Excellent resources for meaningful home learning

This is my list of meaningful home learning and homeschooling resources for families in Singapore. These are strange times we’re living in.  Pandemic parenting is especially hard, filled with uncertainties and missed celebrations.

Despite all the horrid things which COVID-19 has brought the world, I’m most grateful that it’s pivoted us to finding effective ways (read tools, apps, books, and online classes) to learn at home. It was the wake-up call our family needed to find the best learning resources out there and start applying them.  In fact, it was probably the key change which truly enabled all my three children to become biliterate in Chinese.

I hope that this post will help you to also make your home learning experience count, in whatever shape or form it is.

Great resources and syllabus for home learning in Singapore

If you google on Home-Based Learning (HBL) strategies, you’ll find heaps, mainly written by schools, and teachers, or education psychologists about the theory of what works best, and how to set up the home classroom, how to make a calendar, the important role parents play in educating, etc.  I’m not going to delve into this. I’m neither a teacher nor an expert. Nor am I a homeschooling mum (yet….). I’m simply a working mum who likes to learn together with my children at home too.

I wanted to share the specific products, books and online tool which we’ve found most helpful for my Nursery child, Kindergarten child, early primary and middle primary child, after 18 months of research, and trial and error. Simple solutions for busy mums in mixed-age group homes! Note these are whole complete syllabus I’m referring to, not simply tings to tithe you over until school returns.

Before you get stuck in my list, please remember that there  IS NO PERFECT CURRICULUM.  There are many great things out there, and you don’t need them all either, just choose what suits your child and family situation the best.   These lists are not in any way exhaustive. I’m sure there are many equally good things out there.

English Language – home syllabus

Nursery syllabus: Bob Books, by Bobby Lynn Maslen. Sets 1 to 3 for early phonics & accompanying workbooks

  • Best aspects:  Specifically designed to facilitate that “ah-ha” moment, when letters first turn into words, and gets a young child reading sentences
  • Compact size to fit in your shelves, with great accompanying workbooks for writing

Kindergarten syllabus: Fitzroy Readers . Numbers 1 – 20 & accompanying workbooks

  • Best Aspects: uses a phonic approach to literacy and consists of ninety carefully graded story books, with accompanying workbooks

Lower Primary syllabus: Fitzroy Readers . Numbers 40 – 60 & accompanying workbooks

  • Best Aspects: Stories are value-driven, and contain excellent accompany worksheets to teach grammar, vocabulary, composition and beyond.

Apps: ABC Reading Eggs (note this also has printable worksheets)

  • Best aspects:  Cost effective way to access hundreds of online reading lessons, phonics games and books for ages 2–13; well designed to capture attention of the child and includes a weekly writing competition to encourage own compositions and stories.
  • Another similar app is Teach Your Monster to Read, which is free, and funded by the Usborne Foundation

Note: these resources don’t replace reading for leisure!  Of course extensive reading is the key way to inculcate a love for reading and literature….. but it’s ultimately hard to escape needing to learn grammar and spelling rules too!  

Chinese Language – home syllabus

This is in the context of a family where neither parent speaks any Chinese.

Nursery syllabus: Odonata 红蜻蜓学前阅读计划 (Yellow Set) & accompanying workbooks (or potentially Sage 500 if you want to spend $$ and can read Chinse yourself)

  • Best Aspects: systematically introduces new character and vocabulary, and is very affordable compared to many other syllabus.  It can be narrated with Luka Hero, for families where parents don’t read Chinese. It comes with flash cards and it’s own workbooks. The wordlists are also contained in Maomi Stars app, for matching online games.

Kindergarten syllabus: Le Le Chinese (or potentially Odonata or Sage, if you already have upper levels of this)

  • Best Aspects: Carefully crafted collection of 300 readers to enable a child to be comfortable with reading >1000 characters; often has accompaning art/craft/lessons shared in their online support group. Comes with a reading pen for families who cannot read in Chinese, or for children to learn independently.

Lower Primary syllabus: Odonata 红蜻蜓学前阅读计划 (Purple Set) & Mandarin Companion

  • Best Aspects: For a child who reads >1000 words, these books contain longer and more interesting stories.  It’s not quite a curriculum ….  but these books enable a child to learn context, sentence structure, and usage by reading stories; ideally pair it with an app or online classes.

If you’re interested how these Chinese books compared to English ones, here’s how I see the paraellels:

Apps:  iHuman Hongen Chinese (note iHuman also has printable worksheets and supporting physical readers); support with Skritter or Maomi Stars for tingxie 

Note: these don’t replace reading for leisure either!  Check out appropriate Chinese bridging books to enjoy broader literature with your child.

Structured Online classes: As I don’t speak any Chinese, we’ve also found great value in structured online classes in Chinese, especially:

  • LingoAce – there’s an excellent Kindergarten Course following Singapore MOE, and then a primary school course either following Singapore MOE Primary Syllabus or Mainland Chinese Elementary Curriculum.
  • GoEast – this follows HSK / YCT syllabus, and is more customisable than LingoAce.  Great for a child who has a different learning style to the Singapore MOE syllabus.

Mathematics – home syllabus

Nursery & Kindergarten syllabus: Maybe it’s because I’m an engineer and comfortable with numbers, but I think it is completely okay to teach preschoolers math without any curriculum.  Counting can be done using toys, time can be done with your clock, weight can be done whilst cooking, money whilst shopping, measuring through craft.  

Primary SyllabusBeast Academy (for a mathematical child) or Singapore Math (for other children)

  • Best Aspects: Beast Academy is unconventional and challenging program focused on problem solving, with a graphic-novel-style textbook. This will ONLY work if your child mathematically inclined.
  • Beast Aspects: Singapore Math is what our local schools in Singapore teach. Don’t overlook how great your existing school materials could be! Many overseas families go out of their way to learn Singapore Math or Dimension Math (the textbook commonly used in Singapore) and this really makes a great base curriculum also.

Apps:  Matific Galaxy & Mathseeds

  • Best Aspects: Gamified learning which matches specific school years (in US and Australia respectively), step by step learning through games

Online classes:  VIPThink 豌豆思维

  • Best Aspects:  It’s fun and short problem solving classes taught entirely in Chinese, and broadly following Mainland Chinese curriculum (which is similar to Singapore Math)!. 

Other observations:  There are some great “living math” books which would be fun for a family to follow casually and can easily be borrowed from Singapore library (or bought online) such as:

  • Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (there is a whole “Sir Cumference” set)
  • What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras?  
  • The Librarian Who Measured the Earth

Music – home learning

Online classesVIP Peilian

  • Best aspects: It’s taught in Mandarin (seriously the cheapest way to find a music teacher)!  We do these twice a week 😊. We do piano, but they do offer several different instruments, including classical Chinese instruments.

App:  SimplyPiano and Piano Maestro, by JoyTunes

  • Best aspects: Contain videos to learn piano step-by-step, including progressively harder songs (usually from modern pop music) and gives a score and feedback based on how you play

Nature – home learning

This is our most loved topic! 

Syllabus (for all ages)Exploring Nature with Children by Lynn Seddon. 

  • Best aspects:   is a complete, year-long curriculum designed to guide you, step by step, through an entire calendar year. It’s so easy to follow, and there’s also support Facebook Group of parents who share their ideas from this.
  • The book contains extension activities for crafts, writing, science, maths, and more, to extend their nature study through the week.  We’ve been trying to tie this into home Chinese learning, using Ni Hao Science series which covers very similar topics, but in Simplified Chinese.

Final tips for successful home learning

If you’re stuck googling “How can I home school?”, then you’re most certainly not alone.   It is a challenge, especially if you’re also working full time, and trying to do this just to close the gap until school reopens (if that’s you, perhaps don’t invest in a whole syllabus upfront, read my earlier post with some stop-gap measures).   Plenty of great resources are out there.

What we found helpsed:

1. Come up with learning objectives

It’s helpful to really define what outcomes you want from the home learning – is it just temporary measure until school re-opens?  Is it permanent for some aspects/subjects which are not taught in school?  Is it to avoid the need for external enrichment classes?  Is it simply to embed a love for learning in your house, regardless of the pandemic situation or not?  Adapt to your own circumstances. You won’t ever be able to recreate your child’s classroom experience in your house, so try to make your objective realistic.   

For example for us,

  • During first lockdown last year (which lasted 3 months), I decided that for my 4 year old that the ONLY things I wanted to teach her were how to read (in both English and Chinese), and how to ride a bike.  Everything else was ignored.  Even the Zoom calls from teachers.
  • Ongoing for my primary school daughter, I have always said that we would not engage any external tutors as far as possible, and if she needed help, I’d like to be the one which provides the scaffolding and support to help  (this strategy has saved lots of $$ and worked wonder through these endless lockdowns!)

Adapt to your own circumstances. You won’t ever be able to recreate your child’s classroom experience in your house, so try to make your objectives realistic and practical.   

2. Find the right curriculum and/or programs (and ignore the school materials if needed)

Use the resources that your child’s school is offering – online classes, physical books, and other materials if they help.  Adapt them or ignore them if they don’t help. 

I’ve shared a few programs and curriculum in this post which we have used.  Even if you’re only doing this temporarily until school or the tuition centre re-opens, there are so many great things out there that hopefully something will be a great fit for your child’s learning.  Some of these might even be better than the activities which your currently school has given you in take-home kits, or is trying to teach remotely.  Key thing to decide is what learning outcomes actually matters for this period (can you toss any of the subjects out the door for a bit) and then for each subject you want to taught, are you confident enough to teach the subject(s) in question, or you need to rope in help. 

For example, for Chinese and Spanish, I needed online assistance from a native speakers, so of course even the best available curriculum would fall on deaf ears without external support..

3. Follow a daily schedule (as much as you can)

It’s important for everyone’s sanity to know what your approach to the day is.  We simply made a weekly schedule highlighting a few key fixed events (like pre-booked online Chinese class, and outdoors time) and then had a lot of empty time for ‘learning’.  During these times, the children can choose whether it’s math, English, music, etc, but by the end of “school”, they need to have finished all of the assigned work for the day.

4. Look beyond textbooks and revision books and encourage a love for education

For me, the main outcome of learning at home together is embedding skills for life, with a passion for learning.  It’s not about rote learning or memorising to pass formal exams.  There are SO many great things to teach and syllabus to use which go way beyond the revision books which you can buy at Popular.   I hope this post enlightens you on some of these.

5. Practise gratitude

This is a daily reminder for us too. Take the time to appreciate how good your life is – your kids are likely to be awesome too.  There are great teaching materials out there.  You must have great friends, neighbours and relatives that you’re all most probably missing right now in the middle of Covid-19 restrictions.  Convert your stress in the direction of gratitude and perhaps consider getting the kids to write a card, or write a story, do a mini project just for someone your missing, or document their feelings in a journal. 

The road ahead with COVID-19 is long and somewhat uncertain, with schools opening and closing,  but regardless I feel that we can always find opportunities in this crisis to teach our children and model resilient behaviours.   Despite the dreary external environment and likely chaotic internal one, the periods of being locked-in together has created some of the best family moments we’ve had (and some of the worst, but let’s forget that bit).   

It really feels like we now learn significantly better at home than we do in the formal classroom for most subjects.  It’s been a huge positive.  Even before this Pandemic, an increasing amount of parents have opted to homeschool their children.  I must say, I was never one of them, primarily because I don’t feel I’m a teacher (and teaching is a full time job in itself).  Secondly, I was way out of my depth on curriculum.  Yet when left with no choice when schools closed, I needed to get up the learning curve, and was pleasantly surprised at how many amazing out-of-the-box curriculum and remote learning providers exist, providing a viable alternative to home educate.  If you don’t want to fully home educate, you could at least see these as an alternative to formal after-school tuition centres, or opportunities to support your child’s learning more deeply. 

I hope that your kids too will look back on the lessons they’ve learnt at home fondly, and that some of the things on this list can help you make the most of this unique opportunity to be at home and learning alongside your children.

I would love to hear from you!

Which curriculums do you really love? If you have something to rave about, do let me know, as I’m always interested ot hear and learn more.

If you got to the end and found this helpful, maybe there are some other posts on my blog you might also enjoy. As a parent who doesn’t speak any Chinese, we’ve relied heavily on online tools, clever robots and recommendations of others in our Chinese learning journey. Some of my earlier posts are:

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