Observe Your Child, by Genevieve

 

I love preschoolers. I love teaching preschoolers. I love teaching my own, and I love teaching others’. I love teaching preschool in the classroom, and I love teaching preschool at home.

Sometimes Aidan is so useful

I was asked in an interview once why someone as clearly intelligent as I am would ever choose to teach children who are so young. “What could be more challenging,” I replied, “than teaching complex concepts to students who cannot take in any information from reading and very little from listening?”

There are some disagreements about whether young children learn better in traditional classrooms or at home, and whether all learning should be play-based, or if seat work should be included, as well.

My answer is simple. “Observe you child.”

I once took a call from a prospective parent during nap time. She wanted to start trying for a second child. She thought enrolling her preschooler in our program might help with the transition. It seemed like a good idea. I sounded like a capable and caring teacher; still she was torn. They were very closely bonded, having hardly been away from each other. How could she be certain that she was doing the right thing?

“It is simple,” I told her. “Observe your child.”

Come and visit our school and let her try it out; then really notice how she reacts. Her actions will tell you if she is learning and happy and loved here. Is she excited about coming to school each day? Is she eager to walk through the door, or is the light slowly going out of her eyes as you put her in the car.

Observe your child. She will tell you what you need to know.

This particular child ended up thriving in our play-based program with a student-teacher ratio of 5:1, although I did occasionally make her cry by insisting that she learn to take turns. Thankfully she forgave me.

Olivia and Carly

Years later, I taught her little sister several days a week in our homeschool. We still read and played and made art projects.

Olivia painting

We cooked snacks.

Henry's tea party

But these preschoolers had older siblings doing school. They wanted to “do school,” too.

Against all of my training and my own personal philosophy, I started letting them do a phonics worksheet and a math page each day in addition to our more developmentally-appropriate preschool activities.

How did I know that it wouldn’t ruin them? I observed them. They were awfully happy children, so I think it was probably okay.

Happy Flan

I’m down to my last preschooler now, at least until I have grandchildren to teach.

Vivi wearing sunglasses

She does some book work when the older kids are doing school.

Vivi doing school work

She has a little desk set up in the den where she draws and makes books every chance she gets.

Vivi the master author

She helps with the animals…

Vivi feeding Honey Bee

and with washing the dishes. She builds with blocks and makes doll clothes out of coffee filters.

How do I know if it is not enough? How do I know if it is too much?

I look at this face and it tells me everything I need to know.

 

GeGenevievenevieve–is a former public and private school teacher who has five children and has been homeschooling for the past thirteen years. In her free time she provides slave labor to Dancing Dog Dairy, making goat milk soap and handspun yarn, which can be seen on
Our Facebook Page and at Dancing Dog Dairy .

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A Kindergarten Dropout, by Nancy

Reposted with permission from Nancy at Life Without School.

My son is five years old.

He’s never been to a preschool, and he dropped out of homeschool kindergarten. So he hasn’t had much by way of formal schooling yet. The kindergarten curriculum I attempted with him earlier this school year was a very non-academic, gentle, Waldorfy-type of curriculum. It consisted of things like music and movement, listening to a fairy tale, coloring a picture, doing a craft or two, engaging in a nature activity, and learning a letter of the alphabet in a hands-on way, like drawing it in the dirt with a stick. And those activities were spread out over the course of a week, not a day, so it wasn’t time-consuming. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? But it only lasted a few weeks because he started saying things like, “I don’t want to do my school.” He showed a lack of interest in and focus on the stories and crafts. I tried, at first, to cajole him into giving it more of a chance, but then he started saying, “I don’t like school.” So I dropped it. Entirely. I figured I could always give it another shot in a year, and the last thing I wanted to do was set my child up to not like school at age five by pushing the issue.

So now, instead, we’re having another very informal, very relaxed year of “preschool.” I didn’t say a word to contradict him when he informed his sister, “I quit my school.” I didn’t bat an eyelash when he told me, “I’m never doing school.” (He has since changed his mind and has acknowledged that he will “do school” in the future). We have no schedule, no curriculum, no coercion. What he still manages to learn, frequently all on his own, is amazing.

For example, any “math instruction” he’s ever had has consisted of things like:

Counting together. Sometimes orally; sometimes with manipulatives.

Watching educational shows for preschoolers that sometimes focus on numbers.

Playing board games that require some knowledge of numbers, even if that just means recognizing numbers that come up on a spinner or knowing how many spaces to move.

Playing card games like “War.”

Having conversations while waiting for food to arrive that consist of taking his packet of five restaurant-issued crayons and saying, “Hey, if you have three crayons, and I give you two more, how many do you have? If you have four crayons and I take one away, how many do you have? If I have two crayons and you have two crayons, how many do we have?”

Having conversations about how much things cost while shopping at the grocery store – by which I mean how much the candy costs while we’re waiting at the check out line. But, still.

Answering him if he asks me what a number is. Which most often comes up in our routine travels when he wants to know what the temperature is (we can see it on a display in the car), how fast Daddy is driving (“You’re going 70 fast, Daddy,” he’ll now say), how many miles we have left until our gas tank is empty, what exit number we have to go to.

Telling him, when asked, how much money he has and which one is the nickel.

Providing him with things like geoboards and pattern blocks and Perfection.

Seriously, that’s about it. These are basically just things any parent of any toddler or preschooler or kindergartener would do. And in my case, they are done pretty informally, sporadically and gradually. That’s important to note.

Yet, recently my son has initiated a series of conversations that absolutely boggle my mind.

The most recent one took place with his father while we were all on a long car ride together, and it went like this:

Ben: 50 plus 50 is 100.
Daddy: You’re right!
Ben: Six 50′s is 300.
Daddy: Yes! How do you know that?!
Ben: I just know.
Daddy: What’s four 50′s?
Ben: 200?
Daddy: Yes! Can you tell me what eight 50′s is?
Ben, after thinking for a couple of minutes: 400.
Daddy: How do you know this??
Ben: I learned it from playing Plants vs. Zombies on Mommy’s computer.

Okay, don’t get hung up on the fact that I let my five-year-old son play a game called Plants vs. Zombies. That’s beside the point (and for the record, he refuses to play “baby games”). The point is, HE COUNTED BY 50s. IN HIS HEAD. BY HIMSELF. HAVING HAD NO FORMAL MATH INSTRUCTION, EVER! I haven’t taught him multiplication. I haven’t taught him to count by 50′s. I haven’t told him that 50 plus 50 is basically the same as 5 plus 5 with a zero at the end. He picked up on this because the video and computer games he loves to play require him to know how much money game items will cost him and how much he already has or how many points he can accrue by taking a particular course of action or what his score is, etc.

There have been other instances, too, where he’s surprised me with some bit of knowledge. Where he’s counted by fives or tens (I didn’t formally teach him to do that either, by the way!) and randomly came to me to announce his findings: “Mommy, five plus five plus five is fifteen.” (“Yes, Ben, it is! Good job!”). Or where he’s come to me and asked, “Five plus three is eight, right?” And when I say, “Yes!” and start posing other simple problems, he does them in his head (okay, maybe partially on his fingers, too)… and gets it right. He can even do more than one step, like “What’s three plus three minus one?”

A couple of weeks ago at a restaurant he started looking at his children’s menu and commented: “That says one dollar and twenty five cents. This one says two dollars and ninety-five cents. One dollar and seventy-five cents. Three dollars and fifty cents.”

He’s learned to count backwards by counting down days to events he is looking forward to. (“Five days til we go to Chuck E. Cheese,” I might tell him, to which he will respond, “Then four, then three, then two, then one, then Chuck E. Cheese day!”).

Sometimes, he’ll call out to me from bed while he’s supposed to be going to sleep: “Mommy, can I tell you a math problem? 3 plus 3 plus 3 plus 1 is probably 10, right?”

He’s only just started doing some Funnix Beginning Reading Lessons – we do this sporadically, as he wants to, and he will sometimes enjoy it because it’s on the computer. He’s really into the computer, as you can probably tell. Sometimes I worry that he spends too much time on it, especially at his age. Other times I’m in awe of how much it teaches him. And how good he is at navigating it. I downloaded Funnix because it was offered for free at one point and figured we may as well give it a try. We haven’t done many lessons yet. We’re not doing them on any strict schedule. He doesn’t even recognize every single letter of the alphabet. Many, but not all. Yet, he recognizes some words because they come up frequently on the computer games he likes to play. He has to know what to click on, for example…what says “quit” and what says “save” and what says “next” and what says “start over” or “yes” or “no” or “back” or “play again.” He’s got his own “folder” of websites he can visit and he’s able to find his name and then navigate to the game he wants to play.

Other than that, I provide lots of books and read to him when he will tolerate it, which is not on a daily basis. If he tells me to point at the words while I’m reading them, I do. If he doesn’t want me to, I don’t.

I answer him when he wants to know what something says, whether something rhymes, whether something is an opposite, what something means, how to spell something. I showed him how to write his first name. I put on Leapfrog learning shows for him such as “Letter Factory” or “The Amazing Alphabet Amusement Park.” We occasionally talk about letter sounds.

I am confident that he will eventually learn to read and that it does not have to be when he’s five. Or six. Or at any particular proscribed time. I won’t be surprised if he just gets there on his own before I get to the point of really trying to formally teach him, just like he’s doing when it comes to simple math.

I try to do crafts with him and drawings and paintings and so on, but he’s just not that into those things. He very quickly loses interest in crafts, and my ten-year-old daughter and I end up doing them instead. He rarely wants to color, and when he does, it’s more likely than not just a scribble. What preschooler (with no sensory issues) can resist fingerpainting? Mine can. Water color painting? Ditto. So I stopped trying to “direct” these things. I make them available instead. Sometimes I will cover the kitchen table in something like butcher paper, lay out some stampers and markers and crayons and just let him do his own thing as he eats breakfast.

So what other kinds of things do we do? Well, I let him participate to the extent he’s willing and able in household chores and daily errands. He likes to try to help vacuum. He loves folding dish towels. He sometimes wants to help cook or bake something.

I converse with him, answer his questions, play games with him, get him outside, take him on many, many outings and “field trips.” I enjoy watching his logic skills develop:

“Hey, Ben, can a pineapple tree really grow in your stomach?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t eat the seeds.”

or

“Ben, you just poked me in the eye! I think you blinded me!”

“If you’re blind, you can get a guide dog.”

“I guess I could.”

Putting his face close to mine: “Can you see me?”

“Yes.”

“Then you don’t need a guide dog.”

I make various educational toys, games and manipulatives available to him. I sign him up for activities here and there when I think he’ll have an interest – an indoor soccer league at the Y, a homeschool bowling league, teeball, swimming lessons. We talk about right and left, the day of the week, the month, the season, the weather. We talk about good manners, being healthy, helping others. We watch ants crawl on the ground, we wish on stars. Largely, I follow his lead, and I let him do his own thing.

And the truth is, I can see that he is learning all the time, whether I “try” to make it happen or not.

So, what I’m trying to say is, you don’t need a formal curriculum or schedule for your preschooler. I know a lot of new parents or homeschoolers worry that they do. But you don’t. You don’t need an academic kindergarten either, really. You don’t need to sit down and do desk work or worksheets in order for your young child to learn. Childhood is so fleeting, and kids have so many years ahead of them for formal instruction/formal learning. When your kids are little, just love them. Be with them. Talk to them. Interact with them. Follow their lead. Give them plenty of time to play, imagine, create, pretend, think, ask, explore whatever it is they are interested in. People learn best when they are learning something they have an interest in, something they are truly engaged in, and young children are no exception.

If you’ve found yourself wondering if you “should” start a formal curriculum in preschool, or whether you are pushing too much too soon, or whether you are doing enough, or whether it’s “okay” to be more relaxed, or to delay formal instruction, or to go with a more laid back kindergarten program, etc., ask yourself this:

“Am I more likely to look back years from now and wish I’d pushed more math, handwriting, etc when he was four or five? Wish I’d started school sooner? Or am I more likely to look back and wish I’d waited on that stuff, that we’d just played more, enjoyed each other more, had more fun?”

Think about that, and then…relax. Don’t think so much about “teaching.” Just continue parenting. Believe me, they are learning!

Earlier Rather Than Later: Unique Preschool for a Child with Down Syndrome, by Brit

 

When our daughter was born with Down syndrome, we never questioned whether we would homeschool her. That was just a given: she would be educated at home with her brothers. What we did question almost from the beginning was how, what, and when. As we were moving toward a much more classical approach with our boys, we wondered if we would also classically educate Kate. Would she be able to handle the rigor and work? Could she handle learning Latin like her brothers? We started to question the curriculum choices we were making with the boys, wondering if she would need something entirely different. And we weren’t sure when to start a more formal approach to her learning. Would we wait until she was “school age” to begin formal learning, beyond what she showed an interest in? Or would we take an “early is better” approach?

It wasn’t very hard to realize that Kate, too, would be classically educated. We knew it might, and probably would, look different than her brothers’ education looked. But it would be classical to the best of her ability. I bought Cheryl Swope’s book Simply Classical. Reading her story, and that of her two children made me realize that it wasn’t just possible to educate Kate classically, it was the best way to educate her as a whole person. Sure, she will need to learn life skills. Sure, we will need to help her gain as much independence as possible. But those skills just address one piece of what makes Kate, well, Kate. She is a body and soul and deserves an education that forms her whole being just as much as her brothers do. Recently, our decision was validated and cemented when I read this quote by Martin Cothran of Memoria Press:

If a child cannot accommodate the amount or depth of knowledge of most children, it is not less, but more important that what they learn be of the highest quality.

Now that we knew roughly what her education was going to look like, we needed to decide how it was going to play out. As I read books and on the internet, and as I spoke with others who have walked this path before me, I began to discuss the idea of early academics with my husband. Knowing that all learning for Kate would be uphill both ways, we decided that an early start to building her academic foundation was vital to her potential success later in life. The first place we began was reading instruction. Not only is the ability to read one of the most fundamental abilities necessary to participate in every day life, but learning to read also helps cognitive development as well as speech development, both of which can be delayed in individuals with Down syndrome.

We have put together a reading program using a variety of resources including The Learning Program materials, See and Learn, and the book Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome. Mostly, we use flash cards that have a word on one side with a corresponding picture on the reverse. The flashing through is fast; it takes a couple minutes to go through a stack of ten cards, twice. We have also added books from the Learning Program with simple sentences to help her make the connection between words on a flashcard and words in books. The goal is for Kate to be reading and comprehending at or above grade level when she begins first grade.

In addition to teaching reading in the preschool years, we also are teaching early math literacy – counting everything (steps as we go up and down the stairs, objects on pages of books we read, pieces of food), sorting and categorizing toys, and playing with pattern blocks and attribute blocks, among other more formal activities. Looking back, so many of these early concepts came naturally for her brothers, either through playtime together or through videos from Leap Frog. We didn’t think much of what we were doing, we just included colors, numbers, shapes, and sizes in everyday conversation with our boys. With Kate, though, nothing can be assumed. Yes, we play with her in the same ways, having similar conversations. But we also pull out flash cards, linking cubes, and small math manipulatives. We must be much more deliberate with Kate, much more explicit with the instruction, much more repetitive with her. The idea is that she must have 10,000 times more input than typical children to retain information. She must have her working memory exercised consistently to build connections and synapses. We can never just assume with her that she is learning the ways her brothers learned – just by picking things up in everyday life.

The final, and the most beautiful, piece to the puzzle for Kate’s early preschool education is the new Simply Classical curriculum from Memoria Press. Harkening back to the quote from Martin Cothran, and based on her book, Cheryl Swope is designing classical curriculum for special needs children. We have begun working through the first level with Kate this summer. We start each day with a prayer from the beautiful Little Golden Book Prayers for Children. When we talk about the baby birds and mama bird on the page, Kate practices her speech and her signing. From there, each day includes basic calendar activities (days of the week and weather), counting and alphabet recitation, as well as beginning memory work from Scripture. We then read the book of the week. Cheryl Swope has chosen wonderful books from authors including Beatrix Potter, Richard Scarry, Eric Carle, and Margaret Wise Brown, among others. Because these are board books, they are perfect for little hands and allow Kate to practice her fine motor skills by turning the pages for me.

Fine and gross motor, oral language, and other therapies are wrapped into the weekly readings. We practice making a pointing finger to count objects; we jump, squat down, and push strollers to act out parts of a story; we discuss feelings and learn empathy while learning to read emotions on the faces of the characters. Cheryl Swope has taken those skills that need explicit instruction and woven them beautifully into activities springing out of the books we are reading. She has captured special needs preschool and bottled it inside something true, good, and beautiful.

Early academics is not something I would normally advocate. If I did, it would come in the form of “only if the child shows an interest.” Of my three boys, the younger two did show an interest, but ultimately, it was not the early academics that drove them. It was the desire to emulate their older brother(s) by doing “school” too. We kept it simple – a few Kumon books; a white board and marker to practice “writing;” some paper, scissors, glue, and crayons. If they felt like being at the table with the rest of us, they were welcomed. But it was not planned or forced. We do not have that luxury with Kate. We knew early on that she needed an early start to build a foundation that came easily for her brothers. We knew her development was an uphill climb from the beginning. But we also knew that given the skills, the input, and the time, she would be able to fly. Early academics, beginning much younger for her than her brothers, is the key to helping her fly. For us, that takes the form of early reading instruction, explicit math instruction, and a beautifully written preschool special needs curriculum. And she is thriving.

 

10320484_10152303634377954_6796617664035885030_n1Brit and her husband are living this beautiful, crazy life with their three sons and one daughter in sunny California. They made the decision to homeschool when their eldest was a baby after realizing how much afterschooling they would do if they sent him to school. Brit describes their homeschooling as eclectic, literature-rich, Catholic, classical-wanna-be.

Preschool and Kindergarten: A Homeschool How-To, reposted from Lisa at Golden Grasses

Reposted with permission from Lisa at Golden Grasses.

I’ve had several young mommas (so young I could be their momma!) ask me about pre-k and kindergarten recently. This is my all-in-one response with tons of resources – blog posts and series, Pinterest boards and FB pages linked. Let’s get started!

The biggest challenge with preschoolers is keeping them engaged. Most still have a fairly short attention span, are easily tired and need fed and watered at regular intervals. Habit is key – routine is your safest bet.

I would  recommend taking a look at Kendra’s Circle Time. This is a great way to think about what you want your littles to learn and how to organize it.

After years of doing this I recommend over-planning before you get started and then going with the flow once you start. With littles, like with anything else, you don’t get what you want, you get what you plan for. With littles, you often get lots of surprises, too, right?!

What can pre-Kers be expected to do?

Age appropriate chores. Kids do what you inspect, not what you expect, BUT, they do need to know what you expect, too! One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from Andrew Pudewa is that if your child keeps asking for help, they need help. This seems simple – well, it is, really, but it might not come naturally!

Outside play and exploration/nature walks – do you see the baby snapper we found on a walk near our home? Nature journaling and nature tables (or in our case, our entire enclosed front porch) is a great way for kids to display the cool things they’ve found as they explore the great outdoors!

Read-alouds  – at least 15 minutes a day; more is better.
I think some table time is good at this age, because it helps kids get acclimated to regular study.

Crafts and art – there are so many fun art books, but in any case an easel, paper, and paint are always appropriate. Colored shaving cream is great for bath/shower painting. And hey, how about a shower tile wall- works great as a white board and for painting – easily wipes off – all for $15 bucks.

Gardening – this can be in the yard, with containers, or how about a Fairy Garden?

Bible Study – Arch books, Bible Memory, reading a good quality Children’s Bible, Veggie Tales, Veritas Press or Bible Study for All Ages Bible cards.

Memory Work – When our youngest was four, we started a Classical Conversations community. She learned 160 VP history cards that year (even though she was a pre-reader), along with 24 history sentences, several others hundred facts related to grammar, geography, Latin, poems and more because we regularly and diligently used CD’s and table time to review. She also learned the letter sounds and started on a notebook-sized timeline. I say all of this so that you realize your littles are capable of learning a LOT. This is NOT to say that you should sit them at the table and force information down their throats. Kids this age, however, can learn a ton through CD’s, good DVD’s, books and great visual aids such as flashcards. Also, if you have older kids, why not include your younger kids? They really are sponges. If you start early “training their brains to retain”, you’ll be amazed at how much they really can and do retain as they grow older.

Limit screen time – There are so many apps, computer games, DVD’s, etc, and they are all fascinating. We use some but in limited quantity. You really want your pre-Kers neurology to be hard wired to people and words, not electronics. Studies have shown that kids learn language skills by interacting with people – NOT screens.

Open Ended toys – Brio Trains, Playmobile, Duplos/Legos, Stuffed Animals. Pinterest has some adorable pins of old entertainment centers refabbed as play kitchens. Add some felt food and old pots, pans and measuring cups.

Art Supplies – Easels, paint, glitter, glue, pipe-cleaners, colored paper, stickers, colored rice bins, colored shaving cream to “paint” in the bathtub, white boards around the house (make a whiteboard wall with shower tile or several smaller lapboards), chalkboards and magnet boards (easily made with some chalkboard or magnet paint).

Unstructured Outside Play – Trampoline, playhouses, daily walks, parks, swimming, gardening, sandboxes, swings.

“Sound exploration” -Musical makers. Kids loving making sound.

Gross motor skill development – For years we had a “Step 2″ playscape, complete with ladder and slide, IN our house.

Sand box or table – a friend actually built a sandbox in their basement for their kids and we had a sand table on our front porch for years.

Fine motor skill development – have plenty of pens, pencils, markers around for the kids to play with, sewing cards, small toys (once they are past the “everything in their mouths” stage- Lego, of course.

Cooking – my kids have all loved to help cook in the kitchen. Usborne’s First Cookbook is full of fun and simple recipes.

Travel/field trips

Singing – the Wee Sing series, with books and CD’s are full of old favorites.

Christian Studies – Arch books are a fabulous way for your littles to get a great introduction to basic Bible stories with pictures that they’ll remember for a life time. We also have loved and read out loud to our kids a couple of different Children’s Bibles, including the Golden Children’s Bible. We had tons of felts and teaching Bible stories through felts is always an attention grabber. Daily prayer. Family evening prayers, with everyone snuggled in a bed together is really a gentle way to teach your littles about what’s important to you. We have each child pray, youngest to oldest, ending with Daddy blessing each child. If your kiddo doesn’t know what to pray for just help them along following ACTS (Adoration, Confessions, Thanksgiving, Supplication). We would just have them repeat a simple sentence or two, such as, “Thank-you, God, for this day.” This year, we made an Easter garden.

Pre-Reading – Read aloud 15 minutes a day. There are so many adorable books on everything under the sun; don’t limit your read-alouds to baby books.

IEW Language Acquisition through poetry memorization– This is a fantastic program and easily accessible for littles, especially with the CD. There are four sections of 20 poems each, starting with simple, short poems and ending with epic dramatic retellings. Andrew Pudewa (who put the program together and recites the poems) has incredible diction, so your kids will really hear fantastic vocabulary and superb story-telling.

Letter and Number recognition – We used Kumon and Usborne workbooks; colorful, easily accessible and fun. There are tons of complete programs available.

Phonics – We always used Alpha Phonics in conjunction with Explode the Code. There are other great products out there. We took the low cost, no bells and whistles, effective approach.

Books – If you live with books and magazines, your kids will think having them around is normal. My kids love books on tape. We use Sonlight, Bethlehem Books, Memoria Press and Veritas Press catalogs as reading lists. Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids, Ladybug, Boys Life have all been favorite magazines around here.

Good Stuff:
Classical Conversations Cd’s
Veritas Press and Classical Conversations history, Bible and Science cards
Kumon Workbooks
Silly songs CD’s
Usborne Cat and Mouse books, Puzzle Books, Mazes and Dot-to-Dots, along with Board books. We love UBAH!
Bible Study for all ages.

Editor’s Note: For an assortment of links full of ideas, crafts, curriculum, games and much more, see the full article at Golden Grasses.