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10 ways to help your kids through coronavirus fears using constructive play, from Baltimore’s cultural institutions

Nearly every person living in Maryland has just had their world turned topsy-turvy by the restricted lifestyle required to cope with the coronavirus pandemic — including the state’s 1.34 million children.

Experts say that constructive play can help relieve kids’ worries by providing a way for them to express their fears.

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”This is an uncertain time for children as well as for their parents,” said Abbi Ludwig, director of marketing for Port Discovery Children’s Museum.

“But there are ways to engage with children and help them work out the stress they might be feeling in their lives. We say that play is the work of childhood.”

Here are 10 ideas provided by the leaders of local cultural institutions to help youngsters engage their curiosity, stimulate their imaginations, burn off energy and express hidden feelings:

Art activities

On a nice day, take your child, watercolor set and sketchbook outside to engage in the storied tradition of “plein-air” (or location) painting.

Baltimore artist Landry Randriamandroso has announced that he will be posting coloring pages for kids and adults on his Facebook page.

Need art/educational activity at home? For the next 13 days I will post a coloring page per day for kids and adults to...

Posted by Iandry Randriamandroso on Monday, March 16, 2020

In addition, supplies found in most houses can be used for such art projects as creating a cool critter from recycled trash and hot glue or making a night lantern from glass jars, tissue paper and ribbon.

“These are all completely doable at home,” said Helen Yuen, spokeswoman for the American Visionary Art Museum. Go to avam.org for more suggestions.

Cooking and baking

There’s nothing kids love more than tossing flour around the kitchen. The “recipes and tips” section of Baltimore Chef Shop has instructions for such kid-friendly foods as Halloween Hand Pies, Banana Chocolate Chip Knots and natural dyes for Easter eggs.

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Parents might even be able use the culinary arts to sneak in an impromptu chemistry lesson. For instance, who knew that varying the amount of salt in a recipe for homemade bread will affect how much it will rise?

Dramatic play

“This is a great way to get kids to talk about difficult subjects,” said Port Discovery’s Ludwig. Make puppets out of socks, thread and a few buttons for the eyes. When your puppet asks your toddler how he’s feeling today, he just might open up.

Declare that the living room is a castle, give your child a few objects and provide a theme. As Ludwig put it: "Tell them, ‘Here is your castle. Here is your dress and here is your wand. Now, you put on the show.‘ Kids will really run with that.”

Explore the great outdoors

Sure, park buildings and programs are closed. But nature trails still are open during what is about to become the prettiest time of the year.

Cherry trees, forsythia and daffodils are already in bloom and will be followed soon by tulips, redbud and dogwoods — and they’re all practically begging to be admired by hikers and bikers.

A few suggestions: the Stony Run walking path, the Jones Falls trail, Oregon Ridge Park, Honeygo Run Regional Park, the Gwynns Falls Trail.

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Fun with pets

Home for an extended stretch? It’s a perfect time to adopt a cat or dog and acclimate the animal to its new household. Kids can help out by running Fido up and down stairs for exercise, by making Snowball a kitten toy from the plastic ring on a milk jug wrapped in colorful fabric or giving Rover a gentle massage.

Bailey Deacon, spokeswoman for BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Center), also recommends creating an obstacle course for your dog or cat, organizing a treat scavenger hunt, and making a video about a day in your pet’s life. See PetMd for massage techniques and BARCS for other pet-themed craft projects.

Lynne B. Kahn is the founder of the Baltimore Hunger Project

Gardening

The swingset set will get a charge out of rooting a sweet potato and growing vine or planting pansies, which children love because the flowers appear to have faces. Here’s a good tutorial.

Carrie Engel, greenhouse manager for Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, said that older kids can help their parents — and get exercise — by planting shrubs, fruit trees and such cool-weather crops as blueberries, peas, peaches and pears. Inside, kids can start annuals such as petunias and tomatoes from seed. Or, slip in a math lesson by asking your son or daughter to help you lay out your garden bed and figure out how far apart plants should be spaced.

Indoor exercises

Ludwig suggests that on a cold and rainy day, kids can still get exercise indoors if parents pull out their plastic containers and wooden spoons and engage their youngsters in forming a marching band. Or throw a dance party and give the kids scarves to waive around.

Ludwig said that such songs as “Hokey Pokey,” “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” “I’m a Little Teapot” and “Shoo Fly” will all help kids develop motor skills. Port Discovery also recommends this YouTube channel of super simple songs.

Podcasts and storytelling

Center Stage artistic director Stephanie Ybarra thinks that podcasts have assumed the role that in the middle 20th century was filled by radio broadcasts, when entire families would gather in the living room to listen to favorite programs. Many, such as Orson Welles’ “The War of the Worlds” and “The Adventures of Superman”are available for free downloading. For older teens and adults, Ybarra recommends the podcasts from Chicago’s Make-Believe Foundation, of which Ybarra is a board member.

Puzzles and building blocks

A good puzzle can occupy a child long enough for a parent to get some work done. Nuff said. Legos and other popular building blocks sets can help preschoolers develop math and decision-making skills, according to a study by Purdue University. “Make up little challenges for your child,” Ludwig suggested. “Tell them to build the tallest structure they can. Ask them to build a pretend zoo and to hide a stuffed animal inside. That keeps the building blocks from becoming boring and repetitive.”

Science projects

The Maryland Science Center lists dozens of do-at-home experiments and projects online, from creating fireworks with paint, water and Alka-Seltzer tablets to building a telegraph machine with cardboard, wires, thumbtacks and batteries. “There’s another activity where you can dissect a baseball,” said Chris Cropper, senior director of marketing for the Science Center. “Another thing that’s really popular is making slime with Borax powder and Elmer’s glue. Kids love that.”

Just because you can't visit us at the moment and you're home from school doesn't mean you can't still have science fun!...

Posted by Maryland Science Center on Monday, March 16, 2020
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