My favorite way to practice math: Play a game

My day job involves thinking about supporting kids and adults who struggle with mathematics. One of my favorite ways to engage students in mathematics is to play games. When there is a context of a game, the mathematics often takes on a meaningful purpose, and becomes a natural part of the activity. This is a way that parents and kids can actually have fun together as they engage in math. In this post I’m including a few of my favorite games (that involve math) and ideas for differentiation. I haven’t included details on the actual game play, because other videos (often available on the amazon link I provide) do this better than I could. What I focus on here is the mathematics and how to differentiate it for a range of learners.

Image shows Quixx game four colored dice, two white dice, and score sheets.

Quixx – This is my favorite game! This game involves reading numbers off dice (subitizing), adding up to 12, addition with regrouping for final score calculation, and probability is heavily implicated in the strategy of the game. There is a new version that uses dry erase boards rather than paper that looks cool.
Differentiation: My third grader still has difficulty adding up to 20, and so when it’s her turn, and she rolls, her job is to calculate the total on the two white dice and announce it for the rest of the players. She has the option of counting each of the dots on the dice, or “seeing” a 5 and 3 and determining the total is 8. Because she can cross off a second number using one of the colored dice, she may solve 8 more addition problems in order to figure out the best move before completing her turn. I will occasionally point out when using a particular colored die might be strategically advantageous, but I generally make her calculate the total.

Image showing the game box and game pieces from qwirkle game.

Quirkle – This game involves counting, matching, spatial reasoning, strategy, and addition for score calculation. When playing this with my 3rd and 4th grader, everyone is in charge of counting up their own points and adding their own scores.
Differentiation: When we played this with a 3-year-old, he was on a team with me and was in charge of making sure we had the right number tiles drawn (6) and he decided which move we would make. (My 3rd and 4th grader delighted in how we often missed the best move). He also helped place and match the tiles when we played. There are 3 sets of each of the color shape combinations (e.g., 3 red circles). On your first time through the game, I would recommend removing 1 complete set of tiles so you have 2 of each color shape combination. It just felt like a better length game. Now we play with all three sets. When my 3rd or 4th graders feel stuck, we sometimes play it with our tiles displayed so we can figure out the best move together.

Image shows pass the pigs game.

Pass the Pigs – This game is great for practicing mental addition and addition with regrouping for score keeping. As you roll the pigs, you keep a running total of your points in your head (you can use paper or a small white board if that helps), when you are satisfied with your number of points you can stop rolling and add those points to your total. If you pigs-out you lose your running total of points and get zero points for that round. One thing I like about the game is the parent’s strategy about when to stop rolling your pigs can help your child win (which is very motivating, at least for my kids). I would recommend keeping score on a separate scratch sheet of paper, rather than the score sheets that come with the game that are far far too small.
Differentiation: During standard play, the first person to score 100 points wins. I will sometimes modify this target either up or down (and set it with the kid before starting) depending how much stamina I think the kid has. If we change the target during game play, it’s only if both people agree (e.g., if I am first to 100, and the child would like to keep playing to a different target, that’s great! Or if we are both having terrible luck, we might decide to stop at 50).

Image shows farkle game box.

Farkle – This is a great dice game, particularly for students who need to work on addition up to 10,000. This game involves matching, mental addition in the hundreds and thousands, written addition up to 10,000. We generally don’t use the score sheets for this game for anything other than a reference for the amount each dice roll is worth. The amazon video is useless in illustrating how to play the game, so I included a link to this one that is much more helpful!
Differentiation: If students are not yet familiar with thousands, you can divide all point totals by 10 (e.g., a 5 would be worth 5 points rather than 50 point) and play first to 1000.

image shows the game Set.

Set – Quick confession. I’m pretty terrible at Set. The game is great though, and it builds students understanding of classification.

Image of the game tangoes

Tangoes – This game involves geometry and spatial reasoning. You take a set of 7 shapes and attempt to create the design on the card.
Differentiation: This can be challenging for adults to solve these cards, so sometimes my daughter will use the answer and try to use her shapes to create the design and I’ll try to figure it out without the answer. Matching to the given design is building an understanding of spatial reasoning.

Image shows game box of 24 game.

24 Game – This is a more classic math game. The goal is to create the answer of 24 using the 4 numbers on the card. This game is great for students who need to practice their fluency with basic number facts. For example, if the numbers showing are 9, 2, 5, 3 you could answer (9-5) x 2 x 3 or 9 x 3 -5+2.
Differentiation: There are different level cards (1 dot – 3 dots) and you can play either single digit or double digit 24.

Yahtzee game box.

Yahtzee – This game involves a bit of math for the score keeping and calculating point totals – so good for students practicing multiplication and addition. The downside is that the score sheets are necessary and also too small for my liking.

Image shows a candy land board with fraction values written on each of the squares.
Fraction Land – a modified version of candy land

Fraction Land – Ok – this is actually just candy land that I have modified to make it a math game. The idea behind candy land is that when you draw a card there is a colored square on it that tells you the color you move to. You move your game piece to the next spot of that color. Some cards have 2 color squares, and you get to move two squares of that color. There are a few special cards which take you to a specific location on the board (which could be behind you). The same idea applies here, except we use fractions rather than colors to move around the board. If you would like to make this game yourself, you can take your copy of candy land (everyone has one, right?) and then write fractions on the squares accordingly (red = 2/3, purple = 1/2, yellow = 1/4, blue =3/4, orange = 1/5, green= 1/3) Special spots are in order as follows (5/12, 5/6, 1/10, 1/6, 7/12, 9/10).
Differentiation: You can play this game at a variety of different levels and print and use the game cards for your desired level of difficulty (Levels 1-2, level 3, level 4)

  • Level 1: For students who are just being exposed to fractions, you can use the fraction cards and play the same way as you would candy land. (Just match fraction card to the fraction on the board).
  • Level 2: For students who are starting to work with equivalent fractions, you can have the student create an equivalent fraction that is equal to the fraction they drew and then move two of those spaces. (e.g., you draw 1/3, you draw a picture to show that 1/3 = 2/6, you get to move two 1/3 squares).
  • Level 3: This is for students who are familiar with equivalent fractions and want to start working on simplifying fractions (also know back in the day as “reducing” fractions). The player gets to move once for simplifying the fraction, and twice if they generate another equivalent fraction (the open box on some of the game cards indicate which cards you can move twice for generating another equivalent fraction).
  • Level 4: In this version the student gets to move once for simplifying a fraction, and gets to move twice for solving a fraction operation problem.

Any card game involving scoring – Any card game that involves scoring is great – whether it’s rummy, canasta, pinochle, cribbage, or bridge. If you need to tally up and count your points, it’s great for kids to practice math. One tip, is that when having students keep score, I always use lined paper or graph paper. If I used lined paper, I flip the lined paper on it’s side, so that the lines help the student keep track of place value. Here’s an example from a farkle game I played with one of my daughters. As you can see I was a big loser here – and my daughter delighted in it. 🙂

Score sheet using lined paper to keep numbers aligned based on place value.
Score sheet using lined paper to keep numbers aligned based on place value.

Greg Tang Math – Greg tang has a number of different math games, that are actually conceptually grounded and help students understand and think about the mathematics. You can order these games online or play many of the games electronically on the site. I prefer the hard copies of the games, because time isn’t such a factor – but beating the clock is motivating to some kids. The differentiation is built in, because you can select different levels within the games.

Should we take a break from academics?

I’m starting to see recommendations floating around the web that suggests that we should lower our standards about what we can get accomplished and not try to home school our kids ( I thought I’d share my own thoughts on these anti-homework recommendations.

Definitely lower your expectations. I totally agree that lowered expectations are exactly what we should do. I have lowered my expectations about what I will be able to get done while I work and online teach from home. I have lowered my expectations for what my master’s students will learn. I have also lowered my expectations for what my kids will learn and experience this year. Some parents are frantic about the ways in which this school-less time will “set their kids back.” I don’t think it is healthy to get into the academic rat-race ever, but particularly not during a pandemic. Once schools start up again, teachers will again masterfully meet the students where they are and help them learn and grow and reach important academic milestones.

But don’t abandon the opportunity to engage with and support your children academically. I do think that kids need to engage in daily learning. I know parents are navigating a whole host of issues – but its also good to remember that – kids actually love to learn. They are learning all the time. In my experience, binge watching tv and playing video games can lead to incredible disregulation, and actually is more work for me in the long run. Sure, I sometimes need to make that trade-off, because I have a conference call that I can’t miss… but I do this sparingly, not because I’m an awesome anti-screen-time-parent, but frivolous screen time can result in some significant behavioral fallout.

Kids do better with a schedule. In my experience I have found that children do better with a structured schedule (that’s why educational professionals use them in schools / day cares for kids of all ages). For kids who have experienced trauma – or are experiencing trauma in our current pandemic – they need the stability of knowing what their days will look like. Our schedules include academic homework, chores, and physical activity but our schedule also includes fun things – like video chatting with their friends, making rice crispy treats, and play time. I’m skeptical of recommendations to let your kids binge watch or play video games, which may result in some short term contentedness, but will likely backfire, particularly as the shelter-in-place recommendations extend.

Let your kids explore. One of the best aspects of this current situation is that we get to take a step back from the unquestioned standards of what our children should be learning, and we get to allow ourselves to get a little more free in letting kids drive their own learning. You might want to see what your kids gravitate toward, what holds their interest, what passions might they discover as they get the time and freedom to explore.

What is the “right” amount of homework?

How do you figure out what is the “right” amount of homework? This is one the hardest questions to answer. Luckily, you don’t have to. Your child will tell you, your job is to figure out how to listen to their answer.

First of all, you should know that the “right” amount of homework is always a moving target. So there is no right amount. The amount that a kid can handle will depend upon a variety of factors – how interested they are in the particular content, how overtired or hungry they might be in the moment, or how distracted or stressed they are by other things. Here are some recommendations when starting to figure out what the right amount of work is.

Start by guessing what the “right” amount of work is – I start everyday by laying out the homework that I want each child to get through. I think through what my longterm goals are for the girls and then translate those into daily goals to support them (see image below). For example, both my girls need to work on reading, writing, and mathematics. I want them to be engaged in these practices in a meaningful way (reading a book they love, writing a letter to someone, engaging in some problem solving or play around number, shapes, patterns, etc.) and I also want to make sure that I’m giving them an opportunity to work on some foundational skills (phonics, typing skills, math fluency), which will ultimately improve their access and engagement in these practices. I also make sure that their own personal academic goals are reflected (4th grader wants to work on a glogster about science and my 3rd grader wants to improve her typing). To give you an example of what this looks like in practice: on Day 4’s schedule for my 4th grader I have included (a) reading a book of her choice for 30 minutes, (b) writing a letter to her mom, (c) playing around with dreambox – an online math program. These activities allow her to engage in meaningful practices related to reading, writing, and math. For building up foundational skills I have included (a) Lexia – a phonics program from the school (b) typing practice and reading comprehension questions (her novel is called “out of my mind”), and (c) 2 math book pages. She also needs to work on 20 minutes of violin (part of her self-created schedule) and her glogster science site. Each day is a new guess about what the kid can get through. Every day I get a little bit better at guessing… but I still guess wrong. I use post-its to create a to-do list for each kid.

Four post-its with tasks for each day written on each.  The last one has checkboxes for the following: violin 20 min, dreambox, math book 2 pages, "out of my mind" work, write a letter to mom, typing, lexia, glogster, reading 30 minutes.
Four post-its with my 4th grader’s daily homework to-dos.

Consider both time-based goals and product-based goals – When you are laying out homework you can play around with both time-based goals (e.g., read for 30 minutes) and product-based goals (e.g., finish reading 1 chapter). One reason that I don’t exclusively use time-based goals is that those can disincentivize focused and deliberate work. If the child knows they are going to have to do 30 minutes of math- no matter what – they might decide to spend some of that time engaging in deliberate stalling. One reason I don’t use exclusively product-based goals, is because I want to give them credit for engaging in harder more time-consuming work. For example, if they just need to finish 1 chapter, they will choose the book based on which one has the shortest chapters. Children are masters at gaming the system. I’ve needed to play around with time-based vs. product-based goals at times to make sure I was incentivizing the right things.

Help them to see their progress – I use post-its for a variety of reasons. (1) It ensures I don’t try to put too much on the to-do list. (2) It enables the kids to have their list with them as they move through activities. (3) It allows me and the kids to see the evolution of their stamina and work over time (see below). Rather than a list that just gets thrown away at the end of the day – it’s a record of their hard work, and even if they don’t look back at it with a sense of pride, I do. I’m proud of what they have accomplished. Here is the template I use to attach post-its, and I tend to use super sticky post-its full adhesive, because I bought them accidentally once and they seem to work well for this purpose. You do NOT need to use this structure. You might have each kid use their planner or have a notebook, or maybe you do something digital. Play around with different systems and figure out what works best for you and your kids.

This is a photo of the folders we use with our daughters which show many different to-do stickies we have completed over time.
Folder of all the homework to-do stickies (from all our non-school times).

Listening to your children’s feedback – The most important thing to do is to practice listening to your child’s feedback about whether or not you’ve hit on the “right” amount of work for them for that particular day. This is admittedly easier said than done, and you won’t always get it right. Lots of time listening involves interpreting their behavior rather than listening to their words. Here are some ways that I try to listen to and respond to what the kids are telling me:

  • Allow the child to make reasonable trades – Sometimes our kids will directly tell us that they don’t want to do something. Oftentimes if my kids aren’t in the mood to do a particular task, and they will ask to swap something out instead. In general, I let them make the swap. It helps them feel a sense of control and ownership over their to dos, and I just make a mental note to make sure that we hit that area the following day. I won’t generally let them swap the same thing (e.g., math for reading) over and over again.
  • Evaluate the source of frustration – There are times when for whatever reason one of our girls will dig her heels in and refuse to do a particular task. For example, at this exact moment, my youngest is refusing to start working on the letter she is writing to her aunt. I ask myself – are we asking her to do something that is simply too hard for her? Is this particular demand too challenging? If not, we do not change our goals. Sure, writing a letter can be a daunting task, but what I’m asking her to do is not that. What I’m asking her to do is to name some things about her day or life to tell her aunt about. I’m writing those things down so she can use them for her letter later. I have given her ideas about some things that have been happening (e.g., finding leprechaun loot this morning in their leprechaun traps), and she’s at an absolute standstill. This is an example of a time when I’m unwilling to change my expectations. In this case, I’ve reminded her she can work on something else and after calming down, she has picked something else. (Update: Later she returned to writing the letter – and without any help from me finished it from start to finish.) It can be difficult sometimes to know when your kids are acting out because they are trying to control the expectations and when they are acting out because something is legitimately too hard.
    • Questions you might want to ask your child when your child is refusing to do work:
      • What about this is frustrating to you?
      • What about this is hard?
      • Can you show me what you are working on?
      • How can I help?
  • Negotiate when things are really challenging – Sometimes it will become evident that I have asked too much in one of my tasks (e.g., write a letter) or across all my tasks (too many total tasks). Particularly for my 3rd grader – she will often spend lots of time making it through one task, and simply run out of steam at the end of the day. When this happens I tend to make some deals. Generally I don’t cross things entirely off the list, but I come up with a compromised version (e.g.,” rather than doing 2 math worksheets, how about we do 1, and I’ll sit with you and help if you need it?”).
  • Reduce, but never increase demands – Although I always try to listen to what the child’s behavior is telling me about if I found the “right” amount of homework for the day – the only change I let myself make is a reduction in homework. On bad days it makes sense to reduce expectations… but on good days… days when the kids seem to fly through their homework and they are focused and efficient, I often find myself wanting to tack just one more thing onto their list. But I can’t – not EVER. I want to reward their focused and efficient progress through the work… and if I add more thing to their to-do list after they finish what I initially asked of them, they will feel like they were punished. So, even when I guess really wrong at the start of the day, and I realize I haven’t asked one of them to do enough, I can’t add more things later. I think this helps build trust in the post-it “contract” that we have. If they work through what is on the list, they can have free play time after it’s done.

Reflect on the day when planning for the next – We can improve our guess about the “right” amount of homework by reflecting in the current day to plan the next. For example, on day 1 (see post-its below), I stuck with the recommendations of the teachers that my 3rd grader should be doing 30 minutes of writing every day. We discovered that this was WAY TOO much for her. My daughter and I talked about what would be reasonable for her, and we decided that 15 minutes a day would be a good place to start. She took it upon herself to update our homework list for the day. The following day, I scheduled her for only 15 minutes of writing and she did twice as much quality writing as she had done on day 1. Day 3 she finished her writing task, and now for Day 4 I thought we would take a break from persuasive writing and shift to a different genre – letter writing. It will help her connect with some of her first family that live far away and may be motivating for her. This is the first day of the product-based task “write a letter” and we will probably find that writing a WHOLE letter will be too ambitious, and we’ll tweak that goal for tomorrow. The important thing is not to get it “right” but to work with your kids to figure out what is right for them. You might also notice that on Day 1 we didn’t get to Lexia work – that meant that we tried to get through more Lexia work the next day.

Four post-its with tasks for each day written on each.  The first one has 30 minutes of writing crossed off with 15 minutes of writing written on it.  The second and third post-its have a list of daily homework with 15 minutes writing.  The 4th post-it has daily homework with "write a letter" as one of the tasks.
Daily homework to-do post-its for my 3rd grader which shows changes to goals.

In this post I shared a bit about how I try to right-size the amount of work I’m asking my children to do – let me know if you have other suggestions or if you’d like me to think through specifics of what you are facing with your child or children. Best of luck – this is hard work!

We are in this together – Resources for learning at home

One thing I have noticed over the past several days is that many people are rallying to figure out how to help support kids and families through these uncertain times. My facebook feed is filled with resources, educational and otherwise, to help parents navigate their continually evolving needs. In future posts I’ll put together a curated list of educational resources I have tried with my kids and what I would recommend, and why… but for now, I thought I would just share the links to resource lists – so we all benefit from the collective energy around sharing and distributing knowledge.

UW’s Elementary-Aged Student Educational Resources – here is a list of educational resources compiled by many of my colleagues at University of Washington’s College of Education. This is a curated list of resources and supports that people who know about education feel good about. This list is being regularly updated.

UW’s Early Childhood Resources – This site links to a guide which has a collection of resources for families with young children about how to navigate this time. This guide will be updated with new resources.

Virtual Field Trips – Here is a site which lists some virtual field trip opportunities.

Lunch doodles with Mo Willems – This is one of my favorite short new educational resources I’ve seen. Mo Willems (author or Elephant and Piggie books and Pigeon books) talks about drawing with kids. All episodes are available to play after recorded. – This is a crowd sourced compilation of different educational resources available during school closures – it is constantly being updated. It has A LOT of stuff, and might be a little overwhelming. I would recommend starting with one of the two previous links, and only looking here if you feel you are still looking for more.

Seattle area – Covid-19 resources – Kaleb Germinaro – a graduate student at UW – created this amazing crowd sourced list of resources for families throughout the  Duwamish, Suquamish, Coast Salish Land Schools area.

Day 1 – Make a Schedule

Oh. My. God.  School is closed for 6 weeks (update: for an undisclosed number of months)?!?!  Welcome to day 1 of our new reality.  If you are like most people you are thinking about how to juggle your full-time job and your full-time parenting duties.  The goal of this blog isn’t to tell people what they should be doing, or make any judgments about how you are figuring out how to survive this next month and a half (or longer?) – it is about providing some resources for those of you who feel like you are starting from square one and aren’t totally sure how to design educational supports and structures for your kids at home.  The focus of this blog is about educational supports, because that is what I know about.  I want to acknowledge that many families will be focused on figuring out how to ensure the basic needs of their family are met (food, shelter, etc.) – and until basic needs are met, it’s impossible to think about anything else.  The goal is not to set unrealistic expectations, but to share educational resources and tools to help you navigate this time.  Although this blog can be used by any parent who is trying to figure out how to support their kids educationally in relative physical isolation, I’m writing this blog specifically for foster/adoptive parents because I deeply care about supporting that community… and because that is what I know.

I have NEVER written a blog before – and frankly – as an academic who pores over and agonizes about writing, this is a much different context for me.  The goal is to share what information I have, and to think with you about the needs that are coming up in your particular context.  By way of an introduction, I’ll tell you a little about my own family and background. 

My Background

My wife and I adopted our two daughters about a year ago (now 8 and 10 yrs old).  When they moved in with us they were at the start of their 1st and 3rd grade years.  Because I’m a professor of education, my wife let me take the lead on thinking about how to support our girls academically.  Over the past 2 years I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to design effective educational supports.  Both girls had missed a lot of school – and weren’t able to read or write well enough to meaningfully participate in class.  Our summers have been a time when I have worked with them on academics.  When the news came that school was going to be closed for 2 weeks – I thought, “ok, we will pretend this is summer.”  Today, when we learned that school was going to be closed for 6 weeks (update: months) – I realized this was going to be just as intensive as summer, and other folks might be similarly reeling and searching for a plan.  This blog is an attempt to share with others who might need educational resources to navigate these next few weeks (months, etc).

What to do Day 1? Set up a schedule

The first thing to do when staring down the empty school-less future is to start putting together a daily/weekly schedule.  Many kids who have experienced trauma are particularly sensitive to disruptions in routines, and a schedule will help them know what to expect.  In our house we use an hour-by-hour schedule for any non-school day (see image below).  Not everything actually takes an hour, but this level of precision works for us.  This has helped our kids know what is coming and that there will be fun sprinkled in with all the work.  This also helps us recognize when we’ve put too much work and not enough fun in a day.  Before our kids could read, we drew pictures for each of the activities.  For times when we have multiple days of unstructured time, we tend to show the schedule across multiple days, so they can know what the week looks like.  Although this might seem like a lot of work, unstructured time has led to the kids frantically asking “what can I do?”  “what are we doing now?”  “when can I…?” getting anxious, picking fights with one another, or with us.

Image of handwritten Saturday Schedule.  Text reads: 8 Breakfast, 9 Karate, 10 (down arrow), 11 homework, 12 lunch, 1 quiet time, 2 walk/bike loop, 3 snack, 4 laundry, 5 dinner, 6 bedtime, 7 wind down, 8 bed
Hour-by-hour schedule for last Saturday

There’s a few things I think about when starting to plan a schedule – specifically when thinking about the span of multiple weeks and relative physical isolation.  Because I’m a linear thinker, I break things down into steps:

  • Step 1: Figure out the constraints on your time.  If you are in a two parent household which hours are you in charge of the kids?  If you have child care help which hours are they in charge?  If you are the sole parent/caregiver, what hours of the day are you available to parent and support your kids and what hours of the day do you need them to be more independent? 
  • Step 2: Put an hour of quiet time on the schedule every day.  As our kids once told our social workers, the only rule of quiet time, is that you can’t talk to an adult.  (“unless you’re hurt” “yeah, but you have to actually be hurt.”)  In truth, there are additional rules of quiet time.  You need to be in your own space (e.g., room, den), there is no technology of any sort during quiet time.  If it has an on/off switch in our house, it’s not allowed.  We have found our kids NEED this down time…. And we have found this down time is essential to our sanity.  Sometimes they read, sometimes they draw, sometimes they play with their toys, it doesn’t matter what they do, as long as it gives us all a break.  When our daughters’ 2-year-old half-sister was living with us, she did quiet time too.  If you have younger kids that nap, I’d arrange quiet time to be during that time.  For us, we typically schedule quiet time right after lunch.
  • Step 3: Figure out what high level goals you have for your child/children.  This might be as simple as “keeping them occupied while I work” or as ambitious as working towards specific academic goals.  My primary goal, is that I want the girls to love learning.  I also want them to make progress towards grade level expectations – so they need to work hard on all academic topics (reading, writing, math). 
  • Step 4: Ask the kids what academic goals they have for themselves.  Last summer my oldest wanted to get better at spelling.  Today she wanted to work on and finish a Glogster site all about facts about the natural world.  My youngest wanted to work on typing club and really get her “g” and “h”s down.  I try not to judge their goals, but just help them work towards them.
  • Step 5: Figure out what non-school learning you might want to do.  Often times in schools – particularly for kids who are behind academically – they only get a chance to focus on reading, writing, and math.  In this six weeks, you might find it is also a nice time to think through how to help them explore other valuable kinds of learning.  I generated a list of project ideas to help my kids think about what they might want to spend some time learning over the next six weeks.  Here are some project ideas I came up with for them to choose from:
    • Develop a Glogster website
    • Science Project
    • Art Project
    • Write and “publish” your own book
    • Write and produce your own play
    • Learn some new dances
    • Take up a new skill / talent / craft (juggling, knitting)
    • Create a comic strip
    • Learn how to cook / bake
    • Design and create a city from recyclable objects
    • Make a scrap book
  • Step 6: Figure out what work the kids should do each day.  Based on both your goals and their goals, you should figure out how much work they should do each day.  You might find that for some activities a time goal works better (e.g., write for 30 minutes) and for some activities a performance goal work better (e.g., write a paragraph of your essay).  We use a post-it for each kid and write down their list of homework.  When they complete an activity, they can cross it off (we use stars, because that is slightly more fun)  In the examples below, you’ll see our academic goals (based on some of the recommendations from teachers) and their own personal goals (Glogster and typing).  I like using a post-it because it allows me to customize each day a bit differently and it doesn’t let me try to fit too much on the schedule.  In subsequent blogs I’ll talk more about the individual kinds of activities we do with our kids, as well as talking about how to make sure the amount is right sized for your child.
  • Step 7: Translate your constraints and goals into your daily schedule. I often start with identifying meal times and then structuring activities around those.  We use color coding to show who is in charge.  One feature of this system is that although we have identified the times in which the kids will be working on their homework tasks, we don’t specify what they will be doing when.  (This is different from a schedule that says 8:00-8:30 reading, 8:30-9:00 math.  You can figure out what works best for your family).  Our kids seem to like having control over the order that they tackle their homework.  Our oldest likes doing what she considers to be the hardest thing first, the youngest often leaves her least desirable thing for last.  You can do your daily schedule on a piece of scratch paper (like the weekend schedule above) on your home calendar, or laid out in a week view (like the partially filled out example below – we are still working to figure out what our days will look like).   
Weekly schedule partially filled out.  Schedule is written on large box graph paper, with the days represented in columns along the top, and each hour 8am through 8pm labeled down the left side of the paper.  Details about the activity for each hour are given (e.g., Thursday 8am Breakfast, 9am Goal setting, 10am Homework, etc)  The schedule for Thursday and Friday are completed, and Saturday and Sunday are blank.
The beginnings of our weekly hour-by-hour schedule
  • Step 8: Let your schedule flex if it needs to.  In our house we find that some things take us longer than the hour, and some things are shorter.  If we finish up tasks quickly (e.g., homework or laundry) and have some extra time, the kids know they can go play or otherwise amuse themselves. 

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve tried to lay out some of the first things we put in place to when we are trying to surviving school-less-homebound days, if any of this is helpful – that’s great!  I’m not offering this as the “right” way to make a schedule – it’s just what has worked for us.  One of the biggest lessons we have learned is that we try something out and then tweak it so it works for our family.  I’d love to hear about things that have worked for yours as you transition to this new reality.

In subsequent posts I’ll talk about different resources for homework (particularly independent work), how to manage multiple kids who need support, and how to right size your expectations.  If you have academic issues you are struggling to address, I’d love to hear about them either here or by email ([email protected]).  I love a good educational puzzle, and I think we can learn from each other as we make our way through this.