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Playful Learning Ideas for School at Home

2020-04-29 by Carrie Aitkenhead
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As many of our children are learning from home, I thought I would share a few play activities that have helped my little ones over the years learn outside of the classroom. Remember, learning at home doesn’t have to look exactly like learning in the classroom. It can be more fun, more joyful, and more attuned to your child’s individual interests.



  • Cooking: So much learning happens while cooking and through the simple acts of measuring, pouring, and mixing. Walk kids through the process of doubling a recipe.
  • Fill ’er Up: Use different size containers at the sink to explore concepts of volume. How much water will fit in this container? Is it more, the same, or less than will fit in this other one?
  • Set the Table: Count out forks/spoons/plates/napkins or food for meals. Do we have enough for everyone?
  • Crayon Hunt: How many crayons can kids find in your house? After they gather a collection, have them separate them into groups of 5 or 10 and explore counting by 5s or 10s.



  • Will It Float? Fill a tub, sink, or container with water and test out whether different items float. Some ideas: Toy building brick, a sponge, metal spoon, plastic spoon, cotton ball, cork, pencil, metal coin, cardboard tube, a crayon) will float. Have kids make their predictions and then test them out. Have them record their observations.
  • Bird- and Bug-Watching: What kinds of birds and bugs can you see from your window or in your backyard? What types of birds visit your home this time of year? Encourage kids to observe and draw them.
  • Gardening/Seed Planting in Pots: You don’t have to have a whole garden to plant seeds! Add some dirt to a recycled yogurt cup or other container and plant seeds to put in a sunny windowsill! For a fun observation experiment, plant a few extra seeds, and each day dig up one seed to see how it has grown and changed. Are there roots, shoots, or leaves growing?
  • Weather Watch: Have kids create a weather report for the day. Younger kids can draw their report, showing whether it’s cloudy, sunny, or rainy; hot, warm, or cold; windy or calm. Older kids can have fun pretending to deliver the weather report as if they were a meteorologist on TV.


Reading & Writing

  • Story Guessing: Look at illustrations in a picture book. Can you tell what is happening in the story? If you named the characters, what would their names be?
  • ABC Pun Presents: This is a family favorite of ours! We challenge ourselves to create “punny” gifts for each other based on letters of the alphabet. Grandpa once brought over “Brown-E’s,” a plate of paper letter E’s colored brown. That gift inspired my son to make a cup of “T” (paper T’s cut out and placed in a cup). Other examples: Frozen P’s, Swarm of B’s!
  • A “Toy” Story: Have kids pick out any five toys and write a story (pre-writers can tell a story) that incorporates all five toys.
  • Make Cards: Create and mail personalized greeting and birthday cards to family and friends.


Social Studies

  • Dress Up Like a Helper: Dress up like a doctor, nurse, firefighter, police officer, or grocery store clerk. What do you think they do? Pretend to do their job.
  • Campout Inside: Break out those tents and sleeping bags and have an indoor campout! Talk about life before many of our modern amenities. What did people do before electricity? How did they find their way before phones with GPS technology?
  • Sibling Summit: Getting along can get tough in tight quarters. The next time an argument breaks out, see if you can organize a peace treaty summit. Ask kids to imagine what it might be like for some people/regions/countries to get along with each other when they have different priorities, beliefs, and land struggles? For this particular disagreement, see if kids can find common ground, make compromises, and negotiate a peace treaty.
  • Interview a Family Member: Have kids make up or write their own interview questions for an older family member or friend they can connect with by phone or video chat. What was the interview subject’s childhood like? What toys did they play with? What were their friends like? What are their favorite memories?



  • Create Your Own Gym: Come up with exercises using objects and places around your house. What could you lift? What could you balance? This is actually a fun “exercise” in creative thinking!
  • Stretch: Stretch out those muscles and make up your own poses based on your child’s interests. My son’s favorite stretch was “silly monkey,” which involved him stretching his arms over his ears and making a funny face.
  • Sock Ball: Roll up some pairs of socks and see how many you can throw into an empty laundry basket without missing!
  • Room Exercises: Assign an exercise to each room. For example: Every time you walk in the kitchen, you do 10 jumping jacks, every time you go to the living room, you do 10 sit-ups.



  • Sing: As a family, make up a song about handwashing and sing while you wash!
  • Listen: Listen to a piece of music or song. How does it make you feel? Do you want to dance? Talk about whether it’s soft, loud, slow, or fast. Clap to the beat.
  • Family Parade: Grab instruments or some pots, pans, and wooden spoons for a follow-the-leader walk from room to room!
  • Learn a Dance: Create some choreography to go with a favorite song (or learn a dance routine online) and perform for your family!



  • Family Portrait: Draw a family portrait. For a fun twist, draw each person as their favorite animal!
  • Play with Your Food: Arrange the food on your plate into a fun shape, animal, or landscape.
  • Chalk the Walk: Draw with chalk on your porch, driveway, or sidewalk. Other families that take walks will enjoy your artwork.
  • Trash to Treasure: Create a pile of everyday materials (like cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, old game pieces, fabric) you have around the house. Challenge your child to create artwork or an invention using these materials.


The American Academy of Pediatrics is partnering with Melissa & Doug on the Power of Play to raise awareness about the health benefits of open-ended play and how important play is for both parents and kids.

Learn more about the Power of Play >


Carrie Aitkenhead

Carrie Aitkenhead is a Connecticut State Certified Educator and member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children with fifteen years of experience in multiple areas of education including public school, private school, special education, and outdoor supplementary education. These experiences have shaped a core belief in the necessity of play. Through her work she hopes to promote the value of play and personal connection to support children to develop a sense of imagination, creative empowerment, and self-worth.

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