A Helping Hand for Kids During COVID-19 – Tips and Resources

By now, many of us, including children, are finding it challenging to keep ourselves mentally healthy. We may be feeling overwhelmed, angry, tired, bored, and just grumpy with COVID life.

For children, play is even more critical as a tool for supporting their mental, emotional, and physical development during this pandemic. Play is a necessary part of childhood and influences every part of a child’s development and well-being: social relationships, emotional expression and release, movement and energy expenditure, creativity and imagination, and discovery and learning. Play is an age-appropriate and safe outlet for children to express feelings and experiences, understand their world, adapt to changes and build upon the relationships they have with their primary caregivers.

The importance of play, especially outdoors, should not be overlooked. It is an important bridge that re-establishes children’s connection to the natural world and the affordances that it gives them.

Play Tips

Include play in the outdoors. Outdoor play and interaction with the natural world has many benefits to children’s mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. Play in the outdoors may look different now, but it is possible to include outdoor play in small ways by: playing in the backyard, taking walks in your neighbourhood, collecting natural materials on your walk, or watching birds in your yard or neighbourhood.

Keep the connection with the natural world. For those who have no access to the outdoors, continue to establish a connection by reading books about nature, checking out local park websites for updates, pictures and videos, listening or looking for birds from your home, or taking care of indoor plants.

Provide opportunities for a variety of toys. This will allow your child to explore different mediums and different ways of playing. For example, toys and materials that promote pretend play (dolls, swords, animal miniatures, dress up, medical kits, etc.) or materials that promote regulated states (natural materials, sensory activities, journaling or art work, clay or Play Dough).

Provide open-ended materials. Loose parts are a great way to provide your children the opportunity to explore their feelings and experiences or to support them with their boredom. You can find loose parts around your house: sticks, wooden spoons or ladles, bowls, fabric, sheets, etc.

Follow your child’s lead. Many caregivers feel the need to structure their day with play-times, or structured play activities. You may consider asking yourself, “what is my child interested in today?” and going from there. Set up your home environment to include different play activities, toys, or materials, but also provide your child with opportunities for self-directed play. It is self-directed play in which children are free to express feelings and experiences.

Become playful with them. Remember one of the most important play items is YOU! A child’s attachment with their caregiver is important during times of change and stress. Be playful, and engage in play with them throughout the day. Don’t worry about not knowing “how to play” – they will show you the way!  Paul Ramchandani, the UK’s first Professor of Lego Play at the University of Cambridge, shares his take on this approach in The Guardian.

Play Resources

In the spirit of playfulness we are sharing some resources that have caught our attention from points around the globe in the hope that they will be of benefit to readers and the children they love and care for.

IPA World
IPA Play in Crisis: support for parents and carers was released earlier this month by our colleagues at IPA World. The collection provides information and ideas to support children’s play and includes topics such as the importance of playing in times of crisis and how to respond to children’s play needs. Issues specific to the pandemic that may concern parents are also addressed like children playing with difficult themes of loss, death and loneliness.

Individual themes from the resource can be explored here. The entire collection can be downloaded here.

East Lothian Play Association (ELPA) – Scotland
The ELPA team have been bringing fun and games to homes through their daily Play at Home Challenge. There are now over 30 challenges available on their Twitter account @EastLothianPlay and by searching the #ELPAplayathomechallenge hashtag. Sample challenges include: setting up a mud kitchen; potion making; things you can make with an egg carton; and, shadow drawing. There is a growing and varied selection of ideas and activities to inspire playful moments as ELPA continues its daily challenge.

Active for Life – Canada
Active for Life, a national proponent of physical literacy, is offering a variety of fun, physical activities to keep kids and adults moving. Parents and kids alike will be able to enjoy 42 easy activities to keep kids busy while parents work at home. The selection includes both indoor and independent outdoor activities. Many of the activities will be familiar but there are sure to be some that are new, or long forgotten that can help the kids get their play on. Penguin run anyone?

Scouts – United Kingdom
The Scouts in the UK have pulled together some fun indoor activity ideas to help keep kids entertained and engaged. There are over 200 ideas to choose from. Some of the activities were originally designed for face-to-face group meetings and may need to be recast to fit with today’s social distancing guidelines. Start exploring The Great Indoors here.

Studio Ludo – USA
Studio Ludo is an American non-profit whose mission is “building better play through research, design and advocacy”. The Studio Ludo team has posted play resources online here. In addition, they are distributing Play Packs to combat social isolation resulting from COVID-19 to families throughout Philadelphia where Studio Ludo is based.

Play Wales – Wales
Play Wales has a broad range of resources they make available to the public. In late March they published Playing actively in and around the home, a short and helpful digital pamphlet that provides guidelines and play ideas for parents. Brush up on balloon tennis, daytime disco and other activities here.

With a little help from friends at home and abroad together we can contribute to ensuring that the needs of kids are being met, including their need and their right to play. We would be pleased to hear from individuals and organizations who have play-related stories to share related to the pandemic. Drop us a note through our contact page.

Statement: Play in the time of COVID-19

Play is a fundamental necessity for children. We know from research and practice that play nurtures a child’s physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual development. During times of crisis, children benefit from play as a means to explore their emotions as well as to make sense of and cope with environmental anxiety. Through this process they develop resilience and build self-confidence which will help them navigate life’s challenges.

This spring Canadians are escalating the fight against a significant global challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic. When we listen to our public health authorities and governments we make our neighbourhoods safer and become part of the solution. This reduces risk to ourselves, our children, loved ones and the broader community.

Our focus on defeating the virus means some typical play enablers are no longer available. For example, numerous provinces explicitly recommend against play dates and sleepovers. Some municipalities across the country are closing playgrounds and indoor playspaces temporarily. Parks are being closed by the federal government as well as some provinces and municipalities. We encourage you to consult official online statements from your provincial and local health authorities for up to date recommendations in your area.

Keep informed of the latest guidelines via your local health authority

When we add social distancing, limited numbers at public gatherings and self-isolation to the mix of recommendations, it’s clear that it’s no longer business as usual for play. With extended school closures and many parents teleworking or on a work hiatus we are experiencing huge shifts in our daily lives. Play needs to be a part of that shift.

Play is not just a renewable source of fun – it helps kids make sense of the world around them particularly in times of uncertainty. Its impact is so significant that the ‘right to play’ is enshrined in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

At IPA, each of us is doing her/his best to play and support play on a daily basis as well as to be alert and open to playful opportunities. We invite you to do the same and share your best play ideas and adventures within your networks.

We have a bias to outdoor play at IPA Canada but we know that the outdoor focus may not be possible for some with the measures in place to combat COVID-19. Play is great wherever it takes place! For some good ideas and play options, please read this post by UK play advocates and friends, Tim Gill and Penny Wilson – Play in the time of coronavirus (over 1,300 shares on Facebook).

Thank you to all Canadians involved in the fight against COVID-19! Together our collective actions are making the difference in our communities.

For a pdf of this IPA Canada Statement click here.

Media inquiries – ipac@ipacanada.org

Welcome to our Sandbox

Dufferin Grove Sandpit, Toronto, Canada

Welcome to our new sandbox. It’s a place to get news about IPA Canada’s comings and goings as well as exciting play-related developments from communities across the country. We’ll share insights from leading advocates as well as emerging experts and make available resources that contribute to a better understanding of play.

Kids set the fun bar pretty high when they zone into independent play and that’s what we’re reaching for here. IPA Canada is also sharing stories and curating on Twitter and will soon be adding other social channels.

We are always interested in hearing from friends old and new. If there is an idea, a story, or a development that you think we should be sharing, please get in touch with us through the Contact page.

Our homepage header image and the photos illustrating this post are from Toronto’s Dufferin Grove Park. Community-led and managed, the sandpit has been a destination playspace for residents and visitors for over 20 years. Find out more about the Dufferin Grove experience at Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS).