Creative Ways to Keep Your Kids Learning When School is Closed

Social distancing is challenging for families. Check out these fun and educational ways to enlighten your kids from the comfort and safety of home.

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #572

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting millions of lives across the country and around the globe. We all face new challenges today that we couldn't have imagined a month ago. For parents, managing children who are suddenly not in school is one of them.

In addition to school closings, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends we practice social distancing. By now, your family is practicing this protocol described as staying away from mass gatherings and keeping a distance of 6 feet (or 2 meters) away from other people. It's what we need to do, at least for now.

Though this health crisis is trying for families, now is the time to be creative instead of defeated.

Though this health crisis is trying for families, now is the time to be creative instead of defeated. Here’s advice for managing your child's world of virtual learning and some creative ideas for ways to entertain your kids when socializing isn’t in the cards.

Set up for virtual learning success

In today’s digital world, students are privy to a classroom alternative—online learning. A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a system for delivering learning materials to students via the web. In a remote learning situation, students and instructors (or instructive materials) are separated by time and distance rather than meeting in a traditional classroom setting. Because we have the technology to transfer that information by way of things like email, discussion boards, video conferences, and audio bridges, a student's physical presence in class isn't required.

Distractions at home can make distance learning more challenging for kids and their parents.

Virtual learning offers a variety of opportunities for homebound kids to continue with their studies. But distractions at home can make distance learning more challenging for kids and their parents. A few simple strategies can help you set your child up for success.

Keep to a routine

Your student's virtual classroom experience will differ drastically from a typical school setting. Optimize his new learning schedule by creating a routine. Wake up close to your usual school morning, get dressed, eat breakfast, and get him moving on studying. Factor in reasonable breaks, decide when virtual classtime will end each day, and review daily progress. A routine will help you get much better results than if you're flying by the seat of your pants.

RELATEDHow to Establish a Daily Routine for Your Family

Create a learning space

Most kids will achieve their best work in a quiet, comfortable space devoted to learning. Ideally, this will be a different setup than where they normally play games or watch television. If you already have a dedicated homework space, designate this as your virtual classroom area.

RELATED5 Tips to Help Kids Manage Homework

Plan your week

Develop a written schedule not only for the day but for the whole week. Help your kids prioritize and learn to create goals and deadlines. Check in with them regularly to help them stay on task. And don't forget to visit your child's online school connection to check his progress and make sure he's on pace.

Check out this awesome visual schedule for younger kids designed by homeschooling mom.

Schedule recess

Learning in front of a screen for long periods gets tiring, not to mention boring. Make sure that your children get time for physical activity. Set alarms (just like recess bells at school) and encourage them to get up, get some fresh air, and have healthy snacks. Regular breaks will keep them fresh and alert. Bonus: the family pets will get lots more attention during a virtual stretch!

Take advantage of free online resources

We're living with new challenges every day during the coronavirus pandemic. Thank goodness for the wealth of amazing educational resources online! Here's a sampling of the exciting and free virtual enrichment opportunities at your fingertips:

  • Scholastic has launched a "Learn at Home" website with daily courses for students from Pre-kindergarten to grades 6 and higher.
  • Varsity Tutors offers over 100 free live classes with their Virtual School Day program as well as free half-day Virtual Summer Camps.
  • Virtual field trips are a great way to break up your day. (The Boston Children’s Museum is a blast!)
  • Explore national parks such as Grand Canyon National Park or the breathtaking Redwood National and State Park
  • Kidsactivities.com has a comprehensive list of education companies offering free subscriptions and direct links to the individual websites.
  • Amazingeducationalresources.com is chock-full of incredible online classes and recreational activities for all ages.
  • My family recently enjoyed Banzai.com. Banzai exposes kids to real-life adult financial dilemmas, from taming a budget and paying auto insurance to navigating taxes.
  • YouTube offers hundreds of cool learning videos such as this one of how a seedling grows into a plant!

More fun, hopeful, and educational activities for your family

Set family goals

When a New Year marks the calendar, many of us go to task setting resolutions and goals. We have good intentions but as the months go along, we get lost in the daily grind, and those goals are short-lived. Now is a good time to get back on track and figure out some inspired goals and milestones that your family would like to see come to fruition.

Will you plan a dream staycation, renovate and reorganize your home, take up a new family sport you can play in the backyard, welcome a new pet?

Many animal shelters and rescue groups are looking for help fostering animals during the coronavirus outbreak. Now could be a good time to foster and see if pet adoption is the right fit for your family.

Take these hours at home and seek out what makes your family’s heart sing!

Prepare for future random acts of kindness

When times are tough, one of the best ways to rise above and gather strength is to find ways to help others.

In my recent episode Perfect Families Don't Exist—How to Be Good Enough I shared a noteworthy column I read about teaching kids three important C’s—Caring, Compassion, and Creativity. Practicing random acts of kindness is a definite way to teach caring, particularly when our own world seems dark and gloomy.

A project such as Positive Index Cards can make all the difference. We may be in temporary confinement, but when we ‘re able to reconnect with classmates and members in our community once again, this inspirational project from a high school student is definitely worth looking into.  Imagine the ripple effect a venture such as leaving positive notes of encouragement throughout school or the community could have!

Create a list of things to do post-social distancing

One of my family’s favorite things to do is to plan our summer to-do list. We each list three to five experiences we’d like to have or accomplishments we hope to achieve.

Take advantage of this precious, unscheduled time to plan a fun-filled list of items you’d all like to complete once you’re out and about again. Brainstorm together: Camping, welcoming a new puppy or rescue dog, raising bees, learning to eat with chopsticks, perhaps? Spend an entire day sharing splendid ideas and then create a vision board so you’ll have a tangible reminder of your new list.  

Research your family tree

One way to bond and spend time as a family is to dig deep and find your roots. There are many kits and websites available to help you get started.

My family and I dove into our genealogy last year. The first resource that we tapped into was AccessGenealogy, a free collection of helpful websites and databases. For more information on how to uncover your family’s history check out these terrific resources on 10 Ways to Research Your Family Tree for Free. While school’s out, let your kids take the lead on this exciting discovery.

Bring on a cool DIY         

Tapping into your creative side is a great way to spend unscheduled time together. Concocting a piece of art, brightening up a space, or changing the entire look of a room can make long days at home have so much more meaning.

A neat way to transform a ho-hum wall is to paint it with chalkboard paint. You can easily do this on the backside of a door as well. Think of all the fun messages and tic tac toe games that await!

Another idea to add personality and impact to your home is to make a unique art gallery using copies of your favorite family photos. One of my favorite DIY mediums is Mod Podge. It allows you to adhere copies of photos to anything from mirrors to walls. You can create an entirely new vibe in a bedroom hallway or a family room accent wall by decoupaging copies of photographs using Mod Podge.

  1. Purchase Mod Podge, several sponges, and a can of polyurethane to use as a finish coat.
  2. Have your family pick out their family fave photos.
  3. Make copies of photos and decide where you’ll place them.
  4. Dip your sponge brush in the Mod Podge. Slick it across a small section of wall (or another surface of your choice.)
  5. Immediately press a photo into the Mod Podge. Slick more Mod Podge on top of the photo. Repeat this until you have placed all of your photos.
  6. Allow the coat to dry—it takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. 24 hours later, spray with a thin coat of polyurethane to seal them in place.

Avoid stores when practicing social distancing is encouraged. Many of your favorite retailers have ways to order craft supplies online. 

Find a Pen Pal

In our digital world, handwritten notes and letters are a lost art. If your child has an international pen pal, however, that doesn’t have to be the case. A pen pal can help your child discover other cultures as well as hone his/her writing and reading skills because the communication exchanged is via written content. It’s also fun for them to receive personal snail mail!

Here are a few websites you can use to find online pen pals.

Enjoy online board games

Being forced to stay home is the perfect opportunity to break out your family’s favorite board games. If you’re looking for something to freshen up your selection check out these awesome and free online board games

Some online board games allow for interaction with other players. Monitor your children's activity appropriately to keep them safe.

Pencil-and-paper games

Get back to basics with pencil and paper by engaging your child in some classic games and doodling activities like Dots and Boxes and Battleship with these fun pencil and paper games.  

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.