Here are some ideas for working with your kids at home:
- We always start new concepts with dice before we ever do equations on paper. A child rolls one die and a parent rolls the other, and the child adds the two numbers together by counting the dots. Or the child subtracts the smaller number from the larger one, or if they’re ready to work on negative numbers they subtract the larger one from the smaller one. They can roll three or more dice and add or subtract. They can roll two dice and multiply. The parent can take a whole handful of dice and turn them all to the same face, using them to illustrate division.
- Same concepts, different presentation, which encourages flexible thinking. I might give my four-year-old a little handful of marbles and ask how many are there, then give her another handful and ask, how many now? After each operation, she can say or write an equation that explains what she just did. I might give my seven-year-old an evenly divisible handful of marbles and say, “Divide by four.” Then I hand him one more, and we talk about the concept of a remainder.
- When kids are clear on the concept of a particular operation, playing cards are a great way to practice. We sometimes play a simplified version of Skip-Bo to reinforce number order and practice holding numbers in their heads.
- Another homeschool mom taught us to play Math Facts War, which is just like regular war except instead of the high card winning, the person who first says the sum (or difference or product) of the two numbers wins. You can start with number cards only, ace for 1, and add in the face cards assigning them higher numbers as it gets too easy. With a very small child, the adult can count to two or three seconds in their head before answering, to give the kid a chance and make it fun.
- This game is called A Piece of Pie. The parent uses a dinner plate to trace circles on scrap paper, two for each player, and cuts them out. The children color them like pies. The parent carefully cuts them into the fractions you want to work with, such as 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/3, 1/6 and 1/9. Then you trade, around and around until the pies are all mixed up, but each trade has to be equal: 3/6 for 1/2, 2/8 for 1/4. If the child wants to make an unfair trade, the parent can invite them to lay the pieces on top of each other to see if they match up. If you did your cutting carefully, they won’t.
- Draw a map on a big piece of scrap paper, with a road and six or eight different locations. Each player makes a character out of playdough and we move them around the board, interacting. Each person then writes the story their character experienced (in age-appropriate detail, of course, because a seven-year-old can write a lot more words than a four-year-old) while the parent helps them spell. Later, the kids read their story to a dad, or a grandparent over Skype. This is good practice writing and reading, but also good practice thinking about narrative and perspective.
- Make a Book
- A parent cuts up some scrap paper and draws the kid a box for a picture and some lines for text. The child decides what to write, the parent helps them make it concise and spell it, and the child illustrates it. Later they can read it to an adult or sibling. Older kids might like to write a comic book with speech bubbles.
- Since we’re stuck at home, we’ve been writing to our grandparents who are stuck at home, too. For older kids, this can be a proper letter so they can practice the form, but for younger kids it can be just a picture with a few sentences or some labels and their name. You can write to friends in town who you might be missing, or get involved with a more formal pen pal scheme. My daughter insisted on sending her grandparents a book she just made. This isn’t only practice writing, it’s also practicing thinking about other people.
- Building Words and Sentences
- When my kids started reading, first we used letter flashcards to practice sounds, and then used the same cards to build words. Then we wrote different cards with complete words and used them to build dozens of different sentences. Making your own cards only takes a minute, and it lets you tailor the game to what the kid is interested in at the moment, whether it’s superheroes or bugs.
- Make a Book a Different Way
- For a kid who has some sight words but isn’t reading fluently yet, the parent writes a sentence about the child on each page, and then helps the child sound out any words they don’t know. The kid illustrates the sentence while the parent makes the next page. At the end, your kid has a whole book about how they traveled to Antarctica or turned into a cat, or whatever your kid is interested in right now. Talking a moment to draw between reading sentences helps break up the mental work of reading, and it’s also good practice reading handwriting.
YOU CAN DO THIS!
So I say, for those who are just stuck at home and not currently sick or managing other emergencies, embrace the opportunity to run your life and your schooling in a way that suits your family. Join your local online homeschool groups for support. Start figuring out what works for you.