April Showers Bring May Flowers

It’s that time of year. I’m rather new to this whole homeschooling thing, but from what I understand, frustrations run high in May. Some parents choose a more relaxed approach and homeschool year-round, but for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere who choose nine-months-on-three-months-off, May can get interesting. (When is it for the Southern Hemisphere? November?) Tensions mount, and excitement runs dry. New homeschooling parents are prone to panic attacks when they realize little Johnny may not master a certain criteria by the end of the year. And, little Johnny is equally frustrated when the skill he has practiced a thousand times is still challenging for him.

Don’t be afraid to lay some of those battles aside for a time. There is no stop-watch in homeschooling! Remind your child (and yourself) that millions of April-shower raindrops precede the beautiful blooms of May. Tell them their practice, their trials, their repeated efforts are like the little raindrops. The raindrops are not bad. They are not a problem. The frequent efforts, though not as fun as sunshine, will all add up in time to beautiful flowers of skill.

My child’s raindrops, those lessons unmastered and often frustrating, might be that one piano song he’s tried so long to learn; writing the letter E, or S, or K; or maybe mastering the sound of the letter Q. And, here’s what I will do:

An Encouraging Project

I will record the rain and celebrate the flowers whenever they come. Here’s how. Cut out paper raindrops and write on them the unmastered skills (little ones, as well). When the skill finally blossoms, make a flower together with your child, and write their new accomplishment on it. These can be mounted on a wall, or you could even put their raindrops in a jar and make 3D tissue paper flowers to celebrate. The bigger the success, the bigger the flower! Their growing garden or bouquet will be an encouragement to them as they continually face new challenges, a way to look back and remember that practice really does make a difference.

Scissor skills, spelling, riding a bike, fractions, tying shoes… What are your child’s raindrops? What do they struggle with? When will their skill bloom? Different flowers bloom at different times, and so it is with skills. Some come early, some come late, but each is beautiful and well worth the rain.

Nurturing in a Dynamic Way at the Nursing Home

It has been our beautiful experience this year to visit the nursing home several times. What is homeschool (or church for that matter) worth if we aren’t learning compassion, community, and how to communicate despite age or restriction? I’m the director of our church’s Adventurer program (the homeschool-related benefits of such are for another post), and we made these visits with the Adventurer and Pathfinder groups. However, I know, at least from my childhood, that you don’t need an Adventurer program to make a trek to the local nursing home!

In my childhood, we only sang. The singing was beautiful, the singing was important, but I always felt a disconnect…a large chasm between me and the residents. So, I was very intrigued when a friend told me how they take crayons and color with the residents after singing.

I wanted to take it a step further. I have been talking to my kids about the importance of touch, that when we go to the nursing home, our hand on the shoulder, arm, or hand of a resident does much to brighten their day. A side note: Always remember hand-sanitizer before and after visiting. They don’t want our germs as much as we don’t want theirs, but they crave our touch!

Kids are often frightened to go up and shake someone’s hand, but — I’ve seen it with my own eyes — when they are actively engaged in an activity with them, touch happens naturally, and without fear.

So, what activities are safe for little kids, safe for aging (often senile) adults, easy to do with less-than-fine motor skills, easy to clean up, and not too expensive? Here’s what we’ve done so far…

I called the nursing home’s activity director. She was delighted and said that we were more than welcome to do something extra with the residents. I found a tissue paper fall tree craft that begins with a traced hand and wrist. I asked the students to pair up with the residents so that they could trace each other’s hand and help each other with the glue. Instant touch! And the effects were visible on faces. Comfort of the child, and joy of the aged.

They tore off bits of colorful tissue paper, wrapped them around the eraser-end of a pencil (it’s easier to hold) and used the pencil to push the tissue-paper leaves into the glue on the “finger branches.”

I always encourage the students to give their finished product to another resident that wasn’t able to come to activity time on our way out, but of course that’s optional.

Our latest venture was a beaded sun-catcher craft. Just a thin pipe cleaner, translucent pony beads, some odd beads, a twist, and a thread to hang it from. I wanted to sparkle-up their rooms!

I brain-stormed for a month and finally landed on this idea. I could just see them all working together to string the beads. I could hear the objection from the residents, “My eyes aren’t good enough for this,” and my answer, “Well, good news! I brought good eyes and lots and lots of little fingers with me!” And then, the day before we went, the activity director emailed me and said “about half the residents can’t have beads…they’ll try to eat them.”

Aaahhhhhh!!! I hurriedly packed crayons and fun coloring sheets in addition to the beads. The director said that she could seat them at separate tables. (The twist-up crayons encased in plastic are perfect for older hands.) “Half” turned out to be only 4 residents, so the majority got to work with beads, and it was wonderful to watch student and resident working together to make it happen. Haha, remember to ask before you plan.

Jesus knew the value of touch. Sometimes it speaks what cannot be heard…especially if your hearing is not all that good.

Comment below if you have some touch-promoting ideas for me. We are loving it and looking forward to next time. I think one of those giant toy parachutes with all the handles is in our near future!

Sense-ational Writing for Beginners

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We learn with our whole body. The more senses we use to absorb and manipulate information, the more likely we are to remember it. My kindergartener is at the very outset of his reading/writing journey. Those typical handwriting papers full of solid and dotted lines are still novel, but I know they won’t be for long. So, I encourage myself to break loose, teach handwriting with more than just a pencil, get messy, and make it sensory.

My second son, age four, tried desperately hard at the beginning of the year to do everything big brother was doing. We began by learning our vowels and vowel sounds with pictures, poems, songs, and written letters. A few weeks in, I added sign language to our alphabet lessons, and BAM, my second son caught on instantly. As soon as he could use his hands, it clicked in his mind. He’s kinesthetic.

Is yours auditory? Linguistic? Naturalistic, responding strongly to the great outdoors? Visual? Tactile? Spacial? The truth is that, to varying degrees, we are all of them. Use them all! The following are some of my favorite ideas for learning letter formation.

I take no credit for any of these ideas. As Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and these ideas have come from friends, family, and years of wallowing online.

1. Finger paint with pudding, shaving cream, salt, or sand. Spray shaving cream or plop pudding directly onto the table. Use a cookie sheet to contain salt or sand. Let them taste a little pudding while they write. Will a tiny taste of salt make the lesson more memorable? The unique texture certainly will.

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2. Try paint in a bag. Do you prefer the mess contained? Squirt paint (or even ketchup and mustard) into a large ziplock bag, and squeeze out all the air bubbles. Tape the bag to a window and let them use their fingers to write. One thing I love about this method is that you can use a permanent marker to draw the solid and dotted handwriting lines on the outside of the bag.

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3. Use washable markers or dry erase markers directly on the window. This is fabulous for those of us who don’t own a whiteboard. You could even use your own breath. Breathe on the window, make it foggy, and write in the condensation. I feel a science lesson coming on. And, you can teach them how to properly wash a window when you’re done — good home ec credit!

4. Convert a breakfast bed tray into a dry erase lap board. Any opportunity to use a variety of colors will help a visual learner.

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5. Go outside with sidewalk chalk. Feel the sun on your shoulders and enjoy the change in scenery. If you prefer artwork-free sidewalks, give your child a paintbrush and a cup of water. It’s fun to write with the water and it evaporates in a few minutes. I’m teaching a little perfectionist, and one of my favorite elements about some of these is that it takes away the eraser. You can’t erase sidewalk chalk. It forces him to accept the line he just drew and move on, continuing his practice.

6. Use a stick in the dirt. What a simple treasure that is to the naturalist child.

7. Wax sticks, sometimes called Bendaroos or Wikki Sticks, are colorful wax-coated strings that bend and stick to paper.

8. Get out the play dough or modeling clay. Kids can form “snakes” and bend them into letters, or they can flatten “pancakes” and cut the letters out as negative space. SO much fun if you have alphabet cookie cutters!

9. Food! Nibble letters into shape with strings of licorice or pretzel sticks. You can even make fresh pretzels and form them into letters before baking.

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10. Use liquid school glue on 3×5 cards and make your own 3D flashcards. This was our favorite last year. I wrote a letter with pencil, he traced it in crayon, and then he traced over that with the bottle of school glue. Those glue skills used a lot of big muscles. The glue dried into bumpy letters, and we used them for multiple games.

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11. The Leap Frog writing pad was a nice gift from a grandparent. As you use the electronic pen to write in the book, it responds with words and sounds and tells you where to start, when to stop, if you did a good job, etc. It’s good for the auditory learner and is a nice form of independent work when the teacher is busy.

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12. Another high-tech option is the Boogie Board LCD writing tablet. I don’t promote going out and buying the latest-and-greatest, but I do recommend looking around the house and viewing toys or tools with new potential. That was the case in our house with this item. Scribble away and then press the white button on the top for a fresh, clean screen. Remember those Dollar Store Magic Slate Paper Savers? Same concept. This used to just be a quiet-time toy, but now it makes handwriting class exciting.

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The God who gave us colors and textures and tastes and sounds gave us a brain that thrives on variety. Explore!

Dirty Hands and a Clean Heart

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Moms don’t need New Year’s resolutions. There’s already enough on the to-do list. We are barraged by the tedious and annoying on a regular basis, and as a mom of three (ages two, four, and six), I am no exception. Whether it’s the six loads of laundry, the dishes that never end, or the continual fight for the blue cup, we tend to pass our days merely surviving under a load of work that is undone and re-done every hour. An online friend posted the other day that moms should add to their to-do list one thing, every day, that cannot be undone! I love it and I hope to take it to heart, but the tedious stuff still needs to be dealt with.

We all know that when we clean or cook with our kids, that small tasks take three times longer and patience can stretch thin. However, I have noticed that if I go with my natural inclination and do it all myself, that while I’m cleaning/cooking, the kids spend their time making new messes (or old ones that I just cleaned up) or fighting. When I go it alone for the sake of time and sanity, my kids not only lose out on precious domestic skills, but also the character development that comes from helping, laboring, and working together as a team…plus it usually takes just as long because I have to keep stopping to discipline them.

Homeschooling is a wholistic experience, one that includes home economics and hygiene. These particular lessons are important and character-building. So, I’ll share with you a few of my ideas for young children, ones that have made the tedious in life more bearable and, dare I say, sometimes even fun.

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Each responsibility/chore is a printed picture, “laminated” with wide clear tape, and glued to a piece of business card magnet. The kids enjoy changing their magnets every morning.

Their Friday cleaning choices are based on trucks! The enthusiasm for choosing their truck has lasted more than a year. They can be…

  • the Crane (pick up and put away any toys or clothes on the floor).
  • the Street Sweeper (sweep, mop, or vacuum all floors).
  • the Garbage Truck (empty all waste baskets, take out trash and compost).

They also help with the laundry. Long ago I stopped sorting their laundry by type and color. Each child has their own laundry basket, and everything of theirs goes into the washer together (gasp). Life is too busy and short to worry about fading colors and grass stains (that’s why thrift stores are such a treasure). Keeping their clothes separate from their siblings’ gives a sense of ownership and duty. They all help shoving them in the dryer, but when it comes time to fold, they help according to their age and ability, whether it’s sorting, stacking, or turning things right-side-out. It may not sound like much, but they’re actively learning, it really does help with the whole job, and they don’t have time to argue.

Now my oldest is in kindergarten, and as we begin our homeschooling journey, I’ve added daily assignments/privileges (Chief, Cook, and Bottle-Washer).

  • The Chief is in charge of family prayer, grace at mealtimes, and receiving first choice in things like colored cups. No longer do I need to strive to remember who got to pray last and whose turn is it this time. One of you gets to be Chief for the day.
  • The Cook gets to help in the kitchen! Cooking with small children can be a joy, a danger, and sometimes an impossibility. For too long have I tried to cook with all three, only to leave me frustrated and them in tears. With one in the kitchen, it’s safer, I can still reach the counter and the ingredients, there’s no arguing over who “scooped” last, and one child gets to have a meaningful experience. The two left waiting for dinner will play together much more cooperatively than three ever did. There will be special days when I cook with all three, but not every day.  washing-dishes-1112077_1920
  • The Bottle-Washer: It’s time to add “doing dishes” on to their domestic skill list, and at this age it’s still fun to stick your hands in the bubbles.

Chief, Cook, and Bottle-Washer are for our regular home life, but downstairs in our school room we also have Meteorologist, Time-Keeper, and Farmer.

  • The Meteorologist checks our outdoor thermometer and changes our daily weather forecast chart.
  • The Time-Keeper is in charge of changing our calendar and our day-of-the-week chart.
  • The Farmer is in charge of chickens! We are the proud new owners of six beautiful buff brahma bantams, and they must be fed, let out to roam, and cleaned up after daily. The kids LOVE it! The chickens sit on our patio and look in the windows during school.

And, my personal favorite is a daily “Good Habits” chart to help them on their path to independence and self-sufficiency in their morning routine (printable: Good Habits). It’s posted on the refrigerator, and they cover each box with a magnet as they complete them after breakfast. They enjoy the autonomy, choosing the order in which they do them, and checking them off. I’ve named it good habits instead of chores because we use it 7 days a week, including Sabbath.

These jobs are all based on a family of three, but, with a little imagination, can be adapted for any home. I hope this brings you inspiration as you balance the tedious and fun.

Mmm…That New-Book Smell

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Everything’s new! I’m new to homeschooling, my oldest is new to school, the homeschool room is so new it hasn’t really materialized yet, and today I opened up our new kindergarten books.

I’m nervous — sure of my abilities, but unsure of my resolve…or temperament. But, I’m also excited! Excited to spend some focused time with my five-year-old who has waited through two other babies to get attention from mom. Excited to add some structure to our day, some purposeful, meaningful experiences. Excited to turn the page and start this next chapter of our lives. For five and a half years it’s felt like mere survival. My youngest just turned two, and for the first time, there’s no baby in the house. No longer are we bound by constant naps and constant meals and the constant pile of laundry… Well, the laundry hasn’t changed, but we are a bit freer in our schedule now.

My son will be six mid-September, which is nice because technically he’s five when school starts, but really he got a whole extra year to just be free. One can, of course, delay the start of school much longer without issue (and with many benefits), but the non-confrontational side of me shivers at the thought of extended-family conversations, and I do believe that he truly is ready this year. I worked for three years in the office of an Adventist school principal, and I overheard her telling dozens of parents the great value in delaying the start of school, especially for boys. That extra year does wonders for them! He’s grown by leaps and bounds, and is eager for school now.

I have spent that past year interviewing homeschooling friends and family. There are so many choices out there, but I feel as though hearing the personal testimonies of those I trust really narrowed it down for me. The majority rave about ABeka. One family said Calvert was the perfect fit for them, and another prefers Classical Conversations. I know that what works for one family may not be the fit for us, but talking to them was so much easier than wading through the internet. A local homeschool fair was also very worth it — again, real people, real conversations, real books to flip through, a $5 entry fee in exchange for a big picture of things.

I’ve chosen ABeka for our kindergarten curriculum. It tends to be more formal than I think kids need at this age, but I wanted a complete program, something fully laid out, to put my own mind at ease. ABeka offers an “academy” option with videos of real classrooms too, but it feels too soon for screen time. Besides, I have so many other ideas!

I love the thought of literary units and theme units, of pouring over maps and plotting road trips, backyard bug safaris, or immersing ourselves in a different culture or time. Over the last few months, I’ve read the term “delight-directed learning,” and it calls to me.IMG_1496

And books! For years, I’ve hoarded children’s books and have managed to amass a small library.  I’ve gone through and pulled out all the ones that caught my eye for this year. So many to pick from, so much excitement… I hope my energy can keep up!