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So…Can My Kids Have Playdates Right Now?
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Currently, it feels like the rules of life—and parenting—are being rewritten every day, thanks to coronavirus and the efforts under way to stop it. But as more and more families start to shelter in place, the question on many moms’ minds is simple: Can my kids have playdates right now? Even outdoor ones? We spoke with an expert—Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D., professor of child development and educational advisory board member at The Goddard School—to find out.

Anything Inside the House Is Off-Limits

The rules are hard and fast here: As more and more states issue shelter-in-place orders, families are required to stay home unless going out for an essential activity like picking up groceries or visiting the doctor. This includes limiting indoor activities to immediate family members only. That means no playdates whatsoever unless they’re the virtual kind (more on that in a minute).

So Is the Playground

Unfortunately, shelter in place means no playdates, no trips to the playground and no planned bike rides, hikes or neighborhood walks with other families. Even with the intention of maintaining six feet of physical separation, it’s just too risky. “Children are motivated to share and help, and they’ve practiced this for years,” Jipson explains. “If a friend falls, they will reach out their hand and help him up. If they have a delicious snack pack of gummy bears, they’ll give one to their friend.”

Virtual Playdates, However, Can Be Beneficial for Everybody

All these “no’s” are difficult to hear, Jipson understands. But the rationale is strong: We need to break the chain of contagion, and the only way to do that is by being united in our commitment to being physically separated. “Given this new—and temporary, if we all do our part—parenting context, remember: Physical distancing does not have to mean social distancing,” she says. “Social interaction is critical for the development of social skills, cognitive ability and mental health. Children of all ages can benefit from spending some virtual time with others during the upcoming weeks spent at home.”

As for the best way to connect online? Jipson’s favorite apps include Caribu for kids up to 8 years and Houseparty for school-age kids. Caribu is a subscription-based video chat app that combines video chatting with numerous choices for game playing. It also contains a library of books so that children can engage in reading together or with distant relatives. As for Houseparty, this app allows children to see multiple friends at once in a virtual hangout and even play games together (think Charades, Pictionary and Apples to Apples).

She also recommends video chat apps like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Google Duo and WhatsApp. “Yes, it gives kids an opportunity to see someone else’s face and chat, but it can also be used to encourage kids to share their non-digital activities with one another—everything from new dance moves to Lego projects to artistic creations,” says Jipson. “Just last night, my daughter made cupcakes with a friend over FaceTime—they both followed the same recipe in real time. They had a blast.”

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