As the list of what we, as adults, should limit our outings to narrows each day, so with it comes the activities of our children. School is widely closed for almost all of the country already, with sports and extracurriculars wiped out for most of the spring. Chances are high you can barely grab a library book – and all for good reason.

Social distancing is the new normal, but can be a hard concept for little ones to grasp (because all they want to do is grasp, and hug, and high five, and wrestle…). The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends limiting close contact with others by social distancing, but it might be easier for kids to understand it as “physical distancing”. Explain it to them like this: Let’s say a person is sick and sneezes. If no one is around, the germs won’t have a person to land on! Being far a part keeps everyone healthy.

So while we wisely wait out this storm, what are ways your child can fine tune their socialization skills during this critical time of growth? Below are a few examples of how to be together…apart.

FaceTime

FaceTime is an awesome way to connect with a buddy or classmate. Set up a mutually agreed upon call time. The call will have to be facilitated by you because little ones will be initially engaged with their own image. But stay off screen – this is your kid’s call and their conversation. Make sure to place your call in a quiet room. There should be no television in the background, or a sibling talking over them. Throw out talking points for the callers. Maybe encourage your child to draw a picture for their friend on the other end so they have something to show and discuss.

Send a Video Text

We do so much of this already. Children in the cell phone age are so used to being videotaped. As we are all too familiar, when a child knows they are being taped, they might not act as natural. Try to capture moments that are more impromptu. As your child kicks the soccer ball around the yard, say “how about we share this with your teammate Kevin?” Shoot it off to Kevin’s dad then before you know it, you’ve got a message back of Kevin doing a similar activity. Smiles abound.

Virtual Cafeteria Lunch with Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype

Set up a virtual cafeteria through a conferencing app. Grab a handful of buddies around your regularly scheduled school lunch time and meet up. The familiar faces with delight them, even if the conversation don’t go much past “hi…hi…hi…” They will get the hang of it eventually.

The Old-Fashioned Phone Call

Remember back in the day when we had to call the house phone of our buddy and ask “Hello, Mrs. So-and-so. Can I talk to Sara?” Maybe let’s teach kids how to place a phone call. Good phone manners and coming up with something to talk about with a person you can’t see is all good practice. Make sure children says hello, identifies themself, and then says good-bye. Keep conversations short. Maybe begin your first few calls with grandma or grandpa so they understand the rhythm. Learning Resources Pretend & Play Teaching Telephone is also a good tool for practicing calls.

Pen a Letter

Who doesn’t love getting snail mail? Encourage your children to write to their friends. There are five parts to a friendly letter: date, greeting, body, closing, and signature. You might have to pick the topic of the letter, but ask them to think about what they usually talk about with the friend they’ve chosen to write. (Example: my friend Alexis loves collecting rocks. I’ll tell her about the rocks I found on my walk today!). Your little one might not be able to write all of it, but at the very least they can practice writing their name. Include stickers, a friendship bracelet, or some other fun surprise. We bet you get a letter in return!

Picnic Car Meet

Pack a picnic lunch on a sunny day. Load up into the car and drive to a park or your friend’s driveway. Park close enough to talk, but a safe distance away. Roll down the windows and shut off the car. Have lunch with friends without anyone getting out of the vehicle!

Stay safe!