Social distancing and lockdown might be the new norm - but holidays don't have to be a drag this year.
Over the autumn break, youngsters 12 and over can create art and craft, keep fit, and play games at a school holiday program jointly run by Queanbeyan's AXIS Youth Centre and Goulburn-Mulwaree Council.
In past years, AXIS youth outreach officer Dave Carter and Goulburn youth services co-ordinator Luke Wallace took young people to the beach or Time Zone. These holidays, they'll move online - holding free hour-long activities most afternoons over Zoom.
"Let's try and get your mind off coronavirus," Dave said. "It's good just to forget about what's going on even for an hour while you have fun."
The program begins with an art workshop on Tuesday, April 14: making grass heads, smiling stocking faces with googly eyes and green hair. The grass heads last up to six weeks. "It's an ongoing thing that young people can tend for, care about, and have some responsibility for," Dave said.
There are more arts and craft activities the next Tuesday, and on Thursdays, April 16 and 23: making mixed canvases out of scrap paper and magazines, or folding origami. Organisers will post free art packs to families beforehand, to save them spending money on items.
The activities are fun (and probably a relief to parents trying to keep offspring occupied) - but youth workers can also learn who needs help.
"During this time," Dave said, "we're seeing a lot of young people struggle with feeling disconnected, or suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues. I'm almost 40, and I've never experienced anything like this in my life. If you're 12 or 13, you're not going to forget about this moment."
Each session is run by a facilitator and youth worker. While the facilitator might teach origami or dot painting, youth workers can respond to text messages.
"The best way to engage young people is through activities," Dave said. "You can chat to them, and they might open up. From there, we can build relationships after the event." (Parental consent needed, of course.)
Online games (offered on Wednesdays, April 15 and 22) are a great way to interact with young people, Dave said.
Playing Facebook games at the Axis drop-in centre, youths have messaged him wanting to talk privately. "I'd find out they're homeless, or they need referrals or a food hamper," Dave said. "Asking anyone for help can feel shameful, so through activities we can really get to the basis of what they need."
Finally, the PCYC will run a fitness and movement class on Monday, April 20, with a demonstration and written instructions so young people can make it a routine in this routineless world.
The youth co-ordinators are also working on a weekly schedule to help youngsters keep sane or mentally healthy.
Dave urged readers to reach out to the young people or children in their lives they think might be struggling. "Engage with them in any way possible that relates to them. If it means video games, if you sign have up to a Fortnite account, just do it, so you can be there, and be a good mentor."
The Autumn 2020 School Holiday Program runs from Tuesday to Thursday, April 14 to 23, 1pm to 2pm. All classes free. For more information, visit the AXIS Youth Centre Facebook page (fb.me/AxisYouthCentre) or phone (02) 6285 6341 or (02) 6285 6340.
The school holiday programs are brought to you by Queanbeyan-Palerang and Goulburn-Mulwaree Council, Headspace, the AXIS Youth Centre, Mission Australia, PCYC, and the NSW Police Force.