Preschool at my house – large family homeschooling (with toddlers!)

finger painting cleanup IMG_9912

Fingerpainting – 5 minutes of actual finger painting (in the bottom of the tubs) then 45 minutes of cleaning up! First the tubs, then the kids. They did seem to have fun though.

I have been asked a few times recently what I am doing for preschool with my 4-year-old children. There have been no major changes to how we have always done things; we just take the sitting and focussing skills they have already been learning during mat time, playpen time, room time, highchair time and other periods of focussed play and apply them to the next level of hands-on learning.

We have been focussing on basic counting skills, learning our letter namessounds and identifying initial sounds (moving on to 3 letter words) and other hands on activities that promote fine motor skills. (Plus some other kindergarten style activities that are pretty much just for fun.) I work with just the twins for 20 minutes each morning, which gives them some focussed time with Mummy before I go on to the older children while the twins do independent activities on their mats.

This short period of time I know by experience (coupled with the learning they receive during our daily flexible routine, reading times etc.) is enough to give them a strong start in all the learning areas as they get older. Preschool need not be particularly complicated, formal or arduous to be effective and it does not need to take all day. We do some more formalised work at this age because they are ready for it and enjoy doing “real school” like the big kids. If these two factors were not in place I would back off until they were ready.

Here is a snapshot of the activities we have been doing over the last 2 weeks.

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Our preschool activity cupboard for “school with Mummy” time.

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Mat time activities cupboard – Lego, counting button puzzle, pattern blocks and puzzle cards, button sorting, cutting and magnetic pompoms.

numbered lids counting 1 to 10 IMG_9917

Counting 1 to 10. Spice jar lids marked with metallic pens and some plastic tiles to count.

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Hair elastics and swizzle sticks marked 1 to 10. The number strip is to follow until they know the order of the numerals.

jewels and creature cards counting IMG_9926

Another number sequencing and counting to 10 activity, combined with some tong work for pincer grip strength.

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Counting golden rings to match numbered “glass” slippers (wedding favours.)

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Initial sounds activity sheets. Just a bunch of pictures to decide if they do (circle them) or don’t (cross them out) start with the correct sound. Large letter in centre of page to practise letter formation in. Doing some written work makes them feel like the big kids – they love it! Takes 5 minutes so not at all taxing for me or them.

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Addition tray. Now the twins can order numerals to 10 and display reasonable 1-to-1 correspondence we have started basic adding and subtracting activities.
plate addition IMG_9965

Ideally the plate for the total would be bigger than the other plates! The idea is that the two plates are tipped together into the last plate to find the total. I find however that having the blocks in a line makes it easier for them to count without re-counting the same block repeatedly.

twins doing addition trays IMG_9971

These school activities are definitely not independent as yet. The moment I left to take a couple of photos, my son started building trains with the blocks!

duplo 3 letter words IMG_0001

The twins have developed their ability to hear the initial sound in words and we are now working on 3 letter consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. The next sound most children hear is the last sound in the word, followed by the middle sound. These letter tiles are Coko bricks that are compatible with Duplo boards. Good for beginning activities for non-writers or those who find writing tedious.

s sunflowers IMG_9870

Art – 4 year old’s version of Van Gogh’s sunflowers. We actually got around to doing a proper picture study. Forgot to take photos of the older children’s work, but some of them were better than mine!

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Who cares about sunflowers? I can mix all my colours into a great brown sludge!!

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Toddler version of sunflowers. He actually didn’t want to paint anything at all. I practically had to make him do it just for the photo :) Doesn’t like dirty hands!

twins school cupboard IMG_9859

What do you do with a toddler while you homeschool? Heaps of things!! Here are just a few and if you follow my blog at all you know there are many more ideas to be had. Step one – train them to sit and focus. Step 2 – find some engaging activities. Step 3 – pop them in the playpen when they have had enough of highchair time, followed by a good session of running around outside to burn off energy. That’s just the current morning routine while the older children get the bulk of their work done. It has changed many times.

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Magnetic blocks in a metal box. Stroke of genius to store them this way – NOT!! This was the only container I had and when I put them in it occurred to me that it would make a great building platform. Pure luck!

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What has this got to do with school time? Nothing at all! Just another one of those great embarrassing photos we are storing up for our kid’s 21st birthdays. Plus, he’s so cute! For those who are worried about the girlie outfit, please note that he is carrying 2 trucks!

     

Montessori multiplication trays: Hands-on mathematics

multiplication board

Wooden peg-board (the kind you use to hang tools from in the garage) is a cheap and simple alternative to purchasing a multiplication board.

Continuing on with my mathematics tray ideas this week (introduction and addition trays here, subtraction trays here), here are some multiplication ideas for learning times tables. We made our own homemade Montessori multiplication board using pegboard wood for a cheap alternative. For another easier method using a rubber bath mat, see this post. While the Montessori multiplication boards are an excellent idea, my children found it quite tedious placing the beads into each little hole every time, preferring to use the blocks from our Math-U-See sets, MAB’s or other manipulatives instead.

Whichever way you choose to present multiplication, make it visual, tactile and concrete to begin with, before moving to abstract concepts. The following tray ideas are for children who already understand the concept of multiplication and simply need some more practise of their basic facts (their times tables) in order to commit them to memory.

times table popstick start finish game

Threading beads onto pipe cleaners (bend the ends to keep the beads from slipping off) is a home-made alternative to the Montessori bead materials. They become the manipulatives, with the multiplication problems written on popsicle sticks. The popsticks are laid out, making sure that the word “start” and all the answer sides are upright. The child turns over the “start” stick and uses the bead strings to solve the problem on the other side. They find the answer to that problem on the next stick and turn it over to reveal a new sum on the other side and continue on in the same way until they reach the “finish” stick. If at any time they turn over the finish stick before they have completed all the other sticks, it indicates they have made an error along the way.

mab multiplication

Wooden MAB’s (multi-based arithmetic blocks) are the “old fashioned” mathematics manipulative that I grew up with. They can be used in place of bead chains for many math concepts. Here they are set out for learning the 10 times table (multiplying by 10′s.) The sum is on the left and the small circles show a running total, with the large circle answer at the end of the chain. A small pad is included for recording the answers.

count by 10s MABs

These plates are actually set up for skip counting in the photograph, however with the addition of some multiplication problems, lend themselves very well to practising times tables.

icecream lid popstick 9 times table

Popsicle sticks with answers are matched to multiplication problems on an icecream container lid.

egg carton 8 times table

Popsicle sticks with the problem are slid into slots with matching answers on the egg carton.

multiplication times table puzzle

A cheap (yet difficult) puzzle was a fun way to practise. Answers are written on the back board to match the puzzle piece with the corresponding problem. The puzzle must be difficult enough that the child cannot easily cheat by just following the picture, rather than working out the sums. (Not that any of your children would ever do that!!)

white ball to iceblock tray match 1 to 10

Plastic balls with problems are matched to the answers in an iceblock tray.

wood peg on cont 7 table

Pegs with problems are pegged on to the answer segment on the container, which doubles as a storage place.

mixed operation bingo

Dice are thrown (you need 3) to create any combination of addition, subtraction or multiplication problem and the answer is covered on the board. The idea is to continue until all answer squares have been covered. This is for children who already have a fairly good mastery of their basic number facts and tables.

4 times table multipication jewel cont

Each square container holds 4 little plastic shot glasses for practising the 4 times table. Jewels are counted into each glass and totalled to find the answers.

pattipan in box 4 times tables

A plastic lunchbox filled with pattipan answers to match problems on circle.

castle flag multiplication

The correct number of flags are inserted into the castles, with the castles showing how many groups.

pink plate plastic pegs 6 times

Pegs are slid on to the matching answers on the paper plates. A manipulative is needed for working out the problems unless the child is able to complete them mentally.

ping pong ball egg tray 5 times table

Ping pong ball problems are matched to the answers in an egg holder from the fridge.

Montessori subtraction trays: Hands-on mathematics

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These Montessori style hand-on subtraction activity ideas are great for preschoolers and young children who need plenty of experience with concrete materials to consolidate basic mathematical skills. (See my last post for more info.)

As with the addition trays, the subtraction facts that  the child has already memorised are added to the screw-top jar to provide a visual indicator of their progress.

Initially, the subtraction problems are split into sets; subtract 0, subtract 1, subtract 2 and so on and only 1 set is out at a time.  Once they know the sets fairly well individually, we combine the lot, taking out the ones they have mastered and working on what is left. As with addition, learning to take away 0, 1, 2, and 10  is very easy, so starting with these gives the child a boost of confidence as they quickly master the first sets, filling that jar almost immediately.

sub tray set out IMG_8371

The subtraction materials are set out as above. The first and last plate are deliberately different from the second to provide a visual reminder of the relationship between the two. Subtraction must be done in order (numbers are not interchangeable as they are for addition and multiplication problems) so the child first counts out the number of objects they are starting with into the first plate. The smaller plate shows what has been taken away (removed, subtracted etc.) and what is left on the first plate is scooped over to the final plate, providing the answer.

When the novelty of the plate tray wears off, I present the subtraction problems the child has not mastered in different formats to provide extra practise and revive interest in the activity.

icecream cont sub pegging

Subtraction problems on pegs are pegged onto the side of the container with the correct answer. The counters are the manipulative. Provide more than one container or a multi-sided container if you want a broader scope of answers.

Cinderella's slipper subtraction

These subtraction cards are a set from Kmart that we were given. A dry erase marker can be used to mark the answers on the cards. The “glass” slippers are wedding favours. My girls love this activity just because they get to handle the tiny shoes! An attractive material will draw them in every time. Add an interesting story to the tray (How many spare slippers Cinderella keeps in her closet?) and you will have them begging to have a go.

bead string subtraction

The same subtraction card set paired with any manipulative of your choice gives you a fresh “new” activity. This time the children were doing the problems in their heads and finding the correct bead string for the answers – good for those who find writing a chore. There is exactly the right number of bead strings so if the strings do not match the last cards this alerts the child to an error that they can find and address.

It doesn’t take too much extra time or effort to keep learning engaging and enjoyable. Have a look around your house or check out your local discount variety store for a couple of different kinds of manipulatives and you are on your way.

Posts you may find useful:

List of useful materials to collect and buy for hands-on tray activities  

Building focussing and concentrating skills in toddlers

Workboxes – homeschooling multiple ages

Surviving new babies, sick kids and interruptions 

Montessori addition trays: hands-on mathematics

add tray C using IMG_8374A strong foundation in basic mathematical skills will set children up for later success. Too many children learn how to complete math problems by following a formula or method that they simply do not understand. They pass the tests, but when the difficulty of the problems increases, or they are presented in a different format than the one they are used to, the child flounders.

Teaching children using concrete materials (items that can be seen and handled) before moving to abstract concepts (problems worked out on paper) is absolutely vital to make sure they understand the connection between the methods they are using and how and why they work.

The Montessori method for mathematics is brilliant, especially for young children. It is very systematic and progresses from skill to skill in small steps, with each stage building on the one before to ensure understanding and mastery is gained before moving to the next step in the ladder. Concepts that are not covered in your standard state school math book are intentionally introduced and explained in a way that can easily be grasped by even very young children.

Many children seem to simply absorb these small skills along the way, almost accidentally, but the children who struggle with maths are usually the ones who never intuitively grasped the shortcuts, mental methods and other little tricks and understandings that their more successful peers just seemed to somehow “get” without direct instruction.

One of the foundational skills that later math problems build on is adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing small numbers. Many children will make mistakes when solving a more advanced problem, simply because they make a basic error with one of these simple calculations. Spending time in the early years ensuring that children master their basic maths facts is a must for success and speed later on.

Here is a Montessori addition tray and some other Montessori inspired ideas for teaching young children to add small numbers, mastering their addition facts as they complete them.adding tray jewels IMG_8361This is how our addition tray looks on the shelf. Only one child at a time is using it, so it is set up in such a way as to mark their individual progress. Every week or so I “test” their mastery of the addition facts and those problems that they are able to solve mentally (without thinking time) are placed into the screw-top container. They are pulled out for occasional review, but no longer need daily practise. This provides some intrinsic motivation as they see the pile in the dish growing smaller and smaller and the container getting fuller and fuller. They love it when we exclaim over how many they know now.

Initially, I split the facts into sets; plus 1, plus 2, plus 3  and so on and only have 1 set out at a time.  Once they know the sets fairly well individually, we combine the lot, taking out the ones they have mastered and working on what is left. Obviously, learning all the plus 0, plus, 1 plus 2 and plus 10 facts is very easy, so starting with these gives the child a boost of confidence as they quickly plow through the first sets, filling that jar almost immediately.

adding tray set out IMG_8362The activity is set out in the child’s workspace like this. The correct number of jewels are counted into the first and second dish, before both sets are scooped together into the final dish for them to find the answer by counting. It provides a very clear visual display of what happens when you add two numbers together.

Because some children will take a long time to recall all of the addition facts, I give them lots of different kinds of materials to count and present the problems in different ways. Here are some of the Montessori inspired, hands-on workjobs  that I have used with both my own children as we homeschool and in a classroom situation when I was a teacher.

peg & pompom paper plate addition to 10These pegs are labelled with the addition facts and the pompoms serve as the counting material. Once the child has found the answer, the peg is clipped onto the correct segment of the paper plate. It is self-checking as there is only one peg for each segment – any double-ups means that they need to redo those pegs to discover the correct answer. The holder for the pegs is the centre from a used roll of masking tape.cutlery noodle additionThis was a favourite with my children. As always, making up a funny story to go with the activity turned it into something really fun. Those greedy restaurant patrons were at it again and the children had to figure out who’s cutlery was whose and put it into the correct cup. Only one knife, spoon and fork should be in each cup, so again, any double-up means that the child needs to redo the problem. The noodles serve as the counting material.sticker addition red sort trayThis activity is very quick to make. The sticker cards are the manipulatives with problems written onto card strips. Once solved, each strip is placed into the segmented dip tray in top of it’s answer. peg addition black 4 hole trayNumber stickers on the base of the 4 segment tray determine where each problem card is placed. The pegs are slipped onto the sides to count and solve the problem.gold & silver start additionThe silver stars have the problem and the gold stars hold the answers. The child counts the jewels to solve the addition sum and matches the silver star to it’s mate.

Presenting attractive materials and a variety of experiences will make learning these basic skills enjoyable for your child and set them up for success in the future.

Other posts you may find useful:

Montessori tray activities for toddlers

Montessori counting trays 1 to 5

Homeschooling with toddlers and preschoolers

Teaching children to read – where to begin?

 

 

 

Read-alouds, audio books and dramatised stories.

6 kids in car roadtrip 2 IMG_7073-001

We have just returned from a family holiday which involved much driving. Having chosen not to go down the road of DVD’s in the car, we instead loaded up the IPOD with a stack of classic audio books and listened to those as a family.

I am very aware of the value that comes from spending time reading aloud to my children. Exposing them to great literature is a priority for me but the reality is that I am just not getting around to it as much as I would like. One of the side effects of this is that the quality of play that the children are involved in has dropped. Gone is the Little House on the Prairie winter house with “Pa”(my eldest son) out protecting “Ma” and the “kids” from wild bears and other wildlife, gone is Captain Hook’s pirate ship and so many other wonderful imaginings that characterised their outdoor time together.

During our holiday we had a wonderful time listening to “The Swiss Family Robinson” while we drove around looking at the beautiful scenery. Conversations have abounded about survival skills and how we would have fared in a similar situation and best of all, our first day back saw the 4 eldest children together outside building a pretend sled to carry their tools, weapons, horses and other survival gear as they set out on an imaginary adventure together.

I have also downloaded and burnt a bunch of classic stories to CD for the children to listen to during their daily room time, over lunch when conversations are getting silly, on beds during rest time (for those no longer sleeping every day) or occasionally at bedtime. Five of the children shared a room at our farm-stay accommodation during our time away so having something to listen to as they were falling asleep helped cut down (but not eliminate!) the silly excitement of being in the same room together and allowed the little ones to get to sleep while the older ones could lay awake a little longer listening to the story.

Visit librivox.org for literally thousands of books that are in the public domain and therefore absolutely free. Volunteer readers (some better than others) have recorded these stories and all you have to do is download them for your listening pleasure. Other sites I have not yet used but offer a similar service are gutenburg.orgaudiobooksforfree.com and verkaro.org,

Many dramatised audiobooks are available through online booksellers such as bookdepository.comFocus on the FamilyLamplighter and others. We purchased “Sir Knight of the Splendid Way” from Lamplighter and after stopping at our destination only part way through the story were barely back in the car before I heard “Aren’t you going to put The Splendid Way back on?” – from my husband!

Homeschooling with toddlers and preschoolers

Twin's tot school activities

Whether you like to call them Montessori tray activities, tot school, preschool, workboxes, workjobs, shoebox tasks or Ziploc bag activities, providing younger siblings with engaging, educational and worthwhile tasks to do while you homeschool older siblings is vital for a smooth day with well occupied children.

While you can get some schooling done while little ones are napping, I prefer to get the bulk of our formal schooling completed as early in the day as possible when the children (and I) are freshest. Last year we had around an hour while the younger ones were in room time (playpen time for littlies) and we could also use mat time (or blanket time.) Now that we have older children though, this is not long enough to complete all of their workload and the twins are turning 3 so a new era has dawned!

The twins will be “starting school” with the big kids. They will now be included in our morning circle time, followed by table activities before they go off to room time. The list of possible table activity ideas is almost endless but our “school” trays will be more Montessori in style.

As I have done in the past, I have chosen a list of categories for each tray and put one example of each category out on the shelf. When it comes time to update the trays in a couple of weeks as interest declines, I will simply swap out the materials but keep the type of activity the same. (See starting out.) This term our trays are gluing, cutting, stickers and drawing, tong transfer, spooning/teddy play, scooping/teddy play, threading. Duplo copying and water pouring. 

The best thing about this year’s preparation is that in the past I have taken photographs of all our tray activities along the way. This meant that I could simply hand the older children a couple each and ask them to go and get everything in the photo and assemble the activity. I pointed out that this was an opportunity to bless their little brother and sister. They quite enjoyed doing it, especially as I gave them latitude to change the activities a little with different pretty pots and equipment to suit their own tastes. In about an hour we had a whole term worth of trays set up and ready to go. (Plus the extra half hour to put away all the mess that the children created as they were collecting the gear but I wont mention that!)

Teaching Children To Read: Where to begin?

Teaching children to read is one of the most rewarding and challenging things a home educator can do. Watching the love of reading turn into hours of pleasure and learning while curled up with a good book is such a joy, not to mention the importance of being able to read God’s word. So where do we start?

Reading good literature to children is an excellent beginning. Spend a good amount of time every day reading to your children from a young age and they will reap the benefits later.

Apart from being exposed to the written word through books, there are many different stepping-stones along the path to reading – phonetic awareness skills that build on top of each other until competent reading is achieved. We tend to head straight for learning the letter names and sounds, but what many parents don’t realise is that there are several pre-reading skills that need to be in place before a child has that light-bulb moment as they realise they are making sense from the written word.

There is a great article by Diana Rigg here that identifies the sequential steps on what has come to be known as the phonological awareness ladder. She cites research that identifies a direct correlation between children’s grasp of each of these steps and later reading success. Spending some time with your child in the early years ensuring that their ears have been trained to hear sounds in words and have mastered each of the steps on the phonological ladder will set them up for success later.

If you are an educator (and all parents are), the small amount of time spent familiarizing yourself with these concepts will be well worth it. You may be able to skim through them with a child who easily picks them up along the way. However you just may save another child from years of frustration and difficulty in their reading journey by plugging those holes now. It’s worth the effort.

Take a moment to read through Diana’s article first, then with the couple of ideas below and your own methods, you can easily cover these skills with your child. Why not use some of the time spent travelling in the car to play some word games? Be careful to use the sounds that letters make, not their alphabet names. The letter B is called “Bee” but it’s sounds is “b” as in bat.

Level 1 – Participation in rhymes

  • Listen to nursery rhyme CD’s and books
  • Sing rhyming songs and recite fun poetry
  • Read books with obvious rhyming patterns

Level 2 – Words in sentences

  • Ask the child to put up a finger, clap each word or set out a small object for every word they hear

Level 3 – Identifying and Producing Rhyme

  • Use rhyming picture cards and find pairs of objects that rhyme
  • Say 2 words and have children tell you whether or not they rhyme
  • While reading a rhyming story, leave off the rhyming word on the end of a sentence and have the child guess what it could be
  • Make up strings of nonsense words that rhyme
  • Say rhyming words around the circle until no one can think of another rhyme
  • Play rhyming “I spy” (I spy with my little eye, something that rhymes with… )

Level 4 – Syllabification

  • Break words up into syllables or parts. Clap each syllable in words and say how many parts there are. For example, “el-e-phant” has 3 syllables, “app-le” has two, “ant” has one.
  • Sort picture cards or little toys and objects into groups according to the number of syllables
  • Put out coloured chips for each syllable in a word

Level 5 – Recognition of initial sounds in simple words

  • Aurally identify the first sound in words. Ask children to listen for the first sound that comes out when they start to say a word. Find as many things around the house as you can that start with the given sound
  • Find the odd one out within a group that all start with the same sound
  • Sort pictures or objects into their initial sound groups, focussing on 2 obviously different sounds to begin with.
  • Play “I spy.”
  • Remember, this is about training the ear to identify the sounds, not matching sounds to letters at this stage.

Level 6 – Recognition of final sounds in simple words

  • Use the same ideas that the child is already familiar with for initial sounds, focussing on the last sound in the word instead.

Level 7 – Blending

  • Say two or three sounds that make up a word for children to join together. Stretch out the sounds to make them very obvious. For example; d-ooooo-g The child blends the sound together to identify the word.
  • Play the blending game. I do use letter cards for this, but the focus is still on the sounds, not the letters. Hold 2 letters as far apart as you can. The child uses a pointer or fancy stick of some kind (just to make it fun!) and points to each letter in turn. Say the sound each time she points to the letter, moving the letters sightly closer together each time until the letters are touching and the word is blended.

Level 8 – Phonemic segmentation

  • Give lots of practice in segmenting words into sounds. For example, you say dog and the child segments it into d-oooo-g
  • Have a bag or decorated container of pictures or objects that have three obvious sounds. The child takes a lucky dip and segments the word.

 

Learning letter names and sounds

Whether you are homeschooling or have a young child at school, most of us will at some stage be helping our children learn their letter names and sounds. There are many different ways to do this, from rote learning with flash cards to games and hands on workjob style activities.

I use quite a few different methods depending on the child, their rate of learning and preferred learning style and the time I have available to teach them. One of the more hands-on approaches I have employed is an alphabet chart. Again, this is something I made way back in my Uni teacher training days that has been useful through 7 years of teaching and now has made it’s way to the third child in our family.

I do not introduce the letters for the first time using the chart – there are too many all at once and it is too overwhelming. We go through the alphabet one letter at a time, adding more as the child is ready. (I’ll post about this another time.) Once the child knows quite a few letter names and most sounds I introduce the pocket chart. It can be used in many different ways. Here are just a couple:

  • Matching lowercase letters to uppercase letters.
  • lucky dipping letter cards from a pillowslip, naming them, saying their sound and then sliding them into the correct pocket.
  • sorting small objects by their initial sound (first sound you hear when you say the word) into the correct pocket.
  • setting up a word bank system with picture and word cards that begin with each letter “filed” in each pocket for children to use during creative writing.
  • find the hidden toy games where the child checks the pockets for a hidden items and must name the letter and sound to be able to keep the item. (Just for the duration of the game though, although you could include a little treat surprise every now and then.)

These objects are one set I use for initial sound sorting.

A second set of objects for initial sound sorting.

To begin with, all alphabet chart work is done one-on-one with me, however once the child begins to grasp the concept of initial sounds, I give them a bag or box of objects to sort into the correct pocket as an independent activity. It is self-checking because there is never more than one object for each pocket so if they find one already there, they know they have made an error and can self correct.

If you are not able to sew a chart, you could make one using cardboard and add Velcro spots to attach the letter cards or large sturdy envelopes to act as pockets for the items. If you plan to use it for any length of time or with more than one sibling it would be worth taking the time to sew one up. It might be a nice project for Grandma perhaps??

Teaching Children To Read: Readers

It is very important to expose children to a wide variety of excellent quality literature from an early age. Way before a child can read, they will be able to appreciate a wonderful story and surprise you with their ability to concentrate and enjoy listening to a chapter or so at a time from quality chapter books that would otherwise be way above their reading level.

Those who are familiar with the Charlotte Mason style of education through living books will already be acquainted with the idea that children should be reading “twaddle free” literature that has not been “dumbed down” for children, but rather includes all the richness and fullness of the English language at it’s best.

I will be posting a list of excellent literature that no child should miss in the next little while, but today I am listing the beginning readers that my children have enjoyed learning to read from. I do believe that there is a place for the more traditional first reading books or vocabulary controlled readers for beginning readers. Some parents are reluctant to use these because they do not fit into the “quality literature” category, however you need to be clear why you are using them. If they are your child’s only exposure to books then yes, they will not be getting the rich language experiences they need. However, if you are reading aloud or playing audio recordings of classic books and using readers in a structured fashion to teach word decoding and first reading skills, then they have a valuable purpose.

When children are learning to read they will often find it hard work and be easily discouraged with texts that are too difficult. With carefully levelled and graded readers, they will be able to see ongoing progression and experience success and that wonderful feeling of being able to say “I read it myself!” Once a good bank of sight words has been learnt, we go on from levelled readers to plowing through the many picture books in our collection. By the time we have exhausted them, the children are usually ready for easier chapter books and move gradually on to more general chapter books.

There are some beginning readers that are definitely better than others and the following are some of the best that we have used.

Bob Books First!Bob Books Set 3: Word FamiliesBob Books Set 2: Advancing Beginners

Bob Books Set 3: Word FamiliesBob Books Set 5: Long Vowels

Bob Books level 1 2 3 4 and 5  are a relatively cheap way to get a good set of beginning reading books. They have very plain line drawings with stories that have simple appeal. The difficulty increases in very small steps, unlike some early reading sets that jump very quickly from 3 letter words through to sight words, leaving some struggling readers behind. Each level is a boxed set of 12 reading books.

Little BearLittle Bear's VisitA Kiss for Little BearLittle Bear's FriendFather Bear Comes Home

Little Bear books have lots of basic sight words in simple stories that children actually want to read. Very appealing and most are presented in chapter book format to ease through the transition from picture books to chapter books. Level 1 in the “I Can Read” series is a good follow-on from the Bob Books.

Frog and Toad Are FriendsFrog and Toad TogetherFrog and Toad All YearDays with Frog and Toad

The Frog and Toad Series is another set of simple sight word books that have enough in the plot to keep children interested. Frog and Toad’s adventures together are engaging with a touch of humour. Level 2 in the I Can Read series is the next step up from the Little Bear books.

Amelia Bedelia

Amelia Bedelia and the rest of the series tell the story of a cheerful young lady who always seems to get things mixed up in a silly and humorous way. Level 2 in the I Can Read series. (I haven’t read all of these but we liked Amelia Bedelia.)

The Josefina Story Quilt

The Josefina story quilt tells the heartwarming tale of Josephina hen as she heads off with a family in a covered wagon. Level 3 in the I Can Read series.

Step into Reading Bravest Dog Ever

Balto tells the story of a sled dog who saves the day with his heroic trip through icy conditions bringing medicine to sick children and villagers. Level 3 in the I Can Read series.

Tornado

Tornado is a good beginner chapter book. More text but simple enough for children to move on with. It is the story of a dog who literally falls out of the sky during a tornado and becomes firm friends with a young boy. One slightly sad section that turns out happily in the end – I always warn my children about these sections as they tend to be quite sensitive to sad events in stories.

Courage of Sarah Noble

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh is a Newbury honour book. An eight-year-old girl finds courage to go alone with her father to build a new home in the Connecticut wilderness and to stay with the Indians when her father goes back to bring the rest of the family.

The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams is the story of a little boy’s stuffed rabbit and how he became real. Considered to be one of the classics by many and is stepping into longer chapter book reading.

Outdoor activities: Painting


I have a confession to make. As a homeschooling Mum it’s difficult to admit it, but I really don’t like to paint. That is, I like to paint, I just don’t like setting up painting for my children to do. It takes time to set up, creates heaps of mess and takes ages to pack up again, all for a few minutes of colourful fun.

In an effort to overcome this dislike and occasionally provide this apparently vital experience for my children, we have developed a method that works for us… occasionally….when I can mentally gear up for it.

I have some large packing boxes that I keep folded down flat. We set these up outside on the lawn with the top flaps folded shut to hold them together and the bottom flaps bent outwards to catch the drips. Now that the children are a little older they set up the whole experience pretty much by themselves. They cart out the boxes, taping paper on every single side, 2 per side so that each child gets several pages to do. The children pull out the paint pots and brushes and even mix up the colours from the prime colours we own. (It’s amazing how their knowledge of paint mixing, creating a variety of  shades etc. has developed when they do not have the option of prepared colours and have to mix their own.)

Off come the clothes and on go the painting shirts and we’re all set. I plop a bucket of water out on the grass with some cloths and hands are washed here, as well as the brushes once they are done. Pictures stay taped to the boxes until dry, eliminating paint splodges from all over my clothes drying rack and everyone has a ball. They even seem to enjoy the clean-up time. If they are really covered in paint I line them up and spray them down with the hose before sending everyone inside for an early shower.

The children get to paint, I get to …. not do anything much at all except supervise and everyone enjoys the process. Obviously the weather must be fine but in winter we use tablet water colours at the table. These are far less drippy and messy and I can cope with them inside far better than liquid paints. My children will not be artistically deprived or have to see counsellors to work through the fact that they never got to paint and I don’t feel guilty when I see all those arty blogs about painting!
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