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.

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!

Mat time and sensory tubs

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Mat time is something we use with our little ones from around the age of 12 months. It teaches them to stay within a boundary and to be content with the toys they are given to play with. Focussing and concentrating skills are developed as they learn to stay with a couple of choices, rather than flit from one thing to another. When we go out I can set out a boundary and know that they will stay where I tell them to and play with whatever I have been able to bring with me at the time. It also means that when children transfer to a big bed they will obey Mum’s instruction to stay in bed, or when toilet training will sit and read a book while they do their business, rather than wanting to get off after just a second or two!

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I have used crates of toys in the past, but as our youngest can now play with small items without me having to watch his every move, I have introduced individual sensory tubs. I posted recently about our large sensory tub (currently filled with oats) but these smaller ones are filled with “clean” materials and are used by only one child at a time. Our two-year-old is using this most days, so I will probably need to change out the contents every week. Alternatively, I could have 4 or 5 on the go and rotate them which would make them last much longer, but I don’t have the storage space or the tubs to do that.

To give you an idea of how easy it is to change the contents, next week I will remove everything except the rocks and add more rocks of larger sizes and different colours, dinky cars and trucks, some card tubes, a couple of blocks of wood and some small shovels and scoops. 5 minutes later – new tub!

If you have trouble thinking of ideas, spend an hour on Pinterest and you will have enough to last you for months. My sensory tub ideas pinboard is here if you want to see some of my future plans.

 

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.)

 

 

 

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!

     

Toddler bags for out and about: How to get through a restaurant meal with a toddler.

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Any parent of young children knows that a meal out in a restaurant can be taxing with a toddler in tow. There are ways however to minimise the stress and make it a pleasant experience for everyone.

Firstly, train your child at home to sit in their highchair after meals for a period of time with a few toys or activities, or perhaps a book or two and include playpen time (or room time) and mat time in your daily routine. Having these daily periods where your child is used to happily playing with the toys you give them, whilst staying within a boundary, is excellent preparation for other occasions when they will need to sit quietly for a longer than normal stretch of time.

Spend a little time preparing some new and interesting activities that are kept aside for use while you are out. Either purchased toys and books or some simple (and cheap) home-made ideas like the ones that follow. Toddler’s generally do not have a well-developed imagination and tire of toys that don’t “do” something relatively quickly, so having to buy new things continually to keep up with their changing developmental needs and interest can become very expensive. These home-made toys are great for developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination and when introduced at the right developmental level, will be stimulating and interesting for your young child. If a task is too easy it will not hold their interest. Too hard and they will become frustrated and lose interest.

This is the bag of “toys” I put together for my 18 month old to use during a lunch we attended on the weekend. He only used a couple of them as I bought them out one at a time and only changed them over when necessary.

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Posting bottle: Posting noodles into an empty vanilla bottle and tipping them back out again.

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Posting box: Pushing pompoms into the hole in this twine box. Help is needed to open the box to tip them out again but as we are sitting right next to him this is not a problem.

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Small spaces jar: Posting earbuds into a spice jar with holes in the lid. He discovered after I had taken off the lid and tipped them all back out about 5 times that he could shake them out one at a time through the holes so that added a new dimension to the activity.

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Posting tin: Posting plastic poker chips through a slot into an empty baking powder container. Yes, I know, it’s another posting activity. But at this age, my son LOVES to post stuff so I’ll run with that for a while and change when he is no longer so fascinated!

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Surprise boxes: Opening and closing these little pill containers to find the small toy inside is great for fine motor development.

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Dolly peg and hair bands: Sliding hair ties on and off a wooden dolly peg may be a little difficult for him but we will give it a go and see what happens. I haven’t used this one yet.

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Dinky car: Having older siblings means that interest in cars has developed early and he knows how to play with them form observing his brothers.

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Pipecleaner box: Shoving them in and out and bending them into different shapes could be fun. (We haven’t done this yet either but I remember one of my older children using this idea as a toddler and spending a very long time poking the ends into the small holes in the chair he was sitting on.)

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This old bag is how we cart the activities around. The fact that it has several different compartments as well as zips means that it is an activity in itself.

Having children will certainly change your life, but it shouldn’t stop you from doing the things you love. Train your children and you will reap the benefits.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Mat time on the go

Activities to make for toddlers and babies

Buffet training

Arsenic hour and toddler meltdowns

Arsenic hour and toddler meltdowns

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Arsenic hour is that late afternoon time period where the short people in the household tend to have their meltdowns. Slightly hungry in the lead-up to dinner, tired from a day full of stimulation and unable to display the self-control necessary for “keeping it together” until dinner is served, young children (especially toddlers) tend to struggle during this time and easily tip over the edge. So how can we, as Mothers of young ones, structure our day to minimise the conflict and stress that is often experienced during arsenic hour?

Start by looking at your overall day. Who is in charge? You or your child? Who is making all the choices? Evaluate your overall day in light of this and see if some or much of the conflict is simply caused by you trying to get a reluctant toddler to do something they do not want to do after making their own decisions for the majority of the day. (See “choices” for a fuller explanation.)

Look at your routine. Do you have a flexible structure to the day with a good flow of events? It should include a mixture of time with Mum, time with siblings and time alone, physical activity, quiet time, structured play times etc. (See “routines” for ideas of what to include throughout your day.)

What time are you serving dinner? Are you expecting your young child to wait until Dad comes home in the late evening and trying to feed them when what they really need is to be getting into bed? Family meal times are a priority for us and very important, but if you husband is home later than is practical, consider feeding your toddler early and bringing them back to the table when Dad arrives for finger foods, a snack or a healthy dessert so that they can participate with the family. The bonus with this is that all your mealtime/manners training can be done on-on-one with the toddler, leaving the family table free from conflict.

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Bathtime can be difficult if left until after dinner. There has been seasons when I have bathed all the younger children at around 4.30pm when they are still coping relatively well and are unlikely to get into conflict situations. I can then pop them at the table, in the highchair or on their mat, with a suitable activity to keep them usefully occupied on a worthwhile task while I am free to finish dinner prep and serve them their meals.

Do not test your obedience levels during this time. What do I mean by this? Do not give directions to your toddler and expect them to obey. Rather than say, “Junior, go and get into your highchair please,” simply walk over to Junior, take his hand and cheerfully state “It’s time for highchair activities” as you walk hand in hand with him to the chair, pick him up and pop him in. When it is time for Suzie’s bath, rather than say “Suzie, go and get your PJ’s and go to the bathroom”, you grab the PJ’s and walk little Suzie to the bathroom, undressing her and plopping her in the bath. Don’t forget to give a 5 minute warning before making these announcements.IMG_7743

Having a good routine throughout the day, coupled with these practical suggestions will help make this time as enjoyable as any other period in the day.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Getting dinner on the table

Activities to make for babies and young toddlers

Playdough for toddlers – no biscuit cutters please!