Fun at the Library: The Flexible Homeschool

Have you ever gone to the library with a well-researched book list, only to discover that they don’t have 75 percent of the books on your list? I’ll still do this on occasion, but today I’d like to share another method I’ve been using to find books at the library in a non-conventional but semi-organized way. Think highly flexible, fun, and rewarding!

Here it is, very simple, though not scientific in any way:

  1. Go to the kids’ picture book or easy reader section of the library.
  2. Choose one small section, say two or three short shelves.
  3. Find a step-stool to sit on.
  4. Browse through this section thoroughly, choosing books that meet your criteria for good literature for kids. I don’t ask my kids which books they want. Sometimes they wander by and chime in.
  5. Check them out and enjoy reading together.
  6. When you find a gem, turn it into a project.
  7. Repeat on the next visit, moving to the next section. Our library organizes children’s picture books alphabetically by author. We started with the A’s and are working through. Sometimes I go to the Z’s and work backwards.

With this simple method we find some wonderful books, and I’m never disappointed because a book isn’t available.

Here are two sample projects we loved:

Book: What’s Alive? (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1) by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld.
Subject: The difference between living and non-living things.
Project: Cut out pictures of living and non-living things in magazines and paste on categorized paper.

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whats-alive-collages

 

Book: If You Lived Here: Houses of the World by Giles Laroche.
Subject: Different kinds of houses people in various places live in.
Project: Choose one of the houses in the book and make a collage home.

log-house

pueblo

 

I love “school” ideas that are simple, flexible, fun, and educational. Do you have any tips for utilizing the library in a fun and simple way? Share in the comments below.

 

Easy Quiet Book for Little Ones

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If you’ve ever had a very active toddler like I do, I’m sure you’ve wondered many times what you can do to keep them busy. When my firstborn son was little, my mother lovingly sewed him a quiet book for church. It was beautiful and he loved it! Sadly I was not gifted with the sewing gene, and my mother has since passed on. So, I pondered as to how I could make something for our newest little girl! While I may not be able to sew well or at all, I can laminate like there is no tomorrow!!

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When my older children were younger, I made tons of laminated file folder games for them. There are so many free file folder games online that you can just print out and laminate! Did I mention I LOVE laminating!! So I thought, “Why not make a laminated quiet book!” How easy is that! I dug through my extensive collection of file folder games and also searched for new free ones online. Then I printed, laminated, and cut out the game pieces.

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Next was to find a three-ring binder that was just the right size. I went with a 1″ binder and made a pretty cover for it. Then I affixed magnets onto the laminated game boards, where the pieces would go, and slid them into sheet protectors. I did this so that she wouldn’t be tempted to pull the magnets off. I cut apart business card magnets for the game boards and the pieces. After that I separated out the game pieces into individual ziplock bags and stored them in a three-ring pencil case.

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I love the flexibility of this quiet book because I can make up multiple activities, store them in my file cabinet, and change them out. The possibilities are endless! You can make one that is spiritually centered for church, and one that is early learning based, or combine them together. My three-year-old loves hers. I have even thought about making some activities that are seasonally themed also!

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Below is the link to my Pinterest board with tons of free File Folder Game Printables!!

File Folder Games – Pinterest

The laminator I have used for years is the Duck Electric Laminator. I originally purchased it at Walmart for $25, but they no longer carry this brand. There are many that are comparable in price and quality though. I love my laminator, and it was one of my best homeschool purchases!

 

Teaching Kids to Read

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It is vitally important that children be taught to read, and to read well. There is shocking evidence that 60 million individuals in the United States, or one-third of the entire population, cannot read. This high rate of illiteracy prevents individuals from reaching their full potential in life and in the job market. It is a frightening reality, especially for parents of school-age children. As a home educator, the teacher-parent may find that teaching reading is one of the most daunting tasks that takes place in a homeschool. It takes time to give children the building blocks necessary to teach them to read. For most children the ability to read does not happen overnight, but rather is a process that takes place in stages as they are offered tools for learning and time to internalize and apply what they have learned. This ability is the foundation of all future learning. It is possible that children can read, and read extremely well!

It becomes the responsibility of the parent to teach their children to read. Some key elements in teaching reading include the following:

  • Talk to the child a lot from birth and as they develop and grow. This provides the foundation of linguistic information. By listening, a child absorbs the language, accent, and grammar of those who surround him.
  • Preparation for reading starts at a very young age. Sensory stimulation is important. Whether it be in the form of a red, black, and white mobile that hangs over a child’s crib, or something as simple as turning a light off and on to stimulate the pupillary reflex, activities that encourage development assist in developing overall intelligence and ability. Geometric shapes and the contrast of black and white are some of the first visual items that an infant recognizes. Studies also show that crawling is very important for babies. An infant should be allowed to be on his stomach, on the floor, as much as possible. Crawling helps a child develop neurologically, and it is instrumental in the development of visual pathways to the brain. As children grow, other forms of physical activity, like swinging, climbing, bouncing, jumping, rolling, and gymnastics also assist in neurological development. The development of gross motor skills is vital for youngsters. Strong neural pathways assist the child in becoming a good reader.
  • Make sure that words are visible to children of all ages. Small words on a book are not always easy for a developing youngster, so care should be taken to provide opportunity for children to see words in large print and in bright colors. Expose children to written words in their daily life at an early age, just as as you surround them with verbal information. Point out signs, words on cereal boxes, notes on the fridge, and so on. Make them aware that words exist and that they are a valuable part of life.
  • Read to your child, starting from infancy. Books can be either commercial or those that you write yourself (with large, colorful words). Make reading a daily routine. This establishes value and importance on the task. This example teaches your child what books are for. Read to them with enthusiasm, changing your voice to express the personality of each character in the book. Use your finger to underline the words as you read out loud, as this teaches the child that words flow in a certain pattern, going from left to right, and from top to bottom of the page. Read frequently and for as long as you keep a child’s attention. Reading is one of the foundations of an intelligent individual. Reading to your child is a key component in creating a good reader.
  • Tie together the importance of sounds (language) and reading (words) by teaching children phonics. Instead of teaching the alphabet, skip that task and instead teach the child the letter sounds. You can go with the same sequence of A, B, C. But, instead of saying the name of the letters, model the sounds of the words instead. If a letter has more than one sound, give them both in sequence. For example, say the sound for soft-sound A then long-sound A, then the sound for the letter B, and sound for soft-sound C and then long-sound C. Continue through the alphabet. This is an activity that can be set to the music of a favorite song, and it should be a routine that is established daily and from a young age. As children grow and you prepare them for more formal reading, the phonetic foundation will have been established. After the alphabet sounds are learned, move on to the more advanced phonograms and teach them with their phonics rules.
  • Encourage initial reading experiences using books that are phonetically based and have been written so that the child recognizes the phonograms learned. A phonics reading program such as this free, online reading resource helps the child flow naturally into putting sounds together into words, sentences, and paragraphs. Reading becomes a natural process with this approach.
  • Give the child opportunities each day to read out loud to you! Short periods of time throughout the day will be more productive than one long period of time. For the best in productive learning, always quit the activity before your child is ready to quit! Diminished interest on the child’s part is never productive. The key to a pleasurable reading experience is to keep the child motivated and eager. Taking turns with the parent in reading a story is a great way to teach a child to read.
  • Pace the learning experience according to your child’s needs. If a child was interested in learning, and then you see a diminished interest, it is a cue that the child is experiencing boredom and that it is time to quicken the pace and teach him new concepts. Boredom can indicate that the child already knows the information. But, be aware that there are other reasons for boredom, making it clear that you need to keep in-tune with your child and their needs. Boredom can also result when a child doesn’t understand the information being presented. It can also mean that your child sees no useful application for the information being taught. Thus, it is important to clarify concepts as you go along and to help the child see their importance and how it applies to daily life. Interest in a subject goes a long way in helping a child focus their attention.
  • Remember that all words a child is being taught to read should have meaning to him. If a child doesn’t know that Istanbul is the name of a city in Turkey, it will have no meaning to him. Explain the meaning of words they may not understand. Make reading meaningful. Start out with familiar words and move on from there. Words don’t have to be simple to be meaningful and read at an early age. If the child has a dog named “Liberated,” that becomes a good reading word even though it is not generally a word the beginning reader uses, because the child can associate the word with something that is meaningful to him. Introduce new words at a pace that prevents boredom but that does not overwhelm.
  • Games and drills can be fun for a child learning to read! Phonogram flashcards can be laid flat on a counter top with pennies, nickles, quarters, and dimes underneath. Take turns with the child in selecting a card and verbalizing the sound of the letter or letters being presented. If the sound given is correct, the child gets to keep the coin below the card. See who can collect the most money (teacher-parent, child, or sibling). If you don’t want to use actual money, school tokens could be made instead. Other games like Go-Fish, flashcard games, or pocket games can all be used in teaching phonics and/or sight-see words. Reading game ideas can be found online if you have trouble coming up with ideas on your own.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Reading aloud to your child is as important as having your child read back to you. Read throughout the day, not just from books, but from signs, packages, posters, and more. Make reading fun for both you and your child. Make reading a delight! Not only will you be creating happy memories with your child, but you will be establishing a foundation of learning that will serve your child well for years to come.

Handwriting and the Friendly Letter

My son deeply dislikes handwriting. I run up against his resistance a lot when I give him an assignment. Recently, it was time for him to learn how to write a letter. I pulled out the books, the curriculum, and we worked, we cried, and we fought. I was unhappy and he was unhappy. This was not a great way to begin our adventure in letter writing. Something had to change!

10929058_10152766772003299_8271002488453607597_nThat night we were sitting on the couch together watching Treehouse Masters. My son loves Treehouse Masters, and he was deeply engaged in watching it. At the same time, he also had a notebook in which he was designing his own tree house. He was excited and conversing with me about his tree house plans. That is when my lightbulb switched on and I began to make MY plans.

The next day we approached letter writing in a whole new way.

We started the day with watching another episode of Treehouse Masters. That, of course got Tim excited and thinking. Afterward, I explained to him that he had an opportunity to write a ‘fan letter’ to Pete from Treehouse Masters. This made it personal for Tim and he started talking so fast that I couldn’t keep up!

We set to work! First, I helped him decide on three to five things he wanted to tell Pete. He dictated to me a whole bunch of ideas that he was excited to share in his letter. I let him brainstorm freely and I wrote down everything he said. Next, we took his ideas and I read them back to him. We were able to verbally combine many of his ideas, delete others, and finally we end up with an interesting list of things he wanted to include in his letter.

I introduced to him the Friendly Letter Freebie from Teacherspayteachers.com. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Friendly-Letter-Freebie-964399

This is a great packet that helps to introduce the different elements of a letter in a very friendly and low key way. I did not use it cover to cover, but just as a guide for him to refer to. I made a quick little memory game of greeting options and salutations that we played. This helped him to remember and decide what greeting and closing was appropriate to use.

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Finally, we were ready to put his letter together. He researched the address and wrote that in the appropriate place on his paper.  Then, he took the sentences he wanted to write and put them into the body of the letter. Finally, he ended the letter with his chosen greeting.

I encouraged him to do punctuation and capitalization corrections and by the end of the week he was ready to do his final draft. He was pretty tired of writing it at this point so I was happy that we had taken our time to do each step according to his ability to stay focused.

After he addressed the envelope, we were ready to take a field trip to the post office that I had arranged. He purchased his stamp and mailed his letter. 11136723_10152858570468299_2633289733339705099_nHe was very excited and was super hopeful that Pete would write him back.

(Unknown to Timothy, I slipped in my own little note explaining that Tim has autism and had been working on this letter for two weeks. I requested that someone please write him back. As a special needs mom, I do whatever I can to help with my son’s success.)

A few weeks later a special package came in the mail. It was a letter from Pete, personally written to Timothy. It included a postcard that was signed and few other goodies. Timothy was so excited. He enjoyed the return letters so much that he decided to write more letters, and now he is an expert letter writer!

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Help! Our New Curriculum is Not Working

HelpIt’s not easy to admit, but this year I made a big mistake. The very comprehensive language arts curriculum I researched carefully and bought with excitement and high hopes — it wasn’t working. How could this happen when I had been so careful and planned so diligently. Discouragement set it.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you made careful plans, only to have them not go the way you hoped, leaving you feeling deflated and discouraged?

I’d like to say I prayed and the Lord solved my dilemma immediately. But, the truth is I got stuck. Despite having a college degree, I could not figure out a part of the curriculum, and so we stalled. Or rather, I stalled. Doing my due diligence I emailed the publisher, searched web forums, and tried to make sense of it. And, still I stalled. I could have skipped a few pages and continued on. However, I wanted to do it right. After all, I had paid good money for this! But sadly, by the end of September I was just skipping that part of school while I wondered how we were going to get over this unexpected hurdle.

Then the Lord planted a seed in my thoughts. We could do something else. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons we homeschool — so we can be flexible?!? I wasn’t committed to this curriculum like a long-term relationship. It wasn’t working. It was okay to move on to something else that would work. So simple, yet so hard for me to accept. Finally, I let it go and what a relief it was.

After some additional researching I found Intermediate Language Lessons and added Daily Grams. The Intermediate Language Lessons are available for free in ebook form. We opted to buy them in a workbook format that’s all ready to go for $8.95. The best part is I LOVE them both. Now we are back to doing daily language arts and everyone is happier, especially this mom!

This experience reinforced some valuable lessons.

  • It is okay to change course if something isn’t working in your homeschool.
  • Bigger and more expensive is not always best and most effective.
  • Every homeschool has different styles, and even the best reviews don’t guarantee it will work well with your family. This does not mean you’re a failure.
  • The Lord does not forsake us when we get off course.

Do not be afraid

Jesus often used the cycles of days, weeks, and seasons to teach valuable lessons. I believe He used these cycles because we need to learn things more than once so they will stick. What a patient God we serve.

As we cycle through another school year, I’m reminded that not only do my kids need to keep practicing writing, grammar, and math, but I need to practice flexibility to provide the best learning environment for my children.

Circumstances change, kids grow; what worked one year may not work the next. That “perfect” curriculum leads to tears and frustration. We try again, using different methods until we make it work for everyone … and then we cycle through the process again the next year.

“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

I’m so glad the Lord is with us on this homeschool journey, for better or for worse. Gratefully I accept his mercy and patience, praying that I will be as patient with myself and my children.