So many families who never intended to homeschool are trying to figure out what to do with children whose schools have closed for an uncertain period. I wanted to offer some suggestions from my experience homeschooling two children two or three decades ago. Now there are many online resources available. My daughter and I are offering ideas for hands-on activities using things you probably have without a trip to the store or a purchase on Amazon.
We’ll be adding new activities over the days ahead. Please comment and let us know if you have any questions/suggestions/modifications. To read more about who we are and how we think about learning, and to get some suggestions on how families can keep their balance when we’re all packed in together during trying times, click here.
Time line making
How much is a thousand?
Stop and Think critical thinking challenge
Estimate and measure
Gather whatever tools you have for measuring—rulers, tape measure, scales, measuring cups. Choose items to be measured using the various tools. List items to be measured down one side of a paper and make 3 columns for an estimate, a measurement, and the difference between the two. This was a favorite activity for my children for a number of years, and I used to make up a “measure paper” whenever I needed to keep them occupied and happy for a while. I made the lists and they estimated, measured and computed the difference, but children could make lists for themselves or for a sibling.
I used a roll of paper that was a couple feet wide and unrolled a section 10 or 12 feet long, but any paper could be used by taping pieces together. I made this for my daughter when she was first interested in history but found the lengths of time confusing. We often visited her great grandmother who was born in 1900 so we started the timeline at 1900 and marked it off to 1986 which was then the present. Then we added life lines for other relatives she knew, starting at their birth year and running to the present. The line just showing the years was in the middle of the paper and the life lines were under it. Then above the center line we added historic events from outside the family. This paper hung along one wall of her room for a year or more. Later we made a longer time line that hung along a hallway and covered American history.
I loved being outside, getting my hands dirty and watching the mysterious lives of wild critters, large and small. Some suggestions for hands-on nature activities, including bringing in spring pond life, getting to know small spaces as the seasons change, and making plants grow, are linked here.
How much is a thousand?
One day my 5-year-old son asked me if a thousand was a lot bigger than a hundred. He could count to 100 but couldn’t picture 1000. I told him that, just like it took ten tens to make 100, it took 10 100’s to make 1000. Then I took a gallon jar filled with dried beans from the shelf and asked him how many beans he thought were in it. He was used to estimating, so we both took a guess and then asked others in the family for their estimates and wrote them all down. For about a week, anyone who came by was shown the jar and asked to estimate. Then we started counting. We had plastic placemats that we used to count out 10 piles of 10 beans, and he knew that was 100. Each 100 was dumped into a paper cup. We didn’t do them all at once. Visitors were often asked to count 100 beans so it never got tedious for anyone. We counted the paper cups saying 100, 200, etc instead of 1, 2, 3 and when we reached 1000, we dumped all the beans in the cups into a quart canning jar and kept on counting the ones into piles of 10 and dumping the 10 piles into the cups again. My son enjoyed this project and I think it gave him a sense of the relationship of place values. We talked about how the process would continue to reach a million but didn’t actually do it.
Simple machines are the most basic, single-function devices for applying force: levers, inclined planes, pulleys, wedges, wheels/axles, and screws. I enjoyed the experiments my father set up to let me see and feel just how those machines worked. Click here for some suggested lever, plane, wheel, and pulley experiments, including car races and letting kids pick up parents.
My brother had an excellent spatial sense and I did not, but we both enjoyed map challenges. The map-reading games gave us a better sense of how our country and our world fit together, and the map-making games helped us understand the correlation between maps and actual reality. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
I loved reading stories and poems, so I wanted to create my own. Certain puzzles and challenges helped me to do that in ways that tickled my fancy and stretched my capacities. A few examples are linked here. Please leave your new ideas or suggested variations in the comments section.
I (Joanna) used to visit the front hall of the local high school regularly with a sign saying STOP AND THINK. At first I was offering information left out by the sales pitches of the military recruiters at the table across the hall. But after a student stopped by and asked, “Is that about sex or drugs?” it occurred to me that there were many things we needed to stop and think about, and I started bringing in resources on thinking critically about political and commercial sales pitches, and about peer pressure. One student said, “Last time I stopped and thinked was…I don’t know when,” and one adult read the sign aloud, snorted, and said, “If we did that we’d never get anything done.” Some others stopped and thought.
Social distancing requires us to stop many of the things that we usually do. This could be an opportunity to invite your kids to practice critical thinking skills and engage mindfully with news and history. Ideas about doing that are here. It can also be a time for stepping back and considering what is most essential, as discussed in the “Keeping Our Balance” section on the Who and Why page (scroll down the page to get to that section).