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.

Charlotte Mason Preschool

Charlotte Mason was a huge supporter for starting formal academics later. She spoke about the benefits of short lessons, rich living books, and lots of time spent outside. I love how her method of teaching supports early childhood development. It is my goal that my early learner is in love with learning! Currently I am working with my three-year-old, and want to share what a Charlotte Mason preschool looks like in our home.

After we have morning time with my middle schoolers, I send them off to their individual studies and work with my three-year-old. We read a short Bible lesson and then do her calendar board. Some days she will play with felts or do other hands-on activities during morning time. After her Bible and calendar time, we move to her “core” work.

I found a wonderful Charlotte Mason based preschool curriculum called The Peaceful Preschool. It is a literature and project based curriculum that is letter themed. I love the rich book suggestions and gentle hands-on projects for each letter of the alphabet. These activities include read alouds, phonics, counting skills, fine and large motor skills, practical life skills, and art skills. There are 26 weeks or 52 weeks of lessons depending on how much time you want to spend on each letter.  All of the lessons are pre-planned and include a weekly grid, book, activity, and field trip suggestions. It makes it really simple and restful for me as a teacher and offers flexibility for my child’s interests.

I chose to spend two weeks per letter so that we could move slowly through her learning. I love that I can add in my own manipulatives, activities, and books as we go along, depending on her interests.

Along with her letter themed activities, we are also learning about nature study. The Charlotte Mason method of education has a strong focus on time spent outside and in nature study. We love to go on walks; play in the dirt; and spot birds, flowers, and plants, and then learn about them. These nature activities can also be tied into the letter themes to round out their learning.

One thing to remember about early learning is that it doesn’t have to be fast-paced with lots of formal learning. Children learn through play, enriching books, simple activities, and lots of nature time. Keep it simple, let them grow within their developmental abilities, and provide a loving environment.

Sensory Slime Fun!

Slime, slime, beautiful slime! It is one of our favorite sensory items to play with! We love how easy it is to make an how open ended it is. Plus it lasts a long time if you store it in a Ziplock bag! One of our favorite things to do is to use clear glue and add food coloring and glitter!! You can also add sequines, stars, little plastic toys…the options are endless!

Our favorite recipe uses clear glue, liquid startch and food coloring.

Slime Recipe:

1/2 Cup of Elmer’s Washable Non Toxic Clear Glue or White Glue

1/2 Cup of Liquid Starch

1/2 Cup of Water

Measuring Cup

2 bowls and a spoon

food coloring, confetti, glitter {optional}

Instructions:

1. In one bowl mix 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup of glue {really mix to combine completely}. Pour glue into water. Stir the glue and water together well!

2. Add color, glitter, or confetti! Mix the glitter and color into the glue and water mixture.

3Pour in 1/2 cup of liquid starch and mix. The slime will begin to form. When it begins to turn into a glob, use your hands to mix and stretch it until it’s no longer sticky. Then it’s time to play!

One of our favorite ways to use Slime is to add in little animal toys, bugs, and play dough tools.  It really is so easy to whip up and the possibilities are endless. Need some more ideas? Check all of the gread slime ideas here: Best Slime Activities

 

Juggling Preschoolers: The Workbox Solution

A workbox focused on the color yellow: My preschooler was given instructions to find items with the color yellow from within the workbox and glue them in her special “Color Yellow” book. This project required preschool skills like cutting with scissors, gluing, coloring, and sorting by color.

I can point to certain years in our homeschooling journey as turning points, and this has been one of them for us! Our oldest officially hit ninth grade this year, which meant we had one child in each level: high school, middle school, elementary, and preschool. It’s taken me nearly all school year to tweak our program to meet everyone’s specific needs, but as the year has progressed it’s become easier.

One solution that eased my load was using a workbox system for my preschooler. As she’s gotten older, the contents of the boxes have changed according to her needs, but the system hasn’t changed, which is helpful. There are multiple descriptions of workbox systems available online, some very complicated, but today I’ll share how we’ve made workboxes fit into our lives successfully.

First, a confession: I have failed miserably — multiple times — at systems resembling chore charts and anything requiring daily labeling and reorganization. So, my system only requires *refilling*, and we don’t put cute stickers on to indicate the boxes are complete, or move numbers from the boxes to a laminated chart. She simply finishes the boxes. My preschooler is entertained and learning, and I am free to help the older kids while she explores her “independent” boxes. It works for us.

In our homeschool we try to finish all school work (besides high school) before noon so that the warmer afternoons are reserved for free activities and outside play. Usually my preschooler has finished her boxes before 11 a.m. and has some time to play in her kitchen or color for the hour before lunch. I have found that once her emotional and learning needs are met, she is much more willing to play by herself quietly.

Our stack of preschool workboxes: They are labeled 1-5, showing the order in which my preschooler should work on them for the day. An * by the number indicates that box is a “work with mom” box; the other boxes are mostly independent work, or boxes that require minimal instruction.

So here are the nuts & bolts of a workbox system:

  • I have a stack of five lightweight plastic boxes/bins that are a good size for my preschooler to handle all by herself, and that also fit most preschool activities nicely. For activities that don’t fit in the box, I put a reminder note in for myself that my preschooler brings to me. A drawer or file box system works well, too, but I have found that the boxes are bigger and work better for preschool; once a child hits elementary school, the drawer or file system seems to work better.
  • The boxes are labeled numerically in the order I wish her to complete them. Each box is filled the night before with either an “independent” project or a “work with mom” project. I put a star by the number on the box if it’s a “work with mom” box. That way she knows to come and ask for my help before starting. I try to have three to four independent boxes and only one or two boxes/day that she will need my help with.
  • When planning what order I wish her to complete the projects, I consider what I will be doing with the older kids when she gets to, say, “box #3.” That way the preschooler’s independent boxes will hopefully coordinate with the time slots for my older kids’ language arts or other subjects where they will need my help. (If the timing is off, I simply change the numbering in the morning or tell her to skip certain boxes until I’m able to help her.)
  • In the morning after chores, breakfast, worship, and violin practice, my preschooler knows she can start working on her boxes at her own pace, staring with box #1.
  • We keep a large plastic tray in my preschooler’s area, and she knows to keep all the components of the boxes either in the box or on the tray to reduce the mess. This is especially important when using craft materials or kinetic sand!

Kinetic sand is always a winner in the workboxes! Warning: it’s still messy, even if it sticks together better than ordinary sand!

Ideas for Workbox Contents:

  • The internet is peppered with many fun ideas for “sensory bins.” These work wonderfully for younger preschooler kids or 4- to 5-year-olds. I would suggest having a closet shelf or bins designated for supplies for these types of bins. The supply list can be overwhelming unless you have items on hand that can be used multiple times for various projects. An example: Plastic animals or greenery can be used with sand, uncooked corn or rice, “easter” grass, water, beans, confetti, or with pictures of live animals to match with, etc. I stock up on items from dollar stores that will work for multiple projects so I’m not purchasing constantly.
  • We are using the Adventurer program as a part of our preschool program. One day every week or two, our bins are full of items to complete the requirements or awards for that day. I usually choose a day when my other students have mostly independent work to do.
  • Kinetic sand and molds.
  • Items from nature: leaves, large nuts, moss, etc. This is more of an exploratory/sensory bin, but older preschoolers can be encouraged to create little “houses” or “play areas” for small creatures or dolls.
  • Tongs, egg cartons, and items for sorting and counting.
  • “Find it” bottles filled with rice and small items. They shake the bottle and try to find what’s hidden.
  • Magnets and items that are both non-magnetic and have magnetic properties. Let them explore what does and doesn’t attract.
  • Water in a container and items that float or don’t float.
  • Craft items: feathers, paper plates with holes cut on the sides, pipe cleaners, felt, buttons, glue, etc. See what they can create with what’s provided. We usually have one of these bins once or twice/week.
  • Finger puppets.
  • Story book with a CD so they can follow along with a story (for older children) OR a book you will have time to read with them.
  • Play-doh and tools. Online there are many printable “mats” for play-doh to reinforce counting skills and the alphabet, or to develop hand strength and dexterity making shapes. (I laminate these printable mats.)
  • Measuring spoons/cups and items to measure such as rice, beans, water, etc. Funnels are fun to play with, too.
  • Fingerpainting supplies — and a smock!
  • “Paint with water” sheets and a paintbrush.
  • Pages from preschool books (coloring, “follow the line,” copy letters). Kumon books are a good option, too, especially the ones to help develop scissor or gluing skills.
  • Wikisticks (there are wikistick kits available for purchase that work great for boxes).
  • Cuisenaire rods (or another math manipulative). I love the Cuisenaire Alphabet Book: Problem Solving from A to Z. “Inchimals” is another wonderful preschool math tool, similar to Cuisenaire rods (which are in centimeter increments); Inchimals are divided into inches.
  • Puzzles: a page of dot to dot, a large floor puzzle, wooden puzzles.
  • Lacing cards.
  • Items to stack (cups or boxes) or sort by size (wooden blocks, shells).
  • Duplos or bristle blocks.
  • Pipe cleaners and pictures of items to make with them, beads to thread on it, or a colander to thread the pipe cleaners through.
  • Magnetic numbers or letters for the refrigerator.
  • Coloring page with only WARM color crayons. (Or if they’re old enough, put all the colors in the box & instruct them to only use warm or only cool colors.)
  • Counting bears. We found a set with a plastic balance/scale for comparing weights at a thrift store.
  • Bean bags and buckets to toss them in, or balls.
  • Potting materials & seeds.
  • Toy cars, trains, planes, etc., and sand or dirt and blocks of wood to create paths, etc.
  • Plastic fruit & veggies (especially those that come apart and can be “cut” with a plastic knife)
  • Beans (or any small item) and a card with a letter of the alphabet on it to put the beans on, “tracing” the letter.
  • A kids’ music CD and instruments or scarves (if you have a room where they can play and not disturb everyone else).
  • Items to make musical instruments with.
  • Felt or magnet sets.
  • Dress-up items.

Enjoy! I love these preschool years, though they are BUSY! Pretty soon my preschooler won’t be interested in the activities above, and I’ll miss this stage. For now, the workbox system is one of my strategies for attending to my older kids’ needs while giving my preschooler something educational to “chew on.”

Early Learning Calendar Board!

Since my oldest graduated and my next two are in middle school, I am re-entering the early learning phase with my three-year-old! Over the last 17 years of homeschooling, I have learned so much about what works for our family and for each child. It’s been a lot of trials, errors, and triumphs, but I am looking forward to starting again. This time, though, it will be more relaxed.

I am a firm believer in waiting until a child is developmentally ready for formal education. I believe young children should have lots of free play time and time to discover their interests. Our three-year-old is one who loves music and singing. She sings all over the house and remembers words to songs very well. So, what better way to introduce her to topics than through song? She asks me every day what day of the week it is, so I knew she was ready to start learning the days of the weeks, months of the year, and calendar. Pinterest is one of my favorite spots to find great ideas, and it was here that I stumbled across this adorable calendar trifold board. The credit for this idea goes to Amber from her blog From ABC’s to ACT’s!

I love laminating fun little activities, and putting them on a trifold board was a perfect condensed way to work with her, so this was right up my alley! All of the printables were free. I laminated them, cut them out, and affixed velcro to the back. I then positioned them on the board and put the opposite velcro where I wanted them to stick. The headings, days of the week, and months of the year are secured with clear packing tape. I also made pockets out of two sheet protectors. Then I bordered the whole thing with fun duct tape. All in all the project cost about $10! She really loves it and sings the songs all over the house.

Her schedule this year consists of morning time with me and her older siblings, where she plays while we do memory verses and some poetry. Then I do her calendar board with her. After that she has free play, story time, and outside time, and sometimes does a sensory craft with mama. That’s it!

Early learning doesn’t need to be stressful. Keep it simple and open ended. Let them play and explore.

Resources:

Calendar Board Printables – Free

Trifold board and velcro were purchased from Walmart.