Online Playdates, Game Nights, and Other Ways to Socialize at a Distance
    Fire up FaceTime and get the fun started with ideas from show-and-tell to charades.
    By Sierra Filucci
    Online Playdates, Game Nights, and Other Ways to Socialize at a Distance

    With cabin fever right around the corner in many homes, we all need some fresh faces to interact with. Time to power up the Zoom meeting and get kids -- and us -- chatting, playing, and learning. Whether you're trying to keep your preschooler busy while you take a work call, give your tween someone else to discuss Minecraft with, or host a neighborly game night, these ideas -- crowdsourced from just about every parent we know -- will come in handy.

    Little kids/Big kids

    Video-chat activities

    Board games (Battleship, Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, Sorry)
    Works best with two to four players who all have the same physical game at their home. For most games, each player will need to move the other players' pieces simultaneously.

    Either use the traditional rules, or just act goofy and ask friends to guess what you're doing.

    Legos/Beyblades/other toys
    Any toy that occupies your kid for a while can be played with alongside a friend or family member on the screen.

    Marshmallow/toothpick structures
    Look for building challenges using household materials online. If you don't have marshmallows, try pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, construction paper, or cotton swabs. A few kids can print out the same challenge and then work on it simultaneously. They can cheer each other on, offer tips, or even race to see who finishes first.

    Parallel play
    Little kids may just enjoy playing side by side with an occasional glance to see that a friend is still there. You and the other parent can set up webcams for your kids and see how it goes.

    Playdough or clay
    Take out all the clay and any cutting or shaping tools and get started. Works well as parallel play or with specific goals ("Let's all make animals," or "Let's each make something and then guess what the other friends made").

    A couple friends or a grandparent and a kid can chill out with their own puzzles, chatting at the same time.

    Scavenger hunts
    For younger kids, parents can guide the hunt by choosing something to find. For example, "Find something blue!" Or, "Find five of the same object!" Or, "Find three things that start with the letter B!" Older kids might want to jointly come up with a list of items and then race to find them first.

    This can work with a small group of kids so long as an adult can facilitate. Each kid takes a turn showing something from their home and talking about why it's special. For an ongoing activity, the group can choose themes (something given as a gift, something that makes you laugh, etc.) to focus on each day.

    Story time
    Parents, teachers, or reading-age kids can read aloud to a group. Picture books work well for younger kids, but older kids can choose to read chapter books -- try one chapter a day.


    Video-chat activities

    Board games (Balderdash, Pictionary, Sorry, Trivial Pursuit)
    Works best with two to four players. Older kids can play more sophisticated games, and not all require every kid to have their own gameboard.

    DIY crafts
    Whatever your kid's into -- knitting, decoupage, Legos -- they probably have a friend with a similar interest. They can do it together, or one can teach the other.

    Group chat tools
    Video-chatting with a group is extra fun when everyone's at home sheltering in place. The apps below have fun elements that Zoom just can't compete with. But these tools also invite some risk around contact with strangers or inappropriate content, so read the reviews before letting your kid download.

    Make movies
    For kids interested in filmmaking or just into YouTube, teaming up on a short film can be fun and kill some time. Take turns writing a script in a Google Doc, and then decide who will get which shots. Whomever has editing skills can pull it all together. Then schedule a screening via Zoom.

    Make-up tutorials
    Kids who watch YouTube will be familiar with the tutorial genre. This time, try it with one person teaching and one following the instructions. Could make for some hilarious mistakes.

    Play Heads Up!
    Like charades, but even more fun, this free app can be downloaded by both parties. Then players hold their phone up to their forehead, and the others give clues to help them guess from categories like "Pop Culture" or "Animals."

    Play instruments together
    Musicians can practice together, take turns teaching each other songs, or just jam. Very ambitious folks can create music collages.

    Social games and apps
    These console and online games include social elements that can be fun for kids to play together or with family members, either in the same home or not. Some include text or voice chat. Dig into the reviews to figure out what makes sense for your family.

    Teach/learn TikTok dances
    Teens love learning complicated dance routines on the social app TikTok. But now they can teach each other on video chat.

    Watch Netflix together
    The plug-in Netflix Party allows folks to stream together while chatting.

    Write plays
    For those who want to skip the shooting and editing involved in filmmaking, a playwriting session can be a great creative outlet. One person can write the script on paper while video-chatting with friends about ideas, or multiple people can collaborate on a shared document.