Education and Schooling #5: On the Weekend [Guest]

Without wanting to profile y’all, there is an extraordinarily high chance that you are a fabulous parent. I have this cocky certainty because you read parenting websites. You’re interested. You realise being a parent is something we do, as well as who we are.

I know endless folk who get their advice from, evidenced by their indifference to their children and outrageous lack of understanding of the role parents have. You, however, are tremendous. As we know, it’s not enough to simply love our children, we need to raise them and you are well aware of that, hence, you read this blog. Bravo.

Let’s build up a list of enjoyable and educational activities we can offer our children. They needn’t be complex, but they should be fun, cheap and manageable. I like to keep in mind the life skills children will certainly need as they children and throughout their adulthood.

The International Baccalaureate Organisation lists the following as key trans-disciplinary skills.

  • Research skills – being able to find stuff out (RS)
  • Self-management skills – being responsible, tidy, efficient and more (SMS)
  • Communication skills – listening, presenting, reading, writing, speaking (CS)
  • Social skills – team work, taking on different roles, tolerance (SoS)
  • Thinking skills – applying knowledge, developing memory, transferring skills from one context to another (TS)

It’s not a bad list.

Here are six activities you could do with your children, in an adapted form, to help them develop in the above areas. The letters next to the activity refer to the skills above.

I would love to know what you do with your family in the weekends. How do you help your children to grow? What skills are important to you? How do you pass on your own passions to your children? How do you discover and nurture theirs?

Please, write your top three family activities in the comments below. If you enjoy such things, the chances are other people will too.

1. Sing together

Put on some 80’s classics or maybe some Katy Perry. Learn the words. Belt out a range of songs. Repeat them over and over. This will develop memory and encourage co-operation. Older children could even go online to find music, lyrics, cover versions etcetera. I don’t meet many children who don’t like to sing. Feel free to add in dance moves. (RS, CS, SoS)

2. Go for a walk

Rain or shine, a stroll is a splendid way to learn about the world around us. It can be fun to have a set saunter time. We’ve been for night walks, too, which have their own special character.

Each walk could have a theme: looking for animals, counting vehicles, looking for people working (postie, road repairers, taxi drivers, couriers…), looking up, silent walk (listening for sounds), follow a map, find items on a checklist, post a letter, meet strangers (practice saying ‘good morning’ to others who walk past) and on.

You could have a quiz at dinner time when you get back, or ask the children to retell the best bits of the walk to the rest of the family (or to Granny via Skype) (RS, SoS)

3. Make something

Get an old box. Paint a side each (or mosaic, collage, sketch, stick photos on). Decide on a theme or have a free for all. Everyone can take part. Put the box in a prominent place and talk about it. Build a robot or bake baked Alaska. Construct a blanket fort. Sleep in it (or at least share a story or a book or a quiz or a cookie or a secret).

Use items from the beach to make a diorama. Basically, have something tangible to show for an hour spent together. Each person could take a role (leader, gatherer, planner, checker). Keep it relaxed but make sure everyone fulfils their role and that the job is completed. Change roles each time. Take a photo and make it your desktop wallpaper for a week. Celebrate with a glass of milk. (CS, SoS, SMS)

4. Collect things

Have a shelf or a corner (or a homemade box) set aside for keeping collected bits. You can go as hard out as you like, finding out about your pieces, writing captions, making a poster, preparing a speech for Uncle Murray, starting a blog to track your findings and so on.

Or, keep it simple. Every time you find a playing card on the footpath, which happens more often that you might think, pick it up and put it in your box. Aim to collect the set. Ask family and friends to help out. You could hunt the red cards while cousins or neighbours gather black.

Anything is collectable: recipes, photos or drawings of cool letterboxes, quotes, drink bottles, yellow things. It can be fun to try to fill a shoe box with items related to each other. They all begin with the same letter or have something more obscure in common. Filling a match box could be a fun challenge too and require a trip to the beach or a park. (RS, SMS)

5. What if?

Depending on the age of your children, this will need modifying but simply put, find ways to ask your children “What if…?”.

Take part in any activity and then start hammering them with questions. You could be reading the news together, baking, looking at family photos, reading a story, walking through the supermarket or clothes store, snuggled under a sheet, driving through a new part of town or anywhere:

You could ask:

  • What if we didn’t put sugar in?
  • What if we ate rice for breakfast?
  • What if we went and said ‘hi’ to that lady?
  • What if we bought a watermelon?
  • What if we made a card for your mum?
  • What if we left our umbrella at home?
  • What if we lived in a different country?
  • What if we said nothing for a whole hour?

Let children come up with their own What if?s. Endeavour to glean several responses from a single question.

You could even present a photo from the news (of a flooded town or Ethel with her prize winning sweet potato) and ask a What if? question during Saturday breakfast and announce that each family member will need to give three answers over pudding later in the day. (TS, RS, CS)

6. Plan a month of Sundays

Use ticket websites, church newsletters, local rags and imagination to plan the next four Sunday afternoons. Take a break from routine. Each afternoon should be quite different.

Events needn’t be outlandish, and might simply include one or two of the tasks above. Making and sticking to the plan is the fun bit.

Mix up the activities: inside, outside, splurge, scrimp, favourite activities, new activities, with another family, by yourselves, walk somewhere quite far, stay home, dress up, exercise or go for a smile walk – when you walk around the block and smile and say ‘hi’ or ‘kia ora’ or ‘namaste’ or ‘alright?’ to everyone you pass, even those across the road.

Plan ahead and have each family member take a role, even if it simply ‘carrying the drinks’ or ‘deciding which photos we should take’. Maybe the plan might purely be to be spontaneous. Make the timetable, put it on the fridge and talk about it over meal times. Make sure everyone is ready and excited. Debrief, too. (TS, RS)

This list only scratches the surface of the possible ways you can provide educational experiences from home.

I like to focus on how children learn as much as, or more than, on what they learn. Skills last much longer than knowledge. Each of these simple activities must be modified for each family but I hope they at least spark off an idea or three.

Please comment to let us know what you’ve done already as well as how you did trying out these. We have a huge influence over our children’s development, so all these tasks are designed to be done together, as a team, as a family.

Encourage mess, mistakes, humour, discussion, questioning, reflection and hugs.

Hold hands, high five, smile and treasure these times as a family because as cheesy as it sounds, our children will be living in Guatemala, Ljubljana, Winnersh or Palmerston North one day and we’ll be hoping like heck we prepared them sufficiently.

How do you plan to spend next Sunday afternoon?

Michael is a primary-school teacher who has taught in six countries. He is contributing to this series and responding to our questions, so please do leave comments, questions and suggestions for future posts below. This is his third post in the series. You can catch up on his first and second postsand the series list here.

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16 comments on “Education and Schooling #5: On the Weekend [Guest]”

  1. Alex Reply

    LOVE this post – thank you Michael!
    Something you said in a previous post about playing lots of children’s songs has been running round in my head for a while (along the lines of “Why just children’s songs? Why not my music too?!”) so it’s good to see other music get a mention above. As I type we have Peter and the Wolf blaring in the background (at a possibly unneighbourly volume, but it only really works loud!) I’ve just been making a playlist of songs the kids like watching on youtube to put onto CD ahead of a long drive this weekend. “I’m not crying” by Flight of the Conchords is top of the list!
    I’m struggling to think of something new to add to your list. Other than to put in a word for museums (free – at least in the UK – and a lot of them are surprisingly small-child friendly).
    On the making front, we made a volcano at the weekend – bicarbonate of soda, washing up liquid, food colouring and vinegar in an old drinks bottle with a cardboard cone around it (an idea taken from a children’s science book) – lots of fun, even if our son was quite alarmed about all the mess it was making!
    We’re about to go on holiday to visit my parents in Scotland, so will be packing binoculars, cameras and our book of birds in the hope of getting reasonable weather for some walks. We’ll look out for shells and feathers and things to add to our treasure box. And will be taking lots of books with us for the inevitable rainy days (although puddle jumping will also feature high on the activity list).
    Looking forward to hearing others’ ideas…

    • Alex Reply

      Just thought of something (more sedentary) : we watch a lot of films; on average, one a day – mostly after M comes home from pre-school, tired, and I’m cooking. Recently, though, we’ve been exploring the “other language” options on the DVDs, so on Monday they watched Finding Nemo in Romanian, and yesterday they watched Ice Age 3 in Turkish, we’ve previously had Disney’s Robin Hood in Spanish… This has served both to salve my conscience a little about how much screen time they get, and sparked their interest. M figured out (correctly) that the Turkish word for “wait!” is “bekle!” from how it was used in the film (although this probably only works for someone like M who’s already seen the films countless times so basically knows the script already…!)

      • not a wild hera Reply

        This is fantastic! Given that every child I know watches a movie about 258 times before moving on to the next one, this would work for everyone 🙂 You are brilliant and amazing.

        • Alex Reply

          Perhaps, although I’ve been a bit cowardly so far and only offered them languages I’ve got some awareness of. (Ok, my Spanish is limited to Hola!, but the sounds aren’t totally unfamiliar) – it would be interesting to see whether they (and I) would be as willing to watch in, say, Russian, Japanese or Finnish… Guess there’s only one way to find out!

      • SKATERAK Reply

        Hi Alex – it sounds like you’re well ahead of the game! It’s great that you play Flight of the Conchords! Apart from that fact they are fun guys, your children will pick up on your enthusiastiam and enjoyment. Whatever you love – pass it on! (If that happens to be world famous Wellingtonians, so be it) Museums are great. So much to talk about and show. So many questions to ask. Many parents write them off, deciding for their children that they are boring. Shame. Let the kids decide what they like and don’t.

        I’m really pleased to hear about your multi language movies times. It really is a good way to sharpen other senses and so on. I can’t wait to read your guest post on holidaying with children…

  2. Spaghetti Reply

    Interesting to read your list MB – it immediately made me think of 3 things we used to do as kids (most likely with no specific ‘educational’ goal in mind!):
    * singing along to tapes on long road trips (we had to listen to learn the words, no internet then) and also at home. With a bonus of sibling-bonding.
    * also for long road trips, my mother filled in an excercise book with AA, AB, AC .. ZZ and we had to look at car numberplates and cross off each as we saw it – that list actually lasted a few years and we still got into it!
    * the good old Sunday afternoon drive, exploring different parts of Wgtn
    Very simple stuff but good enough to remember 30+ yrs on 🙂

    • SKATERAK Reply

      Yes – it’s the simple moments that often become memories for children. The remember the feelings, the traditions, the people more than the whizzes and bangs. That’s good news for those of us on a shoestring.

      These moments let the children know that they belong to something incredible – a family. 🙂

      What else do you remember?

  3. ch3man Reply

    I am now an ageing parent (my girls are both in their 30’s) but a relatively new grandparent and this blog was an interesting read. The problem for me with the baccalaureate list is that it seems to concentrate on young people “on the outside” but it fails to address their inner needs – I think this issue is partially addressed by some of the activities that have been listed by yourself and by others … music, singing … but their is a broader issue.

    So I would like to add …
    * an appreciation of the arts and of the world around us (music, painting, sculpture …)
    * developing the inner latent spirituality of our young people – no matter where that may lead
    * developing a value set that enables them to become “good” people (and I suppose in a way
    that includes defining boundaries for acceptable behaviour – personal and corporate) – part of,
    but also an extension to, Social Skills.

    Some of these things may seem to be secondary or almost irrelevant to a successful life but, with the stresses and strains of modern living, the ability to relax and refresh is becoming more and more a matter of life and death.

    From personal experience … when my eldest daughter was growing up we “sent” her for piano lessons. As the years went on she became proficient but wanted to give up because some of her friends were playing out and she wanted to be there with them (don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for unstructured play, but not all of the time!). We went through the pain barrier with her but by reasoning and bribery she did continue with lessons until she was 16 (our negotiated cut-off date). It was only two years later, whilst she was revising for her A level exams that we noticed the fundamental benefit. After spending an hour or two with her books, after the tension had built up and her brain hurt, she would turn and play the piano for half an hour as a stress buster before returning to her books refreshed. Without this “relief valve” I can’t imagine how she would have managed but with it she did succeed and eventually went to Cambridge University to read Natural Sciences … again not particularly related to the arts.

    But it’s not just teenagers – life skills continue for the whole of life and now that I have retired from engineering (a world of mathematics and logic) I have managed to return to my painting (after a 40 year break) which enables far more personal expression and freedom and, dare I say, relaxation. Thank God that I was introduced to art when I was young!

    So, I believe that if schools are going to concentrate on the “core” academic subjects it is up to us, parents and grandparents, to work more around the edges to ensure that our young people grow up as we rounded and well grounded individuals.

    • SKATERAK Reply

      This is a wonderfully thoughtful comment. Thanks for reading and sharing.

      The list of skills above is simple but not complete. You’re right. To complement it, the IBO also aims to develop its learners into the following:

      * Inquirers
      * Knowledgeable
      * Thinkers
      * Communicators
      * Principled
      * Open-minded
      * Caring
      * Risk taking
      * Balanced
      * Reflective

      (Read on:

      It’s nice that you emphasised an appreciation of arts and music. Such is a priceless way to help people understand themselves and, as importantly, others.

      Nurturing these things must be a high priority for schools and teachers. Sadly, it is often neglected so it’s up to us parents and grandparents to help our children grow into mature, responsible people, as well as being brainy.

      It’s a great open discussion and I would appreciate knowing what other guys think is important to learn. 🙂

  4. Pippa Reply

    I am sure we managed “dos cerveza por favor” when we were in Madrid 😉

  5. Angela Reply

    i. This is fantastic Michael, thank you so much. I love the way you’ve given us real, practical things we can try, that is so helpful! A few preachers could learn a thing or two from you. I have just been thinking lately I would like to set aside specific time each week where we do fun activities such as these (or something Esther can join in on). Something I plan for and look forward to myself as well. I feel as though I spend most of my days trying to get them to play without me so I can get things done, which I feel quite guilty about. Thanks for the encouragement to give this a go.

    ii. I laughed so hard at line 1, paragraph 2, I had to go away for awhile and come back to read the rest. Thanks.

    iii. You must be an amazing father (or hang on, did I already know…?)

    • SKATERAK Reply

      Angela, you comments are always warm. I am considering purchasing Apparently it has had more hits recently than my previous blogging attempts and I am more than qualified to be its lead contributor…

      Look at your children, Angela. Outstanding. Believe what people say about them. Sharp, clever and open. You can’t buy that stuff so you must be doing much right.

      Don’t undervalue learning to play independently. I know many children who can’t. Keep a balance and load on the smiles and huggles.

      Thanks for your bullet points, too. It makes your comments memorable. Maybe an acronym next time would help.

      Point iii is up for discussion but my job is made easier by having sons with ludicrous senses of humour, knees for skateboarding and a want for riddles.

      What are your two great at?

  6. Pingback: Education and Schooling #6: This is Unschooling | sacraparental

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