How to keep your kids busy (and learning) during the COVID-19 pandemic
TORONTO -- In an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, provinces across the country have announced extended school closures.
These scholastic shutdowns, coupled with doctors’ recommendations to stay home and practice physical distancing, mean that Canadian mothers and fathers everywhere are suddenly spending more time at home with their children. With such short notice, many parents are left scrambling to find ways of keeping their children occupied.
Geoffrey Bell, a retired elementary school teacher from Calgary, wanted to help in the best way he knew how – by teaching. On March 15, he started a blog featuring a wide range of ideas for activities, projects and more that parents can do with their kids while at home. With over 30 years of teaching experience and having organized numerous workshops for school staff and parent groups, many of his suggestions involve educational material taught in schools.
“Once a teacher, always a teacher,” he told CTVNews.ca on Friday over the phone. “A lot of parents don’t feel well equipped to suddenly take on the role of a teacher and kids don’t necessarily respond well to that, so part of the idea of my blog is to include certain things part of the curriculum.”
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This emphasis on home education comes after the Alberta government cancelled all kindergarten to Grade 12 classes for the remainder of the school year in response to the spread of coronavirus. Students across the province are suddenly stuck at home for the next few months, with classes resuming no earlier than September. Other provinces like British Columbia and Saskatchewan have enacted similar measures, cancelling classes indefinitely. Schools in Ontario and Quebec will remain closed until at least May 1.
Bell said he’s hoping parents can encourage their children to learn through what he calls quality time activities, which is also the name of his blog. Ideas range from short exercises to long-term projects with the goal of engaging children while teaching them.
This interactive blend of learning and entertaining is key when trying to teach children, he said.
“I’m promoting the idea of doing things together rather than making it homework or schoolwork,” Bell said. “I know that when parents push their kids and there’s pushback from the kids, it turns into a battle.
“If you’re stuck at home with the kids 24/7, you don’t want this to turn into a daily battle.”
Science shows this interactive approach to learning, which involves engaging in discussion with children and working together to solve problems, is proven to be most effective, said York University professor Tina Rapke.
“People think learning seems to happen with structured homework tasks,” she told CTVNews.ca via telephone on Friday. “Research tells us that this isn’t the biggest bang for your buck – it’s talking to your kids and interacting with your kids.”
According to Rapke, the best way for children to learn at home is by having a conversation with their parents, sharing thoughts and ideas. Doing this alters the notion that adults are all-knowing, and shows children that their ideas matter, which in turn increases engagement and a willingness to learn.
“If you’re nagging [your children], they’re probably not going to feel self-motivated,” she said. “Kids will often say, ‘This is boring’ – and I agree, it sounds boring to be sitting at the table doing worksheets all day.”
In an effort to keep children interested, Rapke recommends that parents engage in educational activities with them, and find a balance between learning something new and having fun.
“It’s important that we think of our kids as partners with us.”
Below is a list of resources for parents looking to add some fun education to their child’s daily routine. Try these activities out with your little ones. This list will be constantly updated with new suggestions as they come up:
Starting Monday, Scholastic is offering learning journeys for grade levels ranging from pre-kindergarten to Grade 9. These activities explore a wide range of subjects, and culminate in reading quests that can be done alone, or with a parent.
Khan Academy is a nonprofit educational organization that offers free courses for children and adults at all learning levels. Subjects range from math and grammar, to engineering and art history.
Raz-kids.com offers reading resources for students from kindergarten to Grade 5. Hundreds of online books spanning 29 levels of difficulty are available to kids on the site as part of a 14-day free trial.
Live reading (courtesy of Olaf)
Actor Josh Gad, who voices the beloved Olaf in Disney’s Frozen, has been sharing videos of himself reading popular children’s books on his Twitter page. As part of the #GadBookClub, he’s already read stories like Olivia Goes to Venice, The Giving Tree, and Dr. Seuss: Hooray for Diffendoofer Day.
Various authors and publishing companies are organizing virtual storytimes where viewers can tune in and read along to their favourite books. Here’s a list:
- PenguinKids (Facebook and Instagram every weekday at 11 a.m. EST)
- Oliver Jeffers (Instagram every day at 2 p.m. EST)
- Dan Gutman (Facebook every day at 2 p.m. EST)
Kids Activities Blog
Visit Kidsactivitiesblog.com for a collection of educational YouTube channels for kids, dozens of online field trips they can take to different parts of the world, and an exhaustive list of educational organizations offering free subscriptions as a result of school closures.
This app is a language learning platform that allows users to interact with native speakers from across the globe. As part of a new initiative called Keep Kids Learning, Busuu is offering free online language classes taught by their network of instructors.
Designed for children 12 and under, CoolMath4Kids features a range of math lessons and games designed to make the subject entertaining. Kids can also find a variety of quizzes, brain teasers and more throughout the website.
This website is filled with free educational resources for children in pre-school through to Grade 8. Kids can choose from hundreds of games, books and videos designed to advance their skills in math, problem-solving and literacy.
Busy Toddler is a website full ofhundreds of fun activities for kids. While geared towards younger children, the page offers ideas for kids up to 12 years old. Exercises include creating a toy washing station, making a literacy bin and designing a comic book.
At-home science experiments
For the mad scientist in your child, here are some suggestions for science experiments that can be done at home, using materials typically found around the house. Ideas range from soap-powered boats and musical straws, to ghost bubbles and instant ice cream. Each idea features a YouTube video demonstrating the experiment as well as a PDF with step-by-step instructions.
National Geographic for Kids
This website offers a series of adventure games, quizzes, educational videos and more to keep your child entertained and informed. Activities range from educational articles and videos to science experiments and writing your own adventure.
Canada-based Amino Labs is offering free games and activities that teach children about genetic engineering and biotechnology. These virtual simulators are designed to help middle and high school students learn about DNA, bacteria and more.
Free art lessons
If your child is looking to explore their artistic side, free art lessons are a great option. YouTube channels like Wild Free and Crafty are sharing videos of drawing tutorials, demonstrating how to draw things like donuts and sea turtles. The channel also promises to post arts and crafts ideas that are fun for parents too. See upcoming lesson plans here.
Looking for other ways to express your creative side? Try a lunch doodle, courtesy of author and illustrator Mo Willems. In a YouTube series, the artist-in-residence at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts takes viewers into his studio each day for lessons on how to doodle, making arts and crafts, and more.
Draw Every Day with JJK
Every weekday at 2 p.m. EST, join author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka on his YouTube channel for a live drawing lesson. Viewers can follow along with drawing exercises to learn about illustrating proportions, body language and more.
Skinnamarink live reading
Sing along with the creators of the popular preschool song “Skinnamarink” through videos posted on Facebook. One of the group’s original members, Sharon, often joined by her daughter, Randi, sing well-known children’s songs that you and your own children can sing along to as well.
Virtual museum tours
A number of museums across Canada have closed in response to the spread of COVID-19, including The National Gallery of Canada, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, and the Royal Ontario Museum. Fortunately, these galleries and others have virtual exhibits and tours that can be viewed online. Families can travel through time from the comfort of their own home.