21 Educational (and Non-Lame) Virtual Activities for Kids
The pandemic continues to upend every aspect of daily life and for those of us who have kids at home, the struggle is very real. So, let’s get down to a major problem every parent is dealing with right now—namely, how to keep a kid entertained while staying safe and following social distancing protocols. We don’t have an easy solution for this one, but our roundup of the best virtual activities for kids should give parents a fighting chance.
1. Visit your local zoo or aquarium
Zoos and aquariums are go-to attractions when it comes to providing kids with amusement and learning alike. Fortunately, many of these family-friendly spots are offering virtual visits to bring the animals to you: Stop by the Bronx Zoo (the country’s largest metropolitan zoo) to lunch with the playful and oh-so social sea lions or enjoy a Zoom date with wild animals and their caretakers. The San Diego Zoo also offers interactive virtual experiences for young visitors, including a host of wild life web cams and the San Diego Zoo Kids website is chock full of hands-on activities and information on the animals.
2. Try a virtual yoga class
Good news: Stir-crazy kids of all ages can drop in on a virtual yoga class to get their bodies moving off the playground without wreaking havoc. (Not safe! Don’t climb that!) A host of yoga studios are providing Zoom classes—so call up your local studio or just consult our list of little kid-friendly and totally free online classes. Either way you’re sure to find something geared toward little yogis who need to get their wiggles out. Bonus: If you’re lucky, this motor skill-boosting activity might even help your child chill out both during and after. Namaste.
3. Take a trip to the museum
Research shows that museum visits boast serious educational value for kids of all ages, so it’s a very good thing that some of the greatest ones in the world are now accessible remotely. (Yep, that means you can bring the magic of The Louvre to your living room.) In other words, if you’re looking for a kid-friendly activity that will banish boredom, foster curiosity and stimulate the brain, a virtual tour of a museum (think: art, natural history, air and space) is the way to go.
4. Draw with Mo Willems
Beloved children’s book author and illustrator Mo Willems is bringing his artistic skills to his many young fans with live streaming doodle lessons. Every day at 1:00 p.m. kids have a standing invitation to hop on the computer and step inside Willems’ studio (in collaboration with The Kennedy Center) to learn how to draw one of his quirky characters. As an art educator, Willems is warm and engaging—and there’s a good chance you’ll be blown away by your kid’s resulting artwork.
5. Watch a wildlife live-cam
The only thing better than a virtual tour of a zoo? The chance to see the most fascinating animals on the planet move around in their natural habitats...and that’s precisely the type of programming provided 24/7 by explore.org. There are many different cameras to choose from and you really can’t go wrong with any of them, but if you’re wondering where to start, we suggest the watering hole in South Africa—an instant hit that regularly features elephants, leopards, lions, hyenas and more.
6. Have a virtual play date
During these weird social distancing and remote learning times, everyone is feeling the loss of quality time with friends. Help your kid maintain friendships and blow off steam with peers by scheduling virtual play dates on the regular. The video platform might take some getting used to, but in the end your kid will be grateful for a chance to chat with a friend, show off toys and even find new ways to play and stay entertained remotely.
7. Play an educational game
Not all screen time is created equal. For example, after watching two hours of Paw Patrol your child will probably be a shadow of his former self, but a reasonable amount of time playing educational games on a tablet is screen time you don’t have to feel guilty about. In fact, many teachers are incorporating these games into the remote learning curriculum precisely because they provide an entertaining way for kids to boost valuable skills. There are a lot of online learning resources out there, but DreamBox (a monthly subscription with math games for kids ages 5 to 15) and ABC Mouse (a goldmine for kids ages 2 to 8 with games for every academic subject) are two great places to start.
8. Try virtual recess
Many kids are missing in-person school right now and if you ask most of them what their favorite part of the typical school day is, it’s safe to say that recess would rank pretty high. Enter Recessway—the innovative virtual playground that allows small groups of children (ages 5 to 9) to socialize, bounce around, play and simply let loose with their peers. Each 30-minute session is led by an arts education and socialization specialist with a warm and energetic presence and loosely structured with activities and games. Best of all, participants are welcome from anywhere in the country (or world) so your kid might just score a new pen pal out of this play date.
9. Attend a read-aloud
Virtual read-alouds are excellent to have in your at-home activity rotation—especially at those times when you’re looking for a low-key way to keep your kid engaged without turning on the TV. So how do you sign up for such an event? Start by checking with your local library—as many libraries have found ways to provide free, family-favorite events via virtual platforms. But if that fails, just check out children’s book author Mac Barnett’s Instagram page, where he posts a live picture book story time every Saturday at noon.
10. Take a virtual vacation
There’s no place like home...unless you’ve been cooped up there for so long that you’re contemplating a move just to have a change of scenery. Don’t do anything rash, friends: You and your kid can take a break from the familiar with a virtual vacation. There are myriad destinations to choose from—considering that everything from national parks (more on that below) to majestic European castles (think: the straight-from-a-fairytale Prague Castle and the famed Palace of Versailles) are fair game—but depending on the age of your child, you might be happy to hear that a trip to good ol’ DisneyWorld is also an option.
11. Learn some magic tricks
There’s never been a better time for kids to pick up new hobbies and the art of illusion has obvious appeal. Your Houdini-in-training can learn to master card tricks and all the other sleights of hand that make magic performances so much fun to watch—and both the education and entertainment can take place in the comfort of your own home. Our pick: Acclaimed performer Max Darwin, who offers semi-private and small group magic classes for kids of all ages.
12. Sign on for a dance class
Young kids can learn some new moves and work up a sweat at home with a high-energy, wildly entertaining dance class, courtesy of Tippi Toes. This virtual dance program offers subscribers a new 30 minute dance lesson with six new dances, two new steps and a morning activity. Best of all, the lessons stay in an online library so kids can go back and revisit their favorite classes whenever they want.
13. Have a virtual dance party
For a less structured (and totally free) virtual dance experience, you can always opt to schedule a video dance party with your kid’s friends instead. Your child can choreograph a dance with friends or just collaborate with them to make a playlist of favorite songs for a freestyle affair. Either way, a dance party with pals promises to provide a fun-filled workout for all involved.
14. Explore a national park
Some of the most breathtakingly beautiful views nature has to offer are now available to be enjoyed via 360-degree, guided virtual tours. Nearly all of the country’s major national parks—from Yellowstone National Park to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park—have some type of virtual option. Best of all, many of these stunning parks have virtual viewings that go beyond just live cams, offering an array of engaging activities for kids as well as podcasts and audio programs for a truly rich experience. Check out the National Park Service to pick a tour for your kid to enjoy.
15. Take a singing lesson
Your kid can up her karaoke night game with virtual singing lessons at the School of Rock. Their extensive offerings include classes for preschoolers, teenagers and everyone in between. (Note: They have adult classes, too.) If you’ve got a kid who loves to sing, sign ‘em up to fine tune their skills and they’ll be all too happy to practice what they’ve learned and ham it up with regular at-home performances.
16. Play Chess
Chess is possibly the greatest game of all time...and it also happens to boast some serious brain-sharpening benefits. There is a wealth of resources online to help kids learn the basics of this strategic board game before going on to hone their skills with virtual matches (with friends, relatives or robots of varying skill levels available for free play at chess.com) or by joining a club with regular virtual meetings. However your child gets her game time in, this one is sure to delight while putting problem solving skills to the test.
17. Learn a language
The challenge of learning a new language never gets boring because, well, it’s all so new. Best of all, children will benefit from a tremendous sense of accomplishment as their language skills start to improve. If your kid is interested in learning a new language, you can encourage the undertaking with a kid-friendly language learning subscription for little kids like Muzzy, the BBC immersion program that teaches language with entertaining, animated episodes (all of which tell a continuous story); or with a free app like DuoLingo, an interactive game-based program that keeps older kids coming back for more.
18. Take a cooking class
Raddish Kids and Bake Club (by Christina Tosi of Milk Bar fame) are just a couple of the many online cooking classes for kids of all ages. The various programs differ slightly in content, but they all serve up educational, hands-on engagement—and good eats, of course. The takeaway? Cooking classes are an exciting way for kids to learn about math, science and the joy of delicious food. Plus, the opportunity to watch your kid happily follow directions the first time around...well, let’s just say that tastes like sweet success.
19. Coding for kids
Computer science is both the present and future, so do your kid a solid with an IT crash course that focuses on teaching kids basic coding skills and computer programming language, regardless of experience. (Yep, even your 5-year-old can get in on this.) Coding with Kids offers individualized learning programs that allow children to set their own pace while gaining valuable skills. The end result? A virtual activity that’s always on point and never snoozy.
20. Sign up for Tinkergarten
Tinkergarten is a Waldorf-style extracurricular education program that focuses on outdoor, play-based learning for kids (toddler to tween). Though the program typically features group outdoor romps hosted by a designated Tinkergarten leader, the new virtual version, dubbed “online circle time,” is plenty rewarding. Kids interact briefly on a virtual platform for an opportunity to socialize, while the remaining content comes in the form of a lesson plan, which provides step-by-step instructions for sensory activities that encourage interaction with nature and “purposeful play.”
21. Join a sing-along
Not sure your little one has the attention span for lessons with a voice coach, but still want to encourage their love of music? No problem. Simply sign your budding musical talent up for the Jam Club, courtesy of Jam with Jamie: These weekly classes—a veritable (virtual) jamboree featuring musical instruments, dancing and spirited sing-alongs—are guaranteed to be a hit with the toddler and pre-K crowd.