What do you introduce your child to during those first years of early learning from ages 3-7? How much may be too much and what resources do you already have that can be used for homeschool learning? What can you use that’s hands on and doesn’t require a screen?
Many of the most classic early learning resources are things you already have in your home. They can be awesome educational tools to support early learning just as much as they could be considered a toy or game.
The early learning years can be challenging but they are also some of the most fun! It’s such a special time to watch your children enjoy and take in everything they are learning.
There’s also much value in the stretches of play as well as boredom during those early years. Both are times when a child’s mind is allowed to relax, ponder and come up with new ideas. Parent’s shouldn’t feel the need to turn all play time into learning experiences or fill a child’s schedule with activities. The early learning years are a sweet childhood time of being curious and making connections.
As home educators, we just need to provide a safe space for our youngest learners to grow and explore.
Your toddler or pre-schooler can see how tall they can stack blocks (for the thrill of knocking them over) or your elementary homeschool student can use them to build a town and engage in creative play.
Blocks are a classic learning toy that allow kids to count, stack, sort, create and build things over and over. They are great for developing strong motor skills and independent play. You can use them in your homeschool lessons for preschool and Kindergarten for counting, patterns, shape recognition and all kinds of meaningful learning opportunities.
Blocks allow your children’s personalities and interests to shine through, which can be helpful as you create an educational path that speaks to the strengths of your homeschooler. You will learn so much by observing what they build and their reasons behind it.
Personally, I witnessed the power of learning with blocks from a children’s museum experience. Our child was very interested in a painting on the wall of building size comparisons. He stood there for a long time studying each building and found the picture on my phone later. I thought he was done playing with our cardboard “brick” blocks and found him recreating the buildings with the blocks and talking through the size comparisons. This gave me springboard for future high level interest lesson ideas.
2. Crayons and coloring books
Crayons and coloring books are inexpensive, old fashioned learning fun. Smaller hands can start with the chunky crayola crayons and older kids will enjoy all of the different colors of a box of crayons. They can color on blank paper or coloring books of their favorite characters.
For a variety of reasons, some kids do not like to color. You could try some colored pencils with pencil grips for smaller hands, or they may enjoy markers or painting with supervision. This may or may not get better as they get older but it’s not anything to force at a young age. It’s an advantage of home education that you can let your children pick up different skills at their own level of interest and readiness.
Another option for the kids who do not like (or are just not ready yet) to color are magna doodles or electronic doodle boards. You may find your child prefers to draw, sketch, or doodle then erase and start over. This still provides a great way to work on fine motor skills and have independent time for exploring and drawing.
If you have a child that loves to color, you can provide different papers, textures and introduce them to color by numbers when they are old enough to match numbers or shapes. Your older child can color sections of a worksheet based on answers to basic math facts. It puts a fun twist on what would otherwise be a page of math problems.
It’s not surprising that coloring has made a comeback with a focus on adults. For some, it is a relaxing activity or hobby that allows a mental break. If this is true for your homeschooler, you can find a ton of websites that have free coloring pages and color by number of pretty much anything that your child is interested in be it unicorns or UFO’s!
3. Puzzles & Busy Boards
Another classic skill builder for early learning is puzzles and busy boards. Puzzles and busy boards allow little learners to make so many connections and build fine motor skills while they explore shapes, numbers, animals, colors and so much more.
Busy boards are a board that has anything attached that allows your child to open or close, zip, latch, hook, slide, lace, twist, snap, buckle etc. for hands-on learning. You can DIY busy boards or buy them already made.
Our child’s favorite busy board was one that had latches, hooks, clips and slides to explore. He would spend a long stretch of time making all of the pieces work and those skills have transferred to seat belts, door locks, and more independence.
Puzzles can be a component of many different homeschool lessons. They can be used to practice skills or turned into, for example, a “puzzle race” so that a student is practicing in a fun and engaging way. They don’t have to connected to any particular lesson as working on puzzles utilizes many skills in itself.
You can generally find gently used puzzles and busy boards at second hand stores, consignment sales or yard sales. They also make great gift ideas from relatives.
Books open the door to a wealth of early learning opportunities. They allow parents and children a time to talk, play, explore and enjoy new and well loved characters.
Putting a book in your child’s hand from an early age is one of the best homeschool educational foundations you can provide. Being a reader with or in front of your child(ren) models that reading is important and valued.
The skill of reading gives your children access to all of the future learning and information they may need to be successful. Of course there are other skills that are needed, but many of them build upon or compliment being able to read. Kids need time daily to practice reading, or pre-readers need time to look at picture books or hear stories read aloud.
If you have a young learner who has no interest in books, try other kinds of print rich resources… magazines, comics, travel brochures, menus. It doesn’t mean you have a reluctant reader, it may just be that they may take a little longer to develop those skills. You can also make subtle but intentional changes such as turning on closed captioning in videos or writing messages on the tub with a dry erase marker.
All of those little things to create a homeschool environment where reading is valued will pay off, especially as your child gets older and develops interests in certain topics or activities.
5. Play-Doh or kinetic sand
I know, I know… it can make a mess and find a forever home in carpet! But play-doh or kinetic sand also provide great hands-on learning. They can be used for fun on their own or to reinforce learning concepts in all kinds of lessons.
Play-doh is a great learning tool for working on letter formation and motor skills. For early elementary students, it can be used to support learning concepts about patterns, shapes, colors, sizes, and so much more. You could have a child create something with play-doh and then write about it.
Both play-doh and kinetic sand encourage hands-on creative play and independent learning.
Music provides a way to learn that doesn’t feel like learning. It just feels like having fun, which is the best kind of learning! Music provides a way to move, explore rhythms and develop appreciation of the arts.
Kids can have so much fun with musical instruments and all of the noise is worth it when they translate those experiences to learning notes, sounds, beats and learn to play an instrument or develop a passion for music. They may enjoy singing or dancing and that could turn into lifelong skills.
Toddlers and preschool learners can learn so many concepts by simple songs that make counting or learning fun. Days of the week, months of the year, parts of the body… cue Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes! I have a niece who learned all of the presidents in order in school by putting them to the beat of a song. Just about anything can be put to music and it makes it easier and more fun when you need to memorize information.
ABC magnets on the fridge are fun for the whole family! They can also provide a good distraction when you have a young kid in the kitchen while you’re preparing meals. ABC magnets can be found at the $1.00 store and you could use them to spell some common first words and let your child move them around and think of other words they can make.
Other magnets, like animals and shapes, can be used as kids get older for sorting animals on a farm vs. animals in a zoo (for example).
8. Cooking utensils, pots & pans, play food
There is so much value in pretend play with cooking utensils, pots & pans and play food. Kids will act out different situations and process information in their own way that reinforced learning at the same time.
Kids ages 5-7 can acquire mathematical skills and great foundations of learning as they use measuring spoons, cups and are given opportunities to assist with real cooking.
9. Dress up
Young kids, especially the 3-5 year olds, can have so much fun with coats, hats, scarves, shoes and other accessories that let them come up with some creative expression. They use different skills to put together their choices and it really allows their personalities to shine. They may imitate people according to their choices and just enjoy pretending.
If you keep some dress up or items that allow kids to role play doctor, chef, construction worker, or firefighter, they will usually perform check-ups, make some delicious cuisines, help with home repairs and race to put out fires! As a parent, these are some of those moments that you hold close to your heart when you can experience how little minds perceive the world and encourage them to keep dreaming big!
Remember those toddler years when the box was more fun than the actual present inside? It doesn’t have to stop there! Boxes can be used for pretend play or crafting.
A big box can become a spaceship or a playhouse to decorate. Small boxes can be decorated to hold favorite toys or turned into shadow boxes to display favorite pieces of art.
Older students can make dioramas out of boxes to support the topics they are studying.
We found an idea on Pinterest and turned a box lid from a new appliance into a marble run! We had to continually problem-solve and come up with solutions to making it work better.
Another classic that always seem to capture kids’ (and adults) attention is bubbles. They can be as much of a learning tool as they are entertaining!
Younger students can count, chase bubbles and see how high they will go. Older students can make their own bubbles or do science bubble experiments. They can measure and add the ingredients and use different tools to create and make observations about the bubbles.
Another benefit of these screen-less early learning resources is time for kids to relax and make sense of the world as they know it. As adults, we see the childhood years as fun and care-free but there’s a lot of kids in a healthy, safe environment who have feelings of being anxious or scared. They haven’t yet learned ways to cope with different emotions. Opportunities for role-play, creative play and hands-on resources can be beneficial for all kids, but especially those who need long stretches of calming activities.