Worried Your Kids Are Playing, Not Learning? They’re Doing Both!

Worried Your Kids Are Playing, Not Learning? They’re Doing Both!

All of a sudden nearly everyone is now home schooling.

Parents are feeling the pressure. Working from home, missing loved ones, struggling to buy certain basics, concerned about the future and trying to stay well. And now the schools are shut.

We all want the best for our children and lots of you are worrying that yours are missing out on vital learning.


This is not the time to pile more pressure on yourself and attempt to transform into a full-time teacher as well as everything else you are dealing with.

Your children are finding this a strange and emotional time as well. The only thing you need to do is try and keep your family as healthy and happy as they can be.

Let them play.

Children actually learn best through play. This is especially important for children under 7. To the untrained eye it may not look like learning but trust me, it is. Use this strange time as an opportunity to allow older children more freedom and autonomy than they usually get at school. Even when they take part in household chores and routines, they are learning.

Let them play and let them learn.

Making use of outside space

I am incredibly lucky to have access to a garden so we aren’t yet feeling quite as confined as I know many others are. I’m going to share with you some things my two-year-old (D) and I have done outside over the last two days. You will see how he has been learning without any timetables, worksheets and formal teaching from me.

As he is so young, he needed lots of interaction from me. The good news is, if your children are older you can leave them to it a lot more. Rest easy knowing they are learning and developing, even as you give yourself some time to work on the other things on your plate.

Sowing a seed

We did some planting. Well, mostly me. D got involved in the parts that interested him and came and went.

We found a stash of seeds and looked through them together. We chose some that looked interesting and took them outside. On average these seeds are around a decade out of date so who knows if they’ll actually sprout. Process is more important than product, so we’re not aiming on achieving self-sufficiency with this. I hope we won’t need to!

When we opened the bag of compost, there were worms and a giant spider inside so we looked at them and talked about what they were doing. We filled some old pots and poked seeds in them. We raked a little patch of earth in a flower bed, scattered some wildflower seeds and watered them.

What did he learn?

  • Words and pictures on a packet tell you what is inside.
  • How some invertebrates move and where they might live.
  • That plants can grow from seeds.
  • What plants need to grow.
  • What a rake is.
  • What compost and soil feel like.

Making a splash

D is loving the watering cans in the garden so we spent some time filling them up and pouring them out. He watered some plants and experimented with filling flower pots with holes in them, but mostly wanted to make puddles.

What did he learn?

  • Water falls downwards.
  • Pots with holes in don’t hold water.
  • Pools of water move when you stamp on them.
  • How to use his body to move large objects.

One kid went to mow

We decided to help granny out by mowing her lawn. We got a manual mower from the shed and I started to use it. D wanted a go, so we pushed it together. My husband took over the mowing and we raked up the grass cuttings. After we put them into a tub D chucked them out again. And again.

What did he learn?

  • What a mower is.
  • Grass grows and can be cut, like hair.
  • Another use for his rake.
  • Blades are sharp and to be safe we stay away from them.
  • How to work as a team.
  • Grass can briefly take the form of a bucket, like making a sandcastle.

All creatures great and small

We played with his toy trains on a bench and I pointed out the ants we could see. There were a couple of caterpillars and he counted them. He linked them to a caterpillar in a TV show and I reminded him about the Very Hungry Caterpillar and he told me it became a butterfly. We put leaves next to them for a snack.

A cat entered the garden and we watched it move. D asked to stroke it and I called it over and he did.

What did he learn?

  • Different animals live in the garden.
  • Real caterpillars look different to media depictions.
  • Different animals eat different food.
  • To be gentle with other creatures so we don’t hurt them.
  • The names of some animals.

Al fresco dining

We were all hungry so D and I went indoors to make a snack. I suggested apple and cheese and he watched me slice them. While at the fruit bowl, he took some bananas too. We took them outside and he was very excited to have a “picnic”. We sat on the grass all together and when we finished we put the banana skins in the compost bin.

What did he learn?

  • We find something healthy to eat when we’re hungry.
  • Only grownups should touch sharp knives.
  • How to share a meal with family.
  • Food waste goes in a special place.

Hide and seek

D’s favourite watering can is one in the shape of a duck. We spent a long time taking turns to hide it around the garden while the others counted. Playing Hide and Seek with toddlers is hilarious. He said “I hide it” and then put it in the middle of the grass, ran off, said random numbers then rushed back to the duck and gleefully proclaimed “I find it!”. He sort of nearly got the hang of it with help.

What did he learn?

  • How to take turns.
  • How to use prepositions (under, in, on, etc).
  • He had a chance to practise counting.

Low key doesn’t mean low impact

Hopefully this has shown you how much learning can come from just pottering around in a garden for a few hours, even with a very young child.

Even if you don’t have access to outside space at the moment, let your children explore what you have at home. Invite them to help you with household tasks. Allow them to follow their own interests for as long as they need.

Trust that they are learning every day, whatever they do. Be gentle with yourself.

And remember that a bit of TV never killed anyone!

Next steps

Have a look at my other blog posts if you do want to give your child some prompts based on popular picture books.

You can find more tips for lockdown with a toddler on my Instagram.

If you have any questions about your children’s learning you can email me at hello@treehousemolly.com and I’ll be happy to help.