Keeping Kids Learning and Entertained At Home

April 20, 2020 by University District

New School and Old School Ways to Enrich Each Day


Surrounded by scholars and students in a beautiful collegiate setting, as a neighbour to the University of Calgary, learning lives in the air! In sync with the community spirit of learning that U/D’s proximity to university inspires, let’s look at ways to support kids learning at home while having fun: online and offline, in new ways and tried-and-true ways.


Whether you are a brother, a mother, a grandpa or nanny, the task of teaching young members of the household falls to everyone. We each have different skills and smarts to impart on young minds.  But how best to rise to the challenge of integrating learning in a fun, carefree and entertaining way at home? 


Learning today is more entertainment-based than ever before. To truly engage with kids to teach as well as be entertained we need to stay current with technology, apps, games and tools. That said, there are tactile, traditional ways to play and learn that may surprise young ones!


Given there is a maze of content online and non-digital methods may seem dated and lack lustre, we will explore two paths to learning through entertainment and play: on screen and away!



Using Technology


Let’s look at modern ways to stay entertained at home and learn something new together using technology!


Healthy screen time.


It’s easy to find content these days with the millions of apps, YouTube channels and Instagram stories designed as click-bait. They can consume hours of fruitless time. 


Rather than exchanging stern looks and heavy sighs as parents and grandparents compete with the screen for a young person’s attention, there are ways to exchange laughs and learning and together-time through gadgets and well-chosen programming and activities.


Almost every parent has worried about limiting screen time and keeping their kids communicative, healthy and progressing in positive ways. Here is a handy guide to how much screen time is reasonable and recommended. UCalgary education expert Dr. Michele Jacobsen, PhD, has some advice about kids and technology, and how to know when it’s simply too much!


What’s more, there is the topic of being a good digital citizen to tackle. Positive digital citizenship is something that often gets left out of modern learning discussions in families. Google has an interactive game to play that delves into these topics — from staying safe and secure to handling cyber bullies. Click here to learn more in Google’s Interland!


Once you’ve had “the talk” about technology and time management, it’s time to prepare for optimal learning and fun in one!



Getting Ready: Three ways to prepare.


Be flexible! They say timing is everything in life. In this day and age, it’s as true as ever. Rather than being rigid and sticking to specific times, experts suggest not making online learning time together too routine. It’s ok to be flexible to keep it fun, gauging the mood and the moment.


Be mobile! There’s also truth in the saying that location is everything.  So take a look at use of space in your home for spontaneous, fun online learning together. Maybe you can pop onto the porch for some head-to-head, phone-to-phone Words With Friends? Or plug in the Playstation in the bedroom and learn to pilot a plane or put your foot down in a virtual Ferrari while eating popcorn in your PJs. Prop up a laptop on the kitchen counter and see how yeast comes to life for cinnamon rolls in a favourite recipe.


University of Calgary has another fun and free e-book for little foodies based on research conducted by its experts. This free ebook is designed to help parents and children navigate food marketing appeals, and to help families make decisions about the packaged food they buy. Each section contains information about the supporting research, things to think about, and things to try at home with kids. Use this to spark talk and enrich the experience of cooking together. Download it here


Be a good team! Once healthy boundaries take shape, and you are in the right mindset for spontaneous and flexible learn-at-home fun with technology, define your roles. As parents and grandparents, we too can be learning along the way. Don’t be afraid to take cues from kids about what they find engaging and let them come to the table with ideas of their own.  Kids know more than we may think about technology and the world of resources at our fingertips.



Pick Your Platform!


There are a host of electronic tools to try and to love for learning and fun. A simple computer is a gateway to a world of knowledge on the internet.  You can also put cell phones and tablets to the same task, researching and engaging in curriculum-led surfing and study. Talk to your child’s teacher about current requirements and expectations to focus your online time. 


Many local programs and fitness studios have shifted their classes online and in the spirit of the more the merrier, the whole family can engage and support learning from professional teachers. UCalgary offers some great advice and local resources here.


Beyond these basics, gaming devices like Playstation, Switch, XBox or even Karaoke Machines can be a source of entertainment and new skills.


Build-your-own or programmable devices like mini robots or electronic Lego can provide hours of all-ages fun. Virtual Reality headsets are becoming more affordable and can transport you and your family into faraway places for creative exploration.



Keep it Screen-Free


Pre-computers, people have always learned through play! From military moves in the game of chess to hopscotch — which not only boosts balance, it helps with cognitive development too — and pick up sticks to fine tune hand-eye coordination…the options are endless!


Traditional gameplay that promotes collaboration and thinking may be a novel way for kids who are used to learning through technology. 


Here is our top 5 list of old school activities for modern kids!



Re-Discover Lost Arts


Clapping games, hand jives and skipping rope to silly songs provide fun old-school ways to improve memory, motor skills and appreciation for other cultures.  Try to master a clapping game and then take it online to platforms like TikTok to tout your skills! Check out Google #handclapping for some ideas here.


Card and Board Games for Kids


From euchre to blackjack, card games are easy to learn and fun ways to practice math!  Pull out the Monopoly board to learn about real estate or Clue to solve mysteries.




Keeping a surface clear or getting a felt roll up for a puzzle. Better yet, create your own art together — a drawing or photo portrait in artsy style — and create a custom puzzle of your own using services like Zazzle.



Cooking and Baking


Estimating, measuring, following instructions and science are all part of kitchen life! Try experimenting with cookie dough!


Need a little cookie dough inspiration? Click here for recipe suggestions and baking tips to perfect the crispy, chewy and buttery goodness of this sweet confection! 


Up and At ‘Em


Get active — mind and body! Test your memory skills by calling out shadow boxing combos to one another while working up a sweat. Theatrical games like charades or improv theatre a la Whose Line Is It Anyway? can challenge your creativity and problem solving skills.


Playing games — old school or new — can give you a much deeper understanding of how things work, test new skills and spark laughter and fun around the house!


Beaumie Kim, as associate professor at the UCalgary Werklund School of Education says all kinds of games—whether online or a good old fashioned board game—can teach creativity, problem-solving skills and enhance learning. “Depending on the situation, there are times that I prefer paper, but there are other times that I prefer technology,” Kim says. “It’s quite exciting that we have all these options and different ways of doing things.”


However we choose to play it, creating a memorable, engaging home learning environment and experience is what matters most. 


Check out some amazing local learning resources like Daily Dose from the Calgary Zoo! And share some of your own! Do you have any favourite learning resources — modern or old-school to share with other parents, grandparents, sitters or siblings to foster learning fun?

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