What Attractions Are Open in and Around San Francisco?

More attractions are reopening each week, many by timed tickets only, while others are still closed. I’ve started tracking the status of over 100 family-friendly destinations in and around San Francisco, with updates and new additions every week. Click through to get inspiration for your next outing, figure out where you want to plan a few weeks ahead with advance reservations, and find out which venue has a cap of three celery sticks per person (that one is the Tilden Little Farm!)

The spreadsheet is here. Please share this with anyone who you think might find it helpful!

Click here for the full spreadsheet.

If this listing is helpful for you, I can let you know the next time I have a San Francisco resource to share. Join Littldata’s email list!

My goal at Littldata’s is to help parents in San Francisco and beyond figure out their family logistics by sharing tools such as maps, calendars, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. If you have feedback or ideas for future content, please contact me (Lian) at littldata@gmail.com.

A Visual Calendar of 2021 Summer Camps in San Francisco

This is a listing of in-person 2021 summer camps in San Francisco, with a visual calendar for playing mental Tetris with session dates.

It’s extra difficult to figure out summer camps in San Francisco this year because of the Department of Public Health’s 3 week session minimum, and because camps are all in different stages of releasing information as final guidelines roll out.

So I created a calendar-style listing that lets you visually compare session dates between camps, organized by age and location, which I’ll update as I see more camps open registration. (Last updated 4/1/2021)

Check it out, share it with your friends, and please encourage them to join Littldata’s mailing list so they don’t miss out on future goodies to help parents solve their family’s logistical challenges. I’m hoping to share content here more regularly, some for San Francisco parents and some for parents everywhere.


About Littldata: Littldata’s goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing tools such as maps, calendars, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. If you have feedback or ideas for future content that you’d like to see, please contact Lian at littldata@gmail.com!

Join Littldata’s mailing list here.

Four Types of Childcare and Schooling Pods, Explained

Terms such as pods and quaranteams are suddenly part of our daily language, but what do these words mean? And what do pods mean in the context of in-person, hybrid, or virtual schooling? This post breaks down the most common options in terms of the overall types of childcare and schooling pods that we’re seeing people use, how they relate to regular schools, and how they function in terms of staffing and administration.

TYPES OF PODS

These are the most common strategies and typologies of childcare and educational pods.

  • Remote Learning Pod
    • The focus is on creating a physical setting to complement virtual instruction from schools, including supervision, technical support, and socialization for grade-school aged children and youth while they attend virtual meetings and complete work.
    • Children could be all in the same class or school, or a mixed-age group could be formed in order to keep siblings together.
  • Nanny Share
    • Particularly for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, with a setup similar to pre-pandemic nanny shares, operating out of one or more family homes.
    • Caregiver could be a nanny, a preschool teacher, or a stay-at-home parent caring for their own child plus one or more others.
  • Microschool
    • A more formal and often somewhat larger group, with curriculum being delivered by an in-person teacher(s). For younger children, these may look similar to pre-pandemic preschools or daycares located in a home or meeting outdoors in nature.
    • These programs likely require a license, depending on what state you live in, the children’s ages, and the number of children.
  • Playdate Pod
    • Pod families get together at each other’s homes or in parks for playdates, which are typically limited to a few hours each day or week.
  • Hybrid Pod
    • Not really a unique type, but a pod could include aspects of multiple pod types, for example, by having time for remote learning during the day, with playdate time together with parents later in the afternoon; or by having elements of a Microschool with a part-time teacher providing some tutoring, while parents take turns to cover supervision.

RELATIONSHIP TO REGULAR SCHOOLS

This is how the pod types can relate to childrens’ pre-pandemic schools

  • Remote Learning Pod
    • Works TOGETHER with virtual or the virtual part of hybrid (part in-person, part virtual) participation in a regular grade school.
    • Could alternatively be coupled with a stand-alone online learning platform or similar solution that families arrange, and used INSTEAD of a regular grade school.
  • Nanny share 
    • Usually INSTEAD of a normal daycare or preschool program, or 
    • Can be used TOGETHER with a school’s virtual offerings, such as Zoom circle time meetings with the childrens’ regular classmates, or
    • ALONGSIDE daycare or preschool, in the case of a part-time nanny share complemented by part-time participation at in-person preschool.
  • Microschool
    • Could be used INSTEAD of participation in a regular school.
    • Could also be used by families who choose to participate in their school’s virtual offerings to help keep the child’s enrollment and school’s community and funding intact, while supplementing ALONGSIDE with in-person learning through a Microschool-type arrangement.
  • Playdate Pod
    • Since these pods are by definition limited in time and scope, they likely exist ALONGSIDE other strategies for childcare and education.

STAFFING ARRANGEMENTS 

These options for adult presence can each work with various pod types

  • Parent Co-op 
    • Parents trade off duties without exchanging money
  • Paid Parent
    • Typically a stay-at-home or homeschooling parent who agrees to take on one or more children in addition to their own
  • Paid Teacher 
    • Skills and responsibilities could range from babysitter to accredited teacher
  • Hybrid Staffed 
    • Any mix of the above
  • Unstaffed 
    • For a Remote Learning Pod for students old enough to safely and legally be on their own, or a Playdate Pod where parents stay 

POD SETUP AND ADMINISTRATIVE ARRANGEMENTS 

Who is organizing and taking on the administrative load? 

  • Family-led
    • Families connect with each other and make arrangements. If hiring a teacher, this may entail drafting a contract, getting an employer ID number, running employee payroll, meeting insurance and other legal requirements, and withholding taxes.
    • Families choose which other families join. Families may establish their own agreement for health protocols, including things like family and teacher social distancing practices during out of school time.
  • Teacher-led
    • Acting as the director of their own small program, the teacher establishes a curriculum and policies and invites families to enroll at rates and with a contract that the teacher establishes. The teacher likely needs to register as a business with their own insurance, license, and legal structure.
    • Families do not get to choose which other families join. Health protocols and agreements are more likely to be limited to local public health recommendations for schools, and to not address families’ social distancing practices during out of school time.
  • Hybrid-led
    • In reality, many arrangements aren’t purely Family- or Teacher-led.
    • For example, one or more families may connect with a teacher and then search together for an additional family or families, while working together towards agreements on how to operate. 
    • Conversely, teacher-led pods may respond to family needs and preferences on a range of issues based on mutual agreement with families.

I hope that knowing and using these terms will make it easier to define your needs, communicate what you’re looking for, and build shared understandings with potential podmates. If you’re looking to connect with families and teachers for pod formation, or want to join in on our discussion, please join the Pandemic Pods and Microschools main group and your local chapter on Facebook.

Please note that this post is not meant to provide legal, health, or any other advice for your individual situation. Each arrangement has its own legal requirements, which may include licensure, business registration, and/or insurance, which I hope to describe in future posts. Also, if you read this far to find out what a quaranteam is, it’s the same as a pod as far as we can tell, but sometimes with more social connotations.

About Littldata: Littldata’s goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing tools such as maps, calendars, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. If you have suggestions about these pod categories or ideas for future content that you’d like to see, or any questions, please contact Lian at Littldata.com!

Reach out to us anytime at littldata@gmail.com. Join Littldata’s mailing list here for updates and special content to make your family logistics easier. Follow Littldata on Twitter @littldata, and on Facebook at Littldata.

The photo for this post is by Steve Slater and is being used under a Creative Commons License.

Live Blog: SFUSD School Re-Opening Town Hall

I’m live blogging the San Francisco Unified School District “Fall Learning Town Hall,” in which the district will be taking family feedback and questions about school re-openings for the 2020-21 academic year.

6:35 pm: There are more than 2,500 people attending as SFUSD Board President Mark Sanchez opens the Town Hall. Sanchez: “We must be guided by the science…and by what is economically feasible.”

6:38 pm: Superintendent Vincent Matthews acknowledges that there are many questions, and that SFUSD doesn’t have answers to everything. The goals for this meeting include recapping what was learned over the spring and taking feedback on that semester, hearing about public health guidance for schools, and a Q+A about the fall.

6:44 pm: In Spring 2020, most families reported that they were okay, but the disparities between neighborhoods were large.

6:49 pm: A platform called Thoughtexchange has been introduced to collect feedback both through a short survey (on questions such as the below) and provide your thoughts, as well as “to rate the thoughts of others” on a five-star scale. We are now listening to elevator music to allow for time for people to participate in the Thoughtexchange system.

6:56 pm: Most of the attendees tonight seem to be parents of children in the younger grades of elementary, as well as Pre-K. The biggest concerns expressed have to do with the lack of social engagement and interaction, as well and equity in terms of access to teachers, mental health professionals, food, learning and support.

7:00 pm: While plans won’t be finalized until July 28, the general direction should be made clear by this Friday. It’s mentioned that PreK, TK, and K students weren’t given instruction via Zoom, as it was not felt to be developmentally appropriate, so they had less social interaction than older students.

7:05 pm: Ana Validzic from the SF Department of Public Health shares some general safety guidelines that SFUSD will be paying attention to:

  • symptom screening, with temperature checks either at school or at home
  • stable cohorts and physical distancing (6′ when possible, but 3′ for students okay).
  • hand washing on schedules, with every instructional area having hand sanitizer or a hand washing station
  • use of face coverings (masks), although there are exemptions for medical or behavioral conditions; if a mask is not worn, the student needs to maintain 6′ of distance. Face shields cannot replace masks.
  • cleaning and disinfection, with routine cleaning of frequently-touched surfaces; the virus is easily killed and doesn’t require deep cleaning
  • ventilation

7:24 pm: Another round of Thoughtexchange is used to gather questions and feedback about the fall. Here are some of the top comments:

7:27 pm: “We are focusing on safety recommendations for everyone, but with increased focus on older students and staff” given evidence that the youngest children are less at risk and less likely to transmit the disease.

7:30 pm: Dawn Kamalanathan is SFUSD’s Chief Facilities Officer and she worked for 12 years for the Recreation and Parks Department; she’s looking into holding classes outdoors.

7:32 pm: Cloth masks are “perfectly fine” and although SFUSD is scheduled to receive PPE shipments, the general requirement is not for medical-grade supplies.

7:38 pm: Superintendent Matthews: SFUSD wrote to the state to let them know they can’t follow health guidelines if budgets are cut. State came through on PPE, but there are still gaps. There may be another opportunity for funding at the federal level. Mark Sanchez: Spark SF Public Schools is set up to receive donations for SFUSD; they’ve received $5M so far during the pandemic and would be glad for more.

7:40 pm: This Friday, July 10, high-level (i.e. general) recommendations will be published to the website, in advance of the board meeting on July 14. This will give everyone a general sense of the direction–i.e. distanced learning vs. in-person vs. hybrid. The detailed plan will be delivered on July 28, three weeks before the start of school.

7:43 pm: In response to a question about “LIVE distant learning,” Sanchez helps Matthews out to understand that this is meant to refer to synchronous learning experiences rather than asynchronous.

7:49 pm: Matthews: We don’t want to open schools only to have to close them again. Everyone shares the concern about spread of COVID-19. Clarification that as of this moment, given that case numbers are rising, schools are not allowed to open; the May 16 health order that closed schools is still in effect.

7:53 pm: Matthews confirms that SFUSD will meet the needs of all families (albeit imperfectly). Given the situation, if the district goes to in-person learning and there are families who do not feel this is safe, SFUSD will still work to meet these families’ needs.

7:55 pm: Is hybrid learning safer than fully in-person? It’s not known conclusively, but the national and state guidelines are based on the most reliable research.

7:56 pm: Closing comments from Matthews. Families will receive a link to a brief, anonymous survey; they’re working hard to integrate feedback as they develop plans.

Join our Facebook group Pandemic Pods and Microschools – San Francisco Bay Area to connect with families, teachers, and caregivers for your remote learning pod, microschool, or nanny share; and for resources to help you organize your pod.

The images for this post are from SFUSD.

About Littldata: Littldata’s goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing tools such as maps, calendars, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. Reach out to us anytime at  littldata@gmail.com. Join Littldata’s mailing list here for updates and special content to make your family logistics easier. Follow Littldata on Twitter @littldata, and on Facebook at Littldata.

How to Stay Home: The Three Easiest Things You Can Do to Keep Your Family Well While Staying In During COVID-19

Billions of people around the world are now staying at home. Whether due to preventative social distancing, quarantines, or riding out mild symptoms in isolation, many of the challenges of not being able to leave the house are the same. 

My own family has been feeling cooped up and longing to return to the days when we can enjoy simple pleasures like meeting up with friends at a park or joining the hustle and bustle downtown. Then I realized that, as a researcher and designer who has worked on the mundanity of our domestic environments from the point of view of architecture and environmental cognition, I’ve actually spent years preparing for this situation.

So we started incorporating some simple practices during our own shelter-in-place that have been helping us meet some of the physiological, psychological, and social needs that we typically meet by going out into the world. And over the course of a two posts, I’m going to share these ideas.

This first part has three really simple takeaways that have to do with bringing aspects of the outside world into your home:

  1. Open your windows for fresh air
  2. Get as much light as possible
  3. Reach out to others

In the second part, I’ll share some ideas about some more unusual and creative ways that you can inhabit and manipulate your space to boost your family’s well-being–but here in Part One, I wanted to share the simplest and highest impact actions. So let’s dig in.

1. Open your windows for fresh air

The problem: Air inside a building is rarely as healthy as outdoor air, and poor indoor air quality causes significant and measurable changes in our mood, mental and physical performance, and even our long-term health. With your whole household crammed in the same space nearly 24/7, the air is getting warm, humid, low on oxygen, and high on substances such as exhaled carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds and pollutants such as carbon monoxide from cooking and other household activities–and even gasses such as methane from your flatulence. While this problem can be especially acute in modern buildings, which tend to be more airtight, most of us would benefit from opening our windows more.

The solution: Open your windows. This clears out your stale air, letting in fresh oxygen and diluting smells, humidity, and pollutants that tend to accumulate indoors. Opening your window also lets in the sounds, smells, and views of the outside world, supporting a sense of connection to the world outside.

If you live in a multi-unit building with a centralized forced-air heating or cooling, bringing more outdoor air into your unit is especially important, as it can dilute any coronavirus virus particles or other pathogens that are circulating. A recent study has found that maintaining a minimum level of outdoor air ventilation actually reduces transmission of the influenza virus as much as would happen by vaccinating 50-60% of the building’s occupants.

Concern: Weather. What if it’s cold or hot out? You still need fresh air, but you can open your windows more at whatever time of day when the outdoor temperature is more moderate. You can also adjust your thermostat by a few degrees to spare your heating/cooling bill, and adapt your attire to stay comfortable. Then make yourself a hot tea or ice water, and enjoy that outdoor feeling.

Concern: Letting in the virus. If your window opens directly onto a busy sidewalk, you may be concerned about the virus wafting in. In this case, try using a different window or door facing another exterior space–or ventilate at off-peak times. But you’ll still benefit from fresh air, and most of us should be opening our windows wide and often.

2. Get as much light as possible

The problem: Sunlight is much brighter than what we get indoors. Outdoors, we might experience up to 100,000 lux of brightness on a sunny day, or 1,000 lux on a cloudy day, as compared with 50-250 lux inside a home or office. Among other health benefits, daily exposure to sunlight promotes the release of mood-boosting serotonin, which helps us focus and feel calm; and melatonin, which regulates our sleep-wake cycles. Staying indoors nearly 24/7 could nudge us towards a form of depression akin to seasonal affective disorder, even in the spring or summer.

The solution: Open your blinds during the day, get brighter artificial lights if you need to, and soak up some rays. Let as much natural light in as possible to your home, and don’t hold back if you want to follow those sunbeams around like a cat. If your lighting and mood are dim, consider investing in a light therapy lamp, which is a very bright full-spectrum light; or simply swapping some bright bulbs into your existing fixtures. If you’re going out at all, try to go when it’s sunny. It’ll be good for your mood, health, and vitamin D production.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a balcony, backyard, or other private outdoor space–even if it’s shaded–you’ll benefit from any time you can spend out there, especially in the morning and midday.

Possible concern: Will manipulating my light exposure disrupt my sleep? Not if you dim your lights, reduce screen time, and/or use a color shifting app on your devices for up to three hours before bedtime. Daylight and bright, full-spectrum light are otherwise beneficial for sleep throughout the day, and especially in the morning.

3. Reach out to others

The problem: You’re lonely. The social distancing that is necessary right now is also deeply alienating, as we’ve lost many of our usual social patterns and outlets. Family members outside your household, friends, work colleagues–and even the stranger with whom you would normally exchange nods or make small talk–are now farther away.

The solution: Keep reaching out, to those closest to you, to distant friends, and even to strangers. Most of us have been using texts, phone calls, and video conferences to connect with family and close friends. One day, this might mean sharing meals with loved ones via FaceTime. Another day, it could be rounding up a group of friends to watch a movie at the same time, with a line open for real-time chatter. Or video playdates with your children’s friends. The feeling of presence–of sharing the same space and time with others–is a goal in itself, so don’t feel pressure for every moment to be dense or high quality in interaction. You can be quiet, tired, or bored together.

It might feel awkward to reach out to people who you know less well, but it’s been shown that weak social ties are also important to our sense of well-being. If you normally chat with your nail technician or a colleague in another department for an hour each week, you’re now missing that interaction. So if you can, give a quick text to say hello. The same goes for old friends, your soccer teammates, online parenting group, and anyone else you might usually interact with.

And yes, the same goes for strangers. Fleeting interactions can still be part of our routine, even if it’s just waving at a neighbor you’ve never met before, from your balcony.

If you strike up a conversation with a neighbor, consider offering to exchange contact information (while keeping 6′ of distance), especially if they’re elderly or vulnerable. Prosocial behavior has been shown to reduce the negative impacts of stress on our mental health, so building ties and offering help will be good for you, as well.

Possible concern: This is awkward. Yep. But remember that everyone is going through this same experience right now, and others are likely missing out on social time, too.

Your Takeaways

So, to review: get air, get light, and connect with others, since these are three things that are in short supply when we’re holed up indoors. While these ideas are obvious, I think it’s safe to say that most of us would benefit from doing one or more of these with more consistency, so now it’s your turn to start putting these into practice.

In Part Two, I’ll talk about the bodily, sensory, and spatial practices and experiences that you can try out to relieve some of the grinding repetitiveness that can otherwise come from inhabiting the same space without reprieve. To be the first to know when Part Two is posted, and to keep in touch with Littldata’s other content for parents, please join my free mailing list. I’ll be sharing the most helpful, practical tips for parenting during the pandemic that I can find, as well as other content to help you figure out your family logistics.

Until then, thank you for reading, and be well. If you’re interested in indoor toys for independent play, outdoor toys to make socially-distanced outings more fun, a map of COVID-19-friendly outdoor destinations in San Francisco, please check out these posts and more on Littldata’s COVID-19 page.

Get the latest Littldata here.

About Littldata: At Littldata, my goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing calendars, maps, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. This post uses Amazon Affiliate and referral links.

I would love to hear from you anytime at littldata@gmail.com. Join Littldata’s mailing list here for updates and special content to make your family logistics easier. Follow Littldata on Twitter @littldata, and on Facebook at Littldata.

Outdoor Toys to Make Fields and Forests Fun for Kids During COVID-19

With California announcing a shelter in place order as of March 19, and many other places likely headed this way soon, families need options for getting fresh air and exercise while managing risks.

One thing to note is that it’s impossible to avoid all risk of transmission, since the virus can remain in the air for 3h, survive for up to 24h on cardboard and for three days on plastic and stainless steel. But we can all do our part to greatly reduce the risk, by:

  • limiting outings to what we need for health and sanity
  • staying at least 6′ away from anyone not in our household
  • reducing contact with surfaces that others may have touched
  • avoiding touching our faces, and washing our hands often

Because being sneezed, coughed, or breathed on by an infected person are the most likely ways to catch COVID-19, this post has recommendations for toys and play ideas that can be helpful to make wide-open and remote spaces more fun for children. Items marked with a $ are more expensive.

For your patio or backyard

  • Water Table (Age 1+) If you have an outdoor space to set it up. Accessorize with a toy egg beater and soap, or water beads, or whatever containers and spoons you have available. If you don’t want to buy a water table, any large container will do. You can also add play sand to your water table. For hygiene, drain and dry toys daily.
  • $ Sandbox Digging machine (Age 3+) If you’re lucky enough to have a large sandbox or other place to dig.
  • $ Climbing dome (Age 1-9) This needs a space at least six feet in diameter, but kids love it for both active and dramatic play.
  • Mini golf (Age 4+) If your child is old enough to use a long golf club semi-responsibly. Also great for the beach or open fields.
  • $ A giant Jenga game (Age 1+) can be used according to the rules, or for more open-ended building.
  • Not a toy, but an idea (Age 2-4) Ask your child to go on “quests,” to go touch “something red,” or “the fence,” or “find a leaf and bring it back.”

For sidewalks and paved spaces

  • $ Micro Mini Deluxe Scooter (Age 1.5-5) Children under 2 are often fascinated by scooters but may not be quite ready for them yet. Great exercise, fun, and transportation once your child figures it out.
  • $ Balance Bike (Age 1.5-5) Most children won’t be ready for a balance bike until at least 2, but again, this can make for great exercise and transportation.
  • A pogo bouncer or hopper ball (Age 3+) builds gross motor skills while getting out plenty of energy. These are also good indoors.
  • Rollerblades or skateboard (Age 5+) for the adventurous child. A helmet is necessary, and protective gear recommended.
  • Moon Ball (Age 5-Adult) A high-bouncing ball that makes a funny pop. Even much older children and adults tend to enjoy this.
  • Don’t forget a helmet for all of the ride-on items.

For open fields

  • A soccer ball (Age 1+) is a classic choice. Choose size 3 for children age 8 and under.
  • T ball (Age 1.5-6) A novelty to learn a new skill: hit, fly, roll, run, retrieve, return, and repeat.
  • Stomp Rockets (Age 2-10) The absolute best toy for making an open field fun, with lots of running and excitement. It’s inexpensive and cheesy, but do not underestimate this toy, even for older children.
  • Kites (Age 3-Adult) are also a great bet if you have access to a large open field.
  • Flying Airplanes (Age 3+) These foam toys are also great for running and playing in an open field.

For beaches

  • Shovel and bucket or beach “baking” toys (Age 1+) for endless sand play.
  • This water blaster (Age 6+) does not look like a weapon but is great at shooting water, and it floats.
  • If your beach has magnetic black sand, a magnet, plastic cup, and piece of paper can create a fascinating science experiment. (Watch this video from the Exploratorium about the magnetic sand at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.) (Age 3+)
  • Most of the toys in the “open fields” section above are also perfect at the beach.

For the forest

  • Bug catching kit, net, and/or magnifying loupe (Age 2+) Everything kids need to explore bugs and other things in the woods.
  • Shovel and bucket (Age 1+) For younger children.
  • Some cotton twine (Age 4+) opens up lots of options for building outdoors, using branches and other natural materials. Be sure to supervise closely for safety, follow park rules, and take the twine with you when you’re done.
  • Binoculars (Age 3+) What toy screams COVID-19 more than one that lets you look at interesting things from a distance? For older children, consider getting a pair of adult binoculars that the whole family can use for years.

You may be able to swap or share toys with other families. Because the virus can live for up to three days on plastic and metal surfaces, many families are choosing to “quarantine” items and boxed deliveries for three days before using, to avoid breaking out the Clorox wipes.

Have an idea that’s not on my list, or other feedback? Please share it with me at littldata@gmail.com


Want to read more? Check out the three easiest things you can do to help your family be well while staying at home during COVID-19; a list of toys that support independent play for ages 1-8; and, if you’re in San Francisco, a map of outdoor places where socially distanced exercise may be possible for the whole family. 

Get the latest Littldata here.

About Littldata: At Littldata, my goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing calendars, maps, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. This post uses Amazon Affiliate and referral links.

I would love to hear from you anytime at littldata@gmail.com. Join Littldata’s mailing list here for updates and special content to make your family logistics easier. Follow Littldata on Twitter @littldata, and on Facebook at Littldata.

Indoor Toy and Play Ideas for Children Aged 1-8

With shelter in place orders, school closures, and working from home as the new norm in our attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19, we need all the help we can get. This post has indoor toy and play ideas for children aged 1-8 to help you keep the peace at home. (Littldata also has a list of social-distance-friendly outdoor toy ideas.)

Quiet, independent, long-duration play is the goal right now for many parents.

In evaluating indoor toy options, my main criteria were: capacity to support independent play, play variety, and duration of interest.

Independent Indoor Play Toys and Ideas

Items marked with $ are investments: they’re expensive, but tend to have resale value, and keep a child’s interest for hours at a time and for years on end. Items marked with a * are often cheaper (or even free) and may include consumable or easy-to-lose parts, but offer great bang for the buck. I’ve sorted what I think are the best bets, based on reviews and anecdotal evidence, to the top of each list.

The age groups are minimums only, and very approximate, so check for ideas in the groups above and (especially) below your child’s age.

Age 1+

  • $ Play Kitchen, Play Food, and Pots and Pans – For one year olds, play with these items will focus on the sensory aspects, while older children will develop increasingly elaborate dramatic narratives and games. (Up to age 5)
  • $ Learning Tower – These large stools with guardrails are not a toy, but a great way to get your kid involved in kitchen activities, and/or for you to be able to engage them while you cook and they play at the counter. (Up to age 5)
  • Mega Bloks – Interlocking blocks for the youngest of children. (Up to age 3)
  • * Single-use homemade food-safe paint – Just add a few drops of food coloring to plain yogurt. For both this and the play-doh, use your strap-in high chair to contain the mess. (Up to age 3)
  • * Munchkin Fishin’ Bath Toy – For the bath, sink, or water table. (Up to age 4)
  • Most of the toys on the 2+ list are also great for 1 year olds–the main issue is safety, so hold back if your child is still chewing on toys.

Age 2+

  • $ Magna-Tiles – The holy grail of toys for independent play for many families, these toys are endlessly reconfigurable, very easy to use, and are small to store. The wheeled car bases and ‘freestyle’ add-on are also great for the youngest kids. (Up to age 7)
  • $ Duplo – An intermediate between Mega Bloks and Lego in terms of dexterity required, these blocks are also compatible with Lego, giving them extra longevity. (Up to age 4)
  • $ Wood train set by Brio – Another toy that grows with children for years. (Up to age 6)
  • $ Play brooms and cleaning supplies – are surprisingly engaging, since children often love to do what they see adults doing. (Up to age 6, although for an older child you might get this one)
  • $ Lunii Storyteller – this device allows children to select and customize their own audio stories, and can be as enthralling as TV without the screen time. (Up to age 8)
  • * Art and Craft Supplies – This kit includes pom poms, pipe cleaners, felt, and more. Consider adding glue, scotch tape, or colored masking tape. (Up to age 8)
  • * Flashlight
  • Kinetic Sand – Another engaging sensory experience that is relatively easy to clean up, the National Geographic kits come in three different sizes. (Up to age 8)
  • Large Aqua Doodle Mat – These let your children have the fun of painting using just water, saving you the clean-up and need to refill paint supplies. (Up to age 5)
  • Doctor Kit – For playing doctor, although this may be less independent for a solo child. (Up to age 5)
  • $ Ride-on Thomas the Train – Expensive and large, yet not offering much exercise, this toy doesn’t have much to offer–except that it will safely entertain your train-loving toddler for hours, day after day. (Up to 40lbs)
  • * Make slime with cornstarch, water, and food coloring, or mix baking soda and vinegar and watch the excitement bubble. (Up to age 8)

Age 3+

Age 4+

  • $ Lego – This kit has some special parts, such as wheels, but is still very open-ended.
  • $ Marble run – Action-packed and great for this age. Younger children will love this too, but the marbles may pose a choking hazard and the pieces can be hard to fit together. 
  • Haba Tap + Tack – This is a small cork board for creative designs with a hammer, wooden tiles, and nails.
  • Lite Brite – A retro, contemplative toy for children who are patient and able to keep their own toys tidy.
  • Perler Biggie Beads, with pegboard – a larger-diameter version of the Perler Beads meant for older children, these are perfect for 4 year olds.
  • Wipe Clean Workbook – Children love (and learn from) repetition, and this workbook allows them to repeat lessons over and over.
  • My First Orchard – An ideal first board game to be played cooperatively by 1-4 players, this can be played by children as young as two with an adult or patient older child.
  • Sneaky Snacky Squirrel – This game is almost as simple to play as My First Orchard, but is competitive, for 2 or more children.
  • Pengoloo – A board game with a little complexity, for two to four children.

Age 6 + 

Wooden clips are small, but allow kids to create big spaces with blankets and sheets.

Physical Indoor Play

These items are for exhausting your kids when you can’t get outside. Most require a bit more space.

  • $ Nugget Couch – Much more than a couch, these strategically-designed cushions support a wide range of physical and imaginative play, if you have the space. 
  • * Alternatively, build a fort using your sofa cushions, chairs, and blankets. These wooden clips can be used to attach blankets.
  • This pop-up tunnel/ball pit/tent system that older babies and younger children will love to explore.
  • $ Indoor Trampoline – This 3’ diameter trampoline has a bar for children to hold.
  • Little Tikes Basketball Net – Indoors or out.
  • Fort builder – A larger building toy that will get your kid using their whole body
  • Foam Pogo Jumper – A pogo jumping toy that can be used indoors or out.
  • * Velcro dart board – The balls are light and safe to use indoors. Kids will run back and forth to play.

Ideas for Play without Buying Things

  • Rotating toys can go a long way in maintaining novelty, and making it a little easier to tidy at the end of the day. Use bins or bags to pack away some toys in a closet for a few days to a few weeks at a time. Young children will often focus well if you set out a few items as provocations at the beginning of the day or play session. 
  • A natural extension of this strategy is to swap toys with friends and neighbors. You can sanitize toys before using a disinfectant spray, or simply quarantine items for at least three days before use.
  • Use things you already have such as building a boat out of cardboard boxes.
  • Introduce household tasks now that your children have all the time in the world to learn how to sort beans, sweep up, sort laundry, wash dishes, etc.
  • Enjoy outdoor time. Open fields, beaches, and forests remain safe options even when playgrounds are off-limits. If hikes are a hard sell with your kids, check out this list of toys for COVID-19 friendly outdoor spaces. For those in the Bay Area, see my map of COVID-19 friendly outdoor places in San Francisco.
  • And screen time. It’s okay, really. Face Time with grandparents, friends, and others can be a great way to keep in touch. Amazon Prime has a wide range of age-appropriate and educational shows for children, as well as a free 30 day trial. And here is a comprehensive list of educational companies offering free subscriptions and services during COVID-19 school shutdowns.

Have an idea that’s not on this list, or other feedback? Please share it with me littldata@gmail.com


Want to read more? Check out the three easiest things you can do to help your family be well while staying at home during COVID-19, or browse all of Littldata’s COVID-19 content in one place.

Get the latest Littldata here.

About Littldata: At Littldata, my goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing calendars, maps, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. This post uses Amazon Affiliate and referral links.

I would love to hear from you anytime at littldata@gmail.com. Join Littldata’s mailing list here for updates and special content to make your family logistics easier. Follow Littldata on Twitter @littldata, and on Facebook at Littldata.

A Map of Outdoor Destinations in San Francisco Where Social Distancing May Be Possible

[Updated March 28, 2020 – Many outdoor destinations have now been closed, including all Parks in Marin County and parking lots at Ocean Beach, Beach Chalet, and Marina Green in San Francisco. I’ve updated the map to reflect this, added more locations for coverage throughout the city, and taken a more cautious attitude towards assessing the suitability of locations for social distancing.]

Given our current Shelter in Place order and the continually escalating COVID-19 situation, it’s clear that the best option is to stay at home whenever possible. However, given the reality of small San Francisco apartments, it’s also clear that many people will choose to go out for exercise as long as it’s allowed.

So, the goal of this map is to help San Franciscans find free outdoor spaces where it may be possible to exercise while maintaining the legally required 6′ of distance from anyone outside your own household. You can filter for destinations by your accessibility needs (stroller, easy walks, and hikes) and by–very roughly–how crowded they tend to be. Of course, if your chosen destination is crowded, please keep moving until you find a more suitable spot.

Get the map by joining Littldata’s email list here.

Some of the city’s most popular parks (and of course all playgrounds) are not included on this map, since they’re often so busy that I didn’t feel comfortable recommending them at all. Also, the city is encouraging everyone to stick to outside areas within walking distance of our own homes and has closed parking lots at many major destinations. You can find the newest info on closures at the top of the SF Recreation + Parks website.

Please email me anytime at littldata@gmail.com with tips, and any other feedback!

Get the map by joining Littldata’s email list here.

Once you join the email list, you’ll automatically be redirected to the map, which you can bookmark so that you can return to it anytime.

On my email list, I’ll periodically be sharing tools and content for parents, such as spreadsheets, calendars, maps, lists, and more. Some content, like this map, will be more specific to San Francisco and the Bay Area, but much of it will be for all parents of young children. You can opt out of the email list at any time, and of course I will never sell your email address.

If you’re looking for some ideas to make all these forests, fields, and cemeteries a little more lively, check out this list of social distance-friendly outdoor toys. Littldata also has a list of indoor toy and activity ideas (including some that are great for patios and backyards). Finally, if you’re among the billions of people currently staying home due to COVID-19, here are the three easiest things you can do to help your family meet some of the physiological, psychological, and social needs that we typically address by going out into the world.

Get the latest Littldata here.

About Littldata: At Littldata, my goal is to help parents figure out their family logistics by sharing calendars, maps, lists, and spreadsheets–as well as research-backed blog posts and data graphics. This post uses Amazon Affiliate and referral links.

I would love to hear from you anytime at littldata@gmail.com. Join Littldata’s mailing list here for updates and special content to make your family logistics easier. Follow Littldata on Twitter @littldata, and on Facebook at Littldata.