Non-School Learning


Non-School LearningConfession: We have no quarantine school schedule. We aren’t doing packets of worksheets. Oh, yeah, and I’m a former teacher. Yet there is no forced learning here.

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t learning. I mean that ‘we’, too: our whole family is learning together. We haven’t done a deep dive into the learning resources provided on the Knox County Schools Website, and quite frankly even looking at it is intimidating. There are just so many resources, and I only looked at the PreK-Grade 2 section that applies to us.

Here’s the thing: my kids don’t learn well from me. Riding a bike, swimming, cooking: these are areas where my kids sometimes follow my instruction. Sometimes.

I don’t know what they were learning at school or how they were being taught it; I do know the work they bring home looks different than how I learned to do it. So rather than confuse them on things they’re going to be taught at school when school resumes, I’m going to focus on areas where they will actually benefit from my guidance. And it’s going to look like playing most of the time.

I am aware that I’m privileged that my spouse can work from home and my part-time work from home gig allows me to have a flexible schedule for this. I hope that what’s provided here is helpful, but if it doesn’t fit into your life, you should do what’s best for you — guilt free. You know your kids, and you’ll make the best decision for them. Maybe a super strict schedule keeps them feeling safe. Maybe they crave freedom and independent exploration. You do you, and don’t let yourself feel bad about it. You’re the expert on your kids. Don’t compare what your daily life looks like to someone sharing theirs on social media; your lives are different and require different approaches.

Utilizing Screens

As I said, I work from home part time. I set my own schedule and run my own blog (shameless self-promotion here!), so there are times I need to not be interrupted every four seconds answering questions about bananas and carpenter bees. Do screens help with that? Absolutely. While I love taking my laptop outside and trying to work while they play, it’s all “Mommy, watch this!” or “Mommy, push me on the swings”, or “Mommy, how many tigers are left in the wild?” (The answer is fewer than 4,000, I know now.) So I synchronize my working time with their screen time. Sometimes it’s an educational show, sometimes a learning app, and sometimes it’s just plain ol’ Ninja Turtle veg outs.

My fellow contributor Julie wrote this great post about apps. I love Teach My Monster to Read, and so do my kids. They’re obsessed, and you can make different profiles for different learning levels. They love playing it, and they love watching each other play it, so it’s both active and resting learning. They also love Khan Academy and Khan Academy Kids. There are loads of great educational apps available to help you feel the least amount of guilt possible for using a screen to get a few precious moments of work done.

Educational shows we love include:

  • Basically everything PBS Kids: Wild Kratts, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Ready Jet Go, Nature Cat. We use the PBS Kids app on our Roku/Apple TV and they have several episodes available. We’ve also found episodes on Prime Video. I see a huge amount of knowledge gain from my kids. They know so much about a myriad of animals now!
  • Team Umizoomi is a great educational show my four-year-old especially loves. It has positive messaging with friendship and helping, as well as math and patterns. We watch on Prime Video.
  • Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is a balm for the whole family. His patience and kindness is just contagious, and my husband and I enjoy it as much as the kids. A bulk of episodes are available on Prime Video.
  • Mickey Mouse Clubhouse often has letter and number episodes, and always features positive messaging about friendship and teamwork. We’re Disney addicts so we watch this on Disney+.
  • Phineas and Ferb is another great Disney show. I love the blended family dynamic (that isn’t a plot point, but just normalized), that the parents aren’t dumb props, and that the stepbrothers are also best friends who make inventions together. My boys are imaginary inventors too and are always constructing creations out of blocks and Legos, and the introductory physics of this show is just fun and funny.

I know there’s a certain negative connotation about screen time, but visual learning is a component of learning for a reason. Kids are entertained, but they’re also getting something from these shows (and I’ve argued and believe that even if it isn’t labeled educational doesn’t mean they won’t learn from it. My boys are in the Ninja Turtle phase hard right now, and that has its ups and downs too. The upside is brotherhood, working together as a team, and respecting others for what they’re gifted in. It isn’t perfect or my first choice, but they love it and it isn’t harmful).

Also, as parents we aren’t getting any breaks right now. So if an hour (or two, or what you need) of Wild Kratts will help you keep your sanity and save you from burnout, give yourself some grace.

Need to assuage your mild guilt you can’t get rid of over this, even though it’s totally reasonable? Studies show talking to kids about what they’ve seen helps them remember what they learned. So ask them about what they’re watching when you get a break from work or over lunch. Let them tell you all about the Tasmanian Tiger and how sad it is they’re extinct.

Hands On Learning

Learning to ride a bike (with or without training wheels) is learning. It’s physical movement they’d get in PE, and it’s a milestone that’s exciting and fun.

Flying a kite is basically junior physics. Lift and velocity and stuff. (I kid. Kind of. Physics isn’t my strong suit but I’m pretty sure it’s involved in flight.)

Handwriting practice is so needed in our house. But copying sentences isn’t super exciting. Writing positive messages on the driveway in chalk counts as handwriting. Writing letters to family and friends is exciting and helps them feel connected to both faces they’re used to seeing and those they aren’t is another great option. Older kids? Encourage story writing. Star Wars fan fiction. A play the siblings can put on together. April is poetry month, so maybe a poem. We don’t need to drill the facts of meter and rhyme, but we can write free verse easy-peasy.

Hands on science is my favorite science. My son’s PreK teacher recommended leaf rubbings, and that took us scavenging the yard for good leaves to rub and then comparing their similarities and differences. The milk-food coloring dish soap soaked cotton ball experiment is a blast. Find instructions here. Really soak that soapy part (whether it’s a cotton ball or Q-Tip) for better results.

Guess what? Baking is chemistry. You have a real, solid reason to bake chocolate chip cookies now. I love the book Cooking for Geeks for explaining what happens during the cooking and baking process.

Color Together

The highlight of my day earlier this week was coloring with my kids. We sat down the prints to color for the Knoxville Moms neighborhood Easter Egg hunts (the ones we hang in the window, yay social distancing). With all the chaos of everyday life, we don’t often get to sit down and color together. There’s no pressure, like when it’s homework. Just pure creativity and fun. We made different patterns. We chatted. It was lovely. Bonus: they were working on their fine motor skills and finger/hand strength without even knowing it.

There are loads of fun crafts out there too. We’ve broken out the Play-Doh to help even more with that finger strength (I used to dread play-doh, but this post from my fellow contributor Laura totally changed my mind). We’re planning on trying that salt-watercolor trend that’s floating around social media lately. I have found that art and art-like activities are helping my stress level, which means it may just be doing the same thing for my kids. With so much in the world to stress over right now, I’m hoping this learning at home approach coupled with lots of art will help alleviate some of that.

Board Games

Counting, being a good sport, and strategy are all wonderful positive attributes of board games. From Uno and Crazy Eights to Ticket to Ride: First Journey and Frozen II Surprise Slides, my kids are all about board games. If this isn’t really your kid’s favorite activity, try finding a board game that piques their interest in another way. My then six-year-old begged for Monopoly Gamer during the height of his Mario obsession. With Mario and company as both the characters and the theme adjusting to Mario’s world (think dropping coins and collection coins when you pass go), this game helps them hone their math skills and learn to strategize simultaneously. This game is beloved long after the height of the Mario craze and will likely be a family favorite for years to come. You could find a Minecraft of Fortnite edition of your favorite childhood board games and see if you can nudge your kiddo to discover the joy of board games, too.


The importance of reading is always highlighted. There are articles, studies, and infographics galore about the benefits of reading to your child and having your child read to you. Right now, celebrities and school teachers alike have filmed themselves reading and posted it to social media and YouTube.

If nothing else, making time to read with your kiddo each day is sure to help them readjust to school. But it’s also a time when they have our full attention, and that makes it even more special. My child’s principal, in her initial ‘school is out for an unknown amount of time’ email, even recommended having captions/subtitles on the TV when they’re having screen time. Just seeing the letters and being exposed to the words is a positive. After all, you can’t help but look at them when they’re there!

We’ve read a variety of things, from their picture books and beginning readers to reading our first chapter book together. We’ve now read the first books in both the Magic Tree House and Bailey School Kids series. The Knox County Public Library has loads of ebooks, and that KCS resources page we linked to earlier has ebook accounts with login information as well. Plus, I’ve recently gotten two free Disney ebooks after signing up for the Disney publishing newsletter (if you don’t want any more e-mail, simply follow them on social media @DisneyBooks).

What we’re focused on learning doesn’t always fit inside the box, or inside a classroom. But it allows us to keep learning while safely social distancing, and my kids don’t feel pressured to complete a certain number of worksheets per day. If your kid loves those worksheet style activities, go for it! My kids are two years apart in school, but love to do the same things. So mazes, painting, and crossword puzzles have been popular around here. Since they can tell when their work is different than their brother’s, I have to find things in the middle they can do independently…which is clearly why learning through play is my main strategy right now.

Much of learning often looks like play. If quarantine school is stressing you out, maybe give playing a chance. Whether they’re building with blocks, playing house, coloring, or literally climbing the walls (hey, it’s PE!), they’re learning.

Previous articleQuarantine Hobbies: The Art of Snail Mail
Next articleHello Quarantine, You’re Not Enough
Christine Derr
Hey, y'all! I'm an adventurous mama who has lived all over. I've lived in Florida (Go Noles!) and Alaska (yay snow!) and many places in between. My little family settled in Knoxville back in 2014, and we've been growing our roots here since. We love the wonderful family friendly activities Knoxville and the surrounding areas have to offer, and explore every chance we get. I'm obsessed with all things Disney, and you can often find me fan-girling about my obsession on my blog, Paw Prints in the Sink ( I'm a sleep-deprived mom to two boys, ages 18 months and almost 4 years. They keep me on my toes, and jump into hugging mode moments before I lose my mind from enduring their constant chaos. I'm a bibliophile, baking addict, pun-loving goofball. I can't wait to get to know you!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here