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No Screens Required – Helpful Tips from Westtown School

Find some family fun with these activities from Westtown School that help your family take a screen time break.

Catie Nicholson has been an educator for almost two decades. She started her career at the Woodlynde School in Strafford and then relocated to Washington DC where she worked at the Lab School of Washington. It was during this time, Catie discovered her passion for teaching students using multi-sensory approaches. She loves thinking and teaching outside the box and is looking forward to her first year at Westtown School as Lower School Learning and Literacy Specialist. 


Whether your children are learning virtually, in person, or a hybrid of both, I would guess that you  have a heightened awareness of your child’s screen time over the past few months. As I wrestle with that as a parent and teacher, I remind myself that movement and noise—constructive noise, that is—have always been part of my classroom. In my traditional teaching  environment, it was not odd for a teacher or parent walking the hall to hear my students chanting sentences to check their writing, acting out their favorite simile, or racing one another outside to demonstrate why the Pony Express was so effective.  


My “traditional” way of teaching has had to be reinvisioned for the realities of delivering education online during a pandemic. Challenge accepted, COVID-19! As a teacher I have always utilized movement to help my students learn, and in this age of virtual classrooms and added screen time, the need for movement has become even more important. It is evident with my students and my own children that they need opportunities to move, to get outside, and to learn away from screens. In fact, studies have shown that there is a connection between movement and memory. Physicians encourage their patients to get out and move because of the benefits it has on mental clarity and overall health. A student who is active displays better focus, cognitive processing, and memory retention compared to those who spend the day sedentary. Keeping the body active is necessary for overall physical and neurological health. 


Below are some activities to get even the youngest learners active and engaged:

Splitting Syllables  

Materials needed: Two Hula Hoops or something else with which to draw circles 

How to play: I like to use Hula Hoops for this game, but you can use any items that can be separated. Dictate a word to your child and have them break it into syllables by hopping from one hula hoop to another. For instance, the word sunshine has two syllables, so the child would jump into the first hoop and say “sun” and then would jump to the second hoop and say “shine.” To make it more fun and challenging, they can finish by putting a foot in each hoop and say the word together “sunshine.”


Sideways Spelling 

Materials needed: Chalk

How to play:  Draw the alphabet on your driveway. Dictate a spelling word to your child, and then have them jump to each letter to spell it. 


Sidewalk Sounds 

Materials needed: Chalk

How to play: Draw a hopscotch course on your driveway or sidewalk, and have the kids hopscotch their way up while repeating the different sound groups. You can make it more challenging by asking them to add words that rhyme (cat, bat, mat), digraphs (ch, th, wh, ch, sh) or sight words. 


Shoo Words Shoo  

Materials needed: Fly swatter and notecards

How to play: Write your child’s sight words on sticky notes and put them on a wall or window. Dictate the word and then have the child swat it with the swatter. You can reverse the process, and have them read the words and they can test a parent or sibling’s knowledge, too!


Sounds on the Ceiling 

Materials needed: Flashlight, tape, and notecards

How to play: Kids love a flashlight, so why not use it to your advantage? Tape cards with words to the ceiling and turn off the lights. Give your child a flashlight and have them read each word as they shine light on it. You can also put letters on cards and have them identify the sounds.


I use most of these activities with younger students, but many can be adapted for older children. An older child might practice vocabulary or a foreign language using the flashlight game or add numbers using the hopscotch course. You can also turn the tables and let your child be the teacher giving you a word to spell, or break into syllables. 


I encourage you to be creative with these activities and think of your own with your child. They promise to remind you of the fun you can have while learning (and laughing) together! 


Westtown School is a Quaker, co-ed, pre-K-12 day school with boarding options in grades 9-12. Westtown offers a challenging, diverse curriculum emphasizing action-based learning, critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, service and social action. For over 200 years, Westtown has inspired and prepared its graduates to be stewards and leaders of a better world. www.westtown.edu