Shhh! I’ll let you in on a secret—educational activities don’t have to be boring. It’s all in the way we present them to our children. Of course, if our children go to school or daycare, they’re already getting lots of instruction. But it’s great for us to add to that learning when our children are at home.
Here are four educational activities I’ve done with my children that are easy, free, and really beneficial to their brains. Oh, and they’re fun, too.
I am not a chemist or a biologist and I can’t remember much of what I learned in high school chemistry, but I try to mix in some science basics when I can. One of the easiest projects (and I use that term loosely) you can do with your children is the melting ice lesson. Just grab two pieces of ice that are close to the same size. Let your child drop one piece in a metal bowl and the other in a plastic container. Tell your child to watch to see which piece of ice melts faster. Now comes the part where you get to be a science teacher—explain to your child that the ice melted faster in the metal bowl because metal is a conductor and spreads its heat more quickly. Plastic is an insulator and does not send heat to the ice very quickly.
The beauty of all science experiments is getting to the “why.” Even if you can’t answer your child’s questions about why the sun sets in the west or why water takes so long to boil, you can praise him or her for asking the questions and then look online together for answers.
Reading for All
Reading is the magic potion of educational activities. When you sprinkle reading into your child’s life, you increase his or her vocabulary1, power of concentration2, and ability to do better in school3. If your children are young, read with them daily. I know—sometimes you’re so tired that just the thought of picking up a book is exhausting. But even if you read with your children for 10 minutes, you’re expanding their minds and their worlds.
As much as you can, get in the habit of going to the library together and letting your children choose some books. Have a reading nook or a special chair with a cozy blanket where your child can burrow and read. When your children are older, you can link reading to screen time by making an offer: “You can play Xbox after you’ve read for 30 minutes.” It’s not a punishment; it’s a way to help our children achieve balance and benefit from the power of reading.
A Dollar’s Worth of Learning and Fun
The next time you head out in the morning, buy a newspaper. Most are a dollar or less. When you’re with your children later, sit with them and flip through the sections. You can start with the front section and look at the news around the world. The metro section covers local news. Ask if they’ve heard anything about the stories on social media. Go through the sports section to look for news about your favorite teams. Finally, read the comics out loud and find the puzzle section. Your older children can do the word scramble or the crypto-quote. You can even have the children circle all the commas, exclamation points, or words that begin with a certain letter.
One of the most powerful educational activities you can do with your children is talking with them. The more words children hear when they’re small, the greater their chances of having a strong vocabulary4, and a strong vocabulary will help them in every subject they take in school.
A lot of parents have a habit of using most of our words to give instructions to our children—do this, do that, not now, put it away. When my children were small, I made an effort to describe their environment. “Oh! Look at that yellow balloon! It’s tied to a blue ribbon, isn’t it, and it’s shaped like a circle.”
Even now that my children are older, I’ll try to throw in a word they may not know. Last week, as my teenage daughter finished a cup of coffee, I asked her and my younger son if they knew what the residue at the bottom of the cup is called. My daughter knew. My son didn’t.
Sound off: How do you fit educational activities into your time with your children?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Would you like to do a science project with me?”