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 🙂

 

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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.

 

The dumping rule

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When there are 7 children in the house (or even just 1 or 2!) it doesn’t take long for a trail of destruction to threaten to take over. I do have systems in place to make sure it doesn’t get too out of hand but even with pack-up times built into our routine throughout the day there are certain areas that just seem to get cluttered with a pair of shoes here and a hairband or two there, plus a towel on the floor and a pair of knickers decorating the door handle… and so on.

I asked my worst trail maker what consequence they thought was appropriate for people who left their belongings laying about for others to pick up. They responded after some thought that they should pick up twice as many things as they had left behind. This was a brilliant answer as this happened to be exactly what I had been thinking of doing anyway (I love it when that happens), so I promptly instigated it as our consequence on the spot. One item left on the floor equals a consequence of picking up 2 more items, plus the original one you left in the first place.

It is amazing how quickly you can get the house tidied when there are a couple of bits and pieces strewn about. I just start at the front of the house and pick up the first item, identify the owner and point out it plus the 2 other items they will be required to put away. It a minute or two everyone is zooming about collecting stuff and the house is back to ship-shape. After a few days of this, I simply let everyone know that I will be conducting a dumping check in the next little while and they go scrambling off around the house madly putting their stuff away without me having to do anything.

It goes great with the 10 times rule for those who can’t remember to hang up a towel or shut the door.

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.

 

A new year with 7 children

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Christmas is a time that I look forward to – making memories, continuing with traditions from previous years, special outings, celebrations, events and family times.  As I have found every year though, this special time comes with it’s own negatives. The freedom of unstructured days, lack of routine, too many choices, plenty of special events, junk food and late nights (this year coupled with sickness) has predictably resulted in tired, cranky children who are not getting along so well and are not using their free time wisely. What to do??

A new year begins, the celebration cycle eases off and ta da – enter ROUTINE!

I know from experience that the start of our homeschool year will solve many of these problems very quickly. The children’s days are filled with a balance of structured and unstructured times, responsibilities appropriate for their ages (chores) and a predictable flow of daily activities that allows me to get everything I need to do done in a timely manner as well. Less time together means that the children start to appreciate each other again and everything starts to run so much more smoothly. Life feels easier, the days are happier and we all benefit.

 

toddler school cupboard

Here is a peek into the newly sorted out activity cupboard for our 2 1/2 year old. We use these activities for table time straight after breakfast for around 30-45 minutes. In that time he will use 3 or 4 of the trays before heading off to room time for around an hour. It takes time, consistency and commitment on your behalf to teach a little boy (or girl) to sit and concentrate but it absolutely can be done. I do not have babies and toddlers who are/were just “naturally” able to sit and concentrate, it took work!

I have posted heaps of ideas for activities that work well for young children who are learning to sit and concentrate. Those pictured above are:

1. Do-a-dot printables with stickers to place inside the dots (or wherever!)

2. Beginner cutting tray (See my free Montessori style printable cutting patterns and how to teach a toddler to cut.)

3. Duplo ice-cream making set – a new Christmas gift

4. Textas, pencils and colouring books and paper

5. Potato head parts and playdough

6. A fine motor transferring activity tray (Small rocks, tweezers and a variety of bottles and containers to open, shut and fill)

7. Wedgits – another Christmas gift that I have had on my wish list for a while now. (See photo at top.)