What is happening right now in the world is unprecedented. I’m watching it all closely, washing my hands of course, but mostly trying to figure out how I can help. With the plethora of schools closing temporarily, I’m aware a lot of parents are being thrust into a position of homeschooling, maybe for a week, maybe for a couple months. I’m sure you’re asking yourself what I asked myself when I just was getting started- where the heck do I start?! I got you. Here’s how to homeschool.
Reading about the best full curriculum options for homeschooling probably isn’t going to be very helpful to you right now, but I’m hoping this list of resources, games, and activities for home learning is. First of all though, if your doubting yourself and feeling nervous, know that that is perfectly normal. Those of us that have been doing this for years still question our abilities. But remember this- you love your kids and because of that, it won’t be possible to fail them. You’ve got this, mama!
I put a question box on my Instagram stories asking what would be most helpful to those finding themselves suddenly homeschooling and wrote down the most common responses. The age range seemed to focus on kids from a toddler age through roughly age 8 or 9, so that’s the age range focus for this homeschool resource breakdown. I’ll be addressing the following most popular concerns:
- What does a sample homeschooling schedule day look like and do I need one?
- What are the best online resources for printable worksheets?
- What are some great educational apps that my child will actually enjoy?
- How do I keep them from fighting and keep my sanity?
- What do I do with one child while I teach the other?
- Where can I find time to work while homeschooling?
Obviously these answers are going to differ slightly depending on the number of children you have and their ages. For reference, I have two girls, ages 8 (second grade) and 5 (kindergarten) and have been homeschooling for three years. I understand the struggles of keeping a younger child entertained while doing a math lesson with the older one (though may I recommend taking advantage of nap time is the absolute best way to handle that situation). Ok, let’s go!
General Tips for creating a Thriving Homeschool Environment
Homeschool is not recreating school at home. Take advantage of the perks- a little extra sleep, doing work in pajamas on the couch, and breaking for a snack or bathroom break anytime you want! When I first started, I was so nervous (read about our first homeschool day of kindergarten where where I relinquished to the power of hot chocolate before 10:00 AM), but soon learned that homeschooling is not school at home. It has its own wonderful, unique flow. It’s baking, reading, researching personal interests, and building things with paper towel rolls.
A homeschool day works best with a little structure. While you don’t need a set-in-stone start time (unless that’s your thing), a general routine so that both you and the kids know what to expect does help the day run more smoothly. With younger children, you may be surprised that homeschooling lessons can be done in less than two hours a day. Personally, we like to break that time up throughout the day. While we don’t follow this time table below strictly (except for the wake up time), this is an example of the general flow for our homeschooling days:
- 5:15 AM: I wake up and journal, then work in the office until 7:30 AM. I go and get dressed then so I’m ready for the girls when they get up.
- 8:00 AM: The girls alarms go off. They used to sleep until whenever, but we found they did better during the day and went to bed better at night with a firm wake up time.
- 8:00 AM-9:00 AM: I make breakfast, we go over the plan for the day, then I’ll either read aloud to them or go ahead and do their Language Arts lesson. I love taking advantage of having a captive audience and since my girls are slow eaters, we usually get at least one lesson in over breakfast.
- 9:00 AM: They clear their plates, get dressed and brush their teeth while I clean up the kitchen. After they are ready they will sometimes play Barbie’s, or we’ll go on a family walk if it’s pretty. I’ll throw in a load of laundry or set up the crockpot depending on what dinner is (favorite kid-approved crockpot meals can be found here). The point is we all need a little wiggle time after breakfast.
- 10:00 AM: Math. For us, math is best done in the morning when we are all feeling more fresh. This is the most challenging part for us because I need to work with each one individually. More on how I handle that below.
- 11:00 AM: Creative time. This hour is all over the place. Sometime it is free play, inside or outside, sometimes we do a Kiwi Crate (get a free one to try here) or an art project (not my spiritual gift but the girls love them so I try), or all get in the kitchen to feed the sourdough starter, or put on music and fold laundry, or do chores (here is a link to the girls’ responsibility charts with paid chore option).
- 12:15 PM: Lunch! Sometimes they’ll help me make lunches, other times if they are playing well, I just call them when it’s ready. Again, to help them stay seated, we use this time for read aloud. I get picture books from the library regarding the history they’re learning about (right now it’s the middle ages and the renaissance).
- 1:00 PM: When they were younger, this was mandatory quiet time, carried over from nap time of the days of yore. Now that they are older, they have options. They can play well together either outside or in the playroom, or have quiet time in their rooms to read or color. It doesn’t matter much to me as long as they self-entertained because this is my work time.
- 2:30 PM: Science projects, self sustained reading, working with Kaitlyn on reading, etc. We use this space as a catchall. Does Hailey need to be practicing writing? We do that here. Do we need to make birthday cards for someone we love? We do that here, too. Sometimes we’ll do dinner prep together, or go to the playground, or fill out our nature journals.
- 3:30 PM: Usually at this time is when we are busy with activities. Under usual circumstances, the girls take soccer, tae kwon do, theater, art, and American Heritage Girls. Of course, all that is cancelled right now, so we are filling it by playing board games, going outside, more free play or doing art.
- 5:00 PM: Start making dinner. A lot of time they like to help, which while that makes things messier, it’s a great learning experience and it keeps them occupied. Have younger kids/toddlers? Check out these three kitchen tasks for a three year old.
- 6:00 PM: We eat dinner. It takes us a while because David will quiz the girls on spelling or math and we get really into these dinner time conversation games.
- 7:00 PM: Clean up, brush teeth, possibly read another story depending on the time.
- 7:45/8:00 PM: Bed time.
***A note on a schedule or routine: Expect things to take longer than you allotted time for and get comfortable with minor adjustments to your schedule and/or pushing a scheduled lesson to the next day. Sometimes things are messier than you expect or one child runs off or has a tantrum or maybe they are asking a lot of questions. It’s best to go in expecting the multiple interruptions that are sure to come. Some of the best lessons, though, are those we all learn together when we take one of the kid’s random questions and dive deep into researching it!
Have a morning meeting. In school this is often done as circle time, but at home it can be done over pancakes at the breakfast table. Here it’s important to go over what the day’s schedule looks like and any other relevant information. My girls do so much better when they know what to expect from the day.
Some lessons can be taught to multiple ages at once. This is such a gift. Science, history, social studies, reading aloud, and more can be done as a group. I even teach language arts all together because I find Kaitlyn enjoys the challenge of listening and learning to what Hailey is working on. Not only does that mean everyone is learning, it also keeps the younger child occupied and involved. You can expect the older child to retain more, of course, and perhaps answer questions, or do a project that the younger child can skip.
You are not their cruise director. It can be great to have a whole day mapped out with engaging lessons and crafts, but in my experience it leads to burn out pretty quickly. One of the gifts of homeschooling is more time to let them stretch their imagination and increase their ability to self-entertain. I believe it’s important to both you and them to have unscheduled time for free play. They can get dirty outside, build forts, play in a pasta bin, play hide and seek, make up dances, etc. Nervous to send them out of your sight? Buy this. We use ours ALL the time from biking around the neighborhood to when we go on nature walks away from home.
The heart of homeschool is the home. Kids are always learning from us. Some of my favorite things my kids have learned through homeschooling aren’t the math equations, but the life skills. This piggybacks off the idea of not being their cruise director (they aren’t on vacation; they are contributing family members). And it’s fun! It’s like a giant, on-going home economics class! They help me meal plan, fold laundry, make tea, bake bread, pay a bill, address a letter, fill out the calendar, etc. Don’t underestimate how valuable it is to include them in these things, and yes, they most definitely count towards the learning quota for the day.
The Best Online Resources for Print-At-Home Worksheets
I feel like I should first admit that for young children, I’m not personally the biggest fan of worksheets. I think they learn best through hands-on play. However, sometimes worksheets are necessary, like when the younger sibling wants to join their older sibling at the table and do real “homework.” Plus, they can be helpful for extra practice on certain concepts. If your school didn’t send you home with worksheets and you are looking for some good ones, I recommend the following:
- Teachers Pay Teachers: By far, this is my favorite personal resource. It is easy to navigate and offers options for every grade (preK through high school), every subject, and every price range, from free worksheets, to comprehensive packages covering all subject. I am a big fan of The Moffatt Girls offerings and have used their holiday-themed packets multiple times.
- Education World: Offers printable lesson plans along with free printable worksheets on a varied number of subjects for different ages. They even have an option where you can create your own worksheets. I don’t find this site as easy to navigate, but it does have some good unique options.
- JumpStart: Offering options for preschool-fifth grade, they have some cute, themed options that you can navigate through quite easily, broken down by grade, subject, holiday, or topic.
FREE Online Resources for Making Learning Fun and Engaging
- Mystery Science: With the school closures, they are offering a variety of their most popular lessons for free! They offer lessons for kindergarten through fifth grade and they are so engaging; my kids love them! They are short lessons (ranging from 5-30 minutes) that dig into a single question. Some lessons offer an additional activity option as well.
- Brave Writer: this program from Julie Bogart that is literature-based and engaging. The Wand program is for early readers (generally ages 5-8) and The Arrow is for ages 8-12. While the programs are a paid download, you are able to download a free week-long lesson. I recommend trying it out!
- Tinkergarten: Offers an easy-to-navigate menu of play-based learning, outdoor activities for ages 0-8+. This is a great resource is you want to get outside to learn and move your bodies.
- Museum hop from your couch! Here is a list of famous museums you can virtually tour. How neat is that?!
- NASA: Offers a great variety of lessons, activities, and educational games on space and environment for grades K-12.
- Storyline Online: streams videos featuring celebrity actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations. Ideal for preschool age through 4th grade.
- Art Hub for Kids: Free drawing, painting, sculpting and more lessons for kids for all ages presented in an easy-follow and engaging manner.
- National Geographic Kids: Games, information, videos on all sorts of things from nature to history to the environment.
- ReadWriteThink: A very thorough resource for all things language arts and reading. You can sort lessons by grade level, type (mini lesson, standard lesson), and objective. I imagine former teachers would love how these are laid out!
- Wonderopolis: Each day they pose a new question and explore it in a variety of ways. A captivating site for the curious kid!
- Hoopla and Libby: They work through your library and you can get access to thousands of multimedia options for kids. We use it for audiobooks and recently have enjoyed a lot of Magic Tree House books, Ramona Quimby books, Roald Dahl (currently listening to The Witches), the Whatever After series, and more.
Check out this list of 8 awesome authors for kids ages 4-6!
- Read Aloud Revival: A great resource to learn how to get the most out of reading to your kids and lists of book recommendations for all interests.
- Cosmic Kids Yoga: Free, engaging yoga for kids that tell a story while going through the movements.
Interactive Educational Sites, Apps and Online Games for Kids
- Adventure Academy: K-8th grade. Kids learn while going on quests through an interactive virtual world. My. Kids. Are. Hooked. It’s highly engaging and focuses on building critical knowledge and skills in language arts, math, social studies, science, and more.
- Reading Eggs: Ages 2-13. An online reading program that helps kids learn to read through hundreds of lessons, games and books. It also has a math component included and a “play” area that kids can access books, create books, and more.
- ABC Mouse: Ages 2-8. Helps kids learn to read through phonics, and teaches lessons in math, social studies, art, music, and much more.
- PBS Kids: Ages 2-8. Educational-focused shows and games that kids enjoy for when you need a break but still want to feel like some learning is happening. My kids are particular fond of Odd Squad.
- BrainPOP: Ages 5-adult. Rigorous learning on a range of subjects ranging from social studies and health to English and art.
- Teach Your Monster to Read: Ages 3-6. Helps kids with skills from learning basic letter sounds to reading short sentences through using games. The computer version is free, but the app costs money.
- Starfall: PreK-3rd Grade. Simple, interactive games to help kids with learning a variety of subjects.
- Duolingo: Ages 3-adult. Offers access to 30+ languages, providing bite-sized lessons to help kids learn a new language
- Khan Academy Kids: Ages 2-7. An educational program designed to inspire young children to be learners for life through thousands of free books, songs, games and more.
Educational Board Games Your Kids Will Love (and You Won’t Mind Playing!)
I can’t play Candyland, y’all. It makes me want to rip my hair out. And while my kids absolutely love Sorry and Guess Who, I can’t play them more than once or twice. This list below though is full of games we all enjoy playing together!
Interested in games that will help enforce math concepts in a really fun way? This list is a must read!
- Money Bags: A clever way to practice with counting money that your kids will ask to play over and over again.
- Rummikub: Provides excellent practice with understanding order of numbers, patterns, sequencing and planning.
- Ticket to Ride: Kaitlyn started playing this at age 4. While she didn’t understand the concept then, she was able to go through the motions and participate. This is our most beloved family game and it’s fun for everyone!
- Five Crowns: A five-suit rummy-style game that is easy to learn and fun to play. My girls play this with Mema and their cousins every chance they get.
- Sequence: A fun game for the whole family that helps kids practice strategic thinking.
What to Buy on Amazon to Help With Homeschooling Young Kids
- Visual Timer: If you only get one thing, make it this. It has helped my kids (especially ages 5 and under) see time and understand it. They love being able to gauge how long things take and it gives them a sense of control. We use this multiple times every day.
- Coffee Frother: because goodness knows you’re going to need some fuel and this frother makes your coffee feel like it just was handed to you over the counter from that cute coffee spot down the street.
- MagnaTiles: My personal opinion? If you can, opt for the real thing, not the knockoffs. They hold up so much better in my experience and the experience of my friends. Also, if you can, go for the large set. The 32 piece set is less expensive, of course, but you need more tiles to get really creative! At age 8, Hailey also really loves Goobi.
- Crayola Art Case Coloring Set: a one stop shop to all the coloring tools you’ll need, with an easy way to organize them and carry them from room to room to boot.
- Boogie Board: an excellent tool for making work more fun (write down your answer and hold it up on the board!), and a tool you child will like to just snuggle up and play with. It’s a hit for everyone I’ve bought it for as a gift!
That’s honestly all the purchases I’d recommend. Well, maybe this handheld vacuum too, since we use ours daily (perfect for toddlers helping out with chores, too!). Are there a lot of cute and flashy things you could get? Absolutely. But they aren’t necessary and in my experience, we don’t use them for long. We use dried beans as manipulatives, we use blankets to build forts, we use Spotify to play music. You don’t really need much to homeschool besides some paper and writing utensils and access to the internet.
Frequently Asked Questions About Homeschooling
What do I do with one child while I teach the other? This obviously depends on the age. If you have a younger child that still naps, use nap time for any lesson you need one on one focus for. If you don’t have naps to work with, consult this list of 17 self-directed activities for four year olds. If your child is a little older, you can direct them to read a chapter or two of a book while you work with the other, give them a chore list, or let them know it’s free play time. I often use the line “you can find something to do or I can find something for you.” My kids know this means extra chores so they are incredibly good and figuring out something to do to busy themselves.
Where can I find time to work while homeschooling? This depends on your work style. For me, I take advantage of early mornings and after-lunch free/quiet time because my brain doesn’t work at night. I do recommend using either the early mornings or the evenings though because they are quiet and kid-free time when you can focus. Need time during the day? Put it on the daily schedule. If your kids won’t play on their own dependably, perhaps make 1:00-3:00 movie hour. There are so many wonderful documentaries you can show them (my kids love Planet Earth, the Disney Nature films, and Fantasia (not a doc, but I love the music in it). But you can also just stream Disney+. 😉 Do what you gotta do, mama!
How do I keep them from fighting and keep my sanity? Spoiler alert- you can’t keep them from squabbling. But you know that already. So I’d first recommend trying to up your threshold for bickering and let them mostly work it out for themselves. But when it gets to be too much, I separate mine. They each have to go quietly to their rooms until they feel they are ready to try again. Sometimes they realize they do want some time alone and will happily stay in their rooms for an hour or more. Other times, they realize they’re bored without a playmate and get over their fight pretty quickly. Also, if it’s an option, send them outside. They might groan at first, but I find within 15 minutes of being out there the fresh air has lightened their moods and they usually find something fun to do together. If they don’t I make them to laps around the house or walk down the street, touch the stop sign, and come back as many times as it takes for their mood to improve.
Have a question or frustration I didn’t address? Leave it in the comments! Have a resource you love that you want to share? Send it to me! I’ll continually update this post with new questions, and more tips and recommendations. Just let me know how I can best help you. Take care, my friend! <3