@AskATutor (during the emergency)

Because many parents find themselves suddenly homeschooling, we’re offering some of the tutoring handouts we created. We were tutors for quite a few years,  and along the way, we created games and handouts to help our students learn new skills and understand concepts. We’ll keep posting them, so check back. One note — these are offered strictly for your personal use. Commercial use is strictly prohibited (if you’re interested in commercial use, contact us). Downloading, reproducing and/or using these handouts constitutes your agreement to this.

Copyright © 2020-2024 Joey and Mark Jones

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Ways to break up the learning day and get that information across.

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Lots of parents are facing #homeschool for the first time who never planned on doing that. When creating lesson plans (and it really helps to have some — they’re like maps for teachers on what you’re going to try to do, and how), start with your state’s standards.

Each state has teaching standards that spell out what skills children are expected to master before going on to the next grade. The link here is to the preschool standards for schools in Colorado. This spells out specific skills that kids are expected to learn, and by when. With that, you can lay out what you’re trying to cover this year for your kid. This guide also suggests activities you can include to build these skills (way to go, CO! Not every state does that).

For example, if you’re trying to teach the alphabet, in addition to reading to your toddler, you can use alphabet blocks to spell words (hint: kids usually like to learn to spell their own names, and the names of people they know, or characters they like, such as Elsa). You can make alphabet cookies using cookie cutters, or clay letters using modeling clay. There are coloring pages you can print out and color free from teaching websites or in coloring books.

Start with the standards as your plan, pick the skills to work on, and search for activities. But first is finding your state standards. Here’s a link to Colorado’s:


#AskATutor tip: THE BRAIN RACE

I used this with a kid who had trouble sitting still for too long. Especially on rainy days, this was helpful. He really got into trying to beat his best score. We started “adding points,” shaving seconds off his time, for longer sentences. We started with two-word sentences (I jumped.) and worked our way up to longer ones. Include punctuation, which must be in the right place. I + ran + . He + turned + , + and + smiled + . It can be used for almost any subject.

Materials: A deck of 3×5 cards, a pad of Post-It type notes, or slips of paper about 3×3 inches, a pen. Optional: the stopwatch function on your phone, raisins, cereal, etc. for rewards (in which case you play the game for snack time).

What idea are you trying to help your child learn? Most break up into basic concepts that can be taught this way. The idea is to put the pieces of the idea on slips of paper around your apartment, house, or yard and have your kid (or kids) retrieve the pieces and put them together correctly to stop the time (or earn a treat). One kid can play solo, or kids can compete. The “win” can be the fastest time, beating your own record, or a handful of Cheerios or raisins or whatever snack– you know your kid. Examples:

MATH: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. Write numbers on slips of paper, and operators (plus, minus, equal, etc.) on other slips, and hide around the apartment, your house, yard, etc. When you say, “Go!,” your kid races around to find those slips and assemble them on the table in the right order, so if you have a 3, a + sign, an = sign and a 4, you need a 7 to get “3 + 4 = 7.” If you have everything but the plus sign, but you have an “x” for multiplication, then you need a 12, or a 1 and 2 that can be put together to form a 12 in order to stop the clock or get the treat.

Aim this at your child’s level. If your kid is learning to add, leave out the multiplication sign. Just use add and subtract. If you have an older kid, you can take this to more complicated problems, even algebra. On the other hand, if your kid is at the “learn my numbers” stage, you can just use slips numbered 1-20, for example, and the aim is to put them in the correct order.

Math is great in that you can reverse it to really get the idea home. 3+4=7, but it’s also true that 7=4+3.

VERY IMPORTANT FOR ALL VERSIONS: Let your kid combine and recombine cards to get the right answer WITHOUT any pressure beyond the stopwatch. Most kids are motivated enough to get it right to beat the clock. They don’t need criticism or pushing.


Alphabet (step 1): 26 letters that need to be put in order.

Spelling (step 2): Slips with the 26 basic letters, plus extra vowels and an extra “S” or two, and a spelling list. “When I say “Go,” find all the letters in the word (for example) “Quick!” The kid must also get them in the right order to stop the clock — so they can keep trying until they get it right.

Match Concepts: Slips with words and slips with concepts, such as Verb / Noun / Adverb / Adjective etc. You can also use slips with “LY” on them to teach how adding “ly” can make an adverb. Or pair verbs with adverbs and nouns with adjectives.

Sentences: Put out slips with words on them, as well as punctuation. Noun + Verb for beginners, adding in adjectives, adverbs, etc. as the player masters a level.

This game can be used for almost any basic concept, or memory list, which brings up…

HISTORY and SCIENCE: who wrote “The Grapes of Wrath?” When was vulcanized rubber developed? You can pair people, dates or other facts. For an advanced version, link things together, such as the person who invented vulcanized rubber in this year, plus the person who invented the automobile in this place equals cars with tires (instead of hard wagon wheels).

It never failed to impress us how quickly kids grasped information and ideas when we taught them this way. It also makes a nice break for kids to burn off some energy.

#AskATutor tip: modify other games, like hopscotch or Twister.

If you’re teaching addition, the spaces are numbers (1-10, say), and you have to add them as you hop. 1+2=3… from there you can either continue adding (if your kid is strong enough in addition), or add the next two. Wrong answer? Back to the start. Works for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Planning your next adventure gives teaches math, language, history (and hope).

#AskATutor project: DAYS OF TRAVEL FUTURE.

No matter what your kid’s age, planning a future trip can help teach language skills, math, history, all sorts of things — including how to hang on to hope. You see, planning something for the future gets the mind to consider that there will BE a future and you’ll be in it. You may not know when you’ll get to go, but anticipation is an important part of any adventure.

Choose a place you want to visit together. It can be as simple as a road trip to a nearby city. Plot the route and note how far it is. Now figure out how far you can drive in a day. Are there places you want to visit along the way? Does that change how far you can go in one day?

All sorts of questions can be used for lessons: history (look up places on the historical registers, state and federal, along the way), language (write a pre-trip journal. Where do you want to go and why?), math (how many miles, how many gallons of gas, how much would this hotel cost vs. that one (or campground), planning (set up a trip budget, a vision board with pics and info about places, a list of websites), geography (maps, etc.). You can make what you do age-appropriate, of course.

After one trip is planned out, plan another, then figure out cost and which you would be able to do first.


One way to teach science, reasoning and language skills is to have the student design a dragon (or do it together), based on the qualities reptiles really have. Draw your dragon. If your dragon has a big, heavy tail, what’s the advantage? What’s the weakness? Is your dragon big and strong (needs more food, fewer good dens available) or small and fast (not as strong, but doesn’t need as much food and more dens available)? Some lizards don’t have legs (yet aren’t snakes), so does your dragon have legs? Design two dragons and have a dragon war, figuring out who would win. Look at science sites such as https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/ for ideas on what characteristics reptiles have.


If you’re teaching kiddos basic multiplication (1-10), here’s a magic trick to show them: Take any number, 1-10, and multiply it by 9. The answer will add up to 9, i.e., 3×9=27, and 2+7=9. Also a way for them to teach them to check their answers. If it doesn’t add up to 9, the answer is wrong.

11-20, more magic. The answer will add up to 18, i.e. 14×9=126, and 12+6=18. 17×9= 153, and 15+3=18.

21-30, the answers add up to 27 (seeing the pattern here?). 23×9=207, 20+7=27.

31-40, the answers add up to 36.

I once taught a student who, when he grasped this, said, “How long has THIS been going on?”

#TeachingTip #coronavirus #homeschooling #math #multiplication

#AskATutor Art resource: FREE COLORING BOOKS.

If you have a printer, over 100 museums are making coloring book pages available for you to print. Beyond coloring to keep the kiddos busy, you can color WITH your student, look at the original artwork, and talk about what you see. Why do you think they used those colors? Why are things drawn that way? Use art as an easy way to teach history and reasoning. Write a poem inspired by a work of art, a story, or an essay (Who was Jackon Pollock? How did artists in the middle ages make their paints? Where do the various pigments come from?) , teaching language arts. Here’s the coloring book link: Free Coloring Books From 113 Museums (With thanks to artist Antonia Hansen and OpenCulture.com.)

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