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.

Parenting and Home Schooling Goals: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Today I’m going to write a challenge to parents, particularly to home school parents, but it is applicable to all parents.  When we first started home schooling, nearly 3 decades ago, we were advised to write a mission statement, to remind us why we chose this route and to help us focus on our goals.  I’m not sure I ever did that, and probably it would have changed quite a bit over the years.  In its simplest form, it would have been to teach my sons to love learning.  To that end, I’ve definitely succeeded. 

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Some of the other goals I may have set – goals which conference speakers directly or indirectly encouraged us to seek – we didn’t reach.  There was a lot of perfection pressure in the home school community in decades past.  It’s still there to some degree, though the direction may have changed a little.  Ultimately, I found making these things my goals often hampered what I’ve come to hold as my most important goal and also put unfair expectations on my boys.  All this pressure to present the perfect picture can wrongly imply to your child that he isn’t good enough – will never be good enough.

I discovered some years back that I was starting to develop a “salvation through home schooling” mentality.  If I did everything right, my boys would embrace my values, love the Lord and live to please Him.  If I parented as well as I was supposed to, I could save my children from choosing sin.   Oh, I probably would never have admitted or even recognized that’s what I was doing, but when it came down to it, that’s what it was.  One of my mantras now is, “You can’t home school (parent) the sinful nature out of your children.”  That’s not your job, and it’s not possible.  If it were, we wouldn’t need the saving grace of God.  We wouldn’t need Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection to give us true salvation.

Anyway, I didn’t do everything right; I did a lot of things wrong.  For one thing, my boys grew up with a mom who struggled with, at times, debilitating depression.  Striving for perfection can often lead to depression, by the way.  It took some hard knocks to wake me up to what I was doing.  My husband once told me I had to quit trying to make our kids fit other people’s standards for them.  This too I vehemently denied and I deceived myself.  First I tore him down for not setting (“suitable”) standards for our children.  Then I beat myself up for not being able to model, much less convince my children to adopt, those standards.  I’m here to tell you, you can and should model Christ to your children; this should be our real focus and our constant prayer.  You can lead your children toward Christ, but how, when and even if they truly accept His grace is between them and Jesus.   They will make mistakes and they will force you to face your own mistakes.

I have watched decades of kids graduate from home schooling.  I have talked with dozens of moms distraught over the choices made and actions taken by their adult children.  It is hard to accept the brittleness of goals you put so much effort into achieving.  I have learned we were looking at the wrong goals.

And so I challenge the present generation of hard-working parents:

If you are doing this (home schooling / raising children) to raise saints for the Kingdom, that is a good and godly goal, but they may grow up to rebel.

If you are doing this for “social security” — that is, so your kids will be your friends, that is a lovely goal for your adult children (younger children need you at a different level), but they may walk away from you.

If you are doing this to raise an academic genius, it’s entirely possible they may end up being “average” students.

If you are doing this to proudly build a tower of success (shame on you) it will likely come tumbling down.

If you are doing this to knit your family tightly together, you may succeed, or it may all unravel.

If you are doing this to keep your children from the world, it may result in them clinging to the ways of the world with all their might.

If you are doing this to earn a badge of honor for yourself, you deserve a badge of shame.

If you are doing this to prove you can, you are always at risk of proving you can’t.

What do you do when you have poured all your energies into a goal which ultimately you have no control over?

There is, I have found, only one purpose for home schooling or everyday parenting of your children which is pretty much guaranteed to get the desired results.  That is, you are doing this as an exercise in love and obedience.  Every opportunity you take to love and obey is pretty much guaranteed to expand your ability to love and obey.  In the process, you will have very likely strengthened your family.  Honestly, who can ever have too much exercise in loving those given to us by God?  And who can ever claim they aren’t in need of practice in obeying the Lord? 


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To that end, I have found one response to parenting and home schooling challenges which always seems to work.  Love your children in such a way that they will know they are loved.  Whether they embarrass you, question you, defy you, hurt you – and they will — respond with love.  Read 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 if you need a reminder of what love looks like.  That chapter does not just apply to marriage, in fact, I believe it speaks more to how God loves us.  It is a model of how we ought to love one another.

If you have to cut off friendships that are hurting your relationship with your children, cut them off.  If you have to sacrifice some of your ideals, sacrifice them.  If loving your child means readjusting the goals you set for them, then do it.  When your child needs correcting, let it be given with love, not anger.

When it comes to the “schooling” part of home schooling, love is what drives you to seek the right approach to help your child understand.  Love is what enables you to ask for help when you need it.  Love is what gives you the strength and ability to make the sacrifices required.  Love is what brings you to your knees in prayer to understand, build, strengthen and enable that child.

Read great books to your children.  Teach them the math, science and grammar skills they’ll need.  Teach them history, handwriting and health.  Teach them to love God, their family, their country.  Teach them the life skills they will need and teach them to give of themselves.  But also, be sure to teach their hearts to dance.   Teach them to laugh and sing and hug.  Listen to their heart.  Recognize their strengths and come alongside them in their weaknesses.  They are not your trophies; they are your gift and your responsibility.

When all is said and done, it is near impossible for your child to succeed in life and happiness if they don’t believe they are loved. 

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