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9 best homeschooling books to educate kids during lockdown

As England enters another national lockdown, these titles are the perfect addition to your makeshift classroom

Martha Alexander
Tuesday 05 January 2021 09:30 GMT
<p>From poetry anthologies to lesson planners, find easy ways to develop a fun and engaging curriculum</p>

From poetry anthologies to lesson planners, find easy ways to develop a fun and engaging curriculum

Unless you are a professional teacher, the current homeschooling situation is likely to take you out of your comfort zone.

Very few parents will be prepared for this, and for most of us, it’s been decades since we were last in a classroom ourselves.

And that means getting reacquainted – but this time in the role of educator – with long division, transitive verbs and how to say “help” in French.

But, no one is asking you to be the world’s greatest teacher. All you have to do is make sure your children feel engaged for short periods and try not to lose your patience.

For this round-up, we’ve selected the best books for parents to lean on when teaching their children at home if your children aren't going back to school soon.

Some are straight-up homeschooling bibles: manifestos on the benefits of learning from home, ways to best impart information and details on how a day’s structure might look.

Others are more specifically focused on one particular discipline or topic – phonics, literature or history – while others still are about boredom-busting ideas for frazzled parents.

All of them offer support to parents who might feel lost or frustrated. From a poetry anthology to a guide to teaching on a small budget – these books are a welcome addition to any home classroom.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree’ by Fiona Water and Frann Preston-Gannon, published by Nosy Crow

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Named after the first line of Judith Nicholls’ poem “Windsong”, this book is lovely. Utterly beautiful illustrations accompany the vast selection of 366 poems between the covers, a nature poem for every day of the year including works by Emily Dickinson and William Wordsworth. However, many are anonymous, speaking to the artform's roots as an oral tradition.

If you are nervous of poetry – and many people are, believing it a serious and highbrow pursuit – you needn’t be. These poems are joyful and can be read aloud to little ones, while older readers might want to read aloud to their parents.

The poems are organised by season – “O Dandelion” is found in mid-May and you’ve got “A Hot Day” for 30 June. Midwinter – 6 January – offers “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”.

This is a tome that will stand the test of time – it’s instantly a classic anthology that is certain to spark the interest of many future wordsmiths. We bet plenty of parents find themselves curling up with this long after their little ones are in bed.

We love that these poems all speak to the natural world, of flora, fauna, fresh air and freedom – exactly what children need right now.

  1. £23 from Bookshop
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‘The Home Education Handbook 2019’ by Alison Baverstock and Gill Hines, published by Piatkus

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From helping with planning and working out the best way to teach lessons to outlining a strong case for the benefits of homeschooling and troubleshooting the issues that parents might encounter, this book is a complete and comprehensive guide to teaching at home.

The book sets the stage for learning, explaining how to prepare your environment to ensure it is a successful place to teach and learn. The authors also suggest ways to structure the day so that it feels balanced and fresh for children. They also help with developing a curriculum across different age groups so you have a road map to follow.

Both authors have worked extensively with children and this shows in the sheer volume of tips and ideas included throughout the pages. We also really appreciated the inclusion of anecdotes and stories from parents who are homeschooling. Hearing these experiences feels comforting and bridges the gap between expert and novice.

What we found most helpful was the section on motivation – how parents can find the impetus to work on their child’s education, day after day. This acknowledgement that homeschooling can be really challenging is so important.

  1. £11 from Amazon
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‘Igniting Children’s Writing 2019’ by Mark McCaughan, published by Bloomsbury

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This book is invaluable for parents with children who are either budding wordsmiths or who have low confidence when it comes to their literacy. There are 50 games in this volume, each designed to get children not only comfortable with but excited by words and how to write. This is not a book which teaches children how to physically write down letters and words, it is for older children to allow their writing to flourish.

The book stresses the importance of “joined-up thinking” when it comes to teaching writing. It emphasises that all aspects of language – spelling, grammar, reading, listening – should be brought together during lessons and not compartmentalised into isolated disciplines. This, McCaughan argues, makes for a more cohesive understanding of writing.

The activities proposed in the volume are all truly engaging from Reading Rummy, where each card from a traditional pack is prescribed a grammar-based task, to Sentence Palette, where four types of sentences can be combined to tell a story.

The tasks are clearly described but even the most scholarly adults will need to have their wits about them when using this book – you’d better know your subordinate clauses, adverbials and determiners!

However, our favourite takeaway from McCaughan’s volume was the advice that the key to writing is reading; that reading is the most important tool, so if all else fails, persevere with that.

  1. £19 from Waterstones
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‘Teaching on a Shoestring 2019’ by Russell Grigg and Helen Lewis, published by Crown House

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As the title suggests, this book is all about creating interesting, thought-provoking and fun lessons and activities without leaning on big budgets or expensive gadgets.

The initial chapters explain the importance of objects when teaching – how physical items, large or small, can ignite curiosity as well as a sense of adventure. The theories laid out are genuinely interesting and add valuable context to children’s education.

Afterwards, an A to Z of everyday objects from apples to zebra-printed fabric is revealed. Each object is then investigated following the same format including background information, facts, learning goals and activities involving the object.

The core idea here is that every object tells a different story, and your job as the teacher is to help your children find it.

  1. £16 from Amazon
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‘Five Minute Mum 2019’ by Daisy Upton, published by Penguin

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Any parent who has ever pined for five minutes’ respite will welcome this book with open arms.

There are more than 150 activities in this book – each taking five minutes to set up and five minutes to put away. The activities are designed to keep youngsters – aged between one and five – entertained while giving busy parents a bit of peace.

Upton is a teaching assistant, therefore her activities all have an educational slant. Many of them cover skills found on the UK’s Early Years Foundation Stage and are, crucially, fun, playful and original.

We loved POP – a game which involves placing the individual letters of words (written on separate bits of paper) inside balloons. Much popping (and shrieking) will commence, after which the word building can begin.

Toddler pong was also a roaring success. Much like the beer version, this involves throwing a small ball into laid out cups. A successful throw will mean the thrower must fulfil the instructions which have already been placed in the cups.

We were cheered to see that in Upton’s “survival kit” list much of it really does already exist in most houses – it’s low maintenance everyday stuff – think glue sticks, scissors, muffin trays and soft toys.

Upton is also full of general nuggets of fantastic advice for less veteran child carers or educators. She says we should try to resist the urge to announce that an activity is about to begin as this repels children, who are always quick to realise when they are about to be taught. Instead, you should simply lay it out for them to find. Or start playing yourself and let their curiosity get the better of them.

But our favourite by far is this: “You need to set your expectations and assumptions at zero.”

  1. £11 from WHSmith
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‘Phonics at Home’ by Kate Robinson, published by Bloomsbury

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Parents often balk at the idea of phonics: “What is it? How do we teach it? Learning wasn’t like this in our day.” But phonics is what our children are learning at primary school – and this book helps parents to carry on the good work at home. There are a number of different phonics schemes, but this book works with any of them, so parents needn’t worry about inadvertently going off the curriculum.

The book is a practical guide for parents, containing 40 fun, multisensory games and activities to bring phonics strategies to life. These can be selected at random, depending on what suits your child at any given time.

There is an entire section dedicated to introducing phonics clearly to anyone who is brand new to the principle – how to correctly pronounce sounds and outlining the best ways of troubleshooting common problems before you’ve even started. Once you’ve digested that, you can begin.

The games are really simple and don’t require expensive products, rather everyday items found around the home. We loved the game “find me a match” for beginners to phonics. This where you pick out household items – apples, pans, cups, balls, dolls – and say a phoneme (a tiny unit of sound) before asking your child to find the object that starts with that phoneme.

Each game has an option to make it harder for children who are further along in their literacy, and often Robinson adds twists to keep the activities fresh. The “grapheme twist” activity is essentially a phonetics answer to Twister – and we are here for it.

  1. £9 from Wordery
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‘The Brave Learner’ by Julie Bogart, published by JP Tarcher

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Bogart’s ethos is essentially to make learning magical; to encourage children to be enchanted by education. She wants children to love learning, to have thirst for information, knowledge and academic success.

This might feel far too ambitious for many parents, but actually, by creating a curriculum which is based on surprises, risks and adventures, parents make it easier for themselves.

Bogart, who homeschooled all five of her now grown-up children, reminds parents to let their children explore their curiosity with the world, aid it and encourage it even if it seems irrelevant or you know little about it.

It helps that Bogart writes so beautifully – she weaves her own personal narrative and experiences, evoking memories that are rich with imagery and atmosphere. For example, she once created a Japanese-themed meal to ignite an interest in the country. This book is a story of successful homeschooling, complete with the ways you can do it too.

Bogart is at pains to state that this is a major learning experience for parents too – and advises them to journal, examine their reactions and keep empathy high.

When it comes to homeschooling, we can’t think of one stone she leaves unturned. She is big on conversation, discussion and most of all doing things together. This is less about the mechanics of teaching fractions or the periodic table and much more about nurturing curiosity and allowing it to flourish.

  1. £11 from Amazon
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‘This or That?’ by Pippa Goodhart, published by Nosy Crow

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It is often suggested that the simplest ideas are the best and this brilliant book rather proves this point. It simply groups a collection of objects from the British Museum into categories and asks children to choose between them. Beads or bonnets? Sandals or slippers? Each page is brilliantly packed with images of different fascinating things, sparking curiosity and lively discussion. Expect plenty of “what’s that?”, “why do those shoes look funny?”, “can I have those jewels?” questions and be fully prepared to answer them!

This is as close as you can get to a day out to the British Museum without actually being there.

  1. £9 from Blackwells
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‘Quick Crafts For Parents Who Think They Hate Crafts’ by Emma Scott-Child, published by Vermilion

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The mere thought of craft sends an icy shiver down many parent’s spine, largely because they don’t have the right stuff, or there will be bits of chopped up paper on the floor for the rest of time, or the instructions never seem to make sense.

But Scott-Child’s offering here is a salve for all craft-cautious parents. There are 40 projects to get stuck into as a family, with each one producing an object which can then be used for play.

The book itself is a gorgeous-looking object – which bodes brilliantly for its substance. “It’s the act of creating something that is good for the soul” explains Scott-Child. She also makes a “no mess” promise, which is music to the ears of any frazzled parents, because absolutely no one with small children wants more work to do right now.

We loved the very first idea in the book – funny little monsters, which essentially come from the scrunched-up bits of paper one might have made a mistake on. Add pipe cleaner limbs and as many eyes as you like to make a fabulous troupe of monsters. There is even the option to make a monster hotel for them to live in!

We also thought the Teddy for Blast Off idea – a square tissue box covered in tin foil and worn by a favourite bear for an intrepid space adventure – was totally inspired, while the Fork Pompom Garland provided an afternoon of concentrated fun and resulted in a genuinely awesome addition to a child’s bedroom decor.

  1. £9 from Amazon
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The verdict: Homeschooling books

While each book has much to recommend it, we think I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree is a really valuable part of anyone’s homeschooling curriculum. The volume covers so many different topics – literature, nature, history, science and geography to name a few – and helps children with reading, writing and comprehension.

Need more tips for homeschooling? Read more here

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