Updated December 20, 2020
Many adults and youth are understandably concerned about youth mental health as we head into winter after months of already increased isolation this year.
Some activities have been cancelled during COVID. Many schools and programs that serve youth have modified their programming in ways that mean teens and tweens aren’t socializing the way they once did in class, at rehearsals, or at sporting events. They also don’t have as much informal time in person to connect in hallways, cafeterias, on the bus, etc.
However, there are still quite a few options for activities that help youth connect with each other, have fun, and contribute to the community, including some that offer innovative twists on the old way of doing things. We asked teachers, school counselors, youth, families, and community agencies about what IS available and what youth are doing now to stay engaged. Here is what we learned!
Related reading: How Teens Use Downtime to Connect, Distract or Reflect – a New York Times article about youth mental health during the pandemic and the effect of various types of activities.
For many people, volunteering is one of the most fulfilling ways to stay involved in the local community. Some people just love to volunteer and some people say it especially helps them to give back when they are feeling down or isolated.
“I was really nervous to sign up to be a Big Sister because I was worried about not having anything to talk about with my little sister. But actually it’s been really fun! Susannah [Big Brother Big Sisters staff] give us ideas every week of what to do, but now we usually just make dance videos or chat.”
– current 10th grader in the virtual program
Greenfield Housing Authority is looking for volunteers (especially high school age!) for the monthly Mobile Food Bank at Oak Courts. Volunteers help put together bags of food and/or assist with food distribution. They need about 6 volunteers on the 2nd Tuesday of the each month from 12:15 to 2:45. The time can be broken up into two shifts. Email Kim to find out more!
Stone Soup Café in Greenfield continues to serve meals on Saturdays during COVID. They have a variety of volunteer options for youth and adults. Some are very flexible with no long-term commitment. Check out their recent post about a youth volunteer.
The Franklin County Community Meals Program (FCCMP) has multiple sites in Greenfield, Turners Falls, and Orange. They have volunteer opportunities for adults and youth. For more info on volunteering, contact the staff.
We are currently looking into more volunteer opportunities for youth and will update this page as we hear back! If you know of an organization you’d like to help out, give them a call and see if they have opportunities for youth.
Outdoors is the safest place to be around other people during the pandemic. There are a lot of options for outdoor activities, even in the winter – here are a few that are favorites of local youth or have just been updated!
Sledding. Low-cost and no special skills required! Hilltown Families has a list of sledding hills across the region recommended by local readers.
New playgrounds are open at Greenfield Middle School and Four Corners School. We don’t even know what all of these are for, and we want to find out!
The Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center trails are open for use during COVID. Trail maps and more info available here.
The Northfield Golf Club has a series of nature trails, which are used in the winter for snow shoeing and cross country skiing, as well as snow mobiling). In past years, they created an outdoor rink for people to use to skate. We will add updates if we find out that is happening again.
A lot of local students help their parents, grandparents and/or neighbors with snow removal. We got a great idea from teacher Jenna Carme at Franklin County Technical School – a winter initiative (with prizes, perhaps!) for kids and teens to enter if they have helped a family or neighbor in need with lawn, driveway or sidewalk maintenance. We love this idea and will see if we can make it happen! In the meantime, snow removal can be a way to give back to the community or make some money while getting outside and getting exercise.
In past years, Beacon Field in Greenfield had a public outdoor ice rink. We will check with the Greenfield Recreation Department about winter offerings and add them! In the meantime, you can check their Facebook page or website.
The Montague Parks & Recreation Department is hosting a Sawmill River Virtual 10K Race from Dec. 31 – Jan. 3 in place of its annual in-person race. The cost is $15 and runners choose the course they want to use.
The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce offers more ideas for getting outside and being active this winter, some of which are free.
Some families and teens are getting together with precautions by:
– Meeting up at a sledding hill wearing masks and keeping
– Going snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or playing in the snow wearing masks
– Roasting marshmallows by a backyard fire with masks on except when eating
– Trying geocaching
Youth Groups and Programs through Community Organizations
We are lucky to live in a region with great community agencies that have come up with creative ways to continue youth programming and foster community within the groups during COVID. Reach out to the individual organization for info on policies and enrollment dates.
The Brick House in Turners Falls continues to offer youth programs, including their Thursday afternoon virtual wellness workshops.
Youth For Change, Greenfield 4SC’s youth leadership group, is welcoming new members! This free group for middle and high school students offers COVID-safe meetings (currently virtual but may have something distanced outdoors) that focus on community engagement, peer support, and youth health/substance use prevention activities. Contact Kara at 4scyouth “at” gmail dot com.
The North Quabbin Community Coalition’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), also focuses on youth health and substance use prevention. The group has virtual meetings that usually involve a shared treat (e.g. ice cream delivered to youth’s homes ahead of time and eaten during the meeting). Contact Amanda at amanda “at” nqcc dot org.
YMCA Junior and Teen Leaders Club currently meets on 1st & 3rd Wednesdays at GCC and via Zoom. Registration is ongoing, with $50 yearly fee (includes Y Membership and t-shirt).
Also, for youth enrolled in a local school, ask about the latest updates on school-sponsored activities. Things are different this year, but many schools still have interesting things going on.
Cooking, Crafting, Music, and More
The DIY Projects for Teens site is geared towards teens and has a bunch of DIY craft, decorating, and fashion ideas.
Free In-Home Activities To Keep Kids Busy And Learning – Aimed at parents of kids and tweens (not as much teens) this list has a variety of ideas for educational and fun activities for kids during COVID. While you’re there, check out the rest of the Successful Black Parenting website.
11 unique at-home craft ideas to see you through quarantine, creatively – this article is aimed at adults but has a lot of options that would likely be great for teens and tweens.
25 Baking Recipes For Self-Quarantine And Self-Care – These are mostly decadent, but many are accessible for teen bakers and don’t take too many (or no) expensive or hard to find ingredients.
43 Cool Recipes For Teens To Make At Home – Also from DIY Projects for Teens, this page has teen- and tween-friendly recipe ideas that generally use easy to find ingredients.
An article from earlier in the pandemic, How Quarantining Taught my Kids to Cook, includes reasons to get kids and teens cooking and ideas for how to do it. Cooking Skills for Kids During Quarantine: This includes free activity sheets and checklists for kids ages 4-7, 8-11, and teens ages 12+.
Free online music lessons – There are actually some great music lessons on YouTube. Try doing a search in YouTube for the type of lesson you want. Here are a few examples:
– Singing Tips from Gospel Legend, Yolanda Adams – Fun and very engaging.
– 10 Singing Techniques to Improve Your Voice – Clear, specific tips.
– Guitar Lesson 1 – Absolute Beginner? Start Here! – Accessible and encouraging for new players.
– Ukulele Lesson 1 – Absolute Beginner? Start Here! – Turns out the same guy in the video above also teaches uke!
– Step by Step Harmonica Lessons – Lesson 1 – Accessible, clear video for beginners.
– And much more!
More Screen-free Options: Board Games, Books, and Podcasts
Outrageously Entertaining Family Board Games for Screen-Free Fun – this site is very product-focused, but we heard great things about several of these games!
(Ok, not screen-free, but interactive!) The Best Board Games to Play Over Zoom, According to Experts
100 Favorite Books For Young Readers These are mostly for younger kids and include a lot of classics that you can easily get from your local library (or through CWMARS from a nearby library). The list includes quite a few books that feature kids of color, which we appreciate.
Podcasts for Kids and Teens
The 25 Best Podcasts for Kids – from Common Sense Media, notes which age group each podcast is for, from preschool through teens.
26 Best Podcasts for Students in Elementary, Middle, and High School from We Are Teachers, with descriptions and age groups for each.
A Few (of the Many) Virtual Activities
But aren’t we trying to reduce screen time? In general, yes!! But we’re coming around to some of the potential positive options. This article from National Geographic caught our attention – it’s about the potential social benefits of multi-player video games for kids and teens at home during the pandemic. Also, we have heard good things about the mental and physical health benefits for youth who participate in online fitness classes (live or prerecorded), museum tours, and other educational or social activities.
Down Dog Yoga, an online yoga and fitness site that offers a variety of programs through apps, is offering free access to students and teachers (and anyone with an active .edu email address) through July 1, 2021. Sign up for free offerings here.
– Mahar Regional School in Orange is still offering Esports this year – here is a video from last year (before the pandemic) about the program!
– Montague Parks and Rec started an eSports league, too! Find more info here and join Mission Control eSports platform here.
The Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center has virtual programs (like The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening – Why Native Plants Matter to Pollinators and Songbirds on December 8.
A list of virtual visits to historic places, art, science, and history museums, performing arts venues, and more. Some of these are aimed at kids and some will likely be of interest to teens and adults. (E.g. Mount Everest, NASA, The Louvre…)