Over my thirteen years of homeschooling, I’ve often used simple games to help my kids master some concepts. Kids being naturally reluctant to learn anything they didn’t choose themselves, these games are a really just a sneaky way to get some extra lessons in. Here are a few of my more successful ideas:

You are a bug. For very new readers, the perfect sentence is two things: easy and funny. If Sparkler was my preschooler at the time, I would write on a piece of paper, Sparkler is a bug. Of course she knew her name, and the next two words were really easy. She had to work a little for the punchline, but it was worth it. For even more humor, I’d teach her to recognize her siblings’ names, and then write all manner of libelous phrases about them: Bookgirl is a cup. Gamerboy is a cat. Ranger is a hat. It was a quick lesson with lots of laughter, which is ideal for that age.

Shifting Emphasis. As the kids reached upper elementary school or middle school, we’d play a game that explored the nuances of language.

I’d write a sentence such as, I dropped the spoon.

When I read the sentence aloud, I’d emphasize the first word: “dropped the spoon.” Read that way, the sentence clearly implies that I, and no one else, take the blame for the fallen eating utensil.

Then I’d emphasize the second word: “I dropped the spoon.” Obviously I didn’t throw it down! It was an accident!

Stressing the third word suggested that there was one special spoon in the household, and unfortunately that’s the one that succumbed to gravity: “I dropped the spoon.”

And lastly, to combat any accusations about knife-dropping: “I dropped the spoon.

For those who enjoy language and storytelling, this game gives rise to fun discussions about the many different implications you can infer from a single sentence.

Instant-gratification poetry. I’ve talked before about how to introduce kids to poetry even when you yourself aren’t a poet. Our household is particularly fond of the traditional Japanese poetry form, the haiku.

A haiku consists of three lines: five syllables, then seven syllables, then five syllables. The result is a bite-sized piece that’s not usually grand poetry, but still a work of art that a child can be proud of:

Autumn comes again

With blue sky and golden sun

And colorful leaves.

[Adjective] Grammar. The very best way to teach the basic parts of speech—and I say this not only as a homeschool mom, but as an author—is Mad Libs.

In case you don’t know, Mad Libs are pre-printed stories with key words left blank. Without knowing the context, players fill in nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to complete the story. Then someone reads it aloud. Mad Lib stories range from bizarre to crying-with-laughter funny. Here’s the kind of thing you end up with (the filled-in words are italicized):

“My mother’s ice-cream lamp is so stinky that it will thrill you right down to your left clavicle. Her recipe is as simple as 1 – 2 – 457, 918. You’ll need just a few calendars to make it:

chartreuse cake mix

A pint of crispy ice cream

1 jar of white fudge sauce

1 cup of red nuts

1 can of whipped chairs

5847 maraschino bears.”

My kids (including the high schoolers) will tear through three or four Mad Libs at the time. They think it’s just harmless fun, when in fact they’re learning the basic parts of speech . . . almost [adverb]!

Other subjects don’t come so easily to the Jones Homeschool. Anyone for a rollicking game of long division or the biological makeup of a mushroom? But one of the perks of homeschooling is that it allows you to play to your strengths, giving you the chance to share your enthusiasms with your children. Sometimes that means sneaking it in under cover of games and laughter—and that’s the most fun of all.


Photo Credit: iStock.