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Beyond the virtual museums: what’s keeping the younger generation switched on during lockdown?

Parents may have grand ideas for how youngsters should be spending their downtime, but not everything goes to plan. We’ve asked our travel writers to share what their kids are actually doing with all this extra time at home.

Published 23 Apr 2020, 09:30 BST
Exploring the world during lockdown

Exploring the world during lockdown

Photograph by Getty Images

Throughout the lockdown, we’ve been bombarded with opportunities to be productive. There are virtual museum tours, educational workshops, music and theatre performances, cookery demonstrations, exercise classes and so much more, all aimed at children as much as at adults. But with so many activities on offer, it’s interesting to see what’s actually grabbing our kids’ attention — so we’ve pulled together the reality of how many are spending their extra time.

Pól Ó Conghaile, travel writer
Sam, aged 10, and Rosa, aged 14

The birds — it’s the soap opera we’d never noticed. When our orbit shrank, when traffic quietened, we started watching the birds. Now we’re obsessive. Binoculars are taken on walks. We’re tuned into their songs. A bird table has been cobbled together from leftovers in the shed. We’ve learned to tell blue tits from coal tits and great tits (no mean feat). Our 10-year-old son is eating it all up; our teenage daughter is unimpressed. It’s a micro-universe until we can spread our wings again. 

For more indoor-based activities, we’ve found Google Arts & Culture has a lot on offer (I know, I know… enough of the virtual travel already). Its immersive journeys into five US National Parks, including Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is genuinely transporting. For the best experience, wear headphones. We asked our 10-year-old to write five facts about his favourite. Lo and behold, there was silence from the kitchen for the best part of an hour. 

Maria Pieri, editorial director, National Geographic Traveller
Rae, aged 13, and Luca, aged 11

My two are embarking on a daily walk (usually voluntarily), rediscovering pedestrian-only cut-throughs and quieter routes through local parks. We’ve found a local artist has been carving dead wood into elegant sculptures of dragon flies, herons and frogs. We’ve also been Googling lots of wildlife to identify what we see on our neighbourhood jaunts. So far, we’ve spotted a rare peacock butterfly, persistent hoverflies (we thought they were wasps) and a white crab spider eating its prey over three days.

There’s also been a return to old favourite games, such as Scrabble, Uno and The Game of Life — and, of course, I can’t ignore the presence of the screens: apps like Minecraft, Fortnite and TikTok have taken over, and Snapchat, Houseparty and Zoom have become the new normal.  

Rhonda Carrier, travel writer
Zac, aged 12

My son has been learning Spanish with Duolingo, looking through global cookbooks for new recipes to try and watching culinary travelogues with me for a piece I was writing. We had been planning a trip to Orlando this year and, as I now don’t know if we’ll go, he’s been experiencing it virtually through Visit Orlando’s great blog, riding rollercoasters, zip-lining over alligators, streaming educational films from the Orlando Science Center and touring the Space Shuttle Atlantis courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center.

Jo Fletcher-Cross, contributing editor, National Geographic Traveller
Rowan, aged nine

My daughter is missing Brownies, so we’ve decided to work towards her Painting badge. One resource that’s been a big success is the Google Arts & Culture app. You can explore blockbuster exhibitions worldwide, find inspiration for your own creations and — our favourite — project artworks right in front of you to study the details up close. She also loved taking a virtual tour around Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico. Every time we open the app, we find something new and exciting.

Ben Lerwill, travel writer
Joe, aged 10, and Bethan, aged seven

We’ve been using an app, PictureThis, which, through some act of botanical wizardry, can identify any plant, weed or wildflower within seconds. It involves seeking something out, then crouching down and taking a pic through the app — the kids like the detective element. Our garden is small, but, alongside the usual daisies and dandelions, we’ve also found what we now know are dog violets, fox geraniums, lemon balm and spring draba, among many others.

Adrian Phillips, travel writer and managing director, Bradt Guides
Kitty and Matty, both aged five

My twin five-year-olds gathered their expedition essentials (magnifying glass, whistle, snacks, compass, toy binoculars, jam jar, tweezers and more snacks) and headed off for a garden safari. Their aim was to find beasties to write about for a youth writing competition that’s being judged by some of the UK’s leading nature writers. Now, my garden is far from a rolling savannah — in fact, you can cross it in six strides — but they unearthed a menagerie of prehistoric-looking woodlice, emerald-coloured beetles and fat spiders, and diligently jotted down in little notepads the colour of a snail shell, the feel of a magpie feather and the texture of a pile of worm poo. The competition, which has categories for children of all ages, encourages children to seek nature wherever they currently find themselves, whether in a rural back garden or on the balcony of a flat (the closing date for entries is 1 May 2020).

Sarah Barrell, associate editor, National Geographic Traveller
Ella, aged 14

Ella has really upped her crafting hours, customising clothing and creating jewellery — she’s even started a Depop account to sell her new creations. As well as styling pendants and drop earrings themed around contemporary pop culture designs like David Bowie’s Ziggy lightning bolt, she’s also drawing inspiration from things we saw on our trip to Ecuador last summer, such as Inca-style sun and moon designs and the bright colours of traditional Andean Quechua clothing.

How are you keeping occupied? Share your stories with us on social media using #stayinspired. 

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