As schools and nurseries are being closed down to stop the coronavirus from spreading, I feel, as a teacher, compelled to step in with some ideas to help keep your kids occupied while under quarantine- with an educational twist.
These are fun and educational activities and most of them don’t require technology (unless you want to expand on something, or need it for online books).
They also don’t require a lot of expensive materials and print outs. Most of the materials are things already in your home.
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Before you begin start with writing out a schedule. Your kids are used to a schedule, so take a peek online and see what the typical day was for your kids. Think what time was recess? snacks? lunch? etc. Many schools also provide the curriculum topics for the year so you can base activities on the topics they would have been studying.
Choose the subject(s) your child finds the most difficult to work on in the morning when your child is fresh and open to a challenge.
Keep your morning routine the same; wake up times, breakfast, getting dressed, etc. Then start your new routine around between 8:30 and 9:00.
Your schedule may look something like this:
I could always tell which of my 5 year olds were read to at the beginning of the school year. They were usually the top of the class. Reading to your child and with your child is so beneficial to them so try to either read to them or let them read to you.
Hopefully you have some books handy, but if you don’t have any go digital. Many libraries have digital checkouts as well so you can get books for free. There are also plenty of free online resources as well.
If you have family with books at home, try video chatting and have them read stories to your kids.
1. Purposeful Reading with Your Kids
Comprehension skills are easy to incorporate with reading a book with your child. And the following skills work for any age and are questions you can ask as the right situations come up.
Before you read a new book, talk about the title. Predict what you think the book will be about. If you are reading a chapter book and you get to the end of a juicy chapter, predict with your child what will happen next.
When reading a book, does it remind either of you of any other stories? Personal experiences? Films you’ve seen.
If you encounter phrases like, She stormed off, have your child infer what her mood is; happy? sad? angry?
You can also ask what certain words mean to work on vocabulary and make sure your child understands what is going on.
Now you’ve made reading a book educational and interactive with your child, no worksheets required
If your child is older have a book club together. Read the same story and have discussions at the end of each chapter. Popular books will have questions available online if you want to dig a little deeper.
Picture books are great for this next activity.
2. Write or Rewrite the Story
If you have a printer, print out a short picture book or make copies of a picture book. Cover the text on each page and then give them the book to write their own story to go with the pictures.
If your child is too young to write, have them dictate the story to you and you write it.
And you could of course just “read” it together without the writing piece.
If you purchase a book be sure to check the used section first as I get books of wonderful quality at a fraction of the price even with shipping.
You will be helping your child with describing, writing, speaking, thinking that doesn’t have to feel like work at all.
These might not be super glamourous, pinterest-worthy activities, but trust me, your child will enjoy reading with you more than anything and these are the important type of comprehension skills that they would be learning in the classroom.
Grab you decks of cards and buttons for some easy math games that can be adapted for different age groups.
3. Button Sort
Having a variety of buttons in different sizes, colours, or even shapes are great for helping younger children with sorting. Have them sort based on different attributes- size colour, texture, number of holes, etc.
You can do other things like comparing which pile has the most and which has the least, using the buttons to work on addition and subtraction.
Older kids can sort them into categories and then put them in a bag to work out the probability of getting a button with certain attributes.
If you don’t have buttons, coins work as well. You can also use rocks, toys, blocks, whatever you have available.
For this activity remove the face cards and jokers from a deck of cards and split the cards into two stacks, one for each player.
While holding the deck face down, flip a card at the same time. Younger kids just look at which card is greater. The one with the greater number wins both cards.
In the event of the same number being drawn, you then say “I declare war” while putting three cards face down (one word for each card) then flip a 4th over and whoever wins gets all the cards.
The game is over when one person has all the cards.
If your child is older, when you flip the card add them together and the first to say the correct answer wins the cards, you can also work on multiplication this way.
If the card games get boring, you can always use the deck to build a house or play a regular card game like King’s Corner, which was the first card game my grandma taught us as kids. We eventually worked our way up to Spite and Malice, Gin Rummy, and Canasta. Of course you can always play Snap, too.
Soooo many things you can do that are science related that don’t require beakers or extensive knowledge on your part as a parent.
5. Animal Reports
Kids adore animals and this is such a good way to raise them to be advocates for the environment.
Have them research using reputable websites like National Geographic Kids or books everything about an animal they like. Have them look into their habitat- where in the world it’s located, temperature, weather, where they live in that habitat. Have them find out the different characteristics of their animal-size, diet, lifespan, unique features and defence mechanisms. Have them draw pictures of their animal and its habitat to go with their report.
Have them present their report to the rest of the family. If you have more than one child doing this project you can compare and contrast the two animals when the reports are finished.
6. Plant Study
If you don’t want to study an animal, why not study a plant?
Grab a few seeds (beans are quick sprouting and a popular choice), a piece of cotton wool and a plastic, zip top bag.
Wet the cotton wool so it’s damp and place it in the bag.
Place the seed on top of the cotton wool while the bag is flat.
Seal the bag and place it by a window with lots of sun.
Have your child observe the seeds each day. If you have a notebook handy have your child sketch the seed every day to track the changes.
While waiting for it to grow you can help your child learn about the different parts of the plant- stem, leaves, petals, etc.
You can also incorporate the water cycle when you notice the condensation in the bag.
Once the seeds have germinated very carefully lift them out by the leaves and plant your seed, (cotton wool and all) into some soil making sure to leave the green leafy part above the soil.
7. Fruit Study
Same idea as the seed growing above but use a piece of fruit instead.
Have your child draw a piece of fruit she will eat. Older kids should write a description underneath the drawing as well. If your child is younger and lacks the drawing skills, draw the fruit for her in a black marker or pen and have her colour it in.
Then have her take a bite of the fruit. Draw the fruit now.
Keep repeating the process until you are left with just the core, or peel.
This can be done several times using different perspectives (like drawing from a bird’s eye view) and different fruit (or any food for that matter).
You can also observe the decomposition of the fruit by cutting the fruit in half and observing the changes every day for a week or when it gets gross whichever happens first.
When you are finished you will have a collection of drawings that can be cut out and used for a sequencing activity- putting them in order from beginning to end.
8. Go for a Walk
Grab a Notebook and a pencil and get outside, the fresh air will do all of you some good.
As you are walking have your child make observations as you go.
Stop occasionally to sketch scenery or animals. If you find interesting leaves, collect them and you can sort them the way you did with the buttons above.
You can also put the leaf under a page in the notebook (backside up) and use the side of the pencil or crayon to colour over it leaving a picture of the leaf should you not want to bring it home.
Going more than once?
Try a Penny Walk.
Take a penny or any coin you have and use it to decide which direction you go whenever you reach a crossing, ‘heads we go right, tails we go left,’ or heads we go straight, tails we go left,’ etc.
Observation is a huge part of the scientific method so casually training to be more observant is not only relaxing but helps your child develop that skill.
Walking will also help all of you be grateful for the little things you may not notice on normal days when you are rushing about as well as give you something positive to focus on during this otherwise stressful time.
9. Bake Something
Baking allows you to incorporate all kinds of skills in a real world scenario. Reading a recipe and following directions. Maths are used for measuring ingredients, timing the cooking, division if you halve a recipe. Science is used for the chemical reactions like in yeast and sugar and just boiling water can show the water cycle.
Find an easy recipe and enjoy the process and the results.
If you want to bake more than once try hosting your own version of Cake Wars and have your kids make a muffin or cupcake and decorate it. You can judge the winner.
Why not try making healthy snack? You can teach your kids about nutrition and start making better choices. This is a great way to get away from packaged, processed snacks which will reduce your waste and your weekly food bill.
If you can make your own snacks and the kids find them delicious, this can be a weekly chore for the kids to continue even when there isn’t a quarantine.
For these activities, spelling doesn’t count! When writing you want the kids to let their ideas flow. Don’t get them hung up on spelling and grammar, you can do that as a separate task later.
10. Letter Play (4-6 year olds)
Practicing letters can be done several ways- besides writing on paper. Get a jelly roll pan, aka baking sheet with sides, and pour in a layer of rice and let your child practice tracing letters in the pan.
Get some paper and cut it into quarters. Write a single letter on each piece as big as will fit on the page with a marker. Give your child different things to trace the letters; buttons, bingo dabbers, stickers, highlighters, yarn or ribbon, pasta pieces, anything you can think of. Depending on the order you could do several with one set of letters. Make sure to use both sides of the paper so we don’t waste any and remember if you do use things like stickers, glue, and glitter you can’t recycle the paper.
11. Picture Story (4-6 year olds)
Find a simple picture that your child can look at and write a simple descriptive paragraph. It can be a picture from a story, a picture of art, even a colouring page. Example, I see a cat. The cat is brown. The cat is sleeping. Simple sentences using sight words and describing the picture. Difficult words can use creative spelling where the child spells based on the sounds they hear. Example, brown may come out as brn or bn and that is ok and normal for younger kids.
12. Write a Play (7+)
Grab a short story or fable like The Three Little Pigs and have your child rewrite the story as a script in a script format. Have a narrator recite parts that set the scene and then the characters speak the story.
When the script is finished you can perform the play.
13. In the Style of…(7+)
Grab a book like If you give a Mouse a Cookie and read it together.
Then write your own version in the same style, like If you give mum 5 minutes of quiet…
If your child isn’t writing yet then this can be an oral activity and you can always write down what your child says.
This works for poems as well if you have any favourites available.
14. Perspective Writing (7+)
Read a short story or fable together like Jack and the Beanstalk.
When the story is finished talk about the other characters; the giant, the harp, mother, etc.
Choose one character and rewrite the story from their point of view.
You can read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs if you need inspiration.
15. Keep a Journal
These are unprecedented times we are in. 2020 will be remembered for turning our day to day lives upside down.
Have your child document it from her perspective. What has changed? How is she feeling? Scared? Frustrated? Bored? What is she noticing in the world around her?
Tell your child that this does not have to be shared with anyone, but the writing is a good way for kids to process their own feelings as well as being good writing practice.
Parents, this is a good activity for you, too.
Indoor and Outdoor Free Play ActivitiesYour whole day should not be academic. Kids need time to be kids so here are some activities that can be done indoors and outdoors.
Depending on the size of the puzzles this can be a time-consuming activity and may even take days.
Since the possibility of not going back to school until the fall is there consider having a puzzle made of your family to build all together.
17. Homemade Play-doh
You can have your kids help make the dough or you can prepare it yourself and let the kids loose to play. This is a messier activity (obviously) but it’s fun for the kids and keeps them contained to a small area.
If you have cookie cutters have those out and if you have a play kitchen use the spatulas, pizza wheels, and other accessories.
You can also have the kids roll the dough into snakes and practice making letters or work on spelling!
When the kids are done, they can do the toy wash (see further down) and clean all the dough off their toys.
For the dough*:
1-2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tsp. cream of tartar (optional but helps preserve the dough)
Food colouring (optional)
Sift together the flour, salt and cream of tartar (if using). Then add the water and oil then mix it all together with your hands (about 10 minutes) until you have a smooth dough. If it’s crumbly add water a tablespoon at a time until you have the right consistency.
If your are adding food colouring, section off the dough and add in a few drops of each colour. (This will probably stain your hands).
Store the dough in a container in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
*The dough is not meant for eating.
18. Build a Den
If you have extra sets of bed sheets and some clothes pins, get them out and let the kids build a den. They will play like this for ages and you can enjoy a hot cup of tea in the meantime and get your own work done.
19. Build a Cardboard City
Put your Amazon boxes to good use before recycling them. Start by drawing some roads or paths for your kids to drive cars or have animals walk on.
They can use blocks to make buildings they would find in town (and learn about communities at the same time). You can even make it model of where you live. Then leave them to it to play.
Creative Fabrica has a free home crafting bundle with templates for cardboard houses. It’s worth grabbing no matter what as it has loads of colouring pages, paper dolls, pinwheel templates and other activities you can print-for free.
20. Water Painting
Paint brushes, sponges, and some water. Let the kids paint the fence the ground, anything outside and rest easy that it’s just water.
21. Set up a Toy Wash
Like a car wash but for toys. Your kids can clean their dirty toys and you can sit back and smile because they see it as playing and you see it as some chores being done. Win, win.
22. Homemade Bubble Mix
Bubbles are so easy to make with some dish soap, water and glycerine to make them a bit stronger (you can find it in the baking aisle). You don’t need a cheap bubble want either. You can use a wire hanger, make one from pipe cleaner and in the case with my kids, we raided their play kitchen for slotted spoons and used those with a slightly unexpected result!
For the bubble mix:
Gently stir together 750 ml of water (3 cups) and 250 ml (1 cup) of dish soap being careful not to make frothy bubbles. Add a tablespoon of glycerine or 60 ml (1/4 cup) of corn syrup would work, too. Gently stir together and off you go!
23. Fly a Homemade Kite.
I used to make these kites with my students every year after reading Gloria, Who Might be my Best Friend and it was always one of the most memorable days of the year for me and the kids. These kites are simple, unique, and fly best in a gentle breeze. Not only is it a fun activity, but your kids will run around a lot and wear themselves out. Tee hee.
An A4 size (or US letter size) piece of paper
Ruler, markers or crayons and scissors
String, yarn, ribbon- whatever you have
Ribbon, Plastic packaging from toilet roll, or a sad “forever” shopping bag that can be cut into strips for a tail
A paper straw or a wooden skewer
1. Fold the paper in half short ways, aka hamburger-style (not hotdog-style)
2. From the fold make a mark at the top of the page 3cm away from the fold
3. From the bottom fold make another mark at the bottom of the page about 6 cm from the opening
4. Connect the lines and fold open the paper on the line. Fold back the other side to match
5. Once the creases are made, have your child decorate both sides of her kite with markers or crayons.
6. Fold the decorated kite back into place and use sticky tape to tape the centre seam.
7. Tape the straw or skewer across the widest part of the kite.
8. Flip the kite over and put a piece of tape 4-5 cm from the top of the kite spine to reinforce the string hole.
9. Punch the hole with a hole punch, scissors or the tip of a pen/pencil and thread through your string. You won’t need much string- the height of your child is enough to make it manageable for them.
10. Cut a strip of ribbon or a strip of plastic from your bag to make the tail. 60cm is plenty. Ribbon is heavier than the plastic so you may need to shorten the tale if you can’t get it off the ground.
11. Sing Let’s Go Fly a Kite and off you go!
Being away from family and friends will be tough on everyone, but many of these activities, like the play, can be shared with family and friends over video chats.
If your child has talents like playing an instrument, dancing, magic tricks, have them consider putting on a mini show for family and friends using video.
Maintaining connections to others will keep everyone’s spirit up while being apart.
Hopefully, you have some ideas for some fun, educational activities with your kids now that will take your mind off being stuck at home. You may even start enjoying all the quality time with your family.
Have any ideas for other fun activities for kids? Share them in the comments below.