April Showers Bring May Flowers

It’s that time of year. I’m rather new to this whole homeschooling thing, but from what I understand, frustrations run high in May. Some parents choose a more relaxed approach and homeschool year-round, but for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere who choose nine-months-on-three-months-off, May can get interesting. (When is it for the Southern Hemisphere? November?) Tensions mount, and excitement runs dry. New homeschooling parents are prone to panic attacks when they realize little Johnny may not master a certain criteria by the end of the year. And, little Johnny is equally frustrated when the skill he has practiced a thousand times is still challenging for him.

Don’t be afraid to lay some of those battles aside for a time. There is no stop-watch in homeschooling! Remind your child (and yourself) that millions of April-shower raindrops precede the beautiful blooms of May. Tell them their practice, their trials, their repeated efforts are like the little raindrops. The raindrops are not bad. They are not a problem. The frequent efforts, though not as fun as sunshine, will all add up in time to beautiful flowers of skill.

My child’s raindrops, those lessons unmastered and often frustrating, might be that one piano song he’s tried so long to learn; writing the letter E, or S, or K; or maybe mastering the sound of the letter Q. And, here’s what I will do:

An Encouraging Project

I will record the rain and celebrate the flowers whenever they come. Here’s how. Cut out paper raindrops and write on them the unmastered skills (little ones, as well). When the skill finally blossoms, make a flower together with your child, and write their new accomplishment on it. These can be mounted on a wall, or you could even put their raindrops in a jar and make 3D tissue paper flowers to celebrate. The bigger the success, the bigger the flower! Their growing garden or bouquet will be an encouragement to them as they continually face new challenges, a way to look back and remember that practice really does make a difference.

Scissor skills, spelling, riding a bike, fractions, tying shoes… What are your child’s raindrops? What do they struggle with? When will their skill bloom? Different flowers bloom at different times, and so it is with skills. Some come early, some come late, but each is beautiful and well worth the rain.

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!

Learning Spaces for Homeschool

When I first started homeschooling my children, I envisioned this amazing space where we would do all of our learning. In my head this included a teacher’s desk and two little student desks just for them. It would be like school at home! Over the years I have learned that while our learning spaces have grown (you know how wonderful educational supplies, books, and curriculum are), we also use it less. Our favorite spots to do our lessons are on the living room couch, by the fireplace in the winter, and out on the picnic table in the summer. I still love having a clean and organized space to house all of our materials and supplies, though.

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Right now this space is in half of our garage. It never fails that as soon as I get it cleaned up, it becomes a catch all again and never stays nice! But, I do try to re-organize every couple of months. I recorded one of my clean-out and organizational sessions. I love watching videos on YouTube of cleaning. I thought you would also enjoy watching our process of creating an inviting learning space.

Phase 1: The Before! Yikes!!

Phase 2: Clean Out, Part 1. It’s getting better!

Phase 3: Organize and Beautify! It’s Finished!

In homeschooling my children I always feel so much more productive and on top of their learning experience when I have a clean and organized space. It is important I have an area where I can organize all of their supplies and curriculum. My children, as well as I, need a place to sit and work on our projects and have the environment be conducive to productivity. My initial hope for this space is for it to be warm, inviting, and personal to my children. I want to be able to display their different projects, and room for their creations, and maybe even a place to put items that pertain to a unit we are doing. I also need space to keep my teachers manuals and supplies. I want to have a desk for my files and my computer so that my husband and I aren’t always having to share. I think that if we had this space, we would feel like we were accomplishing more, and my children would be able to be more focused then they are now. Also, it would be an area where their school items were stored and would stay, rather than having them all over the house like they are now.  I really have a love for bright and cheery classrooms. I even have a Pinterest board specifically for classroom ideas. I’m excited to see how my kids respond to this area and how it impacts our learning.

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.

Exploring Homeschooling Methods for the Early Learner | Montessori

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I have to admit, writing about the Montessori method has been quite intimidating to me. It is a very rich and scientific method that is very precise. For something to be truly Montessori, the teacher (at home or school) MUST be formally trained in the Montessori method and use specific Montessori supplies. However, in this day and age, many families are choosing to provide their homeschoolers with a Montessori inspired education.

Some are drawn to Montessori by the emphasis on independence, others on the child-directed approach to learning, and still others by the vast array of materials and resources provided for even the youngest of learners.

In this brief introduction, I will by no means do the full Montessori method justice, but my hope is that I can share some of the most desired aspects for those of you who are interested in taking some inspiration from the pen of Maria Montessori.

A Brief History of Montessori
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who did extensive work with special needs children. As she observed children and read various educational philosophies of her predecessors, Maria began to develop a very precise and scientific approach to education that revolved greatly around the “prepared environment” and the idea that children teach themselves. By understanding child development and examining the way children played with different textures, tools, and materials, Maria developed various prepared activities, from transferring beans from one bowl to another with a spoon to sorting cards of animals and plants. During her life, Maria set up many “children’s homes” (or schools) all over the world where her theories were put into practice and found to be very successful.

Why Montessori for the Early Years
As mentioned above, Montessori methodology begins at birth. This means there is something from every age group through middle school. Where most educational philosophies don’t offer many exercises or activities for the under-six crowd, Montessori is chalk full of them.

Key ideas in Montessori are independence and giving children space to grow and discover, as well as respecting each child as a person. In a Montessori homeschool, a child would have furniture and tools that are good quality, real, and all their own size. Typically there is a shelf with prepared activities that teach a child crucial skills. One activity may be a tray with a pitcher full of water and a glass for a child to practice pouring. The idea is that the child will naturally do this over and over again until she masters the skill. She is not forced to do the activities, but rather can choose what she would like to do and for how long. Then, after she has experimented with an activity, the teacher comes alongside the student, showing ways to expand upon the things she is already learning.

Some of the key elements of a Montessori style education are mixed ages in one classroom (great for homeschool), large uninterrupted blocks of time to play and explore, freedom to choose activities, a discovery model vs. direct instruction, use of very specific educational materials and tools created by Maria Montessori, and plenty of free space for a child to move.

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Family
Like with any homeschool, the schedule is going to look very different from family to family. Part of what will determine a schedule will be how strictly one adheres to Montessori methodology. However, two non-negotiable components of a Montessori education are outdoor play, and large blocks of uninterrupted play and learning time. Below is an idea of what a homeschooling day might look like. In this case our family has one girl, Isabella, four, and a baby brother, six months.

9:00 a.m. – Circle or “line” time. Isabella and her mom sing songs, read a few stories, and see what’s happening with the weather for the day. Today Isabella’s mom is adding  an activity about skeletons to their activity shelf. She talks about the x-ray cards with Isabella and shows her how she can make x-ray art by gluing cotton swabs to black paper. They also read a new poem about bones.

9:15 – Self-directed learning time. Isabella’s mom leaves her to explore all of the things on the shelf. She is there ready to help Isabella if she needs help, but tries to give her space. Isabella immediately grabs the new tray and begins working on her skeletons. She shows what she is doing to her mom. Then she cleans up, puts her tray back, and starts working on a puzzle that is on the shelf.

10:45 – Circle or “line” time. Mom reads a book to Isabella; they talk about the morning and get ready to go outside for a bit. They may go to the park, ride bikes, take a magnifying glass and explore nature, the sky is the limit.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch time. Because this is a Montessori homeschool, Isabella is encouraged to help as much as she can to prepare her lunch. She is able to cut her banana and prepare a sandwich all by herself alongside her mom. Special care is taken to practice manners and courtesy. Isabella sets the table and helps her mom wipe the table and clean up when the meal is over.

1:00 – Quiet time for Isabella to play, listen to books on tape, or just generally be calm and rest for a bit.

2:00 – The rest of the afternoon is open to play. Likely there will be another chance to go outside and play, and the activity shelf is always open.

Materials, Resources, and Curriculums for Montessori
Unlike other methods, there are some very specific materials typically used in a Montessori classroom. Much emphasis is placed on the activity trays, and those will need to be stocked. One of the best places to find Montessori style lesson plans and materials is from Michael Olaf’s website. The North American Montessori Institute has also put together a curriculum for homeschoolers. Many people, however, find they like to take some of the Montessori activities and ideas and rework them, rather than following the Montessori philosophy precisely.

I will provide links to some websites and books that can be helpful below, but a quick Pinterest search for “Montessori activities {insert age}” can be really helpful too.

Is Montessori Right for Me?
Montessori is an approach that really encompasses all of life, not just your typical academic subjects. It places emphasis on independence, courtesy, and child-led learning. How do you know if Montessori is right for you?

  • If you like the idea of watching for teachable moments and making suggestions, but letting your child take charge of his learning, Montessori might be a good fit.
  • If you don’t mind preparing activities and rotating them out, keeping an eye on how your child responds to new things, you might love the child-led nature of Montessori.
  • If you like the idea of giving young children more freedom to play and explore, both inside and outside, while providing structure and stability, you might have a good fit.
  • Montessori might be right for you if you like the idea of using a well researched and scientific method of education in the home.
  • If you have a really young child and you want to enrich her life by providing developmentally appropriate activities, Montessori would be a good place to start.

How About You?
Do you use any Montessori methods or activities in your homeschool? Are you strict, following it to a tee, or do you just like to pull in Montessori ideas from time to time? What are your questions and reactions? 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. Teaching Montessori in the Home Pre-School Years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock: An introduction to the Montessori method and how to set up a Montessori program in your home.
  2. Teach Me to Do it Myself by Maja Pitamic: A whole host of Montessori activities for children ages three to six.
  3. Montessori At Home Guide by A.M. Sterling: An introduction to using the Montessori method at home with two- to six-year-olds.
  4. Montessori on a Budget is a great website filled with tons of resources and ideas. It proves that using the Montessori method doesn’t have to be expensive and provides materials to help you implement the Montessori method in your home.
  5. American Montessori Society: Visit their website to find out more about the Montessori method and its founder, Maria Montessori.