I’m not sure how things are going in your household, but in mine, we’re deep in the No, Mom, not another worksheet era of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past two months, I have attempted to load my 5-year-old up with letter-learning worksheets and counting worksheets. I even tried to have him make a COVID-19 paper time capsule. But nope, he is done.
Alas, his school is still in session for another month, I still need to get work done, and there are only so many hours in a day that I can stand to plop him in front of a screen. Worksheets are kind of crappy, I know, but they’re also an educational (educational-ish?) activity that doesn’t take a lot of work on my end, and they keep him occupied for more than 35 seconds. Or at least they used to.
So we asked members of the brilliant HuffPost Parents community for their go-to non-worksheet options. Here are eight of them.
1. Unlock their inner naturalist.
Now that the weather is getting warmer, it’s the perfect time to get bored kiddos outdoors and teach them an appreciation for the world around them — whether you’re in the city or the country or somewhere in between.
Amanda Mason said she’s been having her kids observe clouds and draw them. They look up the type of cloud together, and then she has her older kid write a story about riding on the cloud while her younger kid draws a picture of what that would be like. Meanwhile, Liz Sorenson has her kids go on nature walks and pick up what they find — like pine needles (to practice cutting with scissors) or flowers and leaves that they use for collages.
Several other HuffPost readers mentioned that their kids are getting really into bird-watching.
“My 5-year-old daughter loves learning to identify the birds in our area by their appearance and their call!” Margarita Clarke said. “She carries around her ‘bird book’ and tries to find the picture that matches what we see.”
2. Bake, bake, bake.
Yes, this one definitely requires parent supervision, but several HuffPost Parents readers raved about how great baking has been both as a form of entertainment and as a stealthy educational opportunity for their kiddos. Measuring = math! Plus, they’re learning how to follow directions and are being reminded of the power of patience.
“My kids are loving watching Kids Baking Championship and then baking like crazy!” Heather Brown said. “They’ve made cookie cake, cream puffs, macaroons, blondies and more!”
Another reader said her 16-year-old has been baking for her chemistry class, so it works for older kids, too.
3. Set up easy science experiments.
Covey Denton, a mom of three, has a leg up on the rest of us on this one because she’s also a science teacher. But she said it’s pretty simple to set up regular science experiments for your kids using items you likely already have at home.
Lists like this one from MommyPoppins can give you some great ideas — and the internet is awash with them. My own kid has gotten a kick over sticking a piece of sandwich bread in a plastic bag and jotting down daily observations about when and how it’s growing mold.
4. Have them write a choose-your-own adventure book.
“My first grader is writing a choose-your-own adventure book,” Megan Pohorylo Tucker said. “He writes out a ‘chapter’ by hand and then uses an app to type in the story and draw a picture.” (Though you could certainly keep it old school and do it all by hand.)
It works on a few levels, Tucker said. It keeps her son occupied and gets his creative juices flowing.
“We discuss ways the story could go and challenge him to overcome obstacles in the process,” she said. “Writing + problem solving + art = sorted!”
5. Use chalk.
Several HuffPost Parents readers talked about the somewhat magical impact that simply swapping pencil and paper for chalk and a stretch of sidewalk can have on keeping kids excited about academic activities.
“I’ve been having my kids practice their math facts and sight words in the driveway with chalk,” Katie Mannella said. Other parents mentioned how much their kiddos are loving drawing chalk pictures in the great outdoors.
6. Play store.
Again, this is another one that requires some level of parental involvement, but Sarah Renee said her 5-year-old daughter has gotten really into playing shoe store.
“We line up the shoes from the closet. Then, we use play money and we role-play the customer and the shoe salesman,” Renee said. “She has to do the math associated with the paying and returning change.”
If shoe store isn’t necessarily your kid’s thing, there are plenty of ways you could go with this — combining some simple imaginative play with quick opportunities to sneak in learning about manners, counting, etc.
7. Try board games — with a math challenge.
Board games have a lot of brain-boosting benefits for kids — they teach them basic life skills and encouraging family bonding, for instance — but HuffPost Parents reader Lia Polum takes her family’s game-playing up a notch with a smart swap.
For any game that typically requires a spinner, they use two dice instead.
“Then, they have to add or subtract the two before they move their piece,” Polum said of her kids, adding that the idea came from her kindergartner’s teacher.
8. Just ... play.
So many parents said they, too, are done with trying to force too much educational stuff on their children. And there are only so many Pinterest-worthy activities a parent can throw themselves into. So they’re keeping it simple — with a focus on using as much pent-up kiddo energy as possible.
“I have an ADHD kiddo who is also on the autism spectrum (he’s in kindergarten),” Jamie Barnes said. “His favorite activity lately is hitting a balloon around with a pool noodle that’s been cut in half. It’s great for his OT and burns off some of his endless energy.”
“To be honest, I sent my kids outside in their bathing suits to play with the water hose today,” Brooke Paige said. “There are only so many worksheets and Zoom meetings they can take.”