Five Senses Day at Preschool

This week at preschool we learned about our five senses.  It was a touchy, smelly, tasty, visual and auditory extravaganza.  When the kids arrived, they were given cheap white paper plates and were told they were going to make it into a pizza.  As we waited for the other classmates to arrive we began coloring the outer edge of our plates a golden brown.  This would be our crust.  Once all the kids were present and had completed coloring their crusts, we put a dollop of red finger paint “sauce” on the middle of their “crust” and they got the delightfully tactile experience of spreading it around the crust with their hands.  We felt the sauce was a little too red and so we added some yellow to smear in.  (We learned about red and yellow making orange last week.)  It helped just a little.  We should have done some hand print art while we were at it but instead we just wiped all the “sauce” off our hands with our ever-present box of baby wipes, then washed the “cleaned” hands in the sink.  In ignorance, we set our pizzas aside to dry.  Apparently finger paint doesn’t dry too quickly.    We’ll get back to the pizzas later … because they turned out GREAT!

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Blinking Eyes
While the pizza sauce “dried”, we started working on our “blinking eye” models.  My assistant did all the folding for us as this would have been too difficult for the little guys.  I gave the children a selection of skin tone colors and told them to choose any skin color they wanted to color the eyelids.  After they colored the skin, we added black eyelashes.  Then we unfolded the paper and I drew light pencil circles in the correct location.  The children were instructed to outline the iris in black and color in the pupil except for the shiny spot.  Next they were allowed to choose any color they wanted for the iris color with the only limitation being they had to find a lighter and darker shade of the same color.  I had them color the inner part of the circle with the lighter shade and the rest of the circle with the darker shade.  This gives the eyes a fairly realistic look which was quite pleasing.  As the final step, they were to add a few black lines radiating out from the pupil to the edge of the iris.  These lines got rather bold, but adorable.  Then we folded the paper back to its original form and showed the kids how to blink their eyes by pinching the corners in back and pushing together and forward to open the eye and pulling out and back to close it.  We also discussed how being able to blink is what keeps your eyes lubricated and safe from dirt getting into them.

Next we tested our sense of hearing by shaking old pill bottles (Thank you Mom.)  which I had covered with construction paper and filled in sets of two with various ingredients such as oatmeal, rice, salt,  a single chocolate kiss, buttons, pennies.  The kids had to shake a bottle and then try to find its partner by listening to the sounds of the other bottles as they shook them.  After that, we did the same thing with “Smelly bottles” — paper covered pill bottles again, but this time covered with tissue so we could smell but not see the ingredients.  These bottles contained such ingredients as dry oatmeal, brown sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, ground coffee and black pepper.  At first I tried just putting essential oils on cotton balls so I wouldn’t need to hide the ingredients, but in testing them myself, I was surprised at how difficult it was to tell the difference between rather distinct smelling oils.  I wasn’t too surprised to learn how quickly this put my olfactory system on overload though, so I decided to go more the food route with the kids.  I was too lazy to cover the bottoms of the bottles and it didn’t take the kids long to figure out how to self-check their guesses.

Our sense of touch was the next to be tested.  We had two activities.  We put 5 pennies on a dish for each child, then buried them in rice and had the kids close their eyes and find the pennies.  Next I brought out cloth sacks and put a familiar object in each child’s sack.  I used our reusable cloth Christmas sacks, but a large sock would work just as well.  They were to use their sense of touch to figure out what was in their bag.  Once they got the hang of it, I moved to more difficult items.   After they’d found quite a variety of objects, I put all the objects into one sack and we passed it around assigning each child a particular object to go fish out of the bag.  This proved to be a bit more difficult than identifying the single object, but it was not too difficult for them to accomplish.

Pizza Time!  

We brought our paper pizzas back out along with all the toppings.  Sadly, the sauce was still quite wet.  No matter, we just drizzed glue all over it and then sprinkled our pizza with “cheese” and then real Italian seasoning to make it smell like pizza.  Next the kids topped their pizzas any way they please.  Their inner pizza chefs sprang to life as they created their masterpieces.  I cut all the ingredients out of paper except for the sausage which was cut from felt and the onion bits which was a white raffia ribbon cut in bits. When the kids finished topping their pizzas, we drizzled them with more clear school glue just for an extra measure to make sure all the ingredients stay attached.  The results were stunning.

Snack Time! — finally a chance to play with the sense of taste!
We tasted salty, spicy, bitter, sour and sweet.  The kids were more adventurous in tasting things than I expected.  Most of them even tried nibbling the parsley.

108_2034 108_2038 - CopyFor salty I used a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.  The kids were offered a choice of a lemon slice or a dill pickle for sour.  Most tried and enjoyed both.  For bitter, they tried both parsley and my chocolate concoction.  I mixed straight cocoa powder with some coconut oil.  One of the girls tasted it and said, “This is Mom chocolate!”

108_2039We decided a little sprinkle of sugar vastly improved the taste for a kid’s palate.  No, I wasn’t teaching them that adding sugar to food made it taste better; I was demonstrating that a little sweetness can take away bitterness.  Speaking of sweetness, we used applesauce for this taste.  The kids cleaned me out on this one.  For spicy I wanted to use nacho flavored tortilla chips, which I did, but for the dairy-free kids I found some spicy crackers that were both gluten and dairy free.  The kids did not know that spicy play dough was waiting on the table for their playtime or I doubt they would have dawdled through snack time as leisurely as they did.

Active Group Play

After snack we usually try to do something active.  Today I tied in out theme of senses for this activity.  Lacking an old fashioned ticking timer, I downloaded a ticking “bomb” app on my tablet and hid it in various places.  The kids had 30 seconds to find it before it “exploded”.  We had to adjust the volume a few times to make it a little more difficult to find, but even still, it never took them the full 30 seconds to find it.

Play Time!
108_2053There were a few other choices, like some musical toys, a prism and our wave bottle (half colored water, half corn oil), but for the most part they wanted to play with the spice-scented play dough for the rest of the afternoon.  This was the first time I’d tried this recipe, and I love it!  It was a bit of a work out stirring six double batches (By the way, doubling the recipe worked 108_2043just fine.)  but it really only took about 5 minutes per batch. Don’t let the cooking part scare you — really.  It was a wonderful texture after I kneaded it for half a minute. I used a variety of spices to both color and scent the dough.  They smelled wonderful and I was delighted with the natural colors I got.  The center one is beet powder, then clockwise starting with the bright yellow, which is turmeric, followed by sage and thyme, cocoa powder, dill and cinnamon.

We brought out all our play dough tools and used our rhythm sticks as rolling pins.  The kids didn’t do much with the cookie cutters but when I brought out the little pie pans their eyes lit up and a little bakery sprang to life.

That brought us to the end of a very sensory day of preschool.  Thanks for stopping by to check us out.  Go here to read about some of our other preschool adventures.

Snowman Day at Preschool

Once a week, I get the privilege of having a handful of 4-year-olds come over to my house for a little preschool time.  We have so much fun together, I thought I’d share our days with you.  Each week we have a different theme and our schedule follows the same pattern:  an hour of school skills, an hour of art, snack time, active group play, free play (including some form of sensory play) at various play stations.

THIS WEEK’S THEME WAS SNOWMEN!

We started our day practicing tracing and cutting skills.  The kids took turns sharing a couple of snowman shaped patterns which they used to trace the shape on their cardstock.  Next they cut the snowmen out — a little tricky to get in the points, but they handled it well.  Each child drew a face on their snowman and glued on one of the scarves I had created out of scrapbook paper.  I had also created hats out of the same pieces of scrapbook paper and put a number from 1-12 on each one.  It was time to begin our game.

The children took turns picking a hat, turning it over to reveal the number and then placing the hat upon their snowman.  They got really excited when the hat paper matched their scarf paper.  Now the task was to place as many buttons on the snowman as the hat showed.  Once we checked to see if they had the right amount, they would switch hats and add or subtract buttons to match the new number.  They were not really taking turns, but all working on their buttons and switching hats randomly whenever they completed their task.  This game was far more engaging than I anticipated and the kids really enjoyed it.  Here is the post where I got the idea.

Next, we made snowmen out of glue which I got from this link.  I did a sample snowman, but it didn’t have the whole 2-3 days drying time necessary to be completely done by the day of class.  I was rather dismayed as it dried because the glue seemed to be absorbing into the wax paper and I thought I hadn’t used enough glue.  I didn’t realize this was exactly how it was supposed to look, so when the kids made theirs I kept encouraging them to use more glue.  While this didn’t hurt their final products at all, it did mean more drying time — about 3 days total for the thickest ones.  The final product had a milky translucency to it and is semi-stiff/semi-flexible.

 

Probably the best activity of the day was the melting snowmen which I got from this link.  Preparation involved dropping 2 beads and an orange felt triangle in the bottom of a cup, then stuffing the cup with a mixture of baking soda and water mixed to a stiff claylike consistency with a little silver glitter mixed in for fun.  I used red Solo “shot glasses” and I wouldn’t recommend going any bigger than that.  After I firmly packed the cup about half-full, I threw in a couple of sequin “buttons” and inserted two pieces of toothpicks down the side for arms.  Then I set them on the front porch overnight to freeze.  This worked great since temperatures were below zero last week.

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Our frozen snowmen awaiting release.

It took some doing to get the snowmen out of the cup.  They were REALLY frozen solid!  We dipped them in hot water, rolled them in our hands, dipped them again and squeezed and prodded until finally, they worked their way out.  It was so fun to see the unique facial expressions each one was “born” with.  Each child was given one snowman on a plastic tray and a 3 oz. spray bottle filled with vinegar.  We also set out small bowls of vinegar and equipped each child with a plastic pipette.  Then we set them loose instructing them to melt the snowmen with their vinegar.  Because the baking soda concoction was frozen it didn’t react as abruptly as the baking soda and vinegar volcano many of us have done.  Each squirt resulted in a satisfying little fizzle and a tiny bit of melting.  The kids began debating which worked better, the spray bottle or the pipette.  One child figured out (after using all the vinegar in his spray bottle) that he could then suck up the pool of vinegar off his tray and refill his bottle.  Then he discovered pouring the vinegar onto the snowman out of the open bottle was a VERY effective method for melting him.  This project kept all the children completely engaged until the snowmen were totally melted.  In all, it took 20-25 minutes.  Wanting to let the children linger over this learning experiment, I decided to knock a few activities off of our list rather than rush this project.

Next, we read the book Snowmen at Night, by Caralyn Buehner and then let the kids draw their own “snowmen at night” pictures with chalk on dark blue paper.  We used colored chalk, but most of the kids chose to just use white anyway.

 

Snack time consisted of a marshmallow snowman in a field of popcorn “snow” with a side of snowman noses.

 

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I should have cut the button toothpicks shorter, so they didn’t look like daggers, but I was in a hurry.  I dipped a toothpick in food coloring to make the face and used a slivered almond for the nose.

 

It was time to get active so we split the kids into two teams and equipped each team with a bucket of snowball.  With a barrier set between the teams, we let the snowballs fly.  This activity rivaled the melting snowmen as a favorite, and I think the kids could have gone on forever.

While the snowmen-faced balls are adorable and soft, the plain ones have an incredible texture that feels just like you are packing a real snowball when you squeeze them.

Our sensory play consisted of snow dough.  Again, this was such a fun texture to work with.  It is a simple concoction of baking soda and conditioner in about a 4/1 ratio.  (I used a bit more conditioner than the original post suggested.)  You’ll know the right proportions by feel.  At first, it sticks together but is rather crumbly but as you mix in more conditioner, you get a silky soft feel to it.  It still looks like real snow though.  This packs nicely and can be formed into a snowman.  It’s still crumbly and your hands will get messy, but both these ingredients rinse off easily and will not clog your drain.

I put out a nice selection of snowman accouterments to try to encourage the kids to build one more snowman, but most of them just wanted to immerse themselves in the texture of the dough.  One little girl found a coal shovel in the train set and decided to use it to shovel snow.

Taking a break from snowmen, we ended the day by building a magnificent Duplo train track through the rooms.

 

Home School Co-op Ideas

As a follow-up to my home school co-ops post, here is a list of some of the group learning activities we’ve done over the years.  Some are not technically a co-op, but they still present excellent opportunities to learn together with other families.

HISTORY PARADE -Gather together a group of creative families with each family committing to creating an entry for the parade.  Each family’s entry displays what they are studying in history that year.  This could involve costumes, banners, wagon floats, perhaps even a musical piece from that period of history.  Set a date for your parade (I suggest February, to alleviate those mid-year blues.) and arrange to march through the halls of a local senior living complex  or assisted living facility(or several of them). Just parading through the halls will greatly bless the residents, but if you want to go further, have some families take responsibility for handing out notices ahead of time to the residents to guarantee a great audience.

A parade in the nursing home is a fun and unique experience which will delight the residents if you're not too noisy.

A parade in the nursing home is a fun and unique experience which will delight the residents if you’re not too noisy.

Other families can organize refreshments which you share with the residents while you visit with them or give presentations about what you are studying.

PRAIRIE PRIMER – In this wonderful year-long co-op we went through the Prairie Primer and decided what activities we wanted to do together as a group.  Each family read through the corresponding Little House book for the month and did whatever other activities out of the book they wanted to cover as a family. We met twice a month for group activities, with different families hosting each gathering and all 6 families contributing assigned duties for each meeting.  Some of the terrific things we did together included:

  • making cheese
  • non-electric night in which we had a night of entertaining activities by candle light and the punched tin lanterns the kids made at the previous activity.
  • doing a shadow theater which was really awesome
  • a prairie Christmas celebration
  • making silhouette portraits
  • making leather mocassins
  • a night with the grandparents which included square dancing and a “Farmer Boy”  banquet of recipes from the Little House Cookbook
  • a campout weekend at Laura Ingalls Wilder Days in Pepin, Wisconsin

MIDDLE AGES – This one was a two-month commitment.  Families studied the Middle Ages in whatever way they wanted, but our group gatherings included the following activities:

  • designing a family crest and making it into a banner

    scan0094

    Human Chess Players

  • playing human chess and learning what the different chess pieces represented
  • building a 3-room castle complete with drawbridge out of refrigerator boxes
  • visiting a Middle Ages re-enactment
  • taking a field trip to Medieval Times
  • hosting a banquet in which the children were assigned parts to play (minstrel, jester, server, cup-bearer, juggler, etc.); we ate cornish hens, multi-grain bread, venison and other fine fare off of (pita)bread trenchers; we decorated the hall with our family crest banners, and thoroughly entertained all the grandparents as we tried to prove that yes, their grandchildren were getting plenty of social exposure and were, indeed, learning a great deal.
    Family Crest Banner

    Family Crest Banner

    Castle Building

HEALTH and NUTRITION-  One field trip included a trip to the grocery store where we were given a guided tour through the produce department and got to taste some of the more exotic fruits.  After that, we were allowed to roam the aisles on a scavenger hunt where the kids were to read labels to find items with very specific nutritional content.  Another field trip included a tour of a dentist office and some education about good oral health habits.  An activity day focused on the five senses and included crawling around in a model ear, dissecting a cow’s eye and other sensory activities.  There were also fitness tests, keeping food diaries, and a day of learning about balancing fun with work in which the kids learned to do fun things such as face painting and juggling.

YOUNG PUBLIC SPEAKING – In order to ease the (elementary aged) kids into public speaking we met monthly with a group of families to recite memorized poems and to give short speeches within assigned parameters — for instance one month it might be “How to do something,” another month, “describing my favorite place,” or “our family tradition”.

BOOK DISCUSSION GROUPS – In addition to our literature discussion groups, especially at the high school level, we would tackle the tougher subjects by going through the same books together and creating presentations, quiz questions, and other challenges for each other or just generally discussing the matter together with other students and their moms.  In this manner, we covered such topics as American government, psychology, worldviews, logic, and science labs.

"Blood and Guts" group on "Nervous System" day

“Blood and Guts” group on “Nervous System” day

BLOOD and GUTS –  That’s the name of the book we used.  In this co-op group, one of the moms (a registered nurse) taught the lessons — each month focusing on a different body system; one mom set up arrangements with a local butcher to get a pig heart, lungs, digestive system, and whatever other body parts we were studying that month “strictly for educational purposes” — we had to sign a form each month promising proper handling and disposal; another mom organized snacks for co-op days (How could we eat?); and one amazing mom agreed to host our monthly meetings in her home.  Additionally, each mom contributed a variety of experiments and activities to further expand upon that month’s particular body system.

Our plastic tarp version of a tipi

 NATIVE AMERICANS – In this two-month co-op, each family chose a different region of the country and studied the tribes that lived there.  Our group activities included

  • learning Native American games, dances and crafts
  • making costumes
  • constructing a 12-foot tipi
  • studying the various types of houses in each region
  • visiting the Indian Summer Festival
  • culminating in a night where we gathered together to share foods from, model costumes of, and present reports about our chosen region’s tribes.

WORLD TOUR –  Each family takes a turn hosting the group and chooses  a country for their family to study.  On their host day, they provide food, crafts, activities and presentations about that country, teaching what they’ve learned to the other families.  Each child gets a passport and marks off the various countries as they learn about them.

Alternatively, this can be done as a one-time event.  Rent out a gym or other large hall at a church or school and host a World Tour night.  Each family chooses a country to study.  They put together a display about that country and stand at their table ready to talk to visitors about their chosen country.  Optionally, families might provide food from that country to give out in small samples.  They are also instructed to bring stickers, a rubber stamp or some other form of representation of their chosen country with which they can mark passports.  When visitors arrive  they receive a passport with all participating countries listed.  As they “tour the world” they get each county’s sticker placed in their passport at the appropriate spot as they gather information from the kids about the country they studied.

SCIENCE FAIR –  Whether you want to run this as a co-op or class in which the students learn how to do a science fair project, or otherwise leave it up to the families to study that themselves and just organize the event, a science fair is a great way to get kids excited about science and the scientific process.  Be sure to provide judges and awards.

WILD WEST – Work together with other families to recreate the Oregon Trail, the gold rush, the Pony Express.  We went to a nearby Wild West Museum and learned all kinds of things.  The Pony Express and the Oregon Trail were two of our favorite memories.  I will write more about them in another post.

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Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to give this co-op thing a try if you are a home schooling family.  If you are not a home schooling family, perhaps I’ve given you a window into our world that explains why we are so sold on educating our children in this manner.  This is why I try to explain that you can’t compare home schooling to public or private schooling as easily as some people like to believe.  It’s just a very different approach to educating.  It’s not for everybody, but I’m so grateful we chose this route for our family and feel very blessed to have been able to share the adventure with all of the wonderful families we’ve met along the way.

If you’ve participated in home school co-ops, I’d love for you to tell us what you did and how it went in the comments below.

Home School Co-ops:  How and Why?

 Australian and Asian Animal parade at Milw. Zoo 1990

Australian and Asian Animal Parade

If you are looking for a way to break away from the monotony of textbooks and wish to add a little life to your curriculum, co-ops are the way to go!  I’m not referring to such things as enrichment classes which can serve something like 80 families and 150 students, though in a sense, they are a co-op.  What I’ll be discussing here is small co-ops of a handful of families focused on studying the same topic for a set amount of time.  When planning a co-op there are several things to be considered:  How do you go about choosing families for your co-op?  How controlling should you be?  What type of problems might you run into?  How can you choose and limit activities?  I will give you the basic model we created that has proven very successful for co-ops I have been involved in, and then go on to answer the other questions and concerns.  In another article, I will share some of the different events and activities we did as a group.

Ideally, the co-op should enhance your chosen topic without putting undo time and energy constraints on its participants.  Your co-op doesn’t have to be a year long thing.  You can plan a 1 or 2 month commitment if you want. Truthfully, I can’t co-op continuously.  At most, I can do two years in a row.  Co-ops expend a lot of creative energy and can burn you out if you don’t take occasional breaks from them.

Civil War

Civil War Co-op

We’ve been involved in a number of co-ops over the years. Some have been wonderful.  Some have added extra stress to our home school. Some were just for a social outlet. By the grace of God and the pioneering spirit of the early home school families, we managed to create a beautiful model with the first co-op we attempted.  For the most part, we have used the same basic set up for all the other co-ops we ran.  Here is the model we created:

  1. Keep it limited to about 6-8 families (You will likely need to “close” your group at some point to keep it from ineffectively growing out of control.)
  2. Choose the families carefully; you need to have similar expectations and similar commitment levels.
  3. Choose a topic to study together; let each family study the subject as they see fit at home, but focus on being prepared for upcoming co-op activities.
  4. Lay out a schedule for the semester/year appointing two families to organize the events for any given month. (It works much better to have two moms working together rather than assigning one mom to take on all the planning for any given event.) Every month a different set of moms steps up to the plate so there is not too much burden on any one family.  Alternatively, we had each mom team take two months in a row and then they were done hosting for the year.
  5. We liked to meet twice a month, once for a field trip or speaker pertaining to our topic of study and once for a group event (a themed banquet, learning new skills, an art project, each family giving a presentation, etc.).
  6.  Limit your activities.  Weed out those that are less valuable or too demanding in time, money or energy.  Even still, it is possible to incorporate several different activities into a single group activity day.
  7. While only two families are involved in the organizing for each month (Be SURE to rotate this responsibility!), ALL the families are assigned a contribution of some sort whether it’s bringing supplies, bringing food, preparing their own presentation, etc.
  8. Make a clean “end” to your co-op, thereby freeing yourself to move on and/or create a new co-op with other families (or some of the same). Things get stale if the same 6 families keep trying to carry on co-ops together year after year.
Prairie Family gets a visit from Mr. Lincoln

Pioneer Days

CHOOSING FAMILIES

The chemistry of the families involved can make or break a co-op.  Be a little exclusive here.  If you have a friend or two that you know would love to do this with you, invite them privately and let each of the 3 families invite one other family to the group.  You don’t have to advertise that you are starting a co-op.  Personally, I have a hard time saying no to anyone, but when it comes to co-ops, if you’re not willing to draw some lines, you may as well skip co-oping.  Completely open co-ops are dsestined to fail.

You have to have somewhat like-minded families for this to work.  If one family wants to be really laid back and focus on crafts and another family wants to have each child deliver a 10 page report, you’re going to have problems.  If two moms are working their bottoms off and the other 4 are sitting in the other room just chatting with one another, that’s not going to work well either.  You need families committed to participating and not just taking.  There’s nothing wrong with focusing on crafts OR research papers; just make sure the group is like-minded.

Castle Construction

Building Castles with the Middle Ages Co-op

Another question is what to do about younger siblings.  We have always allowed preschoolers to participate.  And it was an unspoken rule that parents would keep their younger children involved or otherwise involve them quietly in a corner of the room so as not to disrupt the activity or stress the hostess.  It is also important to understand the necessity of respecting the home and belongings of the host family.  Again – Keep your co-ops small and manageable.

There are other reasons for limiting the size of the group.  First of all, if you are meeting in somebody’s home, it’s unreasonable to have 30 kids show up.  Secondly, it’s important that everybody does their fair share.  If every participating family doesn’t have to carry a share of the load, you will end up with uncommitted families that will take advantage of those that are willing to put in the work.  Usually you want at least 2 families working together to “host” any given event, but if you get more than 3 or 4 families hosting, it becomes “too many hands in the pot”. Finally, you will find if you limit the number of families, it will be a more intimate group where real friendships have a chance to blossom and grow and it is unlikely that anyone will be ignored or left out.  Also, it’s less intimidating to plan and activity or make a presentation before 12 peers than it is before 30.  Big enough to share the load, small enough to avoid cliques – that’s my recommendation.

If you don’t know many families, you may have to just publicly put your feelers out there on your local home school forum or facebook group.  If that’s the case, really spell out what you are looking for – something like this:

Oregon Trail Day

Oregon Trail Re-enactment

“Fun family of upper-elementary students looking for 5-7 other families to co-op for two months on the Solar System and two more months on the Oregon Trail.  You can choose to join us for either or both studies.  We will not be following any particular curriculum.  We will have a planning meeting for each co-op to decide exactly what we want to do as a group, but other than that focus, you use whatever materials you like to study the subject.  We will meet twice a month for each co-op alternating between field trips or speakers and hands-on activities and presetnations.  You must have a student in the 3rd – 5th grade level to join.  Older and younger siblings are welcome to participate as well.  We expect all children to be kept under control and to be respectful and cooperative.  Each family will commit to helping organize one of the two events for each study.  Failure to hold up your end of the bargain may result in asking you to leave the co-op so other “cooperative” families can fill your spot.  We will limit the co-op to a maximum of 8 families.  If more families than that are interested and willing to commit, we may break into two groups.  If you are interested, please call …”

You can also put out a more general announcement such as, “Is anybody else studying The Oregon Trail or the solar system?  We might be interested in doing a few group activities together.”  Gather whoever is interested, then split into groups based on ages and/or levels of commitment.  It’s possible only one or two families end up responding and it becomes evident you won’t work well together.  If that’s the case, just graciously decline and say you’ve decided a group might not be best for you at this time.

With a little planning, a good dose of commitment, and the careful choosing of participants, co-op groups can add tremendous depth and fun to your home school experience.

Next time, I will share some of the things we’ve done together in co-ops and other ideas for group activities.

My Blog is Up Again

Old Folks + Technology = Comical

I’m so sorry to anybody who has tried to get to my blog these past few days. I was experiencing technical confusion. Not only was my blog inaccessible, but in trying to problem solve, I inadvertently deleted the first copy of my recent post along with all the nice “likes” I got so quickly. There were issues with my domain name, but I didn’t know about them because I had used my gmail account to register my name. That would be the very same gmail that I’ve periodically tried to get to for at least a year. So desperate was I that I even humbly admitted to my tech savvy sons that their old mom couldn’t find her inbox and needed help. They couldn’t come down to my level of inefficiency far enough to even understand how that problem could even exist. Well, today I conquered. I’ve both fixed the issues with my website AND I found my inbox ! (thereby being able to see the notifications about the problem) Unfortunately, I got so excited, I forgot to note how I got there.

Suffice it to say, my blog is up and running again.  The changes this year will bring SHOULD allow me the time to do more writing.  Please come and explore what I share. Invite friends and leave “likes” and comments. It’s very encouraging to me and it broadens my perspective to hear from you. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

~ Beth

Resolutions Can Be Fun

NYE - sisters

The Z Sisters Celebrating New Year’s Eve

Being a bit slow on the draw, I’m not usually ready by New Year’s Eve to make resolutions, plans or goals for the coming year. Seriously folks, I’m still in recovery mode from Christmas at that point. So be it. I’m trying to clear away the cobwebs now and make a plan for this new year that has fallen upon me. Of course there are the usual “wishes” — eat healthier, more exercise, drop oodles of weight. I DO want to do those things but I have an issue with confusing discipline with punishment. Perhaps that’s something I can work on this year — reprogramming my brain to truly believe that adding disciplines is a form of helping (even loving?) myself rather than the punishment I conceive it to be. But for now, I want to set some goals that I really look forward to putting into action — things that will represent a life change and not just a one year commitment.

A few years back, having been inspired by the movie “Julie and Julia”, I set a New Year’s goal to try a new recipe every week. That was quickly altered to 52 new recipes in 2010. And yes, I did have to make about 10 recipes that final week of the year to meet that goal but meet it I did. This was probably the first time I followed through on a New Year’s resolution and it opened my eyes to the fact that resolutions can be really fun!

In more recent years, I’ve focused on a few more areas in my life that needed changing. I don’t remember if they were New Year changes or just mid-year revelations but I found it took about a year of exercising them before they started to become reflexive.

First off, I determined to be more open and flexible to accept the blessings God has offered to me through allowing Him to work through me. This meant working toward not waking up with a rigid agenda for my day.  It meant adding more margin to my life — a good topic for another post.  It meant waking up with a plan, but being open to altering it without complaint when the phone rang with a need, or someone in my home needed to focus on restoration instead of tasks. It meant adding the phrase, “Why not?” to my thought process. This is a continuing work in progress, but one that has added incredible depth to my life. It was the seed that began to germinate and grow into this blog.

NYE - Margie

My mom celebrated her 89th New Year’s Eve with us.

Ironic as it may be,  just as I’m in the middle of writing this, I got a phone call. This one was a sister-in-law saying she would take care of checking in on my mom for me this bitter cold afternoon which frees me up to stay cuddly and warm a few more hours and allows me to finish this post. Being flexible to what God has planned for my day has also made me much more willing to except these blessings as he opens up time I didn’t think I’d have. If you know me well, you know it’s a near miraculous change in my heart which allows me to accept help.

Moving on … At one point, God spoke to my heart and told me He didn’t ask me to fix or control the situation, but only to love the people he placed in my life. (The seedling to the sub-heading of this blog — “Love the ones God gives you.”) This has brought some healing and restoration to close relationships in my life.   God continues to bring people into our lives that can benefit from the spontaneous type of hospitality we have to offer, and this has greatly enriched our home. Making this change in my heart was a crucial step in strengthening my soul to be able to strong-arm my depression into submission. And guess what! It’s way more enjoyable to share love than condemnation. Who knew?

Last year, as a New Year determination, I decided to take action when a friend or I said, “We really need to get together.” Realizing how frequently that phrase is tossed about, and how seldom it is followed through, I determined when I came upon it I was going to follow it up with setting up a time and place. I know that is not a measurable goal. We are not supposed to say, “I am going to do more of …”; we are supposed to say something like, “I will reconnect with 10 friends this year.” That type of defined goal has it’s place, but I wasn’t looking for a checkoff list here. I was looking more toward the live life intentionally type of thing. For me, it worked. Looking back, I had many long and enjoyable walks and lunches with family and friends in 2014 because of this determination. So, I’m not going to check that off and move on now, I’m going to continue to make relationships a priority in this way, but I’m ready to add another aspect to my live life intentionally plan.

This will be a change of seasons year for me. I will be completing my 26 year career of home schooling my sons and possibly looking at an empty nest by this time next year.  Of course, this opens me up to the opportunity to pursue “career” options which might even provide an income.  (Oh!  The thought of having a second income!)  It also frees me up to consider ways in which I might minister to others.  It will be a year of deep reflection and considerations.  There will be time for that.

For now, this is what lies on my heart:

First – I want to be more intentional about offering appreciation.  This too is a topic for another post, but to sum it up, I am SO wary of pretentious flattery, that I often neglect genuine appreciation.  I’ve been becoming increasingly aware at how hard it is to WANT to bless someone who never appreciates what you do.  This is a lesson I want to change in our family dynamics and one which I’d like to pass on to the next generations.  I will start with working on it myself.

Secondly – I like traditions. They lay the foundations for memories. But, if you just keep adding traditions, they will soon become prison bars. Often, when people try something new, and it turns out to be fun, they want to add it to the traditions. Thus variety becomes monotony. Now, whenever we get together, or whenever we celebrate this event, we will add this activity or eat this food. My siblings, sibs-in-law and I  had an in-depth discussion on this topic. This is a tough nut to crack with my extended family as they are notorious for wanting to make everything a tradition. My sons tried to get me to understand the flaw in this thinking a couple of years ago and it has taken me a lengthy amount of time chewing this cud before I was really able to digest it. I think I’ve got it now and I want to approach this year with an intentionality* to add variety without making the variety a new obligation or … dare I say it? … to replace some of the old traditions with new ones?  (*My reference tools tell me “intentionality” is not a word; it should be a word.) The sibs/sibs-in-law discussion came to the conclusion that switching up what foods we bring to the holidays might be within reason, but everybody, including myself, jumped all over my brother-in-law when he suggested we could switch up who hosted each of the holidays. One step at a time.

God bless your new year.  I’ll be sharing where this season-changing year takes me as it unfolds.  Please share what you are actively working on changing in your life.

— Beth

Home School Help – Tending to Toddlers and Preschoolers


Balancing Teaching Your Older Children with Tending to the Younger Ones

Balancing Teaching Your Older Children with Tending to the Younger Ones

It is very easy to neglect your toddlers or preschoolers while trying to carry out your home school responsibilities. Younger children without a doubt, create a challenge for any mom, especially the home school mom.  We are torn between guilt and frustration as our younger children wander aimlessly about through their day, trashing the house and interrupting our teaching efforts. This post is to remind you that you are a family first, and a school second.

If you have read my earlier post on LESSON PLANNING, you will find that to be a great start in being able to make more time for your young children.  School-aged children with a weekly lesson plan in hand have far more direction and need far less of Mom’s constant attention.  In addition to making out a plan for your students, make out a plan for your pre-schoolers (even toddlers) as well.  How detailed you want to make this is up to you, but it should have at least these two things:  Every day you should have at least one special play activity scheduled.  You should also schedule at least one older child per day to spend an hour of playtime (or reading time) with the younger ones.  (Write their assigned time right on their school lesson plans.)  These two items alone could well give you two hours a day to focus on school without neglecting the little ones.  In addition, schedule time for you to spend with your younger children.  If you don’t consciously schedule it, it often gets forgotten.  I know it may not be possible to spend a large chunk of time, and maybe you can’t even get it in every day, but at least a few days a week plan an activity alone with this child.  It could be as simple as reading a book, playing hide and seek for 15 minutes, or letting them help you put groceries away.

Assign each older child at least one hour per week where they are scheduled to play with their preschool siblings.

Assign each older child at least one hour per week where they are scheduled to play with their preschool siblings.

Make sure each of your older children has at least one hour a week (each having their scheduled day/s) assigned to playtime with their younger siblings.  It would be best, but not necessary,  if these hours were scheduled at the same time each day.  Little ones thrive on routine.  It might also come in handy to give students a ½ hour assignment to play with the baby at those times when their brain needs a break.

It might come in handy to give students a ½ hour "assignment" to play with the baby when their brain needs a break from the books.

It might come in handy to give students a ½ hour “assignment” to play with the baby when their brain needs a break from the books.

Now, about those daily special play activities – Pick at least one item each day that is done only on that day of the week, during school time.  You can even call it their  “school”  if it helps.  A sample schedule might look like this:

Monday:  stringing beads

Tuesday:  playdough

Wednesday:  pattern blocks

Thursday:  popcorn play*

Friday:  painting

* By Popcorn Play I mean buy a 25# bucket of popcorn seeds from Sam’s Club and set it aside just for play use.  Dump it into a large, wide container (We’ve found a plastic toboggan to work particularly well, otherwise and underbed storage container will work nicely.) and let them play with it like sand — measure, pour, make roads, bury things.

You could even plan one activity for the morning and one for the afternoon.  The child should be where you can keep an eye on him, but try to plan activities that he can do without much assistance.  By allowing these activities only on the assigned days, it keeps the interest level high and your child will play at the activity much longer, thereby developing a healthy attention span.  Also introduce you child to daily chore assignments, and allow him to sit in on school when possible.  My 3 year olds loved to cuddle up on the couch when we were reading aloud even if they had no clue about what was being read.  It’s just a nice “belonging” thing to do.  If my boys were playing phonogram Bingo, we gave the preschooler a card and they’d tell him where to put the marker chips.  If they were using math manipulatives, their younger siblings were right beside them building things out of the same manipulatives.  Always let them sit in on fun stuff like science experiments and art projects.  And finally take full advantage of their naps!

I will write what could be a sample schedule, and then I will list lots of activity ideas.

8:30 chore time (some simple but contributing tasks)

9:00 free play or joining in on school activity

10:00 assigned morning activity (This would be the special activity chosen for that day of the week.)

11:00 play with sibling

12:00 lunch and recess (Get fresh air!)

1:00 nap

2:00 assigned afternoon activity (a second activity done only on this weekday)

2:30 Mommy Time!

3:30 free play

4:00 play with siblings while Mom makes dinner

You will note that I have included “Free Play” periods.  It’s very important that children are allowed some freedom in their day.  There should be times when he can explore, learn to entertain himself, or play as he desires.  The opportunity to do so is sadly lacking in today’s overly structured, schedule-packed society, and it’s not fair to the children.  Also, PLEASE, don’t plop that tot in front of a screen!  Granted, there are lots of wonderful things to explore TOGETHER on the internet — caterpillars morphing into butterflies for example — but really, REALLY limit the time your young children sit in front of a screen, be it TV, computer, tablet or phone.  And as much as possible do screen time along with your child rather than using it to babysit for you. That being said, I will now go ahead and list suggestions for things to do during the scheduled part of the day.

IDEAS FOR ASSIGNED ACTIVITES:

  • playdough

    Bring bath toys in the kitchen for water play time.

    Bring bath toys in the kitchen for water play time.

  • pattern blocks
  • popcorn play  (like sand play, only with popcorn kernels)
  • puzzles
  • play with water (much like the popcorn – Place a vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen floor with a plastic dishpan full of water.  Supply the child with a baster, funnel, cups, strainer and small toys to strain and let them have at it — under supervision, naturally.  When they are done, grab the mop and you’ll get a cleaned floor out of the bargain as well!)
  • sorting activities (sort by color, size, texture, category, likes/dislikes, …)
  • drawing / coloring
  • cutting, pasting & stickers
  • Duplos
  • Fisher Price Little People, Imaginext, or Adventure sets (These collections are easily built via rummaging.)
  • rubber stamps
  • digital books (This is one of my few suggestions for being in front of a screen.  Make this the exception and not the rule for reading time.)
  • listen to music (dance with streamers or bop a balloon to the music)
  • blocks (At about 1 year old, my boys particularly enjoyed dropping cube-shaped letter blocks through the hole in a plastic cereal container.  Eventually they moved on to building towers, then zoos and cities.)
  • toy animals (the hard rubber type – great for sorting, setting up a zoo,  or playing “survival of the fittest”)
  • matchbox cars
  • play food / dishes
  • practice cutting skills with old magazines (I am told by enrichment teachers that a number of our 7-8 year old students still cannot handle a scissors properly.  You need to give them practice in this skill.  There are plenty of “safe” scissors available.)
  • roller-skating in the basement (assuming you have slow kid’s skates!)
  • chalk on basement floor (a wet mop will take care of it)
  • build a blanket tent and look at books or camp with stuffed animals inside
  • wash windows (a spray bottle full of water and a rag)
  • math manipulatives (Pattern Blocks, Unifex Cubes, balance, Cuisenaire Rods, links, counting bears, dominoes, geoboards, fraction circles, etc.)
  • Tending to Preschoolers

    Math manipulatives can be used creatively.

    costume box

  • special videos (use sparingly)
  • puppets
  • obstacle course
  • decorate graham crackers with frosting and sprinkles *
  • make snack kabobs with toothpicks, mini marshmallows, pinapple chunks, cheese cubes, raisins, etc. *
  • magnetic letters or other magnets
  • look at photo albums
  • rhythm instruments
  • paint-with-water books
  • bean bag toss
  • weighing and comparing items with a child’s balance
  • practice dropping clothespins or pennies into a mason jar.  Count how many you get in.  Do it from a standing position with the jar on the floor or kneel on a chair and balance your arm on the chair back.

*allow them to serve the snacks they’ve prepared to their older siblings – if they dare eat them!

Okay, that’s enough to get you going.  Choose five or ten activities and assign each to a day of the week.  You may use additional activities  for Mom or Sibling time.

Don’t cast that child aside.  He will grow up all too quickly and is at a very precious age right now.  Be sure your home school doesn’t leave him a casualty.  God Bless your efforts.