Wondering what to do with kids in lockdown school holidays? Ideas from a happiness expert


School holidays are upon us again. In pre-pandemic days, many parents and carers would be busily planning holidays interstate or overseas, booking in play dates, organising day trips or tee-ing up visits to family and friends.

Instead, a significant amount of us are in lockdown (still), living with restrictions and likely working from home.

School holidays may feel like more of the same, and many parents are burned out from trying to work while managing remote learning.

I am an education researcher with a lasting interest in how to blend creativity with educational experiences for children.

If you and the kids are stumped for things to do these holidays, and looking for ways to reconnect after a really trying school term, here are some ideas to try.

Try some conversation starters — you might be surprised what comes out

Think back to your own childhood memories. It’s likely your favourite moments are less about big grand gestures and more about moments of connection with a parent or carer.

Finding fresh ways to cultivate this positive relationship in lockdown might be hard, but it’s not impossible.

One idea is to experiment with “conversation starters” — perhaps while you go on your daily walks, as you throw a ball around, or as you go around the dinner table.

Give your children language to talk about their experiences, to help them develop a sense of self.

You might want to talk about experiences you have had today, recently, since lockdown began or even ever. These sentence starters may help kick things off:

  • I enjoyed …
  • In future, I’d like to try …
  • Wouldn’t it be cool if we could …
  • I look forward to …
  • When such-and-such happened, I felt …

Give it a try. Perhaps it’ll feel a bit stilted at first. But you might be surprised at what comes up once you and your child start talking.

Find new ways to share positive emotions

Positive emotions are contagious. Look for new ways to share positivity around by, for example:

  • each person saying three things they are grateful for over dinner or while on a family walk
  • making a list of small joys (like a recent dish you enjoyed or a local garden you like walking past). Keep the list in a visible place, like on the fridge, and add to it over time
  • try a random act of kindness. Make a nice card or postcard and deliver it to someone in your neighbourhood. Or write a note of appreciation to a teacher or local business
  • celebrate day-to-day achievements. See if you can teach your child a family recipe, form a mini book club by reading the same book together and discussing it, or try to learn something new together.

Remember, though, you don’t have to try to enforce constant positivity. Sadness and stress are normal too, and we must ensure children are given space to share those emotions as well.

Even in the city, we can connect with nature

Connecting with nature helps improve mental well-being, even when that contact is brief.

A visit to the national park might be out of the question but you can still find nature even in the most urban of settings. You could:

  • try mindful walking with your child, where you purposefully notice what is around you (so no earphones or devices)
  • borrow a trick from meditation practice and name five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel, two things you smell and one thing you taste. Think of it as a kind of sensory “scavenger hunt” to do while you’re on your walks. You just might notice something new
  • if it’s allowed, go on a picnic to your local park. Take your shoes off and feel the grass in your toes
  • if you’re subject to a lockdown radius, get out the map and study closely what exactly is in your radius. There may be a park or a street you haven’t visited yet. Finding new streets to walk can be shockingly invigorating
  • if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, make the most of it. Create a sculpture together using found objects, arrange petals in a shape, build a fairy house, fix up a garden bed, cook outside, set up a tent and go camping in the garden
  • plant something — herbs, flowers, anything — in balcony pots or a little indoor garden and watch it grow. Take progress photos.

Connect with your child and their interests

Find ways to connect with your children — take an interest in what they’re interested in, even if it’s not something you’d typically do with your leisure time.

You could try:

  • a regular board game or card game night (and let your child pick what to play)
  • making a favourite food from scratch (pasta is fun for all ages)
  • teach your children new ways to connect with pets
  • make a time capsule that captures pandemic life
  • help your child re-arrange their bedroom
  • start a community art installation that brings hope and joy, like the Spoonville craze or the bears in windows movement.

Be gentle with yourself

If reading that list makes you feel exhausted, please be gentle with yourself. You don’t have to do any of those things if you don’t have the time, energy or inclination. Nobody is expecting you to plan every moment of your child’s holidays.

But if a spare pocket of time arises and you’re looking for ways to reinvigorate the same old walks, chores or activities, I hope this list proves useful.

Author Bio: Narelle Lemon is Associate Professor in Education at Swinburne University of Technology