When we think of homeschooling, we usually picture flashcards, worksheets, and perhaps some educational screen-time. When it comes to early childhood, however, children learn best when they’re able to engage as many senses as possible, and when they’re free to follow their own interests. Instead of structured learning activities that require direct adult instruction, we want to provide opportunities for young children to explore academic concepts in a way that is hands-on, sensory-rich, and child-led. In other words, learning materials should be physically tangible and interesting to explore with minimal (if any!) instructions from grown-ups.
Many learning materials, such as alphabet and number puzzles, can be freely available on an open shelving unit for easy access to the materials. This gives young children the opportunity to either complete the puzzle, or to use the pieces creatively in their play. For example, the letters may become flowers for a block castle, the numbers may be placed in an empty container (just to be dumped out again… and again), and the puzzle board may become a cookie sheet for the pretend play kitchen. Either way, having these types of toys available allows young children to become familiar with the shape of letters and numbers in a tactile way.
For a slightly more structured approach to hands-on learning, we can pull up an Evolve 3-in-1 high chair and offer simple invitations to learn and play right at our dining room tables. Table activities give children the opportunity to work with materials that we may not want on our floors or mixed in with other toys. It also allows us to display the materials in a more intentional way – in a way that says, “Hey, give this a try!”
Five High Chair Friendly Homeschool Activities
1. Homemade Playdough + Puzzle Pieces
If you hate playdough, it’s probably because you’ve never made your own! Homemade playdough has the most incredible texture and isn’t nearly as messy as store-bought. Add a touch of cinnamon powder and squishing this delicious-smelling dough is therapeutic for children and grown-ups alike. If you don’t think you have any playdough tools – especially educational ones – take a closer look! Chunky alphabet puzzle pieces or block shapes from a shape sorter make for the perfect playdough stamps. Place a ball of playdough on the table along with the letters of your child’s name for early writing practice, or provide a circle, star, square, triangle, and rectangle for practicing shape recognition.
2. Montessori-Inspired Learning Boards
Montessori-inspired learning toys are all the rage, but why? These educational toys are designed to take the learning that would otherwise be practiced in a workbook, quite literally, “off the page”. They allow children to practice academic concepts in a way that’s hands-on, often sensory-rich, and sometimes even 100% child-led. Tracing boards help with hand-eye coordination and fine motor development for writing preparation. These boards can include letters, numbers, your child’s name, or simply squiggles, zig-zags, and swirls. Counting boards are wonderful for helping children make the connection between numbers and quantity. Place a board on the table along with necessary accessories – wooden pen, pegs, felt balls, tongs, etc. – and let the learning begin!
3. Loose Parts + Counting Frames
Have you ever heard of loose parts? This is a Reggio-inspired term that essentially applies to any non-toy object that can be played with – buttons, fabric scraps, paper clips, gemstones, coins, sea shells, popsicle sticks, whisks, combs, etc. Loose parts encourage sensory-rich creative play, and small loose parts in particular (such as felt balls, wooden acorns, and small gemstones) make for wonderful learning tools. They can be counted, arranged to create letters or numbers, sorted into categories, or simply used to create. Pair a small basket of loose parts with a ten frame, twenty frame, or hundred frame (a wooden board with a certain number of divots) and some tongs to support early math concepts as well as fine motor development.
Of course, beware of choking hazards with little ones!
. Sand Trays
Sand trays are another Montessori-inspired learning tool, but with an extra sensory boost. To help your child practice writing their name in a no-pressure, developmentally appropriate way, simply spell their name at the top of the board and fill the shallow tray with a bit of sand. Provide a wooden pen or allow your child to write in the sand with their finger. They’ll be thrilled to see their name written in the sand, and will be writing their name with crayon and paper before you know it.
Tip: Skip this one if your child is likely to toss the tray! No one likes sandy carpet.
5. Educational Toys
Although educational toys can be added to the toy shelf with all the rest, offering one as a table activity can help to spark your child’s interest and encourage a different, more focused type of play. Some great options are puzzles, lacing toys, sort and count cups, and pattern boards. The key is to display the materials in a way that says, “Complete me”. Instead of placing a finished puzzle on the table (which communicates, “Nothing to be done, here!”), try placing the pieces, beads, or tokens in a small basket next to the board, pattern, string, or cups.