Things to do with your kids while self-quarantining at home

Staying home all day can get boring for children used to packed days of socializing at school. Here are some ideas for things to do.

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Gov. Pritzker’s stay-at-home-order is set to stay in place until April 30, but many expect the governor to extend the order. Now that he’s also closed schools for the remainder of the year, children will be home indefinitely.

For parents, that means playing teacher, entertainer and parent all at once, and there are only so many episodes of Paw Patrol a kid can watch.

If your kids crave entertainment — be it exercise, knowledge or social interaction — here’s a list of fun and enriching activities you can do with your kids while you’re at home. And if you’re having difficulty explaining what’s going on in the world to your little ones, the cartoon Dr. Panda has a thorough, kid-appropriate lesson on YouTube.

Virtual museum, zoo and aquarium tours

  1. Visit the Art Institute of Chicago online. You don’t have to travel all the way to Michigan Avenue to take in one of Chicago’s greatest museums. This virtual tour allows you to “walk” through the Art Institute’s exhibits and take in works by Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Paul Cézanne.
  2. Tour an exhibit at the American Writers Museum. The Loop museum created a virtual website of its My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today exhibit. Viewers can check out videos of featured writers who are immigrants, refugees, and second-generation U.S. citizens. At 10 a.m. on Saturdays, the museum’s Little Squirrels Story Time features special guest readers of all varieties.
  3. Facebook Live with Brookfield Zoo animals. While the Chicago-area zoo is closed, animal care staff are doing live chats on Facebook Live. They’ll stream every weekday at 11 a.m. CST until the zoo reopens.
  4. Dive into the Georgia Aquarium via live cameras. The Shedd may be closed to everyone but the penguins, but you and your kids can still check out the many fish swimming happily in Atlanta. Watch the sea lions play and the puffer fish swim.
  5. Peek in on animals at the San Diego Zoo. One of the most popular zoos in the country, the San Diego Zoo has live cameras set up so far-away guests can meet its pandas, baboons, penguins, polar bears and tigers. Just like at any zoo, there’s no guarantee the animals will be out, but the penguin cameras are always a good bet.
  6. Want to see an item from the Field Museum’s collection? Just tweet at them. The Field Museum is taking requests for photos of items from its many collections. Send in your request (what’s Sue the T.rex been up to while the museum’s closed, anyway?) and get a photo back.

Educational quarantine activities for kids

  1. Conduct an at-home science experiment. The American Chemical Society has a collection of science experiments for kids that use materials you probably already have at home, like milk, laundry detergent and Elmer’s glue.
  2. Start an herb garden. Hardware stores like Ace, Home Depot and Lowe’s are considered essential businesses, so if you have one near by, you can pick up seeds, a little potting soil and small pots. You can also order from these stores online. Miracle Gro is offering free shipping on purchases $25 and up. You can also use items such as egg cartons and plastic bottles as pots if you don’t want to buy them.
  3. Take free online classes through HarvardX. The program run through Harvard University includes topics on math, science, literature and even politics. Older children who want to challenge themselves and teenagers planning for college next fall can stay sharp with these free courses.
  4. Get a daily dose of science from the Museum of Science and Industry. The Hyde Park museum’s newsletter includes fun activities that use common household items. The museum’s website even has flash games to help kids learn about the body.
  5. Enroll in Scholastic Learn at Home. Keep young minds energized and learning in a low-stakes environment — no grades, no pressure, just fun and learning. The courses go from PreK to ninth grade.
  6. Learn about the natural world while in quarantine. The daily newsletter from the Nature Museum in Lincoln Park is packed with natural and scientific facts, plus plenty of fun activities to try.
  7. Try 30 free days of learning at MarcoPolo World School. The interactive platform that offers early learning, STEM and literacy courses extended its seven-day trial to 30 days. For parents looking to supplement their child’s remote education, MarcoPolo offers in-depth lessons to help kids develop 21st-century skills with the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration.

Reading activities for quarantined kids

  1. Bedtime stories with Olaf. Actor Josh Gad, who voices Olaf in “Frozen,” has been hopping on Twitter every night at 6 p.m. CST to read kids stories via livestream. Follow his account @JoshGad or the hashtag #GadBookClub to tune in.
  2. Read-along activities from a local children’s publisher. Park Ridge-based children’s book publisher Albert Whitman & Company is sharing exercises and activity kits to pair with its titles on social media. Follow the hashtag #learnwithawbooks for updates.
  3. Ebooks, audiobooks, digital magazines and more — all from the Chicago Public Library. Any Chicago resident can get a library card — remember, there are no late fees anymore — and download ebooks, audiobooks and other materials from the library

Artistic quarantine activities for kids

  1. Draw daily doodles with Mo Willems. The children’s book author, animator and Kennedy Center education artist-in-residence is hosting “Lunch Doodles” every day at noon CST. Each doodle exercise comes with a printable activity sheet for kids to follow along.
  2. Watch the Metropolitan Opera perform in HD. The Met in New York City is streaming a show from its “Live in HD” series every day at 6:30 p.m. CST. Each performance will be available online for 20 hours before the next one is posted. For a more local experience, you can stream audio from past Chicago Symphony Orchestra shows here.
  3. Color artworks from Color Our Collections. The site offers free PDF downloads of artwork from over 100 institutions across the world. Download, print, color, repeat.
  4. Kid with a flair for the dramatic? The Lyric Opera of Chicago has a fun-filled activity book that offers kids a behind-the-scenes look at how the opera works, from stage direction to a who’s-who of the pit orchestra.

Virtual playdate options for quarantined kids

  1. Set up a coloring playdate via Skype. Arrange a time with other parents and set up a computer or tablet on a table so your kids can color together. Sure, they won’t be in the same place, but at least they can chat and entertain each other for a while.
  2. Pop some popcorn for a Netflix Party. The new Chrome browser extension, Netflix Party, lets Netflix users stream in sync from anywhere in the world. The chat function allows kids to keep the conversation going while they watch their favorite movies together.
  3. Connect your gamer kids through XBox, Playstation or Nintendo. Almost all game systems today have the ability to connect to the internet, which means your kids can play together from far away. If your kids haven’t ready tapped into this, now would be a good time to set up an account, many of which offer free-trial periods.

Exercise and healthy activities for kids

  1. Get up and dance in a free Zumba class. Szold Zumba with Luisa Narins will get everyone up on their feet and moving to the music.
  2. Search YouTube for videos of yoga, kickboxing, plates and other exercise classes. YouTube is jam-packed with exercise videos for kids that will help them burn off extra energy when they can’t get to a park. Choose a video and let them work it out.
  3. Complete an Orangetheory workout in just 30 minutes. For households with teens, these free 30-minute workouts can be especially beneficial for young athletes who are used to moving and working out every day.
  4. Keep your dancers engaged with free classes. Dancing Alone Together has all types of dance classes scheduled live. From ballet to hip hop, these classes will keep your dancer feeling less alone when practice has been canceled.
  5. Hit the barre for a virtual ballet class. The A&A Ballet Center for Dance has a daily roster of online classes in different styles for kids ages 7 and up. If your kids aren’t already enrolled in classes, then they can take individual classes for $15 each.

Are there other activities that have been entertaining your kids we can add to this list? Let us know at, or tweet us at @suntimes.

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