5 ways to entertain your baby during a pandemic

This piece formed part of my MA portfolio for the University of Lincoln. It was written in August 2020 including the lockdown rules at the time which may now differ. It was published on acajournalist.com in January 2021 to allow it to be graded.

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

Coronavirus has forced us to stay at home a lot more and think of inventive ways to keep our little people happy. A little organisation can go a long way, and though it can sometimes seem impossible to find a spare few moments alone, taking a little time each evening to roughly plan out the next day can really help. It doesn’t matter if most plans go out of the window after a rough night, the intention was there, and the list can roll on to another day.

1.Plan themed weeks with easy activities to set up based on each topic. For example, dinosaur week with toy dinosaurs and playdough made volcanoes. Once your baby gets fed up, you can get the paint out and let your baby make footprints with the dinosaur’s feet.

It is important to add structured activity as their normal routine has been up-skittled for many months. If your child is not at nursery because of the pandemic, it can be a great way to emulate their nursery environment at home, even getting in touch with their key worker for ideas on themes and setting up activities.

Lisa Clegg, author of The Blissful Baby Expert Book and a maternity night nurse, helps thousands of parents find their groove. “Take one day at a time and try to break the day into sections too. With my new mums who are overwhelmed this is the biggest thing I tell them to do.

“Don’t think too far ahead or you will find it a never-ending task with no end in sight. Try to have a rough routine plan for meals and bedtimes at least to give you all some structure and then split the day into morning and afternoon activities to break the day up,” says Lisa.

Visit The Blissful Baby Expert for lots of tips, articles and mum meet ups at https://theblissfulbabyexpert.co.uk/

2.Enroll in a local baby massage or baby yoga group. Coronavirus unfortunately closed all face to face groups but slowly they are starting up again, so it is worth checking Facebook for a local group. They are operating in spaced out in big halls, remotely, or outdoors across summer months. The benefit of a weekly group is it adds structure to the week and forces you to both get dressed and out the house, or set up in front of the computer screen if it is an online class.

It also allows you time to lean on an expert and follow their lead rather than your own. Founder of the Village Midwives, Annette Ashford, explains the benefits: “It is as much for the mothers as it is for the babies really and at the end of a baby massage course it is lovely to see how friendships have blossomed. We all need a tribe to get through motherhood and it can be the start of a lifelong friendship. It has been very different virtually but worked really well and the babies have all enjoyed sensory objects and the massage itself.”

If you are in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Norfolk or South Yorkshire, you can find classes at https://www.thevillagemidwives.co.uk/

3.Get outside. Remember that though we are at home more, we can make the most of the great outdoors where generally it is easier to adhere to social distancing measures. To lift both your mood and the baby’s, sometimes a stroll can be just what to doctor ordered.

It can also be fun to turn the walk into light exercise and time your routes each week to see how much you have improved. Now shops have re-opened you can reward yourself with a skinny late for the way home, feeling good about supporting local businesses at the same who are down on profits because of coronavirus.

Keira Williamson from Zen Mama is organising local walks around her hometown of Spalding with other mums. “I think we all miss the contact with others and meeting outdoors for a walk can really lift your mood as you share your experiences of motherhood and take in a bit of  exercise within the rules of coronavirus,” says Keira.

Why not see if there are local walks with other mothers in your area and if not, start your own?

Log and share your walks on https://www.mapmywalk.com/ and find other walks in your area.

4. “Ready, set, bake,” as they say on the Great British Bake off. Baking with your little one can be lots of fun and a chance for them to engage in messy play, getting their hands, and sometimes feet, dirty. Don’t worry, you can make a separate batch to actually eat if things go awry. If your baby is too little to join in, they might enjoy watching you bake with the different visual culinary sensations in front of their very eyes. Don’t forget to talk to them about each step of the recipe as it is a great opportunity to explore language together.

Alternatively, setting time aside to prepare lunch or dinner earlier in the day can be a fun activity and a time your baby can explore self-led weaning as they chew on a piece of cucumber. It can help prevent the stressful time of day as dinner can just be cooked later instead of you trying to prep whilst juggling an unhappy baby.

Visit www.ellaskitchen.co.uk for some yummy toddler recipes.

5.Have a dance party to shake it off. I like to do this on a Friday afternoon to get us in the mood for the weekend with my children. The sillier your dance moves are, the funnier your baby will find it as they get in the groove with you. To make it more authentic, darken the room and set up a disco light to add to the sensory experience. It really is impossible not to smile as you put on your favourite tunes and sing out of key to fits of giggles from your baby.

Picking a song with a solid beat your baby can nod along to before progressing to a wiggle, helps keep them interested. Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars is always a winner in our house.

Browse Apple Music, Spotify or Amazon music for readymade playlists for babies and children. Linking to your Amazon Alexa can mean the children start to make requests themselves too!

As a plan fan, it is really satisfying to print out the daily schedule and tick each activity off as we go. It helps me feel like I have achieved something, even on tricky days.

Comment below your own experiences of entertaining during the pandemic and any activities you have tried and loved.


Dance teacher Katie Blacksmith Adams knows what it is like to be on the stage as a professional and an amateur. She tells Ailsa Adams about life in America and giving it all up to move thousands of miles across the pond for love.

Halfway through our first meeting, Katie gets up to do a quick tap-dancing routine to the song on the radio. It feels like a regular occurrence for her own gratification rather than a showing off exercise. Her dream dinner table would include Gene Kelly and Gregory Hines, though I’m sensing there would be more dancing than eating.

A dance teacher and performer to crudely simplify her artistic talents, her latest project is choreographing, directing and producing Ghost the Musical at Wildcats Theatre School in Stamford, Lincolnshire.

Her beauty is breath-taking in an effortless, good bone structure, aging beyond her current 33 won’t be an issue type of way.  Long, thick brown hair falls perfectly below her shoulders, mimicking Kate Middleton after an expensive blow dry. She is rarely seen out of Ugg boots and at least one thick cardigan as Ryhall feels like the Arctic when you are used to LA temperatures.

As her mouth opens to speak you can tell she is American before the dulcet tones from Los Angeles come out, as her teeth are remarkably white and perfectly aligned. Top and bottom. “We all get braces and go to dentist every six months for cleans. It’s all privatised so people spend lots and lots of money on it, especially in LA.”

Katie is a triple threat, someone who can sing, act and dance, referenced heavily in the TV series Glee. She would not describe herself that way but her back catalogue disagrees.

At New York University she majored in drama and minored in production, a prestigious university that has churned out superstars such as Kristin Bell, most known for voicing Anna in Disney’s blockbuster film Frozen.

Yet Katie is uncomfortable name dropping the endless famous people she has worked with. Perhaps she has spent too long in Rutland and adopted the British nature of not blowing your own trumpet, but she shifts in her chair when probed.

The list includes icons like Bradley Cooper and strangely Lady Gaga, a fellow alumni from NYU she describes as eccentric, long before A Star Is Born brought them together.

“Bradley was so sweet to work with and he made a point of learning all our names, bringing back a fruit basket at the end of the summer to thank us and yes, he is that stunning in real life,” she laughs.

Before the #metoo movement erupted, Katie was familiar with the concept, though thankfully not to the horrifying extent of some. The director of a Toyota commercial was enough to make her question her life choices and change direction to work out of the spotlight, choosing to produce and teach over acting.

“What put me off acting was I was finally doing what I wanted to do professionally but it wasn’t fun. It was so bad I had to call my agent as I felt unsafe, I am not a complainer and can defend myself, but he told the casting director and she came to set and basically chaperoned me. I thought ‘I don’t want to be a part of this world’.”

At the age of 17 Katie got an opportunity most can only dream of when her college, Hamilton Academy of Music in LA, set a project of making a film in partnership with 20th Century Fox. Cast as the producer, she got paired with Fred Baron, the producer of Moulin Rouge and learnt first-hand what a producer’s role was.

“I had no idea what a producer was but went with it as my friend Ashleigh wanted to be the director. It was an awesome experience and was the reason I minored in production at NYU. It was really hands on in Fox’s production suites, learning to use equipment and techniques used in films with an absolute producing giant.”

Despite all her experiences in New York, LA and Texas to name a few and endless opportunities working with theatre production greats like Daryl Roth, a ten time Tony-Award winning producer of over 120 productions, and Alex Timbers, who is currently producing Beetlejuice on Broadway, Katie gave it all up and moved to England for love and is currently fitting teaching work around her baby.

“I met Ben, my husband, when I was three. Though we didn’t get together for over twenty years. I wouldn’t leave the States officially without a ring, he wouldn’t ask me to marry him without living with me first, so we ended up in Northampton, England to test the water,” says Katie.

The future is wide open which is both exciting and horrifying for her. Her teaching qualification, a diploma in dance education will be completed in a few months and she is enjoying the slower pace of life in Ryhall. Her only current front-and-centre gig is her role in the Bomber Belles, a trio who sing wartime songs based at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln.

“What I miss most about America is my friends and though this will get me in trouble, Broadway over the West End any day. The biggest difference is training. In the UK I am expected to teach the children one 30-minute lesson a week. In the States that would be at least 60 minutes and three times a week.”

Her biggest regret artistically is letting her anxiety hold her back. “I have always suffered with anxiety and it’s made me not take risks I should have taken. A lot of people have complimented me as a performer, but I have chosen not to believe them. I am not kind to myself.”

I haven’t interviewed Meghan Markle under a pseudonym, though if Katie told me she was moving to Canada and had landed a Disney voiceover deal, I might question the parallels further. 

Reading with young children

Ailsa Adams, columnist and mother to George and Wilf, aged five and two explains why reading with your small children is still important in 2020.

As the digital world encroaches on our lives further, it is still important to read physical books with young children and babies. The benefits are far reaching for both the child and yourself and as the phrase says: “There is no App to replace your lap.”

When to start?

It is never too early according to Dr Karen Coats, the Director of the Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at Cambridge University: “As early as the 1970s, researchers have found that infants can recognise a text that has been read to them repeatedly while they were still in the womb, within hours after birth.”

Sounds like the perfect excuse to read your old favourite children’s book aloud to your bump with a hot cup of tea, all in the name of education.

Benefits for your child

There are so many benefits to reading with young children, the obvious one being language development. Dr Karen expands: “When babies and children are read to, they hear many more and different words than people use in everyday conversation. They also hear these words in clusters and expressions such as ‘handsome prince’ or ‘big, bad wolf’ so they are getting a sense of context.”

One book a day prior to starting school at the age of four will mean the child has listened to at least 1460 stories. The impact to literacy is so far reaching, not only for competence but also for enjoyment, attention span and focus.  “You can tell who has been read to and who hasn’t when teaching a child to read and it alters their enjoyment of it, it can be much less of a chore.  If you are in a good routine of reading with your child, it will also be easier to start hearing them read to you every day after school,” says Sharon Clarke, a primary school teacher in London and Lincolnshire for 35 years and mother to six children.

Another benefit is that it is an easy way of bonding with your baby and can form an essential part of a good bedtime routine. If you are struggling to get a child to go to sleep, instilling a routine can really help with the winding down process, getting the book out is the signal it is time for bed. A warning from Dr Karen though: “Be aware that for babies, a book is something to explore with their mouths, so you want to make sure the books you share aren’t too precious.”

The best part is while they are a baby, you can pick what you read to them.

Benefits for you

It is an excuse to escape reality for ten minutes a day while you delve into the depths of make-believe. Dr Karen feels passionately about dedicating time: “For that space of time, phones are put away, TVs turned off, and the pair share attention without the distractions.

“Most books for children are enjoyable in ways that adults might have forgotten such as the rhythm of the text, the humour or the appeal of the images.”

It also impacts on our mental and overall health in a positive way. “Rhythmic language can actually lower blood pressure, for instance, and reading picture-books and stories that require the creation of mental images integrates neural activity, making the reader feel more coherent after a day of stressful demands,” says Dr Karen.

Does it matter what you read?

Not really, but some books are more beneficial than others. Dr Karen offers advice on what is the most beneficial: “Everything starts with poetry, so read lots of poetry. This will give them an ear for their language and help them develop confidence in speaking as well, as children’s poems are written to be read aloud.”

At a young age enjoyment is also vital, there is no point reading Aristotle to a two-year-old if they (and you) are not interested. A book they can get involved with will have them reaching for it again and again from the bookshelf.  “Around 10 months old I really noticed the effect reading was having on the boys. Rex started to pick the books off the shelf he wanted me to read to him, showing favouritism to certain pages too,” says Isabella Hicks, a reader and mother of three boys aged five, three and two.

Dr Karen agrees: “Give them lots of opportunities to choose their own books and do some exploratory work on your own to find books that present them with a range of artistic styles and diverse stories.”

What if my baby won’t sit still?

Start small with short stories and keep building it up, taking breaks to discuss it with older toddlers. Dr Karen believes the talking around the book is as important as the book itself: “Talk, talk, talk about what you’re reading, you’ll be surprised with what they noticed that you didn’t.”

The last story read to Wilf is in his bed, so he is laying down and engaged with the story. It is a different type of reading than daytime when he is pointing at pictures and turning the pages.

“Reading with toddlers both on and off your lap is a great start to getting them used to sitting on the carpet for story-time at school,” says Sharon Clarke.

The verdict is clear. Let’s reach for our favourite books and have a snuggle for some essential, educational bonding time, complete with lots of obligatory head sniffs, to soak up the adorable baby smell.