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?

Sensory tubs; A rainy day and new baby activity

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With a new baby on the way and wet weather kicking in, some plans for rainy day activities have become my priority. I have used mini sensory tubs in the past with great success as individual activities, but this time I want to keep several little people busy at once. After trawling the web and building up an inspiring Pinterest list of ideas, the last step in the plan was to find a suitable container.

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While a large, shallow plastic tub will certainly do the trick, as will a scrubbed out water play table, I was lucky enough to find a secondhand wooden under-bed drawer that is ideal. It is on castors so I can push it to wherever we want to use it and then simply cover it up and roll it back under the gamesroom table to get it out of the way. Being wood, it is also strong enough that if the children lean on the sides it won’t break.

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After raiding the pantry for some oats as the first play experience, I fished through the cupboard for suitable play accessories. Bowls, trays, scoops, tongs, measuring cups, ladles and jugs were laid out in an “invitation to play” as I have recently heard it termed. (Basically just placing materials in a way that attracts children to the activity.) I know some people don’t like to use food as play because they feel that it is wasteful, but I do keep my basic manipulatives (rice, oats, pasta etc.) and reuse them over and over again. I have rice in a container in the cupboard that has probably been used for 7 or 8 years now.

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Initially all 6 children were excited to play (Yes, even the 11-year-old boy!) so I added some extra accessories (jars with clip lids, plates, jugs and teacups) to cope with the numbers. This turned out to be a little difficult to manage however and with friction developing (read bickering, arguing and annoying each other) I directed the older three to go and find another activity and leave the younger three in peace.

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This was a much more amicable arrangement and much baking, cooking and food preparation was enjoyed for almost an hour in total.

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Of course the 2 clip-lid jars turned out to be the favourite accessory so some patience and sharing practise was required! (Why is there always one item that everyone wants?)  Note that his hand is firmly attached to the top and I don’t think was removed for more than a second at a time to ensure that nobody else got hold of the jar!

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Tongs are such great practise for fine motor skills and help develop finger strength for pencil grip later on.

The one rule I made before we started playing was that the oats and containers had to stay in the tray, not on the sheet. This did require some reminding when all 6 were playing as there wasn’t enough room for them to spread out everything they wanted to do, but once three children were using the sensory tub I only needed to remind the youngest a couple of times to keep the oats inside. Any deliberate spilling would mean that the offending child was done with the activity.

I cover the box with a large sheet when it is not in use and it is this same sheet which is spread on the floor to catch any accidental spills. When play is finished, I roll the box off and pick up the sheet by the 4 corners, simply tipping the spilled oats back into the tub. There were a few strays left behind but as we have a new vacuum cleaner it was quite a novelty for the little boys to fight over take turns cleaning up the couple of oats that got away. On hard floors a quick swish with the dustpan would have done the job.

I can see hours of fun ahead throughout the winter season and we will keep this as a special rainy day only activity. I plan to change the accessories every week or so to keep interest up (leaving the oats in place) and completely change the entire contents about every month. With the amount of ideas I have listed for items to add to a sensory tub, I have enough to keep going for years!

What are your favourite rainy day activities?

(After using our oats tub for a week or so I have made a few adjustments; see here.)

 

 

 

Flowers of Godly character

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After holidays, sickness and general out of routine grumps hit our house recently, we needed something to lift the tone of sibling relationships. We have used several different systems for boosting kind behaviour and general character recognition in the past, but this time I wanted something similar to our praise plates; without a “prize” at the end. Our marble jar and treasure tree charts worked well although there was an end goal or reward that we were working towards – see the marble jar is full for a full explanation of the difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives.

Our treasure tree reward system.

Our treasure tree reward system with a slightly different ending than planned.

 

After reading “The Weed With An Ill Name” we have had a lot of discussions and prayer based on the concept of pulling the character “weeds” out of our hearts and replacing them with Godly character “flowers.” I decided to base our system around this idea and build on the interest that was already there by calling our chart “Flowers of Godly Character – Pull out those weeds!”

Each yellow centre is given the child’s initial who is “growing” the flower and as Godly character is displayed they are able to add a petal. Five petals complete a flower and another is started. Having each flower initialed means they are able to see the flowers they have grown, but the pot of flowers is something the whole family is working together to grow.

No reward other than being able to see the flowers you have planted being added to the pot is given, but even so, the children have huge smiles and are very happy to be awarded a petal.

For more ideas on building character and family identity see:

Sizzlers and grace

Filling their love tank: the 5 love languages of children

Spoiled walls; bickering and sibling conflict

101 family night ideas Relationships – joyful or difficult, they all need the 5 A’s

Sharing bedrooms; pros and cons

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To share or not to share? Bedrooms, not beds that is! Some of us have a choice and others have children sharing bedrooms as a necessity. Over our parenting years we have experienced both – siblings in separate rooms and bunking in together.

Some of the benefits of sharing we have seen are:

  • closer relationships and bonding between brothers and sisters as they share their space together.
  • a sense of responsibility and big brother/sister pride (in a good way) as the older children take care of younger siblings. We heard a great story a while back about a younger child who thought of their older brother as his ‘guardian in the ceiling’ during the night. My eldest son commented at the time that he couldn’t wait to be his little brother’s guardian.
  • older siblings are aware of issues in the night and can get help from Mum and Dad without the entire house needing to be woken up or in some cases solve the problem quickly themselves. In the event of a disaster (fire etc.) young children have an older child to help get them safely out. We also discuss and role-play what to do in these situations because it is abundantly clear to us through our own experience that even children who you think would react well in a crisis don’t necessarily have any idea of what to do. (But that’s a post for another day!)
  • a sense of security. Our children dislike being in their rooms alone now if a sibling is away for some reason and are much happier sharing .
  • character flaws come to the forefront and need to be dealt with! It doesn’t sound like a plus but it really is. Children who have their own little private world can hide a lot of selfish attitudes and other problems because they are not challenged in this area. My children’s flaws are out there on display! Hopefully these will be much improved in the long run because they are forced to face them and work on them now. Learning to share your space and respect others is a skill.
  • extra room. We know families who choose to have several siblings sharing in each bedroom so they can use another bedroom as a toy room, computer room, office etc. to give the family more living space during the day. For some, the bedroom is simply that – a room for beds and sleeping and nothing else. The family is then together in the common spaces of the house which leaves no problems with a child (particularly a teenager) isolating themselves from the rest of the family.

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The negatives we have faced are:

  • changing sheets on top bunks.
  • having to deal with behavioural issues at night when you just want to sit down and relax. (Children talking and keeping themselves or others awake. Early risers waking others up in the morning.)
  • sorting out fights over who made the mess and who should be cleaning it up.
  • one child disturbing another during the night going to the toilet, sleep talking etc. (Most of ours sleep through anything, or fall back to sleep in seconds if woken.)

Looking at these two lists, we still feel that the positives outweigh the potential negatives, but we have had to work on overcoming the issues. We have used several different methods over the years, depending on circumstances (age of children, mix of personalities etc.) that have been helpful to us. Some of these are:

  • getting Daddy to change the top bunk sheets on a weekend when they need doing, especially when I am pregnant 🙂
  • proactively managing our morning routine right from the time a child first moves from their cot into a big bed. See this post on moving to a big bed and managing morning routines for a full explanation of how we do this.
  • teaching children to respect each other’s belongings. They are not allowed to take their brother or sister’s personal items without getting permission first.
  • ensuring that every child has their own space and some belongings that are off-limits to others. Each child has a private area in the form of a desk and shelving, bookshelves or cupboard.  Sometimes this space is in their bedroom, sometimes in another room.
  • staggered bedtimes so hopefully the first child is asleep or at least very dopey by the time the second gets to bed.
  • allowing some quiet talking in the dark for a short period after lights out. (Also a great way to build positive relationships between siblings.) One of us will say goodnight and turn out the lights. The children are allowed to talk quietly to each other until the second parent comes to say goodnight, then quiet is expected.
  • playing an audio bible CD, an audio story or music on a portable stereo very quietly so that they have to be quiet to hear it.
  • setting consequences for those who simply won’t stop disturbing the other child(ren.) Sometime this does mean chastisement, but we have also used other consequences such as the offending child having to pay back sleep time lost with interest! This can take the form of a compulsory nap the following day, going back to bed during play time the next day or going to bed much earlier the following night. Children who wake others up in the morning may also pay back sleep time, be chastised, do all the morning jobs of the children they have woken up, or perhaps sit in the laundry during morning reading time instead of staying in their beds to read with the others. Ours very quickly get to the stage they want to share a room and REALLY don’t want to go back by themselves so if we have the luxury of a spare room sometimes the consequence was that they went back out alone for the night. They hate that!

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Some other points to keep in mind:

  • Make sure day sleeps are not too long (or need to be dropped entirely) so that they are ready for bed and sleep straight away.
  • Make sure they get adequate physical exercise during the day.
  • Ensure children drink a lot of water earlier in the day. Children who do not drink enough will have trouble falling asleep, want to drink a lot at night/just before bed and end up needing to get up repeatedly to go to the toilet (or wet the bed) later in the night. Don’t focus on getting them not to drink before bed, focus on getting them to drink in the morning and throughout the day instead.
  • Some children (especially older babies/young toddlers) put themselves to sleep by having a little chat and sing to themselves or teddy in the dark on their beds. This isn’t a problem when they have their own room but it does drive older children who are trying to sleep crazy! For us it really did seem to be more a developmental stage than outright disobedience – a voice control issue rather than defiance. Working on voice control during the day by having some set times where they read books or do an activity when they are not allowed to speak helps with this.
  • Some people say that having children sharing right from the beginning eliminates many problems. We have never done this, always having our babies in their own rooms so that they do not disturb other children when waking for feeds. Each child has transitioned to a big bed around the 2 year mark (a few months before the next baby arrives) and so far we have always had the luxury of this being in their own room. We can then work on staying in bed, morning routines and all the rest without disturbing older children. They shift into shared arrangements somewhere between 3 and 5 depending on the arrival of subsequent babies! We will eventually run out of space to do this but so far so good.

The blessing we have received in our many children far outweighs the inconvenience of having to share bedroom space. After all, God tells us that children are a blessing. He doesn’t mention needing their own room as a prerequisite to welcoming a large family!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!