When we look back at COVID-19 and 2020, we will clearly remember two words: social distancing. As a childcare professional, I remember reading about the suggested strategies in which learning environments were to open safely. There was an emphasis on social distancing, and this felt impossible in an early childhood class for the following reasons:
- Children are surprisingly quick. A toddler can dump out a container of blocks, play a musical instrument, and kick a few soccer balls in the time that it takes for you to pick a toy truck off the floor. It is, in fact, developmentally appropriate for them to play in such a manner.
- Children are social beings. Friendships and connections are extremely important. One of the expected developmental outcomes in the preschool years is an upward trajectory in social growth, how they enter play, and how they make friends.
- Space can be limited. Early childhood classrooms are set up to accommodate a large and diverse group of children at once.
When you examine it with this lens, promoting social distancing in classrooms can seem impossible. However, there are a number of items in your educator wheelhouse to get you through.
- First, you are an early childhood educator. At the risk of sounding dramatic, you’re pretty much a superhero. Through your training, experience, tenacity, gumption, intelligence, and jaw-dropping good looks, you can do anything! You’re like a Project Runway contestant – you’ll make it work.
- Childcare centers, managers, and directors have done a wonderful job adhering to new protocols, including lessening the number of children in attendance. Some parents have also made the choice to return to childcare at a later date. These lessened ratios will aid in social distancing.
- Superhero you may be, but even Wonder Woman accepted some help! So here is a list of 50 childcare activities that you can incorporate into your programming while maintaining social distancing.
Jump to an age group:
1) Baby Mirror Game
Social distancing is easily achieved with this simple and developmentally appropriate activity for infants. Simply keep the mirrors in different parts of the classroom and watch the babies develop their fledgling social interest, and sense of self skills.
2) Crawlers Obstacle Course
This gross motor curriculum may require some extra disinfecting after each use. However, it is very easy to create a personalized, small obstacle course for every infant in your cohort, using items that you already have.
3) Playing with Stickers
This activity can last for quite some time. The babies’ fine motor skills will be developed, and the babies’ level of engagement will make it easy to keep them distant from each other.
4) Balancing on a Squishy Ball
Tummy time will have an extra layer of fun and challenge for your infants’ developing muscles!
5) Sensory Bags
Babies are sensorimotor scientists. This is how they learn about the world! A sensory experience in a plastic bag is easy to disinfect, and will also keep the little ones easily separated. Oh, the 2020 of it all!
6) Tugging Lid
Engaging activity? Check! Can be modified to adhere to social distancing parameters? You betcha! Easily created from items that are already in your classroom? Ding-ding-ding!
via Busy Toddler
7) Baby Guitar Hero
You can use toy guitars, or create your own as detailed on the website. Either way, your babies will strengthen their auditory and tactile exploration, while having a great time.
via House of Burke
8) Spider Web Discovery Basket
This is one of my favorite things to create for an infant classroom. It will be easy to keep the babies socially distant as they engage in their gross motor and problem solving skills.
9) Baby Nursery Rhymes
It’s a great way to capture the babies’ attention, and will keep them engaged so that you can ensure physical separation.
10) Balloon Tennis
Effectively develops your toddlers’ literacy and gross motor skills at the same time! Simply set up a number of “tennis courts” in different parts of the classroom to maintain distancing.
11) Butterfly Lacing Cards
The development of fine motor skills with a pincer grasp is highlighted in this activity. And a toddler’s penchant for parallel play will safely keep everyone apart.
12) Puddle Jumping
A great piece of curriculum to help toddlers jump their jiggles out! I’ve personally used this in a number of classrooms with much success. Here’s a tip: create puddles in a different colors, and assign each child to a specific one. After a few minutes, assign them to a new color.
13) Astronaut Glove Box
This one may need some modifications (having the children use separate sets of gloves, for example), and it’s another activity that can be easily created from existing items in your classroom.
14) Dinosaur Footprints Activity
Children and dinosaurs have gone hand in hand probably since the time of the dinosaurs. All you’d need to do for this activity is to create individual art boxes for each child. Include all the needed materials, and ensure that they sit separately as they play.
15) Catch a Star Game
Is your cohort of children feeling particularly energetic? Then set up this gross motor activity in various parts of the classroom so that they have a chance to expel all their rambunctious toddler energy!
16) Shaving Cream Paper Marbling
There are many sensory elements to this activity – touch, sight, and even smell! It is highly entertaining and will have your group engaged in separate sensory and art bins.
17) Jumbo Shape Sorter
Take a number of large cardboard boxes, cut some holes in them, grab some beanbags, and watch your toddlers enjoy a long episode of parallel play!
via Pink Oatmeal
18) Fine Motor Color Sorting Activity
Most fine motor activities will help toddlers develop their attention, behavioral, and emotional regulation. And that is the key to making this an adaptable activity for social distancing in the classroom.
19) Card Slot Drop
I love this activity! The level of focus and engagement is extremely high, and each toddler in your group can play separately from one another. It’s very easy to create a set of play materials for each member of your group.
via Busy Toddler
20) Cloud Dough in a Bag
Cloud dough is soft, light, and so fun to manipulate with little fingers. Place it in an easily disinfected plastic bag for multiple and long-time use.
21) CD Stacking
This activity develops a child’s hand-eye coordination and problem solving skills. It also doubles as a great history lesson (“Back in my day, music came from these shiny discs called CDs!”). Note: The children can be very careless when they’re manipulating the CDs, so save that beloved 90s Get This Party Started Mix for yourself.
22) Erase the ABCs
This is another personally loved activity of mine. It keeps the children engaged for quite a while, and plants the seeds of letter recognition at the same time.
via Busy Toddler
23) Sunscreen Painting
Are you wondering what to do with your children’s expired sunscreen? Here’s a wonderful art activity that doubles as a visual tool to teach them about sun safety. It easily promotes distancing when the children are given separate art bins.
24) Raindrop Race
I’ve incorporated this into my programming a number of times, and there seems to be a therapeutic element for the children. They love watching the water drops slide down the wax paper. Maybe it reminds them of watching raindrops fall down a window on a rainy day.
25) Dinosaur Coloring Page
Speaking of therapeutic, the benefits of coloring therapy have been highly applauded. Add some dinosaurs for a child-approved activity that can easily be socially distanced.
26) Moon Rock Count and Throw
At this age group, preschoolers and kinders are beginning to appreciate games with rules. Something like this activity will ignite this part of their development, and it can be easily modified to include social distance.
27) Catch a Cloud
This is simple. This is easy to plan. This is so much fun!
28) Beach Ball Letter Slam
Sometimes, it’s fun to throw things! Again, some simple modifications can promote social distancing, as well as develop some patience and turn-taking skills amongst your group.
29) Paper Bag Jellyfish
This is an activity that encourages independent work, and after the children are done, you can make a lovely seascape in your classroom.
30) Sand Letter Tracing
It’s a wonderfully easy bit of curriculum to include in a personal sensory bin. Children can develop their letter recognition skills, writing, and whatever else their creative spirit leads them to do.
31) Animal Sounds Guessing Game
Social development is such an important milestone in the preschool and kindergarten age. This game allows for some light interaction among peers while easily maintaining a safe separation from each other.
32) Steal the Bacon
Enjoying games with rules is another milestone. The rules of this game are easy enough for the children to follow so that they can focus on the fun. More importantly, you will be able to set expectations and do some crowd management with relative ease.
33) Detective Activity
This is another game with rules, and it incorporates some dramatic play – everything that this age group loves!
34) Pass the Movements
This game contributes to cognitive development through memory building, it has guaranteed laughs and silliness, and it can really put the “social” in “social distancing”.
35) What Time is It, Mr. Wolf?
It’s an old tyme classic! And if you play it outside, it can be very easy to stay safely apart. Just make sure that you’re aware of Mr. Wolf’s dietary restrictions before lunchtime.
36) Basketball Addition Game
The possibilities with this game are plenty! The children can have individual basketball nets, there can be a classroom competition with a single net, and for the older ones, and a tournament can be organized so that play and learning can be extended.
37) Dinosaur Yoga
This one makes me laugh because I picture a tyrannosaurus with its tiny arms in a downward dog position. Regardless, it’s easy to ensure distance, and a bit of mind-body exercise can offer wonderful benefits for your group during these unforeseen times.
38) Self Portrait Activity
There is a lot of potential in this one to become a calming and independent activity. And it can even be changed so that the children draw portraits of their friends and loved ones since they can’t offer any hugs or high-fives.
39) Jump Rope Games
What’s a better way to have a visual example of distance than having 6 feet of jump rope between one another? Have a look at the site! It’s a great resource for a number of cooperative games while maintaining a social distance. Not to mention the benefits of coordination, risk assessment, and good old fashioned cardiovascular health.
40) Stand Up Silly Story Time
Schoolagers love hearing themselves speak. And why shouldn’t they? They have all sorts of thoughts and ideas that are developing and need to be heard. This game really facilitates this portion of their development, and the results can be hilarious!
41) Improv Games for Kids
This activity is versatile, easily modified on the spot, encourages quick thinking and language development. It also strengthens emotional connections among peers. Two thumbs up! Tens, tens, tens across the board!
42) Pool Noodle Obstacle Course
This one will require a lot of prep and planning, and your group will thank you for it! There’s nothing quite like an obstacle course to appeal to the children’s sense of competition. Be sure to offer a really cool prize for completing it, and don’t tell them that the prize is having fun.
43) Would You Rather?
There have been some wonderful moments during this game, in my experience, with schoolagers. It fosters friendship, empathy, and taking on another person’s point of view.
via Family Education
44) Pine Cone Bird Feeder
This is the kind of play that can be independent and open-ended, that touches upon many learning domains. School age children can really allow their creativity to shine.
via Kids Activities
This is a simple and effective activity that hones a child’s cognitive skills. All you need to do is provide some printed instructions, some origami paper, and a socially distanced area for them to create.
46) Paper Airplane Challenges
It’s like origami with a competitive edge! This website showcases a number of challenges to stimulate the children’s ingenuity and problem solving skills.
via Kids Activities
47) Riddle Me This
In my experience, this age group goes bananas over riddles! It really captures their interest and attention, and social distance can be easily achieved. You can turn it into a competition, they can vote on and record what they think is the correct answer, or it can be a simple social experience where the children share riddles with one another.
48) Laundry Basket Skee-Ball
It’s a perfect indoor gross motor activity that is quite easy to create in your classrooms.
via Frugal Fun
This website shows how versatile bingo can be so that play can be extended. Children can also hone their leadership skills as they take turns being the bingo caller.
50) Oobleck Sensory Bin
There’s just something so fascinating and engaging about oobleck. It’s a solid. It’s a liquid. It’s messy, therapeutic, scientific, and sensoric. It’s perfect for your program in individual sensory bins.
via via Happy Hooligans
As early childhood educators, we are accustomed to the ebb and flow of success and challenge that each day brings. This “new normal” that we are all getting accustomed to can feel insurmountable. Hopefully, this list of social distancing activities eases some of the discomfort we are feeling, so that we can continue to do the important and rewarding work that we love to do. After all, it’s only insurmountable until you face it head on and say “Hey! You’re surmountable!” Good luck, and more importantly, have fun!