Most of us didn’t plan to become homeschool parents in the course of a weekend. I sure didn’t. But here we are, working from home, perhaps in shifts, while also struggling to keep our kids entertained.
Maybe you’ve received instructions from school on what to do. Maybe you haven’t. Even if you have, it’s likely not enough to keep each child engaged and self-directed for the day.
And staying inside juggling your job while trying to teach algebra, remember fractions or explain why “the” starts with a “t” even though it doesn’t make a “t” sound is hard. We get that.
So get outside, while being careful to stay away from others. Even health experts tell us it’s good to be outside during this time. Fortunately for those of us living in Wyoming, getting outside doesn’t mean traveling long distances to rural communities where health systems are already strapped. Getting outside simply means opening the back door or walking or riding your bikes to the nearest patch of prairie.
Then coming up with what to do while there that’s halfway educational becomes the challenge. As a result, the Star-Tribune went to the expert, Wyoming native Ken Keffer, naturalist and author of “Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to do in Nature Before You Grow Up.” Below are 10 tips for parents with kids at home eager to do something outdoors-related. Because the weather can be tricky this time of year – a blizzard one day, 50 degrees and sunny the next – some ideas can be tailored for indoors or outdoors.
Good luck, stay safe and be well.
Save those toilet paper rolls Whether or not you stockpiled half a year’s worth of toilet paper, you’re still accumulating empty cardboard rolls. Instead of throwing them away, make them into telescopes or binoculars. “It helps your kid to focus on one tiny little circle at a time, and you can examine it,” Keffer said. “It takes a lot more time to get through your backyard if you’re looking at it through a toilet paper roll than your eyes as a wide angle lenses.”
Mix and match animals If it’s freezing rain outside, take an hour or so to draw not one but three or four sketches of animals. Either you or your child can draw three tails, for example, three bodies and three heads of different animals. Then mix and match the animals and talk about why a moose doesn’t have, say, frog legs.
Go on a scavenger hunt Have your child pick their favorite color crayons then go outside and see what they can find that matches. For older kids, make a list of items you they could find in the yard or in the prairie they could collect or document in a photo. The older the kid, the more challenging the hunt.
Make mud dioramas Just because your child doesn’t have a school project due right now, doesn’t mean you need to skip projects altogether. Head out back, find some mud that is inevitably sitting around this spring, and create a mud diorama complete with mountain contours, watersheds and lakes. For older kids, have your child look up contours on Google Earth and recreate them with what he or she can find in the yard.
Feed the birds Include your kids in your everyday chores like feeding the birds, except use peanut butter and bacon grease or other melted fat to create a suet feeder. Combine the peanut butter and grease with oats and seeds and hang it from a tree for birds to pick through all spring.
Start a life list For anyone really confined inside, help your child start a birding life list. Keeping track of what species he or she sees can increase engagement in the outdoors, and reduce moping indoors.
Pull out those archery targets Even if you don’t have much backyard space, use your archery targets, or paper targets perfect for sighting in before hunting season, and set them up. Your child can use wet tennis balls or even wet, rolled up socks, to throw at the targets leaving prints where they hit.
Set up a fishing contest (on dry land) Use hula hoops or other backyard features as targets and attach a fly or lure (without the hook) to the end of the line. Send your kid through the fishing contest with points for accuracy.
Produce a nature documentary Chances are you have a smartphone. If your kid is old enough, chances are he or she has one, too. Send your kids out into the backyard, prairie or nearby wooded area to make a 1-minute nature documentary trailer. Did they have fun? Have them make a 5-minute or longer film.
Gather weather reports Track the arrival of spring (and summer) by asking your child to write down the temperature each day. Add a challenge by taking temperatures in a variety of spots in the yard each day to show the difference between shade and sun. Record other aspects of the weather and track the changing seasons on a chart.
Bonus idea If you’re running out of inspiration, head online. The National Wildlife Federation’s Ranger Rick educational materials are all available for the next three months for free. They have games, lessons and other activities at rangerrick.org. All of the back issues of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Wild Times, a publication of Wyoming Wildlife magazine, are also online for free and include engaging activities and fun wildlife information at wgfd.wyo.gov.