Make Learning a Game

by Marissa Dutoff • The Minimalist Homeschooler

Are you interested in homeschooling your children or just adding to your child’s education? So how do you go about that? Where do you start? What resources do you need? Well, Mark Twain said “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”. That quote was my second ever Instagram post on The Minimalist Homeschool page and I find it remarkably true in every aspect of my life. It’s hard to start a big project and it’s hard to start a little one and homeschool is kind of a combination of both.

It’s a big project because you’re taking on the responsibility of teaching your children whatever they need to know. It means looking ahead at the coming year and figuring out what the goals and objectives are. It comes with finding and planning curriculum and lessons, creating ways of teaching your children, actually teaching them and then finding ways of making sure they’re learning what you’re teaching.

But it’s also a small project because you take it one day at a time and each day is it’s own new beginning. Some days are easier than others of course. It’s always a good sign if your child wakes up wanting to work on something specific. Other days the cartoons are on and we all know what it’s like to compete with the TV. Either way there will be a point when you have to sit down and decide ‘we’re starting now’.

Getting Started •

Around the time my son was three and my daughter was just a baby I started working on letter identification with my son. We got him some workbooks including a big Preschool workbook that had colouring and pre-writing practice. I thought it was great! My thought was that we could work our way through it while baby napped because it would be nice and quiet and it was easy to carry around with us.

Needless to say he had absolutely zero interest in it. To be fair we hadn’t spent a lot of time colouring or anything like that so the workbook probably seemed pretty weird to his little brain. I was frustrated because I wasn’t sure how else to get him interested in the alphabet and learning to identify letters. So I watched him, trying to figure out how to connect with my curious little boy in a meaningful way.

I have to say I felt pretty foolish when I figured it out. One of the reasons I wanted to homeschool was because I knew that sitting down and doing worksheets wasn’t the ideal way of learning anything. In my enthusiasm to get him started I had forgot my why! I watched the way he loved running around and taking a million pictures of the most mundane things and finally I had an idea.

Learning Letters Through Fun and Games •

Instead of sitting and trying to learn the letters out of a book I asked him if he wanted to do a letter scavenger hunt! He was beyond excited! At the time that we did this we were traveling with work and I found myself on University Campuses most days, so the hunt was extra fun. I showed him what the letter A was, armed him with the camera app on my phone and we wandered all over campus looking for them.

In the beginning it was mostly just me finding letters and pointing them out to him. We’d get up to a sign or a poster or a building name and I would go “Look! Is that the letter A?” And he’d excitedly line up my phone and take a picture of it. Usually a shaky, blurry, filtered picture with the colours inverted and the letter barely readable, but he was happy. The next day I handed him the camera and asked “Should we find Bs today?” and off we’d go, looking for the letter B.

We focused on upper case letters first, he was more familiar with them from his alphabet books and they’re easier to find since most signage is in all capitals. We found the B in biology and book store and basement and he filled up my phone with his colourful pictures.

Some days he had no interest and that was fine. Some days I’d ask and he would just refuse to participate. On those days we just let it go and tried again the next day. Some letters are obviously harder to find, but luckily on Universities you’re likely to find the whole alphabet somewhere. Often I’d set him a challenge and ask him to find ten of the day’s letter. This was great for letters that are easy to find, but not in absolutely everything, like P and F. By the time we got to the middle letters he was finding a few himself. Once he spotted a big J on the door of the Journalism department and was so proud of himself!

Learn in Your Community •

So say you want to do a letter hunt but you don’t have access to an entire University to explore. We used Universities because that’s where we were, but you could just as easily do this at the mall, a grocery store or the library. Now, if you’re currently completely locked down and can’t leave your house there is a way to make this work, here’s a plan for a home based scavenger hunt! Get yourself a tub of letters and set them up around the house like an Easter Egg hunt! Or let them look for letters on food boxes, out of books and magazines or anywhere else you find letters. Depending on how old your child is and their familiarity with the alphabet you may have to help them out a little more, especially if they’re looking for letters that appear as part of a word. I found that it was a great way to make learning into a game and build in him the idea that learning was fun. That has carried over to now when he wants to do workbooks (including making his own) and actually asks to do school work!

Mostly this was a huge expression of learning how kids connect to learning in different ways. If I had allowed workbooks to be the be-all and end-all then it could have derailed me before we even began. Instead I saw him as a unique person and allowed him to give me ideas on how he might enjoy the process of learning. Most importantly I didn’t pressure him when he wasn’t interested and kill the enjoyment.

On off days we utilized apps or just enjoyed being together, either way I helped foster his desire to know more and learn more. It’s just a matter of trusting yourself and connecting with your child.


Hi! I’m Marissa. Wife, mom and homeschooler. Here I hope to share what it looks like teaching a precocious kindergartener in a small apartment. Feel free to reach out to me here in the comments or check us out on Instagram @Minimalist.Homeschool or visit me at my website:

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