Amy Beth

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The preschool question

“The basis for the beginnings of literacy is that children have heard and listened … They have spoken and been spoken to, people have discussed [things] with them … They have asked questions and received answers.”

From The New Preschool is Crushing Kids in The Atlantic.

One of the hardest things about being a mom is being confident in your own decisions. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve researched, how strongly you feel, how convinced you are that you are making the right decision for your family, there is always that quiet voice that bugs you with, “Are you sure?”

I’ve felt that way a lot about preschool lately. We’ve made the decision to be a homeschooling family, and I’ve said over and over again that I believe children learn through play. But every now and then I start to worry that I’m not doing things right. Should I be putting Charlie in preschool? Would it be better for him to be around other kids more and have more structure? Should I at least be more rigorous in my approach to preschool at home? Is it a problem if he doesn’t already know all his letters? Should he really be spending all day playing with cars? Do I need to start teaching him how to read?

These are the questions that run through my head. Especially when it seems everyone else is doing something different. I forget sometimes that just because something is right for one family doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for mine.

So it’s always a relief to me when I read articles like this one. It reminds me of the reasons I’ve chosen what I’ve chosen and helps me feel like I’m not crazy. Some preschools are fabulous and I’m sure are great places for kids to be. But it’s a relief to hear that my kid isn’t going to be worse off in life for spending his preschool years not in school. And it helps to know that just spending time reading and talking, answering his questions and listening to his stories, will serve him just as well as a daily letter craft.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The body mind connection

“In order for children to read, write and spell they must be developmentally ready. Some are ready at the age of four or five, some not for many years later. This readiness includes complex neurological pathways and kinesthetic awareness. Such readiness isn’t created by workbooks or computer programs. It’s the result of brain maturation as well as rich experiences found in bodily sensation and movement.”

From Reading Readiness has to do with the Body

This is one of several articles I’ve read in the past year or so explaining the link between a child’s cognitive and physical development. It’s fascinating and not something I remember hearing much about during all my education classes in college. But if you think about it it makes sense. The brain is used for EVERYTHING. Strengthening the neural pathways in one way (through movement) is sure to have benefits for any other task that uses those pathways.

Poppy’s therapists have expressed similar ideas. Development of gross motor movements lay the groundwork for fine motor movements. (Developing the strength to move her trunk from side to side improves her ability to move her tongue from side to side to help her chew.) Meeting certain physical milestones paves the way for cognitive or social skills. (Learning to sit up makes it easier to interact with toys or people. Better core strength makes it possible to use her hands to makes gestures or signs to communicate.)

This makes it even more important that our kids have opportunities to run wild and play freely. Lucky for me, that’s also a whole lot easier than trying to follow a reading curriculum with my preschooler just yet.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Preschool at home: letter activities

Letters pin

Our preschool at home adventure has been going well so far. As I mentioned before, I’m trying to keep it low-key and low-pressure. Charlie spends most of his day playing, as it should be. Official “school time” only happens for maaaybe half an hour 3 or 4 times a week.

With that said, Charlie really likes doing school. And I really enjoy it too. When it comes to planning I’m finding it works best for me to plan out about 10 days worth of activities all in one sitting. This means I only plan for school about once every 3 or 4 weeks.

One of the things we’ve been focusing a lot on lately has been the letters of the alphabet. My goal right now is for Charlie to recognize and name all the upper and lowercase letters and begin to learn some of the sounds associated with them. He was already picking up on a lot of the letter names just though osmosis, so our school time is really just reinforcing and filling in the gaps. I fully intend to do another round (or two) of “letter of the day” type lessons farther down the road to go along with a greater emphasis on phonics and handwriting. Right now it’s just about recognition and exposure.

I’ve found a few resources that we’ve been using over and over. They make planning activities easy and Charlie really seems to enjoy doing them.

Letter Activities

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  • Alphabet books: To help reinforce the letter sounds, we’ve been using these alphabet books from The Measured Mom. I’ve found that they give really good examples (with clear pictures!) of words that start with each letter. I’ve been wanting to give Charlie opportunities to practice using scissors, so rather than print it out as a book as intended, I’ve been printing them all on one page to create small picture cards. I draw lines between each picture for Charlie to cut on and then we use the pictures to either glue to a collage or save for a letter sorting activity.

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  • Letter sorting: Using our pictures from the alphabet books, I would read to Charlie the word on each card (exaggerating the beginning sound) and have him decide what letter it started with. We started with letters that have very different sounds and will eventually work our way up to more challenging pairs.

  • Letter Hunt: Another printable activity from Confessions of a Homeschooler are these letter hunt pages. The funny sentences on each page reinforce the letter sounds and I think it’s good practice to be able to identify a particular letter out of a sea of other letters. Once again we use our Do-A-Dot markers to highlight the letter we are searching for.

  • Letter flashcard match: Charlie actually made up this game one day as we were looking at some Dr. Suess letter flashcards we had on hand. As I would hold up a card, he would run to the kitchen to find the matching letter from his set of alphabet magnets on the fridge. It was a fun way to add a bit of movement to an activity that’s usually pretty stationary.

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  • Letter pre-writing in playdoh: Charlie isn’t quite ready to begin handwriting practice yet, but that doesn’t mean he can’t learn about the shapes of the letters. One activity we’ve tried is pressing beans in playdoh along the outline of a letter. It’s a great little activity to develop those fine motor muscles.

So far these have made up the bulk of our school time together. I’m sure we’ll have to mix it up eventually and find some new activities to teach the letters, but I’ve been really happy with these so far. If you’re looking for more resources for preschool learning activities be sure to follow my pinterest board. I’m always finding great ideas and resources!

Follow Amy’s board Homeschool on Pinterest.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Homeschool Plan

I put together my homeschool plan in a single afternoon. I was inspired, apparently. But I’ve been reading and thinking about how I want to do homeschooling since before Charlie was born. There are several different influences and thoughts that have come together to affect how I made our first homeschool plan.

Influencing Ideas

Tot School

A few years ago I came across the site 1+1+1=1. This site created by a homeschooling mom has a ton of stuff on it, but one of the things she is best known for is “Tot School.” She explains it in more detail on her site, but the basic idea is to spend some intentional one on one time with your young children exposing them to learning concepts through play. You can really go all out with these ideas and can find a lot of resources and ideas on her site, but the key idea for me was exposure. If I am focusing on exposing Charlie to different concepts and ideas rather than making him learn anything to a particular level of mastery it takes a lot of the pressure off and helps me remember to just keep it fun. If he’s not in the mood or doesn’t seem to catch on, I can at least know that he’s seen something new and maybe been introduced to some new vocabulary. Then the next time I expose him to that idea he’ll be a bit more familiar with it and may be able to take it farther. I think this is a great idea to keep in mind when “teaching” young children.

Journaling

Journaling sounds like a crazy thing to do with a two year old. I never would have considered it if I had not run across this post about how a preschool teacher uses journals with her three year old class. I realized that a journal doesn’t have to be about writing prompts, but really can be any way to record thoughts. I loved her examples of drawing shapes in the journal for the kids to interact with and how the kids will dictate to her what their drawings are about. I started seeing all kinds of ways a journal could be useful in our beginning homeschool endeavors. First of all, it would give me a place to have Charlie do paper based activities. Originally my plan was to just get out sheets of paper as needed, but I could see that quickly becoming messy and hard to organize. A journal is nice and contained. I also realized that it could be a valuable way to keep records. Simply by hanging on to the journal I’ll be able to go back and see what Charlie has learned and how he’s improved. I can also make quick notes on a page if there’s anything specific I want to remember about a particular day of school. The journal also gets back to the idea of exposure. I can write words or short sentences in the journal to show Charlie what writing is like. Someday he’ll be ready to do it too.

Journal

 The first journal page.

Charlotte Mason

If you spend much time reading around the homeschooling circles, you’ll probably hear about Charlotte Mason. She was an educator in England many years ago and she wrote several volumes of books on her educational methods and philosophy. I haven’t read any of her actual books, but I’ve read summaries and a lot of her ideas have really resonated with me. Some of the things that feel most applicable right now are her focus on nature studies and the arts (basically, she thinks those things are important) and the recommendation to keep lessons short. We’ll definitely be incorporating both of those ideas in our homeschool.

Life Skills

My own personal goals for our homeschool involve a lot of practical life skills. I want my kids to know how to cook and clean and contribute to general family life. I plan to use school time as an opportunity to work on some of those skills a bit more intentionally.

The Plan

So I know you’re just dying to find out what exactly I plan to do with this ambitious school time of ours. So here you go.

Structure

I aim to plan for three months at a time. I’m only planning to do activities a 2-3 times a week and many activities will be repeated over the course of those 3 months. This keeps the planning job much more manageable. I figure kids don’t seem to mind repetition as much as adults do and are more likely to learn when they are doing activities that feel familiar to them. So as long as an activity is holding Charlie’s interest, I’m not going to stress about needing to find a new way to do things.

I also plan to only focus on just a few “Big Ideas” during the 3 month time period. Planning every three months means it will change with the seasons, so seasonal themes will always be incorporated. For our first three months the other big ideas will include “What Babies Need” and “Shapes.”

Activities

Calendar Time

Every day we spend a few minutes looking at the calendar. We use a magnet that says “TODAY” and move it to the correct day of the week. I tell him what day of the week it is, and we look ahead to any interesting events that are coming up. Then I have Charlie look out the window to decide what kind of weather we are having and find the appropriate magnet to describe it. So far every day has been sunny, but we have magnets for cloudy, rainy, and snowy as well. I hope through this activity to introduce a lot of vocabulary and help him develop his sense of time.

Schoolcalendar

Fall Theme

There are lots of fun crafts out there that center on the theme of fall. I plan to incorporate a few of those along with some nature walks, leaf collections, a trip to the apple orchard and pumpkin patch, and maybe an attempt at making apple pie or cobbler together.

What Babies Need Theme

This is our “Life Skill” theme for the season, obviously chosen to try to help Charlie prepare for the new baby. We’ll do a lot of role playing with his baby doll, hopefully find some good books about new babies at the library, and I plan to come up with a sorting game involving things that are good for babies (like mama, milk, and sleep) and things that are bad for babies (like playing rough, small choking-hazard sized objects, and messy diapers).

Shapes Theme

I have lots of fun ideas to learn about different shapes, using both fine and gross motor skills. There will be tracing, sorting, identifying, and creating using different shapes.

Shapesorting

A shape sorting activity – in his journal!

Christmas

Our three month time frame includes the Christmas season, so once December hits we’ll be doing our Advent Activity Calendar again. I’ll keep a lot of the activities the same, but add in a few new ones now that Charlie is a little older.

Nursery Rhymes and Speech

Charlie has been in speech therapy for about 6 months now and has made great progress, but he still has a ways to go. With all of our other themes I plan to introduce new vocabulary and encourage Charlie to try to say new words. I also want to pick out just a few Nursery Rhymes to say together during each new season. One of his speech goals is to speak more fluidly (right now he has a definite break as he thinks of each word that comes next) and speech therapist told us that any sort of rhythmic or repetitive books, rhymes, or songs should help with that goal. We plan to incorporate those into school time, as well as any other practice activities the speech therapist leaves with us.

Whew! That felt like a lot of words right there. But I think for the next three months that will give us just enough material to get some variety in our days while still getting to spend a good amount of time in each theme. Our first couple of days of school have been fun for both of us and I’m excited about our plans! I promise I’ll share some more specific activities and pictures of what we are doing soon.