If you’re volunteering on a Teaching or Childcare project with International Volunteer HQ, be sure to familiarise yourself with our volunteer activity ideas to help prepare for your upcoming volunteer program.
These activity ideas have been shared by previous IVHQ volunteers, who have found the exercises to be effective when working with children. The volunteering activities below are also helpful if you’re looking for community service ideas or ways to volunteer in your own community.
Childcare Activity Ideas
While some of the tasks required of IVHQ volunteers working in childcare centers is structured and required on a daily basis, such as teaching, cleaning, and cooking, there are many occasions when volunteers need to show initiative to ensure the children are occupied and learning, while having fun.
Crayons and Dye
Have the children draw a picture with crayons, then paint over the picture with dye (or watered down paint). Crayons are resistant to dye, so if you draw a picture using a white crayon, they children can think you have not drawn anything, until you paint over it with dye and then they will see the picture.
Doing origami with the kids was my favourite. Breaks down any language barrier and gets everyone’s creative side out! - Harpreet Bhal (Volunteer in Kenya)
Cut out funny faces or animal shaped masks from cardboard for the children to decorate. You can use string or elastic to enable your students to wear the masks, or tape an ice block stick at the chin of the mask so the children can hold them. The masks can then be used for pretend play activities, as well as in sing-alongs or storytelling.
Giant Picture Book
We made a large A3-A2 sized story book out of a spiral pad with simple english, colourful pictures and parts where the kids interacted such as repeating certain words or counting things in the story. We let the school keep it and other craft materials which they loved. - Madeline Anderson (Volunteer in Tanzania)
Take a piece of paper and fold it in half (unfold it in front of the children so they can see the fold line). Have the children paint a butterfly or face on one side of the folded paper (using thick paint works best for this activity). After the children have painted their picture on one side of the paper, ask them to fold the paper again with the same fold and open it to see a symmetrical picture. The trick to this is if they paint one eye, the other one will be printed for them – naturally, you may come across many 4-eyed, 2-nosed faces until the children work out what they have to do.
What’s In The Bag?
Place a number of small items, such as a key, pen, crayon, toy, string in a bag that can’t be seen through. Without pulling the item out of the bag, feel one item and describe it to the class to see if they can guess what is in it. Whoever guesses the item correctly gets to have a turn at picking the next item to describe to the class. If the items are quite difficult to describe, have session on how to describe items before you play this game. Spread some things out in front of the children and talk about which ones are hard, soft, sharp, smooth, long etc. Ask them what words they would use to describe them. Say you are going to take one away and get them to guess which one is missing. Describe one item while they can see all of them and see if they can guess which one you are describing.
Trace around the children’s hands and have them decorate the shape. The younger kids are usually amazed to see it work! - Melleessa Stewart (Volunteer in Tanzania)
To introduce the nature table to the children, bring a few interesting pieces to put on it, such as a magnifying glass and magnets for the children to use. Once you have been in the area for a while, you may start to notice some items that could be brought in for the nature table, such as feathers, empty insect shells/skins, interesting rocks, seeds etc. The children can talk about them with you, or they may like to investigate them on their own with the magnifying glass.
Create an interactive board activity by having the children match pictures to words. For example, stick pictures of objects, such as sun, rain, girl, boy to one side of the board and the corresponding words on the other side of the board (in a different order). The children at my placement were very engaged during this activity as they were all desperate to get a turn to use the ‘teachers chalk’ and have a shot of the board! Not many resources are required, which is a bonus! Just chalk, a board/black wall, pens, paper and something sticky! - Emma Nichol (Volunteer in Tanzania)
If you are able to purchase some seeds locally, you can get the children to grow their own plants. Teach them about the care required to look after the plants each day and monitor the growth. The children can then take the plants home as gifts, or be used to make a garden at the preschool.
Alphabet Guessing Game
The older kids enjoyed, “guess the letter on your back”. It’s used to practice the alphabet. Divide students into groups, standing in lines in front of board. The one in the front has a price of chalk to write on the board. Then write a letter with your finger on the back of the students at the back of the line and they have to do the same with the student in front, so on. The student with the chalk tries to guess the letter and write any word that begins with that Letter on the board! - Emma Nichol (Volunteer in Tanzania).
Share songs and rhymes with the children that you know. The children will have some tunes that they know and can sing also. Try singing Old Macdonald, Who Stole the Cookie?, Alice the Camel, and Wheels on the Bus. Nursery rhymes such as, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Humpty Dumpty and Incey Wincey Spider are always popular. Or action songs, like Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes or If You’re happy and You Know It also work well.
Read a story to the children and then have them act it out! Stories that are popular with kids at home were also popular with the kids in Kenya. The Three Little Pigs is a fun one to act! - Tashmeen Huda (Volunteer in Kenya)
I was thinking about printing out little letters (4 of each letter) and putting them in bags, before going over a list of words with the children. Then pass out hand made picture books with blanks. I’ll shout out a word and the children have to match the picture with the word. Then work on spelling and that’s when the bags come in. The children willl fill in the blanks with the letters. For example, with a picture of trees, the children then have to fill in the blanks for it _ _ _ _ _. Split the kids up in teams to make a game of it once they have the concept down. - Kazzandra Castillo (Volunteer in Costa Rica)
Board Slap Game
At the end of the day, write words on the board from the lesson you just taught. Make two teams, and have one from each team comes up. Call out a word and the kids run up and slap the correct word. My kids seem to love this game. - Ryan Ant (Volunteer in Cambodia)
Set out a marked area so the children know where to start and where to run to. Break the group into small relay teams (about 4 to 5 children in each team, depending on numbers). Ask the children to line up behind each other. When the first person in the team has run, they tag the next person in their line to run and when a team is finished they sit down to show they are finished. Relays could involve running, skipping, hopping, walking backwards, side stepping or jumping.
Using containers (or circles drawn in the dirt) and balls (or small stones), ask the children to throw the balls to land in the area given. Make it more challenging by increasing the distance to throw. Try different types of throwing - over arm, underarm etc. Skittles is another fun target game: rolling balls to knock over empty water bottles. You will need to have a level rolling area to do this unless you adapt it so the ball is thrown.
If there are balls available, there are ball skills that you can practice with the children, such rolling the ball to each other, stopping and rolling the ball back, catching and passing chest passes, catching and bouncing it to each other, dribling (with hand) to a set area and back, dribbling (with feet) to a set area and back, throwing into a goal (a bucket or a drawn circle on the ground), using sticks such as in hockey to dribble a ball to a goal and shoot it.Once children have developed some basic ball skills, you can expand this activity and play team sports, such as soccer, rugby, netball, and basketball. Start ball skills with large balls as they are easier to handle. As your students progress, you can move to smaller balls.
We helped the kids make piñatas out of balloons, newspaper, and a flour water mixture. The next day the kids decorated them with whatever they wanted. The final day we brought the piñatas back full of little games and toys, school supplies and a little bit of candy! The kids had so much fun breaking them open and cheer each other on!! It was a great multi day project! - Kelsee Hart (Volunteer in Costa Rica)
Teaching Activity Ideas
While you don’t need to be an experienced or qualified teacher to volunteer on an IVHQ Teaching project, it is important you come prepared, to ensure both you and your students get the most out of your time in the classroom. Below are some teaching activities to aid your lesson planning and help make your classes fun and engaging.
Pictures Tell A Thousand Words
Bring an interesting picture to share with the class. This could be a painting, photo, or something from a newspaper or magazine. Talk about the picture with the children and explain that they are going to write a story about this picture. Ask them to discuss who or what is in the picture, what might be happening, what might happen next, and what might have been happening before the picture. Make up a story together from all the ideas that are discussed.
Giant Story Book
Ask your students to come up with a story line. Break the story up appropriately and write it on large sheets of strong paper. Get your students to illustrate each page of the story book.
Have your students write letters giving factual information, such as a cover letter for a job application, or to find out information. Look at the language that is appropriate to use and formatting the letter correctly. Keep in mind that letter writing styles can vary from country to country, so be sure to ask the local staff about the correct format to follow. You can also have your students write personal letters (perhaps to students in another class) to teach them that the language used when writing informally to a friend differs from the language used in a formal letter.
Give your students spelling lists to learn during the week to help develop their spelling skills. Testing the students regularly will give you an idea of their progress and demonstrate to them that they are not just learning words for the sake of learning. You can teach students to learn words independently by telling them to read the word out loud a few times while still looking at it, then writing what they remember of a piece of paper to see if they can spell it correctly. If not, they can start the process again.
Run a Spelling Bee within your classroom to try to improve the spelling skills of students with a little competition. Not all students will want to participate in the Spelling Bee and shouldn’t be forced to, as developing spellers will not become better by being embarrassed when they make mistakes. Ask two keen students to come to the front of the class to begin the competition. Say a word and ask the children to write it on the board (use some form of a divider so they can’t see each other’s answers). Once a winner has been determined (from the best of 5 words), they can be challenged by another student. The winner of the Spelling Bee will not be able to be beaten by anyone in the class.
Spot The Difference
To help develop the reading comprehension of your students, read a short paragraph from a book and then re-read the paragraph with some changes you have made to it. Then ask your students to pick out the differences in the text.
Write a piece of text on the board that has some words missing. Ask your students to copy the text and fill in the words they believe would fill the spaces. When going over the answers, it is important to note that there may be situations where there is more than one correct answer. For younger students, you may have a selection of words that they can choose from to fill in the gaps.
Reading For Information
Prepare a mock timetable for a bus, or use a calendar or map to introduce the idea of reading as a tool for gathering information that your students will use in everyday life.
When teaching mathematics to younger students, you can get them involved in counting work and basic addition with single digits. As the students get older, they will be doing more complicated addition and subtraction equations, as well as multiplication and division work. You could set up a time at the beginning of each lesson to practice basic sums at the appropriate level - single digit sums for younger students and more complex equations for older students. Having competitions can be an effective way to get your students engaged in learning matematics.
Base your lessons around teaching your students how to measure length, weight, volume or time, and teach them how they can use measurement in everyday situations. If you can bring some rulers or measuring tapes to your volunteer program, these can come in handy!
Design an activity that requires students to collect data, present the data (in the form of a bar graph, line graph or pie graph), and analyse the data from the graphs presented. For example, ask your students to collect data around the favourite colours or animals of the class and present their findings in a bar graph. If you can bring some grid paper from home,
Look at shapes and geometrical properties, including symmetry and spatial awareness. A fun activity can be to have the children create specific objects with a defined set of shapes, such as robots.
Explore patterns, relationships and symbols by creating algebraic equations for the students to solve. Use everyday scenarios to show your students how these equations can be applied in everyday life. For example, explain that you are using the equation 7a + 1 = 15 to work out how many apples you can share between 7 people if you have 15 apples in total and one is rotten.
General Classroom Activities
The following are simple games to introduce to your class that can be incorporated into some curriculums, but can also be used when you are stuck for ideas to fill in the last 5 to 10 minutes of class, or if your lesson plan has not gone as expected and you need to occupy the children while you organise something.
Noughts And Crosses (Tic Tac Toe)
Divide the class into two groups - one team will be noughts and the other will be crosses. Have a noughts and crosses board drawn up on the blackboard. Ask each group questions related to the work they have been doing, such as spelling words or maths equations. If the group answers the question correctly, they put up a symbol (nought or cross) on the board for their team. If the team answers the question incorrectly, ask the other team if they know the answer. If the other team answers correctly, they put their symbol on the board. If they also answer incorrectly, a new round is started. The person in the team that answers the question correctly draws the symbol where they want on the board. You continue asking questions until one team gets three symbols in a row on the board.
Ask the students to sit in a circle. Whisper a simple sentence into the ear of one of the students. In turn, they whisper the sentence to the person next to them and so on, until it reaches the last person. The last person says out loud what they were told. The challenge is to get the same sentence said out loud as it started. The students are not allowed to repeat what was whispered. Once they have been told (even if they did not hear it properly), they have to repeat what words they did hear.
Ask the students to sit in a circle. Pick four fruit names (remember to think of fruit relevant to the country you are volunteering in) and go around the circle, giving each student one of the names so that there will be several students with the same fruit name. Have one student stand in the middle of the circle and remove their chair/space from the circle. Then call out the name of a fruit and the students that were given that name have to get out of their seats/space and swap spaces with another one (they cannot return to your own seat). The one student left in the middle of the circle gets to call out the name of a fruit now. Once the students all understand how to play the game, introduce the idea of “fruit salad” so that if this is called out everyone must find a new seat.
I found my kids in Guatemala loved Scattergories. Their English wasn’t great so I let them use the books in the room to find words that started with each letter. - Alexandra MacAulay Abdelwahab (Volunteer in Guatemala)
We always played pictionary in Lima! The kids also loved being in small groups and completing home made match up games. The pictures to the words in English! - Victoria Costello (Volunteer in Peru - Lima)
If you are keen to upskill before departing on your volunteer program with IVHQ and would like to gain an internationally recognised Teaching English as a Foregin Language certification, see our Online TEFL Course.