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Resources for parents working at home with kids during COVID-19

How to keep kids learning at home during COVID-19
Access tips and resources from teacher educator and former classroom teacher and homeschooling mum, Dr Nikki Brunker, that will keep your kids engaged and learning while they are at home during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Top tips

  • Don't worry what others think if your child is in the background or even interrupts you during an online meeting. If you can’t let go of the worry, use a virtual background and headphones.
  • Let go of worrying about mess, there won’t be any visitors popping by and if need be the virtual background will hide it all (same with the noise – use headphones).
  • Accept that your kids will have more screentime than usual.
  • Time fillers are OK. You may find yourself setting your kids up with activities that you would usually cringe at - colouring in, find-a-words - but creating time for them to be busy so you can work undisturbed will be essential.
  • Ignore the claim that kids are ‘missing months of learning’. They might miss some teaching, but they will continue learning every moment.
  • Find ways for your kids to connect with others. For example, they could use Zoom to share chemistry experiments to do in the kitchen or share ideas to build lego marble runs.
  • Be realistic with expectations. One or two things a day might be enough for your child, others might need lots more.
  • Some will have activities set by school to complete. Help them work out what they need to do and what could be optional, giving them time to read, watch a movie, create, play, cook, and just be.

Useful resources

  • Lego: is one of the best resources and most families have a stash of these. Set your child a challenge to create something while you have a Zoom meeting. Set it up as a secret challenge that they must keep from you before the triumphant reveal. For example, build a bridge that spans 15cm; build a vehicle that moves without wheels; build a marble run; build a boat that floats etc. Lego is also a brilliant resource for basic operation, fractions, measurements. 
  • Museum tours: there are so many museums offering virtual tours. Hand over a device for some quiet time to work while they explore a museum. Then ask them to pick one aspect to recreate at home through whatever means they choose eg. display, drama, poetry, song, drawings etc.
  • Innovate on a book: there is a seemingly endless supply of people reading books to kids online (eg. See Oliver Jeffers reads his picture books live on Instagram every day), or take a break and read with your kids then ask them to innovate on the story in some way. For example:
    • write/draw a prequel
    • write/draw a sequel
    • write/draw a new ending
    • write/draw an alternative page to explore how the story might change

You could also read or give just the written text and ask your kids to illustrate then share the picture book and consider different interpretations of the book. Alternatively, you could just share the illustrations and ask them to write or tell you the story then share the story and consider different interpretations.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg is a fantastic picture book for working with any age group. It is a collection of incredible images with the title and first line of the story that goes with the image. There is also a wonderful collection of stories written by authors such as Stephen King in response to the images (all suitable for mid primary up) which are fabulous to explore after responding to consider possibilities of stories and interpretations. 

  • Writing prompts: there are many sites online with writing prompts or story starters. For example, for visual prompt try Visual Writing Prompts.
  • Minecraft Education: if your primary aged kids have not yet discovered Minecraft, or they love it and you think that it’s maybe a waste of time, check out Minecraft Education and the range of projects suggestions to engage kids in maths, geography, history, science, and more.  
  • Coursera: has fabulous free university courses that high schoolers can engage with.
  • Outschool: a diverse range of Zoom lessons with kids across the world. These are very much dependent on what your child is interested in. 
  • Khan Academy: free traditional linear approach to learning fundamentals in maths, science etc. It is great for kids who want that approach or to dip into it for specific concepts when kids recognise the need mid exploration/project. For example, they are building a skateboard ramp and realise the need to understand the circumference of a circle.
  • Youcubed: Jo Boaler is a math legend. The site has fabulous authentic math activities that kids could start independently then explore with a parent, then continue independently.   
  • NRich: this is a goldmine of fabulous authentic maths activities and games.
  • Mashup Math: has some helpful activities that we need right now to keep our lives ticking over. There are also some helpful videos for younger kids to explore specific concepts and great fractions activity to create a fractions resource.
  • The Art of Mathematics: the free books are inquiry based maths explorations around topics such as games, puzzles, music etc. These are for high schoolers (or some upper primary kids who are really into the art and logic of maths) to work through over an extended period of time, preferably with collaboration (Zoom with friends) or can be explored independently.
  • The Australian Design Centre: their Design Thinking framework is a great scaffold for a one hour project through to a ten week exploration. For example, our family all needs to work online each day, how can we best use the space and technology? Kids can use the framework to move through the design thinking steps to create a schedule. 

Below are just a few examples of the many fabulous podcasts out there. 

  • Short & Curly: brilliant for mid to upper primary, exploring ethical conundrums such as: Do I have to like my sibling? Can I eat my pet? Was Dumbledore right?
  • Marrs Patel: a fabulous serial story for upper primary
  • The Curious Cases of Fry & Rutherford: covers science, technology and more
  • Infinite Monkey Cage: hosted by physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince, it is a witty and irreverent look at the world according to science
  • 99% Invisible: great for upper primary and high schoolers
  • Anthropocene Reviewed: author John Green (Fault in the Stars) reviews two intriguing items or aspects of life in wonderfully whimsical, humourous and philosophical ways
  • A History of the World in 100 ObjectsDirector of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, narrates 100 programmes that retell humanity's history through the objects we have made
  • What Trump can Teach us about Con Law: a fabulous podcast for exploring evidence as well as the realities of the law with kids
Games
  • Cards: Try Rummy, Pontoon, Bridge, Poker, 500 etc. They can also explore math card games such as Math Engaged
  • Numero: this is a fabulous game based on a combination of Uno and Rummy using the basic operations, along with fractions and ratios. Play this every lunch time and watch your kids’ rapid use of basic operations fly!
  • Strategy games: Try Blokus, Risk, Pandemic (if your family is up for it, it is a great game to explore collaboration to beat pandemics), Catan, Citadels, Agricola, Ticket to Ride, Hive, Love Letters. 
Making, Creating, Exploring, Experimenting
  • Playdough: a favourite with young children (no need for the plastic toys that go with the sets, just use the garlic crusher, potato masher and experiment with other kitchen utensils), though it is fabulous how much older primary kids love to return to play dough as well. Experiment with different ways of making it – cooked, uncooked, and try the super soft version made with conditioner!
  • Salt dough: is great for older primary kids – it can be baked and painted.
  • Papier mache: is fabulous, especially if there are a few people at home as lots of hands are great to help hold. Just need newspaper torn up, watered down glue or make glue with flour and water, and a balloon, then watch their imaginations run with ideas for what to do with it.
  • Origami: is a wonderfully mindful activity to slow down and focus. It is also great for exploring angles, shapes etc.
  • Paper planes: offer endless learning from designing planes, following instructions to make specific designs, challenges to fly the furthest plane requiring measurement of distance, to fastest plane bringing in measurement of speed, to highest plane bringing in measurement of height through using what is around you... and before you know it the kids are exploring Pythagora’s theorem! Then there's writing instructions for their own designs, exploring angles in designs and on you go for days.
  • Bubbles: offer a breadth of learning, from experimenting with mixes (exploring fractions, rations etc.) to surface tension and so much more.

There is an ever expanding, seemingly endless supply of blogs and websites offering all sorts of art, craft, science, and everything else. Here are a few examples:

  • Babble Dabble Do: great mix of craft and science for primary through to early high school bits depending on your child. 
  • Artbar: has art ideas for the whole family.
  • Fizzics: this is a group of teachers who run science lessons in schools and elsewhere. They have a great range of experiments that may be easily tackled at home.
  • Questacon: science activities for the home. Be sure to look at other museum sites as well.
  • Science Fun: offers more experiments using things we tend to have at home.
  • Kids Activities Bloghas a list of education companies offering free access at the moment.  
Youtube

Your kids will most likely have introduced you to the time wasting capacity of YouTube through the sounds of bacon sizzling and goodness knows what else. There is also a wealth of material to draw on for learning at home. Mark Rober is a great place to start, he is ex-NASA and offers a new video every month where he sets a challenge, researches and builds. It is a brilliant launchpad for science/engineering projects.

Get to know what they are into

Ask your kids to teach you something or create an activity for the family to come together. We all need to be creative about being active, hand it over to the kids to come up with new ways each day for the family to be active, start them off with a dance challenge, then let them create an obstacle course around the house, and then watch their creativity take off each day as they find new ways to make us adults match their energy and flexibility. 

It looks like we could be living this way for some time so some subscriptions might be worth considering. Here are a few:

  • Kiwi Crate: offers an inspiring base to launch off to other creative projects. Try their tinker crate or eureka crate.
  • MEL Science: expensive though definitely worth it; great experiments for upper primary and early high school with online links to more experiments and plenty of materials to continue exploring. Great launchpad for more exploration.
  • Tinkering Labs: not a subscription rather resources to purchase. Great laser cut timber pieces, electric motors etc. with loads of challenges to solve creatively, a wonderful change from the follow instruction kits.
  • Double Helix: a CSIRO blog with great science and technology articles, experiments and regular emails with more experiments and points of wonder.

There is something about being at home that makes us all want to eat more and kids can vacuum up the entire fridge before morning tea. Some tips to deal with this:

  • Continue to pack lunchboxes so everyone knows what they have for the day
  • Leave out snacks in a central location for grazing
  • Leave ingredients and a recipe to kill two birds with one stone of keeping them busy and filling them up
  • Ask your teenagers to create a meal the whole family will eat from the limited options of staples.

Here is an easy recipe that every age group loves.

Muesli Bars
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup coconut              
  • 1 cup sultanas              
  • 1 cup choc chips           
  • 1 can condensed milk

Method: Combine, press into lined lamington tray, bake at 150 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Note: You can swap out the coconut, sultanas and choc chips for three cups of whatever you like (dried fruit, nuts, seeds etc.)

This is an incredibly uncertain, disorientating time that is scary and overwhelming for us all.  Children and young people will need reassurance, protection from the bombardment of media and nurturance. Anxiety may show in avoidance, anger, disengagement. Watch for unusual behaviours and look for what is behind the behaviour. 

Responding to a child’s anger by snuggling up to read a book or watch a movie together might not be what you normally do in your family, though it might be exactly what the feelings behind the behaviour at this time need. That might also require pulling back on expectations such as jobs around the house.

Their refusal may well be a sign of anxiety and an attempt to seek some control over their world that looks so very out of control. It might mean we step back in to do things that our children have been able to do for themselves for quite some time. It won’t be forever, it is what they need now. 

It might also mean that we need to ‘Plan C’ some expectations. ‘Plan C’ is where we don’t opt for traditional behaviour management of reward or punish, and we don’t opt for exploring the behaviour to resolve it collaboratively, we recognise that it is beyond working with for now and is for later. That might mean a missed shower or tooth brushing, it might mean the schoolwork sent home is left aside for a day. It is about recognising what is possible at that moment and what is the greater goal: safety and security as a family.

Here are some tips to help support children:

  • Give children extra attention and reassurance. Where possible, minimise their exposure to media and social media that may heighten anxiety.
  • Acknowledge your own feelings about the situation and let children know it’s okay to share their own feelings.
  • Include your children in plans and activities around the house.

The Red Cross has prepared a resource on Talking to children and young people about COVID-19. You can also use this fabulous picture book from Mindheart that explains the virus well.

Young adults can process news differently than children. They can internalise their feelings and it is not always obvious how they are feeling. Here are some resources and information to help support young adults.

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