Not quite homeschooling: realistic things to do with kids in lockdown

Let’s face it, being at home with the kids all day in isolation is not going to be a walk in the park. Literally, because you can’t leave your house.

I don’t believe in a strict schedule and since my kids would currently be on holiday I’m not going to go totally academic on them (and they’re toddlers), but I’m finding it’s nice to have a few tricks up my sleeve to make the days a bit more interesting. Plus if they’re going to be out of school for a while (because this is going to be for longer than 21 days) then it’ll need to be educational at times.

At the same time, we’re not homeschoolers. And it would be a crap homeschool that sits at home all day, every day. Plus you probably have to work (like me) and clean the house, cook, make sure the kids don’t kill each other, try not to get divorced, and try not to drink your entire wine stash in one day. So who needs the pressure of educating your children on top of all of that?

So here are a few tips, ideas and resources you can use for your littles or teens. Again, I’m not saying do all of these every day, but if you’re looking for activities that are engaging and educational but not overly academic (or taxing on your time and energy), have a look at these. Let’s think of this as realistic home schooling.

Our kids love screens so we can use this to our advantage. Duolingo is a free app which helps you learn languages. There are 35 languages to choose from – unfortunately, Swahili is the only African language at the moment – and even with 10 minutes a day you will see an improvement. It uses spaced repetition and, more importantly, gamification to help you learn. You earn points and medals and there are levels – it can be quite addictive. I’m not guaranteeing that anyone will be fluent by the end of isolation but if you or your tween or teen have been thinking about learning a language or want to practise a language you are already learning, it’s a great way to go.

You are probably familiar with TED talks, but TED-Ed is more accessible for younger people. Based on the same concept, the videos are shorter and often animated. Plus there are quizzes or worksheets to go with the video so it tests comprehension. They’ve also just launched TED-Ed@Home so you can sign up to receive a bunch of lessons suitable for your kids’ ages.

Maybe there is a skill someone wants to master, and now would be the time. Remind your kids that 10 000 hours is the magic number to perfect a skill – and sit back and watch them stand on their head or do pull ups for 10 000 hours. PS they’ve totally debunked the 10 000 hours idea, but there’s no need to tell your kids that. (This’ll probably work on husbands too).

Other helpful skills every child should know and which probably will take 10 000 hours to learn: how to open a bottle of wine, how to make a decent cup of tea, how to pack the dishwasher, how to make a bed, how to poo in a toilet, how to tie shoelaces, and how to mow the lawn.

But there’s no need to stick to the traditional. Why not encourage your tween or teen to do something a little out-of-the-ordinary? Follow White on Rice to learn how to do incredible origami; check out gardenista.com for flower arranging inspiration; have a look at Lisa Bee for digital and paper art inspiration.

If your kids enjoy watching films (who doesn’t) and are learning a foreign language at school, get them to watch a foreign film in that language. There are some beautiful films to choose from (Amelie, The Motorcycle Diaries, Pan’s Labyrinth) and you’ll enjoy watching them too! You should put subtitles on but if language skills are up to it, put the subtitles in the same language as the film so that you learn to match the written words with the spoken – a great listening exercise. A word of warning: Pedro Almodovar’s movies are incredible but NOT suitable for a young audience.

Watching a series together is a great family activity to pass a few weeks. Even better, Masterchef (and by Masterchef I mean Masterchef Australia – there is only one Masterchef, as far as I’m concerned) can totally be recreated in the kitchen – and there’s absolutely zero reason you should be the only one in the kitchen this lockdown, or ever, anyway. If your kids are old enough, you can assign a meal to each person in the family to cook. They can ask for help if they need and probably need to be supervised if you want it to be edible but try and leave them to their own devices as much as possible. Show them your cookbooks and they can simply choose their own recipe. Besides cooking being great for maths skills, knowing how to cook is a life skill we should all have (just like paying taxes and how to fold a fitted sheet). At the end of the week, the family can vote for the winner and they can win a prize (chocolate, screen time, shoulder massage – whatever works in your family).

If you’ve already watched all the Masterchefs, there are loads of other series you can watch which are suitable for all ages – Survivor, Downton Abbey – any more you can think of? And don’t forget about documentaries or historical series. Why not get suggestions from family members and put them in a hat to decide which series will be watched first? This will even give you a minute or two while everyone looks up what they want to watch.

We’ve implemented a quiet hour in our house. When Seb goes to nap and the other 3 are still awake we all move to the playroom/TV room to read books or play with cars/blocks/puzzles. It’s an hour that the kids now know is not for running around or shouting. It is also an hour one of the adults can take a break and get some work done in peace or have a snooze.

In case you didn’t know, Audible is an audiobook app which is now offering free titles for kids. You can stream them on your laptop or phone and there are stories as well as nursery rhymes for the very littles. If you’re just sick and tired of reading stories, check out Storyline Online which has a few celebs narrating animated stories, or let your littles watch the Julia Donaldson stories (The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, the Snail and the Whale etc) on Showmax.

Equally important is outside time when everyone has to be outside. This is the time we run around ,jump on the trampoline, paint the stoep or play in the sandpit – whatever you want to do but outside. The Beard will soon be using this time to practise ball skills with the kids – he just doesn’t know it yet.

With the little ones (we’ve currently got a 20-month old, 3-year old and almost 4-year in the house) I’ve found that having blocks of time with labels has really helped. When there are too many tears, I call a Quiet Time. If they’re being too loud inside, I call Outside Time. It only took a day or two for the kids to realise what each meant and now it can be used as a good signal. Other labels include Snack Time, TV time, Tidy Up Time, and Wine Time aka Leave Me the Fuck Alone Or Else the TV is Going to Break Time.

If you’re looking for something a bit more academic for your teens – and why not, considering we’ll probably be on lockdown until Christmas, browse the free online courses at Coursera and FutureLearn. Udemy is another good one – the courses are not free but they constantly run specials so they’re not expensive at all. They could test the waters to see if they’d enjoy social media, digital marketing, philosophy, economics – anything! It’ll give them a better idea of what they’d like to do after school. Besides, it’s free, so if they drop out after a week it doesn’t really matter.

If you’re feeling really academic and are freaking out on missed school, head over to Paper Video which is offering free past exam papers and explainer videos for Maths, Physical Sciences and Natural Sciences Grades Grades 8 – 12. Head over to their Facebook page for their guide on how to use their videos to cover the material that would’ve been taught in schools according to the CAPS curriculum from 31 March to 16 April.

Have a creative kid? Introduce them to Canva. Canva is a free app with templates you can use to create Instagram stories, digital invitations, posters and all sorts. It can be like a rabbit hole – especially if you pair it with Unsplash, a directory of copyright-free, free images – which is actually a blessing in a lockdown situation.

Finally, if your older kids are missing their friends, let them hang out – virtually, of course. HouseParty is an app for phone and computer which allows face-to-face group calls or chats. Or you can download Netflix Party and watch Netflix in sync with your friends and chat at the same time. It syncs the programme you’re watching so nobody can watch ahead and message spoilers to the group.

Whatever you do with your kids this lockdown, don’t let it stress you out. If they’ve watched a movie and eaten niknaks for breakfast, so be it. If you’re tempted to have a glass of wine at breakfast lunchtime, go ahead. If nobody gets out of their pyjamas for 3 days, appreciate the washing you don’t have to do. This is an amazingly difficult time for all of us (especially the smokers), so all we are aiming for is survival. And remember, bribery is everything.

Stay safe, and stay the fuck at home.

xx