We are living through strange times. With the UK on lockdown to try and slow the spread of Covid-19, families are now mostly confined to their homes. That means we are trying to figure out how to work from home or to safely travel to key worker jobs. We are adjusting to new domestic dynamics and the fresh parenting challenge of doing without schools, nursery and childminders.
I am a teacher and I want to urge you not to add to your anxiety by worrying about your children’s education right now. Your job is to keep them healthy, heard and occupied. They will be learning as they play, so you don’t need to recreate the school environment at home.
As parents who aim to live a low-impact lifestyle we are all trying to buy less, use what we have and recycle. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for activities your children can do with resources that you probably have at home already. Rest assured they will be learning at the same time, with no extra effort on your part.
The classic. We all know that children are often more interested in the box that a toy came in than the toy itself.
Bigger boxes can be used to make a den. Let your child use blankets, cushions and their natural creativity. The box can become a cosy reading nest or a base for their imaginative adventures. They will probably appreciate a custom space of their own in a house unusually full with other members of the family.
Spread out newspaper or an oilcloth and get out the pens and paints. My top tip when using paints is to let your child wear as little as possible. Then you can launch them straight into the bath for a hose-down afterwards. Alternatively, use a long sleeve bib. The box will transform into a car, a train or a spaceship. Your children can travel to the furthest reaches of the galaxy without leaving the house!
Smaller boxes can be used for posting games, which are particularly good for younger children. Paint some discs of card different colours, cut slits in the box and outline them in the same colours. Your little one will be practising their colour matching and motor skills by finding the right disc for the slot and posting it through.
If you have access to a garden or a balcony you can make bubbles. You can also do this indoors, but be warned: surfaces get very slippery. You just need to mix washing-up liquid with water in a bucket or deep tray. Obviously, if your local shops are running low on cleaning products, don’t use up the last of your supply on this. Use roughly 1 cup of washing-up liquid to 6 cups of water. I’ve always found it tricky to get just the right consistency to blow really big bubbles with homemade mixture, especially with the eco-friendly brands. Luckily children seem happy with frothy water and smaller ones. My weapon of choice is a tennis or badminton racket. Simply dip and swish to make clusters of bubbles.
When they’re bored of bubbles, or if the mixture is a bit of a flop, don’t waste the bucket of soapy water. Add a couple of scrubbing brushes, cloths or sponges. You’ll be surprised how long younger children will be engrossed in cleaning. Let them scrub garden furniture, windows or their toys. If their toothbrush needs replacing, you can get a new bamboo one. The old brush can become a dedicated play tool, perfect for giving toy cars a thorough wash.
If you haven’t got the soap to spare, plain water is just as entertaining. Get containers of different sizes from the kitchen or recycling bin and let your children explore filling and pouring. Older children can investigate the relative volume of containers; try and include a measuring jug with the millilitres marked for them to use.
Of course, if the weather is warm enough, there’s always a good old-fashioned water fight!
I’ve found that there have been shortages in some shops, but hopefully you have an empty egg box. Those little compartments are very versatile. Younger children might like to use them to collect little treasures from around the house. You can use a felt tip to write numbers inside and children can compete to flick a screwed-up piece of scrap paper into the furthest hole. Older children can make a score board and total the points.
If you haven’t had enough of paint, you can coat the inside of each section a different colour and challenge young children to find small matching objects to put inside. They could also put the right amount of objects inside to match the numbers from the flicking game.
Egg boxes make great seed planters. Simply fill with soil and sew your seeds. The box is the perfect size to germinate on a windowsill. If you have packets of seeds, older children can read the instructions themselves and use a ruler to follow them and choose the best place for the box. If you don’t have packets, experiment with using the seeds from tomatoes, peppers and squash. The boxes are also perfect for ‘chitting’ potatoes. Put a potato in each compartment with the more rounded end upwards. Shoots should emerge and when they are a couple of centimetres long they can be planted in the garden or in a large, deep pot.
Toilet roll tubes
Obviously, these have been in short supply of late! When you get through your current collection, save the inner tubes. To give little fingers a chance to practise fine motor skills, snip the tubes into shorter sections and give your child string to thread through. They can make a necklace or a wriggly caterpillar.
With a bit of tape, two tubes can become a pair of binoculars. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can spot birds from a window. Older children could keep a tally or look online to identify different species. Their new binoculars can even come with them on a safari in their cardboard box car.
The shape naturally lends itself to making a rocket. Once they’ve designed and customised it they can have rocket races or assemble an alien planet to land on. They’re also a good size for making puppets. If you’ve got a copy of Owl Babies your children could make little owlets to use to act out the story. Or perhaps they would rather make three bears and Goldilocks. They can take inspiration from their favourite book.
After a few weeks of lockdown, you might have enough tubes to make a marble run. Your children can tape the tubes together and find inventive ways to suspend them from furniture to make a course. Let them experiment with sending different toys down the chute. Can they find the thing that travels fastest? Why do some get stuck?
Something I’m planning to do in the next few days is an inventory of the kitchen to see exactly what we’ve got and what we need. As with everything I want to do, I have to figure out how to get it done with a two-year-old in tow. Usually my answer is to involve him if possible, at least until we both get frustrated! You could do this too.
Older children can make a list and sort things into categories. They can look through cookbooks to plan some meals from the ingredients you already have. While this is happening, younger children can sort tins into groups of the same colour or line up packets in order of size. A recipe for a messy kitchen but it’s important to teach children to value food and learn how to avoid waste.
Once they’re done with the edibles, they can move on to the cookware. If you have the patience for it, allow your children to make an orchestra with pots and pans. They can use utensils made from different materials to create a variety of sounds.
Be kind to yourself
Living under lockdown is a chance for us to slow down. With shops closed and travel restricted we are all experiencing a more low-impact lifestyle. Take this time to appreciate and look after each other.
These activities have rich learning potential, but don’t let that be your focus. In these uncertain times, your children need to be as free from worry as they can be and you all need a chance to relax and have fun. I hope some of these ideas can give you a few minutes to yourself, too!
Let us know if you try any of the ideas and tag us in your photos @oncobabygoods.