Are they not entertained? 17 great ideas to break your kids’ pandemic boredom

A young child stands in front of a water tank holding sea creatures
A child looks at moon jellies in a tank at the Roundhouse Aquarium on the Manhattan Beach Pier on Aug. 18, 2019, in Manhattan Beach.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
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As the Omicron variant continues its surge, some schools are sending students home for weeks at a time — and some parents are reluctant to send their students back. So what exactly can you do to keep your children engaged once the day’s last Zoom class is done?

Surging coronavirus cases among students and staff due to the Omicron variant have put schools under intense strain, exhausting teachers and increasing student anxiety.

Jan. 15, 2022

Virtual school doesn’t let out earlier each day, though it can feel that way, and there’s only so much time TikTok can fill.

The situation is serious. And parents want to allay the fears and anxiety their child may have about the pandemic, providing them some positive redirection and distraction. So here’s some help, in the form of 17 great ideas to keep your children entertained right now and in the weeks to come. — Dawn Burkes


LISTEN: Less air travel means more and longer drives — which, with restless kids in the car, can feel like a movable lockdown. Leave the iPads at home and take in the golden age of kids’ podcasts. Start with two American Public Media shows hosted by Molly Bloom: “Brains On” features scientific deep dives into such kid-submitted conundrums as why some belly buttons are outies and what makes poop smell. “Smash Boom Best” has two guests apply the rules of debate (declaration of greatness, rebuttal, micro-rounds like a “sonnet slam”) to settle eternal arguments: Sugar or salt? Penguins or pandas? Mt. Everest or the Grand Canyon? With notable guests and facts you truly didn’t know, everyone in the car gets a treat. — Boris Kachka

PLAY: Meaningful, calm and yet plenty of action to maintain one’s interest, the independent video game “Wild At Heart” has generated comparisons, with good reason, to Nintendo’s “Pikmin” franchise. Players round up a group of helper characters, in this case forest sprites, and call on them to clear paths, carry items or sometimes battle an evil creature until it helpfully disappears. But this “Where the Wild Things Are”-influenced game — available now for most home game consoles — is really a story about childhood friends learning, through the help of sorcerer-like vagabonds, that our past mistakes don’t have to define the future with those we’ve hurt and those we love if we’re open to learning. — Todd Martens

A singer wearing a bodysuit with sensors on it sings into a microphone in front of a monitor
Kyara Tetreault in “Alter Ego” on Fox.
(Greg Gayne / Fox)

WATCH: Competition reality show “Alter Ego” has completely embraced the digital, with an aim of minting a virtual pop star. Viewers are taken behind the scenes as secreted-away singers, mostly shy types, build an avatar with the help of engineers. Then that avatar — sometimes with moving tattoos and hair, or purple skin — takes the stage to perform, using motion capture so that the singer’s every gesture and emotion is imparted to the stand-in. Judges, Grimes, Alanis Morissette and Nick Lachey seem just as amazed as any little ones might be watching the Fox show, which also streams on Hulu. It’s a good lesson that the watching kids can be anything they want to be — even green and scaly with eyes that shoot beams. — Dawn Burkes

SEE: With the pandemic putting a damper on travel plans, plane-watching might be a decent option to live vicariously. Clutter’s Park in El Segundo offers close-up views of airplanes taking off and landing at LAX and since it’s basically a widened sidewalk with telescopes, it’s pretty easy to walk up to or park and watch from. Want to get even closer to the planes? The nearby Proud Bird Food Bazaar & Events Center, a former aerospace watering hole, offers plenty of adult- and kid-friendly BBQ and eateries to enjoy while you sit among the airplanes below the friendly skies. — Nardine Saad

DO: Sign up for an app called “Epic,” which offers hundreds of audiobooks for kids of all ages. It’s a great way to keep them off screens but also occupied. And it opens up all kinds of possibilities when it comes to discovering the joy of reading. — Jessica Gelt


PLAY: If screen time is unavoidable in your household — because let’s face it, some of us are tired with a capital T — try to make it a family activity. Download the same apps as your kids (even TikTok if you must) and talk about them. Even better, play the same mobile games and compare notes. You’d be surprised how addictive games like Mario Kart Tour, Pocket Ponies and Fluvsies can be for grown-ups too. — Nardine Saad

READ: The eight delightful books that make up Beverly Cleary’s complete Ramona collection are well worth a family investment. Cleary has an incredible way of occupying the mind of a child and bringing the challenges and triumphs of being small to vivid life. My 5-year-old will curl up in my lap and listen to me read these books for up to an hour. — Jessica Gelt

GO: The Manhattan Beach Pier’s Roundhouse Aquarium is a hidden gem of the South Bay. The aquarium is perched at the end of the iconic pier and boasts a two-story teaching center with lots of marine life and resources, including immersive marine life galleries. It’s open seven days a week until 5 p.m. Reservations are no longer required, but masks are. It’s also a short walk up to the tchotchke-filled Manhattan Beach Creamery that boasts its famous cream’wiches and handmade ice cream. — Nardine Saad

PLAY: Board games are back in a big way, especially for younger kids who haven’t learned the valuable real-life lessons Monopoly and the Game of Life can teach. A weekly (or daily, if you’re ambitious) game night is a great way to get everyone off their phones and engaged in family-friendly competition. Retro games like Hungry Hungry Hippos, Uno, Candyland, Zingo or Sorry! are readily available online and at retailers. Ditto for Lego kits and puzzles. Change things up with new family rules to keep them interesting. And if your littles are too young to understand the rules, let them use their toys as game pieces or pull out Candyland and Chutes and Ladders. — Nardine Saad

GO: The California Institute of Technology campus at 1200 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, makes for an inspiring outing, allowing us to walk in the footsteps of its 45 Nobel laureates while encouraging the kids in their STEM studies. With stunning views of the San Gabriel mountains at this time of the year, a self-guided tour around Caltech’s 124 acres provides fresh air, interesting architecture, a sundial, a cannon and billion-year-old rocks (yes, billion). And don’t forget to visit the red-eared sliders at Throop Memorial Garden (Caltech was founded as Throop University in 1891). Plentiful eateries and coffee joints are located along nearby Lake Avenue, which has street parking. — Kevin Crust

YouTube says the new theater will give more opportunities for its creators to showcase their talent in an up to 6,000-seat venue.

Aug. 4, 2021

WATCH: YouTube has its dark holes, yes. But there’s a reason they also call it “YouTube University.” Does your teen want to learn how to make lip scrub? There are tons of videos. Want to find some gateway horror for your little? Our favorite is CoreyxKenshin, who hosts what he calls “Spooky Scary Sunday.” Then there’s Draw The Life TikTak, in which a narrator tells a story — some are historical, some fiction or alternate histories of popular characters — while an artist draws the action on a whiteboard. Subjects range from the Avengers to the Ghost Ship (S.S. Ourang Medan) to “Why Do We Go Bald?” to The Curious Case of Edward Mordrake, which has garnered 1 million views. — Dawn Burkes


GO: The kids’ section is not huge, but the Last Bookstore in DTLA (453 S. Spring St. on the ground floor) itself is an adventure. Exploring the crevices and strange book structures that have been created by the staff is fun. Catch a vocal reading, check out graphic novels and just enjoy the space. It’s all-ages fun. — Jevon Phillips

GO: Getty Center’s Central Garden in Brentwood, at 1200 Getty Center Drive, L.A. The Omicron-conscious might write off museums, but the campus here can be a good lesson on how art takes many forms — including Bill Irwin’s glorious Central Garden, a canvas of color, texture, sound and scent. I took my preschooler, and we skipped the galleries altogether in favor of two hours walking in and around the multilevel landscape and its bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Parking is $20 but admission is free, and the short tram ride from the garage to the museum felt safe with fellow masked, distanced museum-goers — and was part of the fun for a 3-year-old. — Craig Nakano

PLAY: If you’ve found yourself allowing your child more time with video games than usual, think about joining the fun. Put a superhero fighting game on story mode; the graphics have come a long way since you first played “Double Dribble.” Or put on “Just Dance 2022,” a game that will give your child a chance to play DJ — mine loves nothing more than introducing me to music that she likes — and get everyone up and exercising. — Dawn M. Burkes

READ: Check out a local comic book store to pick up an issue or two to see where the Marvel Cinematic Universe came from and get a visual feast of fun. Kids “stuck” at home who have probably seen all the shows and movies can read about other adventures from their favorite characters. — Jevon Phillips

GO: Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area is closer than you think, in West L.A. at 4100 S. La Cienega Blvd. in Baldwin Hills. And the best part is it’s free on weekdays. With four playgrounds and five miles of trails, you and your young ones will be able to get your ya-yas out without having to drive for hours. Plus, the view. The park is open every day from 6 a.m. to sunset, so you can start and end your days there. — Dawn Burkes

GO: The picturesque 30-acre Lacy Park in San Marino features a giant play structure that you’ll probably want to keep your quarantined kiddo away from. But it also has a rose garden and an abundance of rolling grass fields where families picnic, as well as play ball and Frisbee in the late afternoons, and two circular loops about a mile long — one of which is absolutely perfect for worry-free bike and scooter riding. The park is free on weekdays, but there’s a $5 fee on weekends if you’re not a San Marino resident. — Jessica Gelt