During this weird and unsettling time, parents of children under 6 years old are finding the challenge of ‘homeschooling’ particularly onerous. Every school seems to approach homeschooling the early years differently and some with more success then others. I think the most important thing to remember as parents with this age group is that simply being with you, talking and playing will already be more beneficial to them then we can possibly imagine. Everyday play activities have many hidden benefits; Playing board games develops personal and social skills like taking turns and sharing, listening to audio books develops listening, vocabulary and comprehension skills, play-doh works wonders at improving fine-motor skills and if you are lucky enough to have a garden then there are endless opportunities for learning from making mud pies to collecting mini beasts to understanding how things grow.
This ‘learn through play’ philosophy is in essence exactly what nursery and reception classes are seeking to do. A good nursery or reception class will observe what each cohort is interested and motivated by and use this information to centre their planning on. Much of the children’s day will be play based where they are free to select activities provided by the practitioner independently. The wonderful thing about having this one to one time with your child means that you can exactly shape your activities to his or her interests and go from there. If one of your children is fascinated by space then you can use this as a starting place for discussion, what do they already know, what would they like to find out more about?
This is not to say that being a parent and doing this with your own children is not extremely challenging and you will have good days and bad days. On the bad days I have learnt not to labour the point and switch things up as much as possible. Some days I don’t attempt any activities and then when I can see the mood is right then we will due several activities in a row. I am currently at home with my two sons (age 5 and 3) and my eldest son’s primary school has taken a wonderfully play-based outlook to home learning and provides nursery and reception class with daily videoed challenges and game ideas. These have ranged from freezing toys in ice and then working them free using a range of brushes and tools, to creating maps of a local walk, to throwing balls into numbered containers and adding up the totals, to (my personal favourite) a planned movie night where children had to create tickets, popcorn holders and large poster advertising the event. This inspirational method of planning activities has meant that there has been little struggle getting my children to participate and it hasn’t felt onerous or unrealistic as a parent. However there is real learning happening as well and that doesn’t just mean number and phonics work.
Parents of reception aged children will probably feel more pressure knowing that there are more concrete expectations in terms of reading and writing. Phonics is not an easy thing to teach and teacher talk of CVC words, high frequency words, digraphs and phonemes can unnerve any parent! If in doubt email your class teacher for guidance as it is easy to veer of the phonics teaching method your child’s school is using and this can hopelessly muddle everyone. If levelled reading books have become a source of pain and frustration then just sharing books with your child is one of the best things to do, you can ask them to sound out some occasional words to help you or put there finger under a high frequency word hidden in the text or just talk about events and characters and what they have enjoyed the most. If your child has lost all motivation to write then try and give them a purpose e.g. you need them to write a list of things to buy from the shop, you have to leave an urgent note for a neighbour, you need their help to write clues for a treasure hunt or try and work it into creative play e.g. clipboards in the builders yard, price cards in the pretend shop, maps with the pirate toys. If they can see a purpose to writing and see themselves as able to fulfil it (even in a small way) then the desire to write is generally much stronger.
Recommended resources and games for homeschooling 2-5 year olds
• Mini white board and magnetic numbers and letters- great open end resource for pen control, sounding out words, recognising words in your child’s name, ordering numbers, making numbers etc: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brainstorm-Toys-Magnetic-Wipe-Board/ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Magnetic-Alphabet-Learning-Spelling-Counting/
• Pack of high frequency word flash cards: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frequency-Words-Flashcards-Collins-Learning/
• Pack of letter sound flash cards: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jolly-Phonics-Picture-Flash-Cards/
• Playdoh and tools e.g. rolling pins, cutters, plastic knives. Encourage your child to stretch, squeeze, roll, and cut the playdoh as this will strengthen hand muscles and develop the fine motor skills needed to hold a pen with control.
• Range of puzzles -start big with younger children and progress to smaller pieces as you go. If a child is independently completing a puzzle then its time to up the challenge
• Classic board games like: snakes and ladders, ludo, snap as well as any of the fantastic orchard company games: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Orchard-Toys-Catch-Count-Game/
• Cbeebies number blocks and alpha blocks are wonderfully creative and engaging ways of working in some counting and phonics practice and are in line with the government synthetic phonics framework. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b01cz0p1/alphablocks
• Books! An engaging mixture of information texts and stories.
• Resources like instagram (accounts like ‘early years teaching ideas’, ‘early_years_mummy’) will inject some new creative ideas into your activities and show you how to use existing toys and resources in a fun and stimulating way.