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Non-academic activities that grow kids’ minds + hearts

With many summer camps canceled and back to school up in the air, parents are settling into the new reality of extra learning time at home. The months ahead may be bereft of epic vacations and the usual robust enrichment, but the quieter pacing can allow room for other fulfilling opportunities, if you think creatively and breathe into the moments.

There’s more to learning than the academic rigors of multiplication tables and subject-verb agreement. Whether it’s teaching practical life skills or instilling family values, you can help your kids grow in myriad ways in these complicated days – and have lots of fun doing it. As you have pockets of time, try some of these.


Supplement the usual coloring books, Lego projects and sidewalk chalk with these ideas.

  • Make your own animated video. All you’ll need is playdough, your imagination and a stop-motion animation app, of which there are several free versions.
  • Learn to sew. Just use what’s on hand. If a button comes off, show them how to thread a needle and have at it. If that’s too advanced, hand them a rag and a threaded needle and show them how to whip-stich the edges together. A wholesome way to spend a few minutes!

“The only source of knowledge is experience” — Albert Einstein


How’s your chore chart? Nonexistent, you say? There’s never been a better time to get one in play. When the kids help with chores, it will free up some of your time and reduce your stress, giving you more time and energy for projects like these:

  • Practice cooking or baking. Your kids are probably more capable than you realize, even with knives. With older kids, try sitting in a kitchen chair and guiding them orally through all the steps of a recipe. Work your way up to teaching them one signature meal (or more) to make for the family so that you have a night off.
  • Personal finances. Let your kids watch as you pay bills and craft your monthly budget. (Bonus: When they see you make that payment into their college savings account, they’ll know you mean business about their education!) Give older kids a dollar amount and have them draft your online grocery order.
  • Yard work. Draft them to help you pull weeds, water and mow the lawn. Even little kids can have a few minutes of helper fun by edging the lawn with scissors.


Without their regular circle of friends, it’s time for you to stand in the gap. Bonus: You get to relive your childhood.

  • Have a slumber party. Make memories with a ridiculously late night of sleeping bags, snacks and kid-friendly movies. Each member of the family gets to pick a flick, so parents can think of a favorite from their youth.
  • Games. If you’ve already played all the board games in your house, order a new one to freshen up your selection. Ask friends for recommendations. And there are always new card games to teach.


Facilitated by FaceTime or a Zoom call, these are great ways to stay in touch with grandparents you’re not getting to visit.

  • Interview a family member about their life. Ask grandparents or a favorite aunt to discuss their first jobs, youthful hobbies, wedding day and childhood home. To take it further, try to create a family tree and supplement your activity with historical lessons.
  • Look at old pictures. These are natural story times. Get out your old yearbooks and photo albums, and look at pictures of your kids when they were younger, too. They’ll feel loved and treasured.
  • Music appreciation. Take turns playing your favorite music for each other, then challenge yourselves to listen to new genres together.


Pro tip: If you don’t call it “school,” they may never catch on.

  • Have each child pick a topic they’d like to learn about and spend 30 mins each day on that topic. Then, everyone shares a few minutes of their discoveries at dinnertime. The topics can change each day, or not.
  • Take a virtual field trip of the British Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago or something much more exotic – like Mars?
  • Try learning a foreign language. The free app “Duolingo” is a great place to start. More serious students can enroll in Florida Virtual School as a flex student and take Spanish, even at the elementary school level.

Happy extended summer of learning!

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