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How are we going to do it?

How are we going to survive the next few weeks/months and come out the other side with our sanity intact? We’ve had our thinking caps on at Northern Life and have rounded up ideas that will educate, inspire and enthuse your kids to ensure that your time spent together is valuable and as precious as they are.

Story Ideas

Nikki Young is a children’s book author (Time School: We Will Remember Them, and the second book in the series Time School: We Will Honour Them.) Nikki is also the founder of The StorymakersClub in Kent and has plenty of top tips for parents who suddenly find themselves home-schooling their children for the foreseeable. She’s also home-schooling her own children now too!

Many children have no problem coming up with a story idea. Others can think of ideas, but struggle to write them down. Then there are those who not only find coming up with ideas an arduous task, they are reluctant to write at all.

I’ve met all these types of children at my creative writing club, Storymakers. And as a writer, myself, I know it isn’t always easy to come up with ideas. It’s not as though you can flick a switch and a story idea will just pop into your head. Sometimes, the harder you try to think of something, the more difficult it becomes.

Author, Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book, Big Magic, talks of story ideas as though they are spiritual entities, roaming about the universe, waiting for the right person to write them down. She even cites examples of poets, musicians and writers who describe these moments when an idea literally pops into their head.

Indeed, I’ve had a similar experience recently, where a story idea won’t seem to leave me alone. I’m not sure whether to believe that it has particularly chosen me as the person most suitable to write it (even though I would love that to be true), but one thing I do believe, is that the idea was stimulated, in part, from a recent talk I went to, along with a book I’m currently reading.

We have to nurture our creative minds by giving them stimuli from which ideas can grow. It is the literal food for thought.

We cannot expect our children to just come up with ideas out of the blue, so the first and most important thing you can do to help them is to make sure they read widely. Most, if not all, books are based on stories that have already been written, in one way, shape or form. No story is truly unique, just a different aspect or way of looking at things.

Reading fires the imagination, as well as widening vocabulary and helping children to gain a good grasp of story structure.

If your child is not an avid reader, please consider reading to them, or try audio books. I have reluctant readers myself, so I understand the difficulties and have written of ways to help with this in previous posts. If you’re stuck for ideas, try some of mine first.

To help them come up with story ideas, though, here are some of my favourite activities:

Story cubes or dice

Children tend to love anything tactile, so using story cubes, or dice for a roll-a-story activity is a great way to help get them started with an idea. What I love about doing this, is it gives the children a character, a setting and a story problem and I always find that ideas are flowing almost straight away.

Images

I look for unusual images all the time, or if I’m out and about, and see something unusual, I will snap it. I like to get the children to tell me what they can see. There is no right or wrong answer, as everyone sees things in their unique way and the great thing about this is it starts a discussion that very soon leads to the formation of an idea.

Random objects

You can take any object and apply the words ‘what if’ to it and very soon, you go from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Even the most seemingly boring object can suddenly become interesting and from this, you can move on to who might be using this object, where might they be and discussion of a possible story problem.

Map it out

This is a great one for visual learners. Get them to draw a map with three major landmarks, or hurdles that the character would need to pass to get to the final destination. Who will the character be and what are they searching for? What will happen at each of these points?

Re-write it

As I said, most stories have been written before, in one way or another. Why not get your child to write a new version of their favourite story? This could take the form of a complete re-write, a different ending, or a re-write from a different point of view. For example, how about the tale of the three billy goats gruff from the point of view of the troll? They could also continue where a story left off, by imagining what might have happened next.

Get Your Kids Into Gardening

Unexpectedly, schools are out for summer. COVID-19 means many children are having to stay home 24/7, so the difficult task is finding things to occupy them when ‘home learning’ hours are over.

April is World Gardening month, and this could be the perfect activity to do with your kids during lock down. It’s a great way to get some fresh air without leaving the house, while providing a healthy, screen-free time filler for you to share with your little ones.

It seems millennials were late to the party and have only just started really embracing all things green, so how can we get the next generation into gardening earlier and give them a healthy hobby for life?

The answer is, it’s easy. The Greenhouse People give the lowdown on how you can plant the seed and share your love of gardening with your children…

Think big, start small

If you’re trying to get your child or children into gardening, it’s important to start small to make sure their first experience is a positive one.

Don’t bewilder them with anything that takes a great deal of care or a lot of time to grow. Easy flowers which they can grow from seed include sunflowers, marigolds or dandelions.

Naturally, make sure you keep an eye on them to avoid any disasters, but letting children take ownership of looking after their plant is a great way to teach personal responsibility and boost their confidence.

Nature’s playground

According to recent research, only 1 in 5 children have a “connection” with nature. So, it’s never been more important to start early and ignite a love of the great outdoors.

To get them inspired, why not plan a trip to one of the UK’s many beautiful gardens one weekend or during the school holidays?

From taking a leisurely stroll through the gardens which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution at Down House in Kent, exploring the exotic greenhouses of Kew Gardens or Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, to enjoying a natural play trail at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, getting youngsters out and about is one of the best ways to introduce them to nature’s delights.

Don’t be afraid to make a mess

There’s no getting around it, children are messy. Gardening can be a great way to channel their messy instincts in a constructive way, from pulling up weeds to digging holes, it allows them to get their hands dirty…and it doesn’t matter!

Buying kids a set of child-friendly mini gardening tools can make them feel like a bona fide gardener, while also helping to develop their fine motor skills in the process.

Edible delights

As we all know, what we eat can have a major impact on our well being, both for better and for worse.

With so many of us failing to consume the daily recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, it’s important to establish good habits early.

Introducing your little one to gardening could help them to understand where their food comes from. Start with fruits and vegetables that are relatively easy to care for and require minimum upkeep like peas, radishes, carrots, lettuces and strawberries.

If you lack square meters, don’t fret. Try growing plants in containers if you have a small patio or balcony, or even window boxes failing that.

Keep things interesting

Children’s minds tend to wander, especially if they don’t find an activity interesting or stimulating, which could definitely be tricky to manage during lock down.

So, make sure to offer positive reinforcements when they’re doing a good job in the garden. You can even make up games and reward them for completing little tasks, like watering the plants, picking fruit and tidying up after themselves.

Free Ideas

Early Years Specialist and Founder of playHOORAY Claire Russell, has a host of play ideas to keep your kids entertained over the next few weeks – all are available to download for FREE from her website and use readily available household items, and she is also hosting daily Instagram lives so you can play along with her.

Ideas include:

  • Sorting items in the food cupboard by size or colour
  • Create a treasure hunt for household items
  • Go on a word hunt in a newspaper or magazine
  • Write a postcard or letter to a friend
  • Draw a picture and cut it into a jigsaw
  • Film your own news or weather report
  • Furnish your room to a budget with a catalogue

Attention Please

Remember a student’s attention span is 2-3 minutes per year of their age, so you can expect a five-year-old to only concentrate long enough for a 10-minute task, but a teenager would manage 30-40 minutes. A school lesson would have multiple activities and learning periods in different mediums with plenty of interactions with other students. Trying to replicate this at home is very tricky so I would suggest the following:

  1. Set the students a timetable just like they would have at school (with teenagers you could probably use their school timetable. Try and align this with other parents so the kids can call/ video each other in their breaks for social interaction.
  2. Have a host of apps that work for multiple subjects therefore you aren’t trying to download and learn new tech for each subject e.g. Quizlet, BBC bitesize and Youtube.
  3. Create a reward system similar to what they would have at school, stickers on a chart work great for primary age kids and screen time being an incentive for teenagers.
  4. Get active! Joe Wicks The Body Coach is doing a workout every morning at 9am on Youtube for students. A great way to start the day or maybe during their PE lesson!
  5. Take it in turns – whether this is with your partner or a neighbour – half the day you get to work in peace and half the day you are in charge of ensuring learning is happening.
  6. Safety check on your devices. Children are going to be spending a lot more time on internet-connected devices – how much do you know about protecting them? Read up at SimpleCyberlife to make sure you are protecting your child to allow them to learn in safety.

Small Ideas, big difference

Nurture a Love of Nature

It’s spring, take a walk, or stare out the window. Notice the smallest things — which trees have buds? What colour are they? Which ones seem to be coming out first? Spending time in nature can be restorative for the whole family!

Use Play as a Way to Process Big Feelings

Kids pick up on our emotions, tense conversations, and nonverbal signs of stress — which can increase their stress too. Think of ways your child could safely channel some of those feelings into rough-and-tumble play (chasing you or wrestling with you); imaginative play (my son just went around the yard pretending he was fighting a dragon); or role playing (pretending to be a teacher or doctor) to help them feel in charge. Stress can make us feel powerless, so use play to give back some of that feeling of power to your kids.

Set Realistic Tech Time Limits

When tech time is over, schedule something interesting right after so they have an easier time transitioning. If they can turn off the TV or tablet themselves without whining, praise them for amazing tech self-control!

Reading Zones

If you have a toddler or preschool-aged child who isn’t reading independently yet, then set up a little “reading zone” in your home – add a few pillows or stuffed animals and encourage kids to pretend to run their own library or school.

Give Kids a Mission

Challenge your children to invent their own little world! Have them create a bookstore, veterinarian office, beauty salon, or space station in their bedroom. Make guidelines for what materials can be used and encourage creative uses of blankets, stuffed animals, or construction paper. Then have them give you a tour!

Provide Play Prompters

One of the appealing things about simple apps and digital games is that they often tell the child what to do next (so parents don’t have to!). This keeps the child’s attention but doesn’t challenge them to figure out their own play plan.

To create “just enough” structure to give your child freedom to do what they want, try this. Set up your child’s room so there are different baskets, buckets, or areas featuring different play themes: a dress-up box, a building zone, a creativity corner with art supplies, and so on. Explain to your child that they are in charge or deciding when, what, and how they want to play — without needing a parent (or app) to prompt them every time!

Hide Toys Around the House

Find a group of toys your child loves — mini dinosaurs, animal figurines, action figures — and hide them in funny places around the house (not the toilet, please!).

Get Silly and Embrace the Nonsense

Sometimes creating ideas out of nothing — even when the ideas seem like nonsense — is the best way to cope! For example, my family took a walk in a city park last weekend, and as my husband and I talked about how we will plan if schools are closed, my kids were running ahead. Suddenly a game of throwing someone’s balled-up jacket started. It was amazing how letting go of control, using our bodies, and laughing instantly relieved the tension in my head!

Make Chores Fun

Working from home, you probably will still need to do some household chores like cooking or washing. Many children will resist helping out if we use “demand language” (“It’s time do this . . .” “You have to do that…”) and are more receptive if you make it playful. For example, pretend to be on your favorite cooking show, talking about your ingredients or your family’s heritage while you cook. Write out the recipe (even for something basic like PB+J sandwiches), and have your child get the ingredients and decide what’s next — after washing their hands! A little mess is OK in exchange for the pride your child feels for making something.

For housework, play upon their competitive spirit (“Let’s see how many socks you can match in 2 minutes!” “I bet you can’t sweep that whole hallway!”) Young children often love to be “helpers,” so act like you’re training them (“I’m going to teach you the secret of making beds!”) and accept their imperfect, messy help.

Older kids might like the challenge of being in charge of making lunch for the whole family, writing out a menu of options, and taking orders. Just be accepting if the end product is a little sloppy

Build on What Absorbs Your Child’s Attention

Some children love pretending to sweep, some love taking apart old electronics, some will draw and scribble for an hour. Try to identify what types of hands-on activities keep your child’s attention for 20 minutes or more, and give them opportunities to do those things near you while you work.

Ten Brilliant Indoor Activities for Children...

Muddy Puddles want to help you keep your active little explorers busy and entertained whilst at home.

Here are ten brilliant ideas to make indoor time fly by…

Excercise

Exercise as a family, from yoga to online PE classes, dance and ballet. It’s a great way to help boost the spirits and burn off some energy.

Cook

Cook together preparing a delicious health meal. A great bonding exercise and promotes healthy eating

Fun in the garden

If you have a garden, make mud pies, play games and grow something spectacular. 30 minutes of fresh air is important for your well being.

Indoor garden

Bring the outdoors indoors and grow vegetables on your windowsill. Best of all, what you grow could be used for delicious meals.

Play board games

Offering hours of fun and quality family time. Why not dig out those family favourites or try something new.

Get creative

Get creative using recycled materials, such as old egg crates and yoghurt pots. Try making mini insects or even create your own ocean world.

Organise an obstacle course

build a child friendly obstacle course for you little ones using cushion, cardboard boxes or even books.

Organise a treasure hunt

Write down some clues and hide some treasures around the house, then ask your little ones to find them.

Play hide and seek

Whether in the house or in the garden, hide and seek is not only fun, but helps little ones develop social skills, agility and coordination.

Build a blanket fort

You can read books, have snacks, or even play games together underneath your masterpiece.

Muddy Puddles is offering NHS and other health service workers 40% off on top of their online offers through Health Service Discounts and Discounts for Carers.

www.muddypuddles.com

Top tips for those new to home schooling from Dennis Brown and Margi Brown – creators of tacklingtables

  1. Draw up a timetable with your child or children that works for both of you. Mornings are best for lively minds so perhaps block three or four sessions of 30-40 minutes and choose a subject for each. Focused learning is far more productive.
  2. Participate in their learning. Look at what the lesson involves, make sure your child understands the expectation and then encourage them to work independently.
  3. At the end of the session, go over what it is they’ve learned/done and address any misconceptions.
  4. Enjoy a break between sessions!
  5. Ensure variety in the sessions. Make sure you have plenty of stimulating activities to aid their learning. This can be anything from a Learning Resources toy to a collection of pasta shapes to sort and count.
  6. Enjoy doing things with your children where you can. Play games, bake or sow some seeds together. Read a book and talk about it. Paint or sew. All of these things are worthwhile learning experiences for your children.
  7. Learning is fun (especially if you share it!). Children learn a huge amount through play so be sure to incorporate plenty of that during the week too.

Here’s a few of Northern Life’s favourite activities, to ensure the kids and you are kept sane!

The STABILO Woody 3-in-1 pencils are a colouring pencil, crayon and watercolour in one! They can be used on all sorts of surfaces, even windows, and wipe clean afterwards – perfect to decorate the house 😊 Each Woody contains as much colour as eight standard colouring pencils, so the effects are stunning! £12.16 for a pack of six and a sharpener. www.stabilo.co.uk

Make your own terrarium and watch it transform throughout the day. Simply mix the Magic Powder with water, plant your Magic tree, add sand stones and decorations and wait as your magic tree blooms into a colourful display. Add the finishing touches with cute stones, decorations and figures then protect it with the special case. Collect all the themes and show off your unique creations. Age 6+.

So Magic DIY Large. £12.99 – Available from leading retailers nationwide

Also suitable for ages 3-99 is Skillmatics, a brand which develops innovative products to build children’s core skills and reinforce key learning concepts. Created by educational specialists, the fun range engages young learners as they experience the enduring joy of discovery and self-learning. Based on the principle that children absorb concepts better through repetition, using their ‘Skilly Billy’ pen on the Skillmatics ‘Write and Wipe Activity Mats’ keeps learning fresh. So little ones don’t get bored, there’s lots of activities to choose from including shapes and patterns, brain games and the animal kingdom.

The Toniebox is the perfect indoor fun gadget. Simply place the Tonie character (a story or song), on top of the Toniebox cube, and the content aligned to that character will begin to play. There’s no screens or complicated controls, and children can learn – through listening to the educational Tonies on topics such as Space Travel and the Deep Sea – engage with stories – such as The Gruffalo and The Lion King – and even build their numeracy skills – with the Counting Songs Tonie. If you’re currently apart from loved ones, why not ask them to record their own message on a Creative-Tonie (maybe it’s an educational quiz, a spelling test, or their favourite story), there’s up to 90 mins of audio, which opens up a world of possibilities.

Available from Amazon, John Lewis and www.tonies.com , Tonieboxes are priced at £69.95, Tonies £14.99 each, Creative-Tonies £11.99.

Smart Toys and Games is the worldwide leader in creating multi-level logic games, catering for children as young as one up to all ages and stages. All Smart Toys and Games feature engaging and educational mechanics. The whole brand ethos is to encourage children to “learn through play”.
The new Zig Zag Puzzler for ages 12+ is a 3D puzzle game that features two playing modes where players can build a pyramid on the blue side of the gameboard or a zigzag on the white side. Coming with a transparent lid for easy storage, players can solve the 80 challenges, 40 on each side!

Kids Stuff Crazy mouldable soap foams are a great way to encourage creative fun! The garden is an ideal location for playtime use to ensure an easy clean-up!

Available for just £2 from Superdrug.com this is an affordable and easy way to keep the kids entertained.

K’NEX THROUGH PLAY WITH STEM EDUCATIONAL TOYS

Recreating the classroom at home is a daunting task for any parent, especially when siblings may be at varying learning ages and stages. K’NEX construction sets offer genuine STEM learning through play, and with kits suitable from 3+ through to teen, children can occupy themselves or even create bigger family builds with siblings and parents. Developed to allow creativity to click, K’NEX supports STEM development skills, while also offering open-ended play that brings imagination to life. The versatile building system comprises colourful classic and micro scale rods and connectors, with many sets also including motorised mechanics.

K’NEX Imagine Creation Zone Building Set Age 5+ £29.99 available from Amazon, Argos and all good toy stores.

Turn playtime into a fun-filled, skill-building activity that children can enjoy while learning at the same time. Your children can build up to 50 different structures with the precision-built pieces and learn about basic building concepts with this K’NEX construction educational toy. Promote the development of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) concepts by igniting your children’s natural curiosity and creativity.

Steggy The Fine Motor Dino (pre-school) Steggy the Fine Motor Dino helps little learners develop fine motor skills. Inserting the brightly coloured numbered spikes into Steggy’s back helps build hand strength, refine the pincer grasp, and improves hand-eye coordination. Plus, young children also learn about colours and numbers. Spikes store inside when not in use for quick and easy tidy up. www.learningresources.co.uk/steggy-the-fine-motor-dino RRP: £15.00 Ages: 18 months + Credit: Learning Resources® | www.learningresources.co.uk

Mathlink® Cubes (set of 100) (KS1/KS2) Stackable cubes are easy for little hands to connect and twist apart. Great for counting to 100 by ones and tens, grouping and one-to-one correspondence. Cubes measure 2cm and come in ten colours. Includes an activity guide. URL: https://www.learningresources.co.uk/mathlinkr-cubes-set-of-100 RRP: £11.50 Ages: 5-10 Credit: Learning Resources® | www.learningresources.co.uk

tacklingtables (student set) (KS1/KS2) Learn your times tables and master instant recall with the tacklingtables Student Set. Ideal for times tables learning at home or in the classroom, it’s the teacher-developed game-based method that’s widely used in schools to help students learn their times tables and corresponding division facts. www.learningresources.co.uk/tackling-tables-student-set RRP: £10.00 Ages: 6-10 Credit: Learning Resources® | www.learningresources.co.uk

Sum Swamp™ Addition & Subtraction Game (KS1/KS2) Venture over the crocodile shortcut and through the endless loop by adding and subtracting numbers on the dice. Includes 43cm x 30.5cm game board, four animal game pieces, two number dice and an operations die. For 2-4 players URL: https://www.learningresources.co.uk/sum-swamptm-addition-subtraction-game RRP: £13.00 Ages: 5-10 Credit: Learning Resources® | www.learningresources.co.uk

24 Hour Number Line Clock (KS1/KS2) A clock is just a circular number line. Once children understand this, learning to tell the time becomes easier. The innovative 24-Hour Number Line Clock teaching clock helps children learn time by physically transforming a number line onto a clock face. It’s the hands-on way to go from counting to telling the time. URL: https://www.learningresources.co.uk/24-hour-number-line-clock RRP: £12.50 Ages: 5-9 Credit: Learning Resources® | www.learningresources.co.uk

Rummikub Classic by John Adams: With brilliant simplicity, Rummikub, The UK’s No. 1 Family Strategy Game provides hours of amusement. Each game is as different as the combinations of moves you choose to play. Be the first player to go ‘Rummikub’ by using all your tiles in ‘runs or ‘group’. Outwit your opponents with cool strategy and sharp moves. Be the first to lay down all your tiles and shout ‘Rummikub! ‘. £24.99 Stockist details: https://www.johnadams.co.uk/

Telestrations by Asmodee UK: The award-winning game that will keep your family and friends entertained and laughing! Draw what you see then guess what you saw for hilarious and unpredictable outcomes. It’s miscommunication at its best! Suitable for 4 – 8 players aged 12+. £24.99 Stockists: John Lewis, Zatu Games

We're Wicked

A fun, young toy company who focus on trying to get kids (and adults!) away from their phones/tablets and keep them active both inside and outside – particularly during this strange time of self/household isolation. So, do not fret, we have a few items that will keep your kids entertained and give you some breathing space over this extended summer… We have seen an increased demand for the below items over the last couple of weeks – so would highly recommend these: