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!!!

Preschool Unit Study: The Ark of Noah

We recently started the little children’s family Bible lessons by Sonlight Education Ministry. This week and last week we learned about Noah and his ark.

I want to share with you what I have done with my four-year-old daughter and my three-year-old son. I hope you gain some ideas.

We started our study with reading from the Bible. During this two weeks, we read about Noah in different children’s Bible story books. I told the story in my own words, and I asked the children to re-tell it to me. Sometimes it was difficult for them to tell the story in their own words, so I asked them questions like this: “Why did Noah build an ark?” or “Who told Noah to build the ark?” Repeating the story in different ways helped them to get more familiar with Bible history and the important parts of it.

For our preschool math, we had two fun activities. The first was Nijntje ahoi. This is a balancing game. My son and daughter had to take turns in placing Nijntje (also known as Miffy), her family, and the animals on the boat. Make sure there is a place for everybody! Don’t let any of them fall off!

The second activity was called “porcupine.” For this game we took 12 clothespins. When they were all mixed up, it was not easy to count them. Then we made four rows of three clothespins. This way it was easier to count. Then came the time to give the porcupine her spikes. My daughter knelt down and closed her eyes. I clipped some clothespins on her shirt, and she guessed how many spikes she had on her back. Then she could look at the remaining clothespins and count again.

For this unit study, we went to Batavia werf, a yard where they make a replica of The Seven Provinces, a battleship from the 17th century. We saw the wooden frame of The Seven Provinces. It was only 43 meters (a little over 150 ft.), but it looked so big. Noah’s ark was even three times bigger! We were amazed, realizing how much work Noah and his team had done to build the ark.

In an old Bible activity book from the thrift store, we found some nice little crafts. One was an ark and animal finger-puppets to color and cut out. Another activity was coloring the rainbow with only three colors. My daughter loved mixing colors to complete the rainbow.

We loved learning about Noah, and I’m sure we will study this Bible story again someday.

Outdoor Activities for Preschoolers

In my previous blog post, I shared the benefits of the outdoor classroom. Now summer is here! Today I want to give you some ideas of things to do this summer. Go outside with your preschoolers. The ideas listed below are free or can be done with a limited budget.

Places to go:

  • Go to the beach, collect shells, sort them; don’t forget to bring along a bucket and shovel.
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood and look for fire hydrants, or white cars, or certain flowers, or certain shapes.
  • Ride your bike.
  • Go to the playground with some friends.
  • Go to the forest and let the children lead; they will find all kind of interesting things.
  • Feed the ducks at the pond.
  • Go for a picnic in the park.

Get creative:

  • Paint rocks or a branch.
  • Make a bird feeder.
  • Make stick-men out of sticks you collected at a walk.
  • Make a bracelet out of sticky tape and stick flowers, leaves, etc., to it.
  • Paint outside using nature paint brushes.
  • Make home-made ice cream.

Explore outside:

  • Catch (lady) bugs; read a book about bugs.
  • Climb a tree.
  • Find shapes in the clouds.
  • Dig for worms.
  • Go strawberry or flower picking.
  • Build a fort.
  • Make mud pies.
  • Plant flowers (that attract butterflies), or plant veggies, or start with seeds.
  • Explore the weather, make a weather-vane, or a rain collector.

Games:

  • Play tag or any variant, like What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?
  • Play Hide and Seek, Simon Says, or I Spy.
  • Play with bubbles.
  • Roll or kick a ball.
  • Use sidewalk chalk to…
    • draw a hopscotch grid.
    • draw different colored shapes.
    • draw letters and numbers.
    • draw an obstacle course.

Play with water:

  • Run in the sprinkler.
  • Play in a blow-up pool.
  • Give each child a bottle with water (without lids) and kick them over with a ball.
  • Paint with water.
  • Draw with chalk, and wash it away with the hose.
  • Make a toy car / bike wash.

There are so many things to do. I hope you enjoy the outdoors this summer. Be blessed with all the benefits the outdoors brings to your family!

Benefits of the Outdoor Classroom

Here in the Netherlands two organizations worked together to promote going outside for learning by organizing an outdoor school day. They challenged schools to do at least one lesson outside on this day. We decided to join this special day with our homeschool, and we spent the whole day outside. In the morning, we went for a walk in the forest with three other homeschooling families. The afternoon we spend working and playing in our garden.

Both my children, but especially my son (three years old), love to play outside. My son often asks me, “Can I play in the garden now?” — even before breakfast or after dinner. I simply can’t say no to this. Being outside has so many benefits.

Today I want to share with you some of the benefits of playing and learning outdoors, particularly for preschoolers.

In the book Child Guidance, sister Ellen White shares with us:

  • “Next to the Bible, nature is to be our great lesson book,” Testimonies For The Church 6:185.
  • “To the little child, not yet capable of learning from the printed page or of being introduced to the routine of the schoolroom, nature presents an unfailing source of instruction and delight. The heart not yet hardened by contact with evil is quick to recognize the Presence that pervades all created things. The ear as yet undulled by the world’s clamor is attentive to the Voice that speaks through nature’s utterances. And for those of older years, needing continually its silent reminders of the spiritual and eternal, nature’s teaching will be no less a source of pleasure and of instruction,” Education, 100.
  • “The fields and hills — nature’s audience chamber — should be the schoolroom for little children. Her treasures should be their textbook. The lessons thus imprinted upon their minds will not be soon forgotten,” The Signs of the Times, December 6, 1877.

So, let’s use the outdoors for learning. The course of SonLight about the ‘ten principles of true education’ also emphasises the importance teaching in nature.

“Homeschooling is meant to be done in a natural surrounding where children learn naturally.… Teaching outside tends to quiet hyper students. At first there may be moments of distraction, but these moments will pass, or can often be turned into lessons.… Teaching outside will improve the five senses. Students will become more sensitive to seeing detail, hearing quiet sounds, smelling fragrances, feeling breezes and changes in temperature, and tasting nature through its smells. This will help develop in them a sensitivity to people, their needs… In their time of trouble to will be the little things that will help them to know how to respond to a friend or an enemy. Teaching outside offers time for personal prayer, thoughts and meditation. It offers opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak gently to students through nature.” https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B1d_dY0vFt8ffm1wVjFNQ25tUWFsWFFnT1RnZ3hCbWhHcDdodkhBZW82akg0dERfcFpDbDg?amp%3Busp=sharing

There are also multiple health benefits from playing and homeschooling outside:

  • Sunlight: the sun supplies us with vitamin D and helps with sleep-wake cycle.
  • Fresh air: indoor air is more toxic than outdoor air.
  • Exercise: it strengthens muscles and bones, and it prevents obesity.
  • Healthy eyes: spending a lot of time outside in natural light protects against nearsightedness.

And, last but not least, the influence of being outside on mental health:

  • Better cognitive performance
  • Improved attention spans
  • Better behavior and mood
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved memory
  • Reduces stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Playing together with other children encourages social development like sharing, and how to negotiate and resolve conflicts.

Adult controlled play, such as in organized sports, and free play are not interchangeable, although both are valuable. Children learn better when they regularly spread their attention or can pause.

What is your experience with the outdoor classroom? Please share how you use your outdoor classroom and how it benefits your children.