Being stuck indoors indefinitely is hard on all of us. But parents are carrying an additional burden. They're trying to work from home and stay sane like the rest of us — while also keeping their cooped-up kids entertained.
Monica Dreger, VP of Global Consumer Insights at Mattel, knows the struggle well. “We’ve played all our favourite games, baked goodies, and caught up on movies we’ve been waiting to watch," she says. She even let her children plan a date night for her and her husband. “[We were] served [dinner] by a lovely, snappily dressed waiter who bowed continually,” she says. “We were then escorted to ‘the movies,’ where chocolate and popcorn awaited for our private screening of Jurassic Park." It was fun for all of them, she says — but now, "it’s getting to that lull point."
Dreger wanted to lend a hand to other families who also are hitting that "lull" and running out of ways to keep everyone entertained. So with the help of her coworkers, she developed Mattel Playroom, a source of virtual and printable games from brands including Barbie, Polly Pocket, Thomas & Friends, and Hot Wheels, all created with social distancing in mind.
For example, right now kids are attending Zoom birthday parties or play dates. So the Playroom even provides virtual conference call backgrounds depicting the Barbie Dreamhouse.
The site has a robust library of puzzles, printable colouring sheets, and interactive computer games to keep kids entertained throughout the day. (Hey, I'm not ashamed to say that I spent at least a few minutes thoroughly enjoying one called Barbie Dolphin Magic Rescue, which lets you pretend you're a mermaid, and collect pink, glowing shells while avoiding entrapment in nets.)
The Playroom also offers tips for parents on how to help kids whose schools are shut down learn at home, and on how to explain COVID-19 to little ones.
“This is an extraordinary time, marked by new rules, strange routines, and plenty of boundaries,” Richard Dickson, president and COO of Mattel, tells Refinery29. “We recognize the unique challenge that parents and caregivers are facing right now, both working and playing from home and have designed the Mattel Playroom to be a valuable resource for them.”
One incredibly stressful aspect of the pandemic for parents is having so much extra time to play with your kids, but having “a cloud of uncertainty hanging over us that makes it hard to be present with them the way they need us to,” adds Dreger, who’s a behavioural psychologist by training.
“[Our children] are more aware of what is happening than you may think,” she says. “While they may be enjoying this newfound time with their parents and siblings and the break from school, many are seeing their parents deal with the many stressors, whether that be how to get the groceries they need, the possible loss of a job, or learning of loved ones who are sick," Dreger continues.
"Kids are telling us that they want to feel connected to their parents during this time," she says. "No matter how difficult it may be, take time to talk and play with them. Play, laughter, and smiles will help to reassure them that the world is okay, and it will help bring a bit of normalcy back to their lives.”
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.