Are you finding your children’s lockdown schoolwork uninspiring? Education is about so much more than completing worksheets.
This is a difficult time for us all, and we often forget how children will internalise their anxieties and imagine all kinds of things.
Your priority really is to encourage your child to talk to you about any worries they have, whether they’re about the virus itself and how it could affect your family, or worries about their learning and progress.
Some children will need space and to feel safe before they can even think about school work, and that’s fine. Let them play; let them be creative in a way that suits them, whether that’s reading books or comics, writing stories, organising their Lego collection, baking, learning to code – anything they choose to do themselves that they wouldn’t usually have time to do.
Other children thrive on a routine where they know what they’ll be doing and when – pretty much how it works at school – and that’s often harder for parents as they now have to become teachers as well as nurturers.
From the information I get from the parents I speak to, it would seem there’s a huge range of expectations and resources from schools: from the excellent to the non-existent; from the barely any work at all to the ‘How the hell do they expect us to get through this lot?’
Whichever camp your child falls into, there are activities that are fun yet meaningful, and often far better in educational terms than most of what they’ll do in school. (Cough! – Fronted adverbials – cough!)
Here are my top-ten suggestions for activities your child can do that are fun but also educationally meaningful (obviously age, ability and access to resources will determine some of these).
1 Baking cup-cakes
This involves reading the ingredients and following a recipe (English) as well as weighing the ingredients (maths).
If you want to get really educational, you can get your child to identify the imperative verbs in the instructions (Mix the butter and sugar; Beat the eggs). You could also get them to make fewer or more than the recipe suggests, and get them to work out how much of each ingredient they now need (Ratio and Proportion)
Why do we need this many eggs? What might happen if we forgot to put them in?
What does self-raising flour have that plain flour doesn’t? Why does that make the cakes rise? (Science)
As we add each ingredient, can we get it back to its original state? (Science – materials/ states of matter)
If we want one third of the cakes with pink icing, how many is that? (Fractions)
Can we put the cakes on the plate in a symmetrical pattern? (maths – symmetry)
Of course, you might just want to make cakes for the sheer pleasure of doing so, and of scoffing them later: that’s what they’re for, after all!
2 Writing a Journal
One day soon (I hope) this lockdown will be a distant memory, but as with the Spanish Flu over 100 years ago, it will be remembered. A journal setting out how your family is affected each day is a future child’s history book, so why shouldn’t your child be the one to write it?
This can include everything, from the mundane (‘Got up at 7.30, had breakfast, had a shower, got dressed, exercised with Joe Wickes …’) to the bizarre (‘I notice that next-door’s cats aren’t following the social distancing rules …’). From the amusing (‘Mum’s starting to sound so much like my teacher I called her “Miss” today!) to the concerning (‘Today’s announcement from Westminster is that we have to be in lockdown for at least another three weeks. This is causing a lot of problems for people’s jobs and for schools.’)
This exercise has more than just the academic qualities: it can also be a way for your child to express their feelings and worries, and a way for parents to tap into topics children don’t know how to articulate.
And children who don’t enjoy writing can do this using drawings, with short written descriptions beneath, or even recording their own videos.
3 Burying a Time Capsule
Linked to point #2, how about items (or photos of items) that showcase life in the year 2020?
This doesn’t have to be virus-related – it could be anything your child considers to be an important part of their life. Photos of family members and pets; information about their school; poems about their friends …
What questions would they ask about the lives of people in the past? Use those to inform what they would place in their capsule. Let them use their imaginations.
4 Write Their Autobiography
Get your child to find out about how their parents met (obviously, only if that tale is appropriate!) and how their life was at the beginning. What was going on in the locality at the time of their birth? What was going on in the world? Which song was number one in the music charts? Which was the biggest film of that year?
It’s likely there will be lots of photos, and if you have the tech to copy some of those to go into the biography, that makes it much more enjoyable (although children’s own illustrations are important too).
Share stories about their first milestones: first words, when they walked, TV shows they enjoyed. Share amusing anecdotes about things they did: took clothes off in front of visitors; burped loudly at a church wedding; said a word they shouldn’t have said in front of granny. (I’m basing this on my own kids!)
Who was their first nursery or school friend? How was their first day at school? Which foods/ songs/ clothes did they love?
Where are they now? Did they overcome that fear of school? Did they achieve that swimming certificate? Are they still playing that sport or musical instrument?
5 Compile a Family History
It’s amazing how many of us don’t share the interesting details of our child’s heritage with them: as an adult, I am discovering things about my parents I wish I’d known years ago, and can’t think why they never talked about some of the amazing stuff they’ve lived through. Clearly, they thought it was boring. It isn’t!
If your child is able to speak regularly on the phone or via video chat with other family members – particularly grandparents – they can conduct some great interviews and gather information about their families that they normally wouldn’t think to ask.
Was Grandma a Beatles’ Fan? Did Granddad have any weird hairstyles? What clothes did they wear? What music did they listen to? What were their schools like? (Children love hearing about how teachers in the ‘olden days’ beat their pupils!) What jobs did they do when they left school? How did they entertain themselves?
What was going on in the world when their grandparents were young? What can their grandparents tell them about their own parents’ history? And children love hearing stories about their own parents as children – the more embarrassing, the better!
This could lead to the creation of a family tree, and it doesn’t just have to be the children who enjoy this.
6 Design a Flower Bed/ Window Box
It’s not particularly easy to get hold of seeds and plants at the moment, but that doesn’t have to stop you designing how you’d like your garden or window box to look once this is over.
This activity can be as creative as your child wishes: simply drawing colourful plants on paper, arranging them into patterns (maths); investigating which kinds of plants are best to grow in particular areas or types of soil (science); even comparing the Latin names for plants with the more popular names (languages).
7 Playing Card Games/ Board Games
You can use ordinary packs of cards, or ones that your child makes. They can feature colours, shapes, numbers, or even just the ordinary pictures on playing cards.
Simple games such as Snap, Donkey, Old Maid or Happy Families (although I’m hoping those last two have been updated to suit the modern world) are perfect introductions to card games.
If your children are older and particularly competitive, you could introduce a gambling element (maths – probability) where the reward is the pleasure of winning rather than monetary.
This video contains a link to some cards you can print off. It gives ideas for some games you can play if you’d like to encourage your child to learn and retain their multiplication facts.
Whether it’s Snakes and Ladders, Ludo, Trivial Pursuit or Monopoly, board games come in all ranges and are a great way to allow children to co-operate with others and feel competitive whilst having fun. They’re also important ways of helping children experience how to deal with not winning. (Fingers crossed there won’t be any tantrums where your child flings the board across the room and flounces off because dad just fined him for landing on his hotel!)
8 Watch TV/ YouTube Videos
Yes, watching TV and YouTube can be educational, and quite frankly, it’s good for children to veg out every so often. We can all learn a surprising amount from television programmes, and sometimes a family discussion about what’s happening in a programme or on the news is a valuable learning experience. So many children find it difficult to articulate their own opinions, and being able to do so is an important part of their education (and is involved in a lot of English reading assessments). It’s also a good way for parents to understand what makes their children ‘tick’ or what might be worrying them.
As for YouTube, there are some excellent resources for learning new skills. Obviously, parents need to monitor their children’s computer use, but there’s an awful lot of excellent learning opportunities if you spend time looking.
If you enter ‘coding for kids’ into the search box, you can find lessons that will encourage your child to create their own games rather than mindlessly playing them.
9 Playing with Lego/ Construction Toys
Anything that encourages thinking, planning, designing and dexterity is an invaluable educational resource. It doesn’t have to be Lego – it can even be those basic wooden or plastic building bricks that babies and toddlers use. As a child, I loved those colourful peg boards – I’d spend hours creating different patterns and didn’t realise that this simple and pleasurable activity was helping my understanding of number patterns and symmetry.
10 Doing Puzzles
Dot-to-Dot; Spot the Difference; How many words can you make from the word mathematics?(or any word of your choice); simple crosswords; Learn to do Sudoku Puzzles with this link; Learn to do magic tricks with Numbers using this link.
If you don’t have access to simple puzzles, there are many you can find online using a simple search.
Puzzles are great as usually they can be completed alone or with help, whichever your child prefers. There isn’t that sense of competition whereby they have to compete with someone else, so less pressure, and the sense of achievement having completed a puzzle of any kind is immensely satisfying.
These are just a few ideas – there are so many other ways you can keep your children entertained whilst knowing that they’re also learning important skills.
I’d be really interested to know what works for you.