While there’s no denying that it’s been an unusually tough school year, the importance of education remains. That means helping students find the fun in school is paramount as we head into the second half of the academic year. Parents and caregivers can help by making sure students aren’t just looking to a computer (or even just a textbook) all semester. Instead, help them get creative and find ways to make studying something they want to do.
Yes, it may be cold outside. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get some fresh air during the school day. Studies show that recess offers cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits. That means little ones should be given the chance to get outside and engage in play. And even middle and high schoolers can benefit from some outdoor time that gives their brains a break. Here, some structured ideas for outdoor playtime that will keep students excited and engaged.
Go on a winter-themed scavenger hunt. Make a list that includes items to find like animal footprints, native plants, uniquely shaped rocks and more.
Make a squirrel or a bird feeder. Cover a pinecone with peanut butter then birdseed for a super-simple feeder. Voila! A nature and art lesson all in one.
Get out the telescope. After the official school day is done and night has fallen, get out the telescope (or simply look up if you don’t have one on hand) to identify winter constellations.
Cook around a campfire. Take the home ec lesson outside. Build a campfire to roast marshmallows, hot dogs and other easy camp foods.
Build a snow fort. If you happen to get a snow day, head outside for a super-fun engineering lesson. Have your kids sketch out the plans for a snow fort first then see if they can build it.
Do some deep breathing. With the tough year kids have faced, sometimes simply letting them breathe in the fresh air is the best medicine. Bundle up, go outside and practice some simple meditation. PE teachers are sure to offer class credit for this calming exercise.
Go on a (Virtual) Field Trip
Kids may be missing the fun of field trips this year. Luckily, there are many online options to experience amazing field trips—not just in our region, but around the world!
Many kids in Northern Virginia have had the privilege of going on a field trip to the Smithsonian during their educational career. While those in-person trips are on hold this year, the Smithsonian Learning Lab has literally millions of digital resources for kids (and adults!) to access all that the educational institution has to offer. There are themed lessons in traditional subjects (science, English, math, social studies) and a plethora of other topics so students will be sure to find something educational that interests them.
Take a trip across the pond to get a virtual tour of Buckingham Palace. The British monarchy offers an online tour of the storied castle, which is a great jumping-off point for a history lesson.
If marine biology is your student’s thing, encourage a visit to SeaWorld. The family-friendly theme park has put educational content online with its SeaWorld@Home program, featuring everything from learning about endangered species of the sea to taking a virtual ride on one the park’s roller coasters.
The National Park Service knows that—even when there isn’t a pandemic—getting to one of the nation’s gorgeous parks isn’t always easy. With that in mind, they have a rich trove of online resources from virtual park tours to webcams to activities geared specifically toward young learners with the Find Your (Virtual) Park program.
Refresh Your Desk
If you’ve also been working from home, we don’t need to tell you that something as simple as some new desk supplies can go a long way. An organized desk with pens, paper and other tools that reflect your personality can be a great way to add some motivation. Use these ideas to set your student up for success in 2021.
Organize! If your student has been on winter break, chances are his or her desk may have been left in disarray at the end of last semester. Block out some time to clean the desk. File any schoolwork, throw old snacks in the trash, and make sure the workspace is clear.
Put everything in easy reach. From the textbooks they’ll need this semester to syllabi to, yes, their favorite snacks, make sure everything they’ll need during the school day is ready to go. This limits getting up and down from the desk, which can hinder concentration.
Beautify! Here comes the fun part. Ask your student what they felt they were missing in the first half of the school year. Maybe they want a different kind of pen or a fancy stapler or rainbow-colored sticky notes. Whatever it is, within reason, let them pick out what they’d like at an office supply store. If patterned file folders will spark an interest in studying, we say go for it!
Consider tech needs. No one wants to break the bank—we’re all hopeful virtual learning will be a thing of the past soon!—but consider what might help your student engage online more efficiently. If a bigger computer screen or more comfortable headphones—or even figuring out how to put up a fun, teacher-approved background on their Zoom screen—will get them excited, it could be worth the investment.