Ideas to encourage at-home active learning for children

NCFL understands the struggle families face caring for and teaching their children as life at home continues this summer. Many of our staff have school-aged and preschool children and are experiencing several of the same challenges. In addition to juggling work and other obligations, it can be tough to think of what to do, particularly with young children.

Following are some ideas to help foster active learning, a time when a child interacts with people, ideas, objects, and events to construct new understanding.

Embark on a scavenger hunt. This can be done indoors or outdoors. You could build your list based on colors or shapes. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, you could build your list based on the alphabet (“something that starts with the letter A, B, C, and so on…”). If 26 letters is too long, try using the letters of your child’s name instead. 

If you’re able to get outside, build your list with things found in nature—for example, insects, flowers, tree leaves, pine cones, birds’ eggs—as well as human made objects like vehicles, lawn furniture, and street signs.

Getting outdoors has the added benefit of easing stress, but if you’re unable to go outside, there are plenty of items to seek indoors too. In addition to using colors, shapes, and letters, you could also build your list with one item from each room of your home.

Build math into mealtime. The kitchen is a fun place where math concepts like multiplication, division, and fractions come to life. Whether making a box of mac and cheese or a loaf of homemade banana bread, measurement is key to any recipe. Food products that come with pre-measured ingredients can still be measured at home using measuring cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons. 

Young children can assist in pouring measured ingredients into a mixing bowl and also help stir. Older children can measure the ingredients themselves, as well as help chop produce and stir food on the stove top, both with adult supervision.

Find a creative outlet. Survey what you have on hand to produce art. Doodling and coloring on paper, molding Play Doh, and building with blocks are all ways for children to practice fine motor skills (think hand and finger movements). These are also ways for you to temporarily shift your focus from all the worries you’re faced with today to something tactile and tangible. Mindfulness—concentrating only on what you’re doing in the moment—is a great way to relieve stress.

Make screen time active. Let’s face it, there are times when you just need to get some things done. Phones, tablets, and television are so helpful in those times. Here are some digital learning resources that foster active learning:

Khan Academy Kids uses an adaptive learning path that allows children to learn at their own pace. The user navigates along a path of interactive activities, read-aloud books, games, and videos. We almost forgot to mention, the app is 100% free! is a great way to explore whatever curious questions pop into youngsters’ minds. The site is free to explore and contains over 2,500 articles called Wonders of the Day®. Each Wonder includes informational text, fun and engaging activities, and related media, all helping to build background knowledge and vocabulary skills. The site also features Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, a new technology that expands content accessibility through a variety of reading assistance features. 

Sesame Street is not only a television show, but also a website loaded with interactive things to do, including games and art. If you sign up for a free account, you receive access to even more content.

GoNoodle uses movement and mindfulness to engage children, which is so needed when you’re stuck inside. Shake your sillies out or practice breathing and calming techniques when you access a variety of free videos on their website.

PBS Kids is also a great resource with videos and games. Plus, check out the APPS tab at the top of the page for not only a big list of PBS apps but also podcasts, albums, and e-books. You can filter by age or skill to learn!

It is challenging to balance work, responsibilities, and caring for our children. We hope you will find some of these ideas and websites helpful as we navigate this new normal.