Learn the Homeschool Lingo

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I’ve wanted to homeschool since I found out I was pregnant. I was a teacher before I had my son, so I dove into designing my curriculum before my son was even born. My background meant that I already knew most of the homeschool terminology, but there were still some terms and ideas I had to become familiar with before I could plan a well-rounded curriculum.

Now, however, so many parents have become accidental homeschoolers! Many parents I know want to continue homeschooling next year, even if schools reopen. Many others want ideas to supplement traditional school since there are so many unknowns about what school will look like or how effectively kids will be able to learn with so many big changes.

So, for all of the homeschool newbies (and the more experienced homeschoolers who just want a refresher), here’s an introduction to the homeschool lingo you’ll find when you research curriculum ideas!

Homeschooler’s Dictionary

Sensory Play

Sensory play includes any activity that uses your child’s senses in a new and stimulating way. Many sites offer activities that focus on touch—like playing with water beads or tracing letters with Cheerios, salt, or shaving cream instead of with a pen—but the other senses can be engaged as well!

For example, when my son was one, he loved smelling all the spices in my spice cabinet one by one. We’d take each one out, take turns smelling it, and then talk about if we liked it or not. Sensory play helps build connections in the brain that help kiddos better process sensory information!

RoShamBo Homeschooling activity where a happy toddler is playing with water beads

One-to-one Correspondence

One-to-one correspondence is the ability to count objects in a group, counting each item only one time, usually by tapping each object as it’s counted. Surprisingly, this is a VERY different cognitive skill from learning to count out loud. Many kids can count to 10 (or even count to 100) before they master one-to-one correspondence. Simply reciting the numbers in order is one skill. Slowly and carefully counting particular objects only once to correctly name the total on the page comes next.

For instance, my son can count to 100, but he can only do one-to-one correspondence up to about 8. It depends on his focus. Some days he’ll make it all the way to 9. Other days he’ll get distracted and start double counting, losing track, or just start listing numbers higher and higher at 6.

Number Recognition

A whole other early math skill! While counting (learning to count out loud in the right order) is pretty self-explanatory, number recognition is, again, an entirely different cognitive skill. Number recognition is the ability to view a written number and name the word for that number. Some kids learn to count really high, but don’t get enough practice reading the names of numbers.

In my Count & Color sheets, I integrate all 3 of the early math skills for learning numbers.

  • Number recognition (read and color the number)
  • Counting (a full 1-10 set can be laminated and put in a binder to flip through the pages in order)
  • One-to-one correspondence (each page has the number of objects on it that corresponds to the written number—kids can practice counting each one by tapping with a finger)

Check out my Color & Count sets and download them for free here.

Fine Motor

Fine motor skill is the ability to successfully coordinate the muscles in the wrist, hand, and fingers with the eyes. Using scissors, holding a pencil correctly, brushing teeth, building a tower with blocks, and peeling and placing small stickers are all activities that require fine motor practice! A child’s hand isn’t fully developed physically until age 7. All fine motor skill practice helps get kids ready to start handwriting around this age!

Gross Motor

Gross motor practice involves using the large muscles in their arms, legs, and torso. Many gross motor activities can involve all the major muscles at once! Crawling, walking, running, lifting, and throwing all involve gross motor skill. Kids should do a wide variety of gross motor activities to continue working on muscle tone, endurance, posture, balance, and coordination. Plus gross motor activities are great for getting out lots of energy in a healthy way!

Phonemic Awareness

A phoneme is an individual unit of sound that a letter or group of letters makes. (Think phone – sound.) For example, the word cat has 3 phonemes. Cuh-ahh-tuh.

Some phonemes reflect the sound of TWO letters, like ch (chuh in cheese), sh (shhhh in sheep), and ee (eee in sheep).

The first step in learning how to read is learning all of phonemes so children can sound out words. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and identify the different phonemes. Some sounds are harder for kids to learn and require extra practice. The sound for ‘m’ and the sound for ‘n’ can be hard to differentiate for early learners. It’s also a bit tricky to learn how some letters can be pronounced different ways in different words. (A in apple vs A in angry).

Beginning Sounds

When a child first begins learning the sounds of different letters, it’s easiest to start with teaching beginning sounds. These are the sounds that start each word. Usually kids need a TON of practice with just naming the first sound in words before they can move on to learning how to sound out full words or learning about how some letters have multiple sounds. If your child has mastered naming all of the letters, they’re ready to jump into practicing the beginning sounds!

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Digraphs are when two letters make one sound. These are trickier for kids to learn. Examples include ch, sh, th, ng, ea, oo, and ee.


Phonics is a method for teaching reading that involves learning the sounds (phonemes) of each letter and then learning words by grouping words that sound similar into families.

For example, the -at family of words includes: at, cat, hat, mat, rat, and sat. A child using phonics to learn how to read would master all of these words before moving onto the next family of words. There is ample research showing that phonics is one of the best ways for kids to learn how to read.

Sight Words

Memorizing sight words should be taught as an addition to phonics, not instead of phonics. Children should memorize the most commonly used words instead of learning how to sound them out. Based on research, this is the most efficient way to learn. Kids can memorize simple, common words by sight like a, and, the, to, me, and you, while saving their sounding out energy for more complex words.

The Dolch word list contains the 220 most commonly used words in English that should be learned as sight words. Between 50% to 80% of words found used in textbooks, library books, newspapers, and magazines are on the Dolch word list! That means that if your child learns the full list, they can already read over half of the words in every book!

Download cute posters with all 220 sight words here for free.

Social and Emotional Learning

When you think of subjects in school, most people think English, math, science, art, and social studies. But Social and Emotional Learning is an important class we all need to add to our homeschool curriculum!

“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions”

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

In short, social and emotional learning is about developing emotional intelligence. My son and I call it Love class. We learn about naming and identifying emotions, taking care of others (people, animals, and the environment), setting and communicating healthy boundaries, social justice, and being a good friend. All kids need to develop these skills to be healthy, happy adults. Homeschooling gives us an opportunity to intentional teach them to children of all ages!

Practical Life

The concept of Practical Life Studies comes from the Montessori learning philosophy. Practical Life includes all of the everyday life skills children and adults must master to function independently.

For toddlers, Practical Life lessons would include things like using a spoon, drinking from an open cup, washing hands, taking off socks, and fetching shoes. For preschoolers, Practical Life lessons can center on skills like setting the table, putting on shoes, brushing teeth, feeding pet, and getting dressed and undressed with little help. Older kids can start learning things like unloading the dishwasher, cooking, vacuuming, and packing a backpack/overnight back. Even potty training is part of Practical Life Studies!

It’s important to set aside time every day for teaching these practical skills. Mastering these skills builds self-confidence, fosters responsibility, and makes kids feel connected and like a contributing member of the family!

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Quiz Yourself!

Think you have all the homeschool lingo down? Take the Homeschool Lingo Quiz to show off your expertise!

What confusing terms should be added to the list? Comment and let me know!


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RoShamBo Homeschooling free printable set of posters displaying the Dolch sight words for learning how to read

Free Printable: Sight Word Posters

RoShamBo Homeschooling homeschool lingo quiz promo showing a teacher at a blackboard

Homeschool Lingo Quiz