Teaching your children at home? You’ve got this. Here are five learning activities that don’t require screens or worksheets. While there’s nothing wrong with screens or worksheets, per se, mixing up assignments can spark new connections and creativity.
The Challenge and Reality
Recent global events have sent much of the world into an altered reality. School children are at home, some parents are working at home, other parents have to work in the community and find accommodations for their children, jobs are closing, community places are shutting down, and suddenly our homes have become the center of our learning world.
This is an abrupt change for everyone, and yet, here it is.
While communities do their best to provide food and shelter, school systems are working to meet the educational needs of their students – from day care to graduate school.
The task is enormous. Further compounding these challenges is the reality that not everyone has access to the internet or to piles of books in their homes or to printers to print off resources and worksheets. Or there’s the reality that even parents who have access don’t want kids who are glued to a screen. Maybe even some parents are opposed to the “drill it and kill it” strategy for learning.
Whatever reason you have, it can be a challenge to come up with learning activities that don’t rely on a screen or pre-made worksheet.
The five suggestions that follow will not create two months of curriculum for you or solve all your educational woes. Hopefully though one or two of them will inspire a new activity or strategy to break up the homebound monotony. A paper and pencil are all that you need – and some of them don’t even need that.
Good luck – play around with these ideas and see what else you can come up with.
Learning Activities without Worksheets or Screens
This is the clock that hangs on the wall in our living room. Many people admit that they cannot solve all the equations, but they know the answers because they know the face of a clock.
What activity can you do with this?
Well, if you don’t have a clock, take a piece of paper (or a paper plate or go outside and write in the dirt) and write the twelve numbers of a clock face on the plate.
Now, have your student come up with as many different ways to equal each number. Start with the number one.
One can be made by 1+0 or 798-797 or 2/2.
Repeat for all the numbers. For a more challenging example, here’s some options for number NINE.
Nine can be made by 9+0 or 5+4 or 6+3 or 3×3 or 32 or 99/11 or the perimeter of an equilateral triangle with the side length of 3.
This will be conceptually easier for older students, but if you can sit and talk it out with younger students (or, have the older students work through the more basic answers with the younger students) then everyone can participate.
Get a piece of paper to write down the answers you come up with. You can put parameters or expectations for students according to grade-level if appropriate.
Geography begins with an appreciation for space and location. Students will likely have seen a flat rendering of the world on a map either in their school or in a book somewhere at some point, but geography encompasses so much more.
Have your student create a mock-up of their home or neighborhood. You can use items you find outside, or recyclables, or just whatever you might have lying around the house (I’ve got a box of socks missing matches – you could use something like that – or cans of food or stones).
The point of this exercise is to have students situate places in the context of other spaces and places. For example, if you ask them to do a mock-up of your house, do they know which room the bathroom is next to? Do they have the front door leading into the correct room of the house?
Older students could create a mock-up of their neighborhood or their school building.
But this isn’t the end of this exercise. Don’t stop with just the exercise itself.
Take the time to ask these questions and you may learn something about your student/child.
- What do you think works well about this design?
- What part of this design do you think has problems or is unhelpful? Why?
- How would you improve this layout?
- If you changed the layout in the way you suggested, what impact would it have (how would it change the lives of) other people who use this space?
First, follow the laws that your state has in place for handling outdoor time during Covid-19.
Second, practice social distancing, and wash your hands when you come back inside.
Third, go outside as much as it is safe and possible.
But when you do go outside, try this familiar, but useful activity. I’ll connect it at the end to science.
Try a scavenger hunt.
For young kids you can make it a themed hunt (10 different things that are green, 10 different things that are round, etc.); a list based on your geographic region (something prickly, something brown, something wet, etc.); or have your children come up with their own lists.
Older kids can try a Bigger or Better Scavenger Hunt. You start them with something small – like a pebble – and they have to make 5-7 (pick your number) swaps to something Bigger or Better. Have them then write or tell you their argument for how each thing was bigger or better than the previous – make them defend their choices!
What does this have to do with science you might ask? Observation. Inquiry begins when someone can take one observation and connect it with something they know or observe – then, BAM question. Cue the scientific method.
But you don’t get to that step without observation. Teach your kids to notice.
The next activity heads towards art, but it is also based on outdoor observation. Nice segue, right?
I got this idea from children’s-book illustrator and creative Instagram artist, Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkygirl). I’ve done this a couple times with the girls. I have been surprised at how difficult it is, and I’ve been impressed by the creativity it generates. (I also LOVE Ohi’s broken crayon series, but we haven’t done anything along those lines yet.)
Have your child/ren look for objects in nature that look like something else. It could be a leaf that looks like a crazy hairdo or a rock that looks like a turtle shell. Let them find a few of interest and potential.
If you have paper and pen at your house, then you can do this inside. If not or if you don’t want to bring nature inside with you, get to a dirty place that is ideal for using a stick to draw in the mud/dirt.
Now, have your child put down the object that they found and draw around it what they think it can be. For example, if you find a leaf that looks like unusual hair, have your child put the leaf down and then draw the head and face beneath the leaf – fill in the picture. For the rock, put it down and then draw the turtle head and legs peeking out from beneath the shell.
Here are some pictures of projects the girls and I have done in the past. Observation leading to creativity – perfection!
Finally, here is one more learning activity without screens or worksheets in sight. Potentially you could incorporate this into a math exercise with a graph or a geography exercise with a map or a sorting-your-socks exercise for any toddlers in the group.
This idea is inspired by a book called New Old Shoes by Charlotte Blessing (click HERE for a summary and click HERE to hear Charlotte Blessing read her book). New Old Shoes follows the path of a pair of shoes through many adventures.
First, Have your children go through their closets and determine where all their clothes are made. You can do this by creating piles or you can grab a piece of paper and a pencil.
Then, As they go through each item, write down the country it comes from. From there, begin including tic marks next to each country and keep tally.
Finally, if you want to take it one step further, create a bar graph of supplier locations – or create a map. What item traveled the farthest? How many came from the country you live in?
What Happens Next?
I hope you find an idea or two to spark some creative learning. What’s the old adage: Necessity is the mother of invention? She may very well be.
What other learning activities have you used without worksheets or screens?