Scribble school

13 Jan 2021

As part of a covid lockdown, we have already had a remote Christmas and for lots of people schools are closed at the moment. We have two full-time worker parents in our family and that means “screen schooling” is all too prevalent. Recently we have launched an experiment with my parents: I thought it worth a write up. A lot of what I could find online was either aimed at teachers running classes, or very basic tech grandparenting (“try a video call instead of using your telephone”!).

I tried to be creative and resourceful and think through, “what could actually work, completely remotely, to keep a child engaged, thinking, interactively and offer some sort of positive development?” My secondary motive - and I made this clear to the “tutors” on the other end of the call - was to free myself up to get stuff done.

Well, it’s early days, but we have had some success. Scribble School is set to become a regular fixture in our afternoons.

The full list of ideas is below, but the biggest win so far is a digital, expensive version of… wait for it… paper.

Sounds silly - but there are a zillion games you can play on paper. And thanks to the wonderful Scribble Together app, two iPads and two Apple Pencils, we’ve done:

  • sums (our kids genuinely enjoy this)
  • algebra (they love the puzzle element of solving equations)
  • hangman
  • Pictionary
  • dots and boxes
  • sudoku
  • noughts and crosses (aka tic-tac-toe)

Not tried yet, but expect to work well:

  • wordsearches
  • crosswords
  • kakuro and other puzzles
  • coded messages/ciphers
  • colouring - yeah, just colouring in, why not? It can get as advanced as you like.

The set-up is, at each end:

  • iPad
  • Apple Pencil (kids can draw with fingers but pencil takes it up a level)
  • Scribble Together with subscription
  • Secondary device for video call (I know, this is an expensive set up. We are very fortunate to have all this tech.)
  • (optional, but good) - ready-loaded PDFs to scribble on top of (see below)

Prop up the video call device, get that established and then lay the iPad like, well, like a piece of paper in front. Open “Scribble Together” on both sides, get into the same “board”, and bingo. All that to achieve a shared piece of remote paper.

From here on in, it’s great fun. Tips (you can skip the first few if your kids are older):

  • Start simple. Just scribble and shout.
  • One child at a time. Otherwise it descends into chaotic squabbles (for us anyway)
  • Draw pictures together.
  • Play with the tools - eraser, “bomb”, laser pointer (this one especially handy later)
  • Talk about where you’re looking, signal your intents a lot. Be present for the beginning of your child’s call and demonstrate how to do this.
  • Introduce noughts and crosses, or sums, or hangman. All these work on a blank sheet.
  • Bring in PDFs and draw on top of them (good for sudoku, dots & boxes, wordsearches, crosswords, just colouring).
  • Use the “laser pointer” to direct the other side’s attention without having to undo your drawing (it fades out after a few sec)

Other ideas

  • Pretty much anything from the very-good-looking Paper and Pencil Games
  • read over a video call. Could work well if the kids have a physical copy of the book being read.
  • Story game (start with “Once upon a time” and then take turns to contribute a word at a time)
  • Online jigsaws (this is a thing)
  • Pogo (online games)
  • Online versions of board games - and so on
  • Offline versions of board games - snakes & ladders via Scribble Together maybe? Who’s Who?

Sources of PDFs

Here is a folder to get you started. Quite Pokémon heavy but you’ll get the idea. Iris and Finn are 8 and 5 at the time of writing.


I would love to hear from you if you’ve tried this. I bet there are Android equivalents: I would happily update this page or start an “Awesome” list if there’s enough interest. Especially keen to hear of other geeky or creative ideas for remote but non-stultifying activities that connect children and remote adults.

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Tags: geeky, family