When I first started homeschooling with my oldest, I had so much fun planning themed lessons. I would pride myself on finding free printables that I would laminate and cut out. We would play new games every week! I soon realized after having a 2nd child, I had less time to do this prep work. So, naturally, when I had my 3rd I had to face reality that time for prep work had gone down considerably and I had to prioritize spending time with kids instead of prepping as much.
Therefore, I knew I had to come up with a plan that had little prep but still was play-based learning. I have now implemented what I like to call “rotation activities.” We do schooling 4 days a week (we have a free day once a week). We spend 2 days a week on each of the core subjects of math and language using these rotation activities. Then, each day we have a freebie type activity, usually covering topics like Bible, history, science and geography (all interest led). Also, we have a daily art activity with once a week doing a more involved craft. We transferred over to this from themes because trying to make every subject fit into 1 theme for 3 different learning levels was too difficult.
The list below is our compilation of rotation activities; we do 2 activities a week. With 8 different activities in each core subject, we don’t repeat things until 1 month later. What is great about the majority of these activities is that each one can span over multiple learning levels, from basic letter recognition and sounds to higher level sight words or blending sounds.
1. Letter Fly Swat
This was the first file I ever made myself to help teach letter sounds. These cards laminated have lasted 4 years and still continue to be used frequently. This is by far the most fun game according to my kids. Write on the cards whatever letter/word you’d like them to learn and have them swat it with a fly swatter as you call out a letter/sound or word.
You can get the printable HERE.
2. ABC Scavenger Hunt
For this we use our felt letters, but you can use any type of letters you have on hand. Have your kid pick from a bag a random letter and then let them search around the room/house for an item that starts with that letter. For younger kiddos, searching around with them makes them more engaged.
3. Literacy Stair Climb
Years ago when my oldest starting working with sight words, a close friend posted a picture on Facebook of her putting sight words on her stairs. I immediately ran with the idea and over the years have done a ton of variations of this activity. Currently, it is being used for phonics work. We use our felt letters (uppercase and lowercase). You can also just write on an index card or cardstock a letter or word (or even number). As your kid goes up the stairs, they call out the letter/sound or word, respectively.
4. Easel Erase
This is a super easy prep activity. All you need is a dry erase board (could be any dry erase surface and any size), a dry erase marker and eraser. We have also used chalk in the past as well. Write letters, numbers, words on the board and then have your child erase as you call them out randomly.
5. Literacy Jump
Again, using felt letters, place them on the floor in a random order. There are two variations that we use for this. You can either call out the letter/sound and have them run to it or as they jump from one to another, they call out the letter/sound.
6. Fill in Board Game
No list of activities in my house goes without a board game! I bought this editable file from Playdough to Plato; you can put in any letter/word and play multiple different themed board games. She has a free unicorn themed one here. *Note: Picture uses a construction themed page from the purchased file.
7. Name Match Busy Bag
All you need for this is a few colored markers, a large popsicle stick and some clothespins. Throw it in a bag and pull it out any time. This is a go-to for our car bag and really helps name recognition!
8. Playdough Letters
Cut up some colored straws (let the kiddo do this part as a great fine motor activity). Have your little one roll out a ball of playdough. Using a pencil/pen, draw a letter you want to work on. Your child will proceed to put the straw pieces on top of your drawn line, making a trace of the letter.
9. Counting Sticker Booklet
One of the first things I ever taught to my kids was counting. Just using toys in every day play works great but there is something about this activity that really helps teach rational counting (assigning a number to objects) not just rote counting. Each of our kids has their own book and use their favorite stickers as motivation. Just print out the printable linked here and cut each page in half so each number has its’ own card. On the front, your little one can use do-a-dot markers to color in the number and then use crayons or markers to color in the corresponding word. Then, hole punch at the top and start a collection of numbers as you teach them in sequential order. We use a loose-leaf ring (bought from the dollar store) to keep them all together. They make great flash cards as well!
You can download the booklet HERE.
10. Floor Tape Shapes
Using duct tape (or painter’s tape), preferably in your kid’s favorite color, put down pieces on floor to make the desired shape. You can have them walk the shape. In addition, the can fill the area or outline the shape with toys. The original idea came from Teaching Mama.
11. Color Clean Up
Probably my favorite activity! This kills 2 birds with 1 stone. Have your kiddo grab toys that are a certain color and put in a bin that is the corresponding color. For colors that you don’t have bins for, I have used construction paper on the floor and they just place them on top of the paper.
12. Fish in the Ocean
With magnet fish or even goldfish, place them into a pond (I use a blue felt piece). You can say a number and your child can put them in or vice versa. You can then move on to addition and subtraction. If you happen to have a magnetic fishing pole, this works great, but not required.
13. Pong Number Game
This was inspired by Teaching Mama herself. She had a Balloon Number Game in her Preschool Journey Book. Instead of balloons I wrote in permanent marker numbers 1 to 20 on ping pong balls. I then put them in a bin and let my kiddos put them in sequential order. Using felt as a placemat works well so the balls don’t roll.
14. Crayon Match
Print and cut out the crayons from the below file. You can use pocket folders like I did, writing either the color name or putting a swatch of color on the outside. You can also take these and have your kiddo match them to items in the room.
The cheapest pocket folders I have found are at Lakeshore Learning.
You can download the printable HERE.
15. Popsicle Stick Patterns
Busy Bags are great for on the go activities. This one was such a huge favorite over the years we transitioned it to a staple in our homeschool rotations. Just pick up the colored popsicle sticks from the dollar store and grab the free printable from Playdough to Plato.
16. Colored Manipulatives Bears
This is the only activity that will require a purchase (but you probably already own it)! However, I can guarantee you if you don’t already have it, it will be hands down the best purchase you make during your homeschool journey. These manipulative bears have endless possible options for learning!
You can use them for color sorting, size sorting, size comparison, and patterns.
I sure hope these quick prep games help when you need a quick go-to learning activity!
BIO: Rachael Alley is a mother of 3 and wife to a loving husband. Rachael is a former chemist turned stay-at-home mom currently residing in Chicago, Illinois. Her favorite things to do with her kids are random science experiments and dance parties. On the weekends she enjoys time doing outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and canoeing.
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