With schools around the world moving to online instruction, students are spending more time than ever in front of screens in order to complete their virtual lessons. Not only that, the “COVID-19 Slide” is said to be the summer slide on steroids.

Meanwhile, teachers are being asked to provide instruction online without many of the hands-on tools of their trade. Parents are being thrown into a homeschooling role and may have no idea where to start when it comes to providing valuable activities that will both keep their children busy and help them further their education.

Related content: 6 ways to help children find purpose at home

As a former educator and now an editorial lead for a company that offers hands-on tools, I love getting students away from the screen to work with their hands. The good news for parents and teachers is that many items in students’ homes can double as hands-on educational tools whether it’s to supplement lessons during the school year or to keep their minds fresh during the summer.

Here are seven of my favorites:

Math activities

If your student is working on: Counting, comparing, and place value (grouping objects)

Items needed: 20 of the same object

Find 20 of the same object—cereal, paper clips, LEGOS, dry beans, or cotton balls—and place them in a cup. Have your student pour some of the objects on a table and count to find how many. Then have them count the remaining objects still in the cup. Finally, have them compare the two groups using words such as “equal to,” “more than,” and “less than.” This activity will reinforce early counting and comparing skills.

If your student is working on: Addition, subtraction, multiplication

Items needed: Deck of cards

Remove the face cards from a deck of cards and place the cards face-down in two piles. For younger children, take turns flipping over two cards and have them determine which number is more than or less than the other number. If your student is learning to add and subtract, have them create an addition or subtraction sentence with the two cards. Older children can use the cards to create a multiplication sentence. Turn these activities into a game by taking turns flipping cards over and keeping the cards each time a question is solved correctly. The person with the most cards wins the game!

If your student is working on: Fractions

Items needed: Paper plates

Give your student some paper plates and markers or crayons. Have them represent a different fraction on each plate by drawing a circle on the plate and then dividing it into equal parts to represent the fraction. Then have a scavenger hunt to find other objects in your home or neighborhood that are also divided into equal parts, such as a stick of butter, an orange, a measuring cup, a windowpane, a ceiling fan, or the sidewalk.

Literacy activity

If your student is working on: Writing letters and letter sounds

Items needed: Shaving cream

Spread shaving cream onto a cookie sheet, and with an alphabet sheet as a reference, have your student practice writing their letters in the shaving cream. Another activity is to hide magnetic letters inside the shaving cream and have the student find them. When they pull one out, ask them what letter it is, what object starts with that letter, and what sound the letter makes.

Items needed: Play-Doh

Playing with Play-Doh or modeling clay is an all-time favorite. This is an easy one to do. Just print out a letter sheet (like the one at the bottom of the article) and have your student create the shapes of the letters by placing Play-Doh or modeling clay on top of them. This activity is terrific for getting kids really engaged with something that is fun, squishy, and best of all, teaches preschoolers about their letters―one of the first steps in learning basic reading skills. As they make the letters, talk about different objects and words that start with that letter. Really emphasize the sounds that the letters make, too!

Social-emotional learning activity

If your student is working on: Social awareness, empathy, relationship-building

Items needed: Sidewalk chalk

Using sidewalk chalk, write or draw messages to inspire or bring cheer to your neighbors, postal service workers, and package delivery drivers! This is a great way to teach social awareness, which is the ability to see things from another’s perspective and empathize with others; and empathy, the ability to acknowledge, understand, and share another person’s experiences and emotions.

Items needed: Whiteboard and whiteboard markers or construction paper

Educators can suggest to parents to create a daily routine with their child using a write-and-wipe board or even construction paper! Let students contribute ideas to the daily routine. This can be as simple as wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc. The routine is a tool for clear family communication and allows students to feel a sense of ownership of the tasks that need to happen throughout the day. If there are tasks that students find challenging, think about connections before that task takes place. For example, a high-five or connected conversation before a daunting task can go a long way! If this works for parents, plan that connection into the routine. This is a great way for students to learn about relationship skills―the ability to have healthy and rewarding relationships with other individuals and groups―including clear communication, listening carefully, and cooperation with others.

Homeschooling students doesn’t have to cost you financially. Supplementing their virtual lessons with screen-free, hands-on games is a fun way you can enhance their education.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.

About the Author:

Brittany Goerig is the lead author and co-creator of Daily Math Fluency and Math Fluency Intervention from hand2mind, a provider of hands-on learning tools. She’s an editorial lead for hand2mind, which is offering teach@home: Daily Lessons & Activities for K-5 students, a series of free daily lessons and activities created and delivered by teachers. Brittany spent 17 years in the classroom as an elementary and middle school math teacher and has created and conducted professional development for teachers for the past 15 years. She is passionate about helping children and teachers construct their own mathematical knowledge based on understanding the relationships in mathematics.


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