Parents and carers, teachers and educators have come together to support each other in a crisis in a quite incredible way. Social media feeds are bursting with schedules, timetables, curriculum-linked learning and all the rest.
It can be a bit overwhelming, but through all of this, just remember: whatever you’re doing, it’s enough. While there are lots of learning links here to help you, just focus on keeping a balance between the time available for your children's learning, and other commitments you may have if you're working from home. Keep a good hold on what you can achieve, and what simply isn’t practical, and recognise most of all that calm adults make for calm kids.
This is where nature connection can really help you. If you can, get outdoors. If not, get at least a bit of fresh air: it's as important now as ever for your children, and just as importantly, for you. Don’t forget to follow the guidance on social distancing!!
1. Getting your once-a-day walk
A hop/walk/skip around the block can give you the calming moments you need, and a chance to notice nature either alone or with your children. Perhaps there's a tree just coming into leaf; a verge that's home to flowers, some native, some which may have escaped from a nearby garden.
Plan a Family Wild Walk to a quieter spot, at a quieter time. We’re updating our blog ‘Can I go outside’ regularly, giving the latest guidance on how you can get the prescribed once a day walk. The guidance around social distancing is now much clearer. Yes, go outside once a day for a walk, but keep 2 metres between you/your family and others.
Explore the streets near to your home, and the pocket parks - you should still be able to take a walk and respect the social distancing rules. Ordnance Survey's Greenspace Map is FREE and we can almost guarantee you can use it to find a green space within 20 minutes of your house that you didn't know was there. A bit of space, a good run around, explore and play is always a good thing, and even more important just now. Take a look at this blog from BBC News: What to do if you go for a walk and it's crowded?
If you're going outside every day (and we’d suggest it’s important you do), you'll need some inspiration. You'll probably be familiar with Google Maps and Google Earth (fun learning resources in their own right), but also check out the GoJauntly app, which has hundreds of suggestions for walks, or Plot A Route, which allows you to invent your own.
2. When homeschooling, devise a structure for the day
If you're going to commit part of your day to help with your children's learning, do your best to make it the same part, morning or afternoon, or ideally something which roughly equates to regular school hours (although this may be difficult if you're home working).
Within a structured day, make sure you make time for play – and make sure children know which part of their day is 'their time'. Children need time to process and assimilate learning, have fun, and let off steam. This helps them focus in the parts of the day when they need to learn.
Remember, they'll be missing out on some regular outside time that's part of their routine – for example, the walk to school. However challenging it is to manage, doing things as a family is important if children are unable to go on play dates due to social distancing.
3. Get support: join an online community for home-educators
Learning Through Landscapes has created two groups on Facebook, and are starting weekly newsletters with sections aimed at those with children at home or educators setting activities and work for children. Resources, advice, inspiration, support: free to join, just go to ltl.org.uk for more information.
Hopefully your schools will recommend a group to be part of, or you could set up your own with the parents of your child's classmates.
4. Download some resources to help you
There are now many more online resources for core curricula adapted for home schooling. TES (Times Education Supplement) is now offering a lot of their curriculum-linked resources for free. Twinkl, on of the largest online learning providers, is also a good place to start. There are also a few tips and plenty of links you can pick up from homeschooling sites. We also came across lockdown_learning on Instagram which has some great visual ideas for KS1 learning.
Ed Tech impact (based in Chester, but with a worldwide scope) has rated nearly 150 websites and apps offering home schooling resources for parents. Quite a few are available to parents for free over the next weeks, and user reviews on each app gives you some indication of what may be most suitable.
From 20 April, the BBC will offer daily programmes to help families with schoolwork, for all ages.
5. Between ‘school-time’, make time for play
Inside or outside, children need to play.
For children, play can be a way of processing stress and working things through, in a way that is non-threatening (hence the emergence of the 'coronavirus' game in playgrounds, a somewhat darker version of kiss-chase).
You'll want them to keep up with their learning, but when they're playing, they don't need (or necessarily want) an adult to play with. Playing games together is great, but most of the time hanging back is the best thing to do.
The great thing about outdoor play is, all the play resources you need are right there, and they're all free. Logs to leap from; sticks to turn into wands or horses; bugs to watch and birds to spot.
6. Discover the art of the micro-micro-adventure
Have you ever studied a small patch of land really near your flat or house? I mean really studied it? Mission: Explore outside the Classroom is a set of ten missions gathered to do in school playgrounds of any size, and they work just as perfectly in a yard, on a street corner and often on a balcony or even in a hallway if you can provide a tray of natural objects... One of them is a classic Bioblitz: how many different species can you find in just five minutes?... even looking from an open window you should be able to do that! Do share your adventures!
7. Start a Nature Journal
It's a good time to start a daily nature journal. Good for both children and adults... a place you can write, doodle, stick in leaves and flowers, record what you have seen and heard. Over time this will become quite a body of work and self-reflection. As a personal project, it could develop as a meditative practice, or it could be something that you'd like to share with friends. For children learning at home, completing the nature journal also offers a useful transition from outside time to the learning part of the day. They'll have something to write about or reflect on straight away, and the journal will be a useful tool to bring the excitement of playing (and being outside), or experiential learning, into focus. And, again, it's a way of bringing structure and a calming rhythm to the day.
8. Become Nature Detectives
You can be a Nature Detective looking out a window, or even with your eyes closed. If you’re out in the open, ask the children to take note of the identifying characteristics of the birds they see in a field notebook (colour, size, what its beak looked like, and the colour of its legs). Use the RSPB’s Bird Identifier to find out what you may have spotted. Try it again with your eyes closed. See if you can match what you hear with common British bird songs. For plants you can use wildflowerfinder which filters plants by the colour and shape of the flower, size and number of petals, as well as stem and leaf shape. Trees for Cities have a template so you can play Nature Bingo (good for early years) and the Woodland Trust’s tree identification guide will help children to gain an understanding of common species. Or, buy one of the Mission Explore series, created by the Geography Collective, a fantastic series of nature challenges for kids. If you only have a patch of sky as your nature connection, you can still become an expert on cloud formations.
9. Find a plant to care for
It’s a well-established fact that caring for something helps us feel happier and more connected. The most humble pot plant will fill this role if you only have a small flat and little access to green space. If you have a small patch outside that is just showing a few green shoots, then ask your child or children to adopt it – and establish a regular routine of watering and tending. Early spring is still a good time for planting wild flowers or herbs and veg – you can order them online (make sure you opt for UK native species). An ivy, or some flowering peonies are a good idea – something that is hardy, and that will grow quickly over the next few weeks. If children are at home, they can share photos with each other of progress, research the best ways to care for their plant/s, and use it to inspire creative work like a poem or story. Do make sure you plant plenty just in case a few don't make it!
10. Go one better... find a patch to protect!
Encourage your children to sign up as Backyard Nature Guardians. Help them find a small patch of unloved green space – and help make it a haven for plants and animals. This could be the space outside your front door. The Backyard Nature campaign has missions-a-plenty, free resources, inspiration and a whole lot more on their website.
The Eden Project has some great family-friendly resources on gardening, green living and play:
11. Enjoy deeper Nature Connection
The hawthorn is showing in the hedgerows, and bowers of cherry blossom will soon adorn city streets. Spending just a few quiet moments standing catching the scent of the flowers is deeply relaxing and focusing on our senses offers a route to connecting with nature; opening up a different view of how we understand the world. Think about how nature has inspired poetry, literature, art and language through the ages (we recommend you download the amazing Explorer's Pack for KS2 and KS3 students from Robert Macfarlane's Lost Words project). Think about how nature inspires symbolism, myth and spirituality. What emotional response does it inspire?
12. Find pathways to positive futures
Use these weeks to ask your children 'What if?' questions to get them thinking, planning and imagining a positive future. For example:
- What if... the walk between school and home was greener and wilder?
- 'What if… our town was greener and wilder?'
- 'What if... my school was green and connected all of my friends to nature?'
What would it look like? What difference would it make? What would need to change?
This is a great project for an afternoon, a week or a month. It's a task a child or small group can do alone or with a parent or carer to support, and one that any adult can help with. Check out the London National Park City website for inspiration.
13. Read a book about nature
It's so 20th century. But a book won't distract you with notifications, dispiriting updates or the latest conspiracy theories. If you and your family can't get outside, let your favourite author take you on a journey. Visualise following in their footsteps.
14. Take on an extended project
The STEM learning website has stacks of downloadable curriculum-linked resources and is updating them so parents can use them too. The Great Plant Hunt is a particularly good example, a series of themed worksheets developed by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, following in the footsteps of Darwin on a journey of discovery.
You can use the 33 Climate Actions produced by the London Sustainable Schools Forum as a basis for a project – lots here for KS2 and KS3 students in every different curriculum area, and much of the work can be self-directed.
14. Get outside inside
The Ordnance Survey is gathering together activities, events, games, challenges and clips to inspire, educate and entertain. Events include the Great Garden Campout on 4 April.
If you can't camp outside, then camp inside. All you need is a table and a sheet – make your own tent, pile up the pillows and duvets. Even changing around your living room furniture can be an adventure for an 8 year-old. There are a few ‘how-to’ guides on the web, we quite liked the one created by mykidsadventures
Don’t forget the huge online compendium of easy-to-follow activities and lesson ideas on the Outdoor Classroom Day site. It's a movement to get children out every day, with inspiration for playing, learning and exploring, and a great way to connect to schools round the world. Do sign up - you too are a teacher now!
Learning Through Landscapes has a mix of activities that work well with groups or individuals at ltl.org.uk Also, check out the world renowned Juliet Robertson's excellent website creativestarlearning.co.uk, which has hundreds of wonderful downloadable lesson plans and activity ideas. You can buy her guide to Outdoors Learning, Dirty Teaching, through the Outdoor Play and Learning section of this website.
Remember: a classroom is not made up of four walls. It's about imagination and connection.
If you have any questions or feel there's a subject you'd like us to cover in future posts ... please leave a comment and we'll try and find you an answer. Also note, this blog is written from the perspective of a UK-based organisation, if you're visiting us from elsewhere, please follow the appropriate public health guidance within your own state or country.