Back to Homeschool With Sandbox to Socrates: News and a Giveaway!

Have you made your curriculum choices, shopped for school supplies, planned your extra-curriculars, and stocked up on chocolate for Mom? For those of us following a traditional school year calendar, it’s Back to Homeschool Time!

Here at StS, we’re kicking off the school year with some new features and a giveaway!

Firstly, we hope you like our new LOOK! Our logo was created by our Photo Editor, Apryl Herrell. We are all so pleased, and so thankful that Apryl shared her talent and created the perfect design for StS.

Secondly, we have a new FORUM! Sometimes it’s hard to chat on a blog, but we do want to hear from our readers and get to know you, so we created a new home here at StS for those conversations. We envision a friendly, intimate community where we can all help each other in StS’s sleeves-rolled-up style, sharing experiences and discussing everything from preschool nursery rhymes and naptimes to college admissions processes for homeschooled teens. All are invited to this inclusive gathering of parents who have one thing in common: We are classically educating our children at home.

Thirdly, we have a new STORE! Do you need a tote bag or a travel mug? Would your children like t-shirts about homeschooling like this one

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or would they enjoy announcing to the world that they will be able to outrun zombies if it ever comes to that?

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If you’d like to support StS, please have a look at our CafePress store. Our art department frequently adds new designs so check back often, and of course anything can be ordered with StS’s original new logo.

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Finally, we have a GIVEAWAY! One lucky winner will receive this travel mug from our store, because homeschooling parents spend a lot of time driving, and because most homeschools are fueled by coffee. You need this travel mug.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

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Thank you for reading here at Sandbox to Socrates. We have great plans for the future as we try to encourage you as you homeschool your children! Please join us on our forums, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway!

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The World is Our Schoolroom: August 1 edition

More beautiful photographs of children learning wherever they are!

This is a weekly feature at Sandbox to Socrates, and we are looking for submissions!  Each week we will pick the top 5 photos and feature them on our blog.  You can submit your photos by linking to them in the comments below, or by posting them in our Facebook Group. Please only submit photos that you own and that everyone in the photo has given permission to be published on our blog.

*The Facebook Group is a closed group, but open for anyone to join.  This means that while anyone can join the group, posts are visible only to the members of the group.

Preparing Preschoolers for a Classical Education, Part III, by Jane-Emily

I’ve already talked about parenting preschoolers for a classical education and more academic activities to prepare your preschooler for a classical education.   Part III is about running a home preschool group!

When my children were preschool age–3 to 5–I didn’t send them to a regular preschool.  I was considering homeschooling, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to start them off in a preschool.  I worried that a preschool might try to push academics too young, and the local programs were usually full anyway.  I did try a co-op preschool for six months, and the people were lovely, but the demands were huge (and, I felt, unnecessary and unreasonable).  I ended up organizing small home-based preschool groups with friends.  Every year was a little different, but here is the basic pattern:

Find 3 or 4 little friends.  Many of your friends will be looking for inexpensive and simple preschool activities, and some of them will have more friends to talk with.  A group of 4 or 5 little children is just right and small enough for one parent to manage.  Because so much development is going on in these years, we found it easier to keep groups to about the same age level.  That’s not necessary but I think it does make many activities easier; a young 3 year-old will be frustrated by many things that a 4 year-old finds fun.

Plan to meet once or twice a week, depending on everyone’s needs.  Three times per week gets to be a little much, but for children 4 and up may be a great choice.  Figure out how you will rotate responsibilities; you may each want to host for a whole month at a time for continuity, or prefer to rotate every two weeks, or even every week.  Will the host be responsible for snacks, or should another person provide them?

There will be some costs.  This will cost far less than tuition at a preschool, but you still need to get supplies, snacks, and books.  Everyone should contribute to the pot for supplies, but you may prefer to just purchase snacks as your turn to provide them comes up.

Figure out a shape to the day.  You will want to meet for about three morning hours (maybe only two for the younger ages).  In this time, you’ll want to feature:

  • A gathering activity that keeps them cheerful and focused while everyone arrives.  If you let them run around, it will be hard for them to change gears and focus, so have a fairly quiet activity ready at a table.  I often used special blocks or manipulatives that they didn’t see at other times and liked playing with.
  • Circle time — usually features a welcome song, talk about the day, weather, upcoming lesson, and so on.  A fun calendar is OK for older children; it won’t make much sense to them but they can put the number up and get used to the format.
  • A lesson — whatever you choose. You may wish to buy a structured curriculum or just make them up yourself!
  • An activity or two — something fun to DO during the lesson.  Preschoolers are wiggly and don’t do well with a classroom setup!  There are many books of art, science, and other activity ideas (see my last article on how I did it).  As an example, we once had a lesson on the seasons.  We made a sign for each season, put them on sticks, and had a parade around and about.  The kids had to stay in order and each took a turn in front to help them remember that seasons go in an eternal round.
  • Storytime — read aloud from books, do some fingerplays and songs.  You can choose old favorites, seasonally appropriate selections, or anything you like.  If you get really ambitious you might look into making a flannelboard and figures for favorite songs or plays.
  • Snacktime — healthy snacks of course.
  • Free play — consider providing sensory activities as well as just letting them run around the yard, but this is not lesson time.  It’s “they decide what to play while the exhausted host takes a little break!”

Put the more demanding items at the beginning of your session.  They won’t have much attention span.

Will you want to include seatwork?  That depends very much on the ages of the children, their own temperaments and abilities, and whether you want to do any academics.  I would say that we should be very cautious about demanding seatwork from little people.  If you are teaching children who will be starting kindergarten next year, you may want to have them learn to write their names or do alphabet coloring pages or something, but keep it minimal!  If a seatwork activity is frustrating or leads to tears, it is not age-appropriate.

Keep an eye open for preschooler-friendly field trips.  This is a great time to take them to the fire station, a farm, or other nearby community locations.  Your group will be small enough to be very manageable, but for trips abroad always take an extra adult.  If there is a field trip program at your local theater, be cautious; they might be a little young to go as a group.  We found that the performances might be great, but the noise and crowds involved were overwhelming.

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Giant fossils are always a good field trip choice.

One year, we had a very energetic mom who fixed up a Christmas program for the children to do.  The families all gathered and the children sang a song and so on.  It was very short, of course, but it was quite nice for other family members to participate and see what we’d been doing.  It is possible, but not necessary, to have a program during the year and/or a ‘graduation’ party.  If you decide to have an event like that, it need not be fancy or long.  Short, simple, and sweet (with refreshments!) is best.

This is a nice way for parents to get together and share some happy times with children.  The kids usually love playing together, and the small-group environment keeps things from getting too overwhelming most of the time.  Naturally, there will be plenty of disasters and interesting times too–I well remember letting the children go off to play, walking to my bedroom, and finding a little guy jumping on my (unmade) bed in his cowboy boots!  But I found that on the whole, running a home preschool program was not too difficult, fostered lovely friendships and learning, saved me a lot of money, and was a great experience for my children.

Preschool and Kindergarten Field Trips: A Roundup

To finish off our series on the preschool and kindergarten years, we’d like to share some of the field trips we’ve taken with our kids.  If you aren’t a field-tripper, we hope these little chronicles will inspire you to get out there and explore your environs with your little ones! For those who can’t, and most of us have been through such seasons, do remember your Emily Dickinson: “There is no frigate like a book.” One way or another, preschoolers and kindergartners need to see the big, wide, beautiful world.

Here are some blog posts to inspire you:

Our own Cheryl blogs at Keeping in Balance, and has  kept a journal of several great trips:

The Wildlife Expo!

The State Fair and a petting zoo

The Oklahoma Science Museum

A field trip at home to the world of a cell!

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Sarah R. was able to go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum–what an opportunity!

Then she took her kids to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Emma Anne took her kids to the science museum to meet the dinosaurs (and sea life, and other things).

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Where have you taken your children? Go on a field trip and see the world!

Preparing Preschoolers for a Classical Education: Part II, by Jane-Emily

In the last post, I covered the basics of preschool parenting, but many parents of little ones want to know what academic materials they should use with their children.  What program will best prepare children for academic success? After years of teaching my own children and observing many other little ones (as a librarian, as well as a mother and teacher), this is what I have learned about the very best way to prepare children for a lifetime of exploring and learning. These principles are not expensive and they require almost no curriculum; what they mostly require is your time and attention. Anyone can do them, and they really are the best preparation I know for success in academics and in life.

Talk with your child. The main way your child learns about anything that he isn’t actually putting in his mouth and experiencing first-hand is by hearing it from you. Family talk is how a child learns to speak, and then a large part of how he learns about the world. He wants you to talk a lot! You know that thing small children do, where they ask, “Why?” all the time, and eventually you find yourself trying to explain the structure of the atom? It’s not that he has a real understanding of cause and effect and how atoms work; it’s that he’s figured out that asking “why” is a really easy way to keep you talking. So all you really have to do is keep talking and explaining the world — you don’t actually have to try to explain “why” until you get to the Big Bang.

As you go through your day, keep up a running commentary on what you are doing and why you are doing it. (Of course, this doesn’t mean you should never be quiet! Moderation in all things.) It sounds like this: “Let’s get in the car and go to the grocery store! We need some food…let’s get some oranges, I like oranges, don’t you? Should we get some apples too? What nice green apples these are. I need to get more oatmeal…” It certainly doesn’t have to be talk that your child can always understand; she will be happy if you aim a bit higher a good part of the time.

All this talk deposits a tremendous amount of vocabulary and sentence structure and meaning in your child’s mind, not to mention that it fosters closeness between you. We are now finding out that one of the main things that prepares a child for school is this parental talk; a child whose parents aren’t in the habit of talking like this comes to school at a disadvantage that no amount of preschool or programming can make up for.

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Reading together

Nursery rhymes are an integral part of this language development. They are wonderful little nuggets of language suited to the youngest children. They are games, songs, snuggle time, and language lessons all rolled into fun little packages. Learn nursery rhymes and use them often.

There are many wonderful collections out there. Here are my two favorites, good for anyone:

  • My Very First Mother Goose, by Iona Opie and illustrated by Rosemary Wells (lovely for a first book of nursery rhymes, great pictures and not overwhelming).
  • The Real Mother Goose, by Blanche Fisher Wright (old-fashioned, with lots of material).

Make up your own rhymes, too! When my oldest daughter was an infant, we visited friends who had a baby about a year older. I remember how impressed I was with the mother’s ability to make up suitable little rhymes for whatever her daughter was doing. She didn’t do it all the time or anything, but every so often, a new little rhyme would come out of her mouth! Pretty soon I was doing it too, because it really turned out to be pretty easy.

Reading aloud. Like the talking and nursery rhyming, reading aloud deposits a lot of vocabulary, sentence structure, and meaning into your child’s mind, and fosters a close, loving relationship. Reading aloud, however, is a step up in complexity. Once you are past the board books with one word per picture, books offer more complex words and sentences than ordinary conversation usually involves. They often feature rhymes, rhythm, and other language structures that both appeal to your child and build pathways for learning. She learns to associate books and reading with happiness and love. She learns that books and sentences go in a particular direction, and what sentences are supposed to look like. Reading aloud teaches a child about imaginative play, offering fuel for the stories she makes up herself. Books teach about the wider world; animals, machines, space, and whatever else you find. And for a final bonus, reading aloud gives you a habitual special time to be together with your child. The value of all of this language and structure and snuggling is almost impossible to exaggerate; the child’s mind soaks up stories and general information, making connections and learning about the world, in a process that cannot be replaced by any preschool or institutional program, and certainly not by any video programming.

Librarians and child development experts recommend that parents read to children for at least 20 minutes a day, which is an easy goal to reach most days (even if half of it is bedtime stories!). You may have seen in the recent news that doctors are now officially recommending that parents read to their children from infancy.  Rosemary Wells even wrote a little pamphlet a few years ago called Read To Your Bunny to remind us of the benefits of reading aloud. And your local library almost certainly has a storytime program that incorporates these principles. Children love storytime at the library, so give yours a try!

It actually turns out that reading aloud to your child is beneficial for more years than most of us expect. We now know that most children comprehend more through listening than they do through reading — right up through 8th grade! So don’t stop reading aloud once your child can read on his own; you can enjoy it for a long time.

There are so many wonderful books to read aloud to your bunny that it’s hard for me to give you a good list. Here are a few classic titles, and my best advice is to ask your friendly neighborhood public librarian for recommendations; that is truly your best resource!

  • The Nutshell Library, by Maurice Sendak — Four tiny books with wonderful rhymes about numbers, letters, the months of the year, and the perils of not caring.
  • Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gág — A man and woman want a cat to keep them company, but the man can’t choose just one. What to do with the millions of cats he brings home?
  • A Color of His Own, by Leo Leonni — Leonni has written many great picture books, but this has always been my favorite. A chameleon gets tired of changing all the time and wants to stay just one color.
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter — All the Potter tales are wonderful. (And I am particularly fond of the Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies.)Make sure you get the real thing, not the abridgments or new versions or celebrity sequels or whatever. She doesn’t need changing. While it may be tempting to save money by getting a one-volume collection, that really does ruin the child’s experience of having a little book that is just the right size, so I’d advise that you get a couple and supplement with the library if your budget doesn’t run to buying many books.
  • Curious George, by H. A. Rey — Here again we run into the problem of so many new versions, sequels, and so on that the original Rey stories are almost crowded out. Be sure to get the few original books and beware of the ones based on the TV show. They are nowhere near the quality of the originals.
  • Strega Nona, by Tomie de Paola — De Paola has written many wonderful books (I love The Knight and the Dragon!) but this twist on a famous folk tale is the best known.

Music. Sing to your child.  Sing a lot! Sing those little songs that have been passed down and polished smooth through the years; those folksongs are ideal for teaching your child about the joy of music, of rhythm, of words and melody. (Bonus: later on, they will turn out to be history lessons, too!) Simple rhythms, melodies, and harmonies sung in real life are ideal for small children; more complex recorded music is lovely, too, but folksongs teach the building blocks that go into the more complex material.

Your child does not care that you do not have a beautiful singing voice or even that you cannot sing your way out of a paper bag. He just wants to hear you sing, because singing does not only communicate language and music; singing communicates love and joy. When you sing, your child feels happy, loved, and secure. Singing as you work around the house fosters a cheerful, loving atmosphere (and embarrassment when the kids get older — another bonus feature).

If you don’t know any songs that you didn’t learn from the radio, learn some. (Pop songs are nice; sing them by all means, but they are not always the wonderful vehicles for language and melody that folksongs are.) You can buy collections of folksongs to learn:

Science and art. Preschoolers love to do activities and projects. They love to make art, and they love to find things out. There are lots of books of art and science projects for young children, but I didn’t want to buy a whole lot of them sight unseen and then find out that they weren’t very good, or that all the projects overlapped. I checked all the books out of the library instead (I requested some titles through InterLibrary Loan). I picked out all the projects that looked good to me, and assembled them into two binders: one for art, divided into categories by media, and one for science, divided into subjects like the body, colors, nature, and so on. I used those binders for years!  Whenever I needed to plan a little activity, I would get out those binders and pick something to do.

Some of the books I used include:

  • Mudpies to Magnets
  • Janice VanCleave’s great “Play and Find Out” series, such as Play and Find Out About Nature
  • The art books I used are out of print now, but all you have to do is browse the 745 section of the children’s room at your local library. There are plenty of good books.
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Volcano!!

Playgroups or co-ops. I did not have a lot of success sending my kids to a preschool program (we did participate in a large co-op for a while, but it got too demanding), but I did participate in small co-operative preschool/play groups. These were organized with friends, usually involved 4-5 children, and met twice a week in our homes.  We enjoyed those groups very much, so next time I’ll talk about how to organize a small preschool group.

The World is Our Schoolroom: July 22 edition

More beautiful photographs of children learning wherever they are!

This is a weekly feature at Sandbox to Socrates, and we are looking for submissions!  Each week we will pick the top 5 photos and feature them on our blog.  You can submit your photos by linking to them in the comments below, or by posting them in our Facebook Group. Please only submit photos that you own and that everyone in the photo has given permission to be published on our blog.

*The Facebook Group is a closed group, but open for anyone to join.  This means that while anyone can join the group, posts are visible only to the members of the group.

Pouring the Footing: Memory Work With Little Children, by Lisa Appelo

My Facebook feed has been saturated with uploads of kids lip syncing the Frozen soundtrack. It’s the most recent confirmation of what we all know – kids have an amazing capacity to memorize, and they enjoy it! Learning by heart is almost a game for little ones. And while it looks like fun to your littles, memory work has enormous academic benefits.

Memorizing teaches the rhythm and patterns of language. It helps to increase vocabulary and flexes the neural passages for more complicated memorization later (hello, Periodic Table!). Memory work provides a respite from seat work for the wiggly preschooler and is our kids’ first introduction to public speaking as they recite to family. Finally – and my favorite – memorizing allows even the young child to own the verses and information. I love when my littlest leans over and excitedly whispers, “That’s our verse!” after hearing something we memorized.

So given the benefits of memorization, the next question is what to memorize. In preschool and kindergarten, my kids have learned primarily scripture (Psalms and whole chapters), poems, math facts, months and days, address and phone information and hymns. Psalm 23 is an excellent place to start. We’ve also enjoyed the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Both are iconic cultural pieces and filled with metaphor and allusion. My kids have also worked through Level One of Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization by the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Level One moves from shorter to longer poems, helping the child to build his memory. The selections are excellent for preschoolers and kindergartners and include zany poems by Ogden Nash (“Ooey Gooey was a worm . . . “) and timeless childhood favorites from Robert Louis Stevenson (“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me. . . “). Another venerable resource is The Harp and Laurel Wreath by Laura Berquist. This book is laid out by age and can be used with even young children.

Now that you have an idea of what to memorize, how do you go about it? First, do what works for your family. We don’t have one set memory period in ours. In the morning, we memorize scripture as a family during our Bible study time. Later, after some independent seat work, I meet with my younger two for Level One of Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization. Other memory work is done as needed. Math facts are part of the daily math lesson, and hymns are memorized with a CD as we run errands in the car.

Adding sign language, music, or chanting the natural rhythm of the piece can help to memorize. When memorizing long portions of scripture or poetry, we use American Sign Language or make our own hand motions. This is an excellent site to find ASL signs. Using hand motions is a great mnemonic and adds some fun. Music is also helpful. We have friends who have set whole chapters of scripture to their own melody and can successfully recall it years later. Chanting the selection or overemphasizing the poem’s natural rhythm also helps us memorize it.

Adding memory work to a day filled with math and babies and writing and laundry may seem difficult. It’s tempting to do it tomorrow or set it aside altogether. But memory work is really fairly easy and can be done as you feed the baby or fold laundry. Starting memory work for even 10 – 15 minutes a day will help your preschooler or kindergartener lay the footing for deeper and more complex learning in later years. It’s been one of our family’s favorite shared experiences, and it’s also been one of the best academic pursuits we’ve done while our kids were little.

Lisa Appelo is in the 16th year of homeschooling her seven children. The oldest three were homeschooled through high school and went on to their first choice colleges. Lisa continues to teach the others in grades 2nd through high school at home, most recently as a suddenly widowed single mom. Each day is an adventure in life and grace.