10 learning activities that don't feel like schoolwork

There are plenty of ways to teach kids skills and build their brains that are fun and don't feel like learning. Here are ten learning activities to try.

10 learning activities that don't feel like schoolwork

Photo: iStockphoto

How's distance learning going in your home? It seems like some families are all-in, others have abandoned it completely, and still others fall somewhere in between.

In my house, our main goal is to keep my three kids' minds engaged for at least some of the day without screens. And as we’ve endeavoured to do just this, it’s become obvious that learning can come about in non-traditional and, sometimes very, unstructured ways. I spoke to a handful of educators and child development experts to come up with this list of activities that are super educational and build your kids' skills—but don't feel like schoolwork.

1. Jigsaw puzzles

Puzzles aren't just another activity on your board-game shelf. They're excellent at developing kids' visual-spatial processing skills (that is, the understanding of how objects relate to each other in space), which are critical to navigating everyday life as we subconsciously tap into them when merging into traffic, reading a map or even arranging objects in a suitcase or parcel. These abilities also represent foundational building blocks for math and language skills in school-age children.


2. Fort building

Building forts boosts a host of skills in kids, including problem-solving, creativity, visual-spatial reasoning skills and, hopefully, team work. (Will the fun and learning last longer than the clean up? No promises.)

3. Word of the day

This is just what it sounds like: Each day, teach your kids a new word. We make it fun in my home by choosing words that have gone out of fashion. For example, a recent word was "overmorrow," which means the day after tomorrow. My kids have gotten a real kick out of working these new words into conversation. Now when I ask them to tidy up their rooms, it’s always, "I'll do it overmorrow." And really, how can I get annoyed by that?

4. Scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunts are universally fun for kids and as a bonus, they work well across age groups. While kids are having fun hunting, they won't even realize how the activity promotes problem solving and offers some exercise. And for younger kids, a scavenger hunt can promote reading and language skills, too. In my house, we've found they work best when the clues lead to a very specific object, item or spot, but they can also work well in an open-ended fashion, forcing children to think critically about what object meets a set of criteria.

5. Word searches

Word searches help my kids quiet down and focus on an activity but they still mostly feel like fun, not work. They're great for vocabulary and spelling but also help with problem-solving and pattern recognition. For example, as a strategy, my nine-year-old starts out by focussing on words with duplicate letters side-by-side.

6. Obstacle courses


Physical activity is an obvious benefit to creating an obstacle course for your kids, but if your kids set up the course themselves, they’ll get their creative juices flowing, tap into problem-solving and team-work skills, and feel a sense of goal achievement as well.

7. Gardening

If you have the benefit of some outdoor space—whether it's a spacious backyard or a simple planter box on a window sill or balcony—then use this time to get your kid involved in gardening. Giving your child a plant, flower or even vegetable to grow and care for helps them understand responsibility and can lead to conversations about our own carbon footprint. Take things a step further by having them mark and label plants and flowers. My five-year-old has some strawberry plants and they represent a real source of pride for him. Plus, what kid doesn’t love to dig around in dirt?

8. Nature walks

Aside from the benefit of getting out and enjoying the fresh air and physical activity, there is so much to take note of outdoors, particularly in the spring. If you’re so inclined, there are opportunities to discuss birds, trees, insects and wildlife varieties—even photosynthesis, weather patterns or the food chain. You could partake in a scavenger hunt on a nature walk, or find and gather material for an arts and crafts project.

9. Construction play

Building is a great way to burn energy and fuel creativity. It is also an exceptionally vast category! This could mean building with Lego, wooden blocks, hammer and nails, cardboard or even random objects that you’ve collected. It can also foster visual-spatial and fine motor skills, problem-solving and hand-eye coordination.

10. Cooking and baking

Most kids naturally love to help out in the kitchen, but what they don't know (and don't need to know) is how much cooking and baking builds understanding of math basics (for example, fractions and measuring). It also teaches kids about following steps, and helps them learn about patience! Plus, I don't know about your kids, but when my children help or take the lead on a meal, there is a clear sense of pride that results.


So at the end of a long day, even if you feel like home-schooling was a fail, think about how else you filled the day and the skills you inadvertently taught your kids, and give yourself a break. After all, learning comes in all shapes and sizes, and if today was a write-off, remember that overmorrow is a new day.

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