My first-grade daughter broke my heart the other day. She watched a video lesson from her teacher on writing and afterward sighed, “Writing used to be my favorite part of school,” as she struggled to complete her corresponding writing assignment. I would understand if she was feeling a little writer’s block, but her tone suggested she was mourning the magic of in-classroom learning, and it made me sad.
I know she’s not alone. Our elementary school has done a great job offering online lessons, optional teacher one-on-one time, and setting reasonable expectations for parents. My kids are lucky they have computer access and at least one parent with a flexible work schedule. Yet it’s still hard for them—and for me. So, I have lowered my expectations for us all when it comes to homeschooling. If they are learning, playing, and having mostly good days, I figure we’re doing just fine. And my biggest lesson coming out of this is: if they’re playing nicely together, don’t mess with it.
Still, we try to do some schooling every weekday, but I like staying open to lessons outside of the distance learning classroom. As one member of our team put it, “School could be like a field trip every day.” Here are a few ways I’ve been supplementing distance learning with activities at home with my preschooler and first-grader.
1. Art: Decorate a Themed Window
I’ve been loving the adorable spring window trend in our neighborhood. Families have cut out paper flowers, leaves, butterflies, and more. In addition to the rainbows and thank you messages for essential workers, the spring-themed decor has been lifting our moods during our walks and bike rides around the block.
2. P.E.: Have a Cleaning Party
This is one of my favorite mom hacks I learned from my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. Motivate kids to clean up using a countdown clock. Instead of using a timer, I put on one of their favorite songs and challenge my girls to clean up their room or playroom by the time the song is over. My youngest also enjoys dusting, spraying (with natural cleaners), wiping, and vacuuming, so I welcome her help too on cleaning days.
3. Science: Seed Start
Dirt, seeds, and an empty egg carton or another container can turn into an amateur start of a garden for kids. My girls have been calling their seeds their “babies.” Through the process, some of the baby seeds didn’t make it very long (I think due to the overzealous watering of my 4-year-old), but now many are thriving, including some sunflowers that popped through the soil in less than a week. We were also able to find some printables of the life-stages of their plants so they can follow along (and I can check it off as a science lesson).
4. P.E. or Art: Do a Challenge or Enter a Contest
Facebook community groups, Instagram, and more can be great sources to find a challenge or enter a contest. My first-grader entered a local creative contest through an art supply store. My friend’s kids all did the at-home ice bucket challenge. Completing one can be a fun way to mix up the days.
5. Math and Science: Make or Bake Something Together
My kids are now at the age when they can do more than just dump baking ingredients into a bowl, so we’ve gotten more adventurous in baking and making meals together. We’ve kneaded the dough for homemade pretzels, baked an apple pie, and mashed bananas for breakfast cookies.
6. Reading and Writing: Handwrite Letters
Handwritten or handmade notes both help them practice writing and can brighten someone’s day. They could mail or drop off drawings to older family members, neighbors, friends from school, teachers, and more. Getting a letter back is equally as exciting—especially when there’s something inside the envelope like a penny or a sticker (it’s the little things).
7. Reading: Encourage Sibling Storytime
Each day, my first-grader is supposed to read a number of books as part of her distance learning. When I need a break or my youngest is settling in for some afternoon quiet time, I ask my oldest to read her younger sister a few books. When they can agree on the book selection, it means a few sweet moments of quiet time for me too—if I can resist sneaking a peek of them snuggled together on the couch.
8. Art: Try Coloring Pages
“Can you print me a picture?” is something I hear every day. My girls are less into coloring books and more into designing coloring pages of their own choosing. By googling free printables, we can find nearly anything they want to color. And those ideas we can’t find? They convinced me to buy an app that turns any photo into a coloring page. I know every house doesn’t have a printer, but having crayons and blank paper on hand has been so helpful to keep them entertained without needing me.
9. Social: Have a Virtual Playdate
My daughter and her cousin recently scheduled their first FaceTime call without me or my sister-in-law facilitating. At ages 7 and 6, they talked for an hour! I realized how starved for socialization outside their own family they must be. It’s the same reason I look forward to Zoom happy hours with my girlfriends. So, we are all going to do this more often.