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From tech toys for toddlers to craft kits for all ages, we have everything you’ll need to keep kids happy
With homeschooling on the agenda for kids again this year, the focus for us parents is once more on how to pass the days healthily, happily and as smoothly as possible. The goal remains figuring out how to get the right balance of exercise, learning and downtime. And that’s before you’ve even factored in how you’re going to work from home (see how to create a home office), plan and cook meals and maintain a comfortable haven. Phew. There’s a lot to think about.
‘Although we have been through it before, it's still a strange situation for everyone; adults and children. We all need to allow some flexibility,’ says clinical psychologist Laura Villa. ‘Don’t be too self-critical or set high expectations. Focus on what you can control. Model the behaviour you want to see: get dressed in the morning so they follow your example, eat healthy food and involve your children in cooking together. Keep active – exercise, and do it with them if possible – and talk about the future in positive terms.’ Here are a few more ideas to help you along the way.
As tempting as it is to stay in PJs until lunchtime and ease off on the usual scheduling, a daily routine is crucial for everyone. Draw up a weekly timetable along the same lines as the school day, with roughly the same time for breaks, exercise, lunch and finish time. Kids will find this familiarity reassuring. Also, encourage them to keep a regular diary with ideas and thoughts. ‘Children like routine but try to set one which is realistic,’ says Laura. ‘Make sure you include some play and fun time together – take this opportunity to bond with your child.’
With no walk to school, playtime or PE lesson, the challenge is on to keep children fit. Whether you have a garden or not, there are plenty of ways for kids to stay healthy at home thanks to a raft of new online fitness classes. Thank everyone's favourite trainer Joe Wicks, The Body Coach, for spearheading this trend – his kid-friendly YouTube workouts are still a favourite. From kids’ yoga to ballet, there’s now an online class out there to suit their niche. If you're looking for online classes for younger kids, Tot Bop's engaging weekly classes follow EYFS (early years foundation stage) guidelines and are bound to get the under fives moving with their imaginative and fun-filled routines. And if your kids need the sports kit, shop kids' sportswear.
All this extra time could be seen as an opportunity to learn a new skill such as knitting or crochet. Many kids’ crafting websites including Kids’ Craft Room and Paper Joy provide online classes and free printables so you can design, colour and create your own designs at the kitchen table (the latter has a rainbow printout so your kids can join in with the worldwide trend for displaying a rainbow in your window as a symbol of hope). Kids with an interest in art should check out The Tate where they’ll find lots of inspired ideas, including how to paint like Turner and play with collage. Alternatively, Emma Scott-Child, author of Quick Crafts For Parents Who Think They Hate Craft, (Penguin), provides fun and easy-to-follow craft tutorials on Instagram stories. Happily, John Lewis & Partners have all the materials you need for arts and crafts as well as specialist kits for budding crafters everywhere.
Now is the perfect time to start a long game of monopoly or finally teach the kids how to play chess. We have a wide selection of board games from Monopoly to battleships (yes, remember that!) to keep kids inspired and entertained over the next few weeks. ‘As well as a great way of getting kids away from screens, board games are an excellent way to spend time connecting with them,’ says Rachael. ‘We are also seeing people playing board games with other family members or friends via video online.’
Children of all ages love puzzles and now is most definitely the time to get them started on that 1,000 piece set they received from Aunty Jean last Christmas. ‘We've seen a massive increase in puzzle sales over the last year,’ says Lucy Benham, Partner & Assistant Buyer, Gifts & Games. ‘It would seem people are buying puzzles as a mindful way to focus on completing something pleasing and distracting. It’s a very inexpensive way to while away a few hours.’ Now might also be the time you or your teen get to grips with the Rubik’s Cube – go on, you know it’s been bugging you since the 80s.
While you don’t want your kids glued to screens for the next few weeks, there are times in the day when screen time is warranted. Whether your child has online homework or needs to zone out and watch a film while you get on with some work, technology is a vital part of modern parenting. For younger children who haven’t learned to read, the Toniebox is an ingenious audio system that allows children to play stories and music. The Osmo is iPad-compatible, designed for preschoolers to encourage creativity, imaginative play, foster spatial reasoning and develop fine motor skills.
With many more hours sedentary, it’s a good opportunity to catch up on all those books you’ve been meaning to read to your kids. Think of the classics you enjoyed as a child and pick a couple to read with them – something you may not usually have time to do. Need more ideas? ‘Love My Books is an absolutely brilliant resource and has a huge number of book ideas up to age nine,’ says Ruth Horsman, school librarian and mum of two. ‘It’s great for getting ideas about what books to read next and there are some great activity ideas for things to do. You could also read a book together and submit it for a family review.’
Kids often love being set a task or a grown-up chore to do, so take advantage of the extra help. From sweeping the patio to planting window boxes, there are an endless amount of jobs they’ll enjoy helping out with. Michael Holland, esteemed ecologist and author of I Ate Sunshine For Breakfast, (Flying Eye Books), has ideas on how to inspire mini gardeners including: ‘Make a mini garden collage. Use some scrap card (a cereal box is ideal) and double-sided sticky tape. Add small items found in your garden such as feathers, leaves, seeds, small sticks, petals, stones and shells.’ The Royal Horticultural Society (RSA) have a range of back garden-friendly ideas for kids, including how to make a home for bees and how to grow tomatoes. Add extra interest by joining the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and installing a bird feeder.
No matter how big or small your garden, if you have kids you are now probably looking at it with renewed interest. After all, it needs to facilitate play and exercise for the next few weeks. ‘Create various areas in the garden for different activities. Swingball is a great idea because you will never lose the ball over next door’s fence,’ says Rachael Larkman, Partner & Junior Buyer, Toys & Books. ‘Playhouses are also a fun idea for younger children and can provide hours of imaginative play outside in the garden.’