No matter how patient you are, how many devices you own, or how creatively you parent, if you’re not a teacher, trying to suddenly run a homeschool during the COVID-19 pandemic is going to come with a learning curve. Considering the circumstances — with the kids bored, parents trying to work without losing their sanity, and everyone stressed— it’s important to be realistic about the limits of impromptu homeschooling and try to approach it in a calm and measured way.
First, a reality check: The good news is, according to numerous early childhood development experts: kids never stop learning, even if they’re not sitting at a desk. And they don’t need a ton of special homeschooling books or elaborate homeschool curriculums.
“Children don’t stop developing just because there’s something major going on in the world,” says Tovah P. Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development. “The best you can do is set up some semblance of structure and let go of expectations.”
Dr. Laura Phillips, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute in New York, agrees. Parents, she says, should “cut themselves some slack. This is not a time for us to strive for perfection. It is unrealistic to expect every minute of the day to be filled with enrichment or educational activity, nor should it be. Setting the bar too high will only lead to feelings of failure and disappointment, which are not helpful feelings at this time when you need to stay positive.”
So, instead of implementing a complex homeschool curriculum that you don’t fully understand, or a boring one that will fray your nerves and annoy your children, pick up a book. Any book. It doesn’t have to be an educational book in the traditional sense. For kids, all books are educational. If it has words in it, you’re winning homeschool already.
“Read the books kids love for reassurance. I’m not a big person for workbooks. They’re repetitive but are good for practice. They should be one piece of the learning puzzle. You don’t want to be didactic. I’m a big person for storybooks. It’s something parents and kids can do together and it’s more authentic,” says Margo T. Pensavalle, a professor of clinical education at the USC Rossier School of Education.
If your kids are too young to read on their own, “read together,” says Pensavalle. “Have your kid write a story about someone in that book, or dictate the story to parents. Have them sing a song about it. Have them draw a picture about it. If you make it too hard and boring, kids will check out. Period.” These are some of the best educational children’s books, including classics and newer ones, for toddlers, preschoolers, first-graders, and beyond, to incorporate into your homeschooling routine.
Educational Books for Toddlers
For toddlers, “parents should not worry about learning goals,” says Klein. “It’s not how many letters kids will learn in a day or how many math problems they do. They will learn and develop through this all. Choose books that are your children love and that are comforting to them. If reading becomes a boring task or the parents feel pressured, it won’t work. Children like going back to their favorite books — it gives them comfort.”
A valiant big cat talks to his dad about growing up, and learns why it's OK to feel scared sometimes, but love is really all that matters. A lesson for all of us.
A fun and hilarious way for toddlers to learn about numbers, as they follow ants who are going to a picnic.
What would it be like to be the world's largest land mammal? This charming, engaging book explores that in a way that's accessible to toddlers.
A fun and ridiculous (and ridiculously clever) way for little kids to start learning the alphabet.
ABCs coupled with a self-esteem boost: This books teaches toddlers that girls can be anything, from astronauts to zoologists.
A beautiful blend of textures, colors, and pictures to teach toddlers their first words.
Educational Books for Preschoolers
“Reading aloud is the single best thing that you can do for your child to maximize his or her chances of successful reading acquisition and to promote their love of reading,” says Phillips. “It is a great way for you and your child to spend time together and bring down stress levels, as well. You want to help boost their phonemic awareness (i.e., the ability to identify and manipulate the phonemes in words), so reading books that emphasize rhyme and alliteration is particularly important.”
Even big, huge, scary dinosaurs can be afraid of the dark, a message this book conveys in a sweet and funny way.
A purple cat, a blue horse, and melodic language make this book a beloved classic for a reason.
A hilarious and relatable take on the antics of kids resisting bedtime.
B isn't just a letter. It represents Oliver's very bad hair day. What's a kid to do, especially when he's taking his school photo?
One of the most engaging ways for preschoolers to learn about numbers and counting, via the appetite of a voracious bug.
From a Jertain in the curtain to a Geeling on the ceiling, one child explores his house and finds a slew of strange yet charming creatures living in unexpected places.
Kids learn about shapes and colors as cool feline Pete's footwear changes hues
In James Marshall's beloved series, hippos and best friends George and Martha learn new skills, visit new places, play pranks on each other, and teach readers what true friendship means.
Educational Books for First Graders
“Emphasis at this age is placed on developing early literacy skills, including phonemic awareness, phonic decoding, and sight-word reading,” says Phillips. “To help with reading comprehension, ask questions such as, ‘What do you think will happen next?’ while reading aloud to your child.”
Children grasp the concepts of numeracy and counting as they learn about the antics of various animals.
The next time your child asks you why sweaty feet stink, you'll have a solid, real-world answer.
This book encourages kids to act out a lot of dialogue, which is helpful in building reading fluency.
Educational Books for Second-Graders
“As word reading develops and improves, instructional emphasis shifts to reading fluency, which is critical for comprehension,” says Phillips. “Try to boost your child’s reading fluency by reading books out loud at the same time and seeing if they can try to match your pace. This will help them get used to what fluent reading feels and sounds like. Choose books that your child can read independently so that they can focus instead on pacing, rather than decoding.”
Kids and parents can read together to learn all about the heroes who made history: Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Albert Einstein.
A whimsical tale, from actor Jenny Slate, about the antics of a shell with shoes on. It's joyous enough for kids and parents to laugh at together, while also asking kids to use their imaginations to inhabit Marcel's singular world.
A genius concept that challenges the idea that pictures tell a story: This book relies on the strength of powerful language to make its very funny point. And it's something you'll never get sick of reading.
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