Keeping Kids Engaged at Home

With stay-home orders in place there’s an increased need for ways to keep kids engaged and stimulated at home.

by Amanda Williams

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that all Washington state schools would stay closed for the rest of the school year. Unlike traditional school breaks, this one came without warning and with the added challenge of social distancing. As life becomes more restrictive, some may worry about how they will keep their children engaged outside of school work.

As families balance keeping their kids at home, there is no need for fancy, overly polished materials for students to learn. A basic toolkit of pencils, crayons, paper, and household items can be used to put together an activity. When children use the items around them, they are taught that not all learning happens in workbooks, or with perfectly cut and laminated materials.

Use Recycled Materials:

Flatten a cardboard box and create a model of a city or a home. Use recycled materials to add in 3-dimentional details. Challenge older children to reason with the size and proportion of their items. For example, in a model house, how big should the kitchen table be in relationship to the size of the bathtub? Measure the items in your home to get a true scale.

Cardboard tubes can be saved to to create a marble run. Use a marble, small bouncy ball, or even rolled up play dough and watch the ball as it rolls through the tubes. Time the speed of the marble using a ruler to measure the distance, and a stopwatch to measure time. Adjust the tubes to speed up or slow down the marble. Children can search online for examples of intricate marble runs and think of ways that modify their own .

Get Creative with a Pencil and Paper:

Only a sheet of paper and a pencil are needed to play a game of dots and boxes. The game encourages spacial reasoning and can be extended to talk about fractions.

Model how to create a crossword puzzle and challenge your child to create their own, which you can then solve. The crossword can center around a theme or vocabulary that you are working on.

Create a comic by folding the paper into several sections. You may even have an example of a comic to use as a model. Encourage using different elements of storytelling such as having a beginning, middle and an end.

Research and learn different ways to create origami. This activity supports learning step-by- step instructions to get to a finished product.

Sharpen Life Skills:

At school, children often have class jobs to encourage responsibility and to show that everyone plays a role in the school community. Time at home can be used similarly by allowing children to contribute to various task around the house that they will go on to use in their life independently.

Show kids how to sort and fold laundry. Give them the task of sweeping and vacuuming. Teach how to load and unload the dishwasher. Incorporate their household job into the weekly schedule, and have children take the lead.

Kids can take an active role in the kitchen, which can be modified to accommodate how involved you would like them to be. It can be as small as helping to pour and stir ingredients, or reading off recipes. Ordering from a takeout menu? Have kids add up the cost of different combinations of entrees and sides.

Search for coins around the house and practice counting change. Younger children can practice naming the values of the coins, while older students can practice adding decimals.

Focus On Connection

At this moment, children need connection and reassurance more than anything. Be intentional about slowing down and checking in. Know when it’s time to set virtual learning and the push to home-school aside for a mental break.

Create a morning and evening routine to start and end the day on a positive note. Add in a lunch check in to help break up the day. It can be as simple as asking how everyone is doing, to creating a silly question of the day to answer. Older children can create a list of check in prompts for the family.

Move together. Walk around the neighborhood. Take notice aloud about the things you see. Take rainy day stretch breaks and move around to music.

Play cards or board games as a way for the entire family to disconnect and have fun. Children and families can work on creating their own version of charades or Pictionary cards that can then be put in a bowl to act out or draw.

Authentically engaging children centers around love and connection. It requires being okay with messes, and noise, and flexible when things go unplanned. It means keeping your expectations high and realistic. Encouraging engagement means always looking for ways to have kids take the lead, to pursue their interest and to exercise independence. Pace yourselves, extend grace to one another, and know when it’s time to take a break.

Amanda Williams is an educator focused on early learning in mathematics. She currently teaches a class of one as a stay-at-home mom. She regularly blogs at Hey Black Teacher to amplify and connect Black educators.