Whether or not your child’s school is closed, it is likely that kids will be spending a lot of time indoors with their family in the next couple of months. As the WITS Curriculum Manager and a former elementary school teacher, I know how difficult it can be to keep kids on-track and engaged. With that in mind, here are three fun, academically rich activities for families to do to encourage creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. Share this with everyone you know who might need it.
1. Have THEM plan your family’s daily or weekly schedule.
Children can make thoughtful decisions about their behavior and keen observations about their environment. In fact, research shows that metacognition—higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills—develops when children are encouraged to reflect, predict, question, and hypothesize. Starting at early childhood, children who were given more opportunities to plan and reflect on their own activities scored higher on standardized measures of language, literacy, and social skills. Thus, planning your families schedule and routines will not only rid you of the burden of crafting up a million ways to keep them busy, it is an effective activity to help your child develop these important abilities.
To get the ball rolling, show them how you plan out the week. Let them explore all the many tools and strategies that you use to plan and keep track of events: digital and paper calendars, reminders, and search engines – detailing and reflecting on your own planning process along the way. Before releasing them to complete the project, take time to discuss both of your goals, deadlines to complete scheduling, and all the boundaries and expectations around of timing of events, budget constraints, and any fixed aspects of your schedule, (i.e., bedtime, meals, appointments). Then, finally give them space to really use their imagination; trust that they are up for the task and relinquish responsibly.
This project is fun but not simple, and should lead to interesting conversations and queries, especially as they encounter odd business closures, the logistics of family travel, and the needs and desires of everyone in your family. Give advice and help them troubleshoot issues, but try not to solve their problems for them. Here are some other ways to extend the learning:
- Show them how to use Google Maps to plan and chart your walks.
- Keep track of distance and make it a fun goal to walk a certain number of miles by summer.
- Task them with meal planning, and grocery shopping lists within the constraints of your budget and nutritional needs.
2. Lift their spirits, by empowering them with ways to help others.
Let’s face it, it is a pretty tough time to be a kid. They most likely are feeling out of sorts dealing with all the disruption to their school year, separation from friends, and the real and present danger of getting sick. Children have a keen awareness for fairness, and instinctively react with to others’ suffering with passionate empathy. Research shows that activism correlates positively with civic engagement, problem solving skills, and feelings of control in their lives. This service-learning project is designed to help children see beyond their own daily struggles and fears, and grow in their awareness of larger issues of injustice that they can make a positive impact on.
To get started, help them Identify issues important in their lives and community, and decide on one to address. A question you may ask is: who in their community, school, or family may be worse off than them during this pandemic? Then, research the chosen issue and decide how to change or improve the situation. A couple great sites for news and current events written for kids, include: Time for Kids , New for Kids, Newsela, CBCKids News, and the KidsPost . These websites (and apps) offer stories of interest to kids and make serious events more digestible. Children can also find compelling first-hand information about your local community needs by calling around to local businesses and charities.
After researching the issue, they then must research how one takes action to make a real difference. Have them start by researching what others near and far are already doing to help. Then, have them plan an action, including determining a goal; identifying who has power to help or sponsor their efforts; deciding how to approach that person or those people. Encourage them to present the findings of research and passion for their cause to the world; facilitating a digital forum (social media, website, email blast, etc.) for them to share their work and recruit people to help.
Just sharing information builds awareness around an injustice, and is an act of altruism. Other ideas for children to take action, include: writing letters, posting videos, reaching out to officials, hosting a fundraising site, and/or local drop-off for food and supplies. Be sure to make time to reflect on the effort when it is over in order to understand their successes, challenges, and ways to continue learning in the future.
3. Research their worries away.
COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways we never would have imagined. Discussions about the virus dominate the news. Many schools and businesses are closed or running remotely. Sporting events, concerts and movie theater showings are canceled. So, it’s not surprising that many of us are feeling more stressed and anxious these days. This project helps kids, unmask the big scary monster with a kid-friendly inquiry project, that lets them get the facts of our current situation and understand they are safer than they think.
As the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” In any situation, one way to reduce stress is to know the facts. With COVID-19, though, it seems like information is everywhere. What we know about this new virus changes quickly, too. So, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. To find the facts about COVID-19, and not be overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to stick with just one or two trusted resources. Choose well-respected kid-friendly sites for information, that give the facts without sensationalizing. Kids Health, Epic Books, Live Science, Kiddle, and BrainPop are all free search engines and media galleries designed for kids to find high-quality developmentally-appropriate information about a variety of topics and current events.
Make this project even more challenging by encouraging them to present their findings in a creative way to family, via video to their friends, or even email their teacher. Keep them from feeling alone by organizing with other parents to have a day of virtual presentations of all the learning kids are doing at home.
Finally, in my time as an educator, and passionate social emotional teaching and learning practitioner , I have found that in hard times the best thing you can do for young learners is lean into the realities of their experience and let their issues guide your work together. This is a special time on our history, and kids of all ages are facing the same unprecedented events as adults, only with a lot less information and coping skills. By not shying away from hard topics, and instead giving them space and time to voice their fears and ask questions often and without judgment, you are empowering them to be informed, empathetic world citizens. By empowering their voice and teaching them to have the agency to seek and find the information they need to feel connected, find healing, and feel like a valued, contributing member of their community, we help our kids feel and be more safe.