I love a good list. But here is what this list is not. This is not a list of things you must do every day. This is not even a list of things you should do, or can do, or will want to do every day.
This is a buffet. Choosing one or two of these activities each week will help you stay engaged with your children’s learning, it will help your children maintain their love for learning, and, let’s be honest, it will cut down on a lot of struggle.
I love what science writer Seymour Simon says about teaching children:
“I’m more interested in arousing enthusiasm in kids than in teaching the facts. The facts may change, but that enthusiasm for exploring the world will remain with them the rest of their lives.”
It is with this spirit that we offer up a feast of ideas to help you cultivate a time of discovery, conversation, and connection in your home.
The rules of staying seated at your desk don’t have to apply when you’re schooling at home. If you have the advantage of using a laptop or tablet for your child’s virtual learning, let them change their setting to keep things fresh. If you’re tethered to a desktop, use this strategy for independent work time.
Sitting under the table instead of at it will invoke huge excitement, for example. Let them build a fort to work in. Simply change rooms, or let them build a comfortable “nest.” Use your outdoor spaces, or plan a picnic for lunchtime. Let them finish their worksheet inside a dark closet with a flashlight, or hiding underneath their bed covers.
Once you make a few suggestions, your children will come with creative ideas of their own, and you are no longer fighting for engagement!
Create a visual celebration
One beautiful aspect of a classroom that you can replicate at home is a visual marker of achievements. These large Post-It Note Easel pads are an easy way to create colorful posters that showcase success. In our home, I keep a poster listing “Books Read” for each of my children. It is a moment of victory to finish a good book and add it to the list that is on display for all to see! You can use this same strategy for multiplication tables mastered, science vocabulary words learned, or even a large daily checklist of classes or tasks to complete.
A word of caution about using these displays for letter or number grades. Emphasize and celebrate the moments of learning, and the grades will follow.
Gather with friends
Even when learning at home, and perhaps especially when learning at home, community is key. Help your child maintain those peer conversations by gathering a few friends each week or every other week.
You can host a book talk and swap, art gallery walk, or hands-on science activities. Our Science with Friends bundles are a great option, requiring simple household materials and no prep.
At-home talent shows and even simple show-and-tell presentations are other great options for exercising those skills of expression.
Let audiobooks do the work
There will be many days you need to engage your child without YOU being the center of the action. Audio books are perfect for this, and they have the added benefit of exposing your child to quality literature.
To keep hands busy, ask your student to draw or paint a picture of what she’s hearing. Building the scene while listening with play dough, clay, popsicle sticks, Legos, blocks, or any material you have on hand is another great way to encourage imaginative and active listening.
Just like sitting at a desk isn’t necessary at home, pencils and paper can often be thrown out the window! If your child has ungraded practice work, you can change it up a bit!
Dry erase markers on the windows are always a big hit in my house, along with sidewalk chalk. Spelling words can be practiced by tracing outlines in a ziploc bag full of foamy shaving cream, or by dripping water on the driveway to spell out words before they can dry.
Math facts can be recited aloud in silly voices, and even your older students will love challenges like attempting to recite as much of their material as they can in one breath.
Food is the ultimate motivator, am I right? Use one night of the month to bring your child’s history studies to life through recipes from around the world. If your child is studying Colonial History, try making Molasses Cookies, or Native American acorn nut bread, for example. (Or just make it anyway, because those sound really good!)
In our homeschooling day, we love Homeschool in the Woods units, which incorporate a ton of crafts, period recipes, and games.
All of these activities, recipes, and projects are tools for your toolbox. On those days when everything seems to be a struggle – and we all have those days! – you can pull out one of these tricks, and infuse your child’s learning environment with a dose of excitement.
But it’s the everyday modeling of being a lifelong learner yourself that will impact your child’s attitude toward discovery.
I have set a very simple goal for myself, and I have seen it pay off ten-fold. I aim to intentionally wonder aloud everyday in conversation with my children. In that wondering, I do not reach for my phone to find the answer. I don’t ask Siri, or even pull out a book. I simply wonder. Sometimes we discuss how we could find the answer, and sometimes we do come back around and do some research.
But more than the answer, I want to model the wondering. It’s a big, big world, and if we stop asking questions about it, the learning dies. So wonder aloud, momma. Break out your bag of tricks when you need a boost of spirits in your home, and always wonder aloud.
Nicole Paitsel is a former classroom teacher and current homeschooling mom of two. She is the creator and co-founder of Learning with Friends, a curriculum enrichment brand that focuses on hands-on science projects that invoke discovery, conversation, and connection.
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