At-home resources for kids and parents during Covid-19

To our KiwiCo community:

As parents, we share the same concerns about the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus, and the impact it will have on our families. Here at KiwiCo, we asked our team to work from home. Many of us have children who will be home with us for the foreseeable future due to school closures.

We know a lot of you are also trying to find a new normal, including keeping your kids busy at home. So today, we’re launching a resource hub for parents to help support learning at home, with loads of stay-at-home educational activities for every age, tips from teachers on effective remote learning, and kid-friendly content that connects science with their daily lives. To start with, we’re bringing you an explanation of the science of handwashing, to help kids understand why it’s so important. We’re going to be adding new content and resources to the hub regularly. We’ll also be switching up our newsletter to bring you helpful resources more frequently, and you can follow us on Instagram for daily updates.

Please take care of yourself, and reach out if we can help. We’re here to support you and your family during this time. We’re in this together.

Founder & Mom of 3

10 Engaging Activities to Bring the Family Together

We’re spending a little more time at home this holiday season than in years past, so we are all in need of fun activities that the whole family can enjoy. When you’re ready to give the screen a break, rally your tiny troops and try out a few of these games, DIYs, and projects!

Play & Pretend Together

Monster Mash Up

This creative and collaborative activity is endlessly entertaining and a huge hit with both kids and grownups. (Honestly, I often play this without kids present.) Challenge your family to think out of the box and see what kinds of creatures you can create together!

Pretend Campfire (with S’mores!)

Bring your favorite summer activities indoors with pretend play! You can take this activity to the next level by building a family fort to pair with your campfire. And if you’re craving the real thing, make some s’mores in the microwave.

Simple Scavenger Hunt

Who says scavenger hunts need to be complicated? This activity can be done with items you already have lying around the house. To connect with family far away, Zoom them in and play together!

Build & Experiment Together 

Craft Stick Chain Reaction

Chain reactions are amazing displays of energy. When everything is set up right, one little tap can cause a cascade of action, like a single domino knocking over a chain of thousands. Try this experiment with your family and see how long you can make the craft stick chain!

Cranberry Catapult

We love catapults around here at KiwiCo. Launching things is endless entertainment! Cranberries make for the perfect ammunition, but challenge your kids to try out different items and see who can launch them the farthest!

Egg Drop Project

This classic eggsperiment is sure to bring some eggcitement to your house! Challenge your kids to come up with a way to protect the egg! You can also make this activity into a competition and have each family member create their own egg drop contraption.

Baking Soda-Powered Boats

This project is a KiwiCo community favorite. You can build a few boats with different kinds of containers and race them in your tub!

Share & Make Together

Tree of Gratitude

The holidays are a great time to practice gratitude. Share moments of goodness with your family and hang them on your gratitude tree! For more gratitude activities, read our blog post here (link).

Homemade Dough Gift Tags

Send your gifts off with a tender touch. Have each family member make their own unique gift tag for someone special in their life.

Terra Cotta Winter Village

Create your own winter wonderland! Challenge each family member to decorate a house and then combine them into a cute village. 

5 Ways to Practice Gratitude with Your Kids

This time of year, we’re frequently reminded to give thanks for the good things in our lives. But when decorations come down and school starts back up, the prompts to practice gratitude fade away. So how can parents encourage kids to recognize goodness year-round? To find out, we collected tips from gratitude guru and fellow parent Maryam Abdullah. 

Maryam Abdullah, Ph.D. is the Parenting Program Director of the Greater Good Science Center. She is a developmental psychologist with expertise in parent-child relationships and children’s development of prosocial behaviors.

1. Discover what gratitude means to you

Gratitude can be a difficult concept for adults to grasp — let alone little ones. Maryam says gratitude is really about recognizing goodness outside of ourselves. Goodness can be big things, like happiness, love, family, and health. It can also be small things, like hugs, green lights, and ice cream. It’s up to you to decide the goodness you want to recognize. Once you understand how gratitude aligns with your own values, you can start talking about it with your kids.

2. Share how goodness makes you feel

Practicing gratitude doesn’t always have to be a formal act of recognition. It can be as simple or easy as thanking your child for a hug or kiss. Maryam says since children aren’t necessarily able to verbalize things, parents should show their kids how to practice gratitude by doing it themselves.

“Parents can start demonstrating gratitude with babies before they speak their first word. And then once they become verbal, I think it’s important to practice saying thanks to one another as a family. And not just saying thanks but actually describing how you feel.”

Talking about how goodness makes us feel can help us better understand and manage our emotions. Here’s an example of how parents can share their gratitude after a moment of goodness.

Goodness: Your neighbor came by and dropped off some tomatoes. 
Recognition: I feel so thankful that she’s our neighbor and that she’s someone who shares with us. I feel so happy to be able to receive these gifts from her.

3. Ask your kids about their gratitude

Kids aren’t always great at describing their feelings. Maryam recommends sparking conversations based on four parts that make up the gratitude experience which are outlined by Andrea Hussong, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, and GGSC parent initiative advisor.

What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful.
How we THINK about why we have been given those things.
How we FEEL about the things we have been given.
What we DO to express appreciation in turn.

Asking Notice-Think-Feel-Do questions is a simple way to scaffold your child’s understanding or perception of something that’s good in their life.

NOTICE: I noticed that grandma brought you this new book.
THINK: What do you think about that?
FEEL: How does that make you feel?
DO: Is there something you want to do, to show them how you feel about receiving this new book?

The Greater Good Science Center has more helpful information about Notice-Think-Feel-Do questions here (link)!

4. Encourage your kids to document their gratitude

Along with prompting conversations, Maryam tells us parents can encourage their children to practice gratitude on their own through activities or rituals. Here are some easy ideas she shared with us:

Gratitude Journal: Recognizing goodness in writing can be a ritual in the morning when they wake up or in the evening as a reflection about how the day went.

Photo Essays: If writing isn’t the right activity for your child, they could take pictures of things that they’re grateful for and build up a library of photos of the good things and gifts in their lives.

5. Practice turning gratitude into a habit

Each time you demonstrate and talk about gratitude with your kids, you’re helping them build valuable skills for their emotional toolbox. Maryam suggests trying to work gratitude into your family’s daily rituals with activities.

“At the dinner table, have each family member talk about three good things they experienced that day. This can spark conversation between parents and children in ways that may be just really sweet and tender. It also could be a way for parents to get a glimpse of what’s meaningful to their child.”

Creating good habits is easier said than done. So be kind to yourself through the process!

“Sometimes, as parents we may feel like our kids haven’t figured out all of those steps and that’s okay. I think that’s something we as parents need help remembering too. This is something that they’re still learning, and the more they practice, the more that skill will get stronger.”

For more fun activities, check out this KiwiCo post:
10 Awesome Gratitude Projects for the Whole Family

We want to give a special thank you to Maryam Abdullah and the Greater Good Science Center! If you want to learn more about gratitude and other ways to increase your well-being, check out the Greater Good Magazine.

GGSC recently released a new book called “The Gratitude Project” that delves deep into the neuroscience and psychology of gratitude and explores how thankfulness can be developed and applied. You can purchase the book directly from the publisher or on Amazon.

What Are Montessori Toys?

Child using a pretend stethoscope from a Montessori play kit.

Montessori is an educational approach that was developed over a century ago by an Italian physician named Dr. Maria Montessori. Through scientific study, she developed a method of education designed to teach the “whole child” by supporting cognitive, physical, linguistic, social, and emotional development. 

The Montessori approach is based on the idea that children have an innate desire to learn. It’s why babies try to grasp at things without being told to and why your toddler demands to inspect every single ant hill they find. In a Montessori education, a child learns as much from their environment as they do from the adult they interact with.

Continue reading “What Are Montessori Toys?”

3 Tips for On-Time Delivery This Holiday Season

This year has been filled with unexpected changes and challenges. At KiwiCo, we’ve made it a priority to provide families with resources to help make life a little easier. So, as we enter the holiday season, we want to make sure that you get your KiwiCo gifts delivered on time. This year, experts say holiday shipping and deliveries will likely experience an overwhelming surge in demand, resulting in major delays. Skip the shipping stress with these tips!

Order Today

The safest way to ensure your gifts come on time is to order right away! If you order a subscription early, you can opt to time the first delivery with the holidays! For international customers, start the subscription in November to ensure it will arrive in time for the holidays due to shipping delays.

You can also choose to ship the first crate to a different address if you plan to gift it in person. 

Review KiwiCo’s Shipping Information

Subscription crates ship for free anywhere in the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, and Military (APO, FPO, DPO) addresses. Monthly subscription crates can also be shipped to numerous international countries. Currently, Store orders can only be shipped to Canada and the U.S.

Double Check Your Order Information

For domestic subscriptions, if you made a mistake on a shipping address for an order that you just placed, you can update the address right away from your My Account page. Once the first crate is processed (usually around 12:00am PST), address changes made after that point will apply to future shipments. Shipping addresses for Store orders (like single crates) and international subscriptions, cannot be changed. Please reach out to Customer Care if you have a concern about a shipping address that cannot be updated in time.

5 Ways to Use Holiday Cooking to Teach Kids STEM

The holidays are here which means many of us will be spending more time in the kitchen. Cooking and baking offer awesome opportunities for hands-on learning, so recruit your kids to help out! STEM is all about observing and exploring wonder happening around us. So we’re challenging you to turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab and whip up wonder while your kids explore science with each homemade holiday recipe.

Check out our Science of Cooking: Bread & Butter crate with all the tools and step-by-step instructions you need for hands-on activities in your kitchen!

1. Experiment with States of Matter

While teaching your young child about the states of matter may seem complicated, cooking can make it simple and hands-on.

  • Start by explaining that matter is anything that takes up space or anything you can touch. All things are made of matter! For the most part, there are three types (aka states): solid, liquid, or gas. 
  • Use water as an example of matter that can be in all three states. 
  • Grab an ice cube and explain that when water freezes it becomes solid. Matter in a solid state holds its shape. 
  • Ask your child to drop the ice cube onto a heated saucepan (help as needed). As it melts, explain that when water melts it becomes a liquid. Matter in a liquid state takes the shape of a container its in (e.g. the saucepan)
  • Put a lid on the saucepan and watch until the water starts to evaporate. Explain that when water is heated it becomes a gas. A gas spreads out to fill any container it’s placed in (e.g. the space between the saucepan and the lid). 
  • When you’re ready to start cooking or baking, ask your child to identify the state of matter for each ingredient you’re using.

2. Have Fun with Fractions

Fractions are much more fun when you’re using them to make something delicious! They’re also easier to understand when you can see them.  

  • Start by explaining that a fraction is something that shows parts of a whole. Use a pizza as an example of something that is whole and that the pieces are its parts. 
  • Collect the measuring cups in your kitchen. Show your child 1 cup and explain that it represents a whole and the smaller measuring cups are parts of it. Each measuring cup represents a different fraction. For young children, hold up a smaller measuring cup and ask how many of them you need to fill 1 cup. 
  • Whenever your recipe calls for a measurement, have your child measure out the ingredients, and depending on their age, challenge them to problem-solve with addition and subtraction (e.g. How much more of the ingredient would you need to get to 1 cup? How much of the ingredient would you need to take away to get to ¼ of a cup?).

3. Create Chemical Reactions

There’s a lot of chemistry involved in cooking. In fact, chemical reactions help make food taste good! This topic is great to explore after discussing the different states of matter. 

  • Start by explaining that the world is made up of different kinds of substances that are made of matter. Matter is anything that takes up space or anything you can touch. Grab two of your ingredients and use them as examples of matter. 
  • Then, explain that chemistry is a type of science that studies matter or what everything is made of and how it works. Chemists study the changes that take place when substances are combined. 
  • Explain that chemists and chefs are a lot alike. When you cook, you have to combine a bunch of ingredients (aka substances) and sometimes two ingredients or more are combined to make something new. When this happens, a chemical reaction occurs. 
  • As you cook or bake, ask your child to observe the changes taking place when different substances are combined. If they notice bubbles forming or colors changing (e.g. browning or burning bread), it’s likely a chemical reaction is taking place. 
  • Parent pro tip: Next time you burn dinner, blame it on chemistry!

4. Tinker with Tools

Introduce technology and engineering by letting your kids play with tools and food! 

  • Start by explaining the uses for different tools you’ll need to cook. 
  • Challenge your child to find substitutes for the tools you need using leading questions (e.g. If we didn’t have a whisk, what could we use instead?) 
  • Got leftovers? Break out some toothpicks and challenge your child to build a food tower! 

5. Make Scientific Predictions

Put your little one’s noggin to the test by asking questions about the outcome of your meal to be! 

  • Start by explaining that a prediction is a guess of what will happen in the future. 
  • For younger kids, spark curiosity with thoughts that begin with “I wonder” (e.g. I wonder what will happen if we set the oven at a hotter temperature than the recipe says.). 
  • For older kids, explain that scientific predictions are often “if/then” statements (e.g. If we add more sugar than the recipe calls for then the cake will be really sweet.). Then, ask your child to come up with scientific predictions about the meal you’re making!

How to Help Your Child Cope with Anxiety

This year has brought a stressful stream of uncertainty to households across the world. As parents, we’ve had to rearrange our lives in order to adjust to the times. The pressure of constant problem solving is heavy, but we aren’t the only ones feeling the weight. KiwiCo talked to our go-to child development expert, pediatrician Dr. Dimitri Christakis (aka Dr. D), to learn how outside influences affect our children and what we can do to help them manage anxiety.

Learn more about Dr. D’s child development expertise and research here (link).

From the pandemic to protests, and politics, are children being emotionally impacted by all the stressors of 2020? 

We’re seeing an increase in anxiety and depression in older children and a fair amount of fear and concern in younger children. I would go so far to say that infants (nine months and younger) are also being impacted indirectly by the stresses of the past year. Children of all ages have been impacted directly whether it’s not going to school, not being able to be with friends, or not seeing family. And they’ve also been impacted indirectly — which is equally profound — whether it’s parental loss of work, financial pressures, or even parents working at home and everyone being in close proximity.

How does parental stress affect children? 

Children are going to look to you for your reaction to what’s going on, and they can sense your stress. Even infants can sense parental stress. There’s the old adage on the plane that parents need to put on their own oxygen mask before putting on their children’s, and that’s the case when it comes to stress. In your interest in supporting your child, don’t neglect yourself. Parents need to practice self-care first in order to be able to help their children deal with their own stress. So giving yourself and your children grace is essential to seeing your way through all of this.

Should parents try to keep kids away from the news?

It really depends on your child’s age, developmental stage, and interests. If you have a teenager, they have ready access to the news on their own. It’s hard for you to keep them away from it. In that situation, you should check in with them and have conversations about what they’re thinking, what they’re learning, what they’re worried about, etc. I generally don’t advise parents to let their young children see the news because the things they may see could make them feel like the world is a very, very scary place. However, I think it’s still important to talk to them about what’s happening in a way they can understand. Some children use information as a way of comforting themselves. It can be anxiety relieving. In those cases, it’s kind of a glass half full, glass half empty situation.

Learn more about a variety of kid-friendly news outlets here (link).

What are some signs children are feeling anxious or stressed?

There are a lot of warning signs to look for: sleep disturbances, irritability, lack of appetite. Infants also show similar signs of stress. If you do have concerns about your child’s anxiety or if they are exhibiting debilitating symptoms from it, you should absolutely seek professional help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician. Get a referral to see a counselor or child psychologist to get them the support they need. Don’t let these things continue to fester because the thing about anxiety is it builds on itself, and your child may need skills to help them cope with it.

What can parents do if they suspect their child is experiencing anxiety? 

Recognize their symptoms and validate their feelings. Those are two key things that you can do as a parent to help your child with anxiety. It’s really important that you have conversations with them about what’s going on, and that you do it on a regular basis. What they’re feeling today is likely different than what they were feeling six months ago, both because they’re older and because they’ve learned new things. But the challenge is you don’t want to check in so much that you induce additional anxiety. For infants experiencing signs of anxiety, nothing is more reassuring for them than being held and loved.

What tools that parents can use to help their kids manage anxiety?

Emotion coaching is a great tool to start with. The goal is to teach children to understand their emotions by labeling them. This helps children contextualize how they’re feeling during times of stress, and it also helps parents talk to them about it. Having frequent conversations with your kids encourages an understanding that feelings are a part of living and that they come and go. It’s really important to not minimize your child’s feelings and that you instead use emotion coaching to name, acknowledge, and reassure them.

Learn more about emotion coaching and the steps to take with your child here (link).

Additional Parenting Resources for Anxiety 

Your Guide to 2020 Holiday Shopping

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. But when it comes to holiday shopping, the unexpected isn’t always a good thing. So to help make your holiday prep easy and reliable this year, we pulled together some insider KiwiCo tips to take the stress out of shopping. With a variety of product and shipping options, you’ll be able to count on KiwiCo to meet all your expectations. Since this year has been uniquely complicated, be sure to order early and pay extra attention to shipping cutoffs!

KiwiCo Subscriptions: The Gift That Keeps on Giving 

With a KiwiCo subscription, you’ll get a new project delivered to your door every month or the cadence you choose! With eight subscription lines catered to a variety of interests and age groups, you’ll find the perfect gift for everyone on your holiday list.

Gift Messaging: Be sure to check the “is this a gift?” box during checkout so that you can enter a gift message.

Custom Subscription Start Date: Pick a subscription start month that works just for your gift giving needs. Order early and at check-out, opt to time the first delivery with the holidays.

Ship the First Crate to a Different Address: Choose to have the first crate of the subscription shipped to a different address — perfect for in-person gifting or if the gift recipient won’t be home during the holidays.

Pause or Cancel: You can pause or cancel your subscription at any time!

Deluxe Subscription: Upgrade Your Gifting Game 

Deluxe Subscriptions from KiwiCo include a book that’s been hand-picked by our editors to complement each month’s crate theme. This upgrade is available for all of our crate lines except Eureka Crate and Maker Crate.

KiwiCo Store: One-Stop Shopping 

If you’re looking for more hands-on, engaging gifts for future innovators of all ages, head over to the KiwiCo Store. You can search for one-off (no subscription needed!) gifts by age or category like pretend play or electronics! And to make things even easier, we built a crate matcher-upper that helps you find the perfect gift by pairing your child’s age with topics they’re interested in.

New Arrivals: Our product designers have been working hard creating awesome new products just in time for the holidays. Check out new Montessori-based products like the Pop-up Felt Play Mat or hands-on projects like Science of Cooking: Bread & Butter.

Best Sellers: The KiwiCo community lets us know which products they best! Stock up on customer favorites like Planet Bath Bombs and Spin Art Machine.

KiwiCo Packs: The Store also allows you to sample crates from different lines before you subscribe or supplement your subscription with even more fun! We keep track of the crates each child receives buy so they’ll never get a duplicate project. As a bonus, you can take advantage of great savings by purchasing bundled crates like Koala Crate Classics (5-Pack) or Tinker Crate Engineering (3-Pack).

2020 Holiday Shipping Timelines

Online shopping has increased exponentially with more people spending time at home. And since many stores are limiting customers this year, experts say holiday shipping and deliveries could experience an overwhelming surge in demand. To skip the shipping stress all together, make your purchases as early as possible (and remember you can always buy a subscription now with a delayed start date)!

Last Day to Order in Time for December 24th 

International: Tuesday, December 1st 
Puerto Rico: Thursday, December 5th
Domestic (including Hawaii & Alaska): Thursday, December 17th 

*Shipping cutoffs may change due to unforeseen circumstances so shop early!

If you have any holiday shopping questions, head over to our help center! (link)

Why Does it Get Dark Earlier in the Fall and Winter?

This is a common question us parents get asked when November rolls around. So, this year, we decided to dive into the Daylight Saving Time details to impress our kids with all the answers.

Daylight Saving Time is confusing no matter how old you are. (Even the name itself is confusing. No matter how much we want to add an ‘s’ to the end of saving, it is in fact, singular.) The concept of saving time doesn’t really make sense since the process doesn’t save time rather it shifts time. In many places in the world, Daylight Saving Time is called Summertime which is a more sensible alternative. So, with all the confusion that comes with tinkering with time, we set out to find the answers to all the kid questions to come.

Kid Question: So why does it get dark earlier in the fall and winter?

Answer for Ages 3-5: In the fall and winter, an hour of the day is moved to the night. In the spring and summer, an hour of the day is moved to the day.

Answer for Ages 6+: Daylight Saving Time starts with the Spring Forward. Typically on the second Sunday in March, people turn their clock forward one hour at 2 a.m. The skipped hour doesn’t just disappear though. It’s moved to the daytime which is why it stays lighter for longer during the spring and summer. Daylight Saving Time ends with the Fall Back. On the first Sunday in November, people turn their clocks back by one hour at 2 a.m. The extra hour of daylight is returned to nighttime which is why it gets darker earlier in the evening in fall and winter.

Kid Question: Okay… but why?

Answer for Ages 3-5: A really long time ago, a bug scientist had an idea to take two hours from nighttime and add them to daytime so there would be more sunshine after work to go bug hunting. Later on, other people thought of the same idea. But instead of moving time to look for bugs, they wanted more hours of daylight so people wouldn’t have to turn their lights on until after dinner.

Answer for Ages 6+: Over 100 years ago, a bug scientist (aka entomologist) came up with the idea to move the clock two hours forward so that there would be more hours during the daytime rather than nighttime. The same idea was later adopted by entire countries during World War I. By moving the clocks forward and making it lighter out for longer in the day, people didn’t need to use the lights in their houses as much. This meant that people used less electricity and countries could save energy. And saving energy means saving money!

Kid Question: Does Daylight Saving Time happen everywhere?

Answer for Ages 3-5: Less than half of the countries in the world do Daylight Saving Time. In the United States, all but two states (Hawaii and most of Arizona) do change their clocks. In Arizona, it gets really hot, so people don’t want more sunshine during the day. A lot of toasty countries in the middle of the planet also don’t do Daylight Saving Time because it gets light and dark at the same time every day of the year.

Answer for Ages 6+: About 70 out of the 159 countries around the world follow Daylight Saving Time – that’s less than half! Many countries don’t follow Daylight Saving Time because the Earth spins on an axis or kind of tilted to one side. A lot of countries near the equator, or the middle of the planet, don’t change their clocks because the same amount of sunlight shines on them year-round. Countries located further from the equator, or the top and bottom of the planet, follow Daylight Saving Time because the amount of sun that shines on them changes throughout the year. In countries that don’t follow Daylight Saving Time, it typically gets light and dark at the same time every day of the year.

Extra Learning: For a bonus discussion, explain that groups of people in some states and countries want to get rid of Daylight Saving Time. They think it will be easier and less confusing if the sun rises and sets at the same time every day of the year. This would mean that it wouldn’t get so dark in the fall and winter, but it wouldn’t stay light out for a long in the spring and summer. Ask your kids what they think about Daylight Saving Time. Do they think we should keep it or eliminate it?!

5 Science Experiments & Pumpkin Projects for Halloween

From bubbly cauldrons to creepy crawlers, science is all around us during the Halloween season. At KiwiCo, we love turning fun crafts into engaging experiments. Try out these activities with your kids and help them see that science happens every day!

Leaky Pumpkin

Get one last use out of all your jack o’ lanterns before you throw them away! This leaky pumpkin foams up all over the place because of a special organism called yeast. You can teach your little chemists how to turn yeast into oozy foam with this simple experiment.

Learn more: Leaky Pumpkin

Spider Launcher

The product designers at KiwiCo love launchers because they’re a super fun way to play with physics! With this project, your kids can turn a few rubber bands into a stretchy web that launches spiders across the room. While they make their launchers, you can talk to your kids about potential and kinetic energy!

Learn more: Spider Launcher

Creepy Crystals

In nature, crystals form in caves and caverns, but you can create your own Halloween-themed crystals at home! Mix up a special solution with your kids and watch science unfold before your eyes.

Learn more: Creepy Crystals

Count Popula

Turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab and have your mad scientists create their own bubbling brew that blows up a balloon! As Count Dracula rises from the dead, you can explain the science happening in his head.

Learn more: Count Popula

Q-Tip Skeleton

This is a simple project that can consume hours! You can turn it into an anatomical learning lesson by looking at different kinds of skeletons beforehand. Challenge your child to create a unique skeleton by combining different types of bones!

Learn more: Q-Tip Skeleton

Like many events in 2020, Halloween is shaping up to look different than years past. But no matter the fate of trick-or-treating in your neighborhood, you can still make for a very happy Halloween at home! For more awesome activities and DIY decorations, check out our blog post here:
Make Halloween at Home Fun with DIY Crafts & Experiments

Ask Dr. D: How Can Parents Help Kids Safely Socialize?

Socialization: Some of us miss it, some of us don’t, but regardless of how we feel, our kids need it. When the pandemic put playdates on hold, many parents thought it would be temporary. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for many families. 

“Well, it’s been five, six months and it’s going to be, I hate to say it, at least another six months, a year, a year and a half. That’s too much time for our children to not be around other children in a real and physical way,” Dr. Dimitri Christakis tells us. 

According to KiwiCo’s child development expert and pediatrician Dr. D (Dimitri Christakis), playdates during the pandemic are a must. But there are a lot of questions that come into play with safe socialization. So our Director of Brand (and mom of a toddler), Clara, turned to Dr. D for answers. If you don’t know Dr. D, you can learn more about him here before diving in.

Many parents in the KiwiCo community want to know if their children are missing out on key socialization opportunities because of the school and daycare closures. Is this the case?

School is incredibly important for cognitive development. But it’s incredibly important to social-emotional learning – across the entire age spectrum. We’re very social creatures. We need to be around other humans. Our older children clearly can get some connection with their friends over social media and Zoom. But I want to emphasize, it’s even more important for young children who cannot get the same, cannot get any of that mediated through a screen. They still need to see their friends and we need to find ways for them to do that safely.

So how can parents go about planning playdates during the pandemic?

The first thing you want to do is limit the number of friends that they’re around. Ideally, these are kids who you know, whose parents you know and trust to be as responsible as you are. They’re also being careful about who their kids are exposed to. They’re wearing masks when they go out. They’re washing their hands when they come home – all of those things.

Then find ways for your kids to get together with them. If they can be socially distanced, that’s obviously ideal. If they can wear masks, that’s ideal. If they can be outside, that’s ideal. Take full advantage of the opportunities that the weather allows you to get your kids together outside. As the weather changes and they have to come inside, again, it’s best to practice those mitigation strategies. 

I have a two-year-old. I would love to ask, what about socialization for babies and toddlers?

For very young babies, thankfully, during this time, really all they need is parental love. You’re the most important thing in their lives. Up until the age of six months, they’re delighted to just be around you. I think starting from six months and up, they do start to benefit from being around other children. Play is really children’s work. It’s how they develop their minds. It’s how they develop their social skills. It’s how they learn to share. It’s how they learn to negotiate. It’s how they learn empathy. All of those things are incredibly important.

If you have a six-month-old, you’ve already noticed that they’re fascinated by other babies. They already recognize them as something that’s like them. They want to interact with them. They want to be near them. You have to allow them that opportunity. It’s important to find ways for your children to do that safely. Make a point of them washing their hands as frequently as possible. Point out social distancing when you do it. 

For a two-year-old, they can wear a mask maybe if they’re able to. If they’re not able to, that’s okay. I think we should be socializing our children to wear masks. One of the most important things you can do to get your child ready for school is to practice the things at home that you want them to do at school or other social situations. So make a point of them wearing masks every time they go out. Let them choose a mask that they like that has special value for them, so it’s a prized possession and they’re happier to wear it.

Will masks impact children’s ability to develop social skills like the interpretation of emotional cues?

The truth is a lot we don’t know about this pandemic. That’s one of them. We don’t have much data on children wearing masks or being around people that wear masks all the time, but I do think it’s really beneficial, at least from a theoretical perspective, for children to see faces and have an opportunity to read emotions. That’s where social distancing becomes important. That’s where people that are in your pod become even more important since they’re around them without masks on. 

How can parents help their babies and children read the emotions behind face masks?

It’s really an interesting test because the entire face is very expressive and there are a lot of cultures as people know that cover everything but the eyes. In Islamic countries, for example, some women cover everything but their eyes. The eyes actually convey a fair amount of emotion. In most western countries, we tend to look at the entire face. In fact, we rely much more on the mouth than we do on the eyes. All of it is very expressive. It’s not enough they see this on screens. They do need to see it in three dimensions and with real people. I think you should make sure they have such opportunities and that they will. 

One parent told us that their child freezes when someone unknown is near. How can we help kids who are developing a fear of strangers or people getting too close?

It’s a really good question. Many children are having increased anxiety in particular around strangers. I think like any anxiety, it’s important that you recognize it, that you validate it, that you understand it, and that you help your child get through it. The best way to get through it, like with any phobia, is exposure.

How do you do that? Well, you can’t expose your child to strangers that they don’t know and you don’t know. But there are also people that you know and they don’t. In that scenario, you can make a point of introducing them in a way that you feel is safe. Over time, they can slowly get over the anxiety of meeting strangers.

All of this will pass. I don’t want people to be so panicked to think that their child is going to be irrevocably harmed by the situation we’re finding ourselves in. We’ll get through this together. Our children will be fine. I do think though, that we should do everything we can to help them – to nurture them, to support them, and to support ourselves. I think it’s incredibly important that we have grace with each other, grace with our children, and grace with ourselves. Forgive yourself. It’s a very, very difficult time to be a parent.

To help parents with kids of all ages get the answers they need, we asked Dr. D to talk about all things COVID-19. From stress to education and future implications, he shared detailed evidence-based research and advice in response to questions from parents in our KiwiCo Community. Now, we’re sharing everything Dr. D had to say with you! Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get all his advice in your inbox. If you have questions you want answered, follow us on Instagram @kiwico_inc and send them our way!