As I’m writing this, Australians are being encouraged to stay at home, and to avoid unnecessary interactions with other people as much as possible. While schools and childcare facilities remain open, the message is it’s best to keep the kids at home, unless you need to go to work and don’t have another option.
The result? Many of us are suddenly now living with our kids 24/7, rather than sending them off to school, preschool or daycare, or even having the benefit of meeting up with other families for play dates and social interaction.
Now, I love my kids. They’re wonderful. But life at home with them without the option of our usual outings (hello Early Start Discovery Space!), or opportunities for social play, is a whole new world.
One day we’ll look back at this time in history, and bore our grandkids with stories of the ‘Rona and how we all made it through this challenging time. But for now, this is our reality.
On the plus side, this new way of life has made me appreciate more than ever, how lucky we are to live in the Illawarra. My best friend is currently in lock-down mode in a tiny apartment in Florence, Italy, with a toddler to entertain and a husband working from home. Closer to home, other friends live in Sydney, where access to the kind of quiet wild places and empty beaches we can enjoy, is much harder to find.
Here’s my guide to keeping sane with the kids during these crazy Corona Virus times. As with everything these days, it’s a work in progress and we’re learning
as we go. But for now...
Out and about
During the Illawarra autumn, we’re lucky to enjoy mild temperatures and plenty of sunny days. My three boys love bushwalking, and with kids it’s less about the distance covered and more about taking it slowly, and stopping to look at what you find along the way. Our beautiful Illawarra Escarpment is home to many gorgeous walks, and you’ll be amazed at how far from civilization you can feel within 10 minutes of Wollongong CBD.
PLEASE NOTE: At the time of writing, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has announced closures to some local areas, including Byrarong Park and the Sublime Point Walking Track. Please check their website for updates to be sure you’re heading to an area which is still open.
Parts of the Escarpment feel like they are straight out of a Tomb Raider movie - giant trees, twisted vines and lush vegetation. The Mt Keira Ring Track has plenty of sections which are fun for kids - choose a quiet place to enter the track - try joining it from Mount Pleasant Track (park on Parish Ave, Mount Pleasant) or Mount Keira Rd.
There are plenty of less-crowded places to access Escarpment bushwalks - the trail from the end of Brokers Rd in Balgownie takes you along Towradgi Creek, or try one of the paths at the back of Tarrrawanna.
Other great places to try with the kids include Cascades Walk at the bottom of Macquarie Pass, or Killalea State Park.
At this point Wollongong Botanic Garden is also still open - avoid the playground and explore the paths around the garden to find quiet spaces for the kids to run around, take a picnic, and
keep your distance from other families and groups.
Hit the beach
The world was recently shocked by the images of crowds amassing on Bondi Beach in Sydney, but here in the Illawarra, we’ve got huge stretches of beach with plenty of room to move while practising social distancing. Taking the kids to a quiet stretch of beach for paddling in the waves and digging in the sand is the perfect way to help them burn off some energy, while you get to enjoy the fresh air and a break from the four walls of home.
Try the stretch of beach between Fairy Meadow and Towradgi, or walk south along City Beach to find empty beach spaces for the whole family to enjoy. Further north, try between Bellambi and Woonona, and between Woonona and Bulli.
Home, sweet home
While we all need to get out from time-to-time, we really need to be staying home as much as possible right now to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
If the sun is shining and you have a backyard, then outdoor obstacle courses are a great way to get the kids moving. This week I challenged my six-year-old to design an obstacle course for us all to complete (yes, me included!), and he came up with a great set-up on our lawn including chairs to climb under, baskets to jump over, shoes to zig-zag around and balls to kick. We took turns trying to ‘beat the clock’ with the stopwatch on my phone, and we also had some very competitive races. My three-year-old genuinely beat me - crawling under chairs when you’re a grown-up is much harder than it looks!
If it’s raining you can also set-up obstacle courses inside, but keep the focus less on speed and more on challenges along the way - for example, when you reach this cushion drop and do ten push-ups.
Building forts is another great activity for indoors and outdoors - we built a garden fort in the summer out of chairs and blankets, and the kids spent hours in there playing. Win.
Hosting a teddy bear’s picnic in the garden is also fun - plus you have the bonus of getting the kids to eat their lunch outside, which equals less mess to clean up afterwards.
Now is a great time to help your kids tap into their creativity. My kids love ‘helping’ with baking and cooking, and we’ve just discovered a recipe for playdough you can make in the microwave.
Got a big roll of paper? Get your kids to lie down on the paper, trace around them and then get them to create their very own life-sized self-portrait.
Got a garden? Collect leaves of different shapes and sizes, and stick them on to paper, decorating with glitter, paint or crayons as you go. Another great idea I saw recently was to put a ‘bracelet’ of masking tape around each child’s wrist (sticky side facing out) while out on a walk, for them to decorate with leaves and small flowers they find along the way.
If you’re not sure where to start, there are loads of free online craft and art tutorials online for kids. We’ve been enjoying the online creative workshops by Rondelle Designs.
OK, I understand rice is suddenly a much sought-after commodity, but if you happen to have a large supply of rice or dried pulses at home, then you have what you need for some fantastic messy sensory play. Tip out the rice, dried beans and lentils into containers and then let the kids go to town scooping them from container to container, pouring them with little jugs or stirring them with spoons. I’d recommend doing this in a room with a hard floor (definitely not carpet), so you can easily sweep up the mess afterwards. We have some messy play rice and lentils specifically for this kind of play, and we re-use them over and over again. And unlike messy crafts like painting, it won’t leave marks on your house or on the kids’ clothes (if you’re worried about that kind of thing).
The Wollongong Science Centre and Planetarium has temporarily closed, but the awesome team there haven’t wasted any time in creating great online content for budding young scientists to try at home. Check out their videos on how to make great bubbles at home, or how to learn about your centre of gravity with balancing. New videos are being added all the time, so sign-up for updates and play along at home.
The fun people at the Early Start Discovery Space have also started sharing some wonderful content online while the centre is closed - including storytime reading and craft tutorials.
Want to head further afield? Check out the live streaming from Sea Life Sydney - including penguins and dugongs - or for the Lego-obsessed take a virtual tour of the Hotel Legoland. Budding astronauts can visit NASA’s Langley Research Centre through virtual tours, nature lovers can take an interactive visit to the Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough, and culture vultures can visit online exhibits at the Art Gallery of NSW.
For my kids, the toughest thing in our new world is the lack of social interaction. I’m getting daily moans from my eldest about how much he misses seeing his friends, and hanging out with grown-ups and siblings all day really isn’t cutting it.
To try and counter this social isolation, we’ve started booking in a daily playdate with his friends - where they can have a video chat and play. They usually show each other their favourite toys or share jokes. I think a lot of it is just silly faces and playing with the filters available through Facebook video chat, but it’s a great opportunity for him to interact with friends his own age.
If your kids have friends who live locally, a fun idea is to pay them a chalk visit while out on a walk around the neighbourhood. Take some chalk on your walk, and leave them a drawing or message on their driveway or footpath - then send them a message to go and check it out.
We’re also encouraging our school-aged son to send regular emails to friends and family who live far away - it’s a chance to practice his language and spelling, and he gets a real thrill when they reply with an update on their daily activities.
So there you have it - a few ideas to keep you and your kids occupied during this very unusual time. What are you doing to stay busy and connected? We’d love to hear from you.
Author: Erin Huckle is a copywriter and PR consultant based in Wollongong, and mum to three very energetic boys. Check out her work at www.chucklecommunications.com.au
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