FAMILY & PARENTING

Playdates With A Purpose: 5 Starter Kits For Themed Virtual Kid Hangouts

by Amber Leventry
Amber Leventry is a queer, nonbinary writer and advocate. They live in Vermont and have three kids, including twins and a transgender daughter. Amber’s writing appears in many publications including Romper, Grown and Flown, Longreads, The Temper, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine. They are a staff writer for Scary Mommy and LittleThings. They also run Family Rhetoric by Amber Leventry, a Facebook page devoted to advocating for LGBTQIA+ families one story at a time. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

Balancing our kids’ needs and wants during “normal” times is rough. Interaction with my kids tends to slide on a spectrum of energy I can muster on any given day.

The current reality brings a new meaning to this. Our days are not normal, but our kids still want a sense of normalcy. Our normal consists of playdates — a lot of them. My three kids are very social creatures, and they are struggling to understand why they can’t see their friends right now. Our solution so far has been to set up virtual playdates. But the novelty of simply talking and sending pictures with weird cat filters is wearing off. My kids want more, and maybe yours do, too.

Even though our playdates are through screens right now, they can still be interactive.

To help ease cries of boredom and to take some stress off of you, I have come up with five starter kits for themed virtual playdates. But with any of these suggestions, take what works for you and leave the rest. There is not a “right” way to deal with the current world situation right now. When the circumstances change, these kits can easily be adapted into in-person playdates.

Play With Games

monopoly

No, not just video games, though that is definitely an option. Playing Minecraft or Mario Kart with buds online is a great way to stay connected. Uno can be played online, too, and the app Pogo lets kids play Monopoly together, but virtually. But good old-fashioned board games and variations of some go-to games I have used with my kids while waiting for a table at a restaurant or stuck in traffic can make time pass a little quicker for all of us while we wait to see our friends again.

video games kids

Find a game that both you and your child’s friend own and have a virtual game day with board games like Hedbanz, Yahtzee, Guess Who?, Battleship, or Pictionary. These can be played without being in the same room. You don’t actually need to own Pictionary or Hedbanz to play a modified version of the games; kids or adults can create their own list of words to draw or act out.

Kids can also play Simon Says, I Spy (while looking at the background behind their friend), Would Your Rather?, 20 Questions, or Name That Tune.

Play With STEM/STEAM

girl science experiment

This may take a little bit more parental guidance, but kids can geek out and have fun with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) projects. Find a simple science experiment to do together with ingredients found in most kitchens, such as making slime or homemade play dough.

Predict what will happen before mixing ingredients. Talk about the measurements, reactions, and textures. What can you build with the play dough? How does the slime feel and move? Can you make it fart?

little boy cooking

Kids can also cook the same recipe together. This is another great opportunity to use math, time, and creativity while making cookies that can be shared virtually.

Dig out the blocks, Legos, and Magna-Tiles. Try to make a super-tall or wide structure. Can you use all of the bricks in one structure? Build a bridge and see how much weight it can hold.

flashcards

Quiz each other with math flashcards.

Create a marble maze, get out a tub of water and see what (waterproof) items float or sink, and, if you are daring, engineer an egg-drop project.

Or simply get out some cardboard boxes and recycled materials and see what you can make. Kids can bounce ideas off each other and cheer each other on while they create.

Play With Creativity

kids drawing

Some kids live and play in wide-open spaces of their imagination. The phrases “pretend this,” “pretend that” come from the mouths of my children and their friends whenever they are together. Make-believe will look a little different now, but the creativity doesn’t have to stop.

Kids can create a story together and illustrate it, too. Start with a scenario, and then let kids take turns adding a line to the story to see what happens.

kid illustration

Once upon a time, there was a goat wearing a hat standing on a washing machine …

A long, long time ago there was a long, long hot dog …

Back in my day, red was purple and left was right …

Dig out the dress-up gear and act out the story.

If guided storytelling isn’t your kids’ thing, put a box of costumes, stuffed animals, and props in a box and see where their imagination takes them. Will you open a restaurant, become a veterinarian, or be a postal worker?

Take it to the stage and perform a talent show. Dance, sing, perform a magic trick, or do a gymnastics stunt. Or strut your stuffed (or real!) animals around for a pet show.

Play With Art

girl art project

This one can be as simple as grabbing some coloring books and markers or colored pencils and coloring together. Grab a stack of paper and doodle. Paint kindness rocks to hide in the park for others to find. Bead necklaces or bracelets. Make friendship bracelets with embroidery floss. Cut up scraps of colored paper and make mosaics with glue and a square of cardboard. If you can, take the screen outside and do chalk art together.

Parents can create a box of miscellaneous art supplies, scissors, recycled containers, and stickers and let kids on either side of the screen create something fun and beautiful.

Play With Compassion and Kindness

girl indoor teepee

As strange and stressful as times are right now, we can still find gratitude. Our kids can feel our stress and are experiencing anxiety, too. We can channel that into thanking the people who are helping us through this time.

little girl creative

Give kids paper and markers to create thank you notes to send to their teachers, health care workers, or anyone else they want to reach out to. Send letters to grandparents, friends, or family members. Knowing they will make someone’s day with their mail will lift their spirits.

Kids can then go around and say one nice thing they’ve done this week or name one nice thing that has been done for them.

magical thinking

They can say a nice thing about their friend, a sibling, or an adult in their lives.

Ask kids what they are grateful for and what they wish they could give to someone in need. How can we do that? What ways could they put their thoughts into action? Can they start that now?

Or give kids prompts to discuss, draw, or write:

What does kindness look like?

What does it mean to be thankful?

What does friendship look like?

How can I be a helper?

mom with two boys at home

If nothing else, I hope these ideas help you come up with your own while we all try to get through the next several weeks with our kiddos. I hope the playdates I created help keep your child connected while keeping you from pulling your hair out. Good luck, parents!

Bonus: Craft Time!

cherry blossom tree kit
Jena Kane for LittleThings

Now is the perfect time to engage your kids and their friends in a quick and easy project that they can do on their own with materials that you already have lying around the house! Our Virtual Playdate Kit has everything your children need to make their own Cherry Blossom Tree in 5 easy steps. This project should only take around 30 minutes and is ideal for children aged 6-8 years old.

Download a printable PDF version of the virtual playdate kit here.