## Learning Styles & hands-on learners

(Free printable vertical addition cards below.)

Catering for a variety of learning styles can sometimes be a challenge for homeschoolers. If you have a number of children you have probably worked out by now that not every curriculum works well for all students and that as wise educators we need to adjust our approach to suit the learning styles of our children. That said, I believe that ALL children must learn to sit still and concentrate as a necessary life skill, regardless of whether they find that easy or difficult. The difference is that requiring all learning to take place in the same way (bookwork for example) will make life very unpleasant for you and your hands-on kinaesthetic learners.

We have started school for the year and the past week has been full of the usual teething problems that a new year and new programme presents. I started my 3 youngest students on a completely hands-on mathematics programme this term. After trialling it for a week, my 7 year old daughter has gone back to purely bookwork, using manipulatives only when absolutely necessary to understand a concept. She loves to work in books, especially brand new ones and it was killing her to have her maths book just sitting there while she was being forced to work through problems with manipulatives when she’d much rather do it on paper or in her head. My 7 year old son has settled on a midway compromise; one day of bookwork followed by one day of hands-on experiences to back up the concept being covered.

My 4 year old does not get a choice – he will be working with concrete manipulatives because I believe that at his stage of development this is the most successful method for developing a good handle of the basic mathematical concepts and skills he needs as building blocks for higher level concepts.

So in light of all that, here are some of the hands-on trays that we are using this year for maths, with more to come in subsequent days if and when I get a chance to photograph them!

Our addition trays have 2 kinds of materials to make it visually clear that we are counting out 2 separate groups before adding/joining them together to work out how many there are altogether. The cards are in sets that only work on adding 1 number at a time, for example 0+3, 1+3, 2+3, 3+3, 4+3, 5+3, 6+3, 7+3, 8+3, 9+3 and 10+3.

I printed and laminated the cards and provided felt pens (textas) to write the answer or wooden numbers to “build” the answer for those who prefer not to have to write. (For free printable vertical addition cards click here.)

I also added several types of containers so that the materials could be set out in pairs to contain them and illustrate the problem being worked on. These included stiff cardboard cupcake liners, disposable tinfoil pie tins and these white dishes.

These hands-on Montessori style trays complement the Math-U-See curriculum that we choose to use in the early years and provide the extra practise needed by some in order to grasp the new concepts.

## Blessing Buddies and “What’s in the Box?” for holiday routines

Our little one is enjoying the new and exciting Christmas tray activities that have been arriving each day with the Blessing Buddies. Even during the holiday period, a flexible routine is essential for toddlers. While we break out of our usual day-to-day activities, I still try to make sure that my 2-year-old has some structure to her day and she enjoys doing her table activities after breakfast while her siblings work on their crafts and gifts throughout December.

This tinker tray of loose parts was a hit today as she used it to decorate the felt Christmas tree. After decorating our actual Christmas tree recently she understood exactly what this concept was all about. Of course they don’t all end up back in the tray quite the same way at the end!

Gingerbread men “cookies” to decorate plus a Christmas tree ice block sorting tray to use with the oversized tweezers or spoon. We will make gingerbread biscuits some time soon so this will make more sense to her after that experience.

While not too Christmassy, she loves these mini erasers so I have made them available for decorating the coloured rice Christmas tree, again with oversized tweezers to help with hand strength for pencil grip later on.

The Blessing Buddies have decided it’s too difficult to bring a new activity each day with so many nighttime commitments at the moment so for today’s blessing they set up a “What’s in the Box?” cupboard instead. They will add some new activities to it during December but  it gives the children more time to play with and enjoy the special Christmas activities (plus it takes the pressure off me to remember to hide a new one each night!) The other children like to use some of the same activities for table time as well.

So “What’s in the Cupboard?”

The craft at the moment is hand-sewing designs onto plain red tea-towels from Ikea which we will use as gifts. Even our 4 year old is managing a decent running stitch.

## Guest post: Sensory tub play centres

Kristy is back again today to share about loose play centres or sensory boxes as they are sometimes known. These are a great idea for free play times for toddlers. It gives them an attractive area to play in with many open-ended possibilities while providing a boundary for play at the same time. Depending on the material you have out, it may be helpful to spread out a mat or sheet underneath to catch the spills. Once playtime is finished it can simply be gathered up and tipped back in to the tub to save on clean-up time.

Here’s Kristy…

I’m also inspired by Angela’s idea of using the water table as a loose play centre for children to explore. So far it has become an Iceland and a posting table with pipe cleaners, colanders, pop sticks, gems and bottles with all different opening sizes.

It is now a rice table where my children are loving pouring, filling, scooping and shaking. After the rice table I am going to again copy Ang’s idea and create a pom-pom and tong loose play centre. I love watching my children explore, try new things with what is available, and just have the opportunity to learn at their own pace.

## Busy Bag Swap Night

I have just been blessed by a lovely assortment of table time activities for toddlers and young children from a busy bag swap organised by my friend Kristy. You will be hearing more from her in the next couple of posts, but today I wanted to share the photos she took of all the quiet time tasks put together by the many women who attended. It was so popular in fact that she needed to form 2 groups. For those who are not familiar with how a busy bag swap works, take a look here for some more ideas and an explanation.

Kristy’s cute toddler feeding the tennis ball with a little help from Mum. A great finger strength activity, this is one for the 3 to 6 year olds to do independently. My 4 and 6 year-old boys loved filling Mr Ball to then turn around and have him puke everywhere.

Mix and match superhero picture strips, foam sewing cards, pipecleaner and straw threading and shape matching plate.

The fact that this pizza came in a cute little box was the highlight for my children. The order cards gave lots of options for the children to follow as they completed different customer orders. Other bags included a wipe-off tracing page, mask and stickers and paint chip colour matching.

Open-ended tasks are best for toddlers as far as keeping their interest for the long haul. This pasta and bean scooping tray was popular although it did create a bit of mess. An assortment of plastic lids, frogs and bugs was another open-ended activity that kept my little one going for a while.

This mini eye-spy bottle had some interesting bits and pieces inside. Another idea I have seen is to have a recording page for the children to tick off each tiny item as they find them. My 2-year-old was too young for this as she found it frustrating to not be able to open the container. She did enjoy the pom-pom transfer tray although still refuses to try tongs. The last task was taking elastic bands on and off a cardboard tube with some pattern cards to match and extend for the older children.

Having a bunch of engaging tasks prepared is a must for successfully including highchair time in your flexible routine and the self-control your toddler will learn is invaluable.

## Hands-on maths; skip counting

I like to keep much of our early mathematical skills as hands-on as possible. If an area will need to be drilled over and over again until mastery is achieved, then it is far more interesting for my children to do that using Montessori style tray activities rather than repetitive book work. Learning addition and subtraction facts, multiplication tables and the like are great examples of this. Lots of work is necessary, but it need not be all written bookwork.

This week my 6-year-old son needed to polish up on his skip counting. I pulled out some plastic Easter eggs and wrote the 2, 5 and 10’s on each hump of the caterpillar, poking a pipecleaner through the first one to make the caterpillar’s head. He placed each in order and recited them to me once finished. Next time I will remove a couple and get him to say them (including the missing numbers) until he can eventually say them all without any numbers as prompting.

## Icecream sensory tub invitation to play

We have been doing some op-shopping lately to collect bits and pieces for our loose parts activities and to set up a variety of invitations to play in our newly organised playroom. After hearing my plans to set up an ice-cream shop in the water trolley as our next sensory tub activity the children have been quite keen to get rid of the popsticks and matchsticks and move on to cotton wool ball ice-cream right away.

Cotton wool balls are a cheap base for a sensory tub and lend themselves well to being transferred by tongs, scoops or little fingers and the addition of some marbles, jewels and beads for toppings gave it a fun aspect. A few plastic Sundae cups, swizzle sticks, icecream scoops and sequins allowed for some interesting creations.

Having the sensory tub right next to the pretend play home corner area meant that the children could expand into dramatic play and they soon opened an ice-cream shop. There aren’t many play activities that can keep everyone from the 13 year old to the 2 year old happily occupied together, but this did the trick.

The addition of a menu board (\$2 from Ikea), a roll of receipt paper from an old cash register, a couple of clip boards and some plastic tokens for money provided the stimulus for lots of copywork, writing and maths as the children wrote out orders and receipts and charged each other for their extremely expensive ice-cream Sundaes.

An old squeeze honey container was amongst the favourite items, as were the dark brown beads for chocolate drops.

Extra products such as paper doughnuts and choc-chip biscuits were created to add to the repertoire and the menu was rewritten to include several new additions.

When you charge for every ice block, choc drop, scoop of ice-cream and berry that goes into the Sundaes it makes for some good maths practice.

This was the original sensory tub that was offered as a provocation for play. The children thought of the many other additions and made it far better by the time they had finished.

## Home-made Montessori style toddler toy

Wooden toys are expensive, especially if they are classified as educational or “Montessori” in nature, but there are so many items that you can easily and inexpensively make yourself at home. I found this wooden toy at an op shop recently and in 5 minutes had a new bead activity for my almost 2 year old toddler. All I did was cut off one of the wooden ends, gave it a quick sand and that was it.

I tipped the beads off into a little bowl and showed her how to look for the hole in each bead as she placed them onto the sticks. This was a challenge for her but she got the hang of it eventually. When she has finished with this fine motor activity, the beads can be used for colour sorting, lacing, loose parts play, scooping, transfer and a multitude of other ideas. Great for highchair play, table time, mat time or playpen time, it ticks all the boxes for me.

## Moveable art with loose parts – an invitation to play.

Moveable art with loose parts as an invitation to play has continued to be a hit in our house this week. The theory of loose parts in layman’s terms is that the more bits and pieces you have to muck about with, the more you can interact and be creative with the materials. I like it because it promotes creative and artistic skills while being easy to work into our daily lives. It’s quiet, (good for afternoon nap times) doesn’t require a lot of time to set up or clean away and children of all ages can participate once they are past the stage of popping everything into their mouths. The pieces can be used over and over again endlessly and the end product is a beautiful art work.

There are so many kinds of materials you can use to stimulate artistic play. Last week I set out pattern blocks, this week I pulled out all the glass and acrylic shapes I have collected over time. I find these in discount variety stores in the vase or candle section for a couple of dollars a bag and they are such an attractive material that the children just love to handle them. We use them for maths with my early learners who are working on basic counting skills with manipulatives and in sensory boxes with all kinds of accessories.

I present loose parts play to my toddler in a different way than the  older children. While she does at times have access to the table and loves the materials, she tends to frustrate the older children by messing up the designs they are working to create, or dumps the bowls on the floor and carts them around the house rather than creating art! So I simply pop her up for highchair time with a smaller mirror and a couple of containers of jewels to choose from. She loves copying the big kids and does sit there for a little while carefully arranging them on the mirror as she has seen the others do, before tipping out the entire bowl and just enjoying handling them for their own sake. The restraint of the highchair helps her to focus and develop self-control and concentration skills and gives her the opportunity to use the material in a way she would not have done had I let her wander about the house with them.

How do you encourage creativity in your children?

## Invitations to play

Do you have unused resources taking up space in your cupboards? Perhaps there is an amazing educational set that your children just never seem to choose? Maybe it is time to try an “invitation to play.”

These pattern blocks have been available to my children for table time and room time for years and I can’t remember the last time a child voluntary took them out of the cupboard to play with. As our pretend play area was also laying dormant, I decided to pack the home corner equipment away for a while (toy rotation is a wonderful thing) and set out something new.

I originally started with 1 large mirror and 2 lids full of jumbled blocks, with the idea of giving my almost 2 year old something she could use while in the games room without getting into other areas that she does not have the freedom to access. The moment I unveiled the new attraction though, it immediately became obvious that I was going to have many children interested, not just one toddler! After the addition of another smaller mirror and a couple of wooden trays, most who were interested could join in, however I even had to pull out an old picture frame as another base so that everyone could be in on the action.

My 13 year old hasn’t touched a pattern block for years and yet there he was, busily building the Millennium Falcon, while his almost 11 year old sister methodically sorted the blocks into separate shapes and colours before commencing her building plan. The nearly 2 year old chose to pick out every single yellow hexagon during her first attempt (shape and colour recognition anyone?) and the little boys made random sculptures or bunches of Tie-fighters!

So what’s the point?

• If toys are not readily available, then children won’t use them. Sets that are upended in toy boxes or buried in the back of a jumbled cupboard will rarely see the light of day. Store toys in sets in containers that make it quick and easy to set out and pack them away.
• Toy rotation keeps things fresh. When a toy that has been out of sight for a while comes back out, it is like a new experience all over again.
• Use toys that are not favourites in new and different ways to spark interest. These pattern blocks come with puzzle cards that I usually set them out with. This time the focus was free creating.
• Free play time and age-appropriate choice as part of a flexible routine needs to be handled wisely. It is also important to teach children to play with what you tell them to play with, when you tell them to play with it and where you tell them to play it. A parent-directed routine will help you to raise obedience, self-controlled children who are not addicted to choice.

## Homeschooling 6 year olds – reading

Teaching a child to read in the early years is not as daunting as it at first seems. There are so many different methods out there and honestly, a child that does not have any developmental issues will learn using any of them – just pick one and go for it! Some will need a little more time with the same materials but will get there in the end and others may need you to find them something that addresses their particular needs. Of course, reading excellent literature to children on a daily basis is so important for their development in this area.

The methods I use work for me and have adapted easily for the little ones in my house who needed a little more time. I have already discussed how to lay the foundations for teaching reading in teaching children to read – where to begin so I’ll leave that for now.

Moving on from ear training, a good phonics programme is a must, some sight word practise is helpful and a good quality set of early readers is useful.

I use Letterland for phonics. It was developed to help children who were struggling and was so successful it came into mainstream education. Initially I introduce 1 new letter a day using the abc book, with both its alphabet name and sound, and we spend 5 minutes reading the little story and finding a bunch of items starting with that sound. On the following day we review the sounds and letter names previous learnt before introducing a new letter. At the end of 26 days, with daily reviews of sounds already covered, our 3 year olds will usually know around 20 of the 26 sounds, many of the letter names and be able to work out the rest of the sounds using the Letterland character’s names to prompt them. Not bad for 10 minutes a day.

The 4 and 5 year olds go on to initial sounds experiences, alphabet activities and 3 letter words. (Put “preschool” in the search bar to find my many posts for preschool activities that include alphabet charts, spinny spellers, Duplo 3 letter words, Montessori trays etc.) Our focus this year is now sight words and more advanced digraphs – the sounds that letters make when they get together. Letterland has the cleverest stories to explain these changes.

For example, “H” is Hairy Hat Man who hates noise and whispers his soft “h” sound and the letter “S” is Sammy Snake who hisses his “s” sound. When Sammy stands behind Harry in words his hissing is so loud that Harry turns and says “sh” which is why you can hear a “sh” sound when you see “sh” in words such as shop and ship. Easy isn’t it! Once the children have heard these stories they rarely forget them and they provide very easy prompts when working on decoding words for reading. Even my older children can sometimes be prompted in their reading or spelling of a difficult word with the reminder of one of the more advanced Letterland stories.

For beginner readers who find reading akin to pulling teeth, putting the readers aside and focussing on building a bank of sight words may be helpful. I type out all the words necessary to read their first Bob Book and we use those for sight word games, flash card drills and other simple activities until they are known by sight. That way, when the child attempts to read the actual book, they are able to breeze through and wonderingly say at the end “I read it!” rather than feel like pulling out their hair (or is that just me?) as they laboriously sound out 1 word after another.

In the sight word mastery file above, the words are moved from pocket to pocket as the child reads them successfully. If they forget the word it goes back to pocket 1 and starts again. That way, by the time words make it into the review envelope they have been read correctly 6 days in a row and are probably quite well known by then – enough to be recognised in the book later.

The Montessori pink series  starts with simple phonetic words that are matched to pictures. It is an independent activity that requires no supervision other than me listening to the words being read once they have matched all the pictures. In graded sets that get gradually harder, these are free to print out and there are heaps of free resources for them on the web.

There are so many more ideas for teaching reading but these are a few that we have used repeatedly over the years during a short period of one-on-one time with each child, coupled with a little independent work on a daily basis. One they have that lightbulb moment they will be off and running and you will need to restrain yourself from telling them to put that book down and go out and play!