Hello! So you’ve either clicked on this article because you’re after more ideas for things to do or because you’re feeling guilty that you aren’t doing enough… Let me start by saying, Mummy, just by talking to your pre-schooler you are doing enough. Read to them, listen to them, have a ridiculous conversation about their imaginary cat friend Imbelotey, and do NOT beat yourself up about how amazingly everyone else is handling this shitty time. Please. You are enough, even at your lowest ebb. Some days just loving your kids is all you need to do. And love can come packaged in swathes of CBeebies and mountains of YouTube trash. Be kind to yourself.
However, if having read that, you’re still after some ideas for vaguely educational things you can do with your mini humans, read on…
I’m a radio producer by trade, 100% not an educator, however, I do think there are shared skills between the two professions. In my day job, 50% of the work is prep, 25% is people management and the final 25% is responding to change. Teaching seems fairly similar: work out what you want to do, convince the kids to take part and then helping them work through the task. This is not to devalue the years of training that teachers undertake at all, but at this time when we’ve all been given this second full-time job, I think it’s worth us all thinking about what skills we have that could apply to our new roles.
However, as the Government website quite rightly states, “No one expects parents to act as teachers or childcare providers… Or to be able to provide all the activities that a nursery might.” But, if we can find a gentle way to get them excited about the world, nudge their development along, and give you chance drink an actual hot cup of tea – then I reckon the days will tick along a little quicker as a result.
(And for full disclosure, I have a 4 year old who goes to preschool 15 hours a week and HATES organised fun and a 2 year old who can only operate with a snack in one hand and creates as much mess as a feral cat in a butchers.)
So what do you really need to get going? Well, some sort of resources, a scrap of a plan, some vague sense of structure, and the flexibility to troubleshoot when things to awry…
No need to raid Amazon – whatever you have at home already will likely do. Pens, pencils, crayons, chalks, glue, paint, playdoh, reading books, wipe clean books, water painting books, paper, toys… You don’t need a whole load of new stuff to make this thing happen. But there are some things that will make life easier:
- Printer paper and a functioning printer. NOT ESSENTIAL, but I use this to print out colouring sheets that I find on Google. However, you could just pull some relevant pages out of existing colouring books or draw them something to colour in yourself.
- Any books or magazines that tap into your kid’s existing interests. So my 4 year old is OBSESSED with Numberblocks, and there happens to be this Numberblocks maths programme, which sounds really advanced but is just a selection of magazines with stickers and colouring pages and he properly loves them.
- The 5 Minute Mum Book. This woman is my hero. Her ideas are generally free to put into action, her advice is spot on, she’s totally non-judgey and clearly finds so much fun in being a mum.
One evening at the start of all this stuff, I sat down with all my kids’ toys and books and worked out some loose “themes” that I could link to the things we already have. We have a play kitchen, so one day could they be chefs? There’s a toy garage, so another theme could be about cars. We have one book about space, so that could be another one.
All in all I came up with about 15 themes to start with and as we went on, more occurred to me, so now we have about 30. Again, none of this is structured learning stuff – more just creating an environment within which they can lead the learning and not get bored playing with the same toys over and over.
I also browsed the more “learny” end of the CBeebies iPlayer pages for inspiration. Maddie’s Do You Know and Messy Goes To OKIDO are great for general interesting topic ideas, Go Jetters is perfect for inspiring a love of Geography, Andy Day has cornered the market in terms of animals and dinosaurs, then there’s the obvious Numberblocks and Alphablocks for numeracy and literacy. We really are spoilt with the offering from the Beeb.
Once I’d come up with my theme ideas, I wrote them all out on small strips of coloured card, and put them in a box. Every morning my 4 year old picks one out and that’s our theme of the day. After breakfast, I stick them in front of CBeebies and do 20 minutes of thinking and googling for ideas and inspiration.
The places I look for ideas are:
- Our toy boxes, bookshelves and recycling bin – it’s amazing what you can do with some cuddly toys and loo rolls! I pull out all the books and toys that could link to the theme, so they don’t get bored playing with the same stuff over and over.
- CBeebies. It seems to be easier to google search for things rather than search on the app, so you might look for “CBeebies butterflies” or similar.
- Google image search for colouring pages (search: “ANYTHING + colouring page” right click the image, copy and paste into Word, print)
- Twinkl. Use the search bar for your general search term and then use the advanced search bar to narrow it down to EYFS / English / Free Resources. They have worksheets, templates, colouring pages, treasure hunts… I even found a printable that let you build models of London landmarks – for free!
- YouTube. The Cosmic Kids yoga channel is the first place I look as it makes me feel worthy, but I’ve also found an awesome animated version of the Very Hungry Caterpillar recently too.
- Netflix / Amazon Prime / Apple TV / BBC iPlayer for films.
- Pinterest. If you must.
- The 5 Minute Mum book. Honestly, it’s like my bible.
- And the outside world… what can you collect on your daily walk, or hunt for in the garden that could form the basis of a collage or structure?
Then think about how you might weave these into your day. My general plan is that I use CBeebies / YouTube to set up the idea around 9am, then at 10ish we move to the kitchen table to do an activity for 20 minutes (significantly less for the 2 year old) and then burn off energy in the garden with a linked physical idea (let’s be fire engines!) or by doing something active indoors if it’s raining. This normally takes us up to around 11, then it’s freeplay ‘til lunchtime (ideally they’d be playing with the things I’ve left out that are linked to the theme but it doesn’t always happen!).
And I always use the 5 Minute Mum golden rule: put the activity out and wait for them to find it. So once I’ve got everything ready at the kitchen table, I casually entice them over with the promise of a snack (works every time, suckers!) and then let the 4 year old ask me about what’s been left out and what he’s supposed to do with it.
After lunch, the toddler has a nap and the pre-schooler watches whatever free film I can loosely link to the theme (or just Trolls for the 1,000,000th time). Then once the little one is up, we have another kitchen table snack with activity (gotcha!) and head out into the garden again before I get the tea on whilst they watch CBeebies.
I try to do one writing thing (counting / letters) per day, one creative or craft thing (colouring / sticking / building) and one physical thing. Nothing should take more than 5 minutes to put together, or clear away. If the idea starts getting too big, then I park it and rethink.
If you have a preschooler and a pre-preschooler like I do, then part of the challenge is getting the little one to engage with something for long enough that you can help the older one with their activity. If you’re lucky your theme of the day might be something that they can get involved with too – so when I print out any kind of colouring sheet for the older one, I’ll print one out for the toddler too. Or there might be some books they could look at, or wooden puzzles they could bash together. Other things that work are pipe cleaners in a colander, playdoh, stacking cups, anything with pom poms, posting dried pasta through small holes in a shoebox – whatever it takes!
Sometimes, you’ll have what you think is an amazing idea and it just won’t work. Take a deep breath and let it go. I had this with an awesome idea I’d seen on Pinterest (honestly, why did I look…) where you’d make ALL THE LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET IN PIPE CLEANERS (what is wrong with me?) then stick them around a track with playdoh, giving your kid letters to collect from the various stations. It took at least an hour to set up, he played with it for 5 minutes, then something more interesting happened and the activity was abandoned… I was raging! But you just have to learn from it and let it go.
I’ve also had to accept that we’re not going to be taking part in any kind of organised fun too. Some kids will 100% respond to joining Joe Wicks et al at a specific time to do a specific thing, but that is not my son’s bag. Anything that seems too planned is a major no – that goes for Zoom calls with his actual best friends from school too, which breaks my heart a little as I know he misses them and they miss him. But for him, things have to feel spontaneous, or it just doesn’t work.
ONE FINAL WORD
I am currently 37 weeks pregnant and on early maternity leave due to a medical condition. The reason I’ve had time to think of all this stuff is because I literally have nothing else to do. If you are in the shitty situation of trying to parent, entertain, educate and continue to work, then you officially are my hero and deserve all the diamonds and pearls, with a very large serving of gin on the side. This is a really challenging time, so just getting through the days is enough. You are enough. Your love for your kids is enough. CBeebies is there to help. And with a bit of creative thinking, you’ve already got all the things you need to keep your kids occupied. Good luck!