1 Fish, 2 Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Do you like fish? How about those adorable penguins? Maybe it is the sharks that intrigue you. For me it’s the octopus! If you or any of your kids are big fans of the underwater, visiting an aquarium should be on your bucket list.

You may not be aware that there are nearly 115 aquariums in the U.S. That means that if you live inside the U.S. or Guam, it is likely that there is an aquarium somewhere near you. My children had the privilege for the beginning six years of their life to grow up near the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. We spent so much time there, in fact, that my daughter referred to it as “her aquarium.” We have since moved and find ourselves north of Knoxville in Tennessee. Yet again, we are near an aquarium, this time Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

A couple of weeks ago we spent part of our vacation at Ripley’s Aquarium. This was our third visit. It was great, never disappointing. Each aquarium has its draw, its niche’, its audience. This particular aquarium is really great with the younger crowd, while still intriguing the rest of the family.

While Ripley’s Aquarium cannot compare in sheer volume to the Tennessee Aquarium, it doesn’t let you down. Ripley’s aquarium has a lot of interactive displays that are purposefully placed right at a kid’s level, with lots of bright colors and fascinating facts. At the entrance you are met with a huge round fish tank, flanked by a gigantic sea turtle skeleton hanging from the ceiling — pretty impressive, but just the beginning. Around every corner there is a new adventure area with facts about living environments, food preferences, camouflage, and temperaments.

One really cool element of this aquarium is that they give you a look inside…inside the filtration system, that is. Through a large window you can view the large filters and giant protein skimmer. Tours of the filtration system are available via their Behind the Scenes pass. However, it is pretty cool to look down over those giant tanks and skimmers.

Around the corner is one of the two most impressive parts of the aquarium, Shark Lagoon. I could stand here all day! There are sand tigers, sawfish (sawtooth sharks), shovelhead sharks, a giant sea turtle and more. The cool part is that you see it from the top! You get to see that shark fin break the surface and ominously skim through the water. We were there during feeding time for the sharks, and that was really fascinating to see.

We rounded the bend from there to find that they had added a children’s play area, with climbing and slides and tunnels, right in the center of the aquarium for the little ones to get their energy out. My three-year-old enjoyed the reprieve from standing and staring at fish. He ran and whooped and slid for five minutes, after which we moved on down the ramp and on to the piranhas.

We saw fish and frogs and penguins and sharks and eels. The eels I like best are the garden eels. They look like they are planted there in the sand, and all around them are tiny shrimp floating in the water. When one floats near, the eel will grab in and gulp it down. I think it’s fascinating.

Of course the most well-known feature of the Ripley’s aquarium is seeing Shark Lagoon through the underwater acrylic tunnel travelling on a 340-foot glide path. There are sharks literally lounging and cruising right above your heads.

I almost forgot that there is the “touch bay,” with horseshoe crabs. They have blue blood, by the way. In the same area is a pool where you can touch jellyfish.

Ripley’s has an area where there are changing exhibits. Right now it is a very interesting display about Pearl Harbor, complete with real news footage and audio recordings and a life-sized figure of Roosevelt addressing the nation (for those history buffs out there).

So all this to say, “Go visit some fish! Go find an aquarium!” After all, it is inside, out of the icky weather, and has tons of educational insights.

Now for the homeschool stuff! Most aquariums offer a discount for homeschool students. Ripley’s is $10.99 per family member, and you have to bring proof of your homeschool status.

On their website they have offers for more educational opportunities with Labs and Behind the Scenes tours. Here is the link to Wikipedia’s list of aquariums in the U.S. Hopefully one is just around the corner from you.

Learning New Things Takes Time

During my college days, I spent a lot of time with my aunt and my cousins. One day, my older cousin told me, “as long as you live, you will always be learning.” This holds true for me, as even today I am still learning.

Taking a new task or learning a new thing is not easy. It takes time and effort. They may be challenging at times and need courage, or it may be easy and we can get it done in a short time. There may be times when we feel like quitting. Whatever it is, let’s remember the promise in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Years ago I accepted a new job in another hospital. Before I started my work, the boss asked me if I would like to take up the offer in their teaching hospital in Malaysia since I had some experience. I told him that I was happy to give a try; however, I was not fluent in the language that they were using for teaching, which was Malay. I only understood a little. The boss gave me the assurance that I would be given the training, and the principal of the school would guide me. I was excited with this new challenge, but at the same time I was fearful. That night I went home and prayed. I remember the verse in the Bible found in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” A week later I started my new job. Not only was I well taken care of, I was guided step by step, and sent for training. My boss and the senior workers patiently taught me. It took me a while to learn and acquire the language. However, I never forgot the wonderful experience of the years I had working there. Each day, I knew that God was with me.

Today, I am still learning. As parents or teachers, we want our children to do their best. We first have to remember that each child learns at a different pace. Some things we cannot expect them to learn overnight. It may take time or more time than we expected. Through my own experiences, here are some things that I would like to share with you. These help me, and may work for you.

Patience: Learning new things takes patience. Sometimes we want to hurry and finish it. When my daughter turned four, she started piano lessons. She was born partially blind so it takes a little longer for her to read the music notes. Her teacher was very patient with her, and went slowly until she understood. A few months later, she took up violin. Since I do not know much about violin, I was learning with her while sitting in on her lesson time. When we came bac homek, we worked together. I learned to be patient with her because she got upset at not being able to progress faster than she wanted to or seeing the wrong notes. Somehow, she was a fast learner and wanted to do well. She learned to memorize every piece of music. In the beginning it was easy, with only four measures in the song, but each year it got tougher and tougher. We were thankful that all her teachers were very patient with her (even when we changed to a different teacher for her piano). As she grew older, she also realized that she needed to be patient with herself, too, in order to do well. God is good. Teaching is a challenging job, as well as being a parent. We need to have patience and show interest in what we do and in what our child does. With busy schedules, deadlines to meet, one may tend to be impatient and get irritated easily. There may be fear of not being able to achieve or complete the task. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Pray and ask God to guide.

Prioritizing: Some things may take a little longer than others. We need to make a plan. Set an estimated time of how long it will take to tackle the project or learn. One of my hobbies is cooking. I love to learn new recipes. But, there are some that take more time to prepare than others. So, during my free time or while waiting for my daughter in her music lesson, I study the recipe. It gives me an idea of how long I need to take to prepare that dish. If there’s a lot of time required, I might have to wait until I have more free time. I need to see what needs to be done first. It’s similar to learning a new subject or a new lesson/topic. When we learn a new thing, we want to see it done well. I remember a quote from Benjamin Franklin that goes like this: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” So, tackle the things that need to be learned and finished first, and then move on to learn the other things. Once we are able to do this once, the next time we come to the opportunity, it will be much easier. Mistakes may happen, but we all learn from our mistakes.

Positive Thinking: Keep a positive attitude when learning new things. This is not easy. When things are hard, we feel like quitting. It has happened to me many times when I am learning new stuff. There are times when I have to start all over. I have to remember to keep a positive attitude in order to set an example for my daughter. I told myself, “I can do it,” even if it means taking extra time. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

The other day, I was sitting on the deck chair under a small tree by the pool while waiting for my daughter at her swim lesson. After a while I heard some chirping and saw two tiny backyard birds. I believe they were looking for things to build a nest. There was a string hanging on the branch. It looked slightly tangled up. I was watching the birds taking turns trying to get the string out from the branch. I could see they were working hard on getting the string out of the branch patiently. After a while, one flew away while the other was still working on it. Soon, this little bird flew away too. I thought they had given up. A few minutes later, I heard the birds back again. They resumed working on the string, and finally they got it.

So, when things are hard, don’t quit. If there is time while working on your goal, take a short break and come back to it later. Sometimes, we may need a little help from someone.

Going Step by Step: As mentioned earlier, learning new things may not be an overnight thing. We may have to go step by step, just like a baby who learns to walk. The child is taught to go one step at a time so he does not fall. Over the years, as I sat in my daughter’s music lessons, I watched her teachers going step by step with her. It was a joy to see her reaching her goal at the end of each year. I also have learned to try to take small steps and not jump right in (although sometimes I still do). Having a schedule and planning out roughly how much time I need for each project helps. When you have free time, or while waiting on someone, try pondering your goal. Jumping right into it may finish the work, but will it be a job well done? By going step by step, we can help both ourselves and our children learn. Don’t be afraid or be discouraged if it doesn’t  work out, either. Try a different method if possible. Pray and trust in the Lord to guide you. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your ways.”

Connecting Emotionally

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This last week has been an extremely challenging week. My son and I tend to have good days and bad days, but for some reason we have been having several bad days in a row. If you want in on the secret of why, I’m glad to tell you. Someone had sent me some links for a seminar done by Cinda Osterman. I have been struggling for quite some time trying to figure out how to be a parent that truly reflects Christ to my children, while at the same time being a firm and loving mom, and being in charge of my home. My son really struggles with needing to be in control of my home. Even though he is five, he is very determined to control the house and to parent us.

A few weeks ago after watching Cinda’s series on Vimeo, my husband and I decided to rededicate our lives and family to Christ. I decided to start getting up at 5 a.m. and doing my worship in spite of the obstacles to do so. Of course, the devil didn’t want to lose us so easily, so he is fighting us in any way that he can. My son and I are the biggest area he can attack in my life. At first he tried the kids waking up at 5 a.m. Seeing me persisting in my worship, he wasn’t happy with that and stepped it up a notch. The following Sabbath there was an announcement at church that the pastor was holding a class that was meant to improve your intimacy with God. I was not prepared to stay, but I decided to stay anyway, as I needed to take the class.

During the class I tried hard to listen and keep under control my two very energetic kids. But, I ended up leaving halfway through as it just wasn’t working. (Of course the devil wanted me to be discouraged.) I asked God what He wanted me to do, and after talking to Pastor, he said that he would find a way to make it work because he knows how much I not only want the class but need the class. (Of course the devil wasn’t happy once again.) I was learning to persist… The following Thursday my daughter got “the runs.” Not only did she get them, but it was dripping out of the side of the diaper and going through three pairs of pants from diaper leaks in two hours! I cancelled everything on my plate and gave lots of baths that day. Friday, it was just as bad. To be honest, I have no idea where it all kept coming from as she wasn’t really eating.

Sabbath morning I woke up and was planning on not going to church. As I was doing my worship (the kids were finally sleeping through my morning worship), the Cradle Roll teacher texted and asked if I was going to be there. I texted her back and said that I was thinking I didn’t want to go because of the issues with Abby for the two days before. As I wrote the text, I don’t know how to describe it — God spoke to me.

“Bitsy, You believe that I am God, right?” I was kind of surprised by the question.

“Uh, yes, Lord!”

He replied, “So you believe that I can do anything, right?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Well you say you believe it, but you won’t act on your faith.”

I was a little confused for a minute. “But Lord, I can’t go to church; there is no shower there, and what if it’s contagious?” (Half of our congregation is older; they don’t recover so well from things like this.) “And, how am I going to sanitize a mess that is dripping down her legs and running onto the carpet, especially in the middle of church.”

So he responds. “Bitsy, you need to make a decision. You either believe I am God, and I can handle this, not to mention do anything you need — and you go to church; or, you don’t believe Me, and you sit there all day and miss out on Me showing you my power. Not to mention not allowing Me to build your faith in Me, which you are always asking me to do. So, what are you going to do?”

Talk about a slap in my face! But, He made it clear the way that I have always wanted Him to. So, I decided to go. When I did, Abby woke up and came out. “Mommy, I’m poopy!” I, in my still lacking faith, looked in her diaper. He had already answered my request! So, we went to church.

It’s hard to be like a little child, but each day I am reminded of the trust that we are supposed to have in our relationships with Christ. The trust that my children model to me helps me to understand more of what I am supposed to be like toward Christ. The issue I see is that I need to be emotionally connected to Christ in order for my children to be emotionally connected to me. How do we achieve that? I am still learning that myself. However, here are a few tips that I have found, both for becoming emotionally connected to my children and to my Heavenly Father.

1. Take time… Take time to pray, even if it doesn’t feel like it works. Believe it will. Take time to have devotions and to have quiet time focusing on God. This is totally exhausting to do as a mom of little ones, but it is a huge blessing in dealing not only with life but with marriage and parenting as well. Try to cut out the nonessentials. Make your number one priority your children. Then, pray for the strength to keep it that way. God has really impressed upon me that their relationship with us and theirs with Christ are the only things we get to take to Heaven with us. We have a huge role to play in the bringing up of our children, and if we ask, He will provide the strength to fulfill that promise.

It is so hard to reprioritize, but over the last several months God has helped me to see the most important priority is my children, and to be quite honest, I have had to pray that He will change my heart and help me to enjoy being with my children. (They have been so challenging that I am ashamed to admit I have wanted to be done with parenting.) As I have prayed daily for the last three weeks, and have been focusing on Him, He is giving me His grace to change; and I, in spite of our challenges, am starting to enjoy the precious moments with my kids. In fact I am taking time daily to spend time with them and emotionally connect. As I spend this time emotionally connecting with them, I am also finding that the problems we are having are getting easier. He truly fixes all things if we are patient and willing to submit to Him.

2. Pray over each of your children… If Daddy can also do this, it is a special blessing. Pray to claim promises for them. Every night before they go to sleep, I go in to tuck the kids into bed. I am so tired when it comes to bedtime, that we do worship and they get into bed. I put my hand on my child, and I pray individually with them. I claim Jer. 29:11, and if there is something they are particularly strugging with, I claim promises that help with that. Since I started that three weeks ago, the kids will not go to sleep without it, and they both have a hard time being patient and waiting their turn. There is comfort in knowing someone is praying for you.

3. Focus on little things… Focus on the little things that are done right, that the kids need encouragement in, or that they might need a little extra help in. There is a reason that God says the little things are important. This is because the big things are built up of little things. Notice the little things that your kids do to try to please you. Take the time to teach them the little things that are so often overlooked. When they see that you are happy with the little things they do, then they will realize that in their work and their play, their desire will be to help us and please us.

4. Be thankful... We have started a blessing book, and each morning and evening with worship we all say three things we’re thankful for. It’s amazing the happiness that it has brought into our house. I read a quote and I wish I had written it down, but I didn’t. Anyway, it says by counting the blessings the Lord has bestowed on us, we are building faith in Him. I want my children to have a firm foundation of faith in the Lord.

5. Take His word at face value and believe what He says… Sometimes it seems so challenging yet way too simple. Being children of God is a real challenge. Each day we have to wake up and truly believe that He has our back. Because of how things may look or how badly things go that day, it’s often hard to understand how He has our back. However, He promises that He does, and we must trust Him in spite of our feelings. If we ask He will show us what we need to learn from each situation, and sometimes He even tells us about the prevention of things we may not have been aware of.

6. Be vulnerable… This is the hardest part for us as humans, each day struggling to go through without having to be vulnerable…without having to reveal the challenges, struggles, and pain we are experiencing…without showing our children what our hearts are actually dealing with and the fact that most of the time we are feeling the same way they are, but we just won’t admit it. As I have started to show them how I handle the struggles I am dealing with, they are learning and open and asking about the struggles they are having. They are asking me how to handle things, and are interested in being led by me. They are beginning to understand that on the outside we look like adults, but sometimes on the inside we really feel the same way we did as little kids. It helps them to see we really do care. Remembering that we are all in this battle together helps a lot. And, I am starting to allow my children to respectfully say, “Mommy, do you need to have some time with Jesus?” That helps me to know that I am not being Christlike and I need to surrender to Him.

As we press forward this next few weeks, my prayer is that God will open our eyes and help us to see the things we need to cut out and the things we need to add, and help us to see things we can implement in faith to connect more emotionally to our Lord and Savior and to our families and all of our relationships.

Bringing in the Bucks: Homeschooling as a Single Parent, Pt. 3

Earning an income is easier than ever before as a single, homeschooling parent today. With a good internet connection, a computer, and maybe a printer, a person can make money if they are willing to think out of the box a bit.

There are several topics I will be discussing as we talk about “bringing in the bucks” as a single homeschooling parent. First, ideally, you will be getting financial support from the father, along with emotional support with the homeschooling effort. I realize, though, that life is never ideal and often fathers will check out financially from supporting their children. So, if you have that support, even if only because of state regulations, be thankful and use that as part of your cushion.

Before discussing finances, a huge first step is to develop a working budget or spending plan (which sounds better). I’ve read dozens of money management books and even was trained as a money management instructor through Money Management International. By far, the best program for learning about managing money is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. He even has some programs that are great for teaching the kids about money.

So, before tackling what a single parent can do from home, be sure to know what you need to bring in. If you are having problems developing a working budget, please seek help. There is probably someone in the church who can help you. In my home church, there were numerous people who had taken Ramsey’s course and helped volunteer as mentors.

Many of us have mental blocks about money. Do not allow this to keep you stuck and stressed. Do whatever you can to work through those issues, including counseling with a Christian counselor if needed.

Now that you have a basic budget set up, along with a list of things you would like to include in the budget as your income increases, the next step you take is to list your education, training, and experience on paper. I would also think of what you would love to do if you did not have to worry about money. What job is out there that would just be a joy to do each day, where it never seems to be work? When I work with clients, I help them start out just brainstorming all types of possibilities. In today’s modern technology, it is amazing how things can be adapted to bring in income. Also, I tend to think “multiple streams” of income when it comes to self-employment, because you never know how the market will be in only one area. It’s like the old saying, “Never put all your eggs in one basket.”

You have your budget and your list of experiences, etc. From there you start thinking of ideas. If you have a degree, you are ahead of the game. Almost any degree can lend itself to working from home or telecommuting for a company. For example, if your degree is in teaching: tutoring, teaching online, developing curriculum, etc. Or, if it’s nursing: working for an insurance company (would require some outside work) or for a company that provides “call a nurse” service. I recently read about a couple of medical companies that need people to work from home. Another home business in the medical field would be medical billing. If you know about natural health information, you can be a health coach (an exploding field). Writing, speaking, blogging, childcare….these are just a few ideas that are out there.

A couple of good resources would be Rat Race Rebellion and Penny Hoarder’s Blog. Remember that a good work-at-home company does not charge you for equipment to get started. Be careful to read the information carefully. Swagbucks is also a way to earn some extra money to spend for the holidays or gift giving time. I use it for my search browser and make a bit of spending money for new books on Amazon. Old Schoolhouse Magazine also offers affiliate income for their members (I have this myself). There are many other reputable sites out there for home employment.

These are just a few ideas to get you started thinking creatively. A home business would be a great learning experience for your children. This can be things like growing organic produce, growing herbs, making breads and other healthy foods, maybe even catering on a small scale, depending on your children’s ages. If you know anything about creating foods for allergy-sensitive people, this could be a huge asset for your bottom line and help a good deal of people also. This could be done by making allergen-safe meals, to creating menus to offer online, to creating healthy eating cookbooks.

If you decide that self-employment is not for you, there are other businesses that hire people to work remotely. One such site is www.supportingstrategies.com. I have not yet checked this out since I just learned of it this past week. As I mentioned before, there are also sites such as MedicalJobsOnline.com, Judge.com, and Medzilla.com. These are for medical positions.

When looking at bringing in the bucks as a single homeschooling parent, it pays to think out-of-the-box. You may have to work outside the home for a period of time until you have enough funds coming in. If you have close family nearby, you can simply have them teach the kids for you while you work, or arrange working and childcare around a bit. If you do not have family, look to church friends and other homeschooling families who may be able to provide the childcare you need. Once the child is of a certain age, then they may be able to stay at home with a trusted adult nearby for checking on them. Then, it will be setting up a schedule that the youth can follow, and being consistent to follow up in the evenings when you are home.

It’s not easy but it is possible. Don’t be shy about asking for help from family and friends. Pray and seek God’s direction as to where He wants you to use the talents and skills He has given you. Keep that positive attitude also.

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.”