Ask Jo: Teaching at Home

Every so often questions and comments come from readers that I think others would like to hear my response to.  That’s when I feature them on the blog.  This is one of those days. Today I am addressing a question about teaching kids from home.

This came from Joy:
Since you have done childcare for so many years, I was wondering if you could do a post or two about effective learning strategies for those of us who are going to be teaching our kids at home this fall.  Maybe some tips for setting up a learning area and how to keep the kids engaged in learning.  Perhaps recommending activities or toys that are fun and help with learning as well.  I think you could probably break it down into a few posts.”

First off…I am by no means an expert.  I have an associates degree in child development.  This does not at all classify me as educated on the subject.  I believe my years of doing childcare is more helpful as I’ve had lots of opportunity for trial and error.

I know nothing about teaching kids once they get into a formal learning setting…I wasn’t trained, I’ve had no experience so what I’m writing today is for kids preschool and younger.  Keeping that in mind, I want to say that every single second they are awake is a learning opportunity…a formal learning opportunity no, but a learning opportunity.

Kids are a vacuum and are constantly sucking up things…the most important thing for us adults is to make sure they are sucking up the right things.  That means we need to surround them in the “right things”.  If you’ve been around a kid for a short amount of time, you know this is true.  How many times does a kid repeat back to you something they’ve heard.

Kalissa posted this the other day on her The Pink Shoelaces Facebook page about an interaction she had with Carver…

Me: Carver, have you seen my phone?
Carver: It is NOT my job to take care of your stuff! You need to take good care of your phone mom, it is YOURS and not MINE! You need to put it in the same place so you know where it is!
Me: 🤭🤭


I hope Carver figures this lesson out…Obviously he’s heard it enough times to repeat it.  It’s just a matter of time before he learns the real meaning of it and applies it.

That is so true with everything…Kids need to hear things hundreds of times before they understand it.

So…with that in mind…I narrate MUCH of the day with kids.  In the morning getting them dressed, if they are wearing a button down shirt like Carver is in the picture, count the buttons as you button them.  If you’re building blocks later in the day…stop and count the blocks in the tower.  If you’re unloading the dishwasher, have them help and count the spoons that are put away in the drawer….folding laundry, count the washcloths you fold.  There are a million ways to add counting to their life.

Some of my favorite things I did with the childcare kids is to make cookies.  Baking provides an opportunity for TONS of counting and measuring and science.  We would make cookies.  The kids were “making them for their family”…so one on one, each child would name the members of their family.  As they did, I would put up one finger.  Then we’d count how many fingers I had.  Then we would go to the freshly made cookies and put that many in the bag for them to take home to their family.  Then we’d extend the activity and count how many cookies the kids were taking home combined.  It was fun.  Of course, if you’re homeschooling only your grandchild this activity can’t work quite this way but cane can modify it to give cookies to your neighbors counting how many people live in each house and deliver cookies to the neighbors.  Look…you added teaching them to be kind to others in the same activity.

The most formal I get with any teaching is circle time.  Here’s how that goes:
Kids love to learn through music so I am a big time singer…

Most often we “sing” books.  Here are a few of my favorite:

Driving my Tractor

We all go Traveling By

Old MacDonald Had a Farm

If you need more examples for “singing books”, check out this Pinterest link.

I also surrounded up with good kids books.  Pete the Cat is a HUGE favorite.

..as is Little Blue Truck.


If you’re looking for more books, go to Pinterest and search for “preschool books”.  You’ll have tons.

I was also big on flannel boards, rhymes, and circle time fun.  Even with my littles we could do a half hour together…we sing a book, read a book…talk about the book and do some circle time manipulatives.  Here is one about 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.  I made and laminated this.


You can get the printables on my Making Learning Fun website HERE.

Here’s a Clank Can for Brown Bear, Brown Bear…again from my website.  Link HERE.


I have more than 2 full drawers of Circle time manipulatives that I used with the kids.

See the glove in the tops box.  I bought a pack of catnip mice in the pet section and hot glued them to the gloves.  We use the glove and sing Three Blind Mice.

The kids love anything I do at Circle Time…it truly l was our favorite part of the day.

Other things…we didn’t watch television much except for naptime.  Then is was ALWAYS PBS.  I didn’t allow the kids to pick other options.  All of the PBS shows include some type of learning.

I so vividly remember a couple of school aged kids singing the colors of the rainbow in order when we were having snack one day.  I asked where they learned that.  They said, Cat in the Hat.  That was our naptime show that day!  PBS is an awesome asset if you are allowing television time.

I was big into letting the kids take the day….Here’s an example of what I mean:
One day I was looking at a board book with the babies and there was a hippo in the book.  It was a lift the flap book.  When the flap was lifted the hippos mouth opened.  When it opened, it was huge.  I started talking about hippos with the older kids who were listening in on the book.  We talked about where they lived.  I ended up on youtube and we found a video of live hippos at the zoo.  Then at naptime I looked up and found a hippo craft the kids could do.  I pulled out the zoo animals and blocks and we did hippo things for a couple days which included trying to get the littles to say hippopotamus which is always hilarious.

Learning surrounded everything.  Kids helped set the table and counted how many kids were here.  Then got the corresponding number of forks.  At their table, their name was taped to the table at their seat.  When the kids waited for their plate they told me the letters in their name.

Kids scrapped their own plates as soon as they turned two.  We were VERY into self help skills.  If you ask any teacher what they want most from a child coming into school, they will say self help skills before letter recognition or anything cognitive.  Kids knowing self help skills is the best.  I don’t pull up their pants for them…let them.  I don’t zip their coat for them unless they try.  Then when I do help them with a zipper I explain what I’m doing…I narrate it.  “Watch me.  I’m putting this in the little hole.  I pinch this part and pull the zipper pull.”  But I ALWAYS have them pull the zipper pull.  It builds confidence.

We read books and books and books.  If they wanted it read again, I groaned inwardly but read it again.

We talked about colors, letters and shapes all the time in everyday settings.  I rarely said get the ball…I said, “Get the red ball”.  When we read tractor books…we always distinguished the different colors of tractors.  We always counted the objects on the page.

When we went on a walk we stopped by EVERY stop sign and named each letter in the word.  We made the sounds of the letters and “read” the word together.

I HIGHLY recommend this video.  It taught Kalissa her letters and MANY other kids in my care learned them from this video.  Seriously we watched it weekly.  You can find it HERE on Amazon.


I think the best of advice on teaching kids at home is to engross kids into a question asking, knowledge seeking, open, accepting environment.  Narrate your day.  Count EVERYTHING.  Identify EVERYTHING (a red ball vs a ball).  Help them make connections.  Buy mostly educational toys and not fad toys.
Play WITH the kids and sneak some learning in while you do.

I have Duplo Legos here.  When I did childcare when we lived at the farm, Kalissa had a hamster.  We took the Duplos and built mazes for her to run through.  We did that together.  We also would make towers with the Legos but it was all learning.  We built a row of red, then yellow, then blue, then green.  We’d build it really tall and see if we could make it taller than the kids.  Those are all cognitive thinking skills…the skills we want kiddos to have…best of all, the kids didn’t know they were learning and it was FUN!!

I recommend never buying a toy for kids that you don’t want to play too.  I LOVE most all Melissa and Doug toys.  They are well built and stand hard play.

This latch game was a favorite….(Link HERE)

Pattern blocks (Link HERE)


They loved this sandwich set (Link HERE)


Long ago when I bought this set I noticed on the back of the box that it listed pictures and names of all of the food pieces.  Well I cut that part of the box off thinking the kids could use that as a “menu” of sorts.  They sure did.  But then the menus started getting ratty so I put the pieces into the printer and printed more “menus”.  Those got ratty so I put them into the printer and printed new “menus”.  This time I took the time and laminated the “menus”.


A kind blog reader sent the order tickets.  The kids use the menu and tickets all the time with this sandwich set.  I can’t tell you how many sandwiches I’ve eaten since I originally bought the sets.  Having the “menus” and order pads really promotes reading and writing.  I try as hard as I can to incorporate learning like that into simple play.

Most toys aren’t effectively played with at this age without extensions like I did here…or with an adult playing with them.  I don’t know how many sandwiches I’ve eaten from this “kit”.  Aprons were later added to the kit.  Extending the play, extends the life of the toy.

Kids here first learn letters by knowing the first letter of their name.  All of the kids here knew Carver had a “c”.  We read books and they would all yell, “Look, there’s Carver’s “C”.”  Moms had “m”s.  Dad had “D”s.  I had a “J”.  before long, kids learn the shape of the letters by whose letter is was.  Before long they knew so many letters.

We’ve gone on with Carver now.  If we are in the car and driving and see a railroad track, I innocently act dumb….I say, “Carver what letter do you think railroad has?  ruh, ruh, railroad?”  Carver will yell “R”.  I do this on walks, in the car, when we are playing a game, at the supper table….all the time.  I likely ask him a dozen times a day if I have him with me the whole day.  Now, he knows most of the sounds.  That’s perfect as once school starts, I’m pretty sure they aren’t sending him, I’ll start in on helping him learn to read.  He’s read for it.  We’ve laid all the good groundwork….and all of it has been done in a playful, non-stressed way….It’s just part of our lives.

Step back and remember what you do when you want to learn something new.  You gather the right equipment.  You talk about it.  You might watch a video or a live demonstration.  You engross yourself into it the topic.  Then you give it a try.  We as educators, need to do the same thing for kids….gather the equipment, model for them, let them watch someone else and then let them try.

Above all…make the learning fun as we want many lifelong learners in our world.

Well Joy…I answered your question the best I could.  I opted not to break this down into several posts as it’s not a topic everyone is interested in.  If anyone has more questions, feel free to contact me.  I’ll help however I can.  Before I go I’d like to link you up with Jamie for Play to Learn Preschool.  She’s a master with kids.  You can find her HERE on Youtube…and HERE on Facebook.  Check the video section on Facebook.  She does a great job showing how to setup and create a great preschool.  She also has great videos on circle time.  I’ve learned a lot from her.

11 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Teaching at Home

  1. Gail

    Wow. It looks like you used every moment as a teaching opportunity. I bet your students loved it.

  2. Beth Haynes

    I want to go to your house!
    Praying for all the children and parents as they navigate this unusual time. John in the learning!

  3. Anita B

    Thank you so much for this. My two preschool grandchildren will not be attending the wonderful preschool we all had hoped because it is not reopening. They are disappointed. And so are we. I will be taking care of them at their home daily. You’ve given me insight into how to make being at home a learning experience. I have done some of the things, but I can take your info and become more intentional with the learning. Thank you so much, Jo!!

  4. Elisa

    Jo,

    I am a homeschool mom. I have been for 13 years now. You are right on the money!! But don’t stop the learning opportunities as you live when they enter the “schooling years”. I have a Jr. in High school and she still loves to learn through interaction and discussion. That is the beauty of it. As they get to the higher grades, some thought that they have while doing a “formal lesson”, might be called a “rabbit trail” by some, but we welcome the learning opportunities that come from going down the rabbit hole. A side note to those who are going to try homeschooling for the first time this year–get to know others who are homeschooling or have been homeschooling–the most important thing you need for yourself and your family is support. Others to come along side you and encourage you. There will be tough and frustrating days, and you will need those to support you during those times.

    Blessings,
    Elisa

  5. Gloria Blevins

    When I was a Navy wife with 2 at home, mostly alone, the lids and I would play dominoes. Teaching them the basic games by marching the dots on the tiles, that’s when they were 3 & 4. As they got older we’d play with a regular deck of cards the same way, not long before we were into Old Maid and other matching games. In the car we’d ply Red Car, Blue Car and I Spy, we even matched socks this way. They were both good at math, our son used to play with my calculator watching what happen to the numbers. He went to UIL Math contests starting in 3rd grade-he won against 6th graders. Our daughter got her Master’s in Banking Finance and is now a VP at a bank dealing with business loans. Our son works in the IT department of the State Police. Teaching can be a game whether you’re dealing with numbers or colors.

  6. Susan the Farm Quilter

    I taught a self-contained special education class for kids with cognitive deficits. I taught K-6 and 11-12 grades. For all of my students, when I taught them the alphabet, I used cards with the letters on them, sign language for the letter and ZooPhonics to help them with what the letters say. Love ZooPhonics as it combined an animal and a specific movement to denote the animal with the sound the letter made. A was Allie Alligator and she said Ah, Ah, Ah with arms straight out mimicking an alligator opening and closing their mouth. When my kids would read, they would use either the sign language or ZooPhonics movements to help them figure out the letters and sounds. It combines audio, visual and kinesthetic learning so everyone’s learning modality was accommodated. I do miss my kids!!!

  7. The Joyful Quilter

    OMG!! Pete the Cat and Little Blue Truck? LOVE!!! Re: Carver’s response… ROFL!!! It’s so true that they repeat what they hear (and eventually the learn the concepts, too.)

  8. laurie

    When I ran a reading program, for elementary kids who needed a little extra help, I bought books that were not the usual ones. I had comic books and Dr Underpants, and any type of superhero. Several parents did complain, but I told them the idea was to get the kids interested in reading anything. If a kid who “hates to read” will actually pick it up and try it that’s half the battle.

  9. Bonnie Lippincott

    I grew up loving to read, not so much my brother. My mother “caught” him reading a comic book one day, and from that day forward, whenever she was at work, she brought him home a new comic book. She usually worked three days a week, and comic books were 10 cents. ( LOL a very long time ago!) But, he learned to read! We had a drawer full of comic books for all of us, and our friends. We were entertained, quiet, and learned to read.
    He went on to be a mechanical engineer.
    We still read everyday, just for the “fun” of it.

  10. Joy

    Thank you so much! Parents are facing a hard decision this fall and I’m sure many are looking for advice as am I.

    One thing I’ve found to be helpful is working my child’s favorite characters into her learning. Yes, I do let her watch a movie or favorite show every day. It amazing how much that has helped her vocabulary. Also since she loves music, I try to work song and dance time into just about every day.

    Another recommendation I have is to reach out to your child’s previous teacher and get his/her input on what works best for your child. I know my daughter is a totally different kid at school as she performs tasks there she doesn’t do here and vise versa. It has really helped her independence.

  11. Felicia Hamlin

    Wow! Where were you when my kids were little? We did a lot of reading and would ask for colors and what were people doing and learned shapes, etc. However, I see that you were always teaching. I know my kids turned out OK, they are readers and all of then like math, something that I didn’t like as much as other subjects. Take care of yourself, Jo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *