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April 15, 2020

Transforming Everyday Activities into Opportunities for Creativity & Learning

A post by Avra Robinson

When I was a little girl, my parents constantly encouraged me to be creative during play.  

My mom and dad were both educators, and as such, they suggested constructive activities that rescued me from the inevitable boredom of the endless days of summer break.  Now, as an educator looking back decades later, I realize that they were helping me take ordinary activities and discover ways to encourage creativity and learning through play. 

Everyday activities can be transformed into learning experiences in a variety of ways.  Teachers and parents can design playful challenges and activities that are constructive and purposeful by encouraging kids to read and write for authentic purposes and by working to find math in the real world,   There are endless possibilities. Some children might prefer creating with legos; whereas, others might enjoy writing and illustrating songs or stories. 

One activity that I always loved when I was young was building a fort.  Looking back, I’m not sure how my mom and dad ever got dinner on the table as an afghan was often strewn between the edge of the table and chairs.  I spent hours embellishing my make believe home with hand-drawn window boxes, signs with rules for entry, artwork to adorn the walls, and as many stuffed animal friends as I could fit inside.  In the warm, cozy space under the blankets, I’d read stories to my furry friends by the light of a flashlight.  As I reflect on this fun, I have to chuckle as I recall the time my dad encouraged me to pretend to be an architect and “draw out my plans” first.  Figuring the perimeter and area was his tricky, grownup way of getting me to do math without even realizing it!  

Fast forward 30 years, and these days, my son also enjoys building a fort in which to play and read.  But he’ll also take his iPad inside to watch a movie or even do schoolwork! It becomes a special safe spot for play and learning.  Back in the 1980’s, I wasn’t creating digital books with Book Creator or doing Seesaw activities inside my fort, but now in 2020, Cameron can practice fluency without embarrassment by recording himself reading to his furry friends instead of me.  With my help, he can even connect with friends and family using Google Hangouts or Facetime - all from the comfort and security of his fort! 

Another activity that provided endless entertainment in my childhood was creating plays and other silly musical productions with my parents as an audience.  My brother and I would fashion costumes out of household items or dress up clothes. We would create invitations and programs, write scripts, practice our lines, and even build props and scenery from cardboard boxes and wrapping paper tubes.  

These days, many of those same activities and preparations take place with my own kids, but some 21st Century adaptations include invitations created in Google Drawings - printed or sent digitally.  Productions are often recorded privately for far-away friends and relatives to enjoy. Custom music can even be produced on a computer or a mobile device.  

One last activity I remember as a child was cooking with my mom or dad.  They would each challenge me to help by reading the directions on the recipe, preheating the oven to the appropriate temperature, and deciphering the fractions such as a quarter cup of milk.  I remember my mom challenging me to explain the steps to teach my younger brother how we completed our cookie baking challenge. All of these listening, speaking, reading, and math skills combined with special time spent with my family to create memories I will never forget.  

My son and I love to make breakfast muffins together.  It’s something we’ve done since he was very young, and now that he’s older, his role in both the cooking and chronicling of our experience has increased.  During this time of home learning, I am looking for experiences that will bring comfort and consistency to Cam’s life. Recently, he and I used Seesaw to tell the story of our muffin-baking experience.  We had a great time deciding which steps to record with a picture, and what text to include to explain our process. He even added his own humor and editorial comments along the way. Watching his creativity sore as our muffins baked in the oven was a neat way to connect with him.  You can watch a short screencast of this activity here

Kids have been making forts, putting on plays, and cooking with their parents for decades.  Not only are these classic activities fun and engaging, but they can also help provide kids with comfort and security during this time of uncertainty.  Technology is not necessary, but it can add creative zest and opportunities for chronicling experiences along the way.   By taking everyday activities and capitalizing on real-world learning and opportunities for creativity, teachers and parents can send a message of normalcy and calm to kids while also providing them with some fun, purposeful play!  This slideshow includes additional activities to consider such as lego creations, letter writing activities, and simple science experiments.