On what feels like day 10,572 of the pandemic, I have a confession to make: The Gray household is quickly exhausting its kidtainment reserves.

One of the first concepts to go when the lockdowns began mid-March, those many, many five months ago, was screentime – and any limitations on it. There is only so much two work-from-home parents with three young children can do. Even school is now broadcasting via tablet and laptop.

Kids have their limits, and their bodies eventually tell them they need to move.

And as weeks of unseasonable triple-digit heat has shrunk their world further, making the park, neighborhood and backyard a great place to fry eggs but not much else, we’ve had to dig deeper. But there are only so many cotton balls you can glue on paper sheep, inches to crayons, pages in coloring books and dogs you can collect.

Our rugs now live in terror as we’ve filled our house with little foster dogs – some with manners picked up on the streets. Call it the dog days of summer.

But life finds a way. And, without any encouragement, our kids have taken to building their own little world in the house. In any corner on any given day, you will discover various forts, grocery stores and bodegas of all kinds made from couch cushions, boxes, blankets and anything else they can scrounge. Occasionally, skirmishes break out – usually over territory or resources. Our oldest son has, on occasion, filled a cooler with popsicles, taken them to his makeshift shop and “sold” them to his siblings for dessert after dinner.

The start of school last week has certainly helped relieve the doldrums. But removed physically from friends, I don’t think the kids find it satisfying.

One thing we have been glad to have discovered is the wonderful world of podcasts for kids. The audio programs are high quality, free and they hold our 9-year-old son’s attention without requiring that he stare at a screen. That means he can listen to them while doing other things like build with LEGOs. The images form in the mind and can transport him, figuratively, out of the house.

Here are three of their favorites, and they’d love to hear yours. (My email is rsgray@elpasoinc.com)

“Story Pirates”: Kids submit brief stories that the podcast’s creators turn into silly songs and sketch comedy. The stories are woven into the travels of the characters as they crew the Story Pirates’ ship. It’s goofy and sometimes nonsensical in just the way young kids like, and the talent is top-notch. As a bonus, kids learn a bit about how stories are crafted.

“The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian”: This sci-fi adventure follows the travels of Finn Caspian and his friends, along with their pet robots, as they discover uncharted planets aboard the Famous Marlowe 280 Interplanetary Exploratory Space Station. The creatures they meet are creative (laser bunnies!) and the worlds they explore inventive (a planet with bellies!). Added bonus: Books play a prominent role in the narrative. It’s serialized, so start with episode one.

“Smash Boom Best”: Kids love asking questions like “What’s better? Pizza or tacos” or “What’s better? Invisibility or flying.” This podcast has taken that concept and turned it into a debate show for kids. In a world where Twitter wars pass for debate, the podcast models how to disagree civilly, form strong arguments and speak persuasively. There’s even a segment that shows kids how to spot logical fallacies (without calling them that), including personal attacks, generalizations and straw-man arguments.


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