Author: TCR Staff

Cooped Up With Kids During COVID-19

These are uncertain and unprecedented times. You’re doing your best to adhere to all the rules and regulations. You’re following all the safety and health precautions. You’re staying home and hunkering down. You’re also about to lose your mind. It’s only a few days into “homeschooling”; you’re out of (energy and) novel ideas, you’re ready to pull your hair out, and you have a sneaking suspicion that your kids are secretly plotting a mutiny.

We’re here to help. While we can’t take your children off your hands or speed up the search for a cure, we can offer you some activities to do with your kids to keep everyone from going absolutely bonkers while you’re isolating.

Here’s our current list of sanity-savers. We hope to add to it regularly to keep you and your family engaged and occupied.

Go Outside
Yes, really. As of now, doctors, health professionals, and the World Health Organization are still encouraging people to go outside for mental as well as physical health. Even if it’s just a walk around the block to break up the monotony of being stuck inside. It’s also okay to ride bikes, walk the dog, and go to the park. (Just remember to keep a safe distance from others.)

How about an outdoor scavenger hunt? Write down some objects to find and have your children check them off as they find them. Easy things to search for are
– a bird
– a mammal
– animal tracks
– a nest
– animal hole in the ground
– a pinecone
– litter
– a flower
– a pebble
– a feather
– a flying insect
– a person riding a bicycle
– a person wearing a hat
– a person walking a dog

Indoor Physical Activities
Bad weather? Try some of these physical activities that can be done inside.
Yoga: (Just search for “yoga videos for kids.”) Yoga is a great physical activity and stress reliever. There are also a ton of other videos with different workouts for kids. Pick a new one for each day of the week!
Freeze dancing: Play music and have everyone dance, then stop it randomly. When the music stops, have children freeze in their pose and hold it until the music begins again.
Obstacle Courses: Half the fun is creating them! Help children make one and then time them as they go through. See if they can beat their best time!
Follow the leader: Pick someone to be the leader and then have everyone copy all their moves. Encourage lots of energetic movements such as jumping, stomping, bending, and squatting.
Building: Forts, domino mazes, block towers, a contraption for getting a ball from Point A to Point B.
Chores (Ugh, we know.) Designate a specific time for getting them done and then blast some fun music while everyone pitches in. Set a timer so kids know that this torture won’t last forever.

Check on Your Neighbors (from a safe distance)
Some neighbors might not be able to go to the store to pick up necessities. It’s a great time to offer to help shop for elderly neighbors, single parents, or immunocompromised folks. Drop the goods off on their doorstep so there’s no worry about transmitting anything. Have your children include handwritten notes of encouragement.

We all have to eat. Look up fun and easy recipes online that your kids can help make. There are some fun, gross ideas that are usually reserved for Halloween but might elicit some interest from even your most reluctant sous chef.

Science Experiments
Yes, this is the perfect time to study germs and all things disease-related. But it’s also a great time to engage in some hands-on STEM activities. Gather household materials and start a list of what to make next. Some popular online STEM searches:
– egg drop
– balloon car/rocket
– cloud in a jar
– catapult
– bridge building
– tower challenge
– marble maze
– simple machines (pulley, winch)

And of course, you can never go wrong with the good old baking soda and vinegar volcano.

Board Games
Get on your step stool and pull down those dusty board games from the top shelf of the closet. Need some buy-in from older kids? Create a tournament using a few different games and have prizes for the winners.

Online Story Time
Many children’s authors are live streaming the reading of their books. Check your favorite author’s website, or your library website for lots of online activities.

Write a Letter To Grandparents
Elderly persons are at greater risk of getting sick, so many families are not able to currently spend time face-to-face with grandparents. While you may already have your children video conferencing with them, a good writing activity would be to have children write to people they are separated from.

Write in a Journal
These are historical times. Children writing about the current situation is a wonderful way to keep a record of this monumental time in their lives. Journaling can also help children express their feelings, some of which might be frightening right now. Writing down thoughts and emotions is a great exercise in stress relief.

Try having your children watch movies with a critical eye. Ask them to think about a certain theme or certain imagery that reoccurs throughout. You can also have them read the book beforehand and have the movie as a treat when they’re done!

School Activities/Skills Practice
When you need some structured “school” time, we have lots of free activities you can use to help your children keep up with their academic skills. Reading comprehension, sight words, and math skills by grade level are just a few of the things you’ll find to keep your kids’ academic abilities up to date.

We’re sure you have some ideas, too. Share them in the comments!

Novel Instruction: Four Ways to Approach Plot and Structure in Literature—Part 2: An Important Scene

(Read the first installment of this series here.)

This week we are continuing our series of examining literary elements as you teach novels in your classroom. The article below describes an approach to using an important scene. Use the ideas to create classroom activities or to engage your students in whole-class or small-group discussions.

An Important Scene

Overview:  Novels are divided into chapters, but the building blocks of fiction are scenes.  A scene usually has a clear beginning and ending, though its seeds often are planted in earlier scenes and its tendrils extend into later scenes.  Scenes can revolve around major events, minor events, character interactions, internal monologues, or just about anything else.

The Basic Questions: 

  • What are the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where, and why) of the scene? 
  • In what ways is this scene caused by or foreshadowed in an earlier scene?
  • In what ways does this scene cause or foreshadow a later scene?

The Big Question: 

Why is this scene important to the novel as a whole?  Students should consider how this scene establishes or contributes to such literary elements as characterization, point of view, setting, genre, and theme.

Dig Deeper: 

  • What is the mood of the scene?  How do the author’s word choices and sentence structures add to or create this effect?
  • How could this scene have ended differently, and what effect would that different ending have had on the scenes that follow?

Get Graphic: 
Have students create a combination storyboard/flow chart of the scene by drawing 4–6 images from the scene and showing how each image leads to the next. 
Students should then explain how the author’s word choices or use of imagery help the reader create mental pictures of this scene’s individual moments.

Make a Connection: 
One type of important scene in a novel is when a character experiences a turning point. It is at this point that a decisive change occurs that dramatically affects the rest of the novel’s plot. Ask students to name their turning points as they read the novel. At what point did they decide that they were going to either really like or really dislike the novel? What led to this turning point?

Next week: Part 3—Sequence and Structure

Novel Instruction: Four Ways to Approach Plot and Structure in Literature

Our reading habits are changing. This has a lot to do with what we are reading. Tweets, posts, snaps, infographics, and other contemporary text types are ideal for communicating ideas quickly and visually. They have a place in our society — and in our classrooms, too — but they are not substitutes for actual literature.

There are important life and literacy skills students can gain from the kind of reading experience that novels provide. Great literature can spark imagination, foster empathy, and reward deeper analysis.

Successful novels are cooked up from such ingredients as plot and structure, characterization and point of view, setting and genre, main idea and theme, and author’s craft. The article below is part of series that offers ideas for examining these literary elements as you teach novels in your classroom.

Over the next four blog posts, we will describe four ways to approach the classroom analysis of plot and structure in just about any novel. The first approach is to use the opening scene. Use the ideas below to create classroom activities or to engage your students in whole-class or small-group discussions.

The Opening Scene

When we crack open a book and begin reading, it is as if a door to a new world has been opened.  The first few pages of the novel are our first glimpses into this world, and so authors want us to be intrigued by what we see.  Use this idea as a basis for examining a novel’s opening.

Basic Questions: 

  • What happens in this first scene? 
  • In what setting does this first scene take place? 
  • Who is the narrator?  Is this narrator a character in the book? 
  • Which characters do we meet?  What do we learn about the appearances, personalities, and backgrounds of these characters?

The Big Question:  What purpose (or purposes) does the opening scene serve?  Opening scenes can . . . 

  • introduce us to the novel’s narrator (e.g., The One and Only Ivan)
  • reveal a character or narrator’s defining trait (e.g., Wonder)
  • establish a relationship between characters (e.g., Because of Winn-Dixie)
  • describe a physical setting (e.g., Holes)
  • depict a life-altering event (e.g., Hatchet)
  • construct an alternate world (e.g., The Giver)
  • do all of the above
  • do something else entirely

Dig Deeper: 

  • How would you describe the voice of the narrator? 
  • What do you notice about the language the author/narrator uses?
  • How would you describe the mood of the opening scene? 
  • What effect does this opening scene have on the reader?  What did the author do to create this effect? 
  • What predictions about the book can you make based on this opening scene?

Get Graphic:  Consider creating an organizer based on the visual of a door or window.  For younger students, create a large door drawing that is divided into three panels (one each for plot, setting, and characters).  For older students, draw a set of doors or windows with questions on them.

Make a Connection:  Ask students to name a book or movie that they think has a very memorable opening scene. Student choices are their opinions. However, they must support those choices with reasons that are not just opinions. For example, they can’t simply say that an opening scene is “good” or “exciting.” Instead, they must explain what the author or filmmaker specifically did to make the opening scene good or exciting.

Next week: Part 2—An Important Scene

Valentine’s Day Paper Wreath

Love is in the air!

Here is an easy Valentine’s Day activity for your students to make and display in your classroom to add a festive feel for the holiday.

1) Have students trace two circles on a piece of paper. (Plates and bowls are good for this part.) Cut along the lines to create a donut shape with a hole in the middle. This will be the back of the wreath that the hearts will attach to.

Cut out wreath shape along the lines. (Students can fold paper in half in order to make a cut in the middle to make it easier to cut out the center.)

2) Have different colors of paper available for students to cut out their hearts. Once they have chosen their paper, show them how to fold the paper in half to cut a heart that has its two sides symmetrical. You may want them to practice with scratch paper first.

Confetti Project Paper TCR5577
Younger students may need to trace the hearts first.

3) Start placing the hearts around the wreath form, making sure the actual paper of the wreath is covered. Students should do this without pasting them down yet, in case they want to adjust the hearts. This will also show them if they need to cut more hearts to fill the shape. Have them adjust the hearts to their liking, then use glue, tape, or other adhesive to attach the hearts to the wreath shape.

4) Students may continue adding hearts to their wreaths to make them as simple or elaborate as they’d like. Once they are done, give them a piece of ribbon or string to attach to the back in order to hang them.

You can also take pictures of the students and place them inside the wreath like a frame. They make great parent gifts!