Educational Toys that will Occupy My Kids for Entire Minutes in a Row While I Check My Email
Believe it or not, I have been asked a couple of times for these kinds of homeschooling suggestions, so I thought I would put them all in one place. These are the tried-and-true items that my kids have played with consistently, sometimes even quietly. These are the things that were invaluable when I needed Little to occupy herself while I did schoolwork with Big.
Now, previously I have fallen into the trap of buying every single manipulative known to man from every single online homeschool super store on earth. I love educational stuff, and before we sold our house, I bought it almost compulsively. We probably have eight million counters. We have fraction blocks, 3 dimensional plastic geometric shapes, balances, clocks, microscopes and plastic ice cubes with bugs in them.
The UPS man came to my house every week.
I have learned, however, that a lot of stuff, while fun, is not necessary. If you have four billion Legos in your house, you don’t need counters. Unless they are on sale and are really cute. The following is a list of things I would buy again, and things that both kids have enjoyed consistently over a period of years.
• Multiple Magnetic Whiteboards Hung at Kid Level
Firstly, because every kid loves a whiteboard that is theirs and theirs alone, that they can scribble on with abandon. Give them some washable dry-erase markers and let them go to town. Secondly, because a lot of my other suggestions require a magnetic whiteboard, and I don’t want it to be a surprise. I like to get nice big ones, say two feet by three feet. It’s also a good idea to anchor them firmly to the wall. Drywall anchors are a girl’s best friend (these are my favorites).
• The Little Red Tool Box from Scholastic
I have seen these sets at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. The Little Red Tool Box is more than your average magnetic refrigerator letter set. There are multiples of upper and lower case letters, and there are multiple pictures to go with each letter. It’s fantastic. Very handy for random toddler spelling, sound/picture matching, and figuring out which direction the Q faces. It is the best letter set on the market, in my opinion.
• Magnetic Tangram Shapes/Pattern Blocks
These are fantastic. They are large foam shapes, and are easier for little hands. Also, it’s geometry-ish. Here are the typical Tangram shapes, and here are generic pattern blocks. Older kids who really love pattern making might enjoy the Fractiles. Why stop with tangrams, though? Get magnetic everything – Cuisinaire Rods, Money, all kinds of stuff…
Seriously, Polydrons are the best thing ever. Educator’s Outlet has a TON of great stuff, and these things are one of my favorite finds. They are geometry-ish, and if you have kids who like Legos, they help satisfy the builder urges. I actually just added the Bridge Builder Set to my Christmas Idea List for Big.
• Wedgits and MagnaTiles
Again, satisfy that builder urge. My daughter loves Wedgits even more than my son, so you never know what is going to click. I found a giant classroom set of MiniWedgits on sale at Timberdoodle last year. The MagnaTiles are very expensive (in my opinion), and we only have one set that their grandma bought them. These would be good in particular for the pre-k group.
• Hidden Picture
Yep, Hidden Picture from Highlights. Remember that? My daughter LOVES Hidden Picture. She has recently decided that Hidden Picture with Stickers is superior to all other Hidden Picture products. Well, except the app on my phone.
• Geography Puzzles
GeoPuzzles are terrific. Learning + Playing + No Mom Necessary is a winning formula in my book. Chuck it at them and go surf Pinterest.
• Leapfrog Videos
I never wanted to have a video teach my kids anything. It felt like a cop-out. But you know what? These videos are GREAT. When I first started homeschooling, I had a terrible time teaching the letter sounds to Big. I was new, what did I know? Out of frustration, I got Letter Factory. Both kids knew their letter sounds inside of a week. And then I bought all the videos. Because I am a quick study that way. I also learned that learning is learning and it doesn’t matter where it comes from.
In addition to being a Compulsive Educational Toy Purchaser, I also generally Refuse to Pay Retail. Places like Learning Resources, Educators Outlet, and Timberdoodle routinely have terrific clearance sales; and if you are patient, you can score great stuff at seriously discounted prices. Barnes & Noble will give homeschoolers an Educator’s Discount card, and if you are close to a big store, you can buy great homeschooling supplies for 20-25% off.
I hope I’ve given you homeschoolers with young kids some ideas, especially those of you with demanding kindy/1st graders AND demanding toddlers. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.
Happy Homeschooling, y’all!
To all you poor readers who neither homeschool nor have little kids, we can talk about the Real Housewives. Can you BELIEVE that Countess?!?! And Theresa and Caroline! They are all cray-cray! It’s fantastic!