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Crisis Learning at Home: Some Fun Activities for Elementary-Aged Children

Crisis Learning at Home: Some Fun Activities for Elementary-Aged Children

Crisis learning is not the same thing as homeschooling, and it’s impossible to pretend otherwise. Aside from anxiety, close encounters with the actual disease, and a lack of important school-based resources, students are being required to learn at home without significant warning, with the support of teachers who were not prepared ahead of time and parents who are usually multitasking. Many parents and teachers alike are burdened with a slew of resources and little guidance. Even when this onslaught is mitigated by co-planned weekly goals and some aligned activity ideas, elementary-aged students and their caregivers face another serious barrier: adults’ need to multitask.

Many kids at the elementary level can focus well for about 20-25 minutes, which is a good starting point for activities. My family has been trying to generate some alternative activities to printable worksheets and online activities, just to add some variation for our son, engage him in learning, and give ourselves a break. Below is a list of some of the “learning challenges” that have worked well for our family and others like mine in the past few weeks.

When this crisis is behind us, I will be relieved to hand my kids back to the educators who work so hard to help them grow. But I’m also hoping that my kids return to school with a stronger sense of their own interests and a newfound sense of agency – both of which will bear fruit not only in times of crisis, but as a reliable asset in the years ahead.

Activity Ideas for Elementary-Aged Children

Each of the following activities are designed to be completed in 25-minute timed blocks, allowing 5 minutes for showing off the creation with the parent before moving on. Using actual, visual timers can be a useful way to support independent engagement at this age level, and a lot of the appeal is in the challenge/timer aspect.

STEM Challenge Activities:

  • Animal Train Ride: Put together wooden train tracks into a closed loop of your choice and then organize stuffed animals along the journey. Use recent TV/computer/book sources to consider facts about each animal. Prepare a “tour” to lead parents on with facts about animals along the train’s journey. As a variation, kids could group animals according to feature, habitat or other logic instead of researching facts. Possible double-block activity.
  • Bridge Engineer: Using wooden blocks (or block of parent’s choice), create a bridge that makes a complete arc and will hold up a mini-figure / action figure.
  • Measurement Challenge: Using a ruler, create towers (using blocks or other objects) that are exactly one inch, two inches, three inches, etc., up to twelve inches.
  • Design your dream room: On paper, using a scaled drawing with a ruler as your help, create a floorplan for your dream room; include measurements
  • Boat design: Using recyclables, masking tape, scissors, straws, and paper, create a boat that will hold as many coins as possible while floating in a tub of water – one point per penny held. As a variation, this could be a sailboat activity, with the challenge being to sail the boat across the tub when blown by a small fan.
  • Roller coaster: Create a roller coaster for a marble using paper, cardboard and masking tape!

Physical Challenge Activities:

  • Yoga: Complete online yoga routine and then invent your own yoga sequence along with a story of your choice. Possible double-block activity.
  • Obstacle course: Create and complete an obstacle course
  • Skill-building: Practice and perfect a new physical skill aligned with goals, using online tutorials or parent support as needed. For example, headstands, bike-riding without training wheels, strong overhand throwing, speedy jump-roping, etc. May require safety materials
  • Carnival games: Using at-home supplies, create a “carnival game” that requires physical skill, e.g. a throwing/aiming activity, feat of strength, etc. Practice and perfect the skill and then go against the family to test your skills.
  • Silent ninja: Sneak around the house, crouched down low like a ninja, silent and stealthy. You have to touch every wall in every room without making a noise or being “caught” by a parent. Ideally, do this twice to see if you can do this faster and just as silently the second time.
  • Balancing act: Try to walk along a floor crack (e.g. one piece of wood, grout between tile, line on linoleum) of at least 8 feet, one foot in front of the other, balancing a hardcover book on your head the whole way. Practice as much as needed. If you master this in the time limit, see if you can add on a second or third book.

Arts Activities:

  • One Man Band: Create a song and practice for a performance, using toy instruments and a work apron with pockets to be able to be a “one man band.”
  • Performer: Invent a one person play or dramatic speech, pretending to be a favorite historical figure, book/movie character, or invented persona. Create costume, set, etc. Possible double block.
  • Fashion show: Create fun outfits and costumes for self or sibling. Take artful photos to “advertise” the outfit
  • Collage: Create a collage using magazine clippings
  • Choreographer: Listen to a favorite song and create and demonstrate a dance routine with this song.
  • Playdough sculpture garden: Create variety of beautiful sculptures using playdough and arrange them into a “sculpture garden” on the table or, if you really want to get creative, on decorated paper.
  • Puzzle-maker: Create a jigsaw puzzle (using thin cardboard or heavy cardstock with plain paper pasted on top). Variations include creating a maze on grid paper. As a possible double block challenge for an older elementary student, the challenge could be about creating a board game on thick cardboard.

Other Structured Play and Learning Challenges:

  • Inventor: Invent something that will help people, first by choosing a problem, then by drawing a solution design then (if time and materials allow) creating a prototype.
  • Writer: Write a children’s book, skit, poem, newspaper, or other written piece on demand, or according to a chosen theme.
  • Correspondent: Write a letter to an elderly relative, accompanied by art, and learn how to format the letter, address the envelope, etc. As a variation, this could be a postcard (blank postcards are available for sale online)
  • Box Challenge: You have one (or more) boxes. Using art supplies and your imagination, turn it into something interesting.
  • Knot a problem: Using online videos or other means, learn how to tie a knot and practice with shoelaces or other thick string/cord. As a variation for younger kids, this is a chance to learn how to tie shoes!
  • Dinosaur zoo: With a toy bin filled with soapy water, some towels, and model dinosaurs, play zookeeper and give dinos their “daily wash” – and then display them according to an organizational system of your choice. You’ll then have to explain how you chose to organize your clean dinos in your zoo display. A variation of this can be done as a “car wash” and pretending to organize a car dealership.
  • Create a Time Capsule: Create a time capsule of this year including some favorite artifacts, drawn pictures, facts about the family, etc., and choose a place to bury or hide it for a future date. Possible double block.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Complete a scavenger hunt – parent’s choice. Some possible ones that are relatively independent could be rainbow hunts (finding one object from nature for each color of the rainbow); opposite hunts (finding things that are opposites – hot/cold, soft/hard, smooth/rough, wet/dry) etc.
  • Camp-out: Create your own fort using cushions and sheets, completing the scene with stuffed “wild” animals. Then, create a shadow-skit with your hands and a flashlight behind a sheet.


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