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School's out: Keeping the kids entertained at home
School's out: Keeping the kids entertained at home
By thinkSPAIN Team Sat, Mar 21, 2020
NOW that schools have been shut in Spain for a week, parents may either have got to grips with how to handle bored, over-excited children not allowed outside, or they may be exhausted already – especially if they are trying to work from home at the same time. But as the national quarantine will have to be in place for a minimum of 15 days – the incubation period for the Covid-19 strain of the Coronavirus – it is safe to say that the school-free period will blend smoothly into what would have been the Easter holidays, too.
So, that's at least five weeks off school already – not far off a standard UK school summer holiday, and getting on for half of one of these in Spain.
Except that this time, the kids can't go outside to play, or go to the beach, the park, the pool...which could mean a lot of complaining at the tedium of it, restlessness, or high spirits somewhat too active for the confines of your house to contain.
Parents, particularly those now working from home until the quarantine ends, are probably tempted to plonk the children in front of the TV, or let them keep themselves amused with their tablets, phones, computers, and video games.
This is fine for a short while – and necessary, in fact, because it's the only way they can now socialise with their friends – plus, gaming has been scientifically proven to sharpen a child's (or even an adult's) wits and speed up their reaction time and coordination.
Not all day, though. As well as constant screen contact being bad for their eyes, posture, and circulation, it can become too habit-forming and addictive, and ceases to stimulate them.
And this is a perfect chance not only to spend more time with your little ones and learn what makes them tick, talk to them and find out what's on their mind (besides being stuck indoors and missing their mates), but also for some real bonding in a fun way, and to 'educate' them in an entertaining manner on things they would not normally get involved with in school, where the focus is much more on academic progress.
Clearly, ideas have to be adapted to their age and type of child (boisterous games are no good for the more serious, bookworm-type or creative kids; those with a short attention span will need activities that do not last too long and which engage them as much as possible), but there are plenty of suggestions out there and many which are suitable for anyone from tots to teens.
Spanish media sources and lifestyle magazines and websites are full of bright ideas for keeping the children amused at home right now – here's a summary of some of our favourites:
Teach them to cook
This is suitable even for the tiniest ones. Baking a cake is an easy starter: If you still work in imperial measurements (and weighing scales sold here usually offer these as well as metric), an ounce is exactly 28.35 grams, and for a standard spongecake, you'll need four ounces each (113.4 grams) of flour, butter or margarine and sugar, and two eggs; multiply to make it bigger. Whip together the butter and sugar, add the beaten eggs, then the flour, pour it into a greased tin and pop it in the oven – and bingo. Add food colouring, extra ingredients like walnuts and a few spoonfuls of coffee, or chocolate chips, or make them into fairy cakes or animal shapes. Don't forget to let the children lick the bowl out afterwards.
This can be a good time to teach them to cook other, simple dishes – healthy ones, ideally using inexpensive and easy-to-find ingredients. The ignorance that dare not speak its name among at least the last two generations of young adults is that, when they leave home, they literally don't know how to eat – so they spend more than they can afford on ready meals and takeaways, or just graze on unhealthy stuff.
Board games and card games
These are making a comeback, and if you can train your child to play chess and they become a world-class expert at it, they can supplement your pension fund when they grow up. Even if they're not that good, board games are a great bonding exercise and teach strategy, teamwork (ie, not cheating), and learning how to be healthily competitive without being a sore loser.
Play volleyball with a balloon
Once it pops, put it in the 'yellow bin' for recycling. And before it pops, it's a great way to give the kids some indoor exercise without bashing heavy balls into your most treasured ornaments.
If you all get worn out before the balloon pops, make 'string balloons' with them – get some wool and wallpaper paste, wrap it around the balloon in pretty patterns and hang it up to dry, then pop it once it's set.
Being a grown-up is optional when you're off duty from work. And if you're the energetic type who doesn't mind being bashed about a bit, then you're never too old for a good old-fashioned pillow fight. There are generally no rules, so make up your own (no whacking above the shoulders, for example).
Talking of all that's good and old-fashioned...
Never learnt to knit, sew, crochet, embroider or do tapestry? Look up a stage-by-stage guide on YouTube or online written or illustrated instructions, and teach the children how to do it. As they get better and better, you can even teach them how to make simple items of clothing or household goods – knit a scarf, sew a skirt or a cushion cover, embroider a table mat, for example.
Sticking shells and sequins to old yoghurt pots to use as pen-holders, or to bigger containers to use as plant pots (bury a tomato, water it daily, leave it in the sun and let it grow – even the least green-fingered can get a plant of some description, whether or not it bears fruit), and you're also reusing plastic waste which will save a walk to the recycling bin when you're supposed to be at home. Plastic bottle and carton tops can also be made into everything from place mats to bedroom door signs, and once they've sewn you some cushion covers, they can stuff them with soft plastic bags which, when packed down tightly, are surprisingly comfortable and also make the cushions waterproof.
Wrap red and green raffia around cut-up toilet-roll holders and make paper holly for them, and that's your Christmas napkin rings sorted.
In fact, depending upon how creative you, and they, get, you could find your child's entire Christmas present-buying list sorted, too, without spending any more than the cost of a bit of glue and some colourful paper.
Read, watch films, stage plays
If you really do have to park your child in front of the TV, make it educational. Get them to really engage with the film they're watching – ask them to explain the plot to you, describe the characters and how they interact, and how they behave. Even coming up with adjectives to explain the on-screen people's feelings, actions and personalities broadens their vocabulary. Ask them to think about what the film would look like set in a different time or place, or perhaps with different species (Watership Down with humans rather than rabbits, for example) and have them design the set – either on paper, as drawings, written down, or described to you in viva voce, and how they would stage it if they were directing it. Perhaps have them write a sequel, too, if there isn't one.
If you have enough children, you could get them to act out a scene, even design the costumes, from a film or a book. In fact, even if you have one child, there's bound to be a monologue scene they can recreate for you. Get them to read books, too – if you're reading this, you obviously understand English, and if you're in quarantine, you're probably here in Spain, which means two languages to play with. Many children of expatriate parents in the mainstream State school system do not fully develop their parents' native language, in writing or reading, so it's important to get them interested in reading your mother tongue at home. Or if they are in a bilingual or a British school, work with them on reading in Spanish if their exposure to it in the classroom is limited.
Learn from them
If you have children in school here in Spain, you hopefully speak Spanish, either completely fluently or at least with enough of a working knowledge that you can help them with their homework, talk to their teachers without an interpreter, and recognise swear words they come out with. If not, now is a good time to get your children to help you with it – likewise any co-official regional language spoken where you live, such as valenciano, catalán, ibicuenco, mallorquín, menorquín, gallego, or euskera (Basque).
Makeup, dressing up, nail bars...
Older girls in particular will appreciate a bit of help with getting their makeup right, and even much younger ones will delight in a manicure and nail-painting session. Get creative with colours and patterns, too.
Actually, some boys might be keen to give all this a go – lots of lads, more than you'd think, enjoy raiding their mum's makeup box and painting their nails, and now's a good time because their mates at school (who probably do the same, but don't tell them) won't have to find out and rib them about it. Otherwise, a bit of war paint or face-painting might be more up their street.
Design costumes, too – you might not have much of an idea, but we bet the children will think of loads of possibilities. Cut out big sheets of cardboard in star-shapes, cut out a face-sized tube (think Handmaid's Tale), paint them both yellow, stick them together, and you've got a daffodil-shaped Easter bonnet. If you get really stuck into it all, you might find quarantine gives you a chance to create your entire Carnival costume for next February, 10 months ahead of everyone else.
In this age of everything being on screen, even adults are starting to lose the knack of writing by hand. Other than occasionally signing for a parcel, filling in a crossword in a newspaper or leaving a post-it note on the fridge, how often do you actually pick up a pen, and how long can you last before your wrist aches and your fingers are covered in blisters?
Well, this is an art your children can't afford to lose, because as older teenagers, and right through college or university, they'll be sitting exams galore, and it seems unlikely that these will become screen-based within less than a generation or two. Writing by hand also keeps them on track with expressing themselves in full-length words and sentences; of course, they have to do this at school, but once they're out of the classroom, acronyms and social media shorthand takes over.
Since the dawn of emails and, later, messenger applications, as our main form of communicating with people who are not physically with us, the ancient art of letter-writing has been revived – we've only been picking up the phone to chat to each other in the last 50 or so years and, in the last 10 at least, have started to abandon it again in favour of writing.
Get some pretty paper and have your kids write a letter in pen (or pencil if they're small) to a treasured relative or friend – if they have grandparents or, better still, great-grandparents, these will be thrilled to bits to find an envelop in the post with a missive in your child's hand telling them what they've been getting up to all day.
If you're working...
In addition to some of the ideas we mentioned in our 'how to work from home during quarantine' article, if your children are small and you need to keep an eye on them, give them a toy telephone, or an old one, and get them to 'play secretary'. Or they can make a laptop with folded cardboard (if you have a spare one that doesn't work very well any more, give it to them switched off). For older children, if you have a computer you're not using for work, get them to learn to touch-type. Even though everyone is pretty quick these days on keyboards and phone key pads with one finger, you can seriously speed up your output if you know the old-fashioned method, and can do it without looking at your fingers – or even at the screen. Start by giving them a list of combinations with 'asdf', then add in spaces, then move to the 'jklñ' (on a Spanish keyboard, or 'jkl;' on an English-language one), then once they've got the hang of this, get them to learn which fingers to move to get the remaining letters – add 'g' and 'h' to the 'asdf' and 'jklñ' combinations, to begin with, and progress from there. Throw a tea-towel across their hands if they keep peeking at them when they're typing.
One day, being able to whizz off a college assignment or work report at 75 words per minute with few, or no, mistakes will mean they get their jobs and studies finished quicker and have more leisure time. Despite speculation that the 'qwerty' keyboard could soon become history and an 'abcd' keyboard become the norm, practically everyone who is able to touch-type says this is one of the skills they are the most grateful for having learnt.
Also if you're working...
Work in 'blocks' of 25 minutes, set an alarm to make sure you stop at the end of each 'block', and take a five-minute break. Do not overrun either 'working blocks' or breaks, and do absolutely nothing during the 25-minute slots that does not involve focusing exclusively on the task in hand.
After four 'blocks' of 25 minutes, take a longer break – and spend it with the kids. You can get them to make you a red-and-green 'engaged/vacant' sign for your desk which you can flip over according to whether you're engrossed in a task or on a break, a visual cue which they will learn to respect.
Much longer than 25 minutes is difficult for a human to concentrate in full, especially in a very intense job that requires a great deal of focus; and if you have children, it's unlikely you'll be able to work continuously for much more than 25 minutes at a stretch in any case.
You can use the same technique when it comes to the children's homework – but instead of 25 minutes, set the 'blocks' to much shorter periods, such as 10 or 15 minutes.
This system was invented by an Italian, who called it the pomodoro technique – he called each 'block' one pomodoro, and the name came from the fact that he used a kitchen egg-timer in the shape of a tomato, which is pomodoro in Italian.
Photograph 2: Madreshoy.com
Photograph 3: Eresmama.com
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