Logging into the classroom from the dining room table isn’t always the ideal learning environment. For parents, when “take your child to work day” becomes every day, it loses some of its appeal. Leaving kids alone to get their schoolwork done, meanwhile they’re just feet away from their toys and only a couple clicks away from their favorite apps, can be difficult, especially when your hands are tied with your own work! This isn’t to say that being able to stay home with your kids is a bad thing; there are so many benefits for both child and parent and new learning opportunities around every corner. However, when it comes time for them to play and break up their virtual learning day, you can prioritize “me time” by setting them up with fun and constructive independent play activities.

For Preschoolers and Kindergarteners:

  1. Sensory bags: These are easy to DIY and make ahead with your child so they can play throughout the day! Basically, you fill a clear plastic bag with hair gel, water, or rice and add in colorful objects from around the house (like buttons, hair ties, googly eyes, beads, or small toys) for children to explore through touch. It keeps them occupied and lets them play through their senses without you having to worry about making a mess or choking hazards. Here are some ideas to make your own!
Pillow forts are a great learning environment that foster creativity while making learning fun!
  1. Pillow forts: This was always one of my favorite things to do as a child! Sure, pillow forts come with a bit of cleanup, but once you help your little one to set this up, it really holds their attention. If your child is attached to you and wants to spend the day by your side, they can even set up a little fort under your desk or table. Surprisingly, forts are a great learning environment that foster creativity while making learning fun!
  2. Audiobooks: Reduce screen time but keep their minds active with an audiobook! Audiobooks still stimulate their imaginations and encourage them to play with their environments to recreate story scenes. They are a great add-on to the above independent play activities.
  3. Button sorting: Need to get some work done? Try setting up a little button sorting station for them! Order large plastic multicolored buttons and have them sort them by color, size, or shape by placing them into special containers. You can also use an egg carton to hold each section! Keep them within your line of vision just in case, but this is a play activity that should keep them occupied for a while!
  4. Color: Coloring is play activity that has withstood the test of time. These free downloadable coloring sheets by Crayola have a variety of different characters, settings, and learning objectives to help your child refine their motor skills and get creative.

For 1st and 2nd Graders:

  1. Matching Games: Have them shuffle these memory cards and lay them out, then see how quickly they can match them up! You can give them your phone or a kitchen timer to see how quickly they can go and set the new record.
  2. Map the House: Give your child a sheet of graphing paper and some colored pencils and draw up the layout of your house. Then, have them walk throughout the house and encourage them to pay attention to the details of each room, like where the doors and windows are, where the bed is, how big the rug is, etc., and draw them onto the paper!
Making jewelry can add some creativity to a child's learning environment.
  1. Make jewelry: You can buy wooden beads that can be drawn on or painted as well as large plastic beads in all shapes and sizes. Have them customize different necklaces and bracelets for the people in your family based on their favorite games, colors, and things to do. You can also use ziti noodles in place of beads!
  2. Feel the music: This play activity teaches children to connect the dots between emotions and art. Turn on some music and have them draw, paint, or color whatever it makes them feel like. You can also have them write out their emotions on the back of the paper to “present” to you later. This also provides a great opportunity to share how certain songs make you feel and discuss your emotions.
  3. Join Mission I’m Possible: These early years are a great time to start empowering children in their emotional development. Mission I’m Possible is a free, fun, and educational tool that makes kids feel like they’re on a secret mission to share kindness. Each week they’ll get a new top-secret mission, like to smile at three different people, and reflect on how it made them and the other person feel by reporting to HQ. They’ll have fun being secret spies on a mission, and you’ll enjoy knowing that they’re really navigating through a new learning environment and building key emotional skills in the process. Sign up for free here to get started!

For 3rd through 5th graders:

  1. Finger Knitting: Finger knitting is fun, easy, and calming. As a child, I loved making tons of mini scarfs for my stuffed animals in all their favorite colors. It really sharpens childrens’ motor skills while building on foundation arts and crafts skills.
  2. Cat’s Cradle: This is a classic kids’ game that I personally obsessed over! It was so fun to see how quickly I could make different shapes and teach them to my friends. This book makes it easy to learn the basic shapes of cat’s cradle and even provides a colorful string for them.
  3. Mystery Science: These fun Mystery Science lessons are perfect for the digital learning environment. They’re school-grade fun, challenging, and hands-on learning activities that start out with a video and end with a tangible project. The first month is free to try!
Change up your child's learning environment by introducing them to coding apps.
  1. Get coding: Coding is a great skill to have as a child and an adult. There are plenty of free online coding games for kids, such a Code Monkey, that make coding into a fun and approachable game. As adults, many of us feel that coding is too difficult to start on your own but these games make it simple and fun, encouraging kids that they can learn STEM skills. That’s the power of play!
  2. Backyard scavenger hunt: For times when you need the house all to yourself, these self-guided backyard scavenger hunts make learning about nature fun. Foraging is a great activity for kids to do with you, but making scavenger hunts with specific plants can help them with plant identification. Or, you can keep them simple, like “find 5 rocks of different colors” to encourage little ones to pay attention to all the details. When they come back to show you all their new treasures, you can explain simple lessons like what flowers do, why certain rocks are different colors, and how plants grow. After all, nature is the ultimate learning environment!

How have you been managing homeschooling? Do you have any favorite games or activities to keep your little ones entertained? You can share them with us and the HAPPÉ community on Facebook or Instagram and be the first to hear about HAPPÉ activities and learn from other parents!