Being a former classroom elementary teacher doesn’t exactly equip you with everything you need to teach your own children. It’s a whole different ballgame. So when “learning from home” (I don’t love the word homeschool) started in March, I was petrified. I spent an ungodly amount of hours looking up worksheets and workbooks and wasting all of my printer ink on “activities” that Emma wouldn’t even look at. I can’t believe I had drifted so far from my teaching cornerstone – that early education happens best through experience and play! Children learn best through their five senses. Tasting, touching, listening, all are a direct line to the brain – creating memories and promoting life-long curiousity. When you engage your children with activities that are hands-on, or experiences that allow them to move and see and feel, they are able to learn at their own speed and capacity, which releases you from the pressure of differentiating instruction to meet their needs, which can sometimes be a challenging feat to the untrained parent or caregiver who isn’t experienced in educational observational assessments – aka – not knowing how much or how little your student knows and/or where to start. I’ve put together a list of my tried and true favorite experiences to promote learning with your littles ones. I hope you find some release of pressure and easy engagement from these various tools and if you need more help or ideas, I’m just an email away.
Let’s get the “workbooks” out of the way. I am a huge “fine motor” mama and I believe Modern Kid Press makes the best workbooks – everything from writing to cutting to sight words, geared to different age groups. They are simple, concise and not frilly or confusing. I can always get a couple pages a day out of my five year old especially since there are cute graphics for her to color. At her age, it is important to continue to develop her handwriting skills and practice a bit each day. Little ones can use different tools to hone their fine motor skills but Emma needs to continue writing and forming more refined print. If you are a caregiver who is working on establishing proper writing structures, hands down, Handwriting Without Tears is my go-to! I was trained in HWT and believe very strongly that the way in which their program is formulated creates clear and concise learning and instruction – again, no frills or distractions. We have always used these pencils in our home – why make it harder for little hands to do their work? Get it done, move on. Write and Wipe books are my go-to for the car and restaurants – even at the dinner table, where I can helicopter mom on how straight those lines are. Doesn’t seem like work to my girls, but hey, they get the practice in and I am not wasting precious computer ink. Again, learning can take place anywhere – it does not have to be at kitchen table!
When it comes to the tactile learning, my favorite method of learning, there are one million options out there! I’ve narrowed it down to just the basics, tools that can be used in a million ways – you don’t need to go overboard (Again, if you have older children I would be happy to curate a personalized Learn From Home list for you).
The Counting Bears. If you do not have the counting bears, I really just don’t know what to tell you. No, I’m kidding, kind of. You need the counting bears. There is a wealth of learning that can be done with the counting bears. Right now, my five year old is working on word problems – “If you have 10 apples, daddy ate 3, Kate at 2, mommy gave you 3 more back…etc…etc….etc.” She could go on forever and I prefer manipulatives to finger counting so we use the bears. My three year old uses them for basic counting and one on one correspondence – aka – touch counting…one (touch bear), two (touch bear) – I even taught this skill as late as first grade, so get a head start! Also, starting with five visible bears, hiding two behind your back…what color, or how many are missing? Sharpen those memory skills! I could go on and on, please email me if you would like a list of some more fun bear activities, I’m happy to help.
Lego Duplos and Lego Classic. You will use Legos from years to come, and each time your children engage, they will stimulate their STEM learning (science, technology, engineering, and math). Legos can be used at all ages and learning stages. They have big blocks that are ideal for babies 9 months and up, allowing them to safely learn colors, shapes, and counting. Then there are more traditional sets for toddlers, and advanced sets, with lots of tiny pieces, for older kids, teens and even adults. My children play with Legos daily and I can see the focus, patience and thought that goes into their building choices. This happens to be one of my favorite learning tools as I can do it with the children and encourage their imagination. If you still don’t believe how great Legos are as tools of learning, you can read more about the benefits here: How to Learn with Lego Bonus: The littles have no idea that their brains are stimulated and are busy at work!
Puzzles. Simple jigsaw puzzles help children develop finger strength, perseverance and problem solving skills. Ask your child to turn, flip, slide and wriggle pieces into position. Picking up, moving and twisting the pieces of a puzzle helps children to develop finger strength and hand-eye coordination. As your child picks up and positions pieces they also develop small-muscle control in their fingers.
Playing with these puzzles encourages children to look at pictures more carefully, going over them from top to bottom and from left to right. Through doing this, children may begin to notice visual similarities and differences.
Puzzles develop memory skills, as well as an ability to plan, test ideas and solve problems. While completing a puzzle, children need to remember shapes, colors, positions and strategies to complete them.
The experience of completing a puzzle can also help your child to learn to accept challenges, overcome problems and deal with frustrations. – The Early Years Count
That’s about the gist of it.
Community. This should be an easy one. Go out, explore, please, please, please teach your children about their community, about their community leaders, civil servants and about their world! The items I have listed above will help set the stage for learning, the rest is on you!
Last, but certainly not least is “Arts and Crafts” as Emma likes to call it – with her current favorite being using empty toilet paper rolls to create the most amazing “presents.” I spread a whole lot of options out on the table and say “Go for it!” If I sense some apprehension or confusion, I jump in and take the lead and begin a small project for them.
Playdoh. By manipulating Playdoh, children develop eye-hand coordination, the ability to match hand movement with eye movement. They also gain strength and improve dexterity in their hands and fingers, critical areas of physical development for writing, drawing, and other purposes. Playdoh now has some great learning sets if you are lost on where to start, but truly, creating and using their imagination is the greatest skill learned here. I like to have a Kinetic Sand station and a Playdoh Station open at all times. A note on the kinetic sand (my favorite!!!) – do not get the colored sand, get the real, easy, brown, natural sand. It is so much easier to clean up and combined with this cute Ice Cream Set the opportunities are endless. If you buy the suggested sand, it should be an easy clean up, as it sticks to itself and you can just blot all the pieces together again. Playdoh and sand, in conjuction with water beads, flour, water, oatmeal, Cheerios and other safe substances make GREAT sensory bins. Touch, taste, listen…life is for living. Move and feel and experience things with your children. Don’t make learning hard, make it fun!