One of the greatest regrets I’ve heard from parents is that they didn’t spend enough time with their children when they were younger. Or that when they are with their young children now, they’re too tired to do anything creative. Questions that dads have asked include: “I’ve forgotten how to ‘play’—is this bad for my kids?” “Do we have to be ‘on’ and fully engaged at all times while spending time with our children?” “What exactly should we do with them?”
Questions like these can make the reality of caring for our kids feel daunting and stressful, so I thought it might be helpful to share some resources and ideas to keep in mind if you find yourself sequestered with your little one(s) and fumbling for things to do or overwhelmed by the thought of it.
Really, what we’re doing when we spend time with our young children is building or reinforcing strong bonds with them and, chances are, creating memories that can last a lifetime. So, if you’re spending time at home with your kids—even if you didn’t choose to do so--my first recommendation is to look at it as an opportunity. Everything doesn’t have to go perfectly; the important thing is that you have the time and opportunity to create memories and grow your relationship. You don’t have to be a magician or a clown. You weren’t hired as entertainment. Your job is to be engaged. Ask questions. Listen to their answers. Have conversations. Think about the kinds of things you liked doing and talking about when you were their age.
Here are a few tips that I’ve come across, followed by some helpful resources for fathers and a list of free online activities for children:
- Don’t forget what it feels like to be a child. It’s crucial that children feel safe and secure, particularly when there is a change in routine or circumstances.
- Setting and sticking to a regular schedule is key. Children, particularly younger children, tend to do better when they get up, eat, and go to bed at their normal times. If schedules get thrown off, they may feel anxious; so, if that happens, it’s important to let them know what’s going to happen and when.
- Share your children’s interests and invite them into yours.
- If you find all your kids want to do is play video games, take some time and play a video game with them.
- Let them do things with you. Teach them how to cook healthy, nutritious meals. Share your interests and hobbies with them. If you are a gardener or carpenter, let them watch, help, and learn.
- Create some artwork, play a card game or a board game, do a jigsaw puzzle, watch an old movie or their favorite children’s show.
- Tell them stories about what you did when you were their age.
- Take advantage of the increasing number of online opportunities for children to learn and have fun. Don’t stress too much about their screen time.
- For more on Screen Time see the NRFC Information Brief: Helping fathers manage their children’s screen time.
- Record a Tik Tok dance with your kids.
- For inspiration, check out our #DanceLikeADad PSAs.
Helpful resources for fathers
- All Pro Dad: 7 conversation starters for family dinners
- Child Development Institute: 5 methods for motivating your family to clean
- Child Mind Institute: Keeping peace among siblings
- CityDadsGroup: End any argument with your teen with this 1 trick
- Fathers Incorporated: Finding common ground: Tips for cooperative co-parenting
- National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse: Activities of the week
- New York Times: If your kid keeps asking “why,” give them an answer
Free online activities for children
Here are some ideas for fun things you can do with your children online.
- Visit Common Sense Media for free online events and activities for kids at home.
- Get free resources for learning at home from Scholastic.
- Find printable worksheets for home school work (toddlers to teens) at this home school website.
- Download free reading and math activity packs (ages K-8) from Curriculum Associates (available in English and Spanish).
- Watch free videos from around the world at Project Explorer (grades 3-12).
- Practice spelling at Spelling City (free for 14 days or try code VSCFree90 for a longer period).
- Find free K-12 STEM resources, from standalone models and simulations to short activities and week-long sequences of curriculum materials, at Concord Consortium.
- Read free stories (ages 3-12) at freechildrenstories.com.
- Visit one of the Smithsonian’s zoos or museums without leaving home—see everything from live video of the National Zoo to the Smithsonian Learning Lab.
- Learn about the ins and outs of the U.S.. government with this interactive website, hosted by the U.S. Government Publishing Office, which includes a series of learning adventures with none other than Benjamin Franklin.
- Visit this NASA website to learn about a wide range of topics including weather, climate, atmosphere, water, energy, plants, and animals.
- Ask Dr. Universe questions about history, geography, plants, animals, technology, engineering, math, culture, and more (a science-education project from Washington State University).
- Take a deep dive into ocean life with this educational website hosted by the Smithsonian Museum.
- Choose one of 30 virtual field trips suggested by Family Connection of South Carolina.
- Listen to a podcast – see this list of suggestions for kids aged 2-6 from the New York Times.