Just because it’s the weekend or the kids are home from school doesn’t mean that the learning should end. While it’s tempting to always jump to screen time and video games during downtime once the kids are back to school, there are actually plenty of other ways kids can continue to learn at home. My 8-year-old, for example, has been doing workbooks at home every day, studying languages via software and apps, and playing with different kits and toys that teach everything from science to arts and crafts, coding, and building. Sure, some of the activities technically do involve the use of a smartphone, tablet, or computer. But they all promote learning while also being fun.
So what kinds of activities are the best ones for kids? Here are some ideas.
STEM kits and toys
STEM/STEAM kits and toys represent some of the most critical skills kids can have these days: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. And there are plenty of toys and kits to choose from in this category that can teach kids about everything from the basics of coding and programming to building and robotics. Kids can first learn to build toys—like a moving robot or car, then get a crash course in coding to make their new toy do things like navigate around obstacles, make sounds, and flash lights. Kids love kits like these, from brands like Sphero, Jimu, and Kano, because they end up with really cool toys they can play with. But they’re also learning how to build, how things work, and how to code on a computer—all valuable subjects that will come in handy in the future.
Last year, for example, my 8-year-old really loved building a Kano computer. The kit comes with detailed instructions that includes both pictures and words describing not only what to do in each step, but also why. Once the computer is put together, kids can use it to play games, write code, surf the web, and other activities.
Osmo is also a popular brand for coding kits, with options that appeal to kids of all ages.
It’s never too early to get your kid started with coding!
Science Experiment Equipment
Some kids love science and experiments, and there’s no need to wait for ones that the teacher assigns at school. There are lots of science and experiment kits you can buy to help your child learn about volcanos, chemistry, magnets, and more.
There are kits that include items and instructions to conduct multiple experiments, like the Be Amazing Toys Real Science Real Fun Kit. It includes absorbent crystals, insta-snow powder, baking soda, citric acid, beakers, and other items to try various experiments like how to create instant hot ice and eggshell geodes. There are more specific kits that drill down to a certain topic that might interest the child, like Smart Electronics DIY Building Block Educational Science Circuits Kits that includes 31 real circuit components that, when combined together in the right way, create working electronics.
For any child who’s interested in the human body, or who tends to be a visual learner, an anatomical model can be really useful in helping them better understand how things work.
There are models of everything from the skeletal system to the human brain, specific joints, and other body parts like the foot or hand.
If you don’t have the room to fit a full anatomical model in your home, there are also charts you can hang on the wall to help kids study and learn about different systems and body parts. They contain images as well as detailed labeling, and, in some cases, explanations that kids can use to augment their studies. Wall charts are available for plenty of different diseases, organs, and other systems in the body, like the spinal nerves, ligaments of the joints, and arthritis.
Every kid loves to look up at the stars, but some are more intrigued about space and the far away skies than others. You can help encourage learning for these kids with a telescope. They come in all sizes, from full-sized ones you can set up on the lawn or balcony to get a closer look at the moon, constellations, and more, to smaller, more portable monocular, ones that are good for activities like bird watching.
Remember, learning isn’t just about reading, writing, and arithmetic. There are other valuable subjects kids can learn at home that they probably won’t learn much about at school unless they are in specialized classes.
Your child might be really into crafts and making things, so consider something like a sewing machine they can use to make their own clothing, sew handmade toys or gifts, and other items.
For young kids who are into construction, consider a play bench they can use to mimic building or fixing things around the house while you teach them what each tool is called, what it’s for, and how it’s used.
My son loves to cook and bake and has his own set of usable cooking utensils for mixing up a cake batter or measuring ingredients for a chicken dry rub. Just make sure to get a set with products that can actually be used with real ingredients and aren’t just toys for imaginary play. The Le Petit Chef Set is a handy knife set that comes with a finger guard, chef’s knife with a round tip and learning ring, and a peeler with a learning ring so kids can practice their slicing and dicing skills.
Apps and Software
I have been leveraging software for my son to learn a second (and third!) language, including Rosetta Stone and Duo Lingo—the latter of which is a free app. But there’s other more involved software that can help kids of all ages learn everything from the alphabet and how to write letters to tips to improve their drawing, make crafts, coding (as noted above), and more.
The Osmo Little Genius Starter Kit, for example, is designed to be used with a tablet to help preschoolers get a head start on critical thinking while learning their numbers and how to create pictures.
Once kids reach school age, they can upgrade to the Osmo Genius Starter Kit that’s designed for kids aged 6-10 and also leverages an iPad or Fire tablet to help kids learn about numbers, physics, art, letters, problem solving, counting, and spelling. A parent app lets you track their progress as well.
For kids who gravitate more to the arts, there are kits like the Osmo Creative Starter Kit that combine gaming with technology to help kids develop their drawing skills.
Learning doesn’t have to stop and start at school, and it doesn’t have to only involve those core subjects that are taught by teachers either. Kids can continue the learning at home in ways that are fun and engaging and double as play time as well.
As we prepare for the back to school season, parents will be looking for ways for their kids to use their time wisely, whether it’s with a screen or without. And there are lots of options to suit varying childrens’ interests, from science kits to coding robots, telescopes, anatomical models, and arts & crafts.
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