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As Americans shelter in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, parents are looking for ways to keep their children occupied. To help you, we’ve combed our archives to curate a list of previously recommended toys, activities, and games that should help keep your kids out of your hair for a bit while you get some work done.
Magna-Tiles are that rare gem of a toy that will occupy your kids—whether they’re 2 or 12—for a good, solid while. A hundred of these tiles (this sounds like too many—it’s not!) might even buy you an hour while your kids build a whole village. As Slate Care and Feeding columnist Nicole Cliffe says: “You need to give them Magna-Tiles. I do not make the rules. ‘$50 for 32 magnet blocks?!’ you will say. Trust me that they will love them.”
You’re probably looking to avoid messes, especially in the house. But you may also be desperate. Ask a Teacher columnist Carrie Bauer claims that kinetic sand is easy to vacuum up and says that “the long periods of absorbed experimentation it allows for are worth it. … Sip your coffee [or do your work] for 45 blissfully uninterrupted minutes.”
“Tangrams are classic toys that encourage kids to understand patterns and geometric concepts like angles and symmetry,” explains Bauer. “Younger kids are happy to play freely with a colorful set of shapes and will often initiate sorting and arranging them into patterns all on their own. Older, puzzle-minded kids can dive into a geometry challenge with a plain wooden tangram of 7 pieces and a book of silhouettes, attempting to recreate the images by manipulating the shapes.”
Art supplies are extremely useful to have on hand, especially those that aren’t too messy and kids can use unsupervised (think crayons, colored pencils). Cliffe calls this art kit “dope as hell” and “a real crowd-pleaser.” Grab a roll of butcher paper and let your kids go to town.
Usborne makes fantastic activity books for kids of all ages—from books filled with simple word searches and easy mazes for pre-K and kindergartners to harder logic games for elementary and middle schoolers. Editor’s Note: Both of these are currently sold out on Amazon. These items are so useful, it’s worth checking back to see if they come back into stock. Or, see if you can get your hands on any of Usborne’s other activity books, like this travel pad or this crossword book.
Bananagrams for Kids, made by the creators of Bananagrams, offers satisfying and fun word puzzles that even high schoolers will enjoy.
Puzzle master Will Shortz to the rescue. Your elementary schooler is not too young for Sudoku or KenKen. This particular sudoku book is a great starter; the simple puzzles at the beginning are easy enough for second graders, and the more difficult puzzles toward the end will challenge middle schoolers. And this introductory KenKen book is perfect for older kids.
Second grade teacher Brandon Hersey keeps a large stash of stickers in his classroom and says, “Stickers are incredibly useful, and … I can never, ever have enough!” Let your kid loose with a big sheet of stickers, some markers, and some butcher paper. Stickers can also double as rewards for your 4-year-old if she successfully leaves you alone for 30 minutes.
“DO NOT sleep on this very cool marble-run logic game gravity thingie, which has been a big hit whenever I’ve tried it,” Cliffe says.
Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza was one of Slate’s bestselling holiday gifts. Cliffe calls it “the only card-based game I like, and it will transform gatherings.”
Bauer praises Labyrinth, “an eternally popular board game,” for being “different with every play, so it’s a game that has a long lifespan of enjoyment.”
In addition to these suggestions, browse Slate’s comprehensive list of the 40 best family games to find something suitable for your kids’ ages and interests. Games like Sorry, Spot It!, and Uno are especially good for younger kids to play on their own. Codenames is a perennial Slate favorite—it’d be great for keeping older kids off of screens and engaged in something more wholesome.
It wouldn’t hurt to load up on books with a quick trip to the library, or you could purchase a couple of new books to dole out at an opportune moment (maybe right before your big video conference call). Encyclopedic books can be great for a half-hour of browsing, even if your kids can’t read. Anything in National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book series is always a solid bet for preschoolers. Check out Slate’s kids’ summer reading list for some inspiring, compulsively readable recommendations from your children’s favorite novelists.
And if all else fails, you can always pull the trigger on that subscription to Disney+. Good luck.
Update, April 7, 2020: This post has been updated to reflect the latest in the ongoing coronavirus crisis.