With schools across the UK closing indefinitely from this afternoon, parents are faced with having to entertain their children at home for weeks.
While many will have school work to keep them occupied, it will not keep them busy for the whole day – and certainly not at weekends.
Fortunately parenting experts, bloggers and creative mothers and fathers have taken to social media to share their top tips on how to keep little ones active, entertained and curious while at home during coronavirus self-isolation.
The tips range from ones that can be done online, like exploring NASA’s amazing database of space images, to craft projects like a ‘daily schedule clock’ and science experiments like the ‘storm in a teacup’ created by Scouts.
FEMAIL has also found a number of groups, social media accounts, media companies and public organisations that are offering parents vital resources for free during this difficult time.
1. Create a schedule clock
Plan the day: Creative mother and Instagram blogger Kirsty, of today.our.children , shared the idea for creating this amazing ‘daily rhythm calendar’ to help give structure to days spent at home. The clock is made from cardboard and coloured-in clothes pegs, as seen above
Interactive: Clothes pegs are then coloured and labelled with the tasks/weather conditions/days of the week and are clipped onto the side of the clock as needed
Creative mother and Instagram blogger Kirsty, of today.our.children, shared the idea for creating this amazing ‘daily rhythm calendar’ to help give structure to days spent at home.
The clock face is made from a piece of circular cardboard that is divided into segments covering the weather, day of the week, and times of the day, although this can be changed to suit your individual family needs.
2. Dust off your board games to play together
Dr Amanda Gummer, the founder of the Good Play Guide and expert in child psychology, said: ‘Board games are great for getting the family together. Children learn how to win and lose well (assuming the grown ups model that and don’t get too competitive!) as well as following instructions. Board games can be themed – e.g. Discover the World or Times Table Heroes to help children learn whilst playing.
‘There are lots of great games for older tweens and teens as an alternative to screen time that are a bit more involve strategic thinking and give the youngsters a chance to beat their parents – e.g. Ticket To Ride.
‘Connected games such as Beast of Balance between tech and traditional toys that appeal to all generations.’
Family classic: Ticket to ride board game
Clothes pegs are then coloured and labelled with the tasks/weather conditions/days of the week and are clipped onto the side of the clock as needed.
For example, a ‘rainy’ peg could be added to the weather segment, while a ‘reading’ peg could be added to the morning segment. These again can be designed to suit the activities and age of the family members.
Not only can you have fun designing the clock together but it also gives parents a vibrant, visual means to communicate the day’s activities to their children.
3. Join in an online kids party
Children’s party company Captain Fantastic have launched a series of online classes, parties and children’s shows for children and their families to enjoy. The current schedule on their Facebook group is for the coming week but more could be in the pipeline.
Highlights include the 24-Hour Kids Party, which will take place tomorrow and allow families around the world to tune in and come together for non-stop fun – all for free.
There will be a mix of interactive activities including lots of Magic, Music, Dancing, Quizzes, Singing, Science Tricks, Nursery Rhymes, Fitness, Story time, Instruments, Meditation, Origami, Puppetry, Superhero Yoga, English Tuition and Drama Games.
Captain Fantastic’s first sessions, which took place this week, were enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.
4. Take a virtual trip to the museum
Go back in time: The British Museum, pictured, is available to visit through a virtual tour
Many museums, art galleries and public spaces have closed their doors, but that doesn’t mean their treasures are lost.
Families can take virtual tours of museums and galleries, including the British Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Guggenheim in New York City, thanks to Google Art and Culture.
The stunning visuals will keep your little ones entertained – and there are plenty of interesting facts to pick up along the way, too.
5. Log on to learn
Murray Morrison leading education expert and founder of Tassomai the online learning network told Femail there are myriad of free online resources to help little ones learn at home.
6. Watch a family documentary – for free
Dr Amanda Gummer, the founder of the Good Play Guide and expert in child psychology said: ‘Documentaries such as the Blue Planet or Stargazing are great family viewing that can spark conversations and even family projects.’
Fortunately many of these are available on streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, which is free as long as the household has a TV licence.
He said: ‘The most reliable, high-quality and consistent educational content in the public domain is that provided by the BBC; their educational programming and content available through iPlayer and BBCBitesize is likely to be the most valuable resource for parents over this difficult period.
‘Not only is the quality unimpeachable, but their range of age-groups catered for and levels of difficulty are really good, so there’s something for everyone.
‘Commercial products aimed at older learners, like Tassomai, can be extremely powerful for those trying to go beyond the textbook and really master knowledge in a way that personalises to them; the diagnostic data that we give to parents is really useful to help focus your attention on problem areas. I’m impressed with Duolingo and Memrise for languages and GCSEPod have excellent content around GCSE studies.
7. Get creative with the 30-day Lego challenge
It’s playtime: Bring some structure to playtime – and stop the kids from getting bored – by trying the 30-day Lego challenge that has been circulating on social media
Bring some structure to playtime – and stop the kids from getting bored – by trying the 30-day Lego challenge that has been circulating on social media.
The plan outlines a daily challenge that you can set for the children, from ‘build a house’ to ‘design a new space rocket’.
By setting new tasks, children will see their old toys in a new way and be encouraged to think outside the box. Hopefully it will give you a few minutes of peace and quiet, too.
8. Get out the drawing pads and colouring books
Dr Gummer said that drawing can be a great way to keep children busy and creative, particularly if parents are working from home.
9. Dive under the sea with an aquarium cam
Holidays overseas might be out of the question at the moment but the wonders of the deep are still just a click away thanks to live streams offered by aquariums around the world.
Some of our favourites include the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, which made headlines last week when it shared a video of its penguins exploring other enclosures.
She said: ‘There are lots of drawing and colouring books – a great activity for reliving anxiety. You can also download lots of free colouring in sheets – check out your child’s favourite characters to find pictures to colour in.
Anne Marie O’Leary, the editor-in-chief of parenting website NetMums added: ‘My recommendation is to give each child a sketch book that they’re encouraged to add to and stick things in to all day every day. It helps develop their artistic eye as well as develop sketching skills.
‘Once a week you can then look through it together and decide to develop any ideas that really stand out – a still life that could be done larger or a cartoon strip they can add words to. And colouring is good for all of us – it’s essentially mindfulness; something we can all benefit from right now in these testing times.’
10. Try a P.E. class with Joe Wicks
Get active without leaving the house: Body Coach Joe Wicks is launching daily P.E. lessons online, and the experts agreed home workouts are the way to go
Joe Wicks is launching daily P.E. lessons online, and the experts agreed home workouts are the way to go.
‘Certainly some home exercise would be really worthwhile,’ Murray said.
‘For exercise at home, there are many excellent yoga channels on YouTube and Vimeo where even beginners can do some stretching and balance – and it’s a great way to break up schoolwork and dissipate a bit of cabin fever.
11. Learn how to ‘paint’ cardboard fingernails
For a fun twist on arts and crafts, why not cut out a cardboard hand and then give your child nailpolish to ‘paint’ the fingernails with.
This will obviously only work if you are not precious about your collection – and have newspaper to place underneath to keep your home clean and tidy.
If you don’t have cardboard lying around, you can always cut up cereal boxes and use the reverse side.
Hours of fun: Practise painting fingernails
Amanda added: ‘Active play can include obstacle courses, games of hide and seek, Simon Says, or scavenger hunts. Having discos or setting challenges for older children and products such as the Wii can help keep kids active.’
For more information on Joe Wicks’ daily PE lessons visit his Instagram account.
12. Whip up a culinary creation in the kitchen
Cooking with children can be a great way to get through making dinner, and can also be a great way to learn.
Angela said: ‘Even from a very young age, children love to get their hands into a bowl of something and mix it! As long as you follow the usual hygiene rules (they really shouldn’t be anything new just because of a virus) and get baking! Weights, measures, and of course endless vocabulary is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning experiences from cooking. Try using a fruit or vegetable they’ve never seen before to learn something new, tell them how its grown and where it comes from and all of a sudden you’re in to the realms of geography too!
Murray added: ‘As for activities, I’m a huge fan of baking bread, especially as half the processes that we need to learn in science all happen as you make and prove dough – and you’re also creating something nourishing at a time of need.
Amanda agreed baking and cooking was a fun way to learn. She said: ‘Older children can learn a lot from researching the menu, budgeting for the ingredients and then following the recipe. As well as being a great collaborative activity, it can help children develop a range of key skills including literacy and numeracy. Getting children involved in preparing family meals is likely to help them try new food and eat better at meal times. It’s also an opportunity for children to learn about favourite family recipes and create your own family favourites.’
13. Check in on animals at the zoo
You’re going to the zoo! World renowned San Diego Zoo is thousands of miles away for many British families, but you are still able to ‘visit’ thanks to a number of animals cameras set up across the sprawling site. Pictured, the entrance to the California zoo
World renowned San Diego Zoo is thousands of miles away for many British families, but you are still able to ‘visit’ thanks to a number of animals cameras set up across the sprawling site.
14. Create a tuck shop
The creative mother behind the Instagram account cuppycake191106 shared this clever idea of making a ‘tuck shop’ where her children could ask to ‘buy’ any snacks or treats they want throughout the day.
She explained that each day she gives them £1 to spend as they choose on the tasty treats in the kitchen cupboard.
Not only does this teach them about money and spending but it also helps limits the number of treats they eat.
Pocket money: Make your own tuck shop
Highlights include the koala cam, polar bear cam and tiger cam, which will offer children the chance to see some of their favourite animals.
There are also handy activities, crafts and colouring pages available for free on the zoo’s website, making it a one-stop shop for a day full of animal-themed activities.
15. Try a ballet, dance or martial arts class – all for free
Lots of businesses running after-school and weekend clubs have been forced to move online as they deal with the coronavirus restrictions.
However many have been quick to adapt to the change and are offering online classes, with many being streamed for free.
The Facebook group Online Classes For Kids is fast becoming a hub for virtual classes, with a number of different activities already on offer.
Some classes are available for families to stream whenever they want – giving parents a much-needed immediate release for energetic children – but the majority of classes take place at regularly scheduled times.
This has the benefit of giving structure to your day or weekend, you can make sure children get dressed and ready for the class as they would normally, only they are staying indoors for the session.
16. Impress with a magic trick
Trick of the eye! Popular Facebook parenting/science blogger DadLab is a great place to look for fun and easy-to-do science experiments for the whole family. Pictured, one magic trick
Popular Facebook parenting/science blogger DadLab is a great place to look for fun and easy-to-do science experiments for the whole family.
This clever trick only needs paper towels, felt tip pens and a bowl of water.
He explained: ‘Here is a “magic” trick you can do to excite children about reading or just for fun! Fold one piece of a paper towel and draw something at the front side using a permanent marker.
17. Plant a home garden
Angela said: ‘Why not take the opportunity to plant some fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers?
‘These are all great learning opportunities for maths skills, counting, shapes, size, volume etc – it’s amazing what you can learn when it comes to various pots, soil, seeds and water. Plus in a few weeks and months you’ll have food to start on my next favourite subject.’
‘Open paper towel and trace the drawing on the other page. Now turn your picture in something else, get creative and use regular felt tip pens for some colour! Fold it back and drop it in the water! Paper towel will quickly absorb the water and reveal the whole picture.’
A video of the trick, and other ideas, can be found on the DadLab Facebook page.
18. Look out for signs of spring
Whether you are peering out the window or are fortunate enough to have a garden to explore, why not challenge your kids to look out for the first signs of spring they can spot outside.
They could keep a chart of the flowers, birds and trees they can see and then use online resources to identify them.
This is something you can come back to each day, allowing them to see just how mother nature works her magic.
19. Create your own mini tornado
Experiment with science: This ‘storm in a teacup’, which allows children to see how tornadoes are created by making a mini one with just washing up liquid, jars, water and sand
While the Scouts normally love the great outdoors, they have pulled together some inspired indoor activity ideas to help keep children occupied during self-isolation.
Among the 100 incredible ideas available online is this ‘storm in a teacup’, which allows children to see how tornadoes are created by making a mini one with just washing up liquid, jars, water and sand.
20. Explore outer space with NASA
The NASA website is packed full of free activities and worksheets for children interested in outer space.
For families with younger children, there are also countless free images of the universe that are packed with shapes and colours sure to keep them stimulated, even if it’s just for one quiet moment.
How to home school
Greg Smith, head of operations at Oxford Home Schooling, one of leading home education providers in the UK shared his top tips on how to home school.
He said: ‘If you had a hundred home educators in a room, each of them would likely have a different approach, but there are a number of things you can do to get the most out of homeschooling.’
‘A bit of experimentation should identify what works best for you. You might find 30-minute blasts followed by ten-minute breaks help keep your concentration up. Alternatively, you might prefer to work for longer periods at a stretch and then enjoy a longer break.
‘Boring as it might sound, giving your learning a predictable structure and routine does help to make sure you get everything done!’
Get rid of distractions
‘It’s really hard to focus when the TV’s blaring, the radio’s on or there are lots going on in the place you’re working, so try and get rid of the distractions.
‘Also, concentrating is easiest when you’re in a quiet, comfortable place, so play around with how you study – sitting, standing or lying down; inside or outside; with lots of light or without – and find a method that helps you concentrate.’
Divide up the work
‘Sometimes it can be difficult to motivate yourself when faced with a really big or difficult task. The best solution is to break it down into smaller pieces, planning out the various stages that need completing before you start. This way, you’ll know what needs doing and you’ll get a good sense of progress as you work.’
Get lots of sleep
‘It’s an accepted fact that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll find it harder to concentrate, learn and retain information.
‘The trick is pretty simple – get some sleep! Most people between the age of five and 11 need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night, while 11 to 18-year-olds need 8 to 10 hours.’
‘Sometimes, particularly when there’s a lot of work to be done, it can be hard to resist the urge to multitask and try and get lots of jobs done at once. This is best avoided though, as, in essence, you’re dividing up the amount of brainpower you have available to a given task, meaning you might miss out on important bits of information.’
Use what school provides
Murray added: ‘I’d use the resources the school provides up to a point – that should give the base structure for home learning; look at the timetable, too, to get a balance of which subjects need more or less emphasis. But remember – you’re not a teacher (probably), and the context is now very different, so don’t try to replicate the classroom.
‘Look instead to take what the school has given and see how the work or activities can become shared learning experiences, how you can read around the subject in topics that take your fancy, or how you can take conventional methods of working and flip them a bit. Instead of writing an essay, try producing a video together. Instead of reading in silence, try joining forces with others over Skype and reading together. Although this is going to be very hard, there are opportunities here to do something differently for a change.
‘Many parents are in the same boat, of course, but there a many resources at your disposal to help; not least the textbook itself. First, admit to yourself and to your child that they may know more about the subject than you do. You are not now their teacher, but you can be their coach.
‘Think of it this way – a pro tennis player or footballer is far better at their sport than their coach or manager, but they still get huge value and improvement by working with them to practice and gather feedback.
‘So coach your child – set up a structure and a timetable, introduce variety and pace, set up ground-rules and boundaries and discuss each day how it’s going and where each of you can improve the process. Consider in everything you do that you need to find a level that’s sustainable: the “goldilocks zone” of not too hard and not too easy – you want the work to be valuable but motivating.
‘And as for subject knowledge, it doesn’t matter as much as you might thing: read the text together, discuss it, learn together and all will be well.
Use their existing timetable
‘As a rule of thumb, use their existing timetable to get a feel for the relative allocation of subject focus. If there are five maths lessons and two French, you’ve already got a good idea of the ratios. Try to maintain that balance if you can. Don’t forget the time given over in the timetable for breaks, lunch and physical exercise – they are as valuable as the study time.
‘For resources, the textbooks and materials supplied by the school are the main thing. Beyond that, using BBC’s amazing Bitesize content is extremely powerful. Tassomai provides students with daily quizzing practice that adapts to them so this can be a really important part of their day and can give the feedback and correction that they need at the right level of difficulty.
Use the time to learn soft skills
Amanda added: ‘I think this challenge gives families an opportunity to teach children a range of skills that they may struggle to find time for in normal life – skills such as home management, independence (teaching young children to tie their shoe laces, or get themselves dressed), budgeting, cooking and DIY.
‘I’d encourage a certain amount of school-based learning – following the school’s recommendations on this but there will be plenty of other time for creating special memories and spending time together – just try and make it as much fun as possible and don’t give yourself too hard a time if it doesn’t all go according to plan.