Children, like plants, require different conditions to grow. A student may be a second grader, reading at a fifth-grade level, but be at first-grade level in math. Children use all their senses, but may strongly prefer seeing, hearing, or hands-on activities. Choosing the right resources for your child's learning level (not just grade level) will make the difference between boredom and excitement, confusion and understanding. Consider your youngster's gifts, challenges, and individual learning style; second grade will be easier, less expensive and more fun.
Use free resources, such as World Book's Typical Course of Study from worldbook.com and A Beka's scope and sequence from abeka.com/Resources/ to assess your child's learning, subject by subject. As a skill is mastered in each area, simply check it off.
Reading is fundamental. Reading programs-complete with texts, readers and teacher's manuals-can be pricey, and may not fit your child's unique learning style. However, if all you are looking for is a plan, relatively inexpensive books such as Samuel Blumenfeld's Alpha Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers and Michael Maloney's Teach Your Children to Read Well tell you what to say and do to help a non-reading youngster get back on track with reading at a second grade level. You can adapt hands-on learning materials and familiar books from your child's own home library to use as readers, as well as virtually unlimited text, video, and audio resources from local libraries. Download a free 41-page booklet, "220 Names and Faces, 220 Dolch Words," to help teach reading with a multi-sensory approach from the non-profit AVKO (Audio, Visual, Kinesthetic, & Oral) Foundation, avko.org.
Drilling basic skills for phonics and arithmetic can be boring; however, games and electronic gadgets can motivate kids with various learning styles. Playing games with touchable letter tiles or letter blocks aids writing, spelling and reading. Older model electronic learning games such as the Quantum LeapPad can be purchased for a few dollars at garage sales, outlet stores, or thrift shops. Look for models that come with games that your child can use now or in a year or two, as it may be difficult to find more cartridges later. Many learners enjoy learning from computer programs such as Math Blaster and Reader Rabbit. You don't need the latest or greatest computer system; you can find old computers and dated but still serviceable educational software for next to nothing.
Find audio resources for every subject and interest. You can buy ready-made music, such as Advanced Phonics 2 by Twin Sisters Productions (twinsisters.com) and Addition and Subtraction Songs, published by Audio Memory (audiomemory.com). Kids who need to move can mix music and physical activity with learning. Try skip counting by twos, fives, and tens as they jump rope. Use rhymes to learn to identify odd and even numbers. Two, four, six, eight-who do we appreciate-Mom, I hope!
Supplement or replace dry, tedious textbooks. Consider borrowing hands-on activity books, such as My First Book of Time by Claire Llewellyn, from a friend or the library. Tobin's Lab, tobinslab.com, supplies hand-on science materials: owl pellets (find out what they ate), insect collecting, nature games, science crafts, and more. FizzBang Science, fizzbangscience.com, helps kids create unique and creative experiments with household substances. MECS Multi-sensory Phonics, mecssoftware.com, helps doers learn phonics, history, geography science, math and spelling. If your kids are attracted to drawing, consider books in the Draw•Write•Now series, by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer. Draw•Write•Now improves writing through drawing, while teaching a smattering of social studies.
Get together with cousins, friends, or other homeschool families, and plan a hands-on field trip to a nearby factory, farm, fire house, or even just an empty field. Bring resources such as the Fandex Field Guide to Trees when you visit a nearby park. A field guide can offer a hands-on opportunity to make science stick, where a textbook may prove impossible.
Some kids enjoy workbooks. If your child learns well this way, wipe-off books can prove economical. They allow practice over and over again in the same book. Scoop up wipe-off books at discount stores or garage sales. Make your own wipe-off books; cover your child's favorite workbook pages with clear plastic. Look for sales on wipe-off or erasable (not just washable) pens, as a child can go through them quickly.
Some kids just don't seem to "get" workbooks. They may not see any real need for learning what they see as an abstract concept. Math, for example, seldom clicks until you use some type of manipulative: beans, money, division of pizza, whatever. It is one thing to memorize facts and quite another to understand them! Manipulative objects turn abstract concepts into real life.
Use real money to demonstrate to your second grader how to work addition and subtraction facts vertically and horizontally and how to carry and borrow 2- and 3-digit numbers. Using money will help your child review numbers that are greater than and less than, learn about place value, and relate cent signs to pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Next it is time to add up the money in the piggy bank, sort pennies in sets of ten, and nickels, dimes and quarters in sets of one hundred.
Many students excel when they use manipulative objects such as wrap-ups, plastic counting bears, Cuisenaire building rods, dominos, and dice or building bricks for practicing math concepts in concrete ways. Play games with dice: is the number odd or even? Use rods to learn counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, percents, decimals, and measurement. You can also manipulate many objects-such as craft sticks, playing cards or straws-that you probably already have around the house. Here are a few ideas to get you started with craft sticks:
Bundle sticks up with tape, yarn or pipe cleaners into groups of two, five, ten, etc., to practice skip counting and introduce multiplication.
Play with place value. Use bundled sets of ten for the tens. Use single sticks for ones. If you make ten sets of ten, you can see, touch, and play with one hundred.
Get to know fractions by cutting sticks (or drawing lines on them.)
Form letters, numbers, and words correctly with the sticks. Use one stick for each line in letter A, for instance. Sticks work well for all the straight lines. For curves, attach pipe cleaner, rope, or ribbon.
Write words on sticks. Link them together to make sentences.
Time the sticks. Get an older person to drill a hole in each stick. Write a date and event on each one. String them together to make a history time line.
Plant a garden for science and language arts practice. Craft sticks make good plant stakes. Write plant names on sticks. You have to write small. Now you can remember how to spell the plant names. You can also remember where you planted them!
Regardless of learning style, most children must see it, hear it, do it, and then they understand it. Find out more about learning styles from "What Do I Need to Know About Learning Styles?" by Kathryn Stout (author of The Natural Speller), designastudy.com/teaching. Encourage your child's strengths, and your little sprout will grow strong enough to study difficult materials in the challenging years ahead.