The Back to School Family Challenge

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov
September 20, 2021

The Family Challenge was an original idea created for the UK Safer Internet Centre. First called the Family Summer Challenge, families were encouraged to find things to do together both online and offline. The UK Safer Internet Centre has graciously allowed FOSI to adapt the challenge for the United States. You can find the original article here. 

Across the United States, children have gone back to school and we are slowly seeing temperatures dropping as cooler weather approaches. Parents and caregivers may be feeling a bit overwhelmed as they wonder how this new school year will be compared to last year. Parents may again be concerned about the amount of time their children are spending online. FOSI knows that technology can play a positive part in young people’s lives and that during the pandemic, access to technology has kept many families connected. We have adapted this Challenge to help families benefit from online and offline activities in equal measure and keep families connected, creative and entertained.

What is our Back to School Family Challenge?

Our Back to School Family Challenge is full of activities that children and parents/caregivers can do together as summer ends and fall begins with a mix of online and offline challenges. The challenges are divided into seven themes – creativity, fitness, emotional, culinary, environmental, discovery, and disconnect.  

There are activities for all ages; under 7, 8-12, and 13-17 year olds all grouped into the seven daily themes that can be repeated weekly or used whenever you need to insert a little break into your school routine.

Read through the challenge ideas and see what choices would work best for your family. Feel free to adapt these to suit your specific needs and your kids’ own ideas. 

Get creative!

Use a range of sites, apps or games to get your creativity flowing online and offline.

For children under 7:

  • Be creative with paper: make a kite, a paper airplane, or an origami animal using any of the fantastic arts and crafts sites you find online for inspiration.
  • Grab a magnifying glass and a journal and document all the late summer/early fall insects and plants.

For children 8-12:

  • Gather small pebbles and stones to skip rocks, make a rock mosaic, picture frame, or pet rock.
  • Create a family photo album or photo collage using printed pictures or digital platforms.

For teenagers:

  • Purchase a disposable camera and let your teens be photojournalists for the day; don’t forget to ask for photo consent!
  • Improve your photography or filming skills by watching a tutorial on YouTube.

Note for parents/caregivers:

  • Check out #summeractivities or #fallactivities for ideas on Pinterest or Instagram and while you’re there, check out the Safety Centers for both platforms.
  • Before you share their creations online, use this moment to see how your children feel about parents sharing and oversharing on social media.

Get fit!

There is a wide range of fitness and health videos available online to help your family continue moving as more families head indoors.

For children under 7:

  • Play your family’s favorite songs and have an impromptu dance party!
  • While streaming your favorite show, take a break between episodes for a chance to do some quick yoga or jumping jacks in the living room.

For children 8-12:

  • Go for a walk in your local woods/park and use your phone to find some geocaching spots.
  • Grab some friends for a swim at your local public pool or camp out in the backyard before the weather cools down.
  • Plan a bonfire after sunset and share stories.

For teenagers:

  • Share dance moves with each other – Compare popular dance moves from both generations.
  • Find an online workout video on YouTube and get moving.

Note for parents/caregivers:

  • Create a playlist of favorite music for easy access to workouts or dance parties.
  • Take a walk with your child to a nearby park, woods, or beach. Don’t forget to bundle up as the weather gets cooler.

Get emotional!

As summer ends and we head into fall, some families look for opportunities to spend time together and have conversations about feelings, specifically how we express our emotions online. The good news is that you can do it too.

For children under 7:

  • Do a role-play game that begins with “How would you feel if…”
  • Use examples from cartoons to identify with how they feel. For example, “How would Dora feel? What would Diego say?”

For children 8-12:

  • Try yoga or meditation or take a moment of gratitude. Together, have a conversation about why taking time out regularly is important for our well-being.
  • Give your child space to journal or to create art to explain their emotions.

For teenagers:

  • Start a family book/movie club with media about underdogs – look for recommendations online.
  • Watch Brene Brown’s short film on empathy and talk about what you just saw.

Note for parents/caregivers:

  • Look at examples from the Cyberbullying Research Center to find movies that discuss empathy and sharing feelings online and have a conversation together about how you share your feelings online with others.

Get cooking!

There are lots of cooking tutorials online – why not find some How-To videos of recipes you like and get cooking in the kitchen together?

For children under 7:

  • See how many snacks you can make using fruits, vegetables, or nuts.
  • Draw or paint your favorite summer snack.

For children 8-12:

  • Make a weekly plan of healthy desserts that contain no sugar.
  • Find a big basket and fill it up with healthy portable foods, then plan a picnic together.

For teenagers:

  • Create a printed or digital recipe book with family summer favorites.
  • Film your own cooking tutorial to share with family and friends.

Note for parents/caregivers:

  • Use age-appropriate recipe and cooking guides.
  • Research apps that help your family pull together healthy meals with simple ingredients.

Get green!

Spending time outside and exploring how we can protect our planet can be a great family activity no matter the season, and you can start with finding information online about how you can make a difference.

For children under 7:

  • Plant some seeds for garden plants outdoors or in a mason jar.
  • Visit a natural science museum.

For children 8-12:

  • Do research on what is better for your family: paper or plastic? Come up with a list on how you can reduce your home plastic use.
  • Walk barefoot on the beach, then think about digital footprints and the traces we leave behind.

For teenagers:

  • Watch any of Greta Thunberg’s speeches on climate change and discuss how young people can bring about change through activism.
  • Visit a beach, lake, or park and look for clues about changes in our environment today.

Note to parents/caregivers:

  • Think about any of your regular errands and see whether it’s possible to walk, ride a bicycle, or carpool.

Get discovering!

Being curious needn’t change with age – explore and ask questions as a family about the world around you.

For children under 7:

  • Read up on the sun: is it a star or a planet?
  • Spend an evening stargazing.

For children 8-12:

  • Think about mechanics and find out how things work. Consider fans, engines, and computers.
  • Check out The Smithsonian’s range of science games and apps for kids  

For teenagers:

  • Read up on student data privacy policies and the terms and conditions of their favorite social media sites. What are they agreeing to when signing up for the latest app?

Note to parents/caregivers:

  • Consider STEM-related activities for your children. There are many different ways to engage with this topic; not everyone has to join a coding bootcamp!

Get zen!

Try periods of disconnect if you or your family members notice the need for a break. Come back to your devices when you’re ready! 

And a big thank you to the UK Safer Internet Centre to allow us to share these fabulous resources. We hope the transition from summer to the school year has gone smoothly, but don’t forget to savor the last moments of warm weather, sunshine, and not too much homework!

Written by

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov is a mom to two tech-savvy little boys, a lawyer, law professor and eSafety consultant.

She is a member of the Working Group of experts on Digital Citizenship Education and an independent expert on Digital Parenting and Children and Internet for the Children’s Rights Division of Council of Europe.

She is an advisor on European Cooperation and International Projects for e-Enfance, a French online child protection association providing support to parents and children in the digital age.

Her core work involves researching solutions for parenting in the digital age and she has authored several guides and workbooks for parents, moderates a Facebook community for parents and is the founder of DigitalParentingCoach.com. a website and community with resources for parents.