How to make the most of your quarantime.
Happy Pi Day! (officially belated as it’s after midnight and I’m not done writing yet)
And just like that, suddenly, a whole lot of parents who never had any intention of homeschooling have found their kids out of school for the next few weeks thanks to the novel coronavirus. Never fear – NerdishMom.com is here to help out!
Nerdish Mom’s Hero Kids RPG
First off, I invite any and all of my readers and their kids to a virtual Hero Kids RPG campaign! I’m going to make this a regular meetup for M-F over the next two weeks as a drop-in event. Show up for whatever days you want.
If you aren’t aware, Hero Kids is a tabletop role playing game designed for kids to play. The players will need no special materials, except for three regular six sided dice (or a dice rolling app). I will provide you with a character card that explains the abilities your kids have.
This will happen 11AM until approximately noon from March 16 through March 27. My current plan is to use Hangouts, but I’ll keep things updated on Facebook. The first day is going to require some troubleshooting so please be patient!
Just let me know (anytime between now and Thursday March 26th) if you want to be involved so I can get the information over to you in advance.
In addition to the RPG fun, there’s loads of “gameschool” options to learn and have fun (for parents and kids both) at the same time. Unfortunately, most suggestions for gameschooling involve owning a selection of published games, and if you haven’t already been building a library, that won’t be the most useful in this unexpected scenario.
However, here’s a list of some games you can play and learn with things you likely already have at home! Some may involve a printer.
Build your own dice
To get in the RPG mood, consider building your own 4, 6, 8, 12, and 20-sided polyhedra like we did here using magnets! If you don’t have building magnets, you can still build them out of paper or cardboard. In order to build every shape without taking any apart, you will need 32 equilateral triangles, 6 squares, and 12 regular pentagons.
If you have assorted gaming dice at home, pull them out as a model to help your littles figure out how they fit together. Ask them how many sides each one has, and point out that they can keep track by following the numbers on the dice. Note that we’re not making any d10s. Show them what that one looks like and figure out if they know why that is the only one left out.
What can you learn? This activity is cool because it’s more than just free building (which is also great!) It incorporates counting, reading numbers, and spatial reasoning to see how to make 20 triangles into an icosahedron.
Card Bingo from Top Notch Teaching
Remove the face cards (aces as well) if you prefer. Two players are each dealt 16 cards which are laid face-up in a four-by-four array. An adult calls out numbers, and the players flip their cards face down as each number is called. Play til someone gets bingo!
Instead of using the leftover cards to call out as suggested, I’d recommend just writing two through nine on eight pieces of paper (or index cards) and shuffling them or drawing the numbers from a hat. That way you can be sure someone will end up with a bingo. Otherwise you can play with two decks, making sure you have one of each card in your draw stack. Two decks also means you can add another player or two.
For a more difficult variation, the adult can instead call out math expressions: when you draw the six, call out “two plus four,” “sixty-six divided by eleven,” or “two-thirds of nine,” depending on the skill level of the players. Pro tip: if you aren’t confident in your mental math, then prepare your expressions ahead of time and write them down so you don’t have to come up with them on the fly.
What can you learn? Much like regular bingo, this is a game primarily of steady focus and reading numbers. The variations can add in some mental arithmetic as well.
I would be entirely remiss to leave probability out as a concept you can teach with dice and cards! Yet I found that it was pretty difficult to find actual games using probability. It seems that although cards and dice are often used as tools to teach probability concepts, it’s usually done without actually playing anything, which is just tragic.
Now, this is probably because of the difference between theoretical probability and experimental probability. Word problems can ask the probability of drawing two black cards in a row, but that doesn’t tell you what will happen if you actually draw two cards in a row.
All that means is that I had to come up with my own brand new game. In order to save some space here, stay tuned for its own post.
What can you learn? Probability, ratios and fractions, and other math-heavy concepts.
1000 blank white cards
The original version of this game involves making blank index cards into your own game by writing rules on each card (play two cards, reverse turn order, draw an extra card, jump on one foot, etc…) to be followed when each card is played. Shuffle and deal five cards to each player and then take turns around the table.
As an alternate version – consider writing one or two sentences on each card. Shuffle up and deal five cards to each player. Then compose a story by taking turns playing a card and working your sentence into the story thus far – adding in context as needed.
What can you learn? Reading, writing, and creativity are obvious. Additionally your kids will learn strategy as they play through, plus the basics of game play and following rules. The alternate version also gives opportunity for storytelling within the boundaries of the prompts.
If you don’t own Scrabble, try making a basic version out of a chessboard and some letter tokens cut from index cards. Even the chessboard is optional. Make it Bananagrams instead and play free-form if you don’t have a checkered board.
Use these same pieces to play homemade Boggle too! Arrange letters in a four by four grid and everyone write down every word they can spell by connecting letters.
Alternatively, pull out the screens and start up a game of words with friends!
What can you learn? Spelling, obviously, but Scrabble also gives opportunities for strategy (especially if you play on an official board with bonus letter and word scores) and even some spatial reasoning as you figure out how to place your words.
The wide world of word games!
These are the games that you can play on the go: I spy, I’m going on a picnic, even Snowman (which is like hangman but without the murder part) if you have paper. Also try rhyming games – one person picks a word and then you take turns coming up with another word that rhymes.
What can you learn? Vocabulary, critical thinking, memory, and letters.
Clue is one of the most beloved logic games, but what if it’s not one in your game library? Here’s a few other options!
Coding Logic Games
Coding games are all the rage the past few years. The basic format of teaching beginning coding logic to kids is to have arrows pointing in four directions and then ask the kids to plan out a sequence of arrows that will get them from point A on a maze to point B.
Pull out a chess board and mark a beginning and end space. Put a player piece (or a coin or whatever you’ve got handy) on the beginning and some kind of treasure at the end. Make a stash of arrows (can be tokens with arrows drawn on them, or index cards cut into quarters) and let your kid create a sequence in front of them that will move their piece to the treasure. A slightly easier variation will allow the players to plan out their move one at a time instead of all in advance. (ie they plan to go right, move their piece right, then see what they need to do next)
Depending on age, consider starting with a straight line (they will only need to know how many spaces they have to go in one direction), then move the treasure anywhere else on the board (this will only require a single turn, which kids may or may not realize). After they’ve mastered that stage, add obstacles that they need to go around in order to make things more complicated.
If you want to take it to the next level, try Turtle Academy and start writing actual programs that you can see working as you write each line! It’s free!
What can you learn? Logic, planning, and spatial reasoning are the big ones here!
Science Taboo from Cal State Northridge
Make your own taboo cards from index cards, which you can reuse later. Each one has a title that the other players have to guess, and a handful of words that the person with the card is not allowed to say. Explain the science term at the top without using any of the taboo words until the other players figure it out.
This game is a little bit more advanced than many of the others, but one cool thing about it is that it’s easy to customize from middle school level to even college level just by changing the terms. This is a way more fun alternative to flashcards. It’s easier to guess than explain, so consider that you might be the one on the spot when the material is really fresh.
What can you learn? It’s more than just learning science vocabulary. Your kids can learn the all-important ability to put things into their own words.
Dots and Boxes
The classic game of strategy for kids who have moved past tic tac toe. If you don’t remember, you make a large grid of dots (or print off dot grid from incompetech if you don’t have dot paper) and two people use different color pens to connect adjacent dots in order to make one by one squares. When you complete a square, you get to go again and the person with the most squares once the last segment is completed is the winner.
If you only have one color, you can also mark each completed square with a letter instead of a color.
This game is also widely available in app form.
What can you learn? Strategy and logic, plus a little bit of practice drawing neatly for the very littles.
Fill a hat with some of your kids’ favorite things and take turns drawing them and trying to guess! If you have pre-readers, you could either have an extra person read and whisper the word to the artist, or instead of words, print off thumbnail pictures, which will also be helpful if they’re not exactly sure how to start drawing Pikachu.
Unless your kids are older, don’t use a timer or keep score. Play as a single team and just have fun with the guessing game.
What can you learn? Practice reading and writing, as well as drawing. But it also requires critical thinking from both the artist and the guessers. That looks like a body, but why does the head look square when heads are usually round? What things have square heads? Robots! Every detail of the drawing is a clue to solve.
Color by number
If you don’t already have any paint-by-number books at home, make your own using simple coloring pages, or print some at home.
We have a pokemon color-by-number book that are labeled with simple addition and subtraction clues. It’s an easy way to add in a little arithmetic to this art activity!
Check out this tool to turn your own pictures into paint-by-number printables!
What can you learn? Math, number reading, plus coordination and staying inside the lines for the littles.
People forget about the intersection between math and art. Set a foundation for geometry and even basic concepts of calculus with these art games!
Make string art! Using only straight pieces of string, you can create beautiful curves and spirals. Check out this great activity on Babble Dabble Do.
How many times have your kids sung about fractals? About twelve hundred? Every day? Do they have the slightest clue what the word means? Learn what they are and make your own inspired by Elsa and explained by Carrie at Crafty Moms Share. I also recommend her Geometry Scavenger Hunt!
During computer time, play Spiromath and learn how parametric equations can make spiral drawings. You can do the same on a graphing calculator. What about Turtle Academy as mentioned above? Challenge your teenager to figure it out.
What can you learn? Possibly the most important thing that can be learned here is simply the relationship between math and art. Kids learn from a young age that math is important but boring and art is fun but useless. Fight both of those notions! STEAM not just STEM!
Like pictionary, but fill the hat with actions! Cartwheel, slithering, snow angel, jumping, stomping, and the list goes on…
Again, for younger kids don’t make things that are too hard to translate into actions, at least not for their first time playing. The “three words,” “first word,” “sounds like” cues that adults use will take some time to learn. For your first game use things that are easy to do and easy to guess.
What can you learn? Charades helps get wiggles out, but also helps to learn learning some expression in translating words to action and interpretation going back again.
All you need to play is colored paper and tape (a blanket or vinyl tablecloth is optional for making it portable). Lay out some dots (for a variation use shapes or numbers for the cues instead of colors), using enough tape to hold them in place after being stepped on.
Although a spinning wheel is an option, you can just as easily have an adult give whatever instruction seems the most hilarious. You can play with a single kid, or as many as you have the space for by just adding more dots.
What can you learn? Twister helps reinforce color names (or shapes or numbers) and is also a great way to help learn right from left. You can even teach body parts by adding in heels, elbows, knees, or whatever other body parts can reach the mat!
Pull out the sidewalk chalk or a roll of masking tape for playing inside.
What can you learn? Aside from getting out some energy (which is crucial when stuck at home for an extended period) and practicing balance, kids can work on counting forward and backward and writing numbers.
Design Your Own
Things that can be used in your own games:
Cards (playing or tarot)
Coins/bills in different denominations
Blank index cards
Tape for making layouts on the floor.
Last but not least, if you’re wanting something a little more structured, there are some options out there that are always free, offering extended trials, or temporarily providing subscriptions at no cost while schools are out. Check out the gigantic list at Amazing Educational Resources.
And I don’t just mean about the virus. One thing to keep in mind is that a few weeks out of school isn’t any kind of educational roadblock for your kids.
You might find it overwhelming and expensive (if you have to pay for childcare), but for them it’s more of an opportunity than anything else. This time will not be detrimental to your child’s education. If things extend too long they’ll push back summer break which means you could consider this an advance on a school break (especially if the time off extends into spring break as it does here).
What that means is that you should feel free to not spend seven (or three) hours a day “homeschooling” your kid. There’s no need for you to try to replace what they would have done in class lecture for lecture.
Play some games, give them some time off, and let them help with chores. Get through the quarantine with everyone’s sanity intact.
Stay home and stay healthy!
There’s a ton of places online to find free games. Here’s just a few that didn’t get mentioned above: