The best projects for older kids are all about something they can get into that builds each day. It might be a fitness challenge, learning a language, practising an instrument or trying something new. It can be anything that will give you a really nice ‘before’ and ‘after’ (BAA) comparison from start to finish. Kids love a “challenge”.
The thing is, you don’t need to do A LOT each day to achieve a good BAA. “Take a habit you want, make it tiny,” says BJ Fogg, behaviour scientist and researcher at Stanford University and author of Tiny Habits – The small changes that change everything. “Find where it naturally fits in your life, and nurture it’s growth. If you want to create long-term change, it’s best to start small.”
He advises people to start with three very small behaviours, or even just one, that you can do in less than thirty seconds. So, if want to get super-strong, you start with just one push-up. If you want to play Beethoven, you start learning your very first note.
Fogg advises mastering each push-up or note before moving onto the next, but for the purposes of all of these projects for older kids, encourage them to take it day by day. Do one small thing each day until you master it, then the next day you can move onto adding another small thing. It might take a few days to be ready to move onto the next part of your project, and that’s perfectly okay.
Here are some examples of a projects your kids might like to get stuck into. It’s all about optimising the time they have doing not-much-at-all at home. It’s a great idea to make a short video journal each day, monitoring your progress.
This is helpful too: 40+ free online activities for kids
Projects for older kids they can build on
1. Learn a language
Learning a language is quite possibly the project we all need. The world is coming together more than ever right now and languages are our way into different cultures.
You can use apps like Rosetta Stone (free for students until end-June) or Duolingo to start from scratch learning a new language. Set yourself a goal of a word a day (the BJ Fogg approach) or 5 or 10 words if you want to speed things along. Each of these apps has a daily program that you can stick to. Rype is another good program that guides you through (it’s only free for 7 days though, so learn fast!).
2. Push-up challenge
I did this last year as a 100 day challenge, going from WTAF-zero push-ups to doing 100 pushups in a row. Then I stopped and now I can do about 10 push-ups without wanting to kill myself. I think I am ready to build up to 100 again – maybe you are too? This website will help you get there, building on what you can already do and working you up to doing 100 push-ups within six weeks.
We’d better all check our perfect push-up form before beginning. This video is worth watching over and over…
3. Read 10 books
Make a pile of 10 books you want to read… this might be a virtual pile, if your library has already closed. Hopefully you’ve got some books at home, plus you can order a few in from an online bookstore like Booktopia.
Start at the top of the pile and get reading. Make it a daily habit – maybe 20 minutes in the morning after breakfast and before school; 20 minutes at night before lights out. See how fast you can get through your book pile. If you’ve got a friend who also enjoys reading, you can challenge each other to see who can read all the books first. No cheating!
If you’re not a keen reader, or just want to start smaller, commit to reading a page a day until the first book is finished. Then move onto the next… Reading is a project for life.
PS – you can get loads of kids’ books via Audible for free for a while.
4. Master an instrument
Many of us have ‘always wanted’ to learn an instrument. Having ‘no time’ has been the perfect excuse not to have a go at something we know is going to be really tough. Now we have time, so no more excuses. Here are some good lessons in some common ‘gunna learn’ instruments.
- Home School Piano (free piano lessons until September)
- Andy Guitar (lots of free guitar lessons to get you started). Andy also teaches Ukelele lessons too
- David Bilger classical trumpet school
- Mr Glynn free trombone lessons
- Mike Johnston teaches drum basics
- Talking Bass has free intro lessons to the bass guitar
The key to any of these projects for older kids is to commit to daily practise, hopefully forever. Find a good time to fit it into your regular schedule. If you’re doing school online at the moment, practising during recess might work for you. Don’t try to go in too hard, either. The BJ Fogg method would suggest that five minutes a day, every day, for weeks is far better than 20 minutes every now and then for a week until you give up because it’s all too hard.
5. Beep test
The beep test is an ingenious torture tool that helps you get stronger, faster and fitter. You set up two points, about 20 metres apart and basically try to run between them before the next beep sounds. The beeps can stay the same distance apart (it’s only you who gets tireder and slower), or you can set it to speed the beeps up to really test yourself. You can set the beeps to match your level of fitness, and increase their speed as you get stronger and faster.
Of course, you can use the beeps to challenge yourself to do anything between the beeps – getting X number of burpees done between beeps is particularly excruciating. Download a beep test app to get you started.
6. Take up ballet (or another style of dance)
Kathryn Morgan is a former soloist with the New York City Ballet. She has over 300 videos uploaded to her YouTube channel taking you through every aspect of ballet. This one is really for those who have done ballet before (so definitely for anyone who is unable to attend ballet classes right now, but wants to keep on dancing). Lazy Dancer Tips or Holistic Ballet are for the rest of us. Daily exercises that should take us from ‘what’s the point’ to ‘pointe’ in no time.
Other dance styles to explore (I’m ever hopeful that my whole fam will do some line dancing as a project, but so far… it’s a hard no):
7. Learn to draw
There are worse ways to spend your days than creating a picture a day as your project. You can find loads of drawing classes online to help you build skills. Some of our favourites include:
- Happy Drawings – cute, animation-style drawing
- Art is Fun – a variety of drawing tutorials
- Natalia Madej – fashion-style drawing
Skillshare has loads of art classes on offer. You can sign up for a free 14-day trial to see if it’s for you. To match up with the self-reflection that being a teen brings on, we would recommend:
- Mari Andrew’s 9 exercises to write, draw and illustrate your future (Mari is the author of the book I’m going to give as an 18th birthday present forevermore).
- Meera Lee Patel’s Drawing for personal growth
- Jordon Sondler’s Visual journalling: Drawing your feelings
It’s nice to have a drawing book dedicated to any of these projects. That way you get to keep a memento of your drawing skills improving.
8. Become a better cook
Could this be the ultimate project-that-keeps-on-giving? Set the kids the goal of learning X number of dishes over X number of weeks. The world’s great chefs are very generous and they frequently make us dinner…
- Italian chef Massimo Bottura’s Instagram ‘kitchen quarantine’
- Keep cooking and carry on with Jamie Oliver
- The Bon Appetit test kitchen is always open
- Epicurious 4 Levels is always fascinating
Of course, being taught how to cook via television and video is nothing new. I work for SBS Food, so I’m constantly exposed to amazing cooking shows you can stream for free. Current faves include:
- Adam Liaw’s Destination Flavour China – seems very fitting right now. Adam is always effortlessly watchable and full of great food tips
- Luke Nguyen’s Railway Vietnam – we called this show ‘Luke on a train’ while it was being filmed. Best train ever.
- Gourmet Farmer – Matt Evans and his family and friends are always great to watch. A great way to pick up tips on being more sustainable with our food choices right now
- Cook Like An Italian with Silvia Colloca – basic home cooking, the Italian way (which, let’s face it, is the best way!)
- Taste le Tour with Gabriele Gate – because we could all do with a foodie trip around France
9. Write a short story
Or even a novel. Creative writing is best performed as an everyday skill. You build on your writing each day and just get better at it. Imagine starting today and having some fully-developed stories to your name at the end of the quarantine period.
The best course around for adolescents is Allison Tait’s Creative Writing Quest through the Australian Writers’ Centre. It’s a bit exy at $245, but the course is self-paced, so kids can take their time. You get real-life feedback from a top author, too. This is one of the only online Australian creative writing classes aimed at kids.
If you don’t mind a course that’s pitched at adult-level, you can work through the basics for free online. Try one of these:
- Arizona State University offers its English Composition class for free online.
- The Crafty Writer’s Creative Writing Course is also free.
- How to Write a Novel in 15-steps is fun too.
10. Learn photography
If you’ve got a digital camera kicking around, the kids might like to take their iphoneography to the next level. They’ll be able to capture what it’s like living with social distancing while they’re at it.
- Udemy has a free short introduction to photography basics
- Lifehacker is always good for its short tutorials and the photography guide is no exception
- Take it next-level by doing the MIT Intro to Photography lecture series online for free
A good way to make this a challenge is to commit to taking a photo a day. You can upload it to Instagram or an app like 1 Second Everyday (perfect for budding videographers too). If you’re stuck for ideas of what to snap a picture of, join an Instagram Photo a Day community.
11. Start sewing
Another life skill that seems to have skipped our generation. Perhaps our kids can bring it back? It’s actually very frustrating having to pay someone to hem a skirt or sew on a button, so this is one of the projects for older kids I’d really encourage. Really simple things that are pretty easy to do. It’s time to learn how to do these tasks so they can just be… done.
Made To Sew – has a really simple beginners sewing course via YouTube. It’s good for hand sewing, or machine sewing, if you happen to own a sewing machine (many of us have a dusty one somewhere).
To set this up as a challenge, get some basic skills under your (hand-crafted, of course) belt, then try making everything on one of these lists:
- Hobbycraft – 50 sewing projects for beginners
- It’s Always Autumn – 20 easy sewing projects for beginners
12. Do the splits
There are certain things we can all do as little kids that we stop doing and then just can’t… like the splits. Work your way up to a full split and then do the splits every day for the rest of your life. That’s how you stay amazing!
The YouTube video is very motivating, but this article will better help the absolute beginners. Mind you, it’s going to take a lot longer than a couple of months for me to get my legs doing anything resembling the splits!! This is definitely one of the projects for older kids where ‘old’ is a key word!!
13. Build a pizza oven
We all say we want our own woodfire pizza oven, but none of us wants to lay down around 1000 bucks to make it happen. Well, we don’t have to. With kid-power as the driving force behind this project and a few materials from the hardware store (get in while it’s still open!), we are set. This step-by-step tutorial is good, even for total beginners like most of us.
Beginning of project = no pizza oven. End of the project = do you like pineapple on your pizza or no?
14. Sing, sing, sing
Every time someone says “I can’t sing”, somewhere a little birdie stops singing. Because just like that little bird, we all have pure, natural, beautiful song within us. It’s time to let your inner-birdie out. Start with some singing lessons:
Then join one of the glorious online choirs springing up everywhere. Couch Choir is a great place to let your song out.
You can meet up with them on Facebook here. #goals
15. Send a letter a day
The lost art of letter writing deserves a revival. Especially as we are all online a lot A LOT right now. Get out the paper / card / postcard and pen and write a letter a day until the year is over. Write to your gran, your friends, your teachers, the neighbour, your cousins… or a complete stranger. You can match up with a pen pal here or send postcards with your deepest, darkest secrets here.
16. Become a runner
This is an especially good one for anyone who rejoiced when they realised the cross country would be cancelled this year due to COVID-19. Gasp, it’s way too soon for our kids to stop running a measly three to five kilometres! We want to be running those kinds of distances daily into old age.
Like we do. Ha! Maybe we need to make some of these projects for older kids our project too? Lace up those runners!
17. Crochet a blanket
I’ve always wanted to learn how to crochet, but it’s not something I’ve ever managed to do. Pip Lincolne from Meet Me At Mike’s has the simplest crochet tutorials to start us off from scratch. In 10 lessons she takes us from a ball of wool and a crochet hook to a thing of beauty. You could commit to crocheting one granny square a day to end up with a blanket by the end. Let’s hope you finish with a lap blanket, rather than a super king…
Can you think of a few more awesome projects for older kids?
More to help you through:
- The kids doing school from home is going to kill me
- Self-isolation from home when home doesn’t feel safe
- How to support learning from home when you’re working
Pin these projects for older kids so you can refer back to them later!