Homeschooling with toddlers; a new year begins!

As our thoughts turn to the new year, it is time for an evaluation of routines and a sort-out of school cupboards. A major part of successfully homeschooling a large family is ensuring that the toddlers and babies have a well structured routine that includes some extended periods of time where they are able to play independently, leaving me free to concentrate on schooling the other children.

I spent a little time today changing over the playpen, mat time and highchair toys; boxing away baby toys that are now at the wrong developmental level and quickly making up some new and interesting activities as well as bringing out some I have stashed away from previous years. A big bottle, a box, some containers and bibs and bobs from around the house and I was all set with stimulating and educational toys that cost nothing at all.

The 12 month to 2 year range is difficult to cater for as they want toys that do something but are usually not yet ready for pretend play. Montessori style practical life tray activities are perfect and are cheap and easy to make. You can put them together in just minutes and throw them out when you are done. Better than buying new plastic fantastic dinging doodads that loose their attraction in a week or two.

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My husband didn’t realise that when he purchase his latest Christmas gift to himself he also bought one for his daughter. This box had the perfect design for a Montessori style object permanence box. Little ones drop the oversized marbles into the hole and watch them disappear and are then astounded as they magically reappear at the bottom. They eventually learn that the object is still there even though they can’t see it and begin to watch for the marbles to roll down into view. Simple concept but fascinating to the right age.

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All I need to do was glue two wood offcuts to the bottom to ensure a slope so that the balls rolled to the front of the box and tape the sliding inner piece in place. 1 minute = new activity. You can buy wooden versions for $40.00 but who needs one? You could use a toilet roll or anything else really to glue underneath to keep one end of the box elevated.

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A shoebox version of exactly the same thing. A hole in top to drop the balls into and a large slot to retrieve them again from the bottom.

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Drop bottles are always lots of fun. Fitting into the Montessori “small spaces” and “posting” categories they require some fine motor control and problem solving to get the objects into the hole at the top of the bottle and retrieve them from the bottom. Watching my 17 month old turning the block laboriously in her chubby little hands and repeatedly poking it at the hole until it dropped in was entertaining. Watching her clap herself each time she did it even more so.

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Something to pull apart is good for a few minutes. There is no way she will be able to put these back on again but she carefully removed every one and then stuffed them all into one of her honey tubs with a hole in the lid. (Yep, expensive toys around here – honey tubs as well!)

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Large garden stones to drop into a yoghurt pot with another hole in the lid. Satisfying clunk sound and weight. Eventually she will figure out how to turn the container upside down and shake them back out again.

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Pom pom posting container. The draw-back of this one is that once they are in they can’t be taken back out again. She does this one first every mat time and then sets it aside to focus on the other items.

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A pile of objects to fill and spill are a must. All the better if the container they go into makes a good metallic sound when they drop in.

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At the moment my youngest (17 months) has playpen time each morning for at least an hour four days a week – we are out for the 5th day. These are her baskets that she uses on a rotational basis. Because they only come out for playpen time once per week I will only need to change them again in a month or two. Using some basic categories that help me come up with ideas I walk around the house and plop items in. An hour or so (most of which is putting away the items from the old boxes) and I have playpen time sorted.

This month the categories were:

  • posting/small spaces
  • something to wear/put on/household object
  • books
  • something to stack/pull apart
  • something to cuddle

I’ll be posting about my other 6 children’s school time activities over the next little while. Next up – the 3 1/2 year old.

 

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Christmas Blessings

IMG_9054We have been searching out our Blessing Buddies each day to find out how we will be blessing someone else rather than ourselves this Christmas. Rather than a new blessing every day we have chosen a few bigger blessings to work towards this time.

The two eldest girls and myself participated in “The Road To Bethlehem” which is a live nativity show that takes 30 minutes to progress through as groups move from scene to scene. We enjoyed selling cloth and news scrolls to the crowd and working on our funny banter. While we enjoyed it, there certainly was an element of work as we repeated the same scene over and over again for around 4500 people over 3 nights. It was good for the girls to be reminded that it wasn’t about them and that the purpose was to bless those coming to view the show, rather than what we could get out of it.IMG_8969 We cooked up a storm for a ladies high tea at our home which was a blast as we served 22 hard working women from our church as a way to thank and bless them for all they do throughout the year.IMG_8931 The children made take home gifts for the ladies. These snow covered luminaries were very effective and so easy. Jars painted with PVA glue and sprinkled with epsom salts sparkled and the electric tea lights gave a lovely glow to the tables. We found an old Christmas tree on the side of the road during verge collection and cut off all the branches and berries to make the napkin rings and jar decorations, as well as mini Christmas trees is pots.IMG_9045IMG_9078We will be dropping off biscuits to the pastoral team and workers in the church office today as a thank you to them. The children have created hand-made thank you cards to go with them. The Blessing Buddies did get into the choc-chips first though!IMG_8929My eldest son used branches from the park to put together the stable we used for our new nativity this year and the separate parts have been arriving daily with the Blessing Buddies.IMG_8943 Occasionally the blessing of the day includes the children and they were lucky enough to be able to eat the Blessing Buddies’ bowling balls.IMG_8950 “What’s in the box?” hasn’t been that much of a hit this year. The purpose of this in the past has been to give the youngest child (usually 18 months to 2 1/2 or 3) something new and interesting to play with while the older children work on the craft or blessing of the day. This year though the youngest is too young for it and has her own table activities and the next youngest (3 1/2) would rather do the same activities as the other children. Next year it will be back in full force as our little one will be the perfect age but I have let it slide for now in favour of our craft of the day. The pretend play cooking activity above would have been loved last year but just hasn’t hit the mark with the in-between ages this time.

What are you doing in your family to help them focus on blessing others this year?

For a tonne of acts of kindness blessing ideas see blessing buddy ideas, Christmas “What’s in the Box?” ideas are great for toddlers and we used many Christian craft links for our Advent craft count down. Ideas for family traditions for a Christ-centred Christmas are here.

Christmas Traditions 2015

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The Christmas season is in full swing for us as we begin our many special traditions again this year. As always, we have tried to keep the focus on Jesus and blessing others over this period, rather than on presents and “getting.”The Blessing Buddies have arrived with their acts of kindness  for others and the children are excitedly searching for them each morning to see what they are up to. (Full explanation, printable poem and many acts of kindness ideas here.)

We are opening one special Christmas book to read each evening. This year I have sewed 24 bags for the books that I can reuse year after year.

The child of the day rushes out each morning to open the advent calendar and place the nativity figure onto the stable. Rather than treats this year, our advent calendar has an envelope filled with a handful of Lego for each child to open on their appointed day.  I was able to buy a huge bag of secondhand Lego cheaply at an op shop and had my eldest make up little sets for each day.

The same child takes their turn to pull out the day’s Jesse tree reading. This year we are focussing on the symbols of Christmas, looking at their meanings and how they can help point us and others to God.

Decorating the tree was eagerly awaited as always and our youngest placed the star on top as is our tradition, despite the fact that Daddy had to hold her hand in place to do it.

Another morning search finds our “What’s in the box?” Christmas table activity tray for the day. These Montessori style trays are for the toddlers and young children to do while the older children work on more difficult crafts or activities.

After our morning devotion using the symbol of the day we look in the craft box to find a special Christmas activity for the morning. With carols in the background we create something special, often related to the blessing of the day and meant to be given away to bless others.

We will be cruising the canals admiring the Christmas lights soon and attending the living nativity in a couple of weeks, with one important difference this year – the girls are in it. Our high tea for the senior church ladies is all set for a couple of Saturday’s time and we have a full schedule leading up to Christmas.

Having asked the children some weeks ago what they remembered as special about Christmas in our family I was glad to see that they did recall most of the traditions we have started and were looking forward to doing them again. Hopefully they will look back on this family time with fond memories and a heart that is knitted to us and their siblings for life.

For a full list of all our Christmas tradition and family identity building ideas for the Christmas period, see this post.