Category Archives: Play and Fun Activities

Parks with Industrial Artifacts

Some people love nature, and can look at mossy trees, birds, and spider webs all day long. Some people don’t connect to that at all and are far more interested in mechanical objects. And sometimes those two types of people are married to each other. Or sometimes there’s a parent in one camp who has a child in the other camp. One way to find common ground is to seek out signs of cool machines in natural settings. Here are some options with that appeal in western Washington: Gas Works Park in Seattle, coal mining remnants in Newcastle, Snoqualmie Falls, Fort Casey on Whidbey Island and the Ballard Locks.

Gas Works Park in Seattle

In the Wallingford neighborhood (2101 N Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98103), Gas Works contains remnants of a coal gasification plant that operated from 1906 – 1956. (Learn more about Gas Work’s history and the park today.) In addition to viewing the gas works, there’s also a great hill for kite flying, a sundial, great views of the boats on Lake Union, and easy access to the Burke-Gilman trail.

Coal Mining Remnants in Newcastle

On the border between Bellevue, Issaquah, and Newcastle, you’ll find the Coal Creek Trails in Cougar Mountain Regional Park. It’s a beautiful nature hike with lots of native plants, and view of Coal Creek, with the added bonus of ruins from old coal mines, and interpretive signs about their history. There’s also an old Nike missile installation, but not a lot to see there. (Learn more here.) I wrote up a guide to the science of coal formation and the history of coal mining in the area when I took an elementary school age class on a field trip there. You can read it here.

Here’s a trail map of the zone I’d recommend hiking. Walk Wildside trail to Steam Hoist trail to see the Steam Hoist. If the path isn’t flooded, go around the Steam Hoist trail loop to see the info about saw mills. Use Steam Hoist trail to get back to Ford. At Ford Slope, view a rail car (picture here), machinery, a closed mine shaft, swamp gas vents, and the 1920 (bridge??) just up the hill. If you still have lots of energy, hike up Rainbow Town (steep) to Red Town, then down Bradley Seam Trail back to Wildside to trailhead. If you have some energy, then you can duck back down Wildside just a bit, go UP Bradley Seam, and then walk down Red Town. On Bradley Seam, you’ll see an exposed coal seam and be able to pick up and examine lots of coal samples along the side of the path.

This is around a mile and a half hike without a a lot of elevation gain. Parts of the trail are wide gravel roads, some are more challenging terrain. I hiked it with 5 – 9 year old kids who did great. With younger kids, it would be trickier, and you’d need to make sure they were stating safe. (More about the hike.) The hike to Coal Creek Falls is beautiful, but it’s 3.5 miles with 350 feet of elevation gain and some tricky terrain, so not the best for a novice hiker. (Full Trail Map.)

Directions: Start at Red Town Trail Head parking lot, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. From I-90 take exit 13 and drive south on Lakemont Blvd SE for 3.1 miles. Parking lot is to left (east side) of Lakemont. (Watch for the park sign and a dirt parking lot). The trailhead parking does fill up from about 9 – 2 on sunny summer weekends.

Snoqualmie Falls

The falls are gorgeous –  268 feet high with the width ranging from 50 to 150 feet, depending on water levels. When the water level is high, they’re really LOUD and powerful feeling. This is also the site of Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Project, built in the late 1890’s. It is one of the Pacific Northwest’s oldest hydropower facilities and the world’s first hydroelectric plant built completely underground. The museum (closed during pandemic) houses exhibits about hydroelectricity. Here’s a virtual tour video covering the history.

Near the top of the falls, next to the Salish Lodge, you’ll find two observations decks (aka “cliffside observation areas”) with great views of the falls, a gift shop and concessions. The observation deck is wheelchair accessible. There is a very steep trail down to the base of the falls. There is also a lower park area, with a hiking trail through forested wildlife habitat, a kayak and canoe launching area, historic interpretive displays and an observation platform for viewing the Falls.

Here is a map of the park and the parking areas. The parking lot by the gift shop is paid parking. The other 2 lots are free. The falls are lit up after dark.

Fort Casey on Whidbey Island

Fort Casey is a Washington state park. The fort was constructed in the late 1800s, equipped for seacoast fortification in the early 1900’s with large “disappearing guns.” Unfortunately the guns were quickly made obsolete with the advent of airplanes. The guns you see there now were transferred from the Philippines in the 1960’s. The Fort was used as a training facility up to the mid-1940s. (More history.)

You can climb the batteries, peer into catacomb like bunkers (bring a flashlight!) and climb up for a close look at the guns. You’re given pretty much free rein of the facility, without a lot of protective barriers. It was great for my 9 year old, but if you have little ones, they’ll need close supervision. (More on what it’s like to visit.)

There’s 1.8 miles of hiking trails (part of the 1200 mile Pacific NW National Scenic Trail) and amazing views of Admiralty Inlet which connects the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Puget Sound (expect it to be windy!!). We went there in the summer of 2020, and after being isolated at home for a long time, it was lovely to be in a wide open space, where we could see families out enjoying the day from a very distanced social distance.

A bonus for the mechanically-inclined (a downside for those who like the quiet of nature) is that the U.S. Navy does flight training at the nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey, with 100,000 takeoffs and landings per year, day and night. With noise levels of 100 decibels, you won’t miss them!

You can camp at Fort Casey’s 100 acres, or you can stay in their historical buildings of the Fort Casey Inn. (Read about the experience.)

Ballard Locks

Note; as of February 2021, many of the visitors’ facilities at the locks are closed due to the pandemic. Check their website for updates.

The Hiram M Chittenden Locks, completed in 1917, connect Lake Washington with Puget Sound. They carry more boat traffic than any other locks in the U.S. Boats ranging in size from one man kayaks to 760 foot boats can travel through there. When a boat enters the locks from the lake, the water level is lowered 20 – 22 feet before a boat makes its way into the Sound. You can find a lot more about how the locks work and about their history on the WIkipedia page.

From June to September, you may be able to see salmon on the fish ladders. There is also the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden, a beautiful nature oasis. Read visitor reviews. More photos.

McAuliffe Park in Kirkland

This old farm homestead has windmills, old gas pumps, old farm equipment and large pea patch of working gardens. Read my whole post on McAuliffe Park. Also, as you walk, keep your eye out for Kirkland Rocks.

Related Ideas

All playgrounds are full of simple machines. You can point out to a child the inclined planes (slides, ramps), the screws (spiral staircases or ladders), the levers (swings, seesaws), and the wheels on axles (merry go rounds).

If you’re looking for an excuse to go on a quest style walk around downtown Seattle, check out this guide to all the public clocks in Seattle.

If you know of other great opportunities in the Seattle area for combining some time in nature / the great outdoors with something mechanical or engineering related, please add a comment below!

More Local Parks

For the nature lovers, you may also want to check out these posts:

Fun with Toddlers – Animal Theme

Crafts to Do

Make a clothespin creature: With clothespins, pipe cleaners, cardstock, googly eyes, pompoms and more, there are so many creatures you can create! (You can find sources for all these ideas on my Pinterest page at www.pinterest.com/bcparented/clothespin-creatures/)

Do animal facepaint and/or make animal costumes. Read the book Fraidyzoo by Heder. (It’s available at the King County library) It’s all about making crazy animal costumes out of materials you have around the house or can find in your recycling bin. See what animal costumes you can create!

Invitations to Play

Put out a collection of toy animals, and materials to build a habitat with or build a zoo or farm. This could be a playdough activity, or you could put items in a sensory bin with beans or rice, or could be nature play with sticks and rocks, or combined with building toys such as Duplos.

Learning Activities

  • Sorting. There are so many sorting activities you can do with toy animals. Put them in a pile, and ask your child to sort: farm animals from zoo animals, or mammals from non-mammals, or things that climb trees from things that swim, or sort by color or size.
  • Animal Sounds. Show your child pictures of animals, and teach your child animal sounds. Then ask your child “what noise does a cow make?” Praise them when they say moo. And so on. Children can often make recognizable animal sounds before they have much language, so it’s a fun way to see how much your child really understands. If you want your child to speak multiple languages, ask the question in other languages (like “Que dice la vaca?”). They will learn the answer is also moo. This helps them start making connections between meaning in the different languages.

Songs to Sing

  • To the tune of Wheels on the Bus: “The lions at the zoo say roar roar roar, roar roar roar, roar roar roar. The lions at the zoo say roar roar roar all day long.” Repeat with any animal sound you want.
  • Old McDonald. Old McDonald had a farm. E I E I O // And on that farm there was a cow. E I E I O // With a moo moo here and a moo moo there. // Here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo moo. // Old McDonald had a farm. E I E I O
  • Three little monkeys. Three little monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell off and bumped his head. Mama called the doctor and the doctor said: “No more monkeys jumping on the bed”.

Books to Read

  • Dear Zoo by Campbell. Fabulous lift the flap. “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet…” See what they send!
  • Good Night, Gorilla by Rathmann. A charming (mostly) wordless book about a gorilla escaping its cage.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? or Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear? by Carle. Great repeating rhyme and rhythm. Children love to predict what will be on the next page.
  • Poke a Dot: Old MacDonald’s Farm. This is a counting book. Each page has plastic dots you can “pop”. I’m normally not a fan of “gimmicky” books, but I think this one is great for learning one-to-one correspondence, an essential math skill.
  • Who’s Like Me? This is a lift the flap (uncover and discover) book, where one animal says something like “I’m a bunny. I am furry and breathe air. Who’s like me?”

More Animal Themed Activities

Check out my Fun with Toddlers posts on Zoo Theme and Farm Theme. Or check out my preschool STEM posts about Animal Classification, Adaptations, Habitats and more.

A Day Trip to Play in the Snow

10 days ago, our son heard the weather reports that there was a chance of snow in the Seattle area over the next few days. Well, the week came and went, and no snow! He was so disappointed.

But we told him that all winter long, snow is just a short drive away. And that when he’s hankering for a spontaneous snowball fight, it’s easy to make that happen.

We proved it on Sunday. We left our home in Kirkland after lunch, at 1:00. It took a little less than an hour to get to Snoqualmie Pass. We parked, jumped out of the car and played for about an hour, hopped back in the car, and were home by 4:00. No money spent, other than gas money, in exchange for fun in the snow.

Playing in the Snow

Across the street from the Summit West ski area there’s a huge field of snow. There were maybe 10 – 12 other families out there when we were, but there’s plenty of room to spread out.

There are lots of rolling hills, so it’s easy to find places to hide behind to build up a pile of snowball ammunition for snowball fights.

Previous visitors had made some fun snow caves to crawl into (see picture at the top of the post.) There are lots of little sledding hills – most are only a few feet long, but still fun little slides.

There was one nice long run, but it wasn’t quite steep enough. Our son would slide about six feet, scoot for a foot, slide for six and so on.

We hadn’t brought a sled along, but we improvised. He used an insulated bag that we keep in the car for restaurant takeout and it worked great!

If you want a much bigger production with more ambitious sledding, check out the Tubing park at Snoqualmie. It is super fun for 6 – 10 year olds. But, you do have to reserve in advance, and it’s $35 for adults and $12 for kids and was more than we needed for just our little day trip.

We’d decided we would go up and play for exactly as long as we wanted and then quit, and that’s what we did.

We did not do anything special to prep for this… we own ski clothes – snow pants, long undies, ski mittens, the whole deal, but we didn’t bother to dig them out. We just grabbed our regular boots, coats and gloves from the closet, and threw an extra pair of sweatpants in the car for my son. After he was done playing, he just changed to dry pants in the car.

Bathrooms? Food?

So, there are no bathrooms in this field. I might guess there are some at the nearby gas station. I don’t know. During COVID, we prefer to avoid public buildings, so we just made sure to use the bathroom at home before heading out.

The Summit Pancake House said they were open for takeout only. There were also, I think, a couple places you could get hot chocolate after playing. We just headed home and had hot chocolate at home.

Travel details

We drove I-90 to the pass. We listened to great podcasts in the car. We got off at the West Summit exit (I think it’s exit 52). Across the street from the ski area there’s a field of snow. We parked near there. (No fee.) We were there at 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon, and there was plenty of available parking. We’ve heard it can be bad, but that wasn’t our experience.

We did not experience any traffic, going up at 1 on Sunday and heading back down the mountain at 3:00.

It is important to check road and weather conditions before going. https://www.wsdot.com/Traffic/passes/snoqualmie/. On the day we went, there was no snow at all on the side of the road until we got just a few miles from the pass. At the pass, the roads were bare and wet. The temperature was 35. So, easy drive and pleasant weather. The forecast was possible light snow flurries, but we didn’t have any.

We would probably not have done this trip if there was a chance that there would be a lot of snow on the roads and chains would be advised. We are from Wyoming and Massachusetts, and are comfortable putting chains on tires and driving in the snow; however, we drive a Prius and they are not great in the snow!

But: we DID have chains in the car, and we did have blankets, water, and some food, because we keep them in our car all winter every winter. Just in case.

All in all, this was a really fun and easy afternoon outing in the middle of COVID where we got to get out and play!

Note: On February 5th, the state announced they have opened new snow parks you could check out as an alternative to this location. Includes Easton Reload, which looks like it’s about 15 miles past Snoqualmie Pass and has 60 parking spaces off I-90 Exit 71. Here’s the article: https://www.seattletimes.com/life/outdoors/spurred-by-overcrowding-washington-state-parks-creates-3-temporary-new-sno-parks-near-seattle/

Here are a few other posts you may be interested in:

WildLanterns at the Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle has a new winter-season light display called WildLanterns. The displays are absolutely gorgeous, and walking around the zoo after dark looking at the lanterns made for a special evening for our family in a year with few new and inspiring experiences. I would recommend it for people of any age, although since walking the whole experience takes almost two hours, toddlers and preschoolers may not have as much patience for it as older children and adults.

The Experience

When you arrive, you get into a long but fast-moving socially distanced line. They scan your ticket, and in you go. Most of the time, you’ll be walking along the paths, gazing at the lantern displays around you. There are a few animal exhibits open (the penguins, the meerkats and bats – though the meerkats are diurnal and were all sleeping and the bats were hard to see.)

Everywhere you look, there are beautiful scenes.

There are A LOT of displays!! As you walk down the path by the carousel, there’s otters, then lions, then eagles, then wolves, then orca, one after another after another. And in every area, there are a LOT of every animal. For example, in the panda display, there were at least 28 pandas! We were amazed at how many items were on display. Here are a few photos of some details I particularly liked.

Some animals have moving parts – like a lion’s tail that waves, eagle wings that flap, and more. One of the highlights, when you first enter, near the penguins is a peacock whose tail is lifted with hydraulics for an incredible display – check out the video below. It was fun to watch the children’s delight when the tail came up.

The visuals are great. I think the one thing about the event I would improve is the audio experience. There was music playing – just low key environmental music – it was fine and pleasant but not inspiring. Also, it could have been louder. It was a comfortable volume standing right in front of a speaker, but faded to pretty quiet when you were between speakers. You can hear the music in this walk-through video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsSkMTk0hsg

We walked the Living Northwest loop, then through the Jungle Lights zone fairly quickly (since we knew we’d be back, and it was the most crowded area, then Seamazium with an underwater theme, then the African Savanna zone, then a desert area, then back through Jungle Lights.

It is beautiful, and a festive winter event, but I think it’s worth noting that it is not a “winter holidays” event. You will not hear Christmas music or see a lit-up dreidel or a solstice celebration. If you’re specifically hoping for Christmas theme, you may want to try another special event.

Interactive Zones

Near the south entrance, there is a tree surrounded by lit up stars on the ground. If you step on them, they make musical notes! Near there, in the African village, you’ll find a lit up piano to walk on. (A staff person makes sure people line up nicely and enter the area one household at a time.) On the Jungle Lights path, there’s an area with a cool lit-up tunnel to walk into, and a photo opp with angel wings and a halo (my son doesn’t appear to have a halo in this picture… hmmm….)

Also in that area is my favorite thing of the whole event: there are bubble blowing machines that must dip into dry ice, so they blow streams of these cool opaque bubbles, and when the bubbles pop, they release clouds of gas. You’ll see them in the video below. (Note, the bubbles were the most challenging place to maintain social distancing, because we all wanted to crowd together in the stream of bubbles. There were lots of playful giggles from the children, and delighted sounds from adults too.)

The Logistics

WildLanterns will be held November 13, 2020 – January 17, 2021, from 4:00 – 8:30 p.m. They are closed Mondays and November 26 and December 24 & 25.

Scheduling

You MUST purchase your tickets in advance. They are for a specific day and for a specific entry time. (For example, we had tickets for 7:00 pm on Saturday 11/28. We were asked not to arrive before 6:55, and not to arrive after 7:30 pm.) Once you arrive, you can spend as long as you choose there. We walked at a leisurely pace through all exhibits, stopped for a quick snack and a bathroom break and it took us one hour 45 minutes.

Ours was the last timeslot of the day, and I recommend that for adults or those whose children have later bed times. When we first arrived, we did the “Living Northwest” loop and Jungle Lights, and on Jungle Lights, there were times where it felt a little too crowded for my COVID comfort. (i.e. there were people who passed within 12 feet of me.) And there was a long line for the interactive area. But by the time we were moving through Seamazium and the African Savannah, there was hardly anyone else around. When we passed by the Jungle Lights interactive area again (at 15 minutes till zoo closing time) we were some of the very few people left.

If you want to minimize the number of people there when you attend, I’m sure weekdays are slower than the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend was. And January will almost certainly be slower than December.

Cost

It’s $28.95 per adult (13+). $23.95 for children ages 3 – 12. Toddlers 2 and under are free. Parking is $4. If that seems steep to you, I ask you to consider two things: First, remember that you’re supporting the zoo during a year of financial hardship for them and all public exhibitions. Second, there’s not a lot of other holiday activities to spend money on this year, so it’s a great year to check out this event. Some other year you’ll spend your holiday event budget on the Nutcracker. This can be your special event this season.

Weather

WildLanterns is a rain or shine event—there will be no ticket refunds for weather. The night we were there was a clear night with no wind or rain. It was in the mid 40’s when we arrived, and 40 when we left.

I was wearing flannel-lined jeans, a coat, lightweight gloves, lightweight earmuffs, and my mask and was very comfortable the whole time.

If it’s a rainy night, wear rain gear and bring an umbrella! The only places I remember where you could have gotten out of the rain were: the covered seating under the tent by Gather and Graze (for those who are eating), the building in the African Savannah, and the meerkat exhibit, and you can’t be in either of those places for very long due to COVID requirements to keep distanced.

There were some fire pits in a few places around the zoo. They ask that you only gather at them with members of your own household, and then move on to let others use them. They were good for warming your hands over if you held them close to the flame, but they weren’t body warming intensity.

Food and Beverages

There were snacks in the North Meadow, Gather and Graze, and at the south end of the zoo. I saw: popcorn, hot pretzels, cotton candy, hot drinks. There may have been more, but we’d eaten dinner just before coming, so we didn’t look closely. You can also bring your own food. All food must be eaten in designated areas and cannot be consumed all around the zoo (because you need to remove your mask to eat.)

COVID Precautions

Everyone over the age of 5 is required to wear a mask properly. Children age 2 to 5 are encouraged to wear masks. You are asked to stay at least 6 feet apart from other guests. We were able to maintain this almost the whole time, but around the bubbles at the interactive exhibit, children were running and playing in the bubbles and were closer, and people also crowded around the peacock, although there was no need to, as you could watch easily from a long ways away. The Jungle Lights path is the most crowded area, as the two loops overlap there. Bathrooms were open, but I didn’t use them, so can’t report anything there. No strollers are available for rent (bring your own) but you can rent a wheelchair.

More Activities

If you’re looking for more lovely winter walks in King County, check out my post on low-contact parks on the Eastside, which highlights some lesser known gems that are rarely crowded – helpful in COVID times. If you have children under the age of five, I highly recommend you check out the parent education programs offered by all our community college programs – fun learning for your kids, and social connections and support for you in these isolating times. Some are in-person now, many are online only. (If you’re dubious about online learning for young children check out this article on online preschool.)

Young Children and Zoom

a child looking at a mobile device

I don’t think the developers at Zoom (or Skype or Microsoft Teams) ever predicted that their software would become a platform for parent-toddler classes and online preschool!

And during coronavirus, all the parents who used to try to minimize screen time for their young children now find they need to utilize it as their child’s primary way to connect to people outside their household. How do we make the experience as rich and as developmentally appropriate as we can?

These tips can be helpful whether you’re a parent planning a call between your child and their grandparent, or you’re a preschool teacher planning a class for a dozen kids.

Before the Call

Choose a good time of day when the child is relaxed and attentive.

It doesn’t have to be a long call and a big deal – it’s fine to do short calls. A few minutes here and there is great for some kids. On the other hand, it’s also fine to have long calls. I know one family in Seattle where the grandmother in China “comes for breakfast” every day (before grandma turns in for the night.) She “sits at the table” with them, and chats with the children as the parents get ready for the day.

Before the call, gather anything you’ll want to use during the call: books, instruments, and show & tell items so that no one has to step away from the computer during the call – that might cause the child to lose interest.

Prepare the child. Talk about what will happen and how long the visit will be. Remind them who they will be speaking to and what they talked about last time.

Consider staying nearby. Young children may be best able to engage with a zoom call if they’re sitting on their parent’s lap or the parent is sitting beside them. (Note, some organizations, like Outschool, require that adults be off camera, but when I teach preschool age children on Outschool, I find that the children who do best in class often have an adult right next to them – I’ll see the parent’s arm reach in to help out. Once children have done several classes, they no longer need that active support, and you may be able to step away and get things done while they’re on a call.)

Teach them to un-mute. The host can mute the child, but not all systems allow the host to un-mute, so be sure the child knows how to un-mute. There are a few choices: if you have a touch screen, the easiest may be to teach them to tap the bottom corner of the screen to bring up the command bar, then tap on the mic icon. Other options: moving the mouse cursor to the bottom of the screen and clicking on the microphone (this can be hard for little ones), pressing alt-a, or holding down the space bar (note: as soon as they let go of the space bar they return to muted.)

Over time, help your child learn Zoom skills to be more independent in the call: how to mute, how to chat, how to use the reactions like clapping, how to share screen. How to place a call. Help them understand what’s happening when their screen buddy “freezes.”

During the Call

Have familiar rituals – perhaps the same greeting each time, or the same song each time – these cues help a young child to remember who they’re speaking to and reconnect.

The remote person should speak slowly and clearly. The person in the room with the child can repeat questions and comments from either side, as needed.

The remote person should look directly at the camera – this will feel like eye contact to the child. Don’t be tempted to look at other distractions while talking. Use a lot of gestures, body language, and big facial expressions – it’s much more engaging.

Stay unmuted as much as possible so everyone in the call can hear each other and feel as though they’re in the same room.

Consider using a mobile device like a tablet or laptop so you can move around and show each other new things.

Some children focus better if eating a snack while talking – for others, that is distracting. Some children focus better if they have some simple toys nearby to hold in their hands and play with during the call. Others may find that distracting.

Let the child know when the call is nearing its end, and make a clear ending. (Maybe a song, or a story, or something to signal the ending.) Talk about when you’ll “meet” again.

Making Video Chats Interactive

Here are ideas for interactive activities to try out:

  • Play Peek a Boo. Normal style, or by covering the camera and uncovering it.
  • Read Stories. If you have a physical copy of a book, you can hold it up and read it. Or you can scan in pictures of the pages and share those as you read. Or find a YouTube of a read aloud book, but mute their video, and read along with your voice.
  • Sing Songs. With audio lag you can’t sing in unison or it sounds awful. But you CAN take turns singing.
  • Silly Faces. Take turns – who can make the silliest face? (Spotlight them.)
  • Pretend to Be – Take turns pretending to be different animals, or whatever.
  • What is My Stick? Hold up a stick. Demonstrate how it could be a fishing pole, or a baseball bat. Try a few more and ask them to guess what it is.
  • Use Props. Puppet shows can be fun!
  • Make Art Together. Get out art supplies on each end, and draw pictures together. Hold them up to the camera from time to time to share your work.
  • Show and Tell – each person brings an item to show to people and to talk about.
  • Play Guessing Games.
  • Share a travelogue – each person takes pictures of their day, and shares it with the other on the next call.
  • Dance Party. Put on some music and dance!! (Learn how to make music work well on Zoom.)
  • Talent Show – Take turns demonstrating special talents you have: telling jokes, crazy dances, singing songs, patting your head and rubbing your belly…
  • Progressive Stories. One person starts a story: “Once upon a time, a polka-dotted elephant…” then the next person continues “… boarded a spaceship headed for… “
  • Would you Rather? “would you rather ______ or _______”
  • I Spy: Do a google search for “I spy pictures.” Choose one, then share your screen and play I Spy together.
  • Play Simon Says.
  • Play Tic Tac Toe, Hangman, and other pencil and paper games on the Zoom whiteboard.
  • Guess How Many. Person A fills a container with objects (20 pennies? 30 mini marshmallows?) and shows it to Person B. They have to guess how many objects there are, then they count them together. On the next call it’s B’s turn.
  • Scavenger Hunt. Name an object – they run and find it in the house and bring it back.
  • Find the Hidden Object. The remote adult can conspire with the in-house adult. The in-house adult hides an object before the call. During the call, the remote adult can give clues to help the child find the treasure.
  • Pretend to Share Snacks. Plan ahead and have both of you have the same food to eat together. Make it a fancy tea party if you’d like.
  • Go on a walktogether” with mobile devices. Share what you see.
  • Go on a field trip “together.” Lots of zoos, aquariums, and museums have created virtual field trips or have “panda-cams” and such. Go on one together by sharing your screen and talking about what you see. You could also do virtual tourism together. My mother-in-law has found a whole world of “virtual walking tours” on YouTube and goes for walks all over the world every day in her living room.
  • Watch movies together. Share a screen and talk as you watch.
  • For older children (elementary on up), there’s lots more ideas here: https://janelledurham.com/games-interaction-on-zoom/.

I also like this suggestion from Zero to Three: “Be the “hands and heart” of the the person on-screen. When the screen partner “tickles” your baby’s tummy, give your child’s tummy a tickle, too. When a grandparent leans toward the screen to “kiss” your toddler, you can give him a kiss on the cheek. By taking this role, you help nurture the relationship between the child and their on-screen friend.”

Long Distance Babysitters

During the coronavirus stay-at-home time, many parents have been with their children 24/7 for a long time with few breaks. You can use a video chat as a “babysitter” to get you a break. Have your child talk with grandpa, or an aunt, or a friend while you rest. If you have a very young child, you may need to be in the same room but at least the child’s attention is captured by someone else. For older children, you may be able to be elsewhere in the house, and let your child know where to find you. I know some parents of elementary age kids who will go for a walk in the neighborhood while their child is online – the remote adult has their cell phone number and can reach them immediately if needed.

Internet Safety

This blog is primarily aimed at parents of kids age 1 to 6, so I assume the parents are nearby during video calls, and keeping their eyes and ears on what is happening. If you have an older child who may be making video calls independently to friends, here are some helpful safety tips: https://www.protectyoungminds.org/2019/02/19/11-safe-video-chat-rules-you-probably-havent-taught-your-kids/.

Audio Quality

If the person on the other end seems to have a hard time hearing you: Figure out whether you need to add an external microphone to make your child audible (especially if they’re speaking with an older person whose hearing isn’t what it used to be). Children tend to have quiet voices and may be hard to hear over a video chat if the internal mic on your device isn’t great. Plus they wiggle around a lot and don’t always stay near the mic. You can test your mic – use the “voice recorder” app on your computer and record your child talking, then play it back. If you can hear it with your speaker volume at any setting, it’s fine. But if you can only hear the recording if you crank your speakers up to 80 or 90 out of 100, then consider buying a mic. (Click for more tips about audio settings.)

Resources

If you’re teaching classes to young children, here’s a handout you can send to the parents about help your child succeed on Zoom.

Here are some of the sources I used when writing this.

What the research tells us about developmental impacts of video chat vs. other screen time for kids: https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/10/03/496362094/could-video-chats-be-good-for-your-infant

More about managing screen time during coronavirus time: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2020/05/22/screen-time-in-coronavirus-time/

If you need a tutorial to the basics of how to use Zoom, or any of the advanced features of Zoom, check out my Guide to Zoom.

And, to get a break from the screen: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2020/03/26/connecting-to-outdoors-during-coronavirus/