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Homeschooling: Combine Learning and Play

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Originally published May 3, 2020. Updated August xx, 2022

Are you one of the many parents who has been homeschooling during the quarantine? Or do you homeschool as a rule? However you started homeschooling, it can be a challenge.

You might have hoped things would settle out as you got used to your new routine. But — to your chagrin — are you struggling to keep your kids under control and happy?

One of the most important components of a well-rounded education and balanced school day is play. Yes – even the most sophisticated educational games in the world won’t replace the cognitive and social skills gained by engaging in free play. Parents today may feel pressured to provide the best and most proven methods of educating their children. However, your kids are just as happy, maybe even more so, playing in a big empty refrigerator box as they are using state-of-the-art learning materials designed by academic experts.

So let’s talk about some simple ways that you can combine learning with play in your child’s daily life as a homeschooled kid. Here are some ideas:

Trace Against the Window

Here’s a quick little project to calm and center anxious kids, or pass the time on another dull day stuck at home! Trace artwork against a window pane.

Supplies needed:

  • Any book cover, photo, magazine page, or other picture that your child might enjoy tracing and coloring. It could be a photo of a person, creature, flower, cartoon character, or anything he or she would enjoy working on.
  • Pencil for tracing
  • Tracing paper or plain white paper if you don’t have tracing paper
  • Assorted markers and crayons to add color to the project
  • Masking tape


  1. Have the child choose a picture page that he or she would like to trace and color. Use the masking tape to attach the picture to the window pane. Tape a sheet of tracing paper or plain white paper to the picture. Press against the paper with your hand to see how the image appears as a result of the light shining through from behind.
  2. Have the child use the pencil to trace an outline of the picture. The more detailed the image, the more fun he or she can have duplicating the picture to perfection.
  3. When finished, gently peel the masking tape away from the paper and remove it from the wall. Have your child sit at a table or desk and complete his or her artwork project by using markers and crayons to outline and color in the drawing any way he or she may like.
  4. Have your child sign his or her name to the finished work. Add to a photo frame or just tape to the wall for everyone to admire.

Open a Kid-Run Family Restaurant

Disappointed at not being able to enjoy an evening out at a restaurant with your family? Kids can create the dining-out experience from the comfort of home. From meal planning to drawing and/or printing your menu, to choosing a name for your family restaurant, to having kids cook, serve, and clear the table… there is no limit to the fun you’ll have.

Supplies needed:

  • Simple dinner plans like burgers and salad, grilled cheese and canned soup, breakfast for dinner, or something easy that kids would be able to either cook on their own, or assist you with making, depending on their age and proficiency in the kitchen.
  • Table cloth
  • Plates, cups, and flatware
  • Napkins
  • Paper, pencils, markers, and crayons to hand-draw and write up a menu


  1. Start by brainstorming a family restaurant name. No need to make a huge task of this. Just spend maybe 10 to 15 minutes kicking around ideas. Have family members vote on the name of your restaurant.
  2. Let kids write up and design menus.
  3. Assign each child a “job.” Older kids could be in charge of cooking, if applicable. (Parents can oversee the cooking if kids are still too little.) Younger children can wipe off the table, put the table cloth on, set out plates and silverware, etc., with assistance as needed.
  4. Have the “server” pass out menus, then take everyone’s orders and bring to the kitchen where kids can help put the meal(s) together.

Lunch might be a good meal to design a menu around and a good time to combine learning and play. It will be easy for kids to offer simple choices like peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cold cuts on bread, salad, or soup if kids are old enough to cook on the stovetop or heat up soup in the microwave.

You can also just have kids take orders for, set the table, and serve a regular dinner that you cook yourself – so they don’t do too much damage to the kitchen!

The Classic “Pioneer” Game

Spark kids’ creativity and role-play skills by engaging them in a Little House on the Prairie-esque game of living in the days of American pioneers. With the help of imagination, a bedroom can morph into a one-room log cabin with a fireplace and potbelly cook stove. Stuffed animals can become farm animals, and the staircase might morph into a mountain to climb up and down.

Play Dress-Up

Got dress-up clothes? Drag out your old elegant gowns, fancy shoes, and any costumes that might be living in your attic or other storage areas. Boys can raid Dad’s closet for old hats, sunglasses, sports memorabilia, or a uniform or two. The fun, role-play games that kids naturally took to in the 1980s needn’t be a thing of yesteryear. Lots of potential learning and play exists right in your house, all you have to do is take a look around for ideas.

Set Up a Grocery Store Game

Don’t break down those recyclables just yet! There’s a potential kid-friendly grocery store living right in your kitchen bin. Grab some plastic and paper bags, break out your old calculator or adding machine relic if you still have one around. Let kids set up their own grocery store in the play room. They can even add price tags and use real coins for payment. A business and math lesson all in one!

Have Kids Launch a Home Cleaning Business

If your kids aren’t quite responsive to your repeated requests for them to clean the house, turn it into a game. They might just change their tune. Have them print out business signs, list their pricing, gather cleaning supplies, and don aprons if they like. Pretty soon your merry maids will be learning about small business as they de-clutter, clean, and shine your home. Perfect learning and play opportunity for them — and for you!

Ask Kids to Design and Illustrate Spelling Flash Cards

This game does double duty as preschool learning and teaching all in one. If you have kids of all ages that you’re trying to keep occupied, you might try offloading some of the instruction to the older ones, who might enjoy the opportunity to help.

Grab some plain white card stock from Wal-Mart or Target, along with a package of colored markers. Ask your older kids to come up with a list of simple words to teach little ones how to spell. Examples could be Dog, Cat, Stop, No, Hello, Car, Run, and so forth. Have them neatly print each word on a card, and draw and color a picture to match the word. When finished, they can turn this into a spelling lesson for little ones. Brilliant!

Open a Kid-Run Medical Center

One really smart way to help kids become aware of health-related concerns without growing fearful in the process is to get them to play-act the roles of doctor, nurse, and patient. You probably have an old playset lying around that has a toy thermometer, band-aid, and other medical-related accessories. If not, you can always improvise. For example, a tightly rolled up and taped sheet of construction paper could become a thermometer. Your kids can draw and cut out homemade band-aids to keep in place with tape.

Run a Fitness Center

What child doesn’t enjoy pedaling the stationary bike, running on a treadmill, and lifting 3- or 5-lb. barbells? When you turn your fitness room of the house into a kid-owned gym, you take exercise to a new and exciting level. Your kids can alternate roles such as the gym desk attendant, personal trainer, and exercise instructor leading an exercise class. Kids honestly love these types of role-playing games because they get to engage in a way that computers just can’t offer.

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This article provides general information and discussion about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. Consult your own physician for any medical issues that you may be having.

Homeschooling: Combine Learning and Play

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