Instructional Tools, Social-Emotional Learning

Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: *Free* Resources, Ideas, Family Fun, and Deep Breaths

It is not a unique nor profound reflection to say that what the world is experiencing with COVID-19 is unimaginable, unprecedented, and something of a horror movie mixed with a nightmare. Every day, we see stories of dire new statistics but we also see the resiliency and strength of the human spirit emerging throughout. Alongside the rest of the world, I remain ever-grateful for those who put their lives on the line and are truly leading the fight: the first responders, health professionals, the hospital admimistrators, the engineers doubling down and changing course to make rapidly depleting medical supplies, the supply chain directors and workers pivoting and doing all they can to help, the grocery store cashiers and stockers, the pharmacists, the nurses, the doctors, the researchers, the food delivery personnel, the garbage and waste removal personnel, governance across the world and their staff, journalists, and everyone else who is doing what they can to help, inform, and generally add to the good in the world.

Amongst all of this are our brave, resilient, maybe scared, and always precious students. This is a potentially scary and unsettling time for our kids and one that inevitably seems to not have a clear deadline nor course of action.

I find myself asking: “What can I do?”

Besides STAY HOME (which I happily can do), I know I can offer parents support who might be called to homeschool their children as schools scramble to figure out how to make distance learning possible, despite limiting resources available to all students. There are likely going to be som gaps and lags and one thing I can lessen the load for parents is the feelings of helplessness, while also providing students with some learning opportunities, building off of things they already know.

It’s worth noting that perhaps the best thing you can do for your child or students is first to take a deep breath. Smile. Be honest with your student or child but also be strong. They need us right now!

The wonderful thing about teaching in the digital age is the ample and ready access to heaps of free online learning resources and tools. To simplify, here are 10 elementary to middle years resources that are easily adaptable to a wide range of students. Do they neatly fit within specific province and/or state curricula? Not exactly, but I’d say it’s a pretty darn close fit!


From rainbows in a glass to slime and everything in between!


Class Playground has fantastic resources for helping kids practice, review, and learn art, literacy, and math. These resources are appropriate for roughly grades K-6. Click on “Menu” to see the subjects and sub-items.


There is simply no substitute for wanders and wonders in the great outdoors. For a little bit more guidance and ideas to further explore, try a scavenger hunt for your neighbourhood!


Need something while you hop into a Zoom meeting? Check out Vooks, storybooks brought to life, featuring a wide range of genres and stories. These books are appropriate and entertaining for grades roughly K-4 and are used in classrooms across North America, even before quarantine.


Many homes will have older siblings tasked with extra responsibilities to help with younger siblings. If reading and playing start to get a bit tired, task your older sibling with making a specialized scavenger hunt using this free app (GooseChase). This also works well for teachers who are instructing remotely to mix up the Zoom meetings and independent work. Have students create scavenger hunts for one another. Minor parental assistance may be required.


Need a break from the grind and want to let loose a little while still ensuring your kiddos are learning? The band, OKGo, is known for their larger than life and visually wild music videos… which are brought to you, in large thanks to SCIENCE! Say what!? It’s true! The band has a truly fun collaboration with the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St Thomas (say what?! Can I work there?!), and has created STEAM and STEM challenges for students to try to recreate some seriously FUN scenes in their music videos. Parents and caretakers, this might be a fun break for you, too!


Did your spring break travel plans get cancelled? I feel for you! If part of your break involved art viewing, fear not! The MET has got you covered with interactive exhibits, lessons, and stories. This resource is great for middle years to secondary.


Math Playground has a wide variety of math games and puzzles for kids of all ages. If practice sheets and quizzes are getting a bit dry, mix it up with some math games! This resource is appropriate for grades K-5, depending on screen time allowances at home. Also a great way to wake up the adult brain 😉


Physical Education is perhaps one of the most important subjects during this nutty and stressful time in history. If “go outside and play!” is losing its power in your house, or sibling rivalry is reaching a peak, check out PlaySport.Net, a game-based, minimal equipment bank of resources that helps kids engage in non-competitive but strategy-based game activities that keep them active and thinking! These games are transferable to a wide variety of team sports, including volleyball, basketball, baseball, etc. but do not have the same equipment requirements


And, perhaps above all, it’s good to remember to have FUN and embrace this rare time together (while I respectfully and fully recognize that this time might be MUCH more challenging for some families than others). Take some time at the end of the day to ditch Yahtzee, ditch Netflix, and just get silly. These minute-to-win-it challenges take (you guessed it!) a minute to play and are full of around-the-house items used in creative and silly ways and can help take our mind away from the stress and uknown… at least for a minute!
  • How is COVID-19 impacting your family?
  • How have you adapted?
Educational Theory, Instructional Tools

One-Minute Inquiry: Classroom Quickies to Inspire Critical Thinking

There’s been a big push for inquiry-based learning…and for good reason! Inquiry-based learning (which also houses problem-based and project-based learning) encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, craftsmanship, and so much more. When done well, it’s undeniably a beneficial addition.

Inquiry can be a bit of a tricky dance for educators. On the one hand, inquiry-based learning is largely student-driven and teachers serve as more of a mentor, as opposed to a guide, in helping students construct their own knowledge. They play a support role, particularly if students begin to stray in their thinking or get stuck. This is not to say, however, that teachers simply stop teaching and let students have a free-for-all. Rather, teachers can work with students as a class to generate a common starting point before students venture off on their own individually and/or in small groups. Certainly this method of teaching will engage students meta-cognitively, and they will start to chart their own routes of what they want and/or need to know and how they can get there.

For many teachers, inquiry can seem intimidating and maybe even clumsy, particularly if one has assumed more of a direct instructional role for most of their career and/or training. There is so much room at the table for teaching strategies, and inquiry-based strategies provide another way in which we as educators may reach students. Inquiry, at first glance, may seem like a total overhaul in one’s traditional instructional strategy, but in fact, it’s likely many classrooms already employ inquiry-based approaches without even realizing it.

Feeling stumped?

Here are a few quickie, low prep and high impact inquiry-based approaches that can be added to a variety of subjects.

1) Show Me the Money!

If you’re a traveler like me (or if your colleagues are!), you likely have come home with small coins and bills from around the world. I collect and save money from all of my travels and keep a small stash in my classroom. A fun activity for rainy days is to compile bags of money of various currency, divide students into small groups, and ask them a series of questions related to Social Studies and/or Mathematics curriculum. Generally, students have instant engagement as they look through different currency. Who wouldn’t!? Some questions might include:

  • Discover and list the various types of currency (ex: Rupees, Quetzales, Pesos, Francs, Euros, Dollars, Zloty, etc.) in each bag.
  • Convert all money to CAD or USD. Which group has the most money? The least?
  • Identify all countries each money bag comes from and mapping (use the Mapster app if your school has iPads)
  • Ask students to describe any symbols or people associated with currency. What might we assume about the values of the country through what is represented? Have students engage in mini research projects and explore the various symbols represented on bills and coins.
  • Discuss with students the different forms of currency. Why do some countries have many small bills (ex: Rupees) versus some countries have primarily only large bills (ex: Dollars)?

2) Creepy Creatures

During Halloween week, when attention spans seem to wan, it can be easier to embrace the madness (while also being mindful of students whose families do not observe holidays) rather than fight it. Creating creatures is another low prep, hands-on, collaborative mini-project with a wide range of curricular crossover, including Mathematics, Language Arts, Art, Etc. Gather a supply basket for each group with things in your classroom (especially those hard-to-find-a-purpose-for things, such as dried bits of clay, pencils down to the nub, etc.). Give each group a bin, provide studnets with directions, and a time limit. This is a great ongoing project for free blocks and/or introducing new topics. It can be adapted to include more robust skills, such as paragraph-writing, creating narratives, and/or character development. Check out my freebie to inspire your own creature projects!

3) What happened here?

One of my favourite uses of transition time (beginning of the day, after recess/lunch, in between projects) is some type of daily or weekly ritual. Writing prompts are one of my favourites and are an excellent way to prime students towards imagination, wonder, and critical thought. Thanks to the internet, there are E N D L E S S creative writing prompts available. Here are some of my favourite images and sources. Please use discretion when selecting images, mindful to copyright and sharing, as well as what you are sharing your students.

Thanks for stopping by! What other ideas do you have for quickie inquiry projects?

Instructional Tools, Must-Reads, Social-Emotional Learning

BOMish: August 2019 {35 Children’s Books on Empathy & Kindness}

This month’s BOMish is a bit over the top.

It’s less about ONE book and more about… 35! *Gasp!* Say what?!

Indeed! This week, the Huffington Post compiled a list of 35 children’s books that are centred around empathy. These books range for reading levels from approximately grade 1-5 (more heavily clustered to lower elementary reading levels) featuring characters who embark on “compassion, acceptance, and inclusion.” The books range in diversity of topic, including heavy world events like terrorism (Most People) to diversity in our schools and neighbourhoods (All Are Welcome; Chocolate Milk, Por Favor; and Last Stop on Market Street) to bullying (One) to the power of reaching out and being a friend (Save Me A Seat). It also includes the modern elementary classroom hit, Have You Filled A Bucket Today? – a guide for happiness and social-emotional awareness for kids and classrooms, as well as the age-old classic of Ferdinand (personal fave). Books feature characters from all over the world and many have a focus on cross-cultural understanding and celebrating differences. Authors, too, represent

Admittedly, I’ve not ready many on the list, though I’m thrilled to seek inspiration and find more diverse voices and choices as I bolster my classroom library.

Huff Po’s 35 Children’s Books on Empathy & Kindness

  • Last Stop on Market Street (Matt de la Peña)
  • Those Shoes (Maribeth Boelts)
  • You, Me, and Empathy (Jayneen Sanders)
  • Most People (Michael Leannah)
  • The Invisible Boy (Trudy Ludwig)
  • Come With Me (Holly M. McGhee)
  • All Are Welcome (Alexandra Penfold)
  • Little Blue Truck (Alice Schertle)
  • Be Kind (Pat Zietlow Miller)
  • Save Me A Seat (Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan)
  • Chocolate Milk, Por Favor (Maria Dismondy)
  • If You Plant a Seed (Kadir Nelson)
  • One (Kathryn Otoshi)
  • We’re All Wonders (RJ Palacio)
  • I Am Enough (Grace Byers)
  • Enemy Pie (Derek Monson)
  • Lovely (Jess Hong)
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Philip C. Stead)
  • Have You Filled A Bucket Today? (Carol McCloud)
  • Each Kindness (Jacqueline Woodson)
  • I Am Human (Susan Verde)
  • Superheroes Club (Madeleine Sherak)
  • I Walk With Vanessa (Kerascoët)
  • The Monster Who Lost His Mean (Tiffany Strelitz Haher)
  • The Rabbit Listened (Cori Doerrfeld)
  • Otis and the Scarecrow (Loren Long)
  • Lost and Found Cat (Doug Kuntz & Amy Schrodes)
  • Hey, Little Ant (Phillip and Hannah Hoose)
  • How Kind! (Mary Murphy)
  • Pass It On (Sophy Henn)
  • Listening With My Heart (Gabi Garcia)
  • The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf)
  • Empathy is My Superpower (Bryan Smith)
  • Just Feel (Malika Chopra)
  • Kindness is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler (Margery Cuyler)

  • How many of these have you read?
  • What’s missing in this book list?
  • What are some of your favourite titles for young learners?