Fun with Puzzles, Books, and Building Blocks for the Young Homeschooled Child
Here are a few ideas related to playing with puzzles, blocks and transportation toys. Don’t worry if your child is a boy or a girl – these items will definitely keep them busy and happy, masha’Allah.
When I had my first child – I went by the book. I always found materials that were “age appropriate” but fortunately for my later children – they have access to these materials way before they are “supposed to play with them.” One such thing is puzzles. When my oldest was an infant, I came across a bunch of heavy wooden puzzles (all pieces intact and in perfect condition) at a resale shop. They came 5 puzzles per bag and were $1 USD. I purchased three bags. We still have the same puzzles today in our homeschool and my youngest loves to play with them all the time. She was putting these puzzles together at an early age. She is now doing much harder puzzles along with her older siblings. In the beginning, I gave her puzzles where you put a shape into a hole of the same shape – puzzles where there are just slots for the puzzle pieces. Over time, she worked her way into puzzles that made a picture. I can’t say how much she absolutely loves puzzles, masha’Allah.
There are many types of puzzles available. We also have some “puzzles” where you have to dress a character. There is a bear puzzle like this where you place the head and the clothing in slots on the cover of the box. My youngest still loves to do these.
We have also gotten puzzles from the dollar store. They have some puzzles that are about 25 pieces or so. Instead of having a bunch of boxes of puzzles everywhere, I put the puzzle pieces in a baggie and cut out the top of the box (with the picture of the completed puzzle) and tape it to the top of the baggie. Then I keep all the baggies in a plastic shoe box to keep them neat.
You can also find online puzzles that you can print off. Or, you can simply use a picture that you print off for your child to color. After they are done coloring, cut the picture into pieces (the younger the child – the larger the pieces) and have them put it back together again. If they want to do it again – let them – if not, you can also have them paste the pieces together on a piece of construction paper. You could also make puzzles from pictures out of magazines (or your child’s drawings) in the same way.
Children love books. You can easily use books to entertain your younger child – even if they aren’t ready to read yet. I usually try to go to the library at least once a week – but sometimes we get there once every two weeks. I allow each child to pick out books (with mom’s approval of course). When we get home, the kids have to put their books away in their own book boxes. This keeps their books from being mixed up and lost. There’s a place for them. This year I especially started to concentrate on getting lots of books for my younger child. She loves books, masha’Allah! You really need to make sure that your younger child can reach their own books and that they know where their books belong. This will increase the likelihood that they reach for their books whenever they want to and will make it easier for them to entertain themselves.
One thing I allow my youngest to do is listen to audio books online and offline. There are several websites that have online stories – either a person is reading the story to you or there is actually animation. She loves these websites, masha’Allah. I have also found at the resale shops cassettes with children’s stories on them. So, I purchased a small cassette player for children and allow her to sit and listen to the story. It helps that we also have many of the books at home. So, she will sit there and look at the pages while the story is being read to her.
Another thing you can do (when you have time – ha ha) is read a story on cassette or with a microphone on your computer. Then, you can sit your child down with the audio story – and a copy of the book and they can listen to you read to them when you may actually be too busy to read. You can use a noise to tell them when to turn the page and be as animated as you possibly can while reading the story. Want to improve your older children’s reading skills? Have them read a story on cassette or with a microphone on your computer for your younger child. This way you can improve your older child’s reading while entertaining your little one.
I really enjoy using picture books and what I call “naming” books with my younger child. Actually – it is helpful to find foreign language picture dictionaries with your child – it doesn’t matter what language it is – the more colorful and interesting the pictures, the better. Then, you can sit with your child and say “where are the shoes” and have your child point them out. You can also say “what’s that” as you point to a picture and see if they know the name of the item. Over time, you will greatly improve your child’s vocabulary this way. This is definitely a hands-on teaching method so you wouldn’t want to do this while trying to homeschool another child. However, you could tell your younger child that this is their “school” and do this each morning before you start homeschooling the others. They will greatly appreciate the time and you will find your child taking out the books and looking at them whenever they get a chance while you are homeschooling your other children, insha’Allah.
All of my children love I-Spy books and those “Can You Find” books. Your youngest will love to look around to see if they can find the items in the pictures. You could easily pull out one of these books and while teaching your children – ask your youngest to find an item – have them sit down and search. When they find it – they can show you and you ask them for another item. While it is a little distracting – it is definitely not as distracting as your child needing your full and complete attention the entire time.
You can also have your child make their own books. One day, have your child cut out as many pictures as they can find in a magazine that is red. Then, have them paste it into their “red book” with a red item on each page – you can even write the names of the different items on each page – for example “red car.” The next time, have them make a “blue book” and so on. When you run out of colors to find – have them make books on “kitchen items” or on “types of clothing.” You could also make a book with pictures of items you use in the winter and another with pictures of items you use in the spring time. The opportunities for keeping your child busy and extremely happy this way are endless – just make sure you have enough magazines! When they finish making a book – find a place for them to keep them. Perhaps convert a cereal box into a “magazine holder.” Cut it smaller so that you can see the books inside. Then, when your child wants to read – they may actually pull out some of their own books!
When you get a chance – you can also have your child make their own books in another way. You can have your child draw a picture inside the booklet and then you could write down what they want to say about the picture. Each page in the booklet can have a different picture. You will be amazed at the many different ideas your child comes up with when given the opportunity. If you are too busy – you could also have an older siblings write the story for them.
Sometimes my kids just love to cut and paste. In that case, I have also supplied an empty notebook – we call it “their book” and I allow them to cut out any pictures they may like from a magazine and paste it into their book. They have easily filled pages and pages in the notebook this way. They seem to enjoy it, masha’Allah.
FUN WITH BUILDING MATERIALS:
All children love playing with building materials. When my children were younger, they received a gift of several bags of those large duplo blocks for younger children to use. We still have these today – five years later, masha’Allah. I keep them in a large Rubbermaid box to keep them separated from other building materials. The kids simply ask for them and I open up the box. When my youngest claims she has nothing to do – I simply open up the box and drag it into the school room. It keeps her very happy for quite a long time, masha’Allah.
A long time ago – I also belonged to a list online known as Freecycle – this is a place where you can find things that you might need (for free) that other people just don’t need any more (and don’t want to throw them away). This was way in the beginning of Freecycle. One day a woman wanted to get rid of an entire Rubbermaid box of building blocks. I already knew how badly I wanted building blocks but could never find them at a reasonable price. Masha’Allah – I was the first person to respond to this woman and she happily gave me the box of blocks on the condition that when I was finished with them I would also donate them to a homeschooler. There were approximately two or three full sets of blocks in this box. We are still using these blocks four years later – and there is much life still in them, masha’Allah.
One year, for Eid, my husband bought Tinker Toys for the girls as a gift. They absolutely love Tinker Toys – however, I have to say right now that they just don’t make them like they used to. They used to stick together really well but nowadays – even when you first get them – the parts don’t all fit together. However, the kids just love to play with them so I can’t think of parting with them. A few weeks ago the kids dressed up in dress-up clothes and walked around with parasols that they had made with the Tinker Toys. After putting it together, they put a scarf over the top to make it look like a parasol. I think they walked around the house like that for several days, masha’Allah.
Another Eid, their father bought the kiddos Lincoln logs – but they are magnetic. These are especially useful with a younger child because they get stuck together – it is harder to knock them over. The kiddos love to make cabins, parking structures and a whole lot of different things with these blocks, masha’Allah.
We found Kapla blocks on sale last year for $6 USD per box. We already had some that we found in a resale shop years ago – but I’m glad we added to our stash. These blocks are wonderful. They have built so many neat things with them, masha’Allah.
Now that I’ve mentioned the different materials – I should now like to mention how we use them. While just opening up the box and allowing your child time for unguided play – they are also wonderful learning tools as well. Read a book to your child about bridges – then have your child try to build a bridge. Read a book to your child about different buildings – then have your child try to build different buildings with the blocks. The opportunities for learning are endless.
Another useful learning material to have around the house is things like cars, airplanes, boats, and trains. This is even if you don’t have boys. You may be surprised by this – but sometimes kiddos have to be guided. What I mean is – sometimes they don’t think of using something in a certain way – until they see someone else use it. Then, stand back because the new ideas it produces will be amazing.
Don’t tell anyone – but I love to play with blocks. I don’t get a chance to do it often though – especially not when the kiddos take over! Anyway, one day we set up our train set on the kitchen floor. That’s what the kids have done since they got it last Eid – set it up and watch the train go around and around. I wanted to have more fun. I took out the Lincoln Logs and started to build a Ranger station over the train set – the train ran under the station. The girls were entranced. We then took out the Kapla Blocks and the building blocks. When we were done, we not only had a train – we had a Ranger Station, several bridges and tunnels for the train to run under. It was awesome! Over time, the kids will forget things like this – so you have to pull everything out and show them the possibilities – but when they get started, it will be hard to stop them – even your younger child.
The kiddos now love to build roads out of blocks for their cars to drive on. They also love to build parking garages for their cars. They also have built masjids, houses, cabins, skyscrapers, etc. When you add other manipulative toys along with blocks, legos or Lincoln logs – the possibilities are endless. There are even books you can find in the library on ways to use blocks in the education of young children. Essentially – the ideas are based on adding manipulatives to their play. You cannot underestimate the amount of play time your child will have when you bring out these types of materials. Mind you, when they are a bit younger they may want you to play with them – or they will get “finished” rather quickly. However, if you get them used to this type of play – it will entertain them longer and longer. Soon, you will find them blending not only the creativity of building these structures, but you will also find them using imaginative play – using stuffed animals as characters in this make-believe world of theirs.
Some books about playing with blocks include:
I have not tried all of these books – but just wanted you to know that if you are interested in learning how to get your child to play more creatively with these learning materials – there are books out there that can give you lots of ideas, insha’Allah.
Another thing to think about – in playing with trains, cars, planes, etc. is that you don’t only have to limit yourself to making things with blocks. For art time, teach your child to make paper mache mountains and pick up twigs to make trees (stuck in a little bit of play dough). Have your child design their own world using these materials – or even make bridges and tunnels out of cereal boxes and other reusable materials. The only limit is your imagination!
Insha’Allah these suggestions will be of some benefit to you and your child.
Sumayyah Umm SAA