With lots of parents now working from home, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we support our children’s learning environment whilst also getting on with our jobs and maintaining a modicum of sanity. Children demand round the clock attention, which can feel impossible to give whilst also trying to do your job. During lockdown 1.0 I had a pre-schooler who had been getting ready to go to school and I noticed she really regressed during the lockdown period of time. In a way, that is natural with any period of change, but was still worrying in the lead up to starting school.
I learnt to navigate this by setting a realistic schedule, which included being honest with my employer about the situation and working a lot more into the evenings once Sophie went to bed to make up for any lapse in daytime concentration. That said, sometimes you simply have to give attention to both parties at the same time and this was where I (and many of my working friends) discovered some tricks to keep both pre-schoolers and Zoom callers happy(ish).
As you may know from my previous post on childcare during a pandemic, I am working with PACEY (professional association for childcare and early years) to help provide some useful information and facts to reassure and support parents during this pandemic. PACEY have a fantastic Facebook group called Play to learn, which is full of clever but simple activities you can do with your children at home to support their early years education. I’ve picked some of my favourite for you, as well as including some of my own that have been tried and tested during a working day.
- Free sheets that you can find online and print off, can be a lifesaver for little hands that like to colour / scribble. We do this almost every weekend now to support whatever topic Sophie has been doing at school, but it was equally applicable during lockdown. Each week I’d pick a theme to focus on (seasonal ones are always a good idea) and then I’d simply google for the free sheets (for example “free spring printable colouring sheets”). The idea here is that the child can colour whilst you are working and then when you get a lunch break you can chat to your child about what they have coloured and the theme you have picked.
- Alphabet bath letters and numbers. Most children have a bath in the evening so allowing your child to play with, arrange, count and recite the alphabet, simple words and numbers whilst in the bath is a win-win. You are supporting their learning whilst doing one of the daily chores.
- Decorate a cardboard box. Christmas is coming and don’t pretend I’m the only one who has boxes arriving on the daily. Why not allow your child to bring out their artistic side and decorate / play with the boxes? You can keep a beady eye on them whilst tapping out a few emails or if that’s not possible, let them use stickers and crayons which are relatively mess-free.
- Play food and foil. I saw this on the play to learn Facebook group and felt pleasantly validated as it’s something I do when I really need 30 minutes to make a call. Tear up sheets of tin foil and get them to wrap up toy food (or toy anything to be honest!) – they will love the sensory element to this, and it is great for developing fine motor activity.
- How about a dance party? No, I didn’t want to either but it’s as bad for you to sit at your desk all day as it is for them to sit in front of YouTube kids all day. Pop on some music and have a ten-minute dance break. Good for them, you and all concerned (except perhaps the neighbours). I also found this really excellent distraction when a cycle of boredom and whining set in.
- Play dough. You can buy it, or you can make it but however you do it, this magic stuff seems to keep children entertained for a while. My tip here is to always put it away when finished. If you leave it out to play with it whenever your child wants, it loses it’s novelty. I put mine away in a cupboard out of sight and then when I need to concentrate, we pull it out and it’s like a brand-new toy has entered the house. That should buy you ten minutes and it’s a perfect sensory experiment for them. I also love kinetic sand, but it is a bit messier.
- Tat Box – I love this idea and remember having something similar as a child that my mum would bring out if we were poorly and feeling sorry for ourselves. A shoe box or similar filled with “interesting” objects, trinkets and odd toys that they haven’t seen for a while, will keep them entertained for ages. Long enough that you might be able to grab a coffee anyway….
There are lots more great ideas on the Play to learn Facebook group.
I’d love to hear your tactics for supporting home learning and sanity during the pandemic so if you have any drop them in the comments below.