As a follow-up to the talk I gave at the SEA Homeschoolers Convention 2018, “Playing School: Bridging Play and Education for Academically-Minded Preschoolers and Kindergarteners,” I would like to share a list of some of the most-loved items in our child-led homeschool.
We are eclectic homeschoolers and that definitely shows in this list. All the products on this list have been selected and tested by my kids. Some are updated versions of materials my teens loved when they were little, and others are new additions to our homeschool toolbox as I start this journey again with my youngest.
(This post contains affiliate links.)
Books, toys, curricula, flash cards, games, workbooks, and more:
Dry erase markers are great but can be messy and often slide too easily over a writing surface, making them hard for little hands to control. I have found Crayola Dry Erase Crayons give just enough resistance to slow young writers down, giving them better control. Bonus: they create less mess and easily wash out of most fabrics too!
These dry erase tracing pages are excellent for practicing pre-handwriting skills. The set includes 25 heavy-weight, tear-resistant, reusable pages with 4 unique traceable rows on each page.
Make any worksheet or coloring page reusable with dry erase pockets. These are great for writing on maps, checklist, and chore charts too!
Practice letter and number recognition, plus pre-handwriting skills, with Kid O Magnatabs in A to Z, a to z – Lower Case, and Learn Your Numbers 0-9.
Learn and track months, days, date, season, temperature, weather, activities, holidays, feelings, and more with this magnetic and dry daily erase calendar.
My 4yo loves the Melissa and Doug Turn & Tell Wooden Clock. With a dozen double-sided time cards and a self-check window to compare analog and digital time formats, this clock makes learning to tell time fun and easy.
This wipe-and-write teaching clock gets a lot of use in our house as well.
Telling Time workbook by Evan-Moor
This set of lacing beads helps develop fine motor skills as well as pattern recognition to help with early reading and math. The 20 cards included start with simple color and shape recognition patterns and build to more advanced challenges.
Explore early geometry concepts with these pattern blocks and cards.
The Learn to Read Activity Book is great for my workbook loving kid. It has 101 lessons and activities starting with letter recognition and phonetics then building into reading.
My daughter loves to make up her own card games with this Reading Flash Cards 4 Pack.
CVC tri-blocks can be used on their own or with guidance from the coordinating card set.
Move beyond CVC with these word building tri-blocks and coordinating card set.
Tumble Trax Magnetic Marble Run is a fun, hands-on introduction to physics.
Engineering Ants by Peaceable Kingdom is a cooperative game that encourages problem-solving skills and teamwork as you design and build creative solutions to help the ants.
More magnet fun with this Learning Resources Magnet Lab Kit.
R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Earth and Environment 1 and Astronomy 1 are excellent curricula for young students with high academic needs. They are easily adaptable for asynchronous development without watering down the science concepts and have lots of fun, hands-on labs. Earth and Environment has the best environmental science lessons I have ever seen for young kids. By reading aloud, scribing for her, and acting as her “lab assistant,” I am able to let my daughter follow her passions now instead of waiting until she is older. My youngest also loves Dusty and Bunny, the space dust bunnies who narrate Astronomy; she even requests that I read it as a bedtime story!
Experiment with science and fun with the Primary Science Deluxe Lab Set.
Primary Science Jumbo Test Tubes with Stand is perfect for little hands.
Introduce lab safety and procedures (plus have fun playing dress-up) with this Primary Science Lab Gear.
From rain water to flower petals to carpet fuzz, my youngest is curious about everything. This pocket microscope with light travels with us nearly everywhere and is just the right size for little hands.
The Magic School Bus: A Journey into the Human Body science kit.
Melissa and Doug Magnetic Human Body Anatomy Play Set With 24 Magnetic Pieces and Storage Tray (atomically correct).
SmartLab Toys Squishy Human Body is so much fun!
Time and Money flash cards.
Learning About Money workbook by Evan-More.
Life-size play money for hands-on learning.
One Cent, Two Cents, Old Cent, New Cent: All About Money from The Cat in the Hat Learning Library is a fun and fascinating introduction to money and its history.
Practice coin recognition, skip counting, and addition with the simple rhymes in The Coin Counting Book.
Develop number sense and practice early math skills with this rekenrek counting frame.
A number balance allows for hands-on interaction while visually displaying number relationships.
A place value flip stand is a handy teaching tool.
Mathlink cubes are one of many manipulatives we use in our daily math activities.
I have a classic set of wooden cuirsenaire rods, but my youngest prefers this Connecting Cuisenaire Rods Introductory Set.
A good balance scale will get years of use. I really like the included weight set with this one.
Counting, weighing, sorting by size or color; these bears are a versatile hands-on learning tool.
This Kid’s Tape Measure is super durable and easy to use.
We love this puzzle map!
These floor puzzles are lots of fun too!
Use dry erase crayons or markers, stickers, photos, and more to make these laminated wall maps an interactive part of your educational adventures.
Where On Earth Atlas is a wonderful visual introduction to world geography, pair with When On Earth for a visual introduction to world history as well. These books provide a nice overview, be prepared to fall down rabbit holes and to add more resources for a deep dive.
Rad American Women A-Z is more than your average alphabet book.
Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One is more than just a cute picture book, it’s a story that teaches about stories! Learn about parts of a story while reading this book together and then practice some storytelling of your own. We love this book so much I have decided to write a storytelling unit study to go with it. The unit study will be available for free in the SEA Homeschoolers Members area later this year!
Seeds and Trees: A children’s book about the power of words is a recent favorite in our house.
We fell in love with Annabelle and Aiden as soon as the first book was released. This series is a fact-based, gentle introduction to big topics through lyrical verse and stunning illustrations. We find ourselves going back to these wonderful books over and over again; the characters have become favorite imaginary friends who are often included in pretend play.
Get creative with less mess with these no-spill paint cups and brushes.
Fill your no-spill paint cups with washable paints from Crayola.
These all natural, vegan, eco-friendly paint mixes can be made thick like finger paint, creamy like tempera paint, or thin like watercolors…and include biodegradable mixing cups!
When I was writing R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 the idea for The Stargazer’s Notebookcame to me. The Stargazer’s Notebook focuses on learning about the universe by observing the night sky. It is an astronomy unit study presented in the guise of a stargazing unit study. I didn’t want kids to just learn the science of astronomy from a book. My hope was that kids would get an understanding of the universe by making direct observations. I felt this would greatly enhance students’ passion for and knowledge of the subject. For two years, my son, my husband, and I stargazed once every month, saw every special sky event we could, and got up at 2 a.m. to see every meteor shower.
I am a scientist, so my life has been filled with scientific inquiry and learning. From the standpoint of family, the two years of stargazing were the best for both of those. My family and I took road trips so that we would have the best viewing of meteor showers. We hosted a solar eclipse party for the families in our neighborhood. Several friends made a point of showing up for dinner time on the nights we were stargazing. These friends would bring their own chair, blanket, and snacks to share.
There are some tools you might want for stargazing. None are really essential, but some almost are. Others are worth it if you want the “whole” experience. Still others are fun, but definitely optional.
Essential Supplies for a Stargazing Unit Study*
The Stargazer’s Notebook: The visible universe is vast and so is the amount of information about it. The Stargazer’s Notebook provides the ideal instruction manual, planner, journal, and cosmos laboratory for the astronomy student, amateur stargazer, and anyone else wanting to learn more about the stars, planets, and celestial objects that occupy our skies.
The Night Sky Planishere: Apps on your phone are great, but they can not completely substitute for a star map (a planisphere). Make sure you get the correct latitude range of planisphere.
Red light flashlight: I have used this flashlight every time I have stargazed. It has a red light setting and a white light setting. After your eyes have adapted to the dark, you can ruin the adaptation with a blast of white light. Red light does not have the same effect.
Almost Essential Supplies for a Stargazing Unit Study*
Binoculars & Tripod
If you want to be able to do things like see the individual stars in the Beehive Nebula or the moons of Jupiter and rings of Saturn then you will want binoculars and a tripod. You might wonder where the telescope is on this list. I found binoculars to be much easier to use and more practical than a telescope. There are things that you need a telescope to see. If you do choose to go out with a telescope, make sure you have practiced using it before going out.
The Stargazer’s Notebook is written for ages 10 to 100. Here is a selection of books to bring younger learners up to speed.
The couple of times I went out without a reclining chair and a warm blanket, I regretted it. Recliners are almost essential for stargazing! It is really nice to be able to lay on your back comfortably and warmly when observing the night sky.
These chairs with backpack straps are great for taking when you need to find the perfect location.
Essential for a Stargazing Unit Study? No. Fun to Have? YES!*
I wouldn’t take it out stargazing in case it adds light pollution, but a glow-in-the-dark constellation blanket for dreaming about stargazing adventures is fun to have.
How could stargazing be complete without your very own set of pens from NASA to use to chart the stars!
No evening spent stargazing would be complete without drinks, snacks, and theme music.
SEA water bottle: Do not forget the water in re-usable bottles. That way you are taking care of planet Earth while observing the rest of the visible universe.
Numi Turmeric tea with ginger is the best for staying warm on a chilly night.
Fair Trade Hot Cocoa Mix for those who like it a little sweeter.
Use these vegan cupcake toppers for a fun treat on nights you stargaze. It is super yummy with this recipe for delicious chocolate cupcakes and white buttercream frosting, both vegan and the cupcakes can be made with gluten-free flour.
What stargazing unit study would be complete without solar system lollipops? I want Saturn!
The night could not be complete without theme music to get everyone in the mood. I have spent more than one night with family and friends discussing the likelihood that there is music on at least one other planet in the universe.
A Science Lab in Your Home? I am always caught off guard when homeschoolers worriedly ask me about setting up for and performing labs at home. It makes me think of how I came to write my first book, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Chemistry 1. I asked a good friend of mine, who was also homeschooling, what 3rd grade chemistry looked like. She told me it was terrible. She couldn’t find any good resources and was struggling with labs and how to structure the topics. I started rattling off how I would do it. Her response, “That’s easy for you to say. You are a chemist who taught chemistry!” The purpose of this talk is to help you get over your concerns about having your child perform lab science at home. I promise you, it is easier than you think.
A Science Lab in Your Home? It Really Isn’t that Hard. Trust Me, I’m a Chemist
Blair Lee M.S. is the founder of SEA Homeschoolers and author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Series. Blair has been handcrafting the education of her non-linear thinker for over 11 years. During that time, she has learned as much about how learning happens from him as he has learned from her. Blair is a passionate advocate of innovative academics using secular materials. Through her speaking and writing, her goal is to empower homeschoolers to dare to be innovative and create something unique and academically-rich when handcrafting their child’s journey through learning. You can follow her at SEAHomeschoolers.com. You can learn more about Blair Lee’s “Evolution in Homeschooling” here.
R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 from Pandia Press brings top quality secular science into your home or classroom in an engaging hands-on manner. Scientist and author, Blair Lee, has a conversational writing style that opens up serious science topics to students in a way that invites them on a journey through learning. The combination of thorough science education, fun labs and activities, and the author’s ability to share vast amounts of information without overwhelming a novice makes RSO Astronomy 2 an excellent course for both students who love science, and those who do not. The writing style, uncommon for a textbook, paired with the rigorous academic material it teaches allows this course to meet the needs of students throughout the publisher’s recommended 6th – 10th grade range.
The student text for this course functions as textbook, workbook, and lab book all in one, which makes organizing this course quite easy for students, parents, and teachers. The text is divided into three units, each containing four chapters,and a unit exam. In each chapter, students will learn through thought provoking written lessons as they build a solid foundation of science concepts. These lessons are thorough, teaching not only astronomy, but also explaining the chemistry, physics, and math needed to truly understand the material. Students will explore these concepts further with hands-on labs, activities, and scientific models. There is an outstanding focus on scientific modeling woven through the entire course. Students will not only learn how and why scientist use scientific models, but also gain a deeper understanding through using existing working scientific models, as well as creating and developing their own. Some labs in this course require written lab reports, this formulaic writing is an important skill every student should learn. There are also labs with math components, as math and science often go hand in hand. All of the math is clearly explained and examples are given. This is an excellent example for students of how mathematics is applied in subjects beyond their math studies.
Through the twelve part Famous Science Series, students develop and expand research skills while learning interesting history related to astronomy, including topics like famous scientists, scientific discoveries, and space crafts and programs. While the questions in this series will help guide student’s research, how that research is done is left more open ended. This allows you to easily adapt these assignments to the appropriate level for your student. My 9th grader found researching Edwin Hubble for chapter 2, William and Margaret Huggins for chapter 4, and Tycho Brache and Johannes Kepler for chapter 6 quite fascinating. He will be expanding what he learned in the Famous Science Series into more formal research papers on each. The “Show What You Know” section at the end of each chapter gives students a chance to demonstrate the knowledge they’ve gained and provides parents and teachers with a quick and easy way to assess if students have a solid understanding of key concepts. Because each chapter builds on the one prior, this also lets you know if any information should be reviewed before moving on. Doing the “SWYK” section orally led to some long and fascinating conversations in my house.
I have often heard people ask if a teacher’s guide is really necessary, in this case my answer is absolutely yes. The teacher’s guide for RSO Astronomy 2 is so much more than just an answer book. Of course it does include answer keys and lesson reviews, but also guides to help with scheduling, grading, learning goals for each chapter, details on the math used in various labs, and more. Need a more detailed explanation or want to dig deeper into a topic? Each chapter in the teacher’s guide includes lists of books, videos, websites, and/or podcasts to explore. This pair of books provide an exciting and solid astronomy education regardless of your own science background.
R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 is presented in a way that is open, inviting, fun, and user friendly for students, parents, and teachers. Yet it never over simplifies or compromises on the quality of the academic material. Whether your students dream of a career exploring the universe or just enjoy gazing at the night sky, upon completion of this course they will have a thorough understanding of the core principles of astronomy and the processes used to develop those principles…and will certainly have some fun while learning it.
Just imagine your children’s faces when you tell them that you will be waking them at 2 in the morning. When I wrote R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2, my family and I did our best to observe all special night sky events. We have spent some very special moments communing in the middle of the night. Some of the events themselves fizzled, but every single one was worth viewing together. My family’s favorite night sky viewing events are meteor showers. Meteor showers are the most immediate evidence that we are on a ball hurtling through space at a very high speed!
To understand why there are bright streaks of light during a meteor shower, imagine walking on a very windy day into an area with a lot of loose dirt. As you walk, pieces of dirt will hit the front of your body, because you are moving into the blowing dirt. That is sort of what it is like for Earth during a meteor shower. Meteor showers occur when Earth moves into and through fields of dust and debris. When this dust and debris strikes Earth, which is traveling at 108,000 kilometers per hour, the pieces burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
The Perseid meteor shower is named for the constellation Perseus where the meteors seem to come from. The debris from the Perseid meteor shower is left over from the comet Swift –Tuttle. As a comet travels it leaves a trail of dust and debris in its path. Swift-Tuttle crosses through Earth’s orbital path every 133 years* leaving dust when it does. Each year when Earth travels through this dust there is a meteor shower. There are recorded observations of the comet Swift-Tuttle in 322 BC, 69 BC, 188, 1737, 1862, and 1992. Swift-Tuttle will be visible from Earth again in 2026. I wonder if the meteor shower is spectacular the year following Swift-Tuttle’s crossing through Earth’s orbital path.
Meteor showers have a lot to offer night sky viewers. If you go out at the right time in the early morning, you will see meteors. You do not need any special equipment to view a meteor shower. They are best viewed with your unaided eye, because you have a wider field of view that way. There is something exciting about watching streaks of light go across the sky.
Check out our post of R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 here.