Now that many school districts have closed their doors, parents are taking responsibility for their children’s continued education, often while working from home. While some schools are able to provide their students with distance-learning opportunities, such as take-home bags and Google Classroom assignments, it sounds like a lot of parents are on their own when it comes to creating academic opportunities for their kids. Based on the Twitter responses to their first day of homeschooling, it sounds like some parents are killing it, while others feel like homeschooling is going to kill them.

With so much emphasis being placed on making sure kids aren’t “left behind” academically, there is a lot of pressure on parents to get this homeschooling business right. If you are currently homeschooling your children and need some direction, I highly recommend spending a little time online checking out the blogs of parents who homeschool their kids all the time. These parents can provide you with a lot of great academic resources.

But as someone who has been a classroom teacher, let me assure you that learning can continue even though your kids are not currently able to be in a formal classroom setting. There are a lot of things you can do at home to promote valuable learning experiences over the next several weeks.

1. Read

Of all the things kids need to keep up on academically, reading is at the top of the list. Whether it’s for pleasure, inquiry, or an assignment, the time kids spend reading builds important skills that they will use throughout their lives. The amount of time your children spend reading is ultimately your decision, but I recommend setting aside a set amount of time for reading every day (even on the weekend).

Depending on your child’s age and reading level, you might decide to make reading a family activity. While reading aloud to your kids, take the opportunity to ask them comprehension questions, and take time out to use the dictionary to look up the meanings of new vocabulary words. Older children can also read aloud to their siblings, which is a great opportunity for them to practice their fluency.

Is your child a reluctant reader? Check out my post “How Do I Get My Child To Read?” for ideas.

2. Watch Educational Programs

The BBC’s The Blue Planet television series is spectacular!

With streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Hulu, you have access to a host of educational programming with which to teach and entertain your kids. Some of my personal favorites are programs like: Planet Earth (and other BBC Earth productions), Mythbusters, Mysteries at the Museum, and Nova. You can also find full episodes of classic children’s television shows like The Magic School Bus, Wishbone, and Bill Nye the Science Guy on YouTube.

When choosing documentaries or other educational programs to show your kids, I highly recommend previewing episodes yourself prior to showing them. While many of these shows are okay for younger audiences, there are some programs on channels like Travel and Discovery that are meant for more mature viewers, or which might bother more sensitive children.

3. Research Something New

One of the coolest things about homeschooling is that you and your child can engage in inquiry-based learning. Inquiry-based learning is a great way to get your kids interested in learning new things, because it’s all about asking questions and exploration. Rather than handing your child worksheets to complete, enlist their help in coming up with some topics that they want to learn more about (such as an animal, scientific principle, or country). Once they’ve chosen a topic, give your child some time to do research using books and the Internet, and then have them teach you what they learned.

If you have a child in secondary education, especially if they are in high school, I would recommend having them practice using programs like Powerpoint, Keynote, or Google Slides to create a visual presentation for the rest of the family, using information and pictures discovered during their research. They should practice writing what they’ve learned in their own words, and give credit to source material by using citations and creating a works cited page, or a bibliography. Since this is a skill they will be required to use throughout the rest of their education, I highly recommend checking out Purdue’s Online Writing Lab for information about how to cite sources.

4. Play Board Games And/Or Card Games

I love to play both board games and card games! They’re a fun way to spend time as a family, and they also have some great educational benefits.

Story Cubes are a lot of fun to play with by yourself, or as a family. You can find a ton of different themed sets on Amazon, including Doctor Who and Scooby-Doo.

While there are games that are specifically marketed as “educational games,” mainstream board games are just as effective when it comes to learning. Scrabble and Boggle, for example, both focus specifically on spelling. Other games, such as Skip-Bo and Triominos, can help reinforce basic math skills. Most board and card games require players to read and follow directions, and many also teach players how to strategize and think critically. Some of my personal favorites include: Apples to Apples, Settlers of Catan, Clue, Scattergories, Battleship, and Rory’s Story Cubes.

I just know that someone is going to ask about video games, so I’ll go ahead and address it. Video games that focus on strategy-based gameplay, or that require the player to solve complex puzzles to complete tasks, definitely have the potential to promote critical thinking. Games that require frequent referral to a player’s guide also have the added benefit of encouraging players to read for a purpose. That being said, I (as a gamer) would still consider video games a leisure activity, rather than a learning activity. Sorry kids!

5. Work On Puzzles

Whether you’re putting together a jigsaw puzzle, or trying to figure out a crossword, Sudoku, or logic puzzle, the act of working on a puzzle requires you to think critically and exercise your visual reasoning skills. I personally don’t keep any jigsaw puzzles at home, as my cat can’t be trusted around anything as tempting as tiny puzzle pieces. Fortunately, there are quite a few free jigsaw puzzle apps available for smart phones and tablets. You can also find free logic puzzles on websites like Puzzle Baron.

6. Be Creative

Creativity comes in a lot of different forms. Music, art, writing, crafts, jewelry making, Lego building…all of these things can be great creative outlets for kids and adults. While some of these activities require additional supplies, which you may not have access to without a trip to a store, there are a lot of things you and your kids can do that don’t need much in the way of supplies. For example, I’ve always enjoyed designing my own theme parks. All you need is paper and a writing utensil, and you’re set. I remember working on my Star Wars theme park for days when I was a kid. I had a tremendous amount of fun with it.

Whichever creative activity you prefer, I recommend taking some time out for creativity every day. Remember, if you need ideas, Pinterest is a great place to start.

7. Learn A New Language

Learning a new language doesn’t have to happen in a classroom, or cost a ridiculous amount of money. There are a number of language learning websites and apps that are available for free online, and offer instruction in a variety of languages. Online language learning can help your student maintain proficiency in the world language they are studying in school, or begin learning an additional language that is not currently offered.

You can also do some language immersion with your kids by watching familiar movies in the language they’re in the process of learning. Many DVDs and Blu-Ray disks provide you with multiple spoken language options on their menu screens.

8. Move Around

Considering the reasons why you and your family are sticking close to home, it only makes sense to make healthy living a priority. During your day, have your kids take some breaks from academics specifically for the purpose of moving around. This could include anything from taking a walk together, to playing out in the backyard, to an impromptu game of “The Floor is Lava.” Some parents have even begun posting videos of their whole family playing active-movement video games such as “Just Dance.”

Not only do activities like these provide us with exercise, but movement breaks are beneficial from an academic perspective. As a wise person once said, “The mind can only retain what the butt can sustain.” Regardless of their age, there will come a time during the day when your child has sat for too long, and they’re not going to absorb any more information until they get the chance to move around. Whether you treat these breaks as PE class or recess is up to you and your family, but kids of all ages will benefit from them.

9. Learn Some New Life Skills

This is great opportunity, especially if you have older children, to work on life skills. Consider taking half-an-hour out of academic instructional time for your kids to practice things like: doing a load of laundry, checking the oil or tire pressure on the car, cleaning house, sewing, cooking, and minor household repair (assuming that you know what you’re doing in that area). Even if it seems like these skills aren’t necessary for them now, they definitely will be in the future.

10. Have Fun!

A lot of times, we treat education as this big, serious (sometimes scary) thing. In reality, learning has the potential to be a tremendous amount of fun. You’ve got a perfect opportunity to create a situation where your children can experience the value and pleasure of learning something new, so enjoy yourselves!

Have you got a house full of Harry Potter fans? Head over to the Wizarding World website and give your family members a chance to be sorted into their houses. Then you can have the whole family compete to see who will win the House Cup (a reward like bragging rights, choice of movie or dinner, etc.), with points being awarded for high-quality work on assignments, learning new skills, helping around the house, and being kind to their siblings.

Does your family love sports? With most professional sports now cancelled (or at least paused), you might be missing your evening basketball or hockey games. Challenge your kids to create some versions of their favorite sports (or brand new sports) using household items. Once they’ve had a chance to come up with the games and rules, you can hold your own version of the Olympics.

Remember, your kids are finding themselves in an unusual situation, just like you are. There will be arguments, meltdowns, and probably a decent amount of whining…from both parents and kids. But there will also be a lot of laughter, and a chance to make some great memories. Don’t worry so much about making mistakes when it comes to homeschooling, and enjoy spending some quality time with your family.

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