Julia Torquati Courtesy Photo

Julia Torquati | Courtesy photo by Craig Chandler

As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps children across the country at home, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor saw an opportunity to encourage continued learning and development in a digital space.

Julia Torquati, a child, youth and family studies professor and chairperson for the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, said she and others in her department knew that children would be spending more time in front of screens during this time of social distancing. They decided to take advantage of that for a constructive purpose and formed A Beautiful Day, a website where videos are posted regularly with activities for kids and their caretakers to do from home.

Named after the opening song in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the website was launched March 20 and focuses on ways for children to learn new things while offering stability and routine, according to Torquati.

“It’s important to keep them actively engaged, not entertained,” she said. “Entertainment is passive; engagement is when kids are really actively exploring their world and learning about it.”

Designed to support all kinds of families, the activities demonstrated in the videos are all meant to be easily accessible and performed with common household items or just by going outside. 

The videos are grouped into different aspects of learning pertaining to home life, active lifestyles, thinking skills, storytelling and new experiences. Filmed by volunteers, such as members from UNL’s child, youth and family studies department and the Buffett Institute, Torquati said the videos are meant to add some comfort and regularity to a child’s new routine.

“Overall disruption in routines is especially stressful for children,” Torquati said. “ … To have a big change like that, to not be seeing their friends on a regular basis.”

From fun ways to help with laundry to building a bedtime routine, the videos can help children as well as their caregivers, Torquati said.

“If it’s reducing children’s stress levels, I think that’s hopefully going to help reduce the parent stress levels,” she said. “Being able to divide your attention between what your child is doing and what you need to be doing can be really challenging.”

Holly Hatton-Bowers, an assistant professor in child, youth and family studies and early childhood extensions, also helped create A Beautiful Day. She said children learn best through play, which is how the site’s videos aim to teach.

Looking toward the future, Hatton-Bowers said they plan to share the resources through other venues and are encouraged by the positive feedback the website has received.

“We just hope that families, and children in particular, are using our spark to receive ideas and engage in playful learning,” she said.