How To Build A Discovery Day At Home

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Discovery days are a way to immerse yourself in a subject, learning about it in-depth, and having a lot of fun along the way.

Not only are they entertaining, but children learn much more when they are taking part in hands-on activities and they are especially good for children who find it harder to engage with learning at school. How far you go with a discovery day will depend on how much time you have to prepare, what materials you have to hand, and what your children will enjoy.  You can opt for a topic that the children would be doing in school, or simply choose something that they have expressed an interest in. Once you have decided on a subject, follow our step-by-step guide to organising your very own home discovery day kids will love.

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Choose A Topic

Have your children been given homework about a time in history - the Tudors maybe? Or perhaps they have developed an interest in a topic they have read a book about or a programme they have seen. If you want some inspiration, check out subjects for your child's year group on the Oak National Academy and BBC Bitesize websites. In Reception, they often cover minibeasts - all the insects and bugs you can find in a garden or park. On the Oak Academy website, Year 9 English covers Gothic fiction, Year 2 art is looking at colours, and Year 5 are looking at the Battle of Hastings. These should give you some good starting points. You may also be inspired by special days such as Earth Day, World Oceans Day and Oxfam Water Week. Maybe you have been watching an interesting documentary, like these family-friendly ones, and would like to delve into the subject in more detail. For very young children, pick something simple, such as a letter, word, colour or shape.

boy and girl dressed as knights in the forest

What To Wear

You can have so much fun dressing up in costumes. Creating your attire can be a big part of the day. For a science day, use some of Dad's big white shirts to act as lab coats for smaller people. If you're planning on a historical day, gather together all your dressing up gear, pieces of fabric, bedding, towels, hats, scarves, sticky tape and sewing supplies and leave them to get creative. Add in some card and craft paper for hat making. Older teens should take a look at this amazing blog on historical fashion for some inspiration. If you have opted to focus on a country for your discovery day do some research on national costumes. This offers another opportunity to learn a new skill - you could learn how to tie a sari or wear a kimono (you might need to dig out some dressing gowns). Or draw on some Maori face tattoos using face paints,  or recreate an Elizabethan makeup. Older kids who love social media could even create their own YouTube tutorial to show how they did it.

Create An Atmosphere

If you want to get everyone immersed, decorate a room with appropriate colours, posters, flags and other accessories. Then introduce some rules and customs from the time period or country, so you feel like you are really there. For instance, learn how to say hello and goodbye in the language of the country you are learning about. Or introduce some harsh rules and punishments from the court of King Henry VIII or learn court etiquette. Make sure everyone politely bows to each other if Japan is the theme of your discovery day, or create a poster encouraging young scientists to follow strict health and safety rules for the laboratory on science day.

What To Eat

Everyone loves fun food. If you are following a simple theme such as a colour or letter, choose only foods that correspond. For instance strawberries, tomatoes, radishes, and red peppers for red day. Or lettuce, lemons, lemonade, lychees and lamb for the letter L. If that's too complicated, you could cut everything into the shape of the letter - sandwiches, cookies, and so on. This is a great opportunity to teach some basic cooking skills to little children - they can help with preparing food, using a safe knife to cut. An older child can get more creative, look up some appropriate recipes, and get cooking themselves - it's a great chance to take time to help them learn to read recipes, choose and measure ingredients,  and use kitchen tools and gadgets. Encourage them to be adventurous. Cookit! has some amazing suggestions for historically accurate recipes. If you're working on a science day, you could do some baking and study the science behind it - why you cream the butter and sugar, how yeast works, and the emulsification process.

Plan Activities

Activities are limited only by your own imagination and the materials you have to hand. Try to include a craft activity, something that will get everyone moving, a writing or drawing activity and maybe a quiz, play performance or spoken presentation, That will cover lots of the skills they need at school, and ensure there is plenty of variety.

Think about covering all the senses for smaller ones. Making playdough and slime is perfect for science days. Add food colouring to create the right colours, and make salt dough letters, which can be decorated. Think about blind taste tests, smells tests, and playing what's in the box. Hide various materials and substances in a cardboard box. Cut a hole in the front or top, and then the children must put in their hands and guess what the item is just by feeling it. There are loads of experiments to choose from, we have some great science ideas for teens, and for younger kids here at Kidadl.

It's fun to make things too. If you're studying Medieval times, you could build a Trebuchet, or create an Egyptian death mask or mummy's coffin if you've chosen the Ancient Egyptians as your theme. Lots of things can be made from play dough, paper mache, card, paper and other materials that you hopefully have at home.

To get active, you can learn some historic dancing, try some sword-fighting (carefully!), play a national game such as India's Kabaddi, or play the floor is lava for a science day. Check this article out for more fabulous resources and ideas for themed days.

little hands finger painting

Learning Opportunities

If you have reluctant readers, now is the ideal time to introduce a book into the mix while they are interested in a subject. You might just get them to take an interest in a book that covers the same topic. For instance, The Machine Gunners is a children's historical novel set in World War II about some boys who find a German bomber crashed in the woods.

The Horrible Histories books are perfect too, as they introduce snippets of suitably gory and nasty tales from history. Look out for the Horrible Science books too.

If your children aren't keen on writing, they might be more interested if they can create their own journal about the day, a newspaper article about something they have learned about - or even a step-by-step guide to making their craft project. Keen writers could write a Shakespearian sonnet during an Elizabethan Day.

Remember to introduce some opportunities for maths learning into the discovery day. You could make up some historical word maths puzzles, devise a code to use in World War II, or introduce some measuring and graph making to the science experiments.

Performing and public speaking are useful skills to learn - they now make up a large part of the English curriculum -and doing this at home is a great opportunity for children who are shy or afraid to make a mistake in front of classmates to increase their confidence in a safe environment. Suggest that they do a presentation about their favourite minibeast, or act out a famous scene from history - King Harold getting an arrow in his eye is usually a favourite.

You can also take the opportunity to help your children learn words from a foreign language, take a virtual tour around a museum or famous building in another country, or practise finding information by doing independent research.

Naomi MacKay
Mum of one

Mum of one teenage boy, near Leighton Buzzard, Beds. Born and raised in the Home Counties, Naomi has explored much of London, along with Beds, Herts and Bucks, with her son and husband. When she’s not driving to various skateparks around the UK, Naomi loves finding somewhere new to explore or a new activity they can all try.