What to Teach a Preschooler

“How do you know what to teach your child?” I have had this question quite a few times since we told people we were going to homeschool our children. My answer is usually, “There are some great online resources available.”

But, sometimes a feeling of insecurity comes over me and I ask myself the question: Do I know what I need to teach my child? Am I doing the right thing? I’m not a teacher by trade. Maybe I would do something wrong.

In January my husband and I went to a curriculum fair. We talked to a nice lady of a Christian publisher, and she had a nice offer for a unit study to try. It came with three posters, the activities weren’t too scholastic, and it had also hands-on and outdoor activities. With my insecurity about teaching the right way, and all the hours I spend to create my own unit studies every month in the back of my head, we decided to buy that unit study.

At home I opened the book, and I was astonished. What stood out most were the pages and pages with learning goals. It contained 20 pages of learning goals, followed by 24 activities for three- to six-year-olds.

Observing my preschooler on 12 points while reading a short story?!? Did I miss something? Did I do something wrong? Do I need to set up an activity to teach my kids to set the table? No! We set the table three times a day. They learn how to do that. But, that is not “doing school.” Or, is it?!

Working with this curriculum made me realize I don’t have to feel uncertain about teaching my preschoolers. I know what’s important to our family. I know what I want to teach my children. We are homeschoolers, so we don’t have to teach how, what, and when the schools teach.

Buying this set curriculum had some pros and cons.

Pros:

  • low prep time,
  • meets the goals set up by the state, and
  • the children liked it.

Cons:

  • costs,
  • some activities geared towards a group, so my family with two children couldn’t do those, and
  • therefore, I was still tweaking the unit study to our own needs.

Is buying a curriculum wrong? No. You have to do what works for you in your current circumstances. It may fit your family, but in our case the cons won this time.

Did we waste money by buying the unit study? No. My children had fun and learned, and mom learned as well. Starting some kind of homeschooling so early is partly for me as a mom to learn — to learn what homeschooling is, to learn what and how to teach, to get some confidence.

I hope to encourage you with what I have learned so far:

  • You can’t do anything wrong if you love your child(ren).
  • Tell them about God and His love.
  • Keep an eye on building good, Christian character.
  • Lead by example.
  • Go outside, get some fresh air, and enjoy nature.
  • Nourish their curiosity by answering their questions.
  • Play together. Have fun!

Ninth-grade Home Ec and the Homemaker Master Pathfinder Award

You may or may not be ready to think about curricula for next school year, but if you’re stressing over your child’s first year of high school coming up in the fall, perhaps this will ease your stress.

Combining home economics and Pathfinder honors turned out to be a time- and energy-saving trick we pulled for my son’s ninth-grade year. I had my hands full with the younger kids on a daily basis, and just didn’t have the time to put into creating a curriculum for this basic elective overall. By using the time-tested Pathfinder honors, my workload was greatly reduced, leaving only teaching/supervision of the actual projects and looking over his completed paperwork on my plate in terms of implementation and evaluation. The planning process boiled down to calculating hours, choosing the honors to complete, and scheduling the content.

In this blog post, I’ll run you through the process we used to incorporate Pathfinder honors into a curriculum to receive high school credit. This could be accomplished for many different electives.

Assigning Credit Hours
(As always, you will want to check with your state’s education department to verify the following information, as each state may have different requirements. The following information is provided as a general guideline, and you may need to adapt accordingly.)

Calculating high school hours seems daunting, but it’s actually fairly simple. One HS credit hour = 120-180 hours of work. This translates as 50 minutes/day for five days/week for 36 weeks. (Just a note: “core” classes like math, science, and language arts should receive 180 hours/year; electives such as art, music and photography fall at the 120 hour end.) If you finish 75% or more of a high school level text in a year, this is generally considered the equivalent of a high school credit. You also may complete a three-hour course at a community college and count it as one (1) high school credit.

A 1/2-credit course in high school will require exactly half of the full credit hours: 60-90 hours/year, with electives falling on the 60 hours of work end. The class may be taught over a year or a semester since homeschooling by nature allows for flexibility. Over the course of a year, the student should spend approximately 30 min/day for five days/week on the subject matter, or 50 minutes/day for two to three days/week. If the elective is completed over a semester, you would want to adjust the days per week or number of hours to meet the requirements.

Choosing the Content
The next step was to choose the content to match the number of hours required, and also meet the general requirements of a home economics course taught elsewhere. When I compared the Pathfinder honors available to pre-packaged curricula, they basically covered the same material.

A list of the Pathfinder honors under “Household Arts” is available at: http://www.investitureachievement.org/wiki/index.php/Category:Adventist_Youth_Honors_Answer_Book/Homemaking_Master_Award.

If you click on the “Homemaking Master” honor, you will find a complete list of the honors available in one place. Take note that completion of seven of the honors earns the master honor patch in this category. As I wanted to cover Home Economics broadly, we chose honors from several areas, rather than choosing all of the food preparation honors, for example.

The honors my son and I decided upon were Baking, Basic Sewing, Cooking, Advanced Cooking, Household Budgeting, Housekeeping, Laundering, and Nutrition.

Worksheets for each honor are at this website: http://rmcap.org/files/Honor_Worksheets.pdf, and the answers may be found at the first link given, under “Homemaking Master Honor,” at the bottom of the page.

I enlisted Grandma’s help for the sewing portion!

Writing a Course Description
After we decided which honors to pursue, and printed off the corresponding worksheets, I helped my son organize a binder for the subject’s paperwork. Then it made sense to go ahead and write a course description (below), as I would eventually need this detail for a transcript anyway. (You would want to alter this description to meet your specific needs, or write your own.)

Course: Home Economics
Course Credit: 0.5
Grade Percentage: 60% project(s) effort and completion, 40% written assignments
Course Overview: This Home Economics course teaches the fundamentals of Family and Consumer Sciences. Topics include baking, basic sewing, cooking, housekeeping, laundering, household budgeting and nutrition. Each topic includes written assignments meant to cover basic and some advanced theory/concepts and skills. Multiple projects are assigned with each topic to provide practical, hands-on experience and real-time instruction. The SDA Pathfinder honor requirements for no less than seven (7) honors are covered in this course to earn the Homemaking Master honor.
Textbooks: (none)

Scheduling
We decided to run home economics over the course of the entire school year. Our reasoning for this was that his other elective was music and it would also run for the entire year, thus making daily scheduling consistent for the year.

  • Some tips:
    1. Make a list of all the projects your child will need to complete the chosen honors.
    2. Divide these projects out on monthly calendars. List the honor AND NUMBER these correspond to, as well — it is hard to figure out whether the Edamame Salad went under “salad” or “vegetable” or as part of the “complete meal” after the fact!
    Estimate the time it will take to complete the written work and fill those assignments in on the calendar, too.
    3. In general, for a semester-long course, you will need two to three projects/week plus two to three days of paperwork. For a year-long course, plan on one to two projects/week and one to two days of paperwork. (Take each project’s estimated length into consideration when scheduling.) We front-loaded the practical work into fall semester, so that March and April were clear for make-up work and longer written assignments such as compiling a recipe file, completing a meal chart, creating menus, etc.
    4. Have your child check off and date each project completed on the calendar itself. Circle any project not completed in the week assigned so you can attend to it later.
    5. Do not attempt to schedule complicated projects (such as the Strawberry Cream Cake on the cover of your favorite magazine…) on days when you already have a full schedule. Teaching for a practical course doesn’t lend itself to rushed or tense explanations. Learning is best achieved in a relaxed environment, so choose days that are more wide open.
    6. Planning time on Thursday or Friday for cooking or baking projects is sometimes nice because you can take the completed work to potluck! Don’t forget freezing items for use at a later event, i.e. garlic rolls or cookies for a church event you will have to contribute to, anyway!

Our scheduling system has worked fairly well. I probably underestimated the time it would take to complete so many Pathfinder honors; if I were to do it again, I’d at least double — maybe quadruple, OIY! — the time it takes me to make a recipe or do the laundry when initially counting the hours for the class. But as they say, it all comes out in the wash…and hopefully he learned something!

A cooking project: breakfast of fresh pears, boiled eggs, and potatoes and onions.

What’s the BEST home education style?

Ahhh, homeschooling styles. A quick visit to any homeschool forum and you’ll soon see a post asking about styles and curriculum, and as many different opinions as there are responses. We all want the best for our children, and we’re all worried that we’re not supplying our kids with the best. It might be a Facebook post from a mother showing off the amazing nature study her child has done or a science experiment they’ve completed…and you realise you haven’t been able to do anything like that for a while. We all question what we’re doing from time to time.

Well, rest easy. Whichever style you’re using, it’s not the best. And, that’s alright. How do I know you’re not using the best style? Well, hear me out and see if you agree. Our society has been becoming more black and white, more all or nothing, and we’re losing the ability to see the nuances and the shades of grey between even two choices, let alone the amount of teaching styles available to us. We throw around terms like “best” without ever really defining what we’re asking. The “best candidate.” Yeah, for whom? About what? The “best home educating style.” What do we mean? What would be the best for the way your child learns? The one that gives them the broadest knowledge base? Or, is it the one that gives the deepest knowledge in their preferred areas? The best for us as the teacher? The best for their personality? The best that fits in with our family and the different children we are teaching? The best to impart lots of biblical knowledge? The best at helping them become the hands and feet of Jesus? The best for our educational philosophies? The best to comply with our states requirements? The best to foster a life-long love of learning? The list goes on…

There’s a good chance many of these questions would have a different curriculum or style — but still come out as the best. We all have to work out what we’re trying to achieve, and a choice for something is a choice against something else. So, what are we to do? With all the choices out there, how can we be confident that the style we’re using is the best for our children and family? I can’t tell you which method is best for you, but I can share the steps I’ve taken to make sure I’m comfortable with my choice.

1) As always, pray. Pray that we’ll have wisdom in what we’re doing, and that whatever we do, we’ll be able to raise the children we’ve been given to be the people God made them to be.

2) Keep up with research about the way people learn. Read books on the subject; subscribe to websites where researchers on education have posted. There are some fascinating articles in psychology today on education. This allows us to check regularly against what we’re doing, so we can see if there is something we can implement. Don’t settle for anything just because it’s always been done that way. As home educators, we can look at the pros and cons of everything. It’s a real blessing not to be burdened with doing something just because it’s the way it’s always been done. We can know why we do everything we do.

3) Find out which style of homeschooling best fits our educational philosophy. Once we know a bit about how children learn, and we know our own children, we can start to look at the different styles out there to help us teach our kids. There are many websites with quizzes where you can answer a few questions about your priorities, and these will then tell you which style suits you best. I did this when I first started looking into home educating. I hadn’t heard of most of the styles it mentioned, but it gave me a great jumping off point for my research. I knew I could get away with only a quick skim of any that didn’t suit me, and focus on those that matched our philosophies. This saved a lot of time, and as I read up on different styles, it was incredibly accurate.

4) Research the recommended methods and curriculums available, and join some forums or facebook groups dedicated to those methods. You can learn so much from other parents. Once you know your philosophies, you can start to glean information from like-minded folks and see how they incorporate things into their system. Remember, you don’t need to do everything exactly the same as others with similar philosophies. Some people fall in love with a style, and disapprove of anyone doing it slightly differently to how they think it should be done.

5)  Look realistically at your children and yourself, and see what will work best for your family and its particular situation. I have three boys. They’re all different, but I’m not about to use three totally different styles. It would be impossible. I can use slightly different implementation for the different boys, but overall the philosophy isn’t going to change. I didn’t want to start one thing with the first that wouldn’t also work for the other boys. There were compromises to make there. On top of that, while I could see them flourishing from a particular style, I knew with my health issues it wouldn’t work very well for our family, particularly in the younger years. I believe that where we’ve ended up is the best compromise for our family.

Once you settle on a style, get started. It won’t be perfect; nothing here on earth is. What’s important is that you know why you’ve chosen what you have, and why it’s best for you right now. It will change and evolve. When you see things other parents are doing, you may want to add a bit. If something isn’t working, you may want to replace it with something else. We always need slight corrections as our journey progresses, but if we know why we are (or aren’t) doing something and have a philosophy behind it, then we at least have a place to start.

Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear any thoughts.

Staying Consistent at Home and School

I’ve heard it since I was round with my first overdue baby: “The secret to parenting is being consistent.”

My parents said it. Uncles and aunts said it. The doctor, the grocer, the pastor all said it. To a large degree I see it’s true, but on many days it feels the only thing consistent about our life and parenting is the chaos. This is especially clear now that our kids are old enough to homeschool.

Staying Consistent at Home

Although we often feel like failures in this department, there are a few things we can count on in our house. They may be few in number, but they pack a punch.

  • Sabbath
    We keep the Sabbath in our house. We may be less strict with toys and activities than some Sabbath-keeping families, and more strict in other aspects, but the weekly observance is the same. Our kids can count on the Sabbath. They can depend on church, lunch with the grandparents, and a relaxed day.
  • Discipline
    It may have been a rocky uphill climb, but we have finally landed on a system of discipline that works well for us. We stopped spanking, and our kids do push-ups for disobedience. It really has stopped a lot of behaviors that we were not happy with (including our own). The push-ups give the kids a chance to slow down, calm down, and breathe.
  • Love
    No matter what happens everyday (as I said, we live a hectic life), in our house the kids can count on love — hugs whenever they want them, lots of kisses and cuddles and encouraging words.
  • Nap Time
    Sometimes we aren’t at home for nap time or the kids sleep in the car. If this happens we skip nap time. If we’re home, though, the kids can count on nap time at 2 p.m. every day. This recharges Mom, gives the oldest an opportunity to have quiet time, and gives the two youngest some much-needed sleep.

Staying Consistent at School

Our homeschool is not consistent in any stretch of the imagination, but we’re working at it. At this point in time there is very little the kids can count on, because we just changed our curriculum. Since it’s so chaotic, we try to keep the things that we can as consistent as possible.

  • Rewards and Praise
    We try to reward the kids for school work, both in game time (either video games, or the games on their school program). We also like to use stickers, along with hugs and kisses (which works the best for the youngest two!).
  • Same Time
    I try very hard to have at least some class time at the same time each day. This affords my son the opportunity to think, “oh, it’s time for school,” at the same time each day. It also gives him a special time that’s just his. When the others are old enough to have school daily, I will give them their own time as well.
  • The Subject Matter
    We tried a curriculum that only taught sight words for reading, but realized our son responds better to phonics. We finally chose a system of learning that we’re happy with, so now we are sticking with it. We’re sticking with a curriculum that reflects our beliefs as well as what we learned, so we’re better able to teach them.

A Routine

It’s so important to have a routine. Since we’re not in a place to have a consistent routine in our house, we’re at least going to discuss a routine every morning, and that will be consistent. We can call it The Breakfast Battle Plan. This will be a solid start.

Curriculum

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This time around let’s talk about curriculum. As I said in my last post, there are many choices. We will look at four different curricula today:

The first one is well known among Adventist homeschoolers. It’s Sonlight Education Ministry. This curriculum is free to download and print, making it very affordable for anyone who is on a budget. It includes math, history, geography, health, music, nature lessons, voice lessons, and Desire of All Nations. For parents it comes with a letter to read about the curriculum, checklist documents to keep track of books you need, a catalog, outlines for lessons, posters, and other helpful things to make the curriculum easier to use.

This curriculum is totally centered on Christ and the Bible. Every subject is Christ-centered and uses the Bible as a stepping stone to ensure learning. I have used this curriculum myself and have found it to be complete, hands on, and very in-depth. It’s laid out in an easy-to-use, concise manner. If having a budget friendly, Christ-centered, easy-to-use curriculum is important, this is the one or you. It only gets better because it’s Adventist, so there is no need to worry if the curriculum creators beliefs are in line with your own.

The second curriculum that we will cover is also popular among Christians: Abeka. While this curriculum is expensive, it is the choice of many homeschoolers. It can be used independently or guided by teachers. The price depends on which option you choose. Each kit for third grade will run you about $300, for example. When I looked up teacher-led, it ran about $1,000 for a year. Abeka, like the Sonlight Education Ministry, is Christ-centered. It uses the Bible as a way to help children learn their lessons. Subjects included are math, language arts, art, science, music, foreign language, health, spelling, phonics, reading, and electives.

We have used a few things from Abeka, and they were cute and fun to use. The lessons are thought-provoking and engaging. I would use Abeka again, but it wouldn’t be my first choice due to price. If you want an engaging, Christ-centered, easy curriculum, this is a great one. If, however, you are on a budget, this may not be the best choice for you.

Our third curriculum is Christian Light Education. Like the other two, this one is also Christian-based. Unlike the other two, it looks like you must buy every subject separately. They offer reading, Bible, language arts, math, science, and social studies. Despite that, the curriculum is often talked about as being a great choice among homeschoolers. Their first grade social studies is relatively cheap at about $18. I have used one of their social studies books, and they teach such truth. My son learned that during Columbus’ time people already knew the earth was round, whereas in public school I was taught people thought it was flat.

This is a great curriculum if you want Christian teaching and in-depth learning. I think the only downside may be that I haven’t seen anywhere you can buy it as a whole curriculum. Other than that, this is a wonderful choice for many homeschooling families.

Our last curriculum this post is Tapestry of Grace. I have heard this one talked about several times in homeschooling circles. They go by years starting at primary and ending at year four. Year one is about the ancient world. Like the others it is centered around Christian beliefs. An example would be that all governments are established by God. This curriculum offers history, literature, geography, government, arts and activities, writing, and worldview. Pricing depends on which package you buy: the unit sampler package costs $85, while the family package runs close to $500. So, this curriculum can be highly affordable if you have a budget. Many homeschoolers say this is their curriculum of choice due its Christian roots and pricing.

While I have never personally used this curriculum, it does seem very Christian based, and the books look beautiful.The price is great, and it seems you get a lot of customer service support. One day I will sample it to give all of you a better idea of what it is like. I went ahead and added it, though, because so many people recommend it, and it is on many list as a top Christian curriculum. From what I can see, it really is a beautiful, in-depth, Christian curriculum.

Well, that is it for this posting! If you have read until this point, thank you! Please join me in my next post where I will discuss how you can use Christian teaching and ideas in health and even physical education curriculum.