I’m in the unique situation of having spent a lot of the last 10 months homeschooling. Not by choice, but because my 6 year old daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia last year.
Millions of parents worldwide are being thrown into the world of homeschooling due to the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. The length of school closures is unknown. Some schools are optimistically saying closures will be for 2-3 weeks, while others are more realistically admitting it could be months.
Even though schools are still open here in Australia, my daughter is obviously no longer attending due to her compromised immunity. My 5 year old son is not going to kindergarten either as we are keeping our family as isolated as possible. So we are back to a full time homeschooling program.
I feel lucky to have a background as a primary school teacher in a time like this but honestly, it’s not as hard as you might think. You can do it!
Below are my ten tips if you find yourself teaching young children at home or supporting them with their learning. (If you’re a teacher looking for resources for teaching online due to school closures I have a mega post that I invite you to check out).
There are unique challenges to homeschooling children in the first few years of school compared to older students who may be able to study a little more independently. Nonetheless, many of the tips will apply no matter what age your children are.
Here’s a summary of the tips and then I’ll go through each in more detail:
Note: This post includes honest recommendations and I have no affiliations with any of the products mentioned.
1) Play Schools, Don’t Do School
I don’t know about your children, but mine do not like “doing” school, they only like “playing” schools. Their enthusiasm and output is 100 times better if we play schools.
What does that mean?
They have fun packing a school bag (full of junk and pretend food!). They sometimes dress in a “school uniform”. They choose names and ages for themselves and give me a name too (usually I’m Miss Sunshine 😉).
We then start by marking the roll which includes a lot of absent random names. Then we get on with the lessons or work we need to cover.
If you have young children, I encourage you to try anything to make it fun. Stuffed toys can be good to include as classmates as well.
2) Make And Display A Plan
Oh, how I love a plan! In my own classroom, having a visual schedule was a non-negotiable and I used to love seeing children peer through the window in the morning to catch a glimpse of the daily schedule.
I’ve tried homeschooling without a clear plan and the day can just disappear, as you can imagine.
Your child’s teacher might provide a suggested timetable to work from but you can always tweak this and incorporate it into a broader family timetable.
Below is an example of what we’re doing in my family currently.
You’ll notice that we try to aim for about 1.5 hours of focussed one-on-one teaching in the morning. If this gets too long, we break it up with quick games and movement breaks. 1.5 hours might not seem that long compared to a 6 hour school day BUT let me assure you, when your child is in a class of 20+ children they don’t get anywhere near 1.5 hours of one-on-one time. So it’s quality over quantity!
The one hour before lunch which is usually arts, crafts, or board games is also parent led. During their afternoon independent play, I try to get some work done (and I do a lot when they’re in bed too).
Note, I made the timetable above in Canva but writing it on a whiteboard or piece of paper is just as good. Just make sure everyone understands. I often write a more detailed timetable on our whiteboard and I always draw pictures next to the words to assist my non-reading son.
As a side note, I’ve seen some people on social media declaring that schedules are not a good idea and it’s just a matter of getting by. I disagree.
Patterns bring comfort. When your daily routine is disrupted, create a new one.
Does the plan always go to plan? Certainly not! But it’s nice to have a bit of a guide.
3) Keep Lessons Simple And Short
What will you be teaching your children? No doubt your child’s teacher will provide work either online or in a resource pack. As school closures are happening so suddenly a lot of teachers are scrambling to get work together and there might be gaps.
You might have also decided to pull your children out of school before they officially close, like me.
So if you’re wondering what to teach your child or how to fill in the gaps, my advice is to keep it simple.
I try to do a bit of the basics every day — reading, writing and maths. Plus I’ve added “music” as a core subject as my daughter learns the violin, and my son dabbles on the keyboard during that time.
Decide what your core subjects are going to be. Then think how to tackle them in a straightforward and meaningful way.
Here are some examples of how to approach reaching, writing and maths with young children:
Easy, just read a book! Bonus if you can focus on a reading strategy or sound and give your child some tips.
If your child has very basic reading skills and you need early readers, hopefully you’ll be able to get some from school or your local library. You can also access readers digitally. For example:
- Epic! Digital library for under 12s (free for teachers so ask your child’s teacher about access — students can access from home during school hours).
- Rivet — A free app with over 3500 free levelled books for young children.
- Starfall — Not all parts of this site are free but there are some nice simple books and activities for very early readers.
- Little Learners Love Literacy (Pip and Tim) — If you have emerging readers and you want to buy an app with excellent decodable texts, I highly recommend the Pip and Tim series from Little Learners Love Literacy. I love free resources and apps but occasionally it’s worth investing in a good resource. As outlined here, the first 5 Pip and Tim books are now free and the price of the others have been reduced ($6 for 5 readers). Little Learners Love Literacy also have a great app called Milo’s Birthday Surprise which is now only $4.49 — a great way to learn about letters and sounds. Also check out the range of other free resources from Little Learners Love Literacy including teaching manuals (these make teaching literacy very easy).
- Pocket Rockets — If you want to buy some affordable physical readers, I highly recommend Pocket Rockets. They’re decodable which is important (that means kids can blend the sounds to read the words) and they build on the child’s knowledge of sounds progressively and systematically. My children love that they are little and short. This pack of 44 readers is $30 (you can use them over and over).
- SPELD SA Phonic Books — these are free decodable readers that you can print out or use online.
- Teach Your Monster to Read — Phonics games to teach reading. There is an app version that is free at the time of writing. Otherwise, the computer program is always free.
I’ve always been a big fan of the Mem Fox quote,
We’re currently wasting a lot of time by setting unreal writing tasks in our classrooms… You and I don’t engage in meaningless writing exercises in real life—we’re far too busy doing the real thing.
With that in mind, think about:
- Making cards for any occasions coming up — birthdays, Easter, anniversaries… anything that’s real!
- Writing letters — try to think of who might be willing to write a letter back (e.g. grandparents).
- Making up lists, plans, schedules — anything that can be put to use.
- Writing a poem or play — something that can be performed for a “real audience” either live or virtual.
- Blogging — writing with an authentic audience really changed things for so many of my students. My own children are too young to blog but it’s an awesome idea for children when they’re 7/8+ (check out the free Student Blogging Challenge I’m running that’s starting this week).
Step away from the worksheets. Okay, your children might like worksheets and occasionally my children do, but their engagement is generally much better with a game or other activity.
- Dice/card games — You’ll be amazed how many games you can play with a few dice and/or playing cards. Spend some time googling for ideas or get a book. We have a book called Dice Games for Kids and one called Card Games for Kids. They’re great!
- Cooking — Might be a cliche example but cooking is an excellent way to learn maths. Just try to be explicit in your explanations about weighing, measuring, counting etc.
- Scavenger hunt — Look around the house/neighbourhood for fractions, shapes, patterns, two or three digit numbers etc. My kids like taking photos and arranging them into a collage (using an app like PicCollage).
- Printable maths games — If you have access to a printer, there are lots of games online that you can print off to play. Here are some sites to try:
- NRICH — I love this site for open-ended maths activities. Some have printables, some are interactive games, a lot are prompts that can be worked on offline.
- Problem Solving Prompts: There is a range of sites with simple visual prompts you can use for rich mathematical discussions. Here are some examples:
- Which one doesn’t belong? Spot the odd one out — shapes, numbers, and graphs
- Would you rather? Make a choice and jusitfy it. Some prompts are very American but you could adapt if you’re not based in the US
- Estimation 180 Build number sense by making estimates based on photos
- Solvemoji Emoji algebra maths. There are very simple ones that are great for young children (and ones for adults too)
- Other online maths games — there are some great online maths games. I’m actually not really a fan of Mathletics or other programs like S.T.A.R. Maths. I’ve tried them out and find them repetitive and unengaging. Your kids might like them! If I’m looking for maths game, I generally just google for games on the topic we’re working on (e.g. skip counting or place value). There are some suggestions for online games in number 6 below.
4) Teach Things You Like And Allow For Passion Projects
Life is so busy. Have you ever thought you’d like to spend more time with your kids, sharing some of your interests together? Now is the time!
For me, I’ve spent a lot of time doing drawing, painting, and other art/crafts activities with my daughter. It’s fun to do together and her skills and confidence have actually improved tremendously.
Maybe you like gardening, cooking, knitting, sewing, woodwork, or photography?
This is also a great time to encourage your children to start a passion project of their own — learn some magic tricks, research family history, design a board game, learn a language (I recently reviewed a great app called Duolingo), make a stop motion video, learn to code, start a podcast… endless possibilities!
My husband and children love LEGO so often work on ongoing LEGO projects. We all know how much LEGO can fuel learning and creativity.
Note: Our LEGO setup at home was made from an old coffee table. We painted it, glued LEGO bases on top, and attached some drawers from an old storage trolley.
Home schooling even allows for little global projects. For example, my daughter has been using Seesaw to share jokes with Linda Yollis and her students in LA. It’s been a fun project to flatten the walls of our house a little!
Could you ask a friend or connection in another area if they want to Skype, Facetime, or exchange videos?
5) Embrace Board Games
Board games are amazing and our family is embracing them more and more. And I don’t just mean simple board games like Scrabble and Monopoly (although these are great), there’s a whole world of interesting board games out there.
Building a collection of games from scratch can be expensive, however, keep them in mind for birthday presents or see if you can do some boardgame swaps with friends. I’ve also picked up some great games at op shops (charity stores).
Don’t be afraid to ignore the “age” suggestion on the box too. Your children might surprise you with their skills and understanding. Board games can be an awesome way to teach children literacy, numeracy, strategy, logic, as well as social skills like turn taking and sportsmanship.
Just a few of our favourite board games to check out include:
- Slapzi: Fast picture matching games that’s perfect for all ages
- Spot It: Symbol matching game that tests observational skills
- Brainbox: Memory and learning game with lots of variations for different ages
- SmartGames: Multi-level logic games that can be played independently
- Top Trumps: Card games that compare values (there are dinosaurs, Marvel, nature versions etc.). Great way to learn numbers!
- Sleeping Queens: Card game that involves memory, strategy, and maths
- Dragonwood: A somewhat complex dice and card fantasy game that’s lots of fun
- Rat-a-tat Cat: A numbers and strategy card game
- Blink: A fast matching card game from the makers of UNO
(Leave a comment if you need any more information about these games or others!)
6) Use Free Online Resources
There are SO many free learning resources online. I don’t want to bombard you with a list of options. No doubt, your school or teacher will be sending you links as well.
Some of my favourite free options include:
- Online books from your local library: A lot of libraries offer free access to eBooks or audiobooks via an app. Check your local library’s website. My favourite is BorrowBox by Bolinda. I get my own eBooks from there and my daughter listens to audiobooks every day.
- ABCYa!: A website (and app) that’s great for simple games to help students develop a range of skills (maths, literacy, strategy and more).
- ICTgames: This website has been around for ages but has some nice little learning games for children in the early years of schooling.
- Topmarks: Free maths and English games for students aged 3 to 14. You can browse by age and subject area.
- GoNoodle: Need a movement break? My kids LOVE GoNoodle. It’s free and full of short videos that you can use for a movement break (many have a learning focus too). Want a fun video to start with? We recommend Pop See Koh!
- Cosmic Kids Yoga: Stories weaved with yoga make this a fabulous way to have a movement break. Many of the videos are available free on YouTube — you don’t have to pay for a subscription.
- YouTube: Wade through the rubbish to find true gems on YouTube. Note: I don’t give my children open access to YouTube. They don’t use it at home by themselves. I let my daughter use YouTube Kids at hospital as a “treat” (I pre-select the channels on there). A few favourite channels are:
There are lots of awesome iPad apps too and we do use the iPad but I like to include some computer games as I want to develop basic skills like using a mouse and a keyboard.
7) Have Some Basic Resources At Home
You don’t need to go out and buy heaps of resources to have a homeschooling program. There are some basics you might use a lot though. Perhaps your child’s teacher will even send some supplies home.
Here are some suggestions of things you might use a lot at home:
- Whiteboard — I like having a big “teaching” whiteboard (I got two from Aldi) and a small whiteboard for each child. Plus some nice juicy whiteboard markers of course.
- White A4 paper and some coloured A4 card if possible.
- Some lined paper — or you can just rule some lines on white paper.
- Basic stationery items — glue, scissors, ruler, sticky tape etc.
- Things to draw and write with — pencils, textas, crayons.
- I love visual diaries (with decent thickish paper) plus Sharpies. I love Sharpies.
- A few dice — even better if you can get a range of dice (not just 6 sided but 10, 12, 20 … whatever you can find).
- A set of cards with numbers on them — playing cards are good or you can use UNO cards and remove the non-numbered cards.
- Something to use for counters — our Coles supermarket sometimes hands out mini collectibles (mini food or stikeez fruits/veg… these are perfect counters).
We actually have a lot more than that in our craft cupboard — playdough, pipe cleaners, feathers, oil pastels, paints, stickers, stamps, sequins, glitter etc. etc. It’s all nice to have but not necessary.
8) Make The Most Of The Morning
A lot of us find the morning is the best time to tackle deep work. I always try to get the “academic” work ticked off before lunchtime. Afternoons are perfect for playing and creative pursuits with a bit more independence.
Before we start learning, it’s really important (to me) to make sure our morning “jobs” are done. Exercise is a non-negotiable for me so I try to do that in the morning. Then I make sure the basics are covered — beds are made, breakfast dishes are done, laundry is on etc.
I always told my students that a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. When it comes to homeschooling I feel like a cluttered or messy house is a cluttered mind!
9) Avoid Constant Multitasking
A huge problem you may face if you’re suddenly thrown into homeschooling is that you may also be trying to work from home. It’s so hard! I’m currently working from home part-time (for Edublogs) and my husband who is a secondary teacher is also working from home full-time.
Balancing your own work can be tricky!
Once again, that’s why it seems to work well to have a schedule. Have some dedicated time when you will sit with the children (while you’re not trying to work at the same time) and schedule in other activities that they can do by themselves.
I find it never goes well if I try to multitask by thinking about work or household jobs at the same time as teaching.
10) Go Easy On Yourself
This is my final and most important tip. The one thing I have found so hard about homeschooling is that I feel like I am never doing enough or getting through enough. All teachers will be familiar with this thought.
Teaching is an impossible job. Parenting is an impossible job. Add them together and what do you get? Stress, pressure, guilt.
You seriously need to go easy on yourself. Just try your best. Your plan will probably never run perfectly but as long as you chip away at a little bit each day, you will be making a big difference to your child’s development.
Another good idea is to reflect on what you’ve done together with your children at dinner time or before bed. You can talk about what you’ve achieved or what you’re grateful for. Take a few moments to think about the great job you’re all doing!
Also, try to take time out if you can. Make sure there is time in the day for what is important to you, whether that is exercise, a chat with a friend, or a trashy tv show when the kids are in bed!
Over To You
You might feel overwhelmed at the prospect of having your children at home and taking on the responsibility of their education.
Don’t worry, you will get back to normal eventually.
Look for a silver lining in this difficult situation. It won’t always be easy and it certainly won’t be perfect but try to embrace the moments together with your children. It’s bonus time that you wouldn’t normally have.
Have you been thrown into homeschooling? Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to find the comment box.
Remember, if you’re a teacher looking for resources to help you switch to remote learning due to school closures, I have written a really extensive guide on The Edublogger that will help!
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