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Reimagining Education

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Stuck at home? How to keep your kids entertained

As social distancing is forcing kids throughout the country to stay home and avoid most of the activities that would normally keep them occupied when out of school, many parents are struggling to figure out how to fill all of the new free time.

CEAM has been scouring the internet for the best ideas on how to keep kids entertained and learning at the same time (check out our list of free online learning opportunities here).

Check out some of the best suggestions we have found below:

Read a book with a famous person

Kidsactivitiesblog.com did a great blog on how a wide variety of actors and other famous people are taking to social media to post videos fo them reading children’s books. All you have to do is search for #OpperationStoryTime on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram to find lodes of celebrities sharing their favorite children’s books. You can also check out Librarian Bookends for a great list of live readings on different social media channels as well a whole ton of other reading-related resources! This is a great way to get your kids interested in reading during the break!

Keep your kids on a schedule

Many schools are officially on spring break this week and they deserve to enjoy the break by sleeping in and goofing off, but next week, when they would normally be in school if not for the coronavirus, it is important to get them on a schedule that makes sense and includes both physical activity and learning time. This will help them fill their time and also alleviate some of the stress they may be feeling in these weird times. Huffington Post has a great article sharing tips on setting a schedule and examples of schedules other parents have developed with their kids. Here is a great online resource that will help you build a schedule for your kids.

Write a letter to someone in a nursing home

As scary as the coronavirus is for you and your kids, it is even scarier for the elderly who have the highest coronavirus mortality rate. And with the outbreak, visitation to nursing homes is being severely limited so elderly residents are receiving even fewer visitors than they normally do. Writing letters (real or electronic) is a great way to connect with the residents and let them know that people care and are thinking about them. It is also a great way to teach your kids compassion and letter writing skills. If you want to do this, call a nursing home in your community before you send any letters to find out how they would like you to interact with them.

Take a (virtual) tour of the world

Thanks to virtual reality, 360-degree cameras, and all kinds of other innovative technology just because you are trapped in your home does not mean that your kids can’t explore the world. Check out all of these amazing virtual tours available online:

Do an art project

Art and creative projects are a great way to relieve stress, fill time, and create something that can be used as a gift in the future. There are a TON of sites offering ideas for art projects for kids, but we have curated a collection of YouTube channels that teach basic art techniques and provide instructions on how to complete a wide variety of art projects with your kids. Check out these sites (just click on the image) for some great ideas:

Spending time on screens

Our friends over at the Fordham Institute point out a stark reality: as much as we want to keep our kids off of screens, chances are they are going to be spending more time in front of them during the coronavirus break. But, as Micheal Petrilli points out, that does not mean that they cannot be learning while watching. Check out his recommendations for the most educational things to watch on different channels below:

Petrilli has the following recommendations for channels to learn from if your kids end up spending a lot of time on YouTube:

  • Liberty’s KidsOne of my biggest beefs with elementary schools today is that they tend to teach so little history—especially of the patriotic variety. So here’s a great opportunity for your kids to experience a “history surge” and get a huge, entertaining, and compelling dose of American history during our own historic period. Liberty’s Kids first aired on PBS decades ago, and is a fantastic narrative account of the American Revolution, spread over 40 episodes, 23 minutes each. So “assign” four episodes a day and you’ll kill an hour and a half for two full school weeks, and your kids will know way more about our founding than they do right now.
  • Mark Rober. This former NASA engineer is a rock star YouTuber, with over 10 million subscribers. It’s not hard to see why: he comes up with super fun and engaging ways to explore science concepts and engineering challenges—like showing kids how carnival games rip you off, or testing if sharks can taste a drop of blood. A good place to start is his “learn some science” playlist, currently at 26 videos, 10 to 15 minutes each.
  • Extra Credits Extra History. Extra Credits started as a channel for gamers, especially those interested in historical war games, but its creators also now make videos about history itself. They are up to over two hundred at last count, each last ten or fifteen minutes, and ranging all across the world and various epochs. Many are focused on military history (understandable given the channel’s genesis), with occasional diversions. Their vast offerings allow them to deeply explore topics. They dedicate four episodes, for a total of more than forty minutes, to the Punic Wars, for example. Compelling narration and cute animations combine for addictive viewing for budding history buffs.
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy. Why not go old school? This iconic show aired for five seasons in the mid-1990s, so if you think Friends and Seinfeld still feel fresh, why not give this a shot too? Here’s a playlist with 48 full-length, 23-minute videos, covering virtually every major topic in the science curriculum.
  • Crash CourseThis is the granddaddy of educational YouTube, created by Hank and John Green, aka the Vlogbrothers, the latter of whom is already familiar to young readers as the New York Times best-selling author of The Fault in Our Stars. They have built a huge library of videos across most major disciplines, including playlists of forty-eight videos on U.S. history, seventy-two on world history, and fifty on U.S. government and politics. Each episode is generally ten to fifteen minutes long and features John Green talking about the subject, mixed in with some humor and animations. It’s geared toward high-schoolers but works for precocious younger kids too.

There are actually a lot of good options on these larger streaming channels, but Petrilli picks the following as being the most engrossing and educational for children in elementary school:

  • The Magic School Bus (Netflix). Sure, scientific knowledge is constantly evolving, but Mrs. Frizzle never gets old. Like Bill Nye the Science Guy, this is another mid-1990s children’s show about science; that must have been some sort of Golden Age. And it brought real star power, as the title character was played by Lily Tomlin. I can’t vouch for the recent Netflix reboot, The Magic School Bus Rides Again, but the original is a fantastic introduction to key scientific concepts for the early-elementary school set.
     
  • Walking with Dinosaurs (YouTube TV). My family loved, loved, LOVED this BBC TV series. It’s amazing that it hails from the late 1990s, given how good the CGI is. It looks and feels just like any other great nature documentary from the BBC—complete with the Kenneth Branagh narration—but, let me remind you, DINOSAURS ARE EXTINCT. Check out the companion Walking with BeastsWalking with Cavemen, and Walking with Monsters too.
     
  • National Geographic Ancient Civilizations (Amazon Prime). I would wager that your kids know next to nothing about the ancient world, unless they attend a Core Knowledge school. But this series will get them up to speed, covering ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Americas, among others.
     
  • Jane (Netflix, Hulu, Disney-Plus). A wonderful documentary about the life of Jane Goodall, the pioneering women whose decades-long study of chimpanzees gave us critical information about our cousins, and ourselves. Some themes might go over the heads of younger viewers (i.e., her reflections on gender bias) but everyone will enjoy the images of the baby chimps and their parents.
     
  • Our Planet (Netflix). I would recommend some of the classic BBC nature documentaries—like Blue PlanetOur Planet, and Frozen Planet—but as far as I can tell, you have to pay for them, even if you’ve got subscriptions to all of the streaming sites. So go for this Netflix series instead. With eight episodes, at fifty minutes each, you’ll cover all the basic ecosystems on earth. Biology? Check!

Just because your kid is not in front of a screen does not mean that they are not consuming brain-rotting junk. Podcasts are a big thing and there are a lot of great ones, and bad ones (like the one that is just a recording of a cat purring), out there. Petrilli has the following four top recommendations but suggests you also check out  Common Sense Media for lots more suggestions.

  • History Chicks. This is my family’s favorite. Each of their 150 hour-long episodes tells the story of a famous woman from history—and some women who aren’t famous but should be. It’s hosted and produced by Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider, two Midwestern moms who adore history and don’t think it should be “dusty”—and love to talk and talk and talk. (Another great option in this genre, geared directly at kids, is Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.)
     
  • Wow in the World. This show from NPR, hosted by Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz, explores fun and fascinating topics in the world of science and technology. There are dozens of episodes at about a half an hour each.
     
  • Tumble. Another award-winning science podcast, co-hosted by a journalist and a teacher, with a big focus on interviewing scientists themselves.
     
  • Freakonomics. Steven Dubner, the co-author of the Freakonomics books, examines the “hidden side of everything,” from science to sports to politics and more. It’s a show for adults but totally appropriate (and captivating) for older kids too.

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