Parents of school-aged children the world over are embarking on a new experiment. Whether you’re combining partial online learning and in-person instruction or homeschooling for the first time, it’s a system that is unfamiliar to nearly everyone involved.
In my case, this was the year my oldest was supposed to start kindergarten, and my youngest was going to preschool. However, we, like you, are shifting. Blended learning, as it has been called for over a decade, is not new in higher education, but how well does that translate into an effective system for younger learners?
I am not an educator, yet I know that having supplemental learning tools at home will make you more likely to extend learning beyond the classroom. Which, let’s be honest, parents are doing and have been doing forever. These resources are meant to be tools for you, not guilt-inducing must-haves. Many of these you can get at your local library (if it is open). Others, you’ll want to have as workbooks.
These resources are divided by learning-level and are meant to cover a breadth of subjects. Children are natural learners, curious and insatiable—often, they will be our guides in developing a custom-built education. I hope you’ll find these resources helpful as you dive into the upcoming school year.
PRESCHOOL (ages 2-4)
ALPHABET AND NUMBER CARDS: You can purchase these or make your own, but a sturdy set is ideal for early learning at home. Wee Gallery makes a high contrast set, but you can also find alphabet and number cards at most local or online retailers. Our laminated set is still going strong after five years. Similarly, this ABC wipe-clean workbook is a wonder for teaching letter recognition.
PRESCHOOL COLOR AND ACTIVITY BOOK: This book is one I want to give to every preschooler I know. Both of my girls each had a copy of their own, and it’s a great primer for colors, matching, fine motor skills (sticker peels), and problem-solving. The bright colors keep kids engaged, and the sturdy pages can handle heavy use. This is also an excellent tool for connecting with your child for ten minutes a day.
STEAM PLAY & LEARN: This is one of those books that work for children ages 2–8, so I include it in this section. We’ve done several projects from this STEAM-focused book, including citrus volcanos (lemons work better than limes), a marble maze, geoboards, frozen goop, and more. With 20 step-by-step projects using household items, this vibrant hands-on activity book is truly outstanding. Yes, some projects will get messy, but I’ve found that a drop cloth (found at most hardware stores) can contain just about any mess.
KINDERGARTEN (AGES 5-6)
HORIZONS MATH WORKBOOK: We have tried three different math books, and this is hands-down the best series. Each lesson is two pages and takes less than 10 minutes. As a parent, I appreciate the graduated approach to math using colorful images in the first section of the book, followed by early math concepts of addition, subtraction, word sentences, fractions, graphs, and more. We also use this set of math link cubes for a visual when necessary. We plan on ordering the first-grade math book in this series now that my oldest has finished the kindergarten set.
LEARN TO READ ACTIVITY BOOK: A step-by-step approach to helping parents teach children how to read. Each lesson has an objective, a letter sound, and a blending skills activity. In addition, children will learn sight words like is, are, you, and the, all while completing game-like activities throughout the book. I have recommended this book to more families than I can count. Feel free to start with your child earlier than five. We found it highly effective for my oldest, and I can’t wait to get another copy for our youngest child.
WONDER ART WORKSHOP: Assemble a spaceship with a CD, lose parts, and paste. Use a mortar and pestle to crush chalk into a substance for painting. Pound flower petals into playdough and use kitchen flour sacks to create adventure capes. This art-meets-science book is all about process and experimentation, and the possibilities for wonder are endless. There is no right way, which makes it accessible for a range of ages. Plus, each workshop is designed to foster the natural curiosity and imagination of children.
EARLY ELEMENTARY (ages 6+)
HANDWRITING WITHOUT TEARS: Many schools use this series to help children practice writing letters, words, punctuation, and sentences. If you’ve heard of Mat Man, then you probably know about this fundamental series. I love the straightforward activities and the way the letters are grouped; plus, it’s fun to let kids try different writing implements to use throughout this workbook.
SCIENCE IN A JAR: Grow a seed in a paper towel, change the colors of carnations, capture tiny microbes in a neighborhood stream, bounce an egg, grow crystals, disperse colors in liquids, and so forth in these easy-to-follow scientific experiments. You’ll be glad you saved all those random jam jars.
THE UNITED STATES IN 100 WORDS: This collection of 100 words is grouped into six categories (nature, industry, history, government, culture, and American values). With an image and short entry to describe concepts like Congress, Speech, Hip-hop, and Opportunity, this fact-centric book is excellent for any history unit. (I also love the glossary and timeline included at the back of the book.)
GAMES: Invest in a few quality board games. (Maybe I should do a separate post about this?) We started board games when my oldest was about 2.5, and she was just old enough to have an attention span for about five to ten minutes. The games we’ve enjoyed most are My First Orchard, The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Sequence for Kids, and Unicorn Glitterluck (which my husband found at a gaming convention!).
OUTSIDE TIME: We try to go on a walk every morning, often around our neighborhood or at a nearby park. I tell my kids it makes Mommy’s brain happy, and a happy mommy is better than a mad mommy. Sometimes the kids take scooters, and other times we grab buckets for the creek nearby. It doesn’t matter where you go; it’s just the easiest natural reset for restless bodies and minds.
MAGAZINES: Having a handful of quality children’s magazine subscriptions in your home is a game-changer. I feel like I say this every holiday season because it’s the gift that keeps giving. Our family favorites are Bravery, Illustoria, Mighty Kind, and Anorak/Dot.
READ-ALOUD BOOKS: I know I sound like a broken record, but honestly, reading aloud is THE BEST thing you can do for your children. Make time for it every single day. Read to your kids while they are in the bath or at dinner or playing with Legos. Create a weekly storytime based on a theme and be sure to have a snack for extra bonus points. (Here is a list of some of my favorite read-aloud books.)
MUSIC: Last year I started putting music makers in my children’s Christmas stockings and Easter baskets, and it’s been so fun to assemble a drawer of family band instruments. Pair it with Emily Arrow or some They Might Be Giants kid music, and you’ve got a morning of magic and mayhem.