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!

Square One

 

There’s a reason that trial-and-error has long been a system of experimentation. It works in science, math, multiple choice. We’ve found that it works on the farm. Which end of the garden is the best soil for tomatoes? How much water do the plants need during the hottest month? What food helps the chickens lay the best? What kind of boxes do they like to roost in? If we make this fence higher, will the goat stay in the pen? No. If we add barbed wire? No. I think trial-and-error is exactly how some goat farmer long ago figured out that only electric fences will keep goats in the pen 100 percent of the time.

It’s all well and good when we’re talking about farm animals. We have the time to make adjustments. We have the resources to build, maintain, and redirect our animals. We have time to replant, time next year to try again, a grocery store to buy produce in the meantime. Trial-and-error is helpful on the farm. It works. Square One isn’t a huge threat on the farm.

What happens when our homeschool hits Square One? I never expected our homeschool to be a trial-and-error experiment, and even now, I am dissatisfied with the view from where we sit at square one.

It all started when my son’s disinterest in reading began to manifest into him not reading, refusing to sit quietly to learn, and conveniently forgetting his sight words just minutes after going over them and over them. Instead of yelling at him, making him sit longer, and more often, or starting over with the curriculum I knew was not working, we went back to square one.

The important first step? Assessing our child.

The program we were using was reading-only for the first year! When your kid isn’t interested in the reading, this can be a problem. So, I wanted a curriculum that included more than reading at his age. Although he wasn’t too interested in reading from a book or going over sight words on flashcards, he did love the computer. Games, typing letters, drawing, and more, he loved the computer, so I went to work finding a curriculum that was computer-based. I’m largely unorganized with recording homeschool hours, scheduling homeschool hours, and saving examples of work, so I searched for a program that had a built-in record-keeping system. 

When it was all said and done, I chose a program that my son loves. It is 100 percent online, but offers printable worksheets. It tracks time, grade level, and progress, as well as offering incentives and games. It’s exactly what I wanted and what he needed.

So, what’s the problem? 

I don’t like surveying the “race” around me and standing at the starting line with my kid. I feel like picking him up and carrying him through the race, when I should teach him to run it on his own. I want to skip through the alphabet and phonics, and buy him chapter books. I cannot remember not being able to read. As a five-year-old I would read my Granny books at bedtime until she fell asleep. I read and followed hymns in church. I don’t remember a time when I looked at a word and sounded it out. Ever. It’s hard for me to walk along with my son hand-in-hand, waiting patiently for something to click the way you’d expect a runner to find his stride just before he goes on to win the race. I’m not satisfied with waiting.

We have been in our little cabin in the country for exactly a year and a month now, and it seems I am just as impatient with farm life as I am with homeschooling. If I start the hens on layer feed, I want them to start laying right away. If I plant a seed, following the specified instructions, I want it to produce a plant at the very least, but would love to also have it bear some kind of fruit or vegetable. But, life doesn’t happen that way.

Everything we do seems to be some kind of trial and error, and only one thing is certain. King Jesus. If I teach my kid that Jesus is his Savior, and teach him to love, and to have a loving relationship with God and others, but never succeed with reading, do I succeed?

I wish I could come up with an answer to these tough questions. I’m praying that I can.

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.