Preschool at our house: Workbox system for 5 year olds

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Here is the latest workbox style arrangement for our 5 year old preschoolers which will allow them to get the direct instruction from me that they need as they learn basic reading and writing skills, while at the same time having some degree of independence in their other work. I have always invested some time in one-on-one teaching at this age because helping each child to become a proficient reader is one of the keys to independent learning and self-educating later on (one of my goals for all my children.) The children have access to plenty of creative play opportunities and lots of great hands-on learning tools at other times in the day but this morning period is slightly more “bookish” as we step into more formalised learning.

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My older girls (7 and 9) both work from a written schedule for several reasons; they know exactly what to do, when to do it and how much they need to do before they are done for the day. My 11 year old son also works from a schedule, but is free to decide the “when” for himself, having shown responsibility in managing his time in the past. The twins (5 years) have a pictorial schedule to gently ease them into a more independent role in the future but don’t really need it because their boxes are numbered and they are under my direction anyway. (It’s more so that I can keep track of what they are supposed to be doing!)

I researched workbox homeschooling several years ago and most of the examples I found on the web involved nightly or at least weekly changing of the contents. I knew that wasn’t going to work for me so I devised a simple system that only needed to be changed out about once a month. (See details here.) There will be some items in the boxes that needs to be updated more regularly (Sight words as they are learnt for example) but this will require minimal effort as the sets of words etc. that I need are all ready to go.

Some advice that I always give beginner homeschoolers, especially those with a large family, is to set their homeschool up so that  it will continue to run without them as much as is possible. Life intrudes; an unexpected visitor, an unscheduled phone call, the baby is sick and on and on. Set things up so that you are not required to be “teaching” directly all the time or the pace may be too hard to keep up. With only one or two children you may be able to do it but not with the number of blessings we have!

So.. what’s in the boxes?

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Daily diary writing (See full explanation here.)

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Bob Books and a file folder game to practise sight words. As the child chooses a word it is read and fed to Mugs the dog through the hole in his mouth. (See this post for how to teach children to read and this one for some info on beginner readers.)

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Segmenting words game based on All About Spelling level 1. I am using this programme as a rough guide at this stage. We will get into it more next year but for now our activities are loosely base around the progression in this book which is very thorough. We are using the flip boxes to review the single sounds we already know before moving on to more complex phonograms.

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Montessori style counting activity tray. Developing one-to-one correspondence is crucial before any real maths skills can be developed and these simple counting activities give heaps of practise while also working on fine motor skills. In the top activity the expresso cups are set out with the numbers in order from 6 to 10 and the child uses the tongs to add the correct number of sugar lumps to each cup. In the second activity the small tongs are used to transfer the correct number of marbles to the suckers on these soap holding shapes – the kind that suction onto your sink to stop the soap slipping away.

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We use Math-u-see for the first couple of years and Primer is the first book in the series. I cover all of the concepts with  hands-on tray activities first and once they are well mastered the children can work through the book as a bridge to the bookwork they will be doing the following year. We also have the Dive CD’s which have videos for each lesson in the student books so some added “teacher” instruction is given as well to help fill any small gaps that may still be there.

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Tracing letters and numbers. I try to supervise handwriting practise to ensure that the correct letter formations are being made. There are heaps of free worksheets on the net. Look for some in your preferred font and laminate them if you choose for repeat practise. For children who find fine motor control difficult, the channel writing (bubble letter style) are the best because it allows more leeway than dotted letters for wobbly pencil paths. It can be very discouraging for children who try so hard and yet cannot stay on that dotted line. The “fat” letters to keep inside are somewhat more forgiving.

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The last workbox contains a selection from some free printable worksheets to go with the Bob Books that I have found online, mainly for my daughter who finishes all her school work in nanoseconds and wants to know what else there is to do. She loves to do “real” school work like her older siblings so the more books and worksheets I supply her with the happier she is. My son will do them if he wants to which will translate to not doing any at all except possibly using the bingo dotters to follow the word paths simply because he wants to randomly dot paint everywhere :)

 

Teaching preschoolers to write

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Today I will be sharing how to teach writing using a daily diary with some general tips and a quick “how to.” I have started this post 3 times now because there is just so much I could say and it keeps turning into a thesis, so back to dot points :)

Tips for turning out great writers:

  • Provide many experiences that develop fine motor skills – playdough, threading, building etc.
  • Make sure your child is using the correct pencil grip – get a moulded pencil grip if necessary.
  • Teach the correct letter formation – bad habits are hard to undo.
  • Teach phonics. A strong grasp of the phonemes (sounds) and how they join together to form words is vital
  • Read examples of good writing every day
  • Avoid have-a-go methods where the child is internalising incorrect letter combinations that will need to re-learnt later. Do not be afraid to tell children how to spell a word. It is better to copy from a good model than to write the word the wrong way over and over again. You can encourage them to use their phonetic knowledge and spelling rules as you work with them to write the word correctly the first time.

Daily diary writing for preschoolers – how to:

  • The child chooses their topic for the day and spends a few minutes drawing a picture.
  • Have them dictate a sentence about the picture for you to write down, leaving every second line blank. Ask questions as you do this; What does the word start with? How do I write the letter “s”? Show me in the air. What sound can you hear in the middle of the word? How do I write a “ch” sound? This is one of your sight words – can you remember which letters go together to say “the”?
  • For beginners, re-write the sentence onto a separate strip of paper. Cut it into individual words (or have them do that) then ask them to match these words underneath the ones you have written in their book and glue them in.
  • When this is easy, have the child trace some of the words you have written. For one of my preschoolers I choose a couple of words each day to write in dots so that he can trace them to write the word.
  • When this is easy, start copy work – where the child copies what you have written underneath. (Don’t be too pedantic about letter formation here – just keep practising with handwriting lessons every day so that the correct strokes are quickly learnt.)
  • Read back the writing together, pointing to each word as you do so. Ask them to find a word for you – Can you see the word that says “house”?
  • Move on to having the child write their own sentence once they have a large enough bank of words to do so. Brainstorm words they may need before starting and write them along the bottom of the page so that they can see the correct spelling as they write the word for themselves. Correct any errors as soon as possible.

Obviously there is a lot more to learning to write than I have covered here but for the sake of clarity I have tried to keep it brief. I have used diary writing with several classes of students and now my own children and it is encouraging for them to watch their skills develop over time, as well as proving a lovely keepsake for later. A few years ago my Mum pulled out a school diary I had written in year one and it was so cool to read through and see what was important in my life at the time. It began with the teacher writing everything and by the end of the book I was writing everything – all in the space of one year. Preschoolers will of course move more slowly than this but you will be surprised at their progress. Reading though my diary bought back some wonderful memories of events that I had totally forgotten about and made us all laugh to see what Mum did when she was in school.

 

Teaching preschoolers to read

Homeschool has started for the year at our house and with it our routine. As always, there is some tweaking and re-arranging to make the new schedule work for us and I am reminded that flexibility is important, but am also enjoying the more peaceful atmosphere that being back on a schedule has bought.

As we continue the journey to reading proficiency I have also been reminded that learning to read is a process with several steps that need to be mastered before children will become strong readers. Ear training is so important in the early stages and while they have both memorised their letter sounds without any trouble, they are not yet proficient in the skill of segmenting words into their individual sounds so that is the next step for us. (See this post for an explanation of the steps to successful reading with ideas for teaching each stage along the reading ladder.)

So here are a couple of ways to practise segmenting words; breaking them down into their component sounds or phonograms. These are for words which have two phonograms, but can be easily adapted to 3 letter words by moving 3 objects rather than 2.

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Parking the car into the garage. For example, the word “at” has two sounds or programs; “a” and “t.” Say the word slowly out loud, breaking it into 2 parts as each car is moved to represent the sounds heard.

 

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Sliding the sounds together; bears on a Lego slide.

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The horse jumps the gates as each sound is heard.

These ideas can also be used for learning how many syllables are in words. The word “candle” has 2 syllables; “can” and “dle” so the horse would jump 2 gates also. Don’t use the same game though interchangeably between syllables and sounding out phonograms as it may be very confusing to children. Candle has 5 sounds/phonograms; “c” “a” “n” “d” “l” (silent e), but only 2 syllables.

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Jump the frogs onto the lilipad.

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Jump the grasshoppers onto the leaves.

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Put the food onto the spoons.

After a 5 minute wander through the house I had a bag full of little objects that would do the trick. Even moving counters up and down the desk will do but I thought these were more fun.

 

Homeschooling with toddlers – independent learners

Monday is crunch time for me – my husband heads back to work and I am managing 7 children on my own, one of whom is a newborn. We have stayed with our usual homeschooling routine and daily rhythm while he has taken holidays and our newest arrival is slowly getting into a steady routine, so the transition shouldn’t be too drastic . Here is a glimpse into my toddler’s activity cupboard to show you what will be keeping him occupied in his highchair after breakfast each day while I feed our baby.

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Colour sorting. One of the many benefits of homeschooling is that the younger children pick up so much from their older siblings just by being around to hear and see them doing their schoolwork. Basic skills like colour identification, counting and reciting the alphabet almost don’t have to be taught – they are “caught” from the constant exposure. Our two year old is a good case in point. He loves to count, constantly asks me if the squiggle he has just drawn is “an A that says a?” and holds up crayons while checking to see if it is indeed orange? This sorting tray was almost too easy for him but he quite enjoyed fiddling around with it and sorting and resorting the pieces.

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Gluing. We also find that the toddlers want to do the same kind of activities that they see their siblings working on so gluing is always in demand. I give him one piece of paper and 1 envelope filled with an assortment of paper shapes to glue. More often than not he uses the glue more like paint and sticks and peels off the paper pieces over and over again, leaving nothing but a soggy page at the end, but it keeps him going for ages.

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Threading beads. Good for fine motor development and also for sorting and colour matching activities. Make sure the string that you provide has a nice long stiff end to make it easier for little hands to poke it through the holes.

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Drawing with vibrant textas is a satisfying experience. While I don’t encourage heaps of colouring in book type drawing (I’d rather they free created) the little ones love the idea of drawing on a picture they recognise.

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Montessori style dry transfer with tongs. Pincer grip is important for writing later on. These golden rings are wedding favours from the local discount store.

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Basic puzzles. Matching two picture halves is an easy way to start with puzzle skills.

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Good quality wooden puzzles will last for years.

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Duplo is a versatile construction toy and one that our whole family enjoys. Even the older children will still sit down and build together. This little set was a birthday gift recently so it is of special interest to our two-year old because it is his own set. As the big kids all have their own Lego sets in separate crates it makes him feel like one of the gang to have his own crate of building blocks, separate to the family collection.

Preschool at our house – work box homeschooling

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The twins (4 1/2) are now using a modified version of preschool workboxes. The way most people use workboxes requires them to change the contents every night in preparation for the next day. The way I use them means that the contents are changed approximately once a month. See this post for an explanation of how it works.

Workboxes allow the twins to work independently if I am caught up breastfeeding during the time when I would normally work with them. Having two sets of workboxes for two children working at the same level means that at the end of the month (or a couple of weeks) I can swap them over with each other’s boxes without having to refill and be set for another couple of weeks.

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We complete one page per day of a basic handwriting book as the twins are very interested in learning to write their letters at the moment and I would rather they learnt the correct shape and pencil grip first off than need to re-learn later.

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There is one workbox per day and in combination with the handwriting books that we work on first, there is enough to keep them going for around an hour. If they finish early, they pull out their Lego or a sensory tub to complete their school time. The older children attend a homeschool group on Wednesdays so we don’t use workboxes on that day.

Monday’s box:

  • Domino Parking Lot game (Free printable available here.)
  • Wikki sticks fine motor page (Free printable here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Tuesday’s box:

  • Dotted line tracing pictures (I pulled apart some pre-writing activity books)
  • Upper and lowercase alphabet letter match (Explanation here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Thursday’s box:

  • Addition cards (Count the pictures or use jewels to solve the sum then find the answer card.)
  • Playdough face mats (Free printables here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Friday’s box:

  • Cutting practise strips (Free printable here)
  • 3 letter word spelling cards (Explanation and link to printable here)
  • Simple puzzle

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Monday’s box:

  • Addition cards (3 possible answers are given underneath the sum with a hole punched through the card. The child uses the blocks to solve the addition sum and threads the string through the hole next to the correct answer.)
  • Simple puzzle
  • Cutting and gluing pages. (I pulled apart an activity book so that they can choose one page to push out the pictures from and then create their own drawing by gluing them onto a page.)

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Tuesday’s box:

  • 3 letter CVC (consonant vowel consonant) word and picture match. (Heaps of free CVC word printables on the web)
  • Dotted picture tracing (Another pre-writing book pulled apart.)
  • Simple puzzle

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Thursday’s box:

  • Plastic cutlery addition (The cutlery have basic addition sums written on them. The child uses the plastic fruits to solve the sum and finds the correct answer circle to place with the item of cutlery.)
  • Playdough skewer threading (Full explanation here.)
  • Simple puzzle

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Friday’s box:

  • 3 letter CVC word and picture card match (Link here)
  • Cutting practise strips (Free printable here)
  • Simple puzzle

 

Sensory tubs – mermaids and beautiful beads

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Assorted beads, scoops, spoons, jars, bowls, and cups make an attractive Montessori style dry transfer sensory tub.

Now that our long-awaited baby has arrived, planning for uninterrupted breast-feeding times has moved up in priority. We have chosen to keep our flexible routine going throughout these early weeks, rather than taking holidays as we find the children get along so much better with the structure in their day. With Daddy home for a few weeks and a new sister, there is enough change without taking away their daily structure at the same time.

With that in mind, I have overhauled the school cupboards with new preschool activities (photos coming soon) in preparation for Daddy heading back to work next week and created a couple of new sensory tubs for quiet afternoon table or mat play.

Training my little ones to sit in one place and play with what I give them has paid dividends on many occasions, but especially in times such as these. Knowing that I can sit down and feed with everyone happily occupied means no mess to clean up later and no bickering to deal with.

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Rice, mermaids, fish tank plants, blue plastic shells, bowls and sea creatures allows much scope for pretend play and imagination. My girls have been drooling over this since they saw me putting it together!

Homeschooling with toddlers (and a new baby!)

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The arrival of a new baby will always cause some disruption to the family but can and should be an enjoyable and joyous occasion. A smooth transition is helped immensely by being prepared. Whether in the kitchen with menu planning and stocking the freezer, preparing the children for the arrival of their new sibling, setting up a new routine, teaching your homeschooled children to work independently,  or simply making sure there is a good selection of suitable activities for mat time, highchair time and table time will make life much easier for the whole family.

Today’s post is a peek into my 2 year old’s activity cupboard. He uses these trays after breakfast for highchair time while our preschoolers are doing their “school” work and the older children are completing their own school tasks. A good indicator that I have set up attractive materials is that both he and the twins have been pestering me daily about when they can do their school work! We are on holidays at the moment so while we do have some structure in our day, we are not dipping into the school cupboards until after the break so they are still fresh and interesting once the baby arrives. It’s killing them!!

The great thing about a lot of these activities is that the preschoolers are interested in several of the toddler’s trays and vice versa. This gives them almost double the number of choices and will help keep them interested for longer before I need to swap out their cupboards again.

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Sensory tubs are always a hit. So easy to prepare and with open-ended play possibilities they should keep little ones engaged for some time. A tub of jewels with a variety of tongs and containers (pill boxes, ice block tray  and chocolate box insert in this one) will be great for a week or two and can easily be made “new” again by changing the containers and tongs for something different. A variety of scoops, spoons, measuring cups, boxes, tins, jars, lids and anything else that can be tipped, poured, filled, opened and emptied will work well. Perhaps add a small teddy for pretend play fun.

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Our rice tray can be a sensory play tub or in this case a dry transfer activity. A small necked bottle, funnel and scoop are all that is needed for some filling and pouring play. Again, the contents can be very easily changed every week or two to keep things fresh.

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Threading, beading or lacing are all great for fine motor development. Young children find it difficult to push a floppy lace through. Starching the end of wool, using commercial threading laces with stiffened ends, tying the string to a thin dowel, taping the end or any other method of stiffening the thread will make it manageable for young children. This is a small piece of dowel with a hole drilled in the end. The shoelace is glued into the hole, proving a strong length that allows a chubby toddler hand to hold the wood and fit a bead onto it at the same time. Don’t forget to tie one of the beads onto the end of the string to stop the rest rolling off onto the floor.

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A small ball of dough in a plastic container  provides a steady base for some wooden skewers. A variety of coloured noodles and straws are available to thread onto the sticks. (Cut the pointed end off for safety.) This is one I found on Pinterest (see my toddler pinboard for more ideas.)

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Storing the dough in the small orange plastic container means the lid can be popped back on to stop it drying out. Once the toddler has seen it once, poking the skewers in will be part of the attraction.

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Basic puzzles are great. Matching picture halves make a good starting point for  a child who is too young to be able to complete a regular puzzle.

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These are laminated playdough mats. With another small tub of dough the child can add a face, hair etc. Free printable available here.

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Free experimentation with a basic set of scales and blocks will develop a child’s understanding of heavier, lighter, more, less, up and down and other mathematical language. Older children will tend to count, predict and experiment in a more sophisticated way.

What does your toddler love to play with?

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