34 productive things to do at home during self-isolation

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 23 March 2020

How to keep yourself entertained indoors while you’re stuck at home.

If you’re stuck at home there’s more to do than watch pay TV or declutter – what about starting to learn a language, studying a free university paper, or doing cool things with the kids?

There’s a world to explore from your armchair and many things are free. Whether you’re self isolating, or practising social distancing, here are 30 ideas to help prevent cabin fever by keeping your mind active and your body moving.

Snow leopards

Turn your living room into an African safari with Zoos Victoria's Animal House initiative.



34 productive things to do at home (other than binge-watch sitcoms)



Quench your thirst for learning

Enrol in a MOOC

So, you never finished that university degree or always wanted to study philosophy? Now’s the perfect time to sign up for a MOOC (massive open online course). MOOCs are free courses offered by universities, colleges and other educational institutions from around the world, on subjects ranging from artificial intelligence and the biology of cancer, to understanding modern sculpture. You can do a whole course or a single subject. 

Students get to learn from top educators and collaborate with students from around the world. And, unlike traditional university courses, there are no entry requirements and no fees, although some providers charge students if they want an official certificate of completion. Platforms including Coursera and edX bring together MOOCs from around the world, including Australia. Find out more at gooduniversitiesguide.com.au.

Upskill

For those in the workforce wanting to upskill, LinkedIn Learning (previously Lynda.com) offers a month’s free trial to more than 14,000 courses for in-demand skills such as software development, data science and leadership. You can also train yourself on popular software applications such as Swift, Apple’s programming language, which allows you to build iPhone and iPad apps. If you’ve ever puzzled over spreadsheets, there are numerous courses on Excel and data analysis. After the free trial, subscriptions start at about $40 a month. General Assembly also offers a range of digital workshops, boot camps and short courses in everything from UX design and front-end web development to copywriting and coding. 

Join a YouTube tutorial

Whether you want to learn to sing, improve your photography skills or make a table from scrap timber, there’s a YouTube tutorial for that.

Take a free renovation class

Learn how to plan, design and style your dream home with a free online module through The Reno School, from mastering kitchens and bathrooms to nailing the basics of interior decorating.

Young girl planting flower in garden
Woman sitting on couch next to window writing in book

Dig yourself a flower or vegetable garden or put your thoughts to paper.


Dance because no one is watching

Learn your favourite movie dance moves

Privacy is gold for those of us suffering dance dyslexia, so now is the perfect time to shake your bootie and learn those steps that have been eluding you. Try learning 12 basic moves of Bollywood dance, make like John Travolta circa 1977 with a few fundamental disco moves or, if Strictly Ballroom is more your speed, what better time to master the foxtrot, waltz, rumba or cha-cha. You can dance like no one is watching – because no one is.

Join the #zftuesday movement

Looking for a way to let go and dance it out? Join Torquay-based social media sensation and accidental Instagram dance superstar Kat John in a virtual dance off. Kat’s social-media driven zerofks movement has seen people across the globe letting go of their insecurities, stresses and anything else that’s holding them back. And it’s easy to join in. Simply video yourself dancing to your fave tunes, challenge your mates by tagging them, upload your video to your Instagram account or stories and tag @kat.john and #zftuesday. It’s a great way to free your mind and feel connected to your community while being physically isolated.

Go green

Start a vegie patch or herb garden

Whether you have a big backyard or just an apartment balcony, you can go green. As well as being enjoyable, the Victorian government’s Better Health Channel says gardening has many health benefits. It recommends growing edible plants, but that doesn’t mean just vegetables and fruits – flowers like carnations, honeysuckles and nasturtiums can add colour to your dinner plate too. Mix it up with home-grown herbs like rosemary, basil, chives, sage, mint, oregano, parsley and thyme. 

Sustainable Gardening Australia says people with hard clay or pure sand can use raised beds and bring in soil. Very Edible Gardens believes no-dig gardens that use layers of rich organic matter to form a planting base are great for vegie patches. It says they are quick and easy to make and the decomposing organic matter quickly becomes rich black compost and attracts beneficial micro-organisms. 

If you’re limited to a balcony, keep your space versatile and uncluttered and using self-watering pots. You can make a kitchen garden of herbs or even espalier a fruit tree along a wall.

Fix up the backyard

Being confined to the house doesn’t mean you have to stay inside. Health experts say you don’t need vitamin D supplements if you get enough sunlight – the natural source of this vitamin – by getting out in the garden. This is the ideal time to paint the fence, trim your hedges or do that paving you’ve been putting off for years.

Dog on a leash
Man working on laptop sitting on floor
Photo of the Mona Lisa painting

Take the dog for a walk, enrol into an online course or visit the Mona Lisa from your living room.


Go on a virtual tour  

Visit the NGV

While galleries and museums are closed to the public, you can still get your art and history fix online. The National Gallery of Victoria has gone all out to provide art lovers with online access to 90 per cent of the 75,000 works in its collection and is offering a virtual tour of the gallery. For kids and schools it has opened an NGV kids’ resources portal and schools can book virtual excursions or use online learning resources.

Check out the art at the Australian National Portrait Gallery

Art lovers may also like to visit The Australian National Portrait Gallery. Memorable paintings include  Howard Arkley’s portrait of musician Nick Cave. 

Explore the current collections at Museums Victoria

You can’t visit the museum in person right now but you can explore their collections, including an intricately carved 1847 Aboriginal shield and the Melbourne Museum’s star attraction since 1932, the magnificently taxidermied Phar Lap. You can also check out the best of the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks and Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Museums Victoria website.

Peruse the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria’s online museum

The Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria – the mob that puts on the Royal Melbourne Show – has a virtual online museum with archival records, artefacts and photographs from the 1870s to today, highlighting Victoria’s rural heritage. Budding genealogists can search the show’s exhibition catalogues from 1872 to fill in gaps in the family tree and find out whether Great Aunt Mavis truly did win a ribbon for the best pumpkin scones.  

Visit the Australian Museum’s Capturing Climate Change exhibition 

The Australian Museum has an online exhibition on Capturing Climate Change through the camera lens of wildlife warrior Robert Irwin from Australia Zoo, Australian photographer Stephen Dupont and others. 

Robert has zoomed in on wildlife affected by climate change, including Australia’s green sea turtles, as well as animals from around the globe such as giraffes and rhinos, while Stephen’s images include the recent devastating NSW and Victorian fires from flaming trees to burnt earth. 

There are monthly guest contributors and the museum also asks ordinary folk to submit images showing climate change. 

Spy on animals at the Royal Melbourne Zoo

Forget productivity. You can waste hours watching the animals at Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo. Zoos Victoria has set up live stream cameras around the grounds so, instead of background TV noise, why not let the zoos’ gorgeous baby snow leopard cubs, lazy lions or hungry giraffes keep you company all day, every day.

Watch Tim 

MONA might be closed, but that doesn't mean you can't live stream one of the Hobart gallery’s most intiguing artworks; Tim. Since 2011, Tim – a former tattoo-parlour manager from Zurich and human work of art – has sat at MONA for more than 3500 hours. His back, which features a tattoo by artist Wim Delvoye, is the canvas, and he’s live streaming it from 10am to 4.30pm daily.

Go to the Louvre

Further afield, the Paris Louvre has online tours of some of its exhibitions and galleries, including its Egyptian antiquities collection.  

Wander through the Victoria and Albert Museum

In London, the Victoria and Albert Museum allows you to search its collections, from jewellery to paintings.

Click through themed collections from the Uffizi

The Uffizi museum and gallery in Florence, Italy, has themed online collections like The Easter Story with artworks on the Passion, death and resurrection of Christ. 

 Check out The Met Gallery in New York 

Get inside access to The Met Gallery through The Met 360° Project. The award-winning series of six short videos invites viewers around the world to virtually visit The Met’s art and architecture in a fresh, immersive way. Created using spherical 360° technology, the award-winning series of six short videos allows viewers to explore some of the museum’s iconic spaces. Experience the magic of standing in an empty gallery after-hours or floating high above The Met Cloisters for a bird’s-eye view. 

Put your thoughts on paper 

Start writing a book

If you’ve been putting off writing that great novel that’s been germinating in your mind, this might be an opportunity to start. 

You don’t have to tap it out on your computer or scrawl it out long-hand, you can just tell your story to a smartphone using a dictation app like Otter, which both records and transcribes at the same time and starts with a free basic plan. 

Refine your writing skills

For those scared of grammar and spelling, simply search for online writing groups and courses, which provide free resources including Daily Writing Tips.

If you want to learn from the experts there are numerous online creative writing tutorials, both free and paid, including one by author of the Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood.

Woman doing yoga on balcony
paintbrush roller on white wall

Get your zen on with some backyard (or balcony) yoga, or use the time to re-paint the house.


Hear this 

Listen to podcasts

Let your ears do the walking and delve into the world of podcasts. There’s everything from great brain teasers like the All Aussie Mystery Hour where true crime buffs Josie and Mel present unsolved mysteries, to The Australia Institute explaining the nation’s economy and busting fiscal myths in everyday language. The Feedspot blog lists 50 top podcasts for Australians to follow this year with news and views from across the nation. Or check out these recommended sustainability podcasts, to help you up your green credentials from the comfort of your couch. 

Or create your own

But since you’re at home, why not create your own podcast using a USB microphone and free recording software such as GarageBand. 

Attend a Livestream concert

If you can't stand the idea of months at home without being able to get your live music fix, never fear. Global Citizen and the World Health Organisation’s #TogetherAtHome concert series invites you to attend intimate shows with favourite artists... from the comfort of your living room. Catch Chris Martin singing Coldplay classics from his couch, sing along with Hozier or tune in for a live session with Neil Young. And the best bit? No waiting in line for the bathroom. Keep up to date with the latest couch tour announcements, here or follow the #TogetherAtHome hashtag on social media.

Go to a comedy gig

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival might be cancelled, but that doesn't mean you can't catch some of your favourite comedians latest shows. Now, more than ever, people are in need of a good laff, and 10 of the biggest names in Aussie comedy are ready to help you get your LOLs in the time of coronavirus. From 10 April, Amazon Prime is set to release two stand-up specials a week, with big names including Judith Lucy, Celia Pacquola, Lano and Woodley and Dilruk Jayasinha taking to the digital stage. Check out the trailer, here.

Catch up on some reading

Didn't get time to stock up on new books to read during the lock-in? The internet has you covered. From free e-books to free book delivery, there's no excuse for not getting stuck into some serious page-turners. Search through hundreds of free titles on the Gutenburg e-book site or bag a bargain from online bookstore, Booktopia. Or, if you want to support local business, these independent Melbourne-based bookstores are offering free delivery.

Learn a language  

Download a language app

Whether you want to order pasta in Italian or whisper sweet nothings to your lover in French, there are numerous online language courses and many are free. 

Duolingo combines free learning with an online game, where you lose a ’life’ for every incorrect answer but score points and progress in the game for correct answers. It can help you learn to read, write, listen and speak your choice of more than 100 languages and its makers claim that 34 hours of Duolingo lessons are equal to one semester at university. 

For the time-poor, Busuu has bite-size lessons for smartphones that you can do while waiting in a queue for coffee as well as computer courses for many languages. There’s also a tool that lets you chat with native speakers of the language you’re learning, whether that be Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese, Polish (and more, 12 languages are available). It has free and paid courses.  

Do an online course

Spanish is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages – second only to Mandarin. 123teachme offers a host of tools to help you learn including audio quizzes and dialogue as well as fun Spanish games and activities, and resources for kids.  

If you want to learn to say more than Je t’aime, there are numerous sites with free French-language courses. Open University has a beginners’ guide to French for food and drink that focuses on how to read and order from a menu, pay l’addition and chat to the waiter or serveur. The BBC has free online French lessons with audio, games, vocabulary, grammar explanations and exercises, as well as links to French news, TV and radio sites. 

The Italian Experiment is a starting point for beginners teaching you how to count, ask questions including for directions, and even how to shop.  

Kayla Itsines demonstrating lunges

Sweat up a virtual storm with Kayla Itsines, download a fitness app or work-out to a YouTube tutorial.


Keep in touch

Call, text or tag a friend

You may be physically isolated, but there’s no need to lose touch with friends and family. You can even see as well as talk to them using Skype and Facetime or you can use messaging services like WhatsApp and social media to keep in touch. Take a video of your new home office and share it on social media. 

Socially isolate, together

You may like to connect with your neighbours with an adaptation of the Italian balcony singing phenomenon (check it out on YouTube). If you don’t have a balcony, you could use your front porch and call the neighbour across the road to come out and ‘join’ you from their own porch in a singalong or exercise class.  

Get inspired 

Binge-watch Ted Talks

American media organisation Ted Talks posts video talks by experts and thought leaders in education, business, science, tech and creativity. They’re distributed free online under the banner ‘ideas worth spreading’.  The most popular talks to date include ‘How to speak so people want to listen’ and ‘How to make stress your best friend’. 

Bone up on your fitness 

Download a fitness app

Even if you don’t own a home gym or substantial equipment, there are many ways to improve your fitness at home. Simple strength exercises like squats, push-ups and lunges don’t need any equipment. If you don’t have weights, improvise and use two tins of canned food as weights. If you need guidance there are online resources and fitness apps including the Peloton app with a 90-day free trial. Flex, tone, stretch, strengthen and meditate while using a library of workouts using your phone, tablet, TV or web browser. 

The Nike Training Club has free workouts as well as paid premium workouts and programs led by trainers. 8Fit has a 14-day free trial of its app with varied classes such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga, boxing, core and resistance band workouts. Or jump on board the global fitness phenomenon that is Adelaide-based fitness trainer Kayla Itsines’ BBG (Bikini Body Guide) community. Her Sweat app has hundreds of 28-minute workouts you can do from anywhere.

Work out with YouTube

Youtube comes to the rescue if you don’t want an app. Popsugar fitness has high-intensity workouts using dances such as Zumba, a 15-minute beginner’s workout without equipment, a five-minute thigh-sculpting class and a lot more that you can do at home. If you need to chill, YouTube brings you Yoga with Adriene, who has a 15-minute home meditation for relief from anxiety, along with yoga for beginners and yoga practices by duration, for physical conditions and weight loss. For more physically challenging exercise try Yoga with Tim, who posts a new vinyasa flow weekly and has a 30-day challenge to push you to the limits. 

Get moving

Don’t forget that just moving is exercising, so embrace vacuuming and gardening, and any other physical activity you can do in your home, yard or on the balcony.