Modern Life

7 offline ideas for family fun in the time of social distancing

After spending the day working and learning at home, families can find fun, new ways to connect and wind down.

By Liz Krieger — April 15, 2020

If there’s one thing we hear often during this time of social distancing, it’s that we’re all in this together. And nowhere is that truer than within our homes — where families are spending more time with each other working, learning, eating, and connecting to the outside world without leaving the house. For many people, it’s becoming a bit of a blur. Is it Monday? Thursday? What even IS a weekend anymore? 

Making a clear transition from work and learning during the day to fun and family time in the evening is critical, especially now, when commutes home and after-school activities don’t provide a natural end to our busy days. 

“Giving kids both structure and opportunities for play is vital during this time,” says Laura Phillips, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. 

That means making an effort to carve out time for everyone to come together, wind down, switch off, and do something away from the screens that make working from home, distance learning, and entertainment possible during the day. “In fact, you actually need to intentionally spend time as a family unit in a fun, meaningful way,” says Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, who specializes in child development. “We know from years of research that kids need this — and now more than ever.”

Original illustration of a family in their kitchen doing art, baking, and playing together.

Trisha Krauss

Doing something fun or different together can be especially meaningful for children and creates a nice endcap to the day.

Pope says doing something fun or different together as the day winds to a close can be especially meaningful for children, and creates a nice endcap to the day. That means throwback thinking is in order — drawing inspiration from a time when we didn’t rely so much on screens for entertainment. Here are a few ideas to try. 

Spread some joy

Even though you can’t meet with people up close, you can still make meaningful connections from a distance. “One of the biggest losses for many people right now is the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with those in their community, be it at work, at school, or in the neighborhood,” says Phillips. Join the global “Rainbow Connection” movement and display hand-painted rainbows and other artwork in your window to share some much-needed cheer. Or make a colorful and creative thank-you note or drawing as a way to show the people delivering your groceries or packages a bit of personalized gratitude. 

Create a family journal or time capsule

Each evening, Suzanne Brown, a marketing consultant in Austin, Texas, sits down with her two boys as they all do a few minutes of journaling. “They talk about what they did that day, draw a picture, or even write a poem,” she says. “We want them to talk about what they are doing and how they are feeling.” A twist on this could be to keep a gratitude journal or even a doodle journal that kids work on each night. Or, have everyone contribute notes, pieces of artwork, favorite recipes, or other artifacts to create a family keepsake and preserve positive memories from this unexpected time together.

“Giving kids both structure and opportunities for play is vital during this time.”

—Laura Phillips, clinical neuropsychologist, Child Mind Institute

Print your way off screen

Come together for hands-on activities that tap into parents’ and kids’ creative sides. Coloring, crafting, and creating together can help everyone decompress from a day of digital multitasking. HP just launched its new Print, Play & Learn platform to make it easier for parents to find and print activities for kids ages 2 to 12, with new content being added every week. 

“We wanted to provide an easy way for parents to access the best printable content for free as they adapt during this unprecedented time,” says Anneliese Olson, SVP and general manager for the print category at HP. Print out mazes, puzzles, coloring pages, news, and current-events content tailored for kids. The printable activities were curated with partners such as Education.comTIME for KidsCanva, and KiwiCo and are available for download or directly from the HP Smart App.

Hit the road

An evening stroll or neighborhood bike ride can be the perfect coda on these long strange days. It’s something Katia Grubisic, a writer in Canada, has been doing most days with her family. “It’s a chance to encourage them to interact with their environment and with others,” says Grubisic. “And, we get to catalog little things like the dog wearing a sweater, the worm on the street, or the puddles we like.”

Broaden your horizons from home

Find new ways to appreciate the arts together and “attend” a one-off special event or listen to a live concert while doing a jigsaw puzzle or craft project. Or lean on art works, photographs, and coffee table books you might have at home. Melissa Petro, a freelance writer in Peekskill, New York, says her husband, Arran, an artist, conducts this nightly ritual with their 2-year-old son: “We turn off the lights throughout the house, and my husband sets out an art book and opens it to any page,” she says. “Together they look at the picture and they talk about it. It’s like a little art lesson, and he looks forward to seeing what picture Daddy picked out.” 

Get your groove on

Every night, Lucy Jordan, a journalist in São Paulo, Brazil, lets her two kids, ages 2 and 4, choose three songs and they just dance, dance, dance. “It’s been really fun figuring out which of our old standbys they will like — and which get vetoed,” she says. “An unexpected bonus of this has been discovering that my 4-year-old son really, really loves Talking Heads.”

Original illustration of a family in their living room doing various creative offline activities: painting, yoga, playing a cello, and knitting.

Trisha Krauss

It's important to carve out time at the end of the day to give everyone’s brain a break with "offline" activities that foster connection and creativity.

 Phillips says experiences like these can even trigger the release of chemical messengers, including dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins (our body’s “feel good” chemicals), which contribute to an overall sense of well-being. “And shared laughter can bring us closer to others,” she adds. 

Read aloud together

Sure, you’ve heard this one about a million times, but there’s not an expert in the land who doesn’t reiterate how vital daily reading is since it combines everything in one activity: physical and emotional closeness, language learning, literacy and space for conversation, and a sense of routine to each day. “Because my husband is now working from home, it means we’re all at home for dinner and bedtime, which is usually not the case,” says Nikki Ramsey Hootman, a mother of two in Northern California. “We decided to make the most of our ‘together time’ and do family storytime, with my husband and I switching off reading one chapter each night.”

Thankfully, play can entail about a zillion things — from board games to art to puzzles, and be structured or unstructured, Phillips says. Your family may love to doodle but hate to dance, or you might spend most of your time outdoors or inside reading classic series like Little House on the Prairie or new ones like The Spiderwick Chronicles. The important thing is to give everyone’s brain a break to process all of the information it’s taking in during the day — whether it’s from the rigors of remote learning or an overload of news — not to mention the chance to just breathe and relax.

Whenever possible, Phillips says, you should let your kids decide what they want to do at the end of the day. “Play helps kids make sense of their experiences and to develop a sense of control over their circumstances,” she explains. “When children direct their own play, they are better able to flex their creative and problem-solving muscles as well as act out and work through the challenges that they’re experiencing.”


Try these tips for less screen time and more real time while working and learning from home.