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How to use audio stories in your homeschool

When kids hear the words “Once upon a time...” something magical happens. Find out how spoken storytelling remains one of the best ways to share knowledge and impart wisdom, not just in homeschool but in all of life.

Sparkle stories audio books for kids

By David Sewell McCann 

Stories are the most effective teaching tool there is — and audio stories make that tool as easy as pushing a button or opening a book.

That is a bold statement in this age of free downloads, interactive curriculum, and subscription teaching services — but it is undeniable when we acknowledge that storytelling is the language of children. How many times has a lecture or explanation been politely ignored? How often does attention drift in the middle of a set of instructions? How regularly do we need to say “just five more minutes” when explaining something to our kids?

Now ask yourself — what happens EVERY time you open a storybook or utter the words “Once upon a time…?” Eyes relax into soft focus, the jaw slackens, and your child becomes a willing audience to whatever comes next.

Children love stories. We all do.

We’ve all suddenly become alert during a boring presentation when the speaker says, “This reminds me of a story…” The speaker now has our attention because she has indicated she is about to speak in the way in which we are compelled to listen.

We are wired to pay attention to stories because it has been the medium for distributing valuable information since we developed speech. Stories were how our ancestors taught their children how to find food and water, how to be safe, how to manage the changing weather, how to live rightly.

Stories were how our brains adapted and evolved into incredibly capable processors of the unprecedented information overload that is standard in contemporary society.

Boy looking at iPad screen

These days storytelling comes in many forms: books, movies, video games, graphic novels, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Wading through the content can be a full-time occupation — but once we find “storytellers” we like, we tend to commit to them. We follow them.

We subscribe to their service. We even binge on their content because it feels uniquely reflective of who we are or who we want to be.

This is natural. This is how storytelling works.

So keeping that in mind, it only makes sense to bring storytelling into our homeschooling. Whether your child is struggling with math, history, grammar, self-esteem, conflict resolution, social inclusion, competition, and any other parts of life, storytelling is ready and available to help.

Here are a few ways you can use storytelling in your homeschooling:

1. Podcasts

The world of podcasting — or audio blogging — has blown up to the point where there is a podcast for every interest, subject, hobby, and perspective you can imagine. There are so many, however, that finding the most appropriate producers can be a massive undertaking. To make things a little easier, we have compiled a list of our recommendations of the best podcasts for kids.

Little girl listening to music on headphones

2. Audio stories

I can’t go much further without recommending Sparkle Stories, the audio story subscription service my wife and I started six years ago. We offer content for academic subjects such as history, as well as social/emotional pedagogy, learning differences, and developing empathy. Kids can listen while they're doing virtually anything: curled up on the couch, in the car, doing chores or colouring in. Our stories are created to be simple, delightful and to inspire children to marvel and wonder.

If you’re looking for places to start exploring, here are a couple of favourites:

“Martin and Sylvia” is a series of over 300 stories that follow the lessons and adventures of a homeschooled brother and sister who do their learning in the playhouse, the creek, the neighbor’s farm, and the downtown library.

“FIFTY” is a new series offering 50 fictional stories that focus on historic events from each of the 50 United States.

"How to Be Super" is a series for older kids that incorporates classic stories and Greek mythology.

Many Sparkle Stories include accompanying recipes, nature studies, crafts and tutorials. Sparkle are giving Mulberry readers an exclusive offer to extend the regular 10 day trial to 15 days. Just enter the code MULBERRY15.

*Code expires 1 March 2018.

3. Tell your children stories

When you tell stories yourself, you have command of the content, can adapt it to fit your unique listener, and can have a lot of fun at the same time.

The most difficult part of telling your own stories is overcoming self-criticism and fear of failing. We all tend to take storytelling far too seriously. 

Girl huddled with mother on beach

Yes, it is incredibly effective, but no, it does not need to be done beautifully. Well-intentioned and honest but poorly-told stories can be just as impacting — if not more so — than professionally told stories.

Before I became a professional storyteller, I was an elementary school teacher for many years. I learned through trial and error that stories could bring transformation to the most difficult situations: rowdy post-Halloween classrooms, dyslexic learners who did not want to be singled out, children with attention challenges whose behavior was disruptive, national disasters, and frightening world events.

We all tend to take our storytelling far too seriously... Well-intentioned and honest but poorly-told stories can be just as impacting — if not more so — than professionally told stories.

Before you employ the latest interactive app or youtube video or online game, consider pressing play on a podcast or streaming story — or open your mouth and say, “Once upon a time...”

How do you use storytelling in your homeschool? Tell us in the comments below.

Want to save for later? Share on Pinterest.

How to use audio stories in your homeschool
Jenny Diaz

David Sewell McCann

Chief Storyteller

Sparkle Stories is an audio story treasure chest designed to educate and entertain the whole family. Over 1,000 original stories can be accessed via the Sparkle app or website, and related crafts, recipes, and homeschool study pages help families make the stories come alive.

*Sponsored post.

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This is a sample from our soon to be released Homeschooling Planner. We'll be sharing more very soon!

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The Ultimate Guide to Gameschooling

So you know about homeschooling, worldschooling and unschooling. Maybe you've heard of hackschooling or gamification... So what on earth is gameschooling? Cat Timms has the ultimate (and we mean MEGA!) guide for you AND a bonus download!

Children playing in water happily

Words and images by Cat Timms | LightHeart Photography

Gameschooling is a term whose origin cannot be traced, but it has been around for a while. It has been more recently popularised into homeschool culture by absolute legend and lovely lady, Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, educational psychologist and homeschooling mama of gifted kiddos, of My Little Poppies fame, who also created the international Facebook group Gameschool Community. Her blog is a literal treasure trove and is referred to several times.

In the homeschool community, gameschooling means to use tabletop gaming (board games and card games) in an intentional way, as part of your personal homeschool culture and educational philosophy. Rather than playing games occasionally just for fun, gameschooling families see them as essential to their homeschool daily or weekly for a variety of reasons (including fun!).

Let’s talk about the why, how, what and troubleshoot some issues.

Why gameschool?

  • Games are fun. I have a few overarching personal philosophies for my life, and one of them is “If it’s not fun, why bother?”. I can see the strict homeschool mamas rolling their eyes, “But life isn’t all fun!”. No, it isn’t. But we’re adults now; we can let them be little. We can make almost anything fun, or at least add an element of fun. We make chores into games; a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, as it were. Your kid doesn’t find games fun? Read on, I have a section for you coming up.
  • Games create positive family culture. One of my main motivations for game playing now is to create a thing we all do together, that will carry through the teen years (which my husband and I both had terrible times with our parents and it scares us, lol) and into adulthood. I like to imagine 20-somethings coming home for dinner with a partner and sticking around for a game afterwards. I’ll let you know in 20 years how it worked out Read this by One Board Family too.
  • Good games exercise your brain. Puzzling over strategies, watching your opponents or team members to figure out what to do next to get to a desired goal, problem solving, logical thought processes and more.
  • Games build interpersonal skills. Graciously winning and losing, discussing ideas, contributing as or to a group, taking turns, waiting etc. are all parts of playing tabletop games which are valuable lifeskills.
  • Games will teach actual things if you so desire. I’m not that into games always being super educational, though we certainly have our fair share. There are lots of well-designed tabletop games, also called hobby games, that happen to be educational as an excellent game (and I will discuss those later) and games you can get that are designed to be educational. So, if formal learning is your thing, games have you covered.
  • Things learnt joyfully are best remembered. Not much explanation required here. It just is.

Further reading on the why of gameschooling:

How do you gameschool?

This is asked ALL THE TIME in the gameschool groups and there isn’t a simple answer to that question, because everyone homeschools differently. If you believe in teaching and curriculums, then games will supplement that and add some fun. If you unschool, then you might research games you think your kids might like, then show them the ones that fit your budget etc and see if they’re interested, and games would be the most formal thing you do, probably.

We personally are secular and eclectic here. We do very little formal work, only in English and Maths, and we do a lot of excursions (field trips), workshops, classes and play dates. I encourage my kids to be open and interested in everything. We try a lot, and what doesn’t work for us we leave but we try not to say no to things for no reason, particularly if they’re new.

This adventurous spirit carries into gaming. We’ll try any game! We play 2-4 games a day. I usually choose one for an educational purpose and the rest are child-led. They often suggest we play a game, then choose one themselves. They’re at very different gaming levels currently which is challenging, and I have a whole section for you toddler mamas coming up, don’t worry!

The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal

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Choose the time you play games carefully, particularly when learning new games.

While “Family Game Night” is great in theory, maybe it needs to be at breakfast because tired children do not the best gamers make. We do play games after dinner, but only ones the kids know really well, plus they’re experienced gamers now. We often play games around mealtimes.

Because we don’t have a schedule, I’m not super helpful here. I know that homeschool mamas who do have a school schedule do things like:

  • Have one game be a focus for the week and play it each day
  • Use a game to start or conclude a lesson, to introduce or reinforce an idea or concept
  • Use games as quizzes
  • Use games as part of a unit study
  • Use games to teach one subject (maths is exceptionally popular)
  • Play games at the start or end of their school day
  • Ask teens to teach/play kindergartners games while they work with their in-between-age kids
  • Do game afternoons particularly with other homeschool friends

In essence, do what works for you and your family situation. There’s no right or wrong way.

What games do you play?

Oh, brother. The dreaded question. This gets posted multiple times a day in the gameschool group. The answer is “infinity times infinity, pass the coffee/wine/chocolate.” Seriously. It’s not a bad question; it’s a great question! It’s just that there are a million answers. We could be here all day. Let’s start the beginning:

  1. How old are your kids and what stages are they at? Games can be great for various types of neurodivergent kids to learn or practice things, particularly for gifted kids to flex their muscles. There is a game for EVERYTHING. Also important is their reading level as some games require independent reading.
  2. What are their interests? I would always start with games you are confident your kids will be interested in, before introducing games you want them to play.
  3. How much time, energy and money will you spend on gaming? Obviously, you may not know this until you start, so I’d start slow with some simple, basic games to see how it goes, before investing. The other side to that argument is that there are some really great games out there that the whole family will love, and if you don’t try them you may be missing out thinking you don’t like games. Ideally, you’d borrow before some you buy as these bigger games can be very expensive. I’ve set up a group for Australian homeschoolers to discuss, borrow, buy, and sell games called Gameschooling Australia.
  4. Will you and your partner/friends play? There is a high replayability on those bigger well-designed tabletop/hobby games (that are usually not overtly educational) and they’re generally more fun for the adults. You can justify buying these for more than just homeschool purposes if that is the case. We have a lot of these and the adults around here play.
  5. Are there groups for selling locally? I’m always more willing to fork out some dollars if I know I can get some back if the game really isn’t for us. I have successfully sold all the games I’ve wanted to sell so far for 25-90% of what I paid in Facebook groups.

So, I've thought about all that, now what?

I suggest joining the groups and following pages on Facebook to learn and get ideas. I’ll also link to the blogs for those not on Facebook (Don't have Facebook? HOW DO YOU LIVE?! Kidding, it is useful for groups though!).

In addition to those homeschool blogs and pages, US families are going to find Amazon VERY useful! For the rest of us, it can be expensive and they don’t always ship to us. I do buy from there occasionally though. Board Game Geek is a great website for researching on, and serious gamers keep lists there. I’m yet to venture into it but I often check there for reviews and information.

Do we just grab Monopoly and get playing?

There are so many games to choose from. I know, it’s overwhelming. I would probably just head to Target or a good games shop and pick one. I haven’t yet mentioned the dreaded M word because that is what people think of when we talk about games. We do have a copy of *whispers* Monopoly somewhere I think, but we don’t play it. Because it’s not well designed and very boring; there are no interesting choices or strategies, and its very luck based. Outraged? Sorry. Check out this YouTube to understand more.

If you love Monopoly then your mind will be blown when you play a well-designed tabletop game! Gamers often talk about “gateway games”. These are the simpler but still well-designed tabletop that use game mechanisms that the bigger games do, have a high replayability factor, and are a great way to start games culture in your family if you are looking beyond the purely educational.

Here are some of my favourite gateway games:

  • Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where each person has a role and you work together (for 5yo+).
  • Carcassonne is tile building game (for 6yo+).
  • Sushi Go is a great gateway game for card drafting (for 5yo+) and includes addition.
  • Skip-bo is a surprisingly good card game and a great intro to strategy games (for 6yo+).
  • Dragonwood is a dice and card game which includes addition (for 6yo+).

All of those games are ones that the adults here really enjoy, so won’t bore you quickly. I could list 10 more, but I’m going to leave that list there. There are a million games lists you can Google. If you’re only looking for educational games that you can slot into subject areas for your kids then check out this ultimate games list. It’s comprehensive and well laid out, and we own many of the games on it.

A list of recommended games

Games we love to play
  • Alien HotShots
  • Alphabet Bingo
  • Alphabet Go Fish
  • Busytown
  • Carcassonne Big Box
  • Chess
  • Chomp
  • Colourama
  • Connect 4
  • Dinosaur Snap
  • Dr Eureka
  • Dragonwood
  • Forbidden Island
  • Go Nuts
  • Learning Can Be Fun games x 5
  • Legendary Inventors
  • Loonacy
  • Machi Koro with expansions
  • Math Bingo
  • Math Dice
  • Mousetrap Maths
  • Oceanos
  • Orchard Toys games x 3
  • Pandemic with expansions
  • Pass the bomb Jnr
  • Rat a tat cat
  • Scrabble Jnr
  • Skip-Bo
  • Sumoku
  • Sushi Go
  • Storycubes x 5
  • Takenoko
  • Uno
  • Upwords
  • Yam Slam
  • At least 30 homemade games from various places and my own inventions
Adult games we own but don't play with kids yet
  • Cosmic Encounter
  • Innovation
  • Sentinels of the multiverse
Games we've put away and don't play with yet
  • 7 Wonders Duel
  • Apples to Apples
  • Brave Rats
  • Ion
  • Link It
  • Ringz
  • Sequence
  • Ticket to Ride Europe
  • Wildcraft
Great games we've borrowed from friends
  • Catan
  • Seasons
  • Sum Swamp
  • Zeus on the loose
  • Coup
  • Love Letter
Games on my wish list
  • Alhambra
  • Castle Panic
  • Dixit
  • Hit the Habitat Trail
  • Hive Pocket
  • MMRY
  • Pandemic Legacy
  • Prime Climb
  • Splendor
  • Xtronaut

Phew, that’ll do?! That’s not an exhaustive list, either. This article explains the different types of games in a succinct way and might be useful too.

A word on age recommendations

Most games include age recommendations which is a rough guide. Game makers need to be careful; if they put the starting age too young, then they won’t be bought for older children, and if the age is too high, people will think it’s too hard. Most gameschoolers take age recommendations with A CUP of salt. My 7-year-old can play games that say 13-years-old + but he is a weak reader. If there was a big reading component he wouldn’t be able to play. He also enjoys plenty of games that I’d put in the “Early Childhood” category.

If your 8-year-old child is new to games then they will find Dragonwood challenging at first, as it’s not a luck game; it’s a strategy game with interesting choices. But my 4-year-old can play with assistance because she’s been playing games since she was a toddler.

For Australian families!

A little section just for us Aussies. G’day, mates! (sorry, that’s for the rest of the world who think we talk like that, lol).

1. I have yet to find an Australian gameschooler who blogs about gameschooling so that’s why there isn’t one listed here. If you are one, then yay! Let us know. People keep saying I should start one but I have two part time jobs already so I just can’t. You can always find me on IG at @ahumanattempt and in Gameschooling Australia.

2. It’s really difficult to find games about Australia that aren’t caricatures of Australia, and sometimes a bit racist in my opinion. They seem designed for the tourist rather than Australians. If you know of one, PLEASE let us know! There are a few printables floating about, none of which are great, so making my own game about the Australian states is on my to do list. It’s listed right after “Learn about the Australian states.”

3. There are some great Aussie sites to know about, and support if you can! If you have more to add to this list, let us know!

What's the difference between gamification and game-based learning?

This one's for the nerds like me! Well, in a nutshell, gamification means applying game principles to something (for example, turning a maths sheet into a game) and game-based learning, means using a game that already exists to learn something (like the game Sushi Go to practice addition). Both ideas are useful in homeschooling, but that’s an article on its own! For further reading I suggest:

Many of these articles refer to online or digital gaming which has evolved from tabletop gaming. All of these, and the ‘why’ list, should be great fodder for anyone who wants to argue against game playing, or allocating funds to buy games

Common questions

“I’ve checked out the lists and blogs and now there are 3 games that I want. How do you narrow it down?”

Particularly when you’re on a budget, this can be important. What I do is search the game title and read what I find in the following places:

  1. the My Little Poppies blog
  2. the Gameschool Community Facebook group, and if I don’t find a post, I post on the wall. (This is why it’s really important to put your game titles in your posts in groups!)
  3. other Facebook games groups.
  4. Board Game Geek.
  5. Geek Dad.
  6. YouTube and watch reviews and play throughs.
  7. Read reviews on Amazon. I put this last because in Australia it’s often not cost effective to buy from there.

After all that, I will have an idea whether I think we’ll like it or not. Yeah, it takes some time, but all research does! I’m looking for interesting choices and replayability here, but if you’re looking for something purely educational then it should be simpler to figure out whether it will help with the thing you need. I only buy those types of games if I really need them, and think I can resell them; I am far more likely to find a free printable or make up my own.

“My partner doesn’t want me to spend money on games.”

Send them this article; there is a TONNE of good info linked here. This is a commonly asked problem by mamas in homeschool groups. In my house, if one partner doesn’t want to do the reading and learn about the issue to then have an informed discussion, then the other gets to go ahead using their best judgement. Teamwork makes the dream work, and that means trusting each other too. I am not going to learn about looking after the cars, so hubs just does what he thinks is best there. He is not going to get highly educated about homeschooling, so I’m boss of that. I make a lot of games, and only buy ones I think we’ll really love. I also sell games as I need too, to fund new ones.

“Seriously though, we are on a tight budget.”

Honestly, most homeschoolers are. Everyone’s version of tight is different, and everyone’s priorities are different. We too are on a tight-ish budget. We don’t spend any money at all on curriculums (ever) so I spend on books, games, workshops, classes instead. Tabletop games are not just a homeschool thing; they contribute to family culture too. So if you occasionally have a family day or meal out or trip to the movies, you can consider a good tabletop game in the same category but it’s reusable, and you should be able to sell it for around half what you paid when the time comes. Here are some other ideas:

  • Buy secondhand. I buy most of our games secondhand and I get good deals this way.
    • Facebook groups. I buy mostly in Facebook groups, occasionally from other local secondhand sites. You just need to keep your eye out, and also put up “want to buy” posts as sometimes people are thinking about selling a game but can’t be bothered, but if they can quickly PM you and get it done hassle-free, it’s a win-win.
    • Op shop/thrift stores/goodwill. You rarely find the better tabletop games at these places here in Australia (though the US mamas seem too all the time!) but you will find lots of staple games like Scrabble, and card games. I will buy very cheap games with some good pieces for reusing.
  • Buy when you see it. If you see a game you want on sale or secondhand, buy it if it’s good price, even if it’s a stretch. I put them away so then I’m not looking at paying full price come Christmas and birthdays or when I want a game to teach something in particular. I currently have 15 games in the cupboard for the future, lol.
  • Give them as gifts. Each birthday each one of us gets a game, preferably one we’ll enjoy (so I can justify that expense) and then at Christmas we get a couple. That means we’re getting 6-8 games through the year because we all love games in addition to ones I make.
  • Get some gameschool friends. I’ve introduced several local friends to gameschooling, mainly by lending them games, and they’ve soon bought their own, and so we’ve been able to swap games with them. I won’t buy games they have unless we can’t live without it (hasn’t happened yet!).
  • Buy copies. On Ebay there are many stores that sell copies of popular games. They’re not the legit version, and so the original gamemakers aren’t getting their dues (which is one of the reasons I don’t buy them) but you can buy copies of games very cheap and they tend to be OK quality and complete sets etc, most of the time, but not always, bear in mind.
  • Make your own! Homeschoolers tend to be crafty and resourceful. Read on.

“I want to make my own games. Help.”

You can make your own games very cheaply, and indeed I make TONNES of them. You can buy books that have things to photocopy and make, or get free printables from all over the internet. You can attempt to replicate popular games, particularly using game pieces and boards from games you’ve bought cheaply secondhand (this is where op shops/goodwill are handy). Remember that challenging your kids to make their own game is a great activity too.

There are links all over the place here – this is an ULTIMATE guide after all – so read back but here is yet another collection of links to get you started:

“My kid doesn’t find games fun. We have meltdowns over rules/winning/losing. It just won’t work for us.”

Ah, yes. I understand. I know a few kids including my nephew and son who have worked through game rage. I’d argue that these children may need to play games more than anyone else! Games are a great way to learn to handle and reframe ‘failure’, practice gracious winning and losing, handling disappointment, trying again etc. Not all things will work for all families, and you may want to use a few of these ideas in concert, but here are some things to consider:

  • Play cooperatively. This is my number one tip. Play cooperative games where you all work as a team. Forbidden Island, Pandemic and Wildcraft are all popular here, and Caitlin has this post with a huge list to help you. They’ll still be disappointed, but it’s a lot less than if they weren’t on a team.
  • Change the rules. Linked to playing cooperatively is: change the rules to suit. Games aren’t games if there aren’t some rules, but you can make them suit your family situation. Make it cooperative, quicker, lighter, less disappointing, whatever. You can build back up to regular rules later.
  • Choose quicker, lighter games. The less time your child has been sitting, the smaller the outburst is likely to be (just based on contained energy). The less energy they have put into trying to win, the less upset they’ll feel, hopefully. Think Uno, Bingo games, Go Fish.
  • Try strategy games. Maybe your child needs to feel more control so rather than luck based games, where you solely rely on the cards you pick up or dice you rolled, try games where they can work towards something. What you choose will depend on your child’s age. Think Connect 4, Carcassonne for older kids, and many others.
  • Play 2 player games. Try 2 player games where just a safe adult and your child play. Losing to just a trusted adult (maybe Grandma?) rather than siblings as well may help too.
  • Let them win sometimes! This is a bone of contention in the gameschool community; to win or not to win?! But as an adult who loves playing games, when my husband or friends constantly smash me at a game, it makes me want to play it a lot less. It’s boring and not fun. Let them win sometimes.
  • Model gracious winning, losing and game play. This should go without saying, but I have seen posts in groups about playing games with adults who have had tantrums in front of children. Oh my. Do not play with any adults that can’t be adult, lol! By all means express yourself, but only in a way you’d be happy for your children to do also. Monkey see, monkey do.
  • Discuss unpleasantness later. Game didn’t go well? Let them express themselves, empathise, and let it go. Lecturing or saying “It’s just a game!” won’t actually help when they’re feeling upset and disappointed, in fact they won’t feel heard. Later on, when they’re calm and have experienced success at something else they like, you can come back to what happened at the game and discuss it as appropriate to your family. Punishing game behaviour will only lead to not wanting to play at all so avoid that at all costs.
  • Try single player games. There are tonnes of single player games. Maybe your child would benefit from working through some things by themselves? Try ThinkFun Maze games, Perplex us, Caboodle, or Chicken Shuffle.
  • Let them create their own game. If they design a game, even just using some cards, counters, dice etc and teach it to you, and have to uphold the rules and game play themselves because they’re in charge, perhaps this will give them the control they need to handle the ups and downs of gaming.
  • Make them Game Master. In a similar vein, try giving them the responsibility for the setup, pack up and running the game. Not that they do it all themselves, but they’re in charge of everyone. Your children may need to take turns at this if it causes friction.
  • Play open. When we learn a game for the first time, we always play open. That means that rather than keeping our cards or whatever to ourselves, we play so everyone can see what everyone has, is doing, and why. Knowing how to play a game better may help with those big feelings.
  • Choose your time carefully. Maybe family game night needs to be family game morning? Tiredness is not going to help games go well. We do the majority of our family game playing before bedtime because we have a fairly traditional work schedule here, but if you can play when everyone is fresh, that may help.
  • Don’t finish. I can hear the gasps, but it’s ok to not finish! Try playing games but without completing them. Start a game when you don’t have time to finish. Enjoy playing, then pack it up and put it away. The fun and learning has happened, without the trauma of the ending. You can of course build up to finishing later.
  • Work on self-regulation. Emotional regulation is not something you can teach necessarily, but it is something you can practice. Of course, you need to model it, and don’t worry, we all lose it sometimes, but the more you model it, the better they will do at it. Also try some of these ideas from PBS, or these ideas from The Inspired Tree House.
  • Growth mindset. Remove the focus from winning and losing all the time. This may not work for competitive kids who are just naturally that way, but focus on the fact that life is a journey, and failure is a construct that really means nothing other than “This one time it didn’t work so we need to try again.”. We are Big Life Journal fans here, and have one of the posters on the fridge.
  • Leave it. And of course, games aren’t for everyone all the time. If you’ve tried on and off for a few weeks, and worked on all these things and it still isn’t going well, then leave it for a while (a season, a year) and try again. Maybe your kid just isn’t going to be a game person? I’ll be honest and say I’m really sceptical about this – I feel like anyone who says they don’t like games just haven’t played the right ones - but anything is possible, of course.

“My kids fight. We can’t play games together.”

Yeah this is a hard one! Caitlin has written a brilliant article at My Little Poppies that I cannot improve upon. She has a list of great ideas, and one I will emphasize is snacks. Lol! Seriously though. Eating a clean food (like plain popcorn, because you don’t want to get your game pieces super dirty) while playing is a great way to keep a game moving along and everyone calm. Read her entire article here. I’ll also add that we regularly play games 1:1 here. Like at least once a week with each child.

“I have a toddler who can’t play but wants to, and ends up wrecking the game in their earnest efforts.”

Mmm, also tricky! I have a few suggestions for this one that have worked here. Firstly, it’s always a good idea to play at nap time, but that isn’t always possible, particularly if mama is pinned under said toddler!

  • Snacks. Seriously, just snacks.
  • Play in teams. Toddler can sit on your lap and hold your cards/roll your dice and be on your team.
  • Give Toddler their own game pieces to play with alongside, or even on the board if they can be careful with the pieces that are part of the game.
  • Let them “play along” even if they’re not playing properly. Let them go through the motions. This requires some patience from your older kid/s and a relatively calm toddler.
  • Play two games at once. I have sat playing a big kids game on one side, and a little kids game on the other, lol. Have your coffee/wine handy.
  • Set up Toddler up with their own activity next to you. Chloe is often happy to draw or paint or play right next to us as long as she feels included.
  • Make them Game Master. Sit them up on top the table (yep!) and let them hand out the cards or roll the dice. This was our main strategy for months and worked well. Obviously, it won’t work for all kids!
  • Screen time. I know this will go against some belief systems, but setting Toddler up with a screen to get some 1:1 time with another kid might be your answer for a while. It’s only a season.
  • Game night. Play when Toddler is in bed for the evening. Less than ideal as we’ve already talked about how this won’t work for some kids if they’re too tired.
  • Play when someone else is around. Get together with a friend, and one of you play a game with the older kids, while one plays with the younger kids. Or wait until Grandma comes for a visit or your partner is available obviously.
  • Take turns to play. Older toddlers might be able to understand waiting their turn for their own game. There are heaps of actually good toddler games to consider. Colourama and Busytown are two that come to mind.
  • Snacks. Did I mention snacks?

Honestly, game playing with small kids around, particularly if you have a couple of them is not going to be easy, so only attempt when you have some patience available. You may decide to wait until everyone is older, and that’s ok, too. Chloe used to grab and throw all the pieces and think she was hilarious, *all the eyerolls*. We just waited her out and now it’s great. It’s a short season, mama, hang in there.

The last word

I trust you’re thoroughly overwhelmed and now have hours of reading ahead to check out all those links. If there is something I haven’t covered here, then please let us know. Have any other suggestion, comment, game recommendation, get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.

FREE eBook download!

The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal

This is probably our longest post ever (!!), so if you want to grab a copy to keep and refer back to, Cat Timms has kindly offered a free eBook download for Mulberry readers. Yeah, she's pretty awesome 😉 Thanks Cat! Pop in your email below and we'll send it over to you.

Note: There are no Amazon affiliate links here, just tonnes of resources, so click away. When you click through to some blog there will be some affiliate links. Using them is a way to help support your favourite bloggers.

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The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal
Cat Timms

Cat Timms


Cat is an Australian homeschool mama to 2, Early Childhood Teacher, photographer, and game lover. Cat is passionate about play and uncomplicating home education. She's on Instagram @ahumanattempt and @lightheartphotog.

Intentional Homeschool Bundle SALE! – September 2017

By Grace Koelma | Editor of The Mulberry Journal

THIS BUNDLE SALE IS NOW OVER. The next bundle is scheduled for early 2018.

>> Want a peek inside? Check out the video here.

If you are anything like me you can easily become overwhelmed when it comes to homeschooling resources. Most homeschool families are working on a budget. But the problem is: there is so much good stuff out there!

How do you decide which resources to purchase and which ones you’ll need to add to that ever growing wishlist?

What if I told you I had an amazing one-stop-shop resource bundle you could download to avoid the classic homeschooler's decision fatigue?

AND what if said that for the next week you could get over $230 in homeschooling resources for just $25 USD?

Yep! This week only the Intentional Homeschooling September Bundle sale has over $230 in homeschooling products on sale for just $25! This is a sale you aren’t going to want to miss!

Get a look inside the bundle with our video review >>

Some of my favourite products in the bundle are:

  • Photo Class for Kids by Angie Warren @ Warren Schoolhouse
  • Letter-a-Week Activity Guide by Elizabeth @ This Little Home of Mine
  • Explore the World Digital Resource Guide by Chantel @ Intentional Homeschooling
  • Nature Identification Set – Constellations by Ashley @ Brave Grown Home
  • Growth Mindset Printables by Big Life Journal

But believe me, there's HEAPS MORE! Check out the full list of included downloads here. Plus we're throwing in Issue 7 of Mulberry Magazine!

The other thing that's cool?

Some of the resources in this bundle are worth more than the bundle itself... Like the $47 Basic Piano Course for Beginning Students, or the $30 Photo Class for Kids. So if you only use ONE of those resources, you've saved money.

Remember, you've only got until September 26th 2017 to claim this incredible bundle. After that, it's gone forever. Don't say we didn't warn you! 

Grace profile image square

Grace Koelma


Grace is the Editor of The Mulberry Journal and when she's not reading submissions, divides her time between hanging out with her simultaneously delightful and headstrong 2-year-old, running multiple ventures, writing and travelling full time with her little family. You can follow her travels at

*This post contains affiliate links. We only ever recommend products we 100% back at absolutely no extra cost to you. Supporting us by clicking on our affiliate link before you purchase helps us keep a free service like The Mulberry Journal running. Thanks for your support! 🙂

Discover the joy of slow science

If Science is a subject that's leaving you a little bewildered or overwhelmed, or you have children who 'don't like science', this homeschooling mum's refreshing take on slow science will have you hooked.

Kids science experiment

By Samantha Matalone Cook |

The thing about science is that you have to let kids learn to love it through experience and experiment before you can ask them to be a scientist. To really understand it.

Think about Leonardo DaVinci, watching and sketching his birds over and over again, contemplating flight. Sometimes science is about observation, patience, and beauty. Sometimes science is about time and intimacy. Slow science.

What slow science looks like: buds and biospheres

There are two examples of slow science in the photo below. The hyacinth bulb on the right is seasonal. We set it in a glass vase in early January and have watched its roots slowly tumble down into the water and green leaves shoot upwards.

Left: biosphere Right: hyacinth bulb

We waited in anticipation as tiny purple buds formed and then finally opened to grace us with glorious fragrance. Now the flowers are wilting, and another shoot has appeared. Will we get one more show? We hope and watch. And when the bulb has done all it can, we will tuck it away to be planted or brought out again to see if we can coax another bloom next year. So much in such little time.

On the left is a biosphere. A biosphere is a contained, self-sustaining little ecosystem. This particular one is about three years old, and is seasonal in another way. We watch as the plant life blooms and then dies back. We watch as the shrimp grow, have babies, and die. We watch as the tiny snails clean the sides of the glass. The pond muck full of microscopic creatures we added to the bottom gently pillows and billows around the shells that serve as shelter and a calcium source.

There have been times where everything in the jar has died back to the point where we thought our biosphere was a goner, and then we have been delighted by its amazing and awesome comeback. I have lost count of the times I have found one or more of my kids simply staring into the jar and studying this little world.

Why slow science appeals to kids

Slow science isn’t just about observation, and it’s not about holding a child back from rigorous exploration either. The photo below is from a MEL Science Kit, which one of my boys is really into at the moment. Almost every time a kid says they want to learn about Chemistry, they are not asking to study the Periodic Table (which is cool but not where I would start).

A MEL science kit in action

Usually, they are looking for reactions, excitement, a visual and kinesthetic experience. While these experiments may seem more interactive and complex in some ways, they still fit the slow science model.

My son is the kind of kid who, when allowed to set his own pace, will dive deep and take his time to really understand a subject, topic or skill. Forced, arbitrary schedules have an opposite effect.

The guideposts of slow science discovery for us

1. We take our time

We work through the experiments, savoring each one. We watch the videos on the app, look at three-dimensional models of molecules, and let each success and failure lead us down a merry path into the beauty and curiosity of chemical reactions. This eventually did spark an interest for my son in the periodic table, and he decided to learn more by creating his own card deck of all the elements.

2. We let science lead into natural wonder

In every one of these cases, science is allowed to speak for itself. I may point out my observations, and my kids may share their questions or thoughts, but the wonder that develops is authentic and personal.

Because they were given the space and experiences to fall in love with science and create an identity around being a scientist, each one of my kids continues to pursue science deeply and with great focus.

3. We look for the magic

Right now, we are all (or just some) fascinated with Chemistry, Physics, Volcanology, and Entomology. Whether it was one of these examples or our regular visits to science museums or into nature, each one of my kids have found the magic for themselves.

As my kids like to say, 'magic is just science we don't understand yet.'

4. We see opportunities for slow science in many environments

In more structured environments, slow science is still possible. Filling the environment with rich, touchable scenes is a great way to start. Because one has less time to let curiosity unfold in a classroom or formal curriculum led environment, I would also set out examples of the next unit well ahead of time so the kids can develop a relationship with the subject and begin to form their observations and questions. This doesn’t take away from the unit they are on, and in fact can prompt the kids to make connections between subjects that result in a very natural and rich segue.

This post was originally featured on and has been republished here with permission.

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4 ways to discover the beauty, wonder and intimacy of 'slow' science
Jenny Diaz

Samantha Matalone Cook


Samantha is a homeschooling mum of three with over two decades of experience in education, program development, and the arts. She has a BA in Humanities, emphasizing Medieval Culture and Archaeology, and an MAt from the George Washington Graduate School of Education and Human Development, specializing in Museum Education. Samantha is an active member, speaker, and advocate of STEM in the hacker/maker and home/unschooling communities. Her website is:

How we use YouTube in our homeschool

We often hear that YouTube is an amazing resource for learning, but how do you find and curate topical videos that are age-appropriate for your kids? This article has some excellent tips.

Children playing in water happily

By Natalie Goodacre |

YouTube is amazing, there is literally a video on there for any subject you want to know about. But it is a minefield when you are a parent. We've all been there when children are inquisitive about something so you look for a video, click on it, only to find that a) it's massively inappropriate or b) it has an overly long advert that again, is massively inappropriate.

I can be a pretty old fashioned parent (by today's modern standards) and even though my children have a Kindle fire each, they can only play on it using the kids mode. Which on a side note is amazing - well done Amazon! This means that I control which apps are on there, and YouTube is not one of them. They did have the kids version of YouTube on there for a time, but again I questioned some of the video content so deleted it.

How many times does a 7 year old need to watch a doll pooing on a potty? Is a cartoon of a man watching ladies in a hot tub really appropriate? That was the one that made me delete YouTube kids. YouTube need to get better at screening these things for the kids version. Or maybe I'm a prude who's way behind the times!?!

How we use YouTube for homeschool

Anyway I digress... I still really value YouTube as an educational tool. So to bypass the awkward video mishaps I set up playlists on my account. I only add videos that I have prewatched, and this also allows me to ensure that they aren't too long, uninspiring or just plain random.

I'm not a total bore and include some funny videos in there too, and we dance to music videos (Rhianna is a total No No!).

So here's a step by step of how we use YouTube to enhance our learning:

1. First you will need a YouTube account if you don't already have one.

2. Next search for the topic you want, I searched for Pig Facts.

How we use YouTube for homeschool

3. Next, click on a video. Whilst watching the video click on the plus icon in the top right hand corner (circled below) or the 'add to' icon underneath:

How we use YouTube for homeschool

4. Then it will come up 'Add to Playlist' at the bottom of the screen.

Click on this, then select the playlist you would like the video to be added to.

How we use YouTube for homeschool

5. Once you've done this a message will pop up saying the video was added. You can then go into your library and see the playlist you've created (see my Pig one below):

How we use YouTube for homeschool

And Voila! A simple way to use YouTube videos to enhance your learning without the awkward random stuff that usually pops up. And you need not worry about this taking up too much of your time - I usually make my playlists in bed at night!

How do you use YouTube in your homeschool planning? Share with us in the comments below.

This post was originally featured on and has been republished here with permission.

Want to save this for later? Share to Pinterest.

YouTube is an amazing resource for learning, but how do you find videos that are age-appropriate for your kids? Read the tips on our site.
Natalie Goodacre

Natalie Goodacre


Natalie is a a homeschooling mummy to two gorgeous girls aged 7 & 5, from Lincoln, England. She's passionate about learning through play and inquiry based learning and spends her days with her daughters baking, hanging in trees and using their imaginations during hours of play. She blogs at and is on Instagram @homeschoolmummy.

Learn how to paint wet on wet – Steiner style

Wet on wet painting Steiner

By Indrani Perera |

Painting with small children can seem very daunting. All that mess! But with the right materials and preparation it can be a little less messy and lots of fun. I started painting weekly with my daughters when they were 3 and 7. We all loved sitting around the kitchen table painting.

Painting wet on wet lets the colours magically blend and swirl together. The paint on the wet paper mixes together to form new colours and interesting patterns. It’s easy to get absorbed in the process.

Painting in the Steiner style adds songs and verse to the activity. Older children in particular may struggle to come up with an idea of what to paint. A verse or story will appeal to their imagination and fill their mind with pictures to share on the page.

Wet on wet painting tutorial

You will need
  • Painting board
  • A3 watercolour paper
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Large brushes
  • Stockmar watercolour paint (red, yellow, blue)
  • Two large glass jars half filled with water
  • 1 small jar/tin to hold the brushes
  • 3 small(ish) jars with lids for the paint
  • Apron/smock to cover clothes
  • Hair tie for long hair
  • Sponge

Notes: buy good quality art paper, it’s really worth the investment as it won’t disintegrate as you’re painting.

Stockmar watercolours can seem quite expensive but a little bit goes a long way. You only need the primary colours - with them you can make everything else. They come in two of each primary colour. Choose either carmine red, ultramarine blue and lemon yellow OR vermillion, Prussian blue and golden yellow.

Tip: have a sponge handy to clean paint off the walls as it happens.


1. Preparing the paint

Give the paint bottle a good shake. Put a small amount (about a five cent piece) of paint into the small glass jar. 

Add some water and mix together with a brush. Repeat for each colour.

Once made, the paints can be stored in the fridge in their jars with the lids on. They will last a few weeks, you’ll just need to give them a stir before use.

When starting, only give two colours to your child (eg red and blue) so that they learn how they mix together. After a few weeks when they have explored those colours, give them another combination (eg blue and yellow). When you have done all the colour combinations, let them experiment with all three colours at once.

2. Set up the art space

Set up the table for each child with a painting board, 2 glass jars half full of water and brushes in a jar, bristles facing up (this keeps them nice and pointy for painting).

3. Name and dating

Write your child’s name and date on the back of the piece of paper. Round the corners of each piece of paper with a pair of scissors.

4. Apron tying

Ask your kids to roll up their sleeves, put on art smocks and tie their hair back.

5. Wetting paper

Have your child help you run the paper under water from the tap. Drain excess water into the sink and place the paper on the painting board.

6. Books

When they are sitting at the table, read a poem or tell a story to inspire ideas.

7. Handing out the colours

Sing or say this verse as you give each child their colours.

“Rainbow fairies soft and light, bring us colours bright.”

8. Knock knock

By now they’ll be itching to paint. Just one more step before they can. Teach your kids to keep their brushes clean with this little story:

Take your child’s brush and tap on the paint jar and say, “Knock, knock, knock. May I come in?” In a different voice, sing out, “Only if you’re very clean.” Then take the brush and dip it in the water, then back to the paint. “Knock, knock, knock. May I come in now?” and the paint replies, “Oh you’re nice and clean. Yes you may.”

For very small children you may need to repeat this little story.

9. Start painting

Now the fun begins - paint away!

When your child wants to change colours from red to blue, help them use the rinsing water jar to clean. Then dip the brush into the clean water jar, pressing excess water from the brush against the top of the jar.

Wet on wet painting Steiner

10. Drying and packing away

When the paintings are finished, move the painting board somewhere out of the way to dry.

Get your child to help put the paint away in the fridge, wash the brushes and clean the table.

come in now?” and the paint replies, “Oh you’re nice andclean
Indrani Perera

Indrani Perera


Indrani Perera is a a homeschooling mama of two girls aged 7 and 11. They're currently into their fifth year of homeschooling. Indrani shares insights and experiences in making the life she wants on her blog and Instagram. Her big passions are craft and nature and sharing them with her girls.

‘We encourage our son to pull apart all his toys’

When we see a child breaking or disassembling a toy, our first instinct can be to rush in and take it off them. But what they're doing could be far more valuable in developing logic, problem-solving and fine motor skills.

Children playing in water happily

By Chelsee Richardson | @ozriches

My son loves to tinker.

For as long as I can remember he has preferred to play with real items, appliances and tools or toys which he could take apart. As a toddler, he would pull the food processor out, put it together and take it apart many times.

I remember the first remote control boat I bought for him when he was 3. After a few days of playing with it, he pulled it apart. I was frustrated that he had wrecked his toy, but in the process he had discovered something wonderful:

Toys were even more interesting on the inside.

A Self-Directed pathway

During his toddler years, my husband and I quickly concluded that our children would take a self-directed pathway instead of school. I started to view his wrecked toys differently. This was something he was driven to do. An interest. No longer did I see a wrecked toy but an idea, question or investigation he had.

I started to supply him with toys and appliances from the op shop or given to us by friends, specifically so he could pull them apart. We provided him with tools and encouraged him to use them.

Children playing in water happily

I realised that the more I responded to him with attention and support, the more he would tinker. He started to take motors, gears, propellers, speakers and battery packs from broken toys and appliances and craft up a whole new toy such as a plane, helicopter or dump truck.

I had an epiphany

One day while at the markets my son went to purchase a toy sail boat, when the stall owner told him it was broken my son replied, “well that’s ok I can fix it.”

He knew this wasn’t an issue he couldn’t overcome.

You see my son displays some remarkable abilities for a 6-year-old. He can focus and hold his attention for extended periods of time. He's curious and intrinsically motivated to take problems and either solve them or develop his own ideas. He works through frustrations, setbacks and mistakes. He is creative and innovative by using old things in new ways.

These skills are highly valued in the work place and society at large but are we fostering these critical skills in our children? Do we encourage meaningful work? Every day our actions toward our children show otherwise.

As a society, we are not at all interested in helping our children learn what they are interested in.

We have our own agenda, and we push it throughout our children’s entire childhood.

Had my family taken a more authoritarian parenting and schooling route, my son would no longer be working on what he loves. We may have punished him for pulling his toys apart. Perhaps we wouldn’t have paid attention, nor provided him with the materials, space and time to tinker. We may have put the tools away exclaiming them to be dangerous.

And so by now he would have spent several years at school with his attention diverted elsewhere, doing work someone else deemed more important. Then after school between homework and chores, his love for mechanics and engineering may have been forgotten, not valued and in the end, left behind.

He simply may not be the same little boy.

What about a balanced education?

I can hear the questions. We want a balanced education for our children too. We don’t want to see them struggle in other areas. But when we mentally check off the things our kids are ‘good’ at to focus on the things they are ‘bad’ at are we diverting our children away from their true talents and strengths? Are we leading them to believe their skills and strengths are not of value? If children’s interests get pushed to the side, we may never know what they are capable of.

I occasionally hear remarks about how talented he is. But to be honest, I think he is a little boy supported to do what he loves.

I believe all children can do remarkable things if we support their strengths and interests.

When I think about this route we may have taken, the one society told us we should, I can’t help but wonder how many children have to leave their loves and ultimately themselves behind. Their talents and strengths lost when they could have brought meaning to their lives. And perhaps revolutionary ideas to our world.

After 12 years of forced learning, we expect children to know what they want to do with their lives. Perhaps they left it behind in kindergarten.

Jenny Diaz

Chelsee Richardson


Chelsee is a mother to a pigeon pair. About to embark on a nomadic travelling journey around Australia, she is dedicated to building her family culture around self-directed learning. Her interests are as diverse as her children’s and any day can look like an array of gumnuts, LED’s, Hiragana and roller skating. She's on Instagram as @ozriches

Homeschool language arts made simple

From spelling, grammar and comprehension to phonics, handwriting and composition: here is the simple way to teach your kids language arts.

children reading together

By Kirstee Raki |

What is language arts? Well, you and I probably just called this English when we went to school.

Basically, the term language arts is a catch-all that encompasses everything from phonics and handwriting, to comprehension and composition. Vocabulary, spelling, grammar, punctuation - they're all in there too. Anything that relates to the five strands of English Language Arts is included: reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing.

PHEW! That's a lot to cover. But does that mean it's hard to do?

Well, yes and no. For us, if I put a lot of workbooks into our program, things become hard. If I put a lot of writing into our program, things become really tough, really quickly. Maybe your child is different, but these two things are definite no-nos with my kiddo. But with a little help from my friends Charlotte Mason and Rudolf Steiner, I've managed to come up with a plan that is working really well for us.

What we do in language arts

For context, Nikolai is currently in third grade. We take a holistic approach to home education and tend to combine elements of both Charlotte Mason and Steiner/Waldorf methodologies, but we aren't averse to pulling items from elsewhere if it's what best fits our needs at the time.

Morning Circle

I include poetry (memory work and recitation), introduction to Shakespeare and speaking work in the form of tongue twisters. FUN! Grammar and vocabulary related games come in here too.


I assign a classic novel and expect Nikolai to read a chapter at night ready for narration the following day. This only needs to be done when we have lessons the next day, so only three days a week. That's pretty low key. We are working on a second classic novel together. This one we do as a read aloud once a week and then follow up with activities from a Hearth Magic Unit Study. I get Nik to take a turn reading to practice reading aloud. He also reads aloud to his little sister, so we sneak some extra practice in that way. Free reading happens on top of this.


This is an idea popularised by Charlotte Mason homeschoolers. Basically, you have your child tell back what they have read (or have listened to) in as much detail as possible. We use this as a way to practice sequencing, recall, comprehension and the like. I also tend to include a conversation, always informal in our home, where we discuss what we liked (or didn't), why we think a character acted a certain way, what we would have done instead, etc. We practice this skill three times per week, using the reading Nikolai completed the evening before.


This term we are focusing on sentence structure, paragraph structure and summarising information. After Nikolai has delivered his narration (we do this orally) we sit together and I help him to pick out the main idea from the chapter. We look for the problem, the action and the solution which he boils down to 3-5 sentences, depending on the complexity of the chapter. Nikolai comes up with the sentences and I dictate them back to him slowly so that he can concentrate on the mechanics of writing without the distraction of trying to remember the words he wants to use. We have found this technique so helpful in reducing stress when writing.

Once the day's summary is written down, we flick back a page to the previous summary and go over it, looking for errors in spelling and punctuation, which Nik marks with a coloured pencil. Nikolai makes corrections and looks up any words he is unsure of in the dictionary. Why do this the next day? Putting that little bit of distance between the writing and the editing helps ward off feelings of inadequacy.

handwriting girl

Correcting straight after writing can feel overwhelming and demoralising to a small child (or let's face it, even certain adult bloggers who may be typing as we speak!) We also take the chance to engage in short spelling lessons where necessary. Once we come to the end of the book, we will watch a movie adaptation of the novel.

Once a week we also try to include a poetry picnic in our day. This is always a highlight.

So there you go. We've covered reading, writing, listening, viewing and speaking, all in roughly an hour a day, three days a week. And we have fun!

What we don't do in language arts

Workbooks, spelling lists, copy work, creative writing, oral presentations of projects or specific handwriting practice. If it's busywork or is sure to elicit strong resistance, I omit it. It just isn't worth the headache.

If you haven't already, take a look at the video above to see the books we are using, and to get a look at the work Nikolai is doing.

And now I would love to know, how do you teach language arts in your homeschool? Feel free to comment below.

This post was originally featured on This Whole Home and has been republished here with permission.

Kirstee Raki

Kirstee Raki


Kirstee is mum to two from QLD, collector of chickens, a terrible housekeeper, a no-nonsense country-style cook, lover of mason jars, passable vegetable gardener, holistic homeschool educator, to-do list fanatic and bush wanderer. She blogs at and shares advice and encouragement on implementing a holistic model of education in your home, as well as practical tips to stay sane as a homeschool mama. Instagram - @this.whole.home

Homemade toys that grow with your child: early years

Jenny Diaz shares some simple toys you can make with things in your home, that will grow with your child as they learn and develop.

Making toys that grow with your kids

Image by Jenny Diaz

By Jenny Diaz |

During the first five years of your child’s life, development happens so rapidly. It almost feels as if everyday something new is happening, so how do you know what toys will best suit your child’s interest for the long-term? Here are some toys that you can make at home in just 15 minutes or less that will aid and grow with your child’s development.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: All toys are always safest when being used under adult supervision.)

Pom pom drop

You will need:

  • Paper towel or toilet paper rolls
  • Pom poms (large for smaller ages, medium/small for older ages)
  • A piece of cardboard larger than the roll
  • Markers
  • Duct tape/hot glue gun

Image by Jenny Diaz

Base Activity:

This is for when your child is first learning how to pick items up and place them in and out of places. To assemble, simply take a paper towel or toilet paper roll and tape or glue it to a piece of cardboard so that it is slightly elevated off of the ground.

Hold it or lean it against a wall and provide your little one with a few pom poms to put down the tube. When they are ready, this activity will also help build pre-math skills by teaching one-to-one ratio as they place one pompom in the tube at a time.

Modification 1:

Once your child is beginning to learn colours, you can add more tubes and colour code them along with the pom poms. Once your child is beginning to learn how to count, you can verbally provide them an amount of pom poms to drop or write the number above the roll if they can visually identify numbers.

Modification 2:

To further challenge an older child, provide them with a fair bit of their own rolls and materials so they can make a course for the pompoms to fall through. You may even want to build two and have a race to see which course is faster.


Here is a list of other ways you can make a different toy by using the same concept:

  • Yoghurt container or shoebox with slot cut in the top and buttons
  • Pom poms with empty water bottle
  • Empty wipes box with bottle caps


You will need:

  • Paper plates
  • Scissors
  • Markers
  • Printouts of pictures with whatever your child is interested in (eg. animals, cars, dinosaurs)
  • Random household objects chosen by your child
  • Construction or computer paper
  • Glue

Base Activity:

You’ll want to keep your puzzle simple. Start with matching two of the same items together. Find some images to print of whatever your child is interested in and print two of each. Glue one set onto a piece of paper and have your child place the matching picture on top of it.

You can also cut out various shapes, again 2 of each, to have your child match. Another alternative is to choose some objects from around your house (preferably with the help of your child) and trace them onto a piece of paper. Once you are finished, your child can match each object to their coinciding outline.


When you think your child is ready, try puzzles consisting of just two pieces. You can use those same pictures you printed earlier by cutting them in half and seeing if they can match the two pieces together to make a whole. You can also take a few paper plates and have you or your child colour/paint them one colour per plate. Once they are finished, try cutting them into 2-3 pieces. For more of a challenge, cut more pieces.


  • Matching socks
  • Empty box puzzles
  • Matching Easter Egg halves together

Dramatic play

You will need:

  • Recycled food and drink materials (washed and cleaned)
  • Plastic or paper plates, cups or utensils
  • Child's clothing and/or your old clothing
  • Empty box
  • Hygienic tools (toothbrush, comb, washcloth etc)
Making toys that grow with your kids

Image by Jenny Diaz

Base Activity:

Chances are that random household objects already hold your child’s interest the longest around this age, so make some safe ones readily available to them. Wash and clean some empty food and drink containers and put them on a low shelf or basket. Yoghurt containers, cereal boxes, water bottles, milk and egg cartons are all wonderful places to start.

While you’re in the kitchen making food, allow your little one to sit on the floor in or nearby the kitchen as well and play with these items. Plastic or paper plates, cups and spoons are also great things to offer them for playtime. Also around this age children start to enjoy learning how to care for themselves so offer a comb, brush or toothbrush so they can “practice” and get familiar with the objects for the future.


Once your child gets a little older and gains more self-awareness, they may be interested in starting to dress themselves. Happily oblige by leaving a small bin or few items of clothing out for them to try putting on. You can also use yours or a sibling’s old clothes to play dress up.

If they are beginning to enjoy fantasy play, then paper crowns and hats are easy items to make. An empty box can be decorated to make a car, castle, train or boat. A quick drawing can go a long way. Remember, let go of perfection and just go for it! Don’t worry about spending more than 5-10 minutes on it. I promise you care more about what it looks like than your children do.​

It’s amazing what you can do with everyday household items and just 15 minutes of your time. Not only have you made a toy that will grow with and aid your child’s development, you’ve also saved money as well as the environment by reusing and repurposing some objects that might have otherwise been disregarded.

The cherry on top though? I bet these homemade toys will serve your child’s interest just a little longer than the traditional ones.​

What are your children's favourite homemade toys?​ We'd love you to share in the comments below.

Jenny Diaz

Jenny Diaz


Jenny is a former Early Childhood Educator and Montessori teacher of 10 years turned photographer. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband, fur baby and 1-year-old daughter. She remains passionate about child development and education in the early years, and enjoys spending as much time outdoors as possible with her little one. She's on Instagram @jennydiazhomelife

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