Family Diversions in a Time of Isolation

By Matt Braun | Mar 16, 2020

Things to do while social distancing

I’m writing this at the beginning of what is likely to be for many – but not all, naturally, which I fully understand – a long period of working from home, with kids’ schools closed, as we attempt to #FlattenTheCurve and avoid overwhelming our healthcare infrastructure while it battles COVID-19 / the novel coronavirus pandemic. This is just a fact of our lives at this moment, as governments attempt to demonstrate that they can learn lessons from history in our own countries and from other countries around the world. Without being alarmist, I think it’s important to heed the experts on this.

If you suddenly find yourself with more family time than expected, you may be wondering about what exactly it is you’re going to do during all that extra togetherness. You can all only handle so much messaging, showing each other funny YouTube videos, and binge watching family-friendly Disney+ shows. You’ll definitely want to have some time apart within the same house whenever you can, but this could also be a time of memorable family bonding.

Party games, card games, and board games are always a great option. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Chess

    This has been a favorite game of mine since a very young age, and it might surprise you how young your own children are able to pick up the rules of the game. Chess.com has a guide on how to play here.

    If you have more than two family members able to play, consider organizing a small tournament.

  • Spoons

    A classic card game, fast-paced yet easy for young children to understand, Spoons requires just a deck of playing cards and enough spoons for all but one of the number of players. If you have five players, you’ll need four spoons.

    To play: Sit around a table or on the ground in a circle. Shuffle the deck and deal four cards to each player. Remaining cards are kept in a draw pile to the dealer’s right. Set the spoons in the center of the group.

    Each player looks at their own cards, and the dealer draws one card from the draw pile. After deciding which card in hand to pass, the dealer passes a card to the player on her left.

    The goal of spoons is to match four of a kind. As each player receives a card, they decide which cards to keep based on what’s already in hand, and discards a single card to the next player on their left.

    As soon as someone gets four-of-a-kind, they grab a spoon from the center. All other players must then also try to grab a spoon, and whichever player does not get one, receives a letter in the word SPOONS. First the letter S, then the letter P, and so on. Players are removed from the game upon spelling SPOONS, and the last player in is the winner.

    If you have younger players, consider using plastic spoons instead of heavy metal spoons.

  • Telephone

    If you’re unfamiliar, this is a game where a person conceives of a phrase, then passes it on by whispering to the next person, and to the next, which continues until everyone has participated and the phrase is said aloud for the originator to judge how close or far off the rails things have gone. This game can be especially fun and comical with younger (verbal) children, because you never know how they’ll hear and interpret.

  • Codenames

    This is a holiday and extended family get-together favorite (but play it with immediate family only while isolating). Part word association game, part strategy game, it’s a lot of fun. You can buy Codenames on Amazon here or you may be able to play using this site: https://www.horsepaste.com

  • SketchParty TV

    This one is for Apple TV owners. SketchParty TV was the first Apple TV and iPad (or iPhone!) party game, and it was designed from the start to be made for families. It’s also used in classrooms around the world, so if your family is looking for a fun and educational activity, try the custom word list editor in SketchParty. I wrote a guide on how to use it here: https://sketchparty.tv/pages/en/how-to/make-your-own-word-lists/

    Full disclosure: this is my game. It’s critically acclaimed and it was part of an Apple WWDC keynote. It’s also under $5, and good for many hours of replay. Buy SketchParty TV on the App Store here.

More activity ideas

  • Family Sing Alongs

    If you have a HomePod, Amazon Echo, or some other brand smart speaker and access to streaming music, queue up your family’s favorite kids movie or pop music songs and rock out! Especially fun if you have floors you can slide around on safely; a lot of kids love to dance.

  • Puzzles

    If you have any puzzles in a closet just collecting dust, this is the time to dust them off and start putting them together. Maybe you’ve done them before? Time yourself to see how much faster you can assemble this time.

  • Bake a Cake, Bread, or Muffins

    Kids love to learn how to make things in the kitchen, especially home baked bread and pastry, and young children can help measure and pour ingredients, while older kids and teenagers may be able to help combine ingredients with mixers and/or operate the oven. Some great kid-friendly recipes are on Buzzfeed here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/mikespohr/blissfully-easy-desserts-you-can-make-with-your-kids

Even more suggestions?

If you have your own suggestions for what to do during a period of extended family together time, feel free to let me know on Twitter: I’m @mattbraun. I may update this post with suggestions periodically.

Note: this site may use Amazon or other affiliate links.

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