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Being confined at home due to recent events, many children are longing for their next adventure. Luckily, you don’t have to travel too far to satisfy their wanderlust! Thanks to the internet, you can bring bucket list destinations straight into your home. Keep reading for a list of virtual vacations you can take with your children right now for free.
A Virtual Adventure at the Grand Canyon
With stunning views and captivating trails, the Grand Canyon National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the United States. Children can take advantage of the National Park System’s virtual tours to check out the beautiful canyon vistas. Google Earth also provides a virtual tour that allows people to experience all the park’s top sites and trails. Education.com also offers resources that help bring the Grand Canyon to life. Try out this coloring sheet or this worksheet that’ll help improve your child's knowledge of U.S. geography and the national park.
Visit the Ancient Ruins of Machu Picchu
Head to Peru to visit Machu Picchu—a 15th century Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains. The archaeological site draws scores of visitors to Peru every year to see jaw-dropping mountains and the lasting legacy of the Inca civilization. Thanks to Google Arts & Culture, children can experience this ancient religious, ceremonial, astronomical, and agricultural center from the comfort of home. For more resources to explore Machu Picchu, have your learner check out this cool coloring page or dive into one of Education.com’s social studies worksheets about the historical site.
Brush Up on U.S. History at Ellis Island
Sitting on the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, Ellis Island stands out as one of the most notable historical symbols of the American immigrant experience. The island once served as the United States’ largest immigration center, with more than 12 million immigrants arriving by ship from around the world for processing. In fact, it’s estimated that 40 percent of all U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island. Following its closure in 1954, Ellis Island reopened to the public in 1990 as a museum. Take a look at the National Park Service’s virtual tour of this historic gem. Then, work on a few worksheets where students can learn more about the history of this major immigration center.
Art History in Paris
The Louvre, home to famous works including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, is the world’s largest art museum and a historical monument in Paris. The museum offers several virtual tours where children can visit the museum's exhibition rooms and galleries. See Egyptican antiquities, the remains of the Louvre’s moat, the Mona Lisa, and much more! After touring the museum, color in one of its most noteworthy paintings or learn more about da Vinci's backstory.
Scale the Great Wall of China
Once known as the world's largest military structure, the Great Wall of China stretches thousands of miles across several provinces of northern China and southern Mongolia. The history of the wall dates back to the fifth century B.C. and was built upon by Chinese dynasties over the following centuries. Have students explore sections of this breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage site through a virtual tour offered by YouVisit, followed up by completing this worksheet which challenges students to think critically about the history of the Great Wall.
School’s out and summer’s here, and you might be thinking, “How do we keep the kids occupied for the next few months?” Sending children off to camp is a classic summertime activity, but can be costly for some families (or your plans may have been thwarted by the current pandemic). But not to worry: It’s easy to DIY your own summer camp at home with materials you already have on hand—and with some help from Education.com’s free resources!
Below are some ideas for a one-week at-home summer camp, with a theme for each day:
Day 1: Explore nature
Summer is the perfect time to explore and learn about the great outdoors. Start the day off by having your child learn about plants and animals with a few of these printable nature worksheets. Then, pay a visit to a local national/state park or hiking trail and have your kids complete a scavenger hunt or reflect on their appreciation for nature along the way. Or, keep it closer to home with a backyard botany hunt!
Day 2: Play, make, create
Get your kids’ creative juices flowing with an arts and crafts day. Have them paint a summertime scene using paints or watercolors you have at home, or challenge them to create a giant chalk mural on your driveway. Need some more ideas? Education.com has almost 2,000 art projects for kids in grades pre-K through 5, from recycled paper garlands to glittery spaghetti ornaments and egg carton bugs, and more.
Day 3: Family field day
What’s summer camp without a little friendly competition? Head out to your backyard or a local park, and set up some silly races: Who can cross the finish line while balancing a ping-pong ball on a spoon, or while acting like an animal? Or, have your children build their own obstacle course with household items (think: crawling through a tunnel made out of cardboard boxes, limbo-ing under a garden hose, etc.). And if you need to beat the heat, try some water activities, like a sponge relay that incorporates trivia, water tag, or a wet clothes relay!
Day 4: Storytelling
Make summer reading (and writing) a fun part of camp! During the day, have your child read a short book or a few chapters of a book aloud to you or their siblings, and reinforce their reading comprehension with a graphic organizer. Then, it’s their turn to write a story! These prewriting organizers can help them develop their plot and characters. At night, gather the family around a makeshift campfire (e.g. a backyard fire pit if you have one, or a few candles in the living room), and listen to your kids tell their tales.
Day 5: STEM activities
Explore STEM topics, with a summer twist! For an out-of-this-world engineering challenge, your child can try their hand at building a bottle rocket in the backyard. Or perhaps they’d like to use an old pizza box to build a solar oven (perfect for making s’mores!). Grow their interest in environmental science by creating a family compost bucket or sock garden. And make math fun with outdoor math games like Wolfie Wolf or a math marathon!
Day 6: Cooking
From hot dogs to pancakes, food is a big part of summer camp, so today, you’ll get cooking with your kids! Start the day by showing them how math is used in the kitchen, with worksheets that mix fractions with recipes. Then, roll up their sleeves and let them help you cook up kid-friendly recipes like cornflake crunch chicken, healthy burgers, zucchini fritters, or chocolate-covered frozen bananas.
Day 7: Talent show
Let your kids’ imagination run wild with a talent show. Have them plan out a few acts that they’ll debut that night for the family! For example, they can make and play their own instruments like a toilet paper tube kazoo or maracas, or even write their own song. You could also help them create paper bag puppets and write a skit for a DIY puppet show, or encourage them to choreograph a short dance.
I still recall when I was a child and a new movie would come out. My sisters and I would wait for it to arrive at the local movie theater, then wait again — for months — for the video to appear at our local rental shop.
Nowadays, in contrast, we live in a tech-saturated world where movies, games, TV shows, and other media are available immediately and simultaneously, and right at our fingertips. We, along with our children, have all of the movies, information, and apps we could possibly imagine — and all of the choices that come with it.
As a mother to two young children and working from home, I often find myself doing 10+ things at once. As a parent, I’ve had to remind myself recently to slow down and be in the moment. Mindfulness, or the concept of bringing an accepting, gentle attitude to the present moment, has been something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. A regular mindfulness practice for both parents and children can also offer useful tools to help us notice our habits and our ways of being in the world.
So how can we be mindful about the way we interact with technology? There are so many different sources about the impact, benefit, and recommendations of how much technology (and screen time) children should be getting on a daily basis, the advice can be just as overwhelming as the choices themselves!
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents of children under 18 months limit screen time to some video calls. Children 18-24 months can watch some high-quality content in moderation, while for ages 2-5, the APA recommends limiting screen time to 1 hour or less a day. For ages 6+, the APA suggests creating “consistent limits'' and noting if and how technology is impacting other areas of health.
- The World Health Organization provides some helpful guidelines in relation to physical activity and screen time, advising parents that less is more — at any age!
While these guidelines are helpful, there isn’t a simple, universal answer to how much screen time is the right amount, regardless of age. One thing that I have found helpful is thinking about the purpose of technology and how I imagine my children using it. In an ideal world, I’d love for my kids to understand the functional aspects of living in a tech-heavy world and to be able to take advantage of those benefits without becoming glued to a device 24/7.
I’m the first to admit that sitting down and watching a movie can be blissful, and as a parent having 10 to 50 minutes to accomplish anything without interruption is both amazing and necessary. Early on, my wife and I realized that with our older child, the impact of watching one hour of television can equal two to three days of tantrums. He has always been a very receptive child, and the things he sees on a movie, app, or game impact the ways that he interacts with others, uses his imagination, and generally exists in the world for months post-viewing.
In our family, we do our best to limit screen time to travel days (airplanes and trains are the perfect place to watch a movie or play a game), sick days, and the occasional weekend “family movie.” While this is a great plan in theory, it doesn’t always work out this way, and as such, I have found myself needing an hour of quiet time to attend a meeting or get something done and turn to technology to help me out. When I do let my kids watch or play something, I like to use sites such as Common Sense Media or PBS to help me select the types of shows or games they view. Here’s the thing, though: Even with an excellent guideline for age-appropriate media consumption, I still have needed to turn off a show, comfort a scared child, or explain a new or confusing concept on the spot. Just like I tell my four-year-old, “We’re still learning.”
As my children get older, I have been thinking more and more about how to introduce and use technology in a way that will support them in becoming mindful digital citizens. What are some ways we can model mindfulness for our children in a tech-heavy world?
Be present when children are using a device or watching a show.
While a phone, tablet, computer, or television might seem like a great babysitter, the truth is — they aren’t. Even if you aren’t actively engaging with the media, try to be in the same room with your child when they are using or watching a screen.
Find sources that you trust.
While I have a few go-to sites that I trust, these aren’t the only sites out there providing great information about media consumption for parents. Do some research and find the sources that really speak to you. As your children get older, you might be more focused on things like digital citizenship or screen dependency.
Preview shows, games, or apps for content.
All of the sources recommend a certain game for 4-year-olds, but then you open up the app and something just feels off. That’s okay! Spending a few minutes previewing content can save you a lot of time later on. As your children get older, you might do this less and less, although even some kid-friendly sites can end up with less than desirable things on them. You know your family best, so make sure you are aware of the things your children are viewing or interacting with.
Be willing to make adjustments.
Did you find the perfect show you thought your child would love and then you turn it on and your child is scared? Be willing to adjust course and simply turn it off. Be transparent with your children about how a program feels to you, and why or why not you are choosing to let them see it. This provides authentic opportunities to connect with your kids around real-world issues, explain new concepts, and get a window into how your children are processing ideas.
Create a Structure
Sit down as a family and define your own rules about technology use. For younger children, this might be a conversation driven by the parents, while older kids can chime in and provide valuable contributions. Designate certain parts of your home as “screen-free” zones. We do this at the kitchen table, and sometimes even I get reminded by my toddler, “Mama no phones at the table.” Be consistent with your expectations around screens. This might take some adjusting, but can provide so many benefits down the road. Being mindful about when and how screens are used also gives your children a chance to develop their own skills around self control.
Practice what you preach! Model how you want your kids to interact with screens. After I got really interested in talking about my latest podcast obsession, my older child wanted in on the action. We started listening to science podcasts for kids in the car, and now he loves sharing all of the information he learns! Think about the times when you really do need to use a screen around your kids, and practice telling them what you are doing. For example, “I’m texting mommy that we’re on our way home,” or “I’m turning on my map to get directions to the zoo,” so that your children begin to understand the functional aspect of technology. Be mindful of your own technology use as well. Are you spending hours surfing the net in a distracted fashion? Consider setting a timer to find out how much time you are using on screens each day. You might be surprised by the results!
Striving for balance in a busy world is hard! I hope that these ideas have given you some things to think about the next time you pull out a device or your child asks to borrow your phone. Remember: “We’re all still learning!”
I love art. I enjoy dancing, listening to music, and creating things with my hands. My basement is filled with a variety of boxes with supplies for all kinds of art, from sewing and knitting to felting and bookbinding. I am by no means an expert, though I love getting wrapped up in a project and seeing it come to life.
Last week, my kids were fascinated by all things mail, so I had them work with me to create felt envelopes, stamps, and even a mail delivery bag. As a classroom teacher, I used the arts as a bridge to support my students to construct or demonstrate their learning on a regular basis. One year, my kindergarten class turned our entire classroom into the Pacific Ocean, complete with clay fish, illustrated informational guides, and a giant hand-sewn whale! While this was a semester-long project, the concept of arts integration can easily be used right at home — even if you have no arts background.
Arts integration means teaching through the arts, or using the arts as a way to support children (and adults!) to construct or demonstrate their learning. I like to think of it as allowing children another way to learn, express, and deepen their understanding within any given subject area. It might look like your child writing their own lyrics to a popular song to share what they've learned about a given topic, using dance to express their feelings, or painting signs of care and support for friends and neighbors to see from the windows. Here are some simple ways to integrate the arts into your day-to-day activities while at home with your child.
Set up an Art Area
Designate a space in your home to store open-ended materials (such as paper, pencils, crayons, and more) that your child can use on their own. Keeping the space neat and filled with minimal materials gives your child an ongoing invitation to create on their own terms. This is helpful during times when you aren't able to sit with them to create a more in-depth project or need to be completing a project yourself. Children love having a chance to show how they can be responsible for a space and in charge of their own learning. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how the materials are used and how elements from school, books, or current events show up in their creations.
Listening to and creating music can help children learn new concepts, process their feelings, and even calm their bodies! Keeping classical music on in the background when my kids are getting rowdy helps all of us calm down and focus. Listening to songs about the alphabet, words, and numbers has helped support my almost four-year-old as his interest in reading and math has deepened. Songs can also be a great way to break up your day and help you transition your child into a new activity. For example, we always listen to the same song when it's time to tidy up after dinner. In the morning, I play the same playlist to get our day started. Having routines tied to music helps my kids know what to expect in our schedule and provides us all with a calm way to refocus and enjoy what we're doing. Music can also be a great way to get wiggles out, be silly, or play a game (think freeze dance, Simon says, or even musical chairs) as a family!
Create with Recycled Materials
Creating projects using recycled materials is a great way to reduce waste, save money, and provide your children with endless artistic possibilities! As you go about your daily life, make an effort to save things like cardboard boxes, packing paper, paper tubes, tissue boxes, bottles, and cartons. Depending on your child’s age, you might choose to use a more structured approach, designing something like this milk carton birdhouse together. You can also set out a variety of materials, and be there to support your child as they create. In the past week, my children have used toilet paper tubes to create binoculars, cardboard boxes to create a spaceship, and designed their own roadway using leftover cardboard pieces and painter’s tape.
Make Real-World Connections
While Zoom calls and virtual classrooms have been great for staying connected to friends, family, classmates, and teachers, there are always opportunities to build more connections to real-world learning. Consider setting time aside each day for art as a family. Ask your child what they learned about that day, or what they are interested in, and go from there! If your child is interested in outer space, suggest making their own paper rocket while learning about the life of an astronaut in space. Children in our neighborhood created a visual scavenger hunt using peace rocks, which have provided my kids with endless conversations as we identify them on each street. Writing letters and using art to decorate envelopes, postcards, or even the letter itself can be a great way to incorporate art into staying connected with people who we aren't able to see right now.
Integrating the arts doesn't have to be complicated, cost a lot of money, or even require expertise in an arts discipline. All you need is a willingness to try something new and time set aside to be creative. I hope these ideas have sparked your interest in using the arts to deepen your children's learning while at home.
Father’s Day is coming up, and it may look a little different this year! However, there are still ways you can celebrate the fathers in your life. Check out these ideas!
When you’ve all been spending lots of time at home…
- Get outside! Shake things up by spending time outdoors in a fun way that works for your family. Whether that means a picnic in the yard, a walk through the neighborhood, or a hike on a local trail, it’s nice to spend time exploring outside together. Plus, take the pressure off Dad by letting your kids map out the route! They’ll enjoy helping to make the day special by creating a fun family adventure.
- Give Dad some space. Chances are, he could use some designated alone time! While Dad rests, the kids can have fun creating this special Father’s Day Tie. And once he’s had some time to relax, you can greet him with a great surprise!
- Create a craft together. Spend quality time as a family by working together to create something for Dad. If he loves to be the chef, this apron may be the perfect thing. You could also make a paperweight or a crown! The gift will be extra-special, since it will always include the memory of spending time together.
When Dad is far away…
- Mail a heartfelt card. Show dad (or grandad!) you’re thinking of him by sending love from afar. These homemade card ideas will be the perfect gift!
- Schedule a video call. Set aside some time to connect! Even if your loved ones are far away, you can still feel close to them with video tools like FaceTime, Zoom, and more. You can even make a poster or craft for the occasion, and show it to them from afar!