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Posted: July 28, 2020

By the Overcoming Obstacles Advisory Council


Thank you to our Overcoming Obstacles Advisory Council Members for sharing their ideas for teachable moments at home. If you have ideas you would like to share, please email us at [email protected]

From Cathy Marino, Educator

Here are some ideas I have that parents may not "see" as teaching but they are and they are FUN! All of these involve one or more of math, science, social studies, language arts, problem solving, thinking skills, fine and large motor development, listening, following directions and reading. I did all these things and more with my children, grandchildren, and K-5 grade level students:

  • Make cookies. Your children will learn math, science, language, vocabulary, sequencing, and following directions.
  • Make a hero sandwich! Your children will learn sequencing, science and math.
  • Writing down a recipe involves language, vocabulary, spelling, and fine motor development.
  • Gardening. You can teach math and science. Planting - talk about the soil, the seed, the size, how far apart, the care they need, stages of growth, pollinators, harvest. This can be done in a garden, on a patio, or on windowsills!
  • Sewing & Quilting. Math, fine motor development, and hand-eye coordination.
  • Physical Education. Lots of exercise! Jumping jacks, Simon Says (listening and following directions), dance contests, hikes ( teach about nature, plants, animals, birds, which is also science), playing catch, sprinkler in the yard, County Park trails.
  • Card games. Math, memory development, hand-eye coordination.
  • Art. Paper Mache creations, play dough, sidewalk chalk, and finger paint.
  • Make your own lunch. Social studies: Where does the food come from? How does it get to the store? Math, science, health.

From David Hurst, Ed.D., Senior Vice President Global Evaluation Services, Cognia

You didn’t choose teaching as a career, and suddenly around March or April you became a teacher! Actually, as a parent, you’ve already been a teacher. Now it’s a matter of taking it to the next level. Don’t worry about the education jargon. Children of all ages (even those 30 and older) love to learn by doing. Even very young children can set the table (How many people are in our family? How many plates will we need? How many forks and knives? Will we need spoons?) Older children like to cook. Mathematics and science are everywhere in cooking, from setting oven temperatures to timers, measures, ingredients, calories. I recently told a Girl Scout selling cookies outside my supermarket that I loved those cookies so much I could eat an entire package, so I asked her which package had the least number of calories. When I came out of the store, she saw me and said, “Sir! I’ve calculated calories for an entire package of all our cookies!” Her mother was quite impressed, and thanked me for asking her. Unfortunately, my favorite cookie had the most calories.

Let your children see the utility bills and ask them how you might conserve water or electricity. All these things can be done while you’re actually doing them—you don’t have to sit down and “have a lesson.” And there’s more – the Overcoming Obstacles Parent Child Snapshots are available at They are free life skills resources that can really help you help your children succeed and keep their education moving forward.

From Erin Capone, MSW, Director of Development, Rutgers School of Social Work

These are some of my favorite social and emotional learning tips! They are from Dr. Maurice Elias who did a workshop for Rutgers University staff this month:

  • Maintain structure in the day as much as possible (dress for the day, sleep/wake at similar times each day even if different from pre-COVID schedule).
  • Involve children in the work as helpers (cleaning up the work space, organizing folders by color, etc.).
  • Take a strengths break when frustration is mounting with an academic task; five minutes where the child does something he or she loves and feels good at.
  • Mindfulness breaks where parent and child take deep breaths (GoNoodle Flow is a free YouTube resource with EXCELLENT mindfulness activities).
  • Have children draw the feelings that are in the home and/or identify the emotions on the faces of characters drawn in books. This is a good opportunity to learn what emotions the kids are picking up and build their emotional vocabularies.

From Eva Baucom, Ed.D., Director of Graduate Admissions, Wingate University

Here are my top five suggestions. I hope these help you!

  • Stations: Kids love stations because they are able to get up and move. Consider setting up 4-5 stations around the house with a timer. Stations can be academic based and could even include a snack break station.
  • Practice: If you are working from home and need some time and space, try practicing what to do in different scenarios with your children. For example, if you are on a work call, role play what your child should do if they need your assistance. Telling them directions is a good first step, but modeling that behavior and having them practice it back to you will help it stick.
  • Tie it into everyday actions: Learning happens all around us. Take an everyday action, such as cooking, gardening, or paying bills, and turn it into a learning experience.
  • Network (virtually): We are in this together. Your neighbors, colleagues, friends, and families may have a strategy that worked really well for them. Set up phone calls, share ideas, and help each other.
  • Give up on perfection: Keeping your children healthy and safe is the number one priority. They, too, are frustrated as well by not being with their friends and teachers at school. Have patience, take days off, identify the signals that your child gives you that he or she needs a break, and assure yourself that this is okay.

From Meredith L. Rowe, Ed.D, Saul Zaentz Professor of Early Learning and Development, Harvard University Graduate School of Education

  • Your children can learn so much just from having conversations with you. Use your down-time together (while eating, or driving, or before bed) to talk about things they are interested in, or past experiences you've shared together, or plans for a future event. All these conversations are found to promote learning. Don't worry about talking all the time with your kids; it's the quality more than the quantity of the conversations that count!
  • Young children learn so much through playing and exploring their worlds, and you can be their guide. You don't need fancy toys to play. Playing with water and containers can be really fun in the summertime, or making music with spoons and pots and pans, or taking turns making up the next line of a story, or doing a puzzle; all of these activities are not just fun, but help children learn.

Overcoming Obstacles offers hundreds of free, award-winning K-12 life skills lessons designed to prepare young people for all of the challenges life presents. It’s free now and forever and available for download by creating an account.