Preschool Unit Study: Chickens

The unit study we did last month was partly a family project. We got chickens! First the children and I helped Daddy to assemble the coop. We went out together to buy all the supplies and food. Then the big day came: We got the chickens! We chose four little Seramas in different colors, so they are easy to recognize. On our way home, we named the hens. My daughter named the brown one Lappie, and my son named the white chicken Tsitsi.

We are learning how to take care for our chickens and how to handle them. Every morning they need food and fresh water. We have to clean the coop regularly. When mom or dad picks up a chicken, the children can pet it carefully. We don’t want to scare them. We love to see them walk around in our garden, scratching the dirt and looking for worms or a juicy leave.

To learn more about chickens, we read multiple books which taught them some chicken-related words and the life cycle of the chicken.

Painting is one of the kids’ favorite craft activities, so we did several crafts which involved paint. We made a chicken handprint welcome sign to welcome the chickens and others who come to our house. The handprints are the bodies of the chickens. And, we added feet, a beak, and an eye. Each chicken got a letter. Combined, we got a nice welcome sign.

The hatching chick also needed some painting. I drew an egg shape on construction paper. The children painted it yellow. Once the paint was dry, we added eyes and a beak. We cut out an egg shape out of a brown paper bag and glued the edges unto the construction paper. The children drew a nest and finally opened up the egg, so you could see the little chick.

Playing with salt dough is also an activity they love. It was my idea to make little nests and chickens, using small buttons for eyes, a miniature clothespin for a beak and feathers. I think my salt dough chick turned out cute, but the children had different ideas. My daughter made a really cool racecar, decorated with chicken feathers. They had fun with the salt dough for over an hour!

Another nice activity was a feed-the-chicken counting game. I made the printable myself. The children rolled the dice, and counted how many chicken would get a dried chickpea. We kept going until every chicken got its food. It’s a good thing it’s easy to print more of these games, because after five minutes the children wanted to cut out the chickens and color them. It turned out to be not just a game, but a versatile worksheet. We had a lot of fun with it. Therefore, I want to share this printable with you. Right-click on the image below to copy.

Preschool Unit Study: Trees

The last three months we studied trees, guided by the family Bible lessons from Sonlight Education ministry. We started midsummer with all trees dressed in bright green leaves. While I’m writing this blogpost, it’s the last week of September. Fall is here! We have been seeing some change in the colors of the leaves, and so we have played and learned with pine cones, acorns, chestnuts, almonds, and more. I want to share with you what we did. And, I hope you gain some nice ideas.

We started our theme with a nature walk in a forest. I asked my children, “What is a tree?” My daughter pointed at a willow. Then I asked, “What about that elderberry bush? Is that also a tree?” “Noooo, a tree has a trunk and branches!” Then we talked about the parts of a tree.

At the small park at the end of our street are many different trees. (We take a walk through that park several times a week.) During our walk, we collected all types of leaves. At home, we pressed and dried them. Later we used a tree identification book and an app to find out which leaf belonged to which tree.

This also made us think about how to recognize a tree when you can’t look at the leaves. Flowers, fruit, and seeds are easy to use to identify a tree, but how can you find out what tree it is in the middle of winter or in early spring? It made my children think about the other parts of the tree. The bark, the twigs, the leaf buds and blossoms — all are also possible ways to recognize a tree. Let children touch the bark and feel whether it is smooth, rough, or maybe flakey like the bark of a birch.

To see and learn about more different types of trees, we went on a field trip to a botanical garden. They set up a scavenger hunt for the children. We looked for the tallest, the biggest, the fastest growing trees and plants, and so on.

One week we learned about palm trees, but we don’t have palm trees in our area. Therefore, we looked at them in books and on the internet. Then we painted a palm tree. We used our fists to stamp the leaves, and fingerprints for coconuts.

Since our street has many oak trees, we decided to spend extra time on this type of trees. We went outside to fill a bucket with acorns. We added some chestnuts and pinecones to the collection. Then it started to rain and we went inside to learn more. I found a cute acorn worksheet that involved cutting, pasting, and numbers. My daughter, almost five,followed the instructions and did a great job. My three-year-old son made his own rules. He did some counting while using the acorns, and he loved cutting the worksheet. We also read a poem about acorns, and we did a coloring page.

For an easy and fun fall craft, we made little owls out of pine cones. We used the “hats” of the acorns with googly eyes inside for eyes, added colored feathers, and used a little piece of orange felt for a beak and feet. The children could do most of it by themselves, and the owls looked so cute.

Then the season of harvesting started. By the end of August, our apples were ready to pick. The children both have their own mini tree. These are only one meter high, so they are able to pick their own apples. Later we processed the apples into juice, apple syrup, apple sauce, and apple turnovers.

We met some homeschooling friends at the forest to pick elderberries and blackberries. The children had a great time. By the end of our walk the children ate all the blackberries!

The children also helped picking our almonds. From a little distance, they threw the almonds in a bucket. That was a fun game. Afterwards we peeled the green skin off and found out all kinds of insect hiding there. We saw little spiders, ladybugs, rolly pollies, and a cute green bug. My daughter wanted to keep that bug as a pet. And so, we ended our tree unit study and transitioned to our next nature theme: insects.

Preschool Unit Study: “Towers”

During our family vacation our three-year-old son showed a lot of interest in a tower standing on the dike. We made a boat trip and every few minutes he asked, “Can we still see the tower?” He was so happy if he spotted it! So, we decided to make a unit study out of it.

Thinking about towers, the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy and the Eiffel tower in Paris, France came to my mind. Maps are also a point of interest of my son. The idea came up to introduce my children to some famous towers in Europe and link it to a printable map of our continent.

My children loved making a theme book to “read” and to show to their grandparents. The theme book wass made by stapling worksheets, flat crafts, and coloring pages together. I searched Pinterest and printed the following:

  • a map of Europe,
  • a “connect the dot” Eiffel tower from Paris,
  • “find the differences” Big Ben, London, and
  • coloring pages of Barcelona, Berlin, Moscow and Pisa.

The Bible story matching this theme was, of course, the tower of Babel. I added a printable of this tower to the theme book. While working on the booklet, my son asked for the letter stamps. That was a nice idea: stamping letters matches well with the confusion of languages. My daughter made the stamping extra confusing: she mixed up the stamps and the caps. Later she put the right caps on the right stamps. Great letter recognition activity!

We also read the Bible story several times, from different children’s Bibles. I told the story in my own words and let the children retell it to me.

On several occasions we talked about character — about being proud, like the builders of the tower of Babel, and how we need to be respectful to God and His commands. We talked about being polite and humble, and about being equal. Jesus loves every one of us!

We learned a song about the tower of Babel, which helped us remember the Bible story and not getting too proud. And, we learned a little bit about different languages through the chorus:

“Pardon moi

Was sagt du

No comprende

What’s that dude!

No entiendo

No capisce

Say what?

Dat begrijp ik niet!”

Last but not least: This unit study wouldn’t be complete without building. So, we played with our Duplo blocks to build a house and a big tower! Then we went into the kitchen to build a tower snack. We made some vegan whipped cream and counted cookies. Each got five cookies to build a tower, spreading the whipped cream on the cookie to hold them in a pile. Then we got to eat the tower. Yummy!!!

Fall Semester: Building Blocks

When I began homeschooling my seven-year-old last year, it was a slow start. We attempted a few methods before finally landing on what worked well. At the end of winter, Mickey should have been completing kindergarten. Instead of reading like a first-grader, he read at a .03 reading level. For those who may not know, that number means he was reading as if in the third month of kindergarten. Now, I’m no stranger to changes mid-game, and this was another time when I had to stop, assess, and reroute our homeschooling journey.

New Plan
We planned to school year-round, but as my son still struggled so with letters, phonics, and penmanship, my husband and I discussed our upcoming plans. Since Mickey was excelling in math and science, we decided to only work on reading for the summer. He has been working on his daily challenges and assigned lessons three days per week through the summer, and he has exploded with excitement, reading road signs, subtitles, and books (unassigned). As his excitement has grown, so has mine. I saw him experience a whole new world that I remember discovering, and still love: the world of reading.

Progress Report
I haven’t kept a close eye on Mickey’s grades this summer, mainly because teaching my kids to read has always been a point of serious anxiety for me. I know Philippians 4:13, though — and I claim it, and I think it, and sometimes I may shout it: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Because of my anxiety over it, we didn’t monitor his progress through the summer. When I began to plan for Mickey to begin first grade, I had him take the reading assessment offered by the academic program we use. He tested at a 1.08 reading level (almost second grade). This was a shock to me. Even though we read together, even though he reads everything, and even though he writes stories and letters and cards, it was a shock that he improved so much so fast. It was a shock, even though I’ve prayed over it and fretted over it, and God has given me the tools to teach my children.

Building Blocks
It turns out that since Mickey’s reading has improved, he is able to excel in the other subjects. He doesn’t have to ask me to read the questions every two minutes. He doesn’t have to click on the little microphone that prompts the computer to read to him. He can read, sound out, and understand everything I put in front of him!

It was hard for me to admit that I couldn’t teach my son to read, when I love to read and have always been a reader. Reading is the the first building block for the rest of first grade in our house. Now that he can read, the possibilities seem endless.

And, now that I remember that God answers prayers, the possibilities are endless.

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!