wozniac loved to play with transistors and circuits with his engineer father. That’s was some next-level nerd back then. But it’s child’s play now. All you have to set your kids down in front of Circuit Explorer and let them play – and learn. It helps kids create a rocket (or the Mars Explorer) simply by connecting the dots and playing. Engrossing? Yes. Educational? Check. Maybe leads to a career changing the world with tech? It’s worth a shot.
Chemistry fun in a kit
Sure, you can teach a lot of chemistry in your kitchen if you know what you’re doing and have time. But this is a complete chemistry kit in a box. Park your kids in front of it and let them go all mad scientist with this chemistry lab. There are 40 experiments and a large number of cool-looking test tubes, beakers, graduated cylinders, and petri dishes.
These cartoons are funny and they teach
Brainpop, $129 a year. Start with a $1 trial.
Hilarious cartoons you can’t pull your kids away from? Dangerous, right? Not in this case! These cartoons will teach everything on your kids homework list, make them laugh, and lead them down a rabbit hole of curiosity until you have to pull them away. If all of school was like this, you’d never drag them away from learning. But you don’t have to do a thing. If the kids are bored and begging for screen time, relent and put them in front of this. The homework will be easy. You won’t feel guilty. And the kids will love it.
LEGO because this classic never gets old
LEGO Boost, $159.99
Any LEGO kit is a terrific, engrossing way to get kids away from screens, working on fine motor skills, and engaging in creative play. But this LEGO Boost kit ups the ante by adding some simple coding (which does involve a screen) so kids can make their creations move and interact based on their coded commands. Trouble shooting can be very engrossing. And the results are super satisfying.
Park the kids in front of a tutor
Tutor.me, plans start at $69 a month
Can’t handle the math in your kids’ homework? No patience for the grammar? Or maybe you just need some time to focus on your own work? Park the kids in front of a screen with a tutor at the other end of the signal. Your kids will get better grades. You will get some work done. A college student will make some pocket money. No one has to drive anywhere or worry about the pandemic. This is one-on-one tutoring in over 300 subjects, for students from first grade to graduate school.