FIRST Day of Preschool

sunny-tablewith-wordsA new semester has brought a new group of students.  Today they all took their first step into preschool class.  Most were pretty timid upon walking through the door.  A few tears were shed during the first hour, but they were easily assuaged with a little comforting.  My philosophy with my students is to entice them out of their shell rather than push.  In preparation for first day jitters, I had each parent send me a family picture ahead of time.  When the children came into the classroom, they took off their coats and hung them up.  Then they were told to go to the photo table and find their family.  Hah!  Here’s a task they could not fail.  They KNEW the answer to this test!  You could see visible relief on their faces as they marched themselves and “their family” over to our table to choose a seat.  I try to have Mylar balloons for each student this first day of class.  Who doesn’t love a Mylar balloon?  They make the atmosphere feel fun and festive right off the bat.

 

WELCOME ACTIVITY
The students found a seat they liked, propped their family photo against their balloon’s weight and proceeded to engage in doing wooden puzzles.  Very few preschoolers can resist the draw of bright wooden puzzles, but I had one today.  He was particularly nervous and could not be drawn out by the lure of puzzles.  Luckily, he was excited to see my shape-sorter ball on the table as well.  This was a “puzzle” he could enjoy.

SCHOOL SKILLS HOUR
Once all the kids had arrived and had sufficient time to explore the puzzles, we welcomed the class and went around the table with each student holding up their picture and telling us about who was in their family.  We noticed that some of our students were the oldest in their family while others were the youngest.  Some had both older and younger siblings.  Two families had all boys and one family had all girls.   I asked students to raise their hands if they had 2 kids in their family, 5 kids, etc.  It was a great time to compare how our families were similar and different.

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After everybody got a chance to share about their family, we brought out my Snail’s Pace Race game.  This is probably THE BEST preschool game around.  I like to think of it as a preschool version of the Kentucky Derby, but without the betting.  Theoretically, it is a non-competitive game, but kids can always find a way to compete.  Playing games is a wonderful way to teach a child so many skills, not the least of which is, “How to be a good winner/loser.”  We went over that lesson, and then I took note of the behavior of the children.  Do they have their colors down? (Yes!) Can they play by the rules?  Do they take turns nicely?  Does anybody try to cheat?  The kids took turns rolling the color dice and moving the snails and we all cheered for each snail as it crossed the finish line.

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Mylar Balloons with Tiny Solo Cup Baskets

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Stones kept our balloons anchored until we were ready to do our experimenting with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The night before, I’d weighted the Mylar balloons by tying them to tiny Solo cup “shot glasses” which I’d melted holes into by using an ice pick which I’d heated up by holding it over the flame of the stove.  Just as I’d hoped, the shot glasses were not enough weight to hold the balloons down, so I added a stone to each cup to keep the balloons weighted. Back to our school time —  I had the children remove the stones from their cups and we spent several minutes delighting in letting the balloons go and trying to catch them before they got away.  Then I laid an assortment of small items out on the table — toothpicks, Q-Tips, little Lego people, hairbands, tiny pom pom balls, fish and teddy bear counters.  I challenged the students to experiment with what it took to keep their cup down.  We found about 4 toothpicks was enough for one boy.  Another discovered that if he put two pom poms in, the balloon sort of floated mid-air.  Some kids had fun just seeing how full they could stuff their cups with all the trinkets.

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One little bear made this balloon kind of jump around. It took two to anchor it securely.

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With no added weight, the balloon would float to the ceiling. With just the right amount of added weight you could get it to hover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We folded baby wipes then painted designs on the top layer, and reinforced the design by adding extra paint where needed on the bottom layer.

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Unfolding brought squeals of delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ART PROJECT
For our art project, we made “tie-dyed” squares.  I got the idea here.  We found it much easier for 4-year-old hands to just fold the baby wipe into quarters rather than twisting and wrapping rubber bands around them.  We painted them with these wonderful liquid watercolors.  While this meant we had to turn our folded wipe over and reapply some of the colors to the backside, I think the results were just as satisfying.

SNACK TIME
Snack time was  another learning experience.  Besides apple slices, we gave the children graham crackers and a little pot of peanut butter and instructed them how to use their plastic knife to spread the peanut butter.  Next they were offered mini chocolate chips, chopped pecans and coconut flakes to sprinkle on top.  Some had never tried coconut before but found they liked it.  This led to a conversation about how even though new experiences (like trying coconut or coming to the first day of preschool) might seem a little scary,  if we are always afraid to try new things, we will miss out on so much in life.

GROUP GAME
Our group game involved sitting around in a circle on the floor and taking turns rolling a ball across the circle to each other.  As we rolled the ball, we had to shout out our name.  Simple as this was, the kids anxiously waited for their turns and seemed to really enjoy the activity.

FREE PLAY
Now, the last hour of our day, it was time for free-play.  Today’s stations included playing with our tunnel, wooden blocks, rubber animals, stacking cups, this Fisher-Price gumball machine (which, even at 4 years old, these kids can’t seem to get enough of),  throwing sock balls to try to hit a Mylar balloon tied to a chair, and a story time corner.  We also brought the wooden puzzles back out for those who didn’t get enough of them earlier in the day.  All play stations got lots of activity.  Free play is a vital part of the preschool experience.  After spending over two hours in the classroom following directions and mostly staying seated, these kids need time to roam and explore.  It’s a wonderful social experience where kids learn to take turns, share toys, cooperate, create and, in some cases, stand in line.

Blocks, animals and cups? The possibilities are endless.

Blocks, animals and cups? The possibilities are endless.

When the parents showed up to pick up their “experienced” preschoolers, they were met with happy faces and chattering children anxious to share about their day.  In order to enhance this communication between parents and children, I send home a take-home letter listing all that we did that day and post pictures to our private group page.

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.