Author - Nina Cordoba
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9/4/2020 11:57:35 PM

Where can I find learning materials for my preschool or elementary school student?

I’m writing this post in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of you still have jobs and may be trying to work from home. Some of you have lost your jobs, through no fault of your own. Some kids are in school, some are doing online school. Some are being homeschooled.

 It’s a weird time.

 I’ve included a variety of materials and ideas, paid and free, to help give you some resources, whether you’re trying to keep a preschooler busy while you work or trying to homeschool your elementary-age child yourself because your state is having in-person school and you don’t feel safe about it.

 I’m sure some parents are concerned their kids will fall behind this year. Others may be realizing for the first time that there’s an issue with their child’s learning because they’re working with them personally. If either of these statements ring true to you, read my other education posts so you can feel better, then form a plan of action.

 Note: When a child is struggling across the board in school, the first thing I check is reading. If you can’t read, it’s hard to succeed in anything besides art and phys ed. Because of this, I’ve written 2 reading blog posts, one called Teaching Reading the Right Way and the other is a quick phonics assessment to find out if your child has a good grasp of phonics.

 For other subjects, there are many places to find workbooks, worksheets, and videos for various grade levels. However, I would not advise you to start putting workbooks for other subjects in front of a struggling reader without trying to fix the reading problem first.

 

How to get workbooks:

 Workbooks covering the various school subjects and grade levels are easier to get to than ever before, thanks to the internet.

 You can simply type the subject and grade level into Google or Bing or an online store’s search field and see a number of options. With the exception of phonics workbooks (which I talk about extensively in my other posts), almost any workbook your child likes is a good workbook. I like it when the online store shows me pictures of the inside of the book so I know how engaging it looks.

 For instance, I typed “2nd grade science workbooks” into the Amazon search field and found a workbook that looked good. I clicked on the pictures to see the inside pages and the illustrations looked cool. I almost wish I had a second grader to buy it for! The book was out of stock, expected back in October, which would still be fine.

 However, I scrolled down and saw that it was made by School Zone, a family-owned education company that makes some really nice products. I plugged the name of the book--Big Science Workbook Grades 2-3--into the School Zone website. And there it was, available now! This is just one example. There are workbooks and videos for many subjects and grade levels. And, if you can afford it, don’t forget to add on a puzzle book. All kinds of puzzles, from jigsaw to crossword, are good for critical thinking skills and fun to do.

 I bought various kinds of puzzles and puzzle books for my daughter over the years. She also loved messages that were in a “secret code” she had to apply to read the message. Eventually, she graduated to sudoku. (I’m terrible at it, so she didn’t get it from me.) When we went on trips, she and her stepdad Mr. Nina would grab the airline magazine and compete for who could finish the sudoku first. The day she beat him was one of her most glorious.

 I really like School Zone, so if you don’t want to feel overwhelmed by the choices a typical search engine will give you, see if you can find what you need there.

  

Free Stuff!

 Videos

 First, let me just say, video learning is good!

 People have been demonizing TV, and practically anything you do on screens, for decades. But I found TV, and later videos, to be educational for both me and my daughter in different ways. Videos can also be helpful for kids with reading problems, dyslexia, and other issues so they keep learning the other subjects while they are working on overcoming their disability.

 Story Time

I quit watching cartoons very early and moved on to live action television. When I was in 1st grade, watching reruns of Dragnet taught me my Miranda Rights. You’d be surprised at the number of times I managed to work “You have the right to remains silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”  into conversations over the following decade. Around the same time as Dragnet, I was watching Perry Mason reruns. From those, I learned what the prosecution and the defense were as well as terms like “objection,” “sustained,” and “overruled.” I also learned what evidence was and what judges and juries did. And, when I wasn’t reciting the Miranda Rights, I was often making my friends “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” (If you think I was a weird kid at this point, you don’t know the half of it. Mr. Nina gets a chuckle of the mentions of my childhood, especially the parts involving bongo drums and a ventriloquist doll.)

 My daughter went a different direction. She had no interest in grown up things, but she loved all the kids’ programs on Nickelodeon, Disney, PBS, and a few things on the cartoon network. She had a little TV in her room. I would walk in and find her taking notes while watching Blues Clues or making finger puppets from some crafty kids’ show.

 However, it was a cartoon that was responsible for my daughter making her first pun at age 5. We were outside in Texas, and I noticed the dreaded fire ants were building mounds again. “Oh no! There are fire ants everywhere,” I said.

“It’s an ant-astrophe!” my daughter cried.

My heart beat faster. Had it happened? Had my little girl made her first pun? No. I couldn’t let myself get too excited, in case I didn’t hear what I thought I heard. “Where did you get that word?” I asked.

“You know, ‘cat-astrophe’?” she explained. “This is an ant-astrophe.”

“Where did you learn ‘catastrophe’?” I asked.

“The Power Puff Girls!”

I was so proud.

 Anyway, I realize that some of you are struggling to do your office jobs from home with young children underfoot. If you have a TV or computer or iPad or phone, don’t feel bad about using it as a “mother’s helper.” Just set things up in a way you can feel good about.

 

How?

 First, if you’re concerned, have yourself and/or your child use headphones so as not to disrupt each other and position the screens so you can glance up and see what your child is watching at any given moment.

 YouTube is full of educational videos for kids. You can search for various subjects at all different grade levels. Young kids can learn almost anything if it’s presented in a fun way. My daughter understood what fractions were as well as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs when she was 5 and she enjoyed the “Identify the Part of Speech” verbal games we did in the car. Here’s a video I like for learning about nouns.


 Here are a couple of fun videos for introducing short and long vowels to preschoolers or to use in reinforcing what students learn in Explode the Code 1,2, & 3. (See my reading blog posts for details about ETC.)

Short vowels

Long (silent E) vowels

  Those are just examples. There are many more educational videos, just put your child’s grade level in the YouTube search. You can get the Kids' YouTube app or use it on your computer. Set up a Kid’s YouTube account and use their parental controls to make sure your child doesn’t happen upon anything inappropriate.

 Next, make an educational YouTube playlist for your child beforehand by clicking the plus sign under each video you want to use. You can make up a name for each playlist. Remember: You don’t necessarily need a new playlist every day for preschool and early elementary schoolers. As long as it’s something engaging they can learn from, young kids typically don’t mind watching things over and over again. They learn with repetition. If you can find a block of time on the weekends, make several playlists of videos and rotate them over the next couple of weeks.

 If you’re swamped during the day, try to remember to ask your child about the videos at dinner time or bedtime. “What did you learn? Which one is your favorite?” etc. Pay attention. It might give you clues that will help you choose videos and workbooks later.

 If you are way more organized than I am, you can make your child a schedule (let your child help set it up with you so he has some ownership) and put it on a list on the fridge or taped to the wall. Give her a colored marker or order some special stickers and let her put one next to each activity as she does it. (If the child doesn’t enjoy this, there’s no point in forcing it. You’re trying to ad validation and positivity, not something to fight about.)

 For instance, a schedule for a 4-year old might be:

-4-6 pages of Explode the Code, Book A (or more if he can sit still)

-Kids YouTube playlist 1 (For this age, maybe a mixture of preschool and Kindergarten videos. Don’t overthink this. You’ve got enough on your mind. Videos don’t have to be exactly on grade level.)

-Lunch with your kid’s favorite movie (Ask me how many times I heard Hakuna Matata in 1997). You could keep working through lunch if you need to or join your child for part of the movie while you eat together.

-Kid’s choice of shows on channels approved by you in the afternoon. This is a good tiem to put out a coloring book, too.

 

Another website option to put in the calendar for preschoolers is Education.com’s interactive videos where they can practice counting by making pizzas, practice recognizing letters with aliens and spaceships and other cool stuff.

 

Free Worksheets

There are many places on the internet where you can download free worksheets for the various subjects and grade levels. To find what you’re looking for, you can search by grade level and/or subject with the word “worksheets.”

 However, if you want to narrow it down, Education.com is good for this, too. There are lots of worksheets—labeled by grade level and subject—that you can download for free. You can print them out, but if the sheet was in color, and I didn’t have a color printer, I think I’d rather let the kid look at the cool color images on a laptop, iPad, or phone and write the answers on paper. Or print out the black and white version to write on, but let them look at the cool color version on a screen, if possible.

 Note: If you have no spare screens, your child will not suffer irreparable damage from using black and white handouts. That’s all most of us had in school. If you don’t have a printer, you can check with your local Kinkos or your local mailbox business. They can often print things out and make copies.

There are a lot of people like me who haven’t been hit as hard by Covid who do want to help if they can. Be honest when you call. For example, “I’ve got a 1st grader at home that I need to print out 20 worksheets for. My job hours were cut, but I’ve managed to gather $3.00 in change from the bottom of my purse and my car. Can you print them out for that?” If one place refuses, try another. Don’t be embarrassed. Many of us know what it’s like to have children, and I know lots of well-off people who struggled at some time in their lives. The time I spent as a single mom was scary and stressful. A lot of people get it. On the other hand, please don’t do this if you are not in financial peril because most of these places are mom and pop shops.

 Another Note: I just typed “3rd grade science” into Education.com’s website and found all kinds of cool stuff like colored diagrams of the inside of a volcano, the solar system, the water cycle and tons more. Using the site is free, but there’s also a premium version for $15.99/mo. (as I write this, it’s on sale for $8/mo.)


 Other educational things my daughter enjoyed doing:

 -At ages 3-12, she would repeatedly choose to go back and practice Muzzy Spanish and Muzzy French. Not only did she love it, but when her cousins or friends came over, they wanted to sit with her and do it. At the time, the DVD sets were very expensive. Now, Muzzy is online (subscription) and has apps you can use.

However, if that won’t work for you, you can typically find Muzzy language DVDs for sale on Ebay.

 -There are also lots of cute cartoons on YouTube where they are speaking and singing in different languages. Even if your child enjoys the visuals and doesn’t know what’s being said/sung, I believe it helps to be exposed early, so language sounds don’t seem so foreign when they’re trying to learn them later.

 -Keyboarding. My mom bought my daughter a Lion King keyboarding DVD on a half-price sale when she was 4 or 5. She loved it! When I showed her how to turn the letters she’d typed into different colors, she loved it even more. Years later, when other kids were learning keyboarding, she was already a good typist. Nowadays, she’s superfast. There are a variety of ways to learn keyboarding now. Here’s a list of a few. 

 -Books. Have books around the house to whatever extent you can afford. Covid-19 has made us more careful, but when you feel it’s safe to go to the library, take your child, get him his own library card, and let him pick out books for himself. Or sit with her and search for books online.

 Another way to do it is to listen to what your child is interested in and do a search for books or online articles about the topic. Or do searches like “chapter books for 5th graders” or “picture books for preschoolers” and have your child pick some from the list.

 This is where you may want to examine your family culture and see what you spend your money on (assuming you have any to spend). If you’ll spend lots on sports equipment, sports camps, etc. or Starbucks every day, but you tell your child books are too expensive, you’re brainwashing them in a certain direction. Most successful people I know (regardless of which way you measure success) had parents who saw the value of knowledge, education, and reading, and made sure their kids had books to read one way or the other.

 My teacher mom would always ask the librarians at her schools to tell her when they were going to throw books away. We had shelves and shelves of books at home. When I felt like reading, I’d go peruse the shelves. Mr. Nina had extremely frugal Chinese immigrant parents, but the one thing they regularly splurged on was books. They would take the kids to the bookstore and buy absolutely any book they wanted. You can’t argue with the results. They now have two surgeons and a software architect in the family.

 Note: Typically children will treasure and reread books they choose themselves.

Can’t go to a library and don’t have money to buy books or technology?

Try looking for a “Buy Nothing” group in your area. Go to Facebook and search “Buy Nothing Seattle” (but put in your city instead). In these groups, you can give things away free or request things you need or want. People often give books away in our local group. Don’t be afraid to let others know what’s going on. For instance, “I’m a single mom working from home. I need to keep my preschooler busy. I’d appreciate any books, puzzles or ____ (whatever your kid likes) you can give.”

 Don’t underestimate coloring and play time. Activities like coloring or building with blocks can be good in several ways. It can be a time to relax (kids get stressed and overwhelmed to). It can be a time when kids reflect about what they learned or daydream about what they want to do someday. If you have time to join them it might be relaxing for you, too.

 My daughter loved to color and do crafts. Ever so often, I’d find her coloring paper towels. I’m so unobservant, I’d never even noticed the paper towels had dotted patterns in them. She would color in the patterns and come up with some awfully pretty paper towels. Later, she would color on them with markers, then crumple them and get them damp. When she opened them up, they’d be “tie-dyed.”

 In the end, try not to be too stressed if you feel you’re not handling your child’s education perfectly or you don’t have a lot of money to spend. Just do what you can do.

 And, honestly, the most important thing is attitude about learning. I’ve watched children who were blessed with well above average IQ’s crash and burn as teens and adults because their parents weren’t interested in their education. If you are going to the trouble of reading these blog posts, you're not that kind of parent. Be proud of yourself.


Other education blog posts published or currently in the works:

-READ THIS FIRST: Educating at Home: Deciding What to Do and How to Do It

-READ THIS SECOND: Getting the Most from Your Child

-Reading: Quick Phonics Assessment

-Reading: Teaching Reading the Right Way

-Where to Find Learning Materials for My Preschool or Elementary School Student?

-Creating Real-life "Opportunity Learning" Moments

-Preparing Your Infant and Toddler for Success


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