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.

Picnic Time!

“He giveth snow like wool: He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes. He sendeth forth His ice like morsels: who can stand before His cold?” Psalm 147:16,17.

When days are cold and seem to be in a rut, it’s a good time for a picnic. If it’s still really cold and dark where you live, just put a sheet or blanket on the floor (in front of a fireplace is nice) and have your picnic in the house. Consider not doing school book work, or less of it, and making it a “snow day.” Have your favorite picnic foods and play some games. Games like musical chairs and charades are active to get the kids moving. You could also do some table games or read stories. Maybe start some early garden seeds. You can grow things like leaf lettuce in a container that’s at least six inches deep, that is put near a window that gets a lot of light.

For the menu, we like baked beans (recipe to follow), either potato or pasta salad, a veggie tray, and maybe some cookies or other treat. Sometimes we do sandwiches and a salad. Mostly keep it pretty simple, so that you have more time to have fun together.

Baked Beans: two cups or one 1 pound bag dried navy or small white beans; soak over night, rinse, then cook the beans (may be done in a slow cooker/crock pot)

Then add: 1/2 cup maple syrup (can use molasses)

1/2-1 onion chopped

3 cloves of garlic minced

2 teaspoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (optional)

up to 1 teaspoon Wright’s Liquid Smoke (optional)

1 teaspoon salt (especially if not using Bragg’s or Smoke flavor)

When beans are almost done, add rest of ingredients and cook until beans and onions are soft. Make sure you have enough water in the beans not to burn them.

Variation: add up to 1 cup of tomatoes.

Enjoy!

 

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!

 

Exploring Homeschooling Methods for the Early Learner | Unschooling

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Unschooling. There. I said it. What was the first thing that came to mind? It’s funny, because of all of the early homeschool methods I am going to be sharing with you, none seems to bring as strong a reaction as this one. Whether you are sold out for unschooling, or don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole, I encourage you to read along as you may learn a thing or two and find a thought or technique to incorporate into your own little one’s learning.

A Brief History of Unschooling
When it comes to unschooling, the name you will want to remember is John Holt. You might have heard the name before as he is also considered the father of modern homeschooling. Holt was a classroom educator who began to see that schooling was not the same as education (1). He believed that children were born to learn, and that by placing them in a classroom and telling them exactly what to learn and when, their ability to learn is impaired, not fostered. He argued that by allowing children freedom and giving them experience in real life, we would ignite a spark and true education in their minds. With the release of his first book, How Children Fail (1964), public speaking engagements, and his influence, the modern homeschool movement was born.

Why Unschooling for the Early Years
Unschooling is included in my list of options for the early years because it’s the way little kids learn naturally. They play, explore, ask questions, hypothesize, and test — with little to no direction from us. I also find that many people don’t feel comfortable with unschooling after about second or third grade due to greater pressure to stay on-track with a school system, so the early years can be a great time to incorporate unschooling concepts.

A Day in the Life of an Unschooling Family
It is very difficult to say what a day in the life of an unschooling family would be like, but I’ll give it a go. I’m creating a fictional family with a four-year-old boy (Will) and a six-year-old girl (Suzie) to paint a picture of what things could look like.

6:30 a.m. – Suzie wakes up early and comes out to the living room to play. She finds a horse drawing book her mom left on the table, knowing she likes horses, and immediately pulls out her art supplies and sets to work.

7:30 – Will wakes up and starts to help his mom make breakfast. He watches from a chair and helps mix and wash things when he can — anything in the sink with water makes him very happy.

8:30 – After breakfast, the whole family works together to do chores. Suzie has been focused on learning how to move furniture in a room before vacuuming, and Will enjoys feeding the dog. He usually makes a mess, but is getting better every time.

9:00 – The kids have time to play and explore while mom tidies around the house. Today Will helps fold the towels and rags. Both children spend a lot of time playing outside. Suzie is making a buttercup crown.

10:00 – Suzie comes to mom to get some help reading a new horse book she has started. Some of the words are too hard. She and her mom look at the book together. They decide to write down the words Suzie is struggling with and mark them with a sticky note. Suzie wants to learn the words so she can read the book all by herself. Will is building a train set and is trying to figure out how to make the track reach all the way down the hall and loop back. Suzie helps with the hardest part.

11:00 – Family reading time. Will brings a stack of books for mom to read to him. Then, they read a few chapters from a book about Seabiscuit, a famous horse. Suzie has been picking out horse books from the library.

11:45 – The kids help make their sandwiches for lunch.

12:00 noon – Lunch

12:30 p.m. – Will has a rest time while Suzie and mom work on projects that are hard to do with little brother around. Suzie loves workbooks, and is working through a math workbook with her mom. When they finish that, they start on the huge horse puzzle Suzie is trying to finish.

2:00 – Everyone goes outside to work on the garden. They pull weeds and learn how to train the plants to grow up a support.

3:00 – The kids have been reading about frogs, and are hoping to catch some. The family goes to a nearby creek. They don’t catch frogs, but they catch tons of tadpoles. They bring some tadpoles home in a glass jar and begin reading online about how to take care of them so they can watch them turn into frogs.

The day might follow with supper, more reading, family activities, etc. No two days are exactly the same, but contrary to common belief, unschooling can include a rhythm to the day, and children can be expected to learn. They are simply given freedom and the ability to follow their natural curiosities.

Materials, Resources and Curriculums for Unschooling
There is no boxed curriculum for unschooling. Materials and resources are gathered based on a child’s learning style, interests, and what’s available. The library will be a great friend. As you notice your child choosing books on a particular topic, think of other ways they might like to explore the topic. Gather activity books, look for YouTube videos, research opportunities to go on outings or field trips, and really follow their lead. Don’t be afraid to ask them what resources, materials, classes, etc., they are interested in.

Whatever resources you end up using, “strewing” is a commonly used method to get the materials to the children. You may set something up for them to find in their room, or leave a book conveniently at their favorite spot on the couch. It’s basically making a way for them to discover and expand on their curiosity. More on strewing here: http://sandradodd.com/strew/sandra.

Is Unschooling Right for Me?
Unschooling can work in a lot of different situations, but just like all schooling styles, the question is, is it a fit for you and your family?

  • If you are excited about sharing life with your little one, and find yourself resonating with some of the contributions of John Holt, unschooling might be a good fit for you.
  • If you like a bit of flexibility in your schedule and have a child who is particularly inquisitive, unschooling might help keep that spark alive.
  • If you like the idea of giving young children more freedom to play and explore, go ahead, try unschooling on for size. It just might be a great fit for you.

How About You?
Are you an unschooler of littles? Are you thinking about unschooling, but simply aren’t sure? What are your questions? Thoughts? Reservations? Excitements? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschooler, kindergartner, first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More
1. Growing Without Schooling http://www.johnholtgws.com
2. The Natural Child Project: http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/earl_stevens.html
3. I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write: http://yes-i-can-write.blogspot.com/p/new-to-this-blog-new-to-unschooling.html
4. Basic description of unschooling: http://www.homeschool.com/Approaches/unschooling.asp
5. A great video that gives examples of strewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhZSSxx-0RE

Summer Trip Tips

For my last post of the year, it’s only fitting that I share with you a few things that I’ve done as I prepare for and begin our 6,000-mile, six-week expedition across the United States. Driving. With three small people.

My traveling companions are my youngest son who will turn 15 the second week of our trip, precluding his helping me drive (no chance to get a permit), and my two younger daughters, aged 11 and 9 years old.

Our route will encompass the states, beginning in Colorado, of Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ontario (Canada), New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico — not quite half of these 50 United States.

Route

We will leave Colorado before the last snowfall of the year, and hope to get out of Florida before the oppressive heat begins. The race is on!

Fortunately, we won’t be traveling long, brutal hours on the road. Our trip is split up into mostly bite-size stretches of Interstate. We either have family, friends or hotels to allow for a stop of a couple of hours for a meal or even overnight for a brief sleep.

Yes, the kids have electronics but at some point even that becomes incapable of passing the miles and hours. What to do…what to do!

I thought I would share some tips, perhaps a couple of games that I have gleaned from experience and the internet that have been a big hit so far.

So far our favorite game so far is “Cows on My Side.”

I figured the girls would enjoy this game, but as it turned out even my 15-year old got into it and became quite eagle eyed!

Observation is key! What you’re looking for is cows on your side of the vehicle (teams are allowed). The rules are as follows:

When you see a cow on your side of the road, you have to yell, “Cows on my side!”

Every time you call a cow, you get a point. If you see cows on the other side you say, “Cows on your side!” If you call, “Cows on your side,” before the person sees them, you steal a point.

If anyone sees a cemetery they call out, “Ghost cow,” stealing all the other side’s points.

We added the rule that if you called “Cows on my side!” and it turned out to be a horse, dog or clump of dirt, you lose a point.

We also began looking for other unusual animals such as llamas which counted for five points. You could add in other animals that would count for various high-scoring-points depending on the rarity of the animal.

My kids were on the edges of their seats looking for bovines throughout a stretch of Nebraska that was BORRRRRRR-RING!! I couldn’t quite believe that they were engaged with the outdoors and each other instead of their noses buried in electronic gadgets!

For each of the states we will travel, we are referencing the website http://www.50states.com and reading the 50 facts about each state as we are driving in it. This activity doesn’t last long but it provokes some interesting conversations that maximize teachable moments focusing on history!

The other thing I did was prepare several “bingo” cards. The bingo cards were either for restaurants (makes of vehicles (logos for Toyota, Honda, Fords, etc.) or road signs.

Restaurant bingo

I printed these sheets out two to a page and cut them in half. Then I went to Walmart and got three storage clipboards (to store the bingo sheets and other print outs), a package of white-erase markers and three “Scotch Display Pocket” which is like a page protector on steroids. Basically it’s glossy and is heavy duty (vs. the page protector which I was afraid might get beat up).

display pocket

The kids would take a sheet of bingo, place it in the display pocket and could write on it to their hearts content and I won’t have to print out a bunch of colored sheets! Woot!

Then a second benefit of the white-erase markers became apparent: the kids could write on their windows and it was easily cleaned off!

{jaw drops open}

When my oldest two were toddlers, my husband came up with the brilliant idea of letting the boys put stickers on the back seat windows to keep them entertained.

Yeah. That was sarcasm. Worst idea ever.

I had thoughts for which I had to repent as I did my best to get those stickers off the windows with Goof-off and razor blades.

So when I realized that the girls were drawing on the windows, I about had a heart attack! But when I looked back around ready to reprimand, I saw Laurie sedately erasing her beautiful drawing leaving behind nothing more than a few ubiquitous finger prints on the windows…that probably pre-dated said drawings.

Now that was brilliant!

If you’re taking dogs along on your trip, (yep, I have two Italian Greyhounds), keep in mind that you can now find dog parks within a matter of moments on your phone GPS unit. This saved me and my dogs both enormous mental stress!

I was able to locate a beautiful park in Iowa City, Iowa, that had a separate area where small dogs could play unmolested by the large dogs whose area shared a common fence.

That common chain-link fence was amazing! It allowed my little dogs to see and bark at the big dogs then race up and down said fence with the big dogs expending lots and lots of energy without becoming the running squeaky toy of every dog in the place!

When you get to somewhere and the weather is nasty, may I suggest a fantastic way to pass the time!

Also at Walmart, I grabbed Elmer’s glue, fancy yarn (I got much fancier than what is pictured), cheap spray adhesive and colored paper to use as a backing (or matting), making them bigger circles than the circles you cut out of travel pictures and/or maps printed of the major cities where we’d been. You can add glitter – the confetti with shapes – or any other decorations you can think of!

Voila!

Map craft

So far we haven’t had a chance to work on these, but I figure that if nothing else it can be a project for when we get home. Compile all of our pictures, print them out and go to town!

There’s a few ideas from what we’re doing! There’s much more out there than simply the Alphabet Game – always a family favorite.

If you’re inspired by these few little offerings, may I suggest you go to Pinterest and search “travel games.” Prepare to be sucked in for hours at a time!

Have a great summer, y’all! May God bring us all back again this fall from our various wanderings and activities this summer!