The Virus Diaries: Educational Obstacle Course

March 24, 2020 at 3:52 pm (Cat pics, Fully Sick, general life, Mum Stuff)

Last night, my daughter made up a story about a magical eagle protecting smaller birds. It was lovely. Just one problem: the villain was the main character’s cruel and despotic mother. She told it with perfect innocence, which makes it so much worse.

She also said today that she can’t wait until she has kids so they can rock her in a hammock. Well, sure.

In the above pic she’s dressed (since we’re outside) but her latest apocalypse outfit is a blanket draped around her like a Greek goddess. And why not?

And the evolution of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” has reached its inevitable conclusion:

As you can see in that video, Zipper remains torn between her desire to be near her pet humans and her desire to avoid the Dangerous Blue Swinging Thing.


I’ve been terribly impressive this week. On Sunday I had an idea for an educational obstacle course that got the kids reading (at their different levels), exercising, and practising maths (at their different levels) at the same time.

I gathered together all the vaguely exercise-related outside toys I could think of, plus some others, and got rid of trip hazards in the yard. Then I collected 2- and 3-letter verbs, ie words that TJ could read and then do. Here’s my collection: go, get, run, hop, hit, pat, get, up, jog (also ‘and’, ‘cat’, ‘dog’, ‘fox’, ‘mat’, ‘rat’). Or if he’s particularly impressive: jump, pull, push, sing, climb, skip (also ‘ball’, ‘down’). We’ve been learning ‘th’ and specifically ‘the’ and ‘this’. He is already able to recognise his numbers.

Then I wrote a 20-part story that never had more than a few sentences at a time (for Louisette to read), with an underlined bit that TJ could read, and actions for each part. I printed out two copies; one for me to follow along with, and one to tape up section by section around the yard (I should have made the numbers bigger so they could more easily spot the clues in the correct order). Here’s the full story, with my comments in italics. Feel VERY free to cut, paste, and adapt to your own yard or house.

The Runaway Rabbit

A rabbit is a handy main character because you can get the kids to hop the whole course if you like and/or wear rabbit ears if you have them. Also, a lot of kids struggle to pronounce their ‘r’ sound, so this can be a good time to practise the ‘rrr’ growl sound (although not on Day 1 when they’re overwhelmed by all the novelty). The plot of “something’s chasing you” and/or “the ground is lava” is extremely adaptable. Attentive readers will note that it’s not necessary for every section to make story sense. The kids get how the story works and will go with the flow.

I probably should have put clear contact on the clues but I reckon they’ll last 1-2 weeks even if it rains, which is as long as the kids will be willing to do this every day.

I chose a ‘handwriting’ font so that the letter ‘a’ would be printed the way it’s written (unlike the font I’m using right now). Reading is hard enough without making up a new letter shape.


  1. You are a rabbit. There is a fox coming! Go this way.

  1. The fox is getting closer! You need to jump lots of times and say a times table.

For example: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24.

Obviously #2 is at the trampoline. But kids can jump up and down without a trampoline if you don’t have one.

  1. You hurt your foot! Hop here.
  2. Quick! Jump aboard the train to escape that cheeky fox. Push this.

I set up a wooden toy train set on the table, which was one of the most labour-intensive parts of this whole thing because I needed to bring it in each night and then set it up again each morning. Your mileage will vary.

  1. Oh no! The fox jumped onto the train too! You need to step up onto the roof of the train. Don’t fall!

Any stable bench or chair will work.

  1. Carefully climb this way to get onto the next carriage. Don’t fall!

Moving from one bench/chair to another.

  1. The fox has fallen asleep on the train. Very quietly get down and rock Mum so the fox stays asleep and you can escape.

Hammock time. Or they could sing a song and/or do a dance until the ‘fox’ falls asleep.

  1. You got off the train, phew! What time is it now? Look at the clock.

This works with any clock/s, ideally with batteries removed so you control what time it is (for them to practise telling the time).

  1. A volcano is erupting! The grass is lava so don’t let it touch you.

Lay out any objects that the kids can use as stepping stones (pavers are great).

  1. Oh no! Five baby rabbits are falling from an apartment window above you.

Catch 5 balls and give them back to their mother (the washing basket).

We have a ball run. As long as you have a ball, the kid/s can play catch for this section. Or you can use a basketball hoop and ball here eg ‘Throw the baby rabbits through the hoop to safety.’

  1. The lava is coming even faster! You need to take the car.

We have a toy car. Alternatively, this is a good time to do more hopping, if you haven’t already.

  1. You see something round in the distance. Is it a safe place? Go to the hoop.

This is a hoola hoop hung from the washing line with string/rope/ockey strap. A bent hoop works fine. This is the part that impressed the kids the most.

  1. Step in and over the hoop.

‘Step through the hoop’ is clearer, but I was trying to use words TJ could have a go at.

  1. There’s even more lava! Get the car and go back to the same spot as before. This is designed so Mum doesn’t have to move the car when she resets the course.
  2. There’s so much lava everywhere! You will need to balance very carefully along a narrow ledge to get to the only safe place. Step on the rope.

I used a skipping rope (which Louisette loved, and TJ said was too hard for him). Any rope will do and is great balance practice.

  1. Climb up onto the porch and then sit on the steps. Phew! Time for a break!

Up and down steps is great exercise.

  1. Oh no! Even more lava! Throw the ball through the hoop!

This is where our basketball hoop came in (and much chasing of runaway balls, which is also great exercise). We have a stool next to it for the shorter kid.

18. The fox has found you again! RUN!

Cunning parents will have their kids run more than a few steps, eg ‘Run to the tree and back.’

19. A tall tree! Climb up here and you’ll finally be safe.

This loops back to the place where they started, which makes it natural for them to try it again if they’re keen. (Mine were not.)

20. Aha! The fox ran away and the volcano finally stopped erupting. You’re really safe now, and the other rabbit family is safe too.

Good job.

The End.

This is my kids (5 and 8) doing the first part of the course for the first time.

It’s extremely important to balance confidence and skill. TJ is very excited about reading, so I felt I could get away with more than one TJ-oriented word per section (especially as I’ll be running them through the course daily for at least a week). Always aim for ‘too easy’ rather than ‘challenging’ because confidence is more important than competence in primary school. Younger kids should just read one or two sections (which could be built up over time eg 2 the first day, 4 the next time, then 6, and so on).

Teaching is learning, so a bigger kid helping a smaller kid is EXCELLENT for the bigger kid. It shows them how far they’ve come.

On the other hand, doing the course with multiple kids is extremely likely to cause fights (especially at the end of the day). Your kids are probably desperate for one-on-one attention.

Obviously you can set different times tables and different clock times whenever you like. For Kindy, being able to read ‘Such-and-such o’clock’ is plenty, and they’d probably practise counting rather than times tables on the trampoline.

Repetition is good (I’m NOT making a new course for each day!) and memorising words is part of reading. On her second go, Louisette’s reading was much more fluent. TJ refused to do it a second time, saying that balancing on the rope and getting a ball through the hoop was too hard. I offered help and he refused.

Kids are punks… so try to keep it simple in case they point-blank refuse to try it. Which will definitely happen in some families.

At least the cat appreciates it.

Resource of the Day: That was it. This will be all we do for the next week or so of school. (I am lying; TJ will continue learning Jolly Phonics letters, because that’s what he wants to do.) Here‘s my guide to educating your Kindy kid at home for as little as ten minutes a day in case you missed that.

Donation of the Day: Do you know someone will a big birthday, event, or (gulp) wedding that is going to be cancelled or postponed because of the COVID-19 virus? Buy or make them something super special (then don’t let anyone touch it or go near it for 9 days, then wash your hands and deliver it to their porch).

Personal Action of the Day: Disinfect the kids’ school bags, especially the handles (especially if they’ve just had their last day at physical school for a while).

Hoarding Item of the Day: Buy a kindle. Then you can read a million books without risking any germs from the post. And I suspect postal workers will be overworked too.


We have extremely exciting news for tomorrow!

Well, it’s extremely exciting to us. And especially TJ.

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