Often in the Foreign Service or military lifestyle, we move at inconvenient times–1 month into the school year, in April, over Christmas. The ideal time with kids, of course, would be during summer vacation so they end one school year at school A, move, and then start the new school year at school B at the same time as everyone else. With training and home leave and work assignments, this often doesn’t happen.
So what do you do if your kid(s) will be out of school for 1 or more months during the school year? Some people chose to enroll their kids in the local public school for that time. This works if you’ll be in the same place long enough. But if you are jumping around for home leave and training or don’t want them to have yet another school, temporary homeschooling is an option.
So what do you need? You clearly don’t want to buy a ton of supplies to haul around (and add MORE weight to your already heavy bags). Here is what I suggest:
Books! Regular reading is the most important. You reading to them, them reading to you, and them reading independently (if age appropriate). If you are in the US and your town has a library, that is a great (and free!) resource. But if you don’t have easy library access (or don’t have access to a card to take them home), then look into ebooks. Raz Kids is great and offers leveled readers, though I think they only offer yearly subscriptions ($100 or so). Their app is easy to use. Prime Reading is free with an Amazon Prime account and lets you download up to 10 books or magazines per account at a time. They have a range of kid and adult books and the offerings change. Pick 10, read them, return them, and pick 10 more.
Talk about the books, reread out loud for fluency (poetry is great for this too), act out the books, write an alternative ending to a book, compare 2 books, make connections between books or real life, make predictions, illustrate it, and more. You could also listen to books on cd in the car. Local library story times are also great. We used a lot of the library resources this past summer when on home leave–story time, read to a therapy dog, science classes, and more.
Paper! A good way to keep up their writing skills is to write! Some ideas of things they could write:
*Letters or thank you cards to family or friends. Got a present? Write a thank you. Said good-bye to a friend? Send a note! If you are near a Dollar Tree, they have packs of 6-8 cards for $1 that are great for this sort of writing. Young kids can dictate the note and then work on signing their name.
*Keep a journal. Do a daily journal entry. Older kids may love a real adult-style journal with a pretty cover. Got a wordy kid? Pick one with just lines. Reluctant writer? Pick one with blank paper so they can draw and write. Young writer? Try a larger journal with wider lines like the ones from Handwriting Without Tears. These provide space to draw and kid spaced lines.
*Designate free writing blocks. Set regular writing times (3-5x a week) where they write on a topic of their choice for a set time. For younger kids, 10-15 min might be appropriate while older elementary could do 30+ min. A composition notebook makes a great writing notebook for older kids, while perhaps a younger kid would appreciate a single sheet of paper with space to draw on top like this one with skinny lines or this one with wider lines.
Real Life! Show kids that math is truly all around them. Examples include:
*Money–if your kids have spent a lot of time overseas, they may not be familiar with US money, so this is a great time to teach them. Even if they have lived in the US, there is a lot they can learn with money. Give an allowance and have them spend it, including counting out the right amount, checking their change, making a budget, etc. Ask them how much money they’d need to buy X, Y, and Z on your list. Teach them to compare prices–if one item is $10 for 1 pound and another is $8 for 12 ounces, which is the better deal?
*Mileage and distances–going on a road trip? Figure out mileage, distance traveled, miles per hour, how far a tank of gas will you, how many hours it will take if traveling X speed, etc.
*Cooking–baking with Grandma, BBQing with Uncle Joe, making cocoa or lemonade–it all can be a math lesson. How much flour is needed if you double the recipe? We need 3/4 c but only have 1/4 measuring cup clean–how many scoops should we do? If it bakes for 10 minutes and has already baked for 2, how many more minutes do we have? If each person eats 1/4lb of BBQ Pork, and 12 people are coming, how many pounds should we make?
*Time–elapsed time, telling time, digital vs. analog clocks, how much longer until …., if it takes 3 hours to get to Aunt Sally’s and we’re halfway there, how much longer do we have?
*Car Word Problems–if you spend a lot of time in the car or on a plane during a PCS or Home Leave, make up word problems! These help with mental math. If we see 3 red cars and 4 black cars, how many cars do we see? If there are 10 goats in the field and twice as many cows, how many cows are there?
Do Experiments! Kids love experiments! Pinterest has a zillion ideas and libraries always have books full of experiments. When you do an experiment, make a prediction/hypothesis, write or draw it, keep data (maybe draw before/after, take photos, record findings, etc), and talk about what happened. Some classic and easy experiments:
*What melts? Put various items in muffin cups in the oven or outside in the hot sun and see which melt. Items could include chocolate chips, unwrapped crayon, piece of candle, cracker, cheese, ice cube, paper, piece of cereal, etc
*What freezes? Put various liquids or gels in muffin cups into the freezer and see which freeze. Even better, set a timer and check every 30 minutes to see which freeze faster. Variation–fill 3 glasses halfway with water. Keep 1 plain, add salt to the 2nd, and wrap the 3rd up (in a scarf, towel, hat, etc). Place all 3 in freezer and check regularly to see how long they take to freeze.
*What floats? Test different objects in a bucket of water. Don’t forget to predict first!
*What is magnetic? Dollar stores often have cheap magnets, or use a strong fridge magnet. Gather items to test–have kids sort first into yes and no piles to predict which the magnet will pick up.
*Make a volcano! Place a cup in a tray or outside on the ground and scoop in baking soda. Pour in vinegar and watch it bubble up and over! For added fun, put food coloring under the baking soda to make a colorful volcano. Or spread the baking soda in a tray and use eye droppers to drop colored vinegar all over the tray.
*Make oobleck! Start with corn starch and slowly add in water. Mix together until the oobleck runs when held in your hand but hardens when sitting in a bowl. Add food coloring with the water to make a color. Oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid and very fun!
Learn About Where You Are! Near museums? Visit them! In farm land? Pick in-season produce and visit the animals. Town known for its historic buildings? Cool statue? Importance in history? Learn about it!
Study the geography of the area–what landforms make up where you?
What animals live here? What plants? Go on a scavenger hunt to find them.
Got younger kids? Community Helpers is a common school theme–visit the fire station or police station, go to the Post Office, wait outside and wave to the garbage men, or find out what a librarian does.
Learn how to use a mailbox and the post office–many kids overseas at Embassies or military bases don’t necessarily use these and find them fascinating.
Put them in charge of the map or directions–reading maps and directions is an important skill. On a road trip? Turn off the map app and make your child navigate the turns. Or leave the map app running, but turn off audio and have your child give directions (turn left at the 2nd street). At an amusement park or museum? Get their map and have your kid pick where to go and then have them navigate your group to that spot. Most towns have maps too–get one and go on a walking tour led by your child. Or make a scavenger hunt where they have to follow directions
Visit the town’s visitor center, get brochures, read them, and explore. Let your child pick what interests them and plan an outing.
Visit the local cemeteries. My kids love the cemetery in my mom’s town. The tombstones are interesting and old. It’s also a peaceful place to walk.
Visit a big city–Washington, DC has a ton of museums and historical sites for kids to visit. Every big city has amazing museums and offerings to take advantage of. If you are in or near a city, play tourist for the day or weekend and explore it.
Study a language–headed to a new country? Learn a bit of its language! Gus on the Go has 30 languages, including Spanish, French, Turkish, Mandarin Chinese, German, Hebrew, Japanese, and more! It is fun and interactive and my kids love it. Both my 4 year old and 6 year old like to use it.
Need someone to teach other than you? Want something a bit more specialized or more concentrated learning? Kids driving you crazy and you need a break? Try Outschool. (Referral link–you get $20 credit when you pay for a class and I get $20 when you complete it). This is a huge collection of online classes for kids from 3-18 years old. Some classes are live and some are recorded and then use a message board. We use the recorded ones because most of the teachers are in the US and the time difference is too much. There are one-time classes, month long ones, and semester ones. They cover all school subjects, plus things like anger management, video games, extracurriculars and more. DD finished a 6 week one on taking care of the Earth/being green and is currently enrolled in 3–a music one, an art one, and a physical science one. She loves them. The teachers have all been very responsive on the message boards and share videos, photos, etc. We submit photos of work our work and DD asks or answers questions on the message board. Classes range from about $5 to $100+ depending on their length and content.
Homeschooling for a short period doesn’t have to be daunting or expensive, particularly in elementary school. Read and write regularly, use math in daily life, and explore the world around you. Whether you are in small-town Midwest or New York City there are places to visit, things to learn, and people to see.
For more detailed homeschooling info and resources for lower elementary, check out this post.