Surviving Social Distancing with Young Kids

With my family and I currently self-isolating due to COVID-19, this seemed like a good time to resurrect this blog.

A few personal updates… I am no longer a “Sydney Creative Playworker” having moved in 2019 to the Blue Mountains. It’s been a big year of transition. We moved from a small urban terrace house to a much more rural setting. The kids both started new schools. We faced a huge bushfire crisis over the summer and though we came out unscathed, we know others who were not so lucky. And now amidst a global pandemic we’ve suddenly found ourselves thrust into working from home and home-schooling.

We have been super lucky in this regard – my husband’s IT work means he can work remotely with relative ease. I’m not doing paid work at the moment but I did recently enrol in a Diploma in Early Child Education course and am now studying online in addition to having both kids now at home full-time. So far we’re finding a good balance. Having a large yard and access to the bush has been a HUGE help.

I know many others are not in the same boat – either continuing to send their kids to school despite their fears or keeping them home but needing to sit them in front of Netflix, very quickly running out of ideas to keep them entertained, or concerned about the prospect of having to sustain home education for an unknown period of time depending on how things go, if we end up in lockdown, etc.

While I don’t believe everyone needs to suddenly be signing up for distance education or following a daily curriculum, I thought it might be helpful to share my tips and some of the things we’ve done this week in the hopes it might give you some ideas if you’re feeling lost in all this.

  1. Tie in activities to school work
    I’m normally not a huge homework fan but I requested homework from Luella’s teacher (she’s now in Year 2) who was happy to send her list of spelling words,  and a maths/reading worksheet. She also has a weekly “news” assignment (essentially “show and tell”) on a different topic, and she did all those assignments this week and emailed them back. It helps her stay connected to school and also gives me an indication of what things the class is studying this week so I can tie in other activities.For example, this week Luella’s news presentation was to create a “weather diary” which we did together in Canva and then inspired several other activities…

2. YouTube has so many resources
My favourite discovery this week was a channel called “SciShow Kids” which has fun videos on interesting topics. The addition of a robot-mouse puppet named Squeaks means even Nikolas (now age 4) finds it entertaining. We found a number of videos on weather. One called “The Science of Spring” suggested going on a “Bug Safari” in your back yard.

Luella and I did just that and recorded the bugs we found, then I used Google sheets to teach her how to make a graph of her findings. A simple activity incorporating science, literacy, maths, technology and time in nature!

3. Search Pinterest for scavenger hunts and other printables
The next day she wanted to do another “safari” and this time I wanted to include her brother so I printed out this “insect scavenger hunt” that I found on Pinterest. You can find heaps of other educational resources and “printables” on Pinterest from colouring pages and games to worksheets.

4. Nature, nature, nature
I can’t stress enough the importance of being outside. If you don’t have a backyard or nearby bush, then drive/bike/scoot/walk somewhere a little off the beaten path. Avoid playgrounds and popular trails with lots of facilities and instead go for the random creeks and quiet reserves. Take a picnic and blanket and maybe some gumboots and spare clothes and just BE with nature.

It’s good for your immune systems, for getting sunshine and Vitamin D, good for your mental health and keeping kids feeling connected to their world. Let them get dirty – you can get dirty too! Especially when we’re (rightfully) all very focused on hygiene at the moment, having some time to get your hands in the dirt is so theraputic.

A while ago I purchased an app for my iPhone called “Picture This” which identifies plants when you take a picture of them. We love it – though beware the pricing is a bit deceptive. It’s free for a month then charges you after 30 days if you don’t cancel.

5. Have a “maker day”
Unsurprisingly, we make a lot of art in our house. I wanted to kick off the week with some creativity so on Monday we had a “maker day” where we spent the day creating and then turned our dining room into an “art gallery” to display our creations.

We started with rainbow play dough, dug out a box of loose parts for making sculptures, and did some online drawing lessons. “Art Hub for Kids” is another awesome YouTube channel for this – both kids enjoyed it, though N did get a bit frustrated. They also loved watching some videos of beloved author/illustrator Mo Willems doing drawing lessons and taking you behind the scenes of his books.

We ended up with a very full gallery by the end of the day!

6. Have a “baker” day
I’ve long been a fan of getting kids involved in the kitchen. As we face the potential of food insecurity, helping kids understand things like where food comes from, how to prepare meals, and why it’s so important to not waste food is going to be extremely valuable.

We bake a lot in our house which also offers the opportunity to learn to read and follow a recipe and incorporate maths, using fractions and measuring ingredients. It’s a good way to sneak some extra veg into picky eaters too if you make things like zucchini muffins or carrot cake. We used up a bunch of bananas going off to bake banana walnut bread.

Try also getting the kids involved in their own meal prep – making sandwiches, helping prepare dinners. I’ve found a bit of relief in not having to rush out the door to school or other activities and getting the kids involved in the domestic chores takes a bit longer but does wonders for their self-sufficiency.

7. Good old fashioned board games
There are heaps of free educational games online. Nikolas has particularly loved the Sesame Street games on PBS Kids. But if you’re trying to lessen screen time, board games or card games are great. We have a pretty decent stash. It’s hard to find ones that aren’t too challenging for an easily frustrated 4 year old, but Snakes and Ladders is always a hit. For Christmas was got a game called “Outfoxed” in which you play collaboratively against the fox villain, as opposed to having winners and losers.

If you don’t have a lot of kids games you can try adapting adult ones. We like to play a version of Trivial Pursuit where we make up questions for each other based on the game’s categories. So, for example, Pink Entertainment questions become questions about “Movies or TV shows”. Green science questions are about “Plants or Animals”, etc. Sometimes I’ll just give the kids a game and let them make their own rules. You could even have them design their own game!

8. Get creative with the tasks they’re resisting
It’s not all going to be fun and games. Luella’s “news” assignment for next week is to write a poem about her favourite season so yesterday I thought I’d try to introduce her to some poetry using a Julia Donaldson book. It was clear as she reluctantly grumbled answers to my questions about rhyme schemes that she was NOT enjoying this. I pressed on and started talking about onomatopoeia words and how poets use them to convey a sense or feeling.

Then I had a flash of brilliance and remembered her love of “Dog Man” comic books which are filled with words like “boing”, “splat”, “zoom” and ” “ka-blam!” So we looked through those books finding all the onomatopoeia words we could. We put the books away and I set a timer for 3 minutes and we had to write down as many as we could remember (collectively coming up with 25). Then I incorporated her love of drawing and we made “word pictures” where had to illustrate our word in a way that demonstrated its meaning.

Suddenly this poetry lesson went from something she was completely bored with to being one her favourite activities of the whole week. (It was kind of my favourite too.)

9. When in doubt, read in the sunshine
When they’re getting particularly stroppy, won’t tear away from the TV screen or just need a break I just grab a stack of books and we lay outside on a blanket and read books. It’s my “reset” button. Sometimes I just go out back with a book of my own and they’ll join me. And by join me I mean climb on top of me and demand I read them “Captain Underpants”.

It may not be amazing literature but it’s quality time. Cuddle up in bed on rainy days. Even if they’re too little to really understand what’s going on in the world, chances are their lives have been disrupted in some way. Even if it’s just a few minutes at bedtime, reading together has been proven through research to be one of the most important things you can do for your kids.

10. Don’t sweat it, just get through it
If you’re reading these ideas and going “oh my god, all we did this week was watch Bluey and eat BBQ Shapes” then congratulations, you survived! Every minute of every day does not need to be an enriching educational experience.

There will be days they stay in their pyjamas all day glued to the ipads, refusing anything you suggest. There will be whinging and fighting and crying – sometimes it will be from you. Take things one day at a time – each day is a chance for a do over.

Like reading outside, find ways that you can try to mentally re-set like playing fun music around the house, going out for a scenic drive, chucking the kids in the bath with some toys while you indulge in trashy TV, what ever gives you (or them) a little break for a while. We are all in uncharted territory here. Be kind to yourself. Take a breath. You are doing great!

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