As our family has been practicing social distancing, I’ve been spending more time in our backyard with my kids, playing in the sun and getting our garden ready to plant. This year, both of my kids are excited to help in the garden—though my almost-4-year-old is a little more organized in his approach than his 18-month-old brother, who spends most of his gardening time moving piles of dirt from one place to another. My older son has specific ideas about what kinds of plants he wants to grow, where to place them, and how the garden should look. Gardening can be a great way to bond as a family, learn about and try new foods, and unplug from the news to practice self care. Here are some tips to get you started!
Begin by gathering a variety of books about gardens, plants, and flowers. Depending on your child’s age, they might enjoy looking through seed catalogs or more formal informational books about gardening. Last spring, I checked out a huge variety of garden planning books from my local library and spent time with my then-3-year-old identifying interesting looking flowers and choosing vegetables to plant. Since our local library is temporarily closed, I have gathered books about gardening and plants from our bookshelves and utilized some online resources as well. I like to try to keep the research side as low-tech as possible, but with older children or depending on your preference, you might choose to incorporate the internet or a gardening app into your research.
Help your child identify which plants they want to grow in their garden using the resources found during your research. This year, I am planning on having both my kids choose 3-5 vegetables and a few kinds of flowers to plant using picture books as inspiration. Younger children might benefit from looking through a limited selection of seed packets to make their top three choices. Depending on your climate and availability, you might decide to buy plant starts, grow seedlings in your home before transplanting them to your garden, or plant seeds directly into the ground. These choices are a great way to introduce your child to the science of gardening and what plants need to survive. Encourage your child to ask questions about the plants they choose, such as, “What does a plant need? How does a plant get water, food, and so on?”
Give your child a blank piece of paper (older children might enjoy using a digital drawing or planning tool), and encourage them to draw out their garden. Ask them to think about where they want to place their plants, which plants should go next to one another, and if there is any particular way they want their garden to look. During this stage, consider showing your child images of different kinds of gardens to help them visualize ways that a garden might look. You can also invite your child to use rocks, sticks, pinecones, or other natural materials in their garden planning. Younger children might enjoy using a pre-designed resource, while older children will appreciate a more open-ended prompt. Depending on your space, you might be able to provide your child with a large area, a small plot next to the house, or a few containers inside. Even if you only have a tiny space available, your child will enjoy making a plan and envisioning their finished garden.
Gather together shovels, rakes, gloves, and any other tools you have available. Choose a day with nice weather and get outside! Show your child how to prepare their garden for planting. Depending on your space, you might be clearing an existing garden bed, building a raised bed, or filling a container with soil for an inside space. Whatever your process, getting dirty, exploring the soil, and preparing to plant is often a highlight for young gardeners!
Make Garden Markers
Use small pieces of wood, popsicle sticks, or a similar material to create unique garden markers with your child. Help younger children write the name of each plant on a marker and illustrate it with a small image using a permanent marker or other material that won’t run off in the rain. Older children can practice their penmanship and creative abilities to create their markers. Model how to place the markers in the garden near where each type of seed or start is planted. This will help your child identify weeds versus baby plants and remember where each plant is located in their garden as they begin to grow.
Depending on your location, climate, and the time of year, you may choose to begin by buying plant starts, planting seeds inside and then transferring to your garden, or planting seeds directly into the ground. Many smaller plant companies or local garden stores sell their seeds online, which can be a great way to support small businesses while practicing social distancing. Read the directions on each plant or seed packet for spacing guidelines, sun exposure, and water needs. Model how to dig a hole and identify proper spacing as you plant. Give your child the opportunity to make mistakes, plant seeds close together, or even mix things up if they choose to. This allows for independence and begins to build responsibility and ownership over the space. Encourage your child to place their garden markers in their garden as they plant.
Water, Weed, and Watch the Garden Grow!
Using the directions from each type of plant in the garden, help your child create a watering and weeding schedule to keep their garden happy. Encourage them to check their garden daily for signs of growth, bugs, or weeds. You can incorporate math learning by having your child keep track of their plant growth using a garden pictograph. If any edible plants are ready to be harvested, invite your child to taste their produce and incorporate it into your weekly family meals.
Gardening with my children has been one of my favorite experiences as a parent. Not only because I love to garden, but also because of the absolute joy, wonder, and excitement I get to see on their faces as they explore the magical world of gardening. Especially with all the challenges this year, I hope you find the same is true for your family.
Laughter is the best medicine, especially during challenging times. Psychology Today explains that laughter really is beneficial to our health, emphasizing that “Laughter establishes—or restores—a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people.”
April Fools’ Day is a designated day each year for laughter and silliness in the United States and many other countries. While it’s not a national holiday, many people love to take advantage of April 1 to play pranks on others or share silly jokes or puns.
For some fun with your family on this April Fools’ Day, prepare ahead of time by checking out some of these ideas:
- Swap beds. The night before April Fools’ Day, put your (heavily) sleeping kids into a different family member’s bed. They’ll wake up to their first prank of the day as they realize they’re not in the same bed they went to sleep in last night!
- Make some “brown-E’s.” Place a tray or dish on the counter and place some “brown-E’s”–letter E cut out from brown construction paper–on it. Share that you made your kids a sweet treat last night while they were sleeping, and suggest they have one for breakfast. Watch their excitement turn to confusion as they realize that you didn’t actually make them brownies!
- Turn the world upside down. Before bed, go through the house and turn as many items as possible upside down. Benches, chairs, tables, pillows, and decorations are all fair game! When your kids walk through the house in the morning, it’ll look like their whole world is upside down.
- Have some fun with balloons. This science trick is sure to amuse as you race your child to inflate a balloon the fastest. Follow the procedure in the Balloon Trick activity to engage your child in this fun competition. The added bonus is they’ll also get a quick science lesson as they learn about air pressure–and that you had a little trick up your sleeve the whole time.
- Play “Eye” Spy. Give your kids a laugh at lunchtime by putting googly eyes on everything on their plate. Alternatively, when your kids are sleeping, place googly eyes on things all over the house. When they wake up, you can say “‘Eye’ see you!”
- Bugs are everywhere. Draw or place a plastic spider on top of the toilet paper roll. Your family members likely won’t even notice it’s there until they try to reach for some toilet paper. Listen for some squeals, and then listen for the giggles to follow!
- Do a magic trick. Tell your children you have a magic trick to show them and gather a drinking glass, a small piece of cardboard, and some water. Follow the directions in the Magic Glass of Water Experiment and then share the science behind this cool trick that will certainly have them asking to try it, too.
- Tell some jokes. Since April Fools’ Day is about laughter and loosening up, offer some jokes to get your kids giggling. One of my favorite jokes to tell my preschoolers is: Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7, 8, 9. (Note: The cheesier the joke, the better!)
- What’s for dinner? Prior to dinner, follow the directions in the Dinner for Dessert activity. Announce that fish sticks are on the menu and invite your kids to the table. Watch as they’re pleasantly surprised to find that their dinner is sweeter than expected!
- Play a pillow prank. This will bring one last laugh before bedtime! Before your kids go to bed, take their pillows out of the pillowcases. Then, place inflated balloons inside the pillowcases.
When choosing a prank or joke to share with your child, be sure to think about their individual personalities and how they might react. Remember that the goal of the day is laughter and keeping things light-hearted and fun.
I worked part time when Derek was a toddler. Every morning we would rise and then make and eat breakfast together. We’d take a walk, go to the grocery store, take the long way home, play in the backyard, read some books, reorganize the Tupperware, and then have a tea party with his loves. After all that, exhausted, I’d fall onto the sofa and turn on Jack’s Big Music Show, thinking, “What a great mom! I’m so interactive and engaging! And it must be close to nap time what with all the real world learning experiences I’ve just provided my son.”
I’m sure parents of toddlers can relate, and parents of older ones can look back and snicker along in relief with me. However, in these unprecedented times of school closures due to COVID-19, we as parents find ourselves back in this same boat, with our children suddenly at home and the ocean of minutes passing like hours.
It’s critically important that we as a society do everything we can to keep our communities safe and our families healthy. This also means ensuring your family finds a working system to keep everyone’s mindset positive and intact.
So let’s set some ground rules:
If some or your whole family is at home, remember that everyone needs solitude sometimes. If you are lucky enough to have a home that can provide everyone their own “me” space, great. If not, designate a space in your home that is a “quiet zone.” Rules for this zone include, “If I’m here, I don’t wish to be bothered.” I’m picturing those clocks that people hang in their store windows that say, “Back at 1:15.”
Create some signals that indicate you are working, or your child is learning, and respect those signals. I’m lucky enough to have a home office, and when the door is closed, everyone knows it’s work time. (Full disclosure: in reality, whenever the door is closed, I will see Derek’s head poke in with a plate of food in his hand, mouthing and dramatically pantomiming, “How long do I heat this up for?” But parents, do as I say, not as I do.)
Those that know me could call me organized. Yes, I plan for vacations a year ahead of time. Yes, I have a spreadsheet for packing. Yes, my linen closet is labeled and color coded. Isn’t everyone’s?
Kids need routine, and in a situation like this with so much unknown, providing a known routine can be immensely comforting. Many websites I’ve been reading advocate for creating a schedule for the week, even if your entire family is at home. Get up with the alarm, and get dressed and ready as if you are going to work or school. (As I type this I am wearing the same jammie bottoms I have for a week.)
With little ones, it may help to create a schedule for the day the night before and go over it before bed or in the morning. For older children, involve them in the process. Derek is 14 now, so yesterday I “asked” him (you know, in that way parents ask but are really telling) to create a schedule that I could sign off on. He jumped off the couch and completed it happily.
Just kidding. The schools near me are closed indefinitely, and until yesterday, Derek thought he was on an extended vacation. Also, his four cumulative hours of daytime marked “Free” (read: “in my teen man cave playing on my computer”) got, shall we say, revised. But seriously, let your children have as much flexibility and agency with their schedule as you are comfortable with. I put Derek’s ideas on sticky notes, and he can change the schedule around as he wants.
I do love structure, but I am the first to admit that when it comes to kids, there also needs to be a balance. In these times of heightened stress, we all need a little more downtime. You don’t need to structure their day like a typical school day, but a four-hour stretch of doing nothing might also wear thin after a few days.
Learning at Home
In my social communities, I have witnessed a collective, understandable anxiety from parents suddenly asked to be their child’s teachers. So first off, remember that you have always been and always will be your child’s primary teacher. Furthermore, I went to school to be a teacher, taught elementary school, then spent a decade as a school administrator, and I can tell you this: no one expects you to be teaching your child in a manner that mirrors what would happen in school. Remember that learning can and should happen everywhere, and these times will certainly call for flexibility.
For those are that learning at home, here are some ideas you may not have considered:
- Play with a Deck of Cards: I suppose you could teach your kindergartner how to play Texas Holdem, but in the event that isn’t for you, did you know there are a ton of games that reinforce math skills using only a deck of cards? And beyond a deck of cards, Family Math, a phenomenal resource by the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, is also bursting with games to play at home.
- Read, Read, Read: I know I say this in every blog, but again, this is a perfect time to pick up a book and read. For children who are reading independently, have them record their reading or make a video reading a book to a class. I bet your friends and family would love to watch your kid reading Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! And don’t forget about audio book services, which have many great titles for kids. Audio books don’t replace the physical act of reading, but in tandem, they can be a fabulous way to hear the language of books. Also, consider a family book club! Rotate who chooses the book–parents, it is really comforting to read a children’s book right now–and have a sit-down, grown-up discussion about it, hopefully with food. Check out some discussion prompts for book talks here.
- Go on Scavenger Hunts: Give your child a clipboard or a pad of sticky notes and send them on an indoor scavenger hunt for just about anything. Here are some ideas: find all the squares/circles/triangles, find everything yellow, or find everything that starts with the letter M. For older students, find compound words, long vowels, right angles, or fractions.
- Label Things: Okay, I know I’m manic with labels. But hand your early learner a pad of stickies and have them label the living room.
- Use your imagination and build something: In my day, before the internet and cable TV, a refrigerator box was like, the coolest thing ever. Don’t have a refrigerator box lying around, and don’t feel like ordering one today? Give your child a box full of recycled materials, such as paper towel tubes, egg cartons, empty cereal boxes, and a roll of tape and have them go at it. You can also give them a challenge: can you build something that can hold two books on top while only using 6 things from the box? What’s the tallest thing you can build only using 2 items, but as many of those items as you want?
While we don’t want our kids to be staring glassy-eyed at screens all day long, there are certainly learning opportunities online as well, many of which have been circulating these days. Here are a few additional ideas:
- Take a Virtual Tour: Many museums and other places are offering free virtual tours. Have your child pick a place to “visit” and write, tell, or record five new things they learned.
- Interview a Family Member Virtually: With many people in the same situation, make a virtual date with a family member for an interview. Here are some interview questions you can try (Family Interview: Culture and World Events and Interview: Everyone Makes Mistakes), or you can make up your own.
- Listen to a Book: Many services online have made their books and the audio recordings available online. Who doesn’t love to be read to?
- Create Something: I painted a bunch of Harry Potter peg dolls for my sister once. (Really, look it up. It’s a thing.) Well, my super creative niece decided to use them to re-enact all the books using a stop-motion video app. The point is there are tons of ways to be active rather than passive with technology. Have them make a movie, create a website, animate a cartoon, code a program, or write a book.
I hope this helps relieve some stress as we all navigate this new terrain. Don’t forget to give yourself a break from time to time, and remember we are all in this together.
Most kids love science experiments. My children recently participated in their school’s science fair, and I loved seeing them light up as they explained their experiments to a crowd of proud, smiling grown-ups. However, I was disappointed to hear they don’t do as many science experiments as the teachers would like to throughout the school year because of the focus on reading, writing, and math.
This got me thinking that we should try to do more science experiments at home. Science experiments have so much more to offer than just the “wow” factor—not that I’m discrediting the “wow” factor. Who doesn’t love seeing their child’s eyes widen when the “volcano” erupts as the vinegar reacts with the baking soda? But science experiments do so much more than simply impress our young learners. They not only foster children’s analytical thinking skills, they also encourage them to think outside the box as they test their hypotheses.
Here are a few simple science experiments to try with your child at home. You might even have all of the materials already!
- Bread Mold Experiment: Mold happens. It’s usually a sad occasion when our food molds and goes to waste. But in this experiment, your child will see which conditions are best for mold to grow and learn a bit about how mold helped humans discover some important medicines. This experiment involves few materials and is fun to observe. It takes time, though, so make sure you prepare your child to practice their observing and describing skills as they watch the mold grow over time.
- Celery and Food Coloring Experiment: We all know that plants need water to survive, but how exactly is water used by the plant? Your child will have a terrific time watching the water become distributed throughout the celery stalk.
- Yeast Experiment: It’s Alive! It’s neat to see something that is seemingly dead come alive, such as yeast! Introduce your little scientist to the magic of yeast with this experiment, and get them excited about a fascinating and extremely beneficial little organism that does so much for us.
- Brush Up: A Toothpaste Experiment: Do you have someone in your house who is reluctant to brush their teeth? If so, you might consider doing this experiment with them as it clearly demonstrates the power of tooth brushing!
- Leak Proof Bag Experiment: This one is definitely a crowd-pleaser! It involves poking pencils through a plastic bag filled with water. Make sure to have your child predict what they think will happen before doing it.
- Candle Burning Experiment: Who doesn’t like to light a candle? I know I do, and most kids certainly love the combination of candles and fire! Here’s a science experiment that gives your child a chance to see how fire needs oxygen to burn–with a little math and writing practice thrown in.
- Sink or Float: A Science Experiment: This simple experiment will get your child thinking about density before they are even aware of the word! Using items you gather around the house, they will test out their predictions to see which items sink and which ones float.
These are just a sample of the science experiments you can try with your little ones at home. There are so many more out there! I like to have my kids keep a science journal to draw and write in as they record their experiences with the science experiments. The process is as important as the product when it comes to learning through experimenting.
Working remotely is a perk that many people seek when looking for job opportunities. Recently, there has been an upward trend in the number of people working from home. A Gallup survey showed that in 2016, 43 percent of Americans worked from home occasionally, up from 39 percent in 2012. Remote work gives employees flexibility, work satisfaction, and choice in their work environment. There are upsides for employers, too; the Harvard Business Review reported that one study showed working from home increases productivity by 4.4%.
With certain circumstances—such as a viral outbreak that closes local businesses and schools, bad weather days, or a sick child—you might suddenly be required to work remotely while also managing the other aspects of your life.
If you’re not prepared, figuring out how to work remotely with your child at home can feel difficult and overwhelming! In the event of an extended school closure or mandated remote work, it’s important to be intentional with your approach.
Here are some tips for how to work from home while having your child home with you, too:
- Set realistic and clear expectations and goals. Trying to do too much will cause more stress, so it’s important to take a realistic approach when figuring out how to balance work and family. Make a plan and try to formulate your expectations of how things will go each day. You’ll likely need to adjust your expectations of yourself and your family when trying to juggle everything. This might mean allowing electronics at a different time than normally fits into your routine. Be easy on yourself and your child during this transition. Finding new solutions takes time.
- Adjust your work schedule. One benefit of working remotely is sometimes being able to make your own schedule. You might consider waking up earlier than usual or working after your child goes to bed. If you can implement “quiet time” by having your child stay in their room for an hour or more finding their own things to do, this is a great time to focus on your own work. You’ll know your child is safely occupied in their room, maybe even having a nap if you’re lucky! Be sure to communicate with colleagues about potential challenges or schedule changes that may impact them.
- Make a family routine. A planned routine can help things run smoothly during your day. It does not need to be a strict minute-by-minute schedule of the day. Instead, consider creating a general plan for blocks or chunks of the day. Think of it as giving your child options for what they can do with their time at home while you may be occupied with emails or calls. Use this Simple Routines Checklist to inspire a plan that fits your child, schedule, and home. Some examples of activities include puzzles, reading time, arts and crafts, and online learning games.
- Take breaks. The beauty of remote work is your day allows for some flexibility, so utilize it by periodically unplugging. Step away from work to join your child in their activities, to guide them into a new activity, or to get some fresh air by taking a walk together outside. Small breaks will make your day more manageable and also give you the opportunity to connect and have some fun with your child.
- Encourage independent play. The reality is you still have to work even though you’re home with your child. Independent play has numerous benefits for children, such as teaching them to be self-reliant, confident, and creative. This is the perfect opportunity to give your child opportunities to play on their own. Browse through the collection of activities on Education.com to find something suitable for your child to complete independently based on their age, skill level, and the materials you have around your house.
- Invite your child to be helpful. Kids love to be helpers, so what jobs can you give your child to complete while you work? These jobs could include things that need to get done around the house or things that might help you with your work, such as shredding papers or organizing office supplies. Create a chore list for your child at the beginning of each day, and plan a reward or celebration at the end of the day if they have completed the chores. Be sure to emphasize how much they are helping out and showing responsibility by completing the tasks. If you have a per-reader, support their independence by using images that help them know their responsibilities. Kids love to feel that the work they do is valued and important, so a little encouragement here will go a long way!
While your situation might feel like a juggling act, just remember that it’s important to roll with the punches. Keeping a good sense of humor to go along with your flexibility will help you manage your time, your work responsibilities, and your child!