Quizzes, karaoke, meditation: The best online resources for self-isolation

From fitness to MoMa, there are countless resources online to keep you occupied


1: Chill out with Ten Percent Happier Live

We are living in anxiety-inducing times and it is vital that we take care of our mental as well as our physical well-being. For those of us who can no longer attend our weekly meditation classes, why not try out the live streaming daily meditation sessions from Dan Harris of the Ten Percent Happier book and podcast series.

If you’ve never really got the hang of meditating and find it difficult to do it alone, then this is the chance you have been waiting for. These sessions are free – in lieu of payment you are encouraged to donate to various charities – and could provide some much-needed head space in the weeks ahead.

At 7pm GMT every weekday Harris and a guest (a meditation or mindfulness expert) have a bit of a preliminary chat, talk viewers through a five-minute guided meditation and then take questions. As Harris puts it: “Freaking out? You’re not alone – and you’re not malfunctioning. We’re in a moment of uncertainty and anxiety. Hence our new experiment.”


How do we handle our fear asks one viewer? Buddhist mindfulness teacher Jack Kornfield says that there is a tendency to embrace panic and catastrophise but that this will shut down the endocrine and nervous system and make us feel worse. We need to remain steady in these uncertain times and some mindfulness will surely help with that.

See Ten Percent Happier Live on Youtube

2: Enjoy some zen snowboarding with Alto's Adventure

Alto's Adventure and sequel Alto's Odyssey are both computer games, yes, but they are also a form of meditative relaxation. These games are easily some of the best within the 'endless runner' genre. Beautiful landscapes slide by as your character snowboards or sandboards indefinitely.

You can choose to play these endless runners in two ways, the first of which is to aim for a high score. Alto must restart the level every time your character has a crash landing, but the satisfaction lies in scoring points for collecting coins, smacking into llamas, soaring over ravines and landing perfect backflips.

Then there is “zen mode”: no high score, no dying, no llamas running for ground. The game advises you to use earphones to get the most out of the zen soundtrack, which rises to a crescendo as Alto whooshes down mountainsides and the day slides into night. This beautifully designed game is genuinely relaxing and can be played by all ages.

In solidarity with those in self-isolation, developer Snowman is giving both Alto games away for free for a limited period of time. Go grab them before they're back to the paid versions.

See Alto's Adventure and sequel Alto's Odyssey

3: Daily PE classes with Joe Wicks

Start the day with a brisk 30-minute workout courtesy of celebrity fitness trainer Joe Wicks. This is in fact a PE class aimed at primary school children but judging by the comments on Wicks's YouTube videochannel there are plenty of parents using it as a way to spend time with their kids and get fit themselves.

“Me and my son have enjoyed it this morning, though you’ve definitely put an unfit 29 year old through her paces,” says one viewer, while another admits: “I wasn’t exercising for 10 years but today I started with my 9yo son . . . Thank you for your energy. See you tomorrow.”

Streaming live at 9am daily, it looks as though some schools are asking their pupils to join in with Joe every morning as part of their home schooling. It seems like a great way to keep the whole family active while developing a consistent routine while waiting for things to return to normality.

And if PE classes are not your cup of tea, Wicks also has other playlists including the “Seven days of sweat challenge 2020” and some gentler 10-minute workouts for seniors.

See youtube.com/watch?v=Rz0go1pTda8


4: Home science experiments from the Royal Institution

The Royal Institution in the UK is best known for its Christmas lectures that date back to 1825 (!) when notable scientists such as Michael Faraday gave talks to the general public. Although accessible to all ages, nowadays the Christmas lecture series is aimed at young people. You can watch past lectures in full for free but, should your kids want something a bit more interactive, why not visit the Institution's ExpeRimentalscience video series?

One of the videos demonstrates concepts around how memory works. All you need are 10 random items and a cloth or tea towel. First, give your youngster 30 seconds to look at all the items laid out on the kitchen table and, covering them, ask how many they can recall.

The next step is to have your little one make up a story involving all 10 items to show how creating links in your mind between different items or ideas can help you remember them more effectively than staring at them for 30 seconds and trying to remember blindly. It’s a neat trick and might be the beginning of their career in psychology or neuroscience!

There are also downloadable information sheets for all these exercises and even printable certificates. A nice touch that can be shared proudly with their grandparents on the next FaceTime call.

See rigb.org/families/experimental

5: Taskmaster launches #HomeTasking

After nine seasons, UK comedy game show Taskmaster remains incredibly popular. The format involves a cheap set, a line-up of five comedians and lots of weird and wonderful tasks devised by the Taskmaster's assistant Alex Horne. With legends such as David Baddiel and Jo Brand as well as rising stars Aisling Bea and Róisín Conaty, this show is hilarious to watch and has also grown a loyal base of fans who love to play the board game and join in real-life Taskmaster meet-ups.

Horne is helping stave off boredom by running a series of #HomeTasking challenges via Twitter and YouTube. There are three tasks per week and for the first one he invited individuals and families alike to lob a piece of A4 paper into a bin. The most spectacular throw wins. And the rules state this must be done within your home or garden.

The task must be filmed, ideally a one-minute clip, and sent to the official Taskmaster Twitter account where it will be judged. There is a leader board and the best clips will make it to a YouTube compilation. So, what are you waiting for? Get tasking!

See youtube.com/channel/UCT5C7yaO3RVuOgwP8JVAujQ

6: Be inspired by tech heroines and code with your kids

Amid the uncertainty, fear and mass purchasing of pasta and toilet paper it is heart-warming to see humans being decent to one another. Girls Who Code, for example, has released free online curriculums for students worldwide to download and work through. There are lots of cool activities and stories about inspiring women in technology.

The Stay Positive Binary Bracelets activity teaches children about the basics of binary code by creating their own bracelet: choose a colour of bead to represent 1, another for 0, and another as a spacer bead between words. Then using the binary decoder key provided, you and your child can create a bracelet with, for example, both of your names in binary.

Educational yet crafty, this doesn’t need to involved laptops to introduce youngsters to foundational concepts in computer science.

"We wanted to provide support for parents busy working from home, options for educators in need of remote work, and – of course – inspiration for our girls who are out there eager to learn and thinking about how to help their communities," said Reshma Saujani, founder and chief executive of Girls Who Code.

See girlswhocode.com/code-at-home


7: Dive into the history of photography with MoMa New York

There is only so much Netflix one can take. Prevent your brain from dribbling out through your ears by using this period of social distancing and self-isolation to learn something new. I've just enrolled in Seeing Through Photographs, a Coursera class on photography as a medium for understanding and interpreting the world around us. I know, how highfalutin' of me.

This course is delivered by one of my favourite museums: MoMa (the Museum of Modern Art in New York) and draws heavily upon photographic works from the museum itself. Learning something new doesn’t have to be about upskilling or continuing professional development. It can simply be about broadening your horizons, which is vital when cabin fever sets in.

One whole section of the course is dedicated to a history of photographing the moon, from 19th-century daguerreotypes to full-colour pictures from the Apollo moon landing (there is a gorgeous, glossy Taschen book dedicated to images from the moon landing which would make a good accompaniment to this). As with most courses, this can be audited for free with an option to buy a certificate for €44.

Maybe you would prefer another Coursera course. Whatever the case, new features make this e-learning platform more attractive than ever. With Calendar Sync important assignment dates and other events are automatically added to your calendar app of choice.

See coursera.org/learn/photography

8: Museum hop with Google Arts and Culture

It's going to be a while before museums and other cultural attractions are open for business again. In the meantime you can take virtual trips to famous venues all around the globe with Google Arts and Culture. You can access this app on a laptop but it works best on a smartphone for one main reason: the art projector feature.

This augmented-reality overlay places full-size works of art in your living room. What about Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring? Walk up close and inspect it in detail, move around and see it from all angles. And who wants to wait in line for an hour at the Louvre for glimpse of the Mona Lisa over the heads of hundreds of other tourists when you can inspect it at your leisure while eating cereal and wearing yoga pants.

The virtual museum tours are also pretty impressive. Using Street View technology Google has free tours of the Guggenheim, the British Museum, Paris's Musée d'Orsay and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam among others. And if it's cultural sites you want, there are also 360-degree tours of the Colosseum in Rome, Alcatraz, the Taj Mahal, and the Palace of Versailles. It's funny how these apps open us up to new experiences but we take them for granted. Now, when boredom threatens, it might be time to rediscover the virtual globetrotting joys of the internet.

See artsandculture.google.com

9: Enjoy free classes in illustration, design and more at Brit+Co

You could scroll endlessly through Instagram for an hour this evening . . . or you could go to brit.co/learn and unleash your inner creative with a slew of free courses to choose from. This lifestyle-oriented e-learning site is giving everyone free access until the end of March. Just choose your course and use the code SELFCARE at the checkout for a 100 per cent discount.

Why not get creative with a calligraphy class or perhaps learn some watercolour painting techniques? If you want something that you can do with the little ones there is a cookie-decorating class (make sure you have royal icing, food colouring and plenty of patience). Or, if you can get them to sit still for long enough, dust off that DSLR camera and learn how to use it to take great family photos – a skill that will stand to you for years to come.

See brit.co/learn


10: Davey Reilly’s ‘Not in a pub’ pub quiz

Pour yourself a glass of wine or crack open a can and join comedian Davey Reilly's Mastermind Yourself 'Not in a Pub' pub quiz. It's every Wednesday night at 8pm, there are five rounds of eight questions, and you must submit your answer sheet after each round. And yes, there is a music round. You could, of course, Google all the answers but that would spoil the fun. Play fair.

For the inaugural quiz, Reilly seemed to be expecting no more than a few groups, but 120 teams ended up taking part. As with all pub quizzes, you can expect some creative team names. No prizes for guessing the theme: Quaranteam, Quentin Quarantino, the Quarantones and so on.

You want something else? Try Corkonians Pat and Colm's Big Harry Potter Quiz taking place on Friday night. Watch the livestream for free or join in the fun for €6 (through Eventbrite). There is no link to the quiz initially, instead ticket holders will be emailed with instructions prior to the start time.

See Mastermind Yourself 'Not in a Pub'

11: Duet with friends on Yokee’s karaoke app

With more than a million songs, Yokee's karaoke app has an insane catalogue to choose from. Why fret over missing out on real-life karaoke sessions in a cramped, non-air-conditioned windowless room with overpriced drinks when you can sing your heart out in the kitchen. Yokee has several audio effects to choose from: studio, concert hall, echo, star and chorus. Play around to get the best sound for your chosen track. The best feature, of course, is the ability to duet. Not all songs offer this but those that do allow you to join in on existing karaoke sessions or invite other to join yours. Now you just have to convince friends to download the app and play along.

A major downside is that it costs €21.49 per month but you can sign up for a seven-day free trial before you decide if it’s worth it. If you have a decent singing voice it could be; karaoke sessions are automatically video recorded and these can be downloaded and shared on YouTube or elsewhere online (or deleted immediately if, like me, you cruelly butchered some Abba classics).

See Yokee's karaoke app

12: Throw a Netflix Party

Netflix Party is the most talked about Chrome plug-in right now. It is so popular that it has crashed out several times so hopefully, by the time you read this, it is up and running. Created by an independent third-party developer, it enables synchronisation of Netflix video playback and adds in group chat.

Install from the Chrome Web Store, visit Netflix and choose your poison. Once you have selected a movie, click the NP button in your browser menu and when the pop-up appears, click on “Start the party”. This generates a URL to share with friends and family. As long as they have Netflix Party installed and click on the button to initiate, their Netflix playback will sync with yours and a chat window appears on the right-hand side.

Microwave some popcorn, get into your PJs and fire up Netflix Party. It’s like having a sleepover except without the annoying aspect of having to make snacks and clean up after everyone.

See Netflix Party


13: Join Alison Spittle’s Instagram #Covideo party

This is a particularly tough time for those who rely on tours, gigs, live shows and the like to earn a living. With mass cancellations, many artists, comedians and actors find themselves in financial hardship. The hilarious and talented Alison Spittle has found an ingenious way around this: hosting entertaining viewing parties live on Instagram and encouraging those who take part to donate the price of a cup of coffee via Ko-Fi.com.

“I’m a stand-up comedian who relies on live work to pay my bills. The coronavirus has ballsed that up so I’m going to try and earn money through this. I started a hashtag #CovideoParty every night we’ll watch a film on Netflix in self-isolation together and tweet about it,” she says.

We’re talking classics: Spittle has already done Beetlejuice, Hook and Groundhog Day. Viewers are encouraged to dress up in DIY costumes related to the film and share pics with her. There was even a fake Mass last Sunday; Spittle said Mass herself and used crisps in place of communion wafers. This is therapeutic hilarity at its best.

See Ko-Fi.com

14: Catch some comedy gigs with the Stay at Home Festival

See some great live comedy from the comfort of your own home with Robin Ince's Stay at Home Festival. There are daily shows in the morning and evening and a virtual bucket pops up at the end, encouraging viewers to donate a few quid to help out artists in need.

“It is stating the obvious to say that strange days have got a hell of a lot stranger with many people facing confusion and anxiety during this Covid-19 pandemic,” says Ince.

“Artists have nowhere to play and audiences have nowhere to go to be distracted. Venues are having to close, gigs are having to be cancelled and festivals abandoned. And so we, at the Cosmic Shambles Network, proudly present the Stay at Home Festival.”

This morning at 10am you can enjoy Ince and Josie Long with Sara Pascoe, Natalie Haynes and Ben Norris. At 6pm Ince and Long will be joined by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Speaking of which, Hadfield has a lovely YouTube video with tips on dealing with self-isolation. As he says, he knows a little something about this given the time he has spent alone in space.

See Stay at Home Festival

15: Alone together with Broad City

Fans of millennial comedy Broad City may already be familiar with its Instagram miniseries Hack into Broad City. These clips feature protagonists Abbi and Ilana hanging out alone together through video chats from their own Brooklyn apartments – perfect entertainment (and inspiration) for these interesting times we live in.

There is a compilation of all Hack into Broad City episodes available on their official Instagram account. Enjoy spending 45 minutes watching the gals eating cereal, getting stoned, toilet-chatting, watching each other sleep, smoothie-making, life drawing and all manner of wonderful weirdness.

Like they say, you don’t need to leave your apartment to have a blast together. Just don’t copy their hot-dog eating competition because no one wants to see their friend get sick directly on to their web cam.

And there are other things you can do via video chat to stave off the boredom. A friend of mine is having a Trivial Pursuit game with pals this weekend via a WhatsApp group. She is hosting the game and the other players just need to join the group with their own dice to hand.

See instagram.com/BroadCity