Friday, September 19, 2014

Learning with Littles

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Today completes our seventh week of our eighth year of homeschooling!  There have been a few tears involved, mostly over math lessons.  I have raised my voice and regretted it.  Bad attitudes have surfaced and there has been occasional reluctance to do what I've asked. Our days are messy and  more than a little noisy, but I feel like we've made a good start. I am thankful for the Lord's hand that gently leads us through each day and for His grace that covers our shortcomings. 

Before I plan each school year, I bathe it in prayer and each curriculum choice is carefully decided. We've needed to tweak the daily schedule a bit since August, but our curriculum choices have fit each child and been just what we needed.  

But what about Alaine?  She turned four in September so she is not officially a school student.  How do I keep her happy and engaged without giving her too much freedom or leaving her feeling neglected during school hours? My ideas fall into three categories:

She works along with us.  Even as a crawling baby, Alaine was content to sit with us during school time and listen or play quietly.  Now it's even better because she can contribute.  She recites Bible verses along with us.  She takes a turn when we pray aloud at the beginning of the day. She does coloring pages for the birds we are reading about in nature study. She listens to the books we are reading for history or literature. While not everything we read captures her attention or is age-appropriate, she always gleans more than I expect. 

[A side note: My boys were not as eager to listen to chapter books when they were Alaine's age, but when Gavin was four, we started with The Mouse and the Motorcycleand he would play in the floor, keeping his hands busy with toy trains while listening. Owen and Ben were five before they could sit and listen without growing bored and fidgety.  The first book that captured Owen's attention was Beezus and Ramonaand Ben's was My Father's Dragon.]

She works on age-appropriate skills. Much has been written about not rushing children into a learning environment too early and not pushing them to excel before they are ready.  However, doing the opposite and holding back an eager child can also be unwise. When my kids express interest in holding a pencil and doing work at the table, I let them.

I have a small stack of dollar store workbooks set aside for Alaine, but I only let her keep one or two in her backpack at a time.  Right now she is working through one about beginning letter sounds.  It has pictures to color, words to say, and things to circle.  She's keeps a thick dot-to-dot book in her bag, too.  The numbers never go higher than 20 and she enjoys coloring in each picture that she completes.

Both Alaine and Ben enjoyed making their own All About Me booklet that I printed from a free PDF.

At Alaine's age, I am more concerned with fostering a love of learning in general than in drilling specific skills.  She knows her colors and shapes, she can say the alphabet and recognize sounds, and she can count to 30 so anything else she learns is a bonus. 

I  like to spend a little time on fine motor skills, too, like cutting, gluing, and holding a pencil properly.  Ben had difficulty learning to hold and control his pencil.  In fact, even though he's in first grade, it's still something we work on daily. This tutorial has helped immensely.

She plays independently while I work with the older kids.
  After an hour or two at the table, Alaine is ready to move on, but I need to know that she is occupied and happy. That's where a few tried-and-true independent activities come in handy.

I have a stash of busy bags that I keep way, way up high on top of our school cabinet.  She has to ask to get them down and it's a treat to dig through the bin and select the one she wants.  Sometimes I'll select one for her and she loves the surprise element.

I keep several sets of wooden dress-up dollsin the same place.  Several times a week, she asks if she can play with her "girls."  (Don't tell them I told you, but her brothers often join her in pairing up outfits and taking the "girls" on beach outings and tea parties.)

I ration out pages from her Usborne sticker bookand her Create-A-Face sticker book, too. (We bought the second book at Walmart for about $3!)

I let her play with a dry erase board and a few markers.  She draws pictures and practices writing letters.
She copies down strings of letters and then asks me to sound out the nonsense words she's written.

She plays dress up or races cars across the living room floor.

Her older siblings take turns reading her stories or taking her outside to blow bubbles.

I shared more ideas for keeping children engaged here:
How Do You... Keep Young Children Occupied During School Time?

Do you have any ideas, books, or free printables to recommend  for preschoolers?

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