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

IMG_0115 It was time for an update of the activities available for my preschoolers this week. This cupboard is only used for “school” time with Mummy once a day by the twins (4 years) and contains our more formalised school activities – number and letter work etc. (Last months activities are here.) We are making the most of the next 2 months before baby number 7 is due to work on preschool skills. Once bub arrives these activities will be changed to more play based choices and able to be used independently, rather than requiring my direct supervision. Please keep in mind that I am not suggesting all 4 year olds are ready for this level of work. I work steadily with my children, moving ahead as far as their understanding and development allows. I do not stick to teaching skills by grade or age, but rather follow each child’s development as far as they are able. This changes from child to child and the ideas here are more traditionally at pre-primary to year 1 school level. It is more important that children learn to sit and concentrate, follow instructions, learn Godly character etc. than a list of rote learning or academic skills. The twins happen to be able to cope with these activities and show an interest in them so I will go with that for now. If it becomes burdensome and onerous for them, we will take a break. IMG_0097 I found these plastic tiles at an op shop. I have no idea what their original use was, however they link together nicely for this number sequencing activity. Having 3 colours meant I could quickly separate out only the 1 to 10 blocks, then add the 11 to 20 and finally 21 to 30 as they were able to complete the “path” as we called it. I provided a coloured number strip to use as a guide while they were still learning the numeral sequence. IMG_0104 IMG_0099 This is the same activity using a different style of block. These came from a build-your-own 3D desk calendar I bought for $1. You could also purchase Coko bricks which are almost identical and can be used on Duplo base boards. The twins have learnt to count to 30 out loud and have fairly good one-to-one correspondence so we are now working on recognising and sequencing numerals to 30. IMG_0105 IMG_0119 We use Mathusee in the early years (moving on to Saxon math later) but as my preschoolers are not ready to do a lot of written work I used the sequence of skills from the Primer book to develop a bunch of hands-on activities. These block manipulatives also come from the Mathusee resources. In the example above, the children need to recognise the numeral and count to find the right block to place above it. Click  HERE for a FREE PRINTABLE. IMG_0120 IMG_0121 Another Mathusee based activity; basic addition facts using the manipulatives and numeral answers. The number strips I have out at the moment are plus 1 and plus 2. Learning basic addition facts now will help with more difficult mathematical skills later on. Click the links below for FREE PRINTABLES: Plus  1 Plus 2 Plus 3 Plus 4 Plus 5 Plus 6 Plus 7 Plus 8 Plus 9 Plus 10 IMG_0122 We have moved on from letter names and sounds and identifying initial sounds to 3 letter words. These are Coko bricks and each board has groups of consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words with the same endings to keep it simple. The children carefully sound out the words and find the matching bricks to make them. IMG_0123 IMG_0124 The back side of the card has the answers to make the activity self-checking. No printable for this one sorry – the pictures are not mine! IMG_0125 These alphabet sounds books were simply a book form of flashcard. We use them to review the letter names and sounds and sticker the letters they know. I found the school font I wanted to use online, enlarged it and printed them out. IMG_0126 This is an initial sounds activity. Free printable circle pictures and letters are available from this blog. I made a simple backing page to use them in a slightly different way than the original author intended. The sets are sorted into 3 or 4 initial sounds in each envelope to keep it simple and avoid having the whole alphabet mixed up together. For a FREE PRINTABLE of my circles backing page click here. IMG_0127 IMG_0128 I made these consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) 3 letter word matching cards using pictures from cheap sticker books. The children choose a picture and find the matching word card before turning the picture over to check their answer on the back. IMG_0129 A basic counting and/or colour matching activity from an activity bag swap I posted on a while back. The concept is far too easy for the twins now but I wanted something for fine motor skills so popped this one out again. The idea is to slide the correct number of paperclips onto each foot after ordering the numerals from 1 to 5. You may also require them to match the colours at the same time.

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 busy boxes

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Toddler busy boxes are part of our flexible daily routine. They help me to homeschool  older children or get some chores done while my toddlers and preschoolers are well occupied on a worthwhile task.

busy box cupboard IMG_8556Our busy boxes (and ziploc bag activities, tot school, workjobs, shoebox tasks, preschool or Montessori style tray activities) are only available at certain times in the day to keep them fresh and interesting and to stop them getting spread throughout the house. We use them during school time in the morning and for table activities while I am getting dinner on the table in the evening. That way I do not need to change them too often because the children’s interest stays high and I can also keep some degree of supervision over the messier trays to avoid major pack up sessions afterwards.

They are also excellent to use for buddy time when an older child is assigned to play with a younger sibling. This is useful for example when the younger children have already finished playpen or room time and I just need an extra 20 minutes or so to finish working with one of the older children to complete their school activities. Turning toddlers loose to wander unattended throughout the house is bound to end in trouble, so some time with an older sister or brother gives the older children a break from their school work and builds good sibling relationships at the same time. The older children enjoy the responsibility because they do not get asked to do it all the time or for very long periods of time. It also gives them an excuse to play with all those attractive tubs as well!

This set of busy boxes is for my 3 year old twins, but many could be adapted to suit toddlers and older babies too. There are heaps of ideas on my other posts for the younger age group.blocks and animals IMG_8554Plastic animals and wooden blocks for building corals, zoos, farms and houses. Jenga blocks work well too.

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The 3 year olds have been learning how to recognise the numerals 1 to 5 and count small items. Combining building with Duplo as well makes this counting tray attractive, particularly to boys.geoboards IMG_8547Geoboards are a commercially produced mathematics tool. Great for exploring geometric shapes, perimeter, fractions or just for making pictures with elastic bands.dry erase board IMG_8546Personal dry erase boards (whiteboards) with pens and an eraser. sewing cards IMG_8543Sewing and lacing cards. These have a shape drawn for the children to copy. There are plenty of sewing and lacing shapes around to buy or make your own by punching holes around a cardboard picture using a hole punch.button sorting IMG_8542Sorting buttons into muffin trays is a hit with all ages. There is just something about handling all those different shapes and textures. The twins haven’t even gotten their hands on these yet – the 6, 8 and 10 year olds have been monopolizing them! cutting box IMG_8540Teaching toddlers to cut provides them with an absorbing activity that is great for their fine motor skills. The twins have had experience with all the materials in this box so this is just an assortment to chop up any old way they like. Paper streamers, card strips, beads, straws and other oddments such as tinsel or curling ribbon could be included. We let the bits fall back into the box and they can eventually be used for collage later on. The cutting box with free printable patterns I prepared a little while back was too advanced for them so I have put it away to use later on. wood puzzle IMG_8536A collection of good quality wooden puzzles is a good investment. This one came with a variety of patterns for the children to copy, making it much more  long-lasting.gluing IMG_8534Teaching toddlers to glue is another open-ended activity that they will love. Using a glue stick makes it a lot less messy to begin with. A selection of coloured card pieces and diecut shapes from a Kmart scrapbooking assortment pack made this very easy to prepare.rice box IMG_8531Sensory tubs have so many applications. Finding puzzles pieces hidden in rice is pictured above. See here for many more ideas.do a dot IMG_8530Do-a-dot pictures are great for fine motor skills. Bingo dot markers can be used to dot inside the circles or provide small stickers to peel and stick into the dots.  There are tonnes of free printable do-a-dot pictures around if you do a quick google search. teddies IMG_8528Imaginative cooking and doll/teddy play is always a hit. Small teddies, mini pillows, sheets and blankets, along with marbles, jewels and wooden button food makes an interesting selection. Bottle top plates and an old polly pocket toy as well as some screw-top jars finish it off.beads IMG_8526Pony beads and pipecleaners are great for threading and can be made into bracelets or tipped off and re-used next time. dinosaurs IMG_8523Our dinosaur tub includes play dough, plastic dinosaurs, popsicle sticks and popstick fences, a rolling-pin and plastic knife and some artificial leaves for plants and trees. The green bowl has been used to make a pond, cave and home for them as well.

Make sure you choose activities that are age appropriate, can be used independently, include attractive materials, are easily accessible, and easy to pack away. Being able to throw everything back into a robust plastic tub makes it easy for children to keep the activities together and tidy up after themselves.

The key to using these kinds of activities with your young children successfully though is training. No amount of pretty materials will keep a fidgety toddler with the attention span of a flea sitting in one spot for any length of time on a day-to-day basis. As soon as the novelty wears off they will be up and off again.

Take the time to train your children to stay in a designated area. (See mat time/blanket time and highchair time.) Introducing young babies to playpen time that transitions to room time later on is an excellent way to begin (see starting late) and the highchair and table make excellent places to sit a child with an engaging activity while you are nearby. Some children will naturally sit still for longer than others, but all can be trained to do so for a reasonable length of time.

If you are too busy to train your children to sit and concentrate then you are too busy!! Give up some of those good things you do and take on the better thing of training your children. They will need these focussing and concentrating skills in later life, especially at school and your home and others will be blessed by a self-controlled toddler.

For a list of toddler table activities, see here. For preschool ideas see here. For many more ideas for children of all ages, have a look around! For some more sensory tubs, try here.

Montessori counting trays 1 to 5

It constantly amazes me how much we can get through in only 15-30 minutes of focussed time. I really encourage all those overwhelmed homeschool Mothers with multiple children that you only need a small window each day to teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills.

Montessori style hands-on activities make it enjoyable and interesting for the children and encourage them to be active participants and motivated learners. I have a good stockpile of useful materials collected and organised and in an hour I put together these counting activities for my 3 year olds who have just started doing some tray activities with me on a daily basis. For a more detailed idea of how to introduce these, see here.

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Natural materials like wood and rocks are very appealing. My older children love these rocks and all wanted a quick go of this tong transfer activity. The jewel beads are numbered 1 to 5 and placed in order around the segmented tray before the correct number of rocks are transferred into each section.
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These doves and little heart boxes are wedding favours from our local discount store. They are so cute the kids can’t resist playing with them. Half the battle to get children to learn is won when they are interested in what you are presenting to them. Make up a little story to go with it and they will be eating out of your hand. I told mine that the birds have been specially trained by the King and Queen to fly back to their own love heart bed for the night and gave them a couple at a time to count in order to figure out which bed they had to put them into. Taking the lids off to discover what number was inside was a good opening and closing activity in itself and added to the mystery. We also used a number strip to match the lids to as they do not yet recognise the numerals.

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A simple popsicle counting tray. You could colour-code the sticks for beginners to sort by colour first before counting and placing into the correct jar. These colours could also match the sticker on the jar for an added self-checking aspect.

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These iceblock fruits (the kind that come filled with water for freezing and adding to drinks) have been a hit from day one. They are a lot brighter and more attractive than they look in the photo and combined with some milk bottle lid numbers (liquid papered on) and a chip and dip tray from the local op shop, this took me about 2 minutes to put together.

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Sparkle pompoms, some gold plastic disposable plates and teabag tongs  with baby food jar lid numbers make another easy activity tray. If you make up a funny story about guests at a restaurant who are ordering different amounts of food and tell the children that they (as the chef/waiter) need to deliver exactly what the customer wants, they will be enthralled. My guests got progressively more greedy as the numbers increased and this had the twins giggling along. Somehow my children always find it funny when we pretend play about bad manners!

counting 1 to 5 clips IMG_8137

These clips were a mistake right from the start. One side is shorter than the other and they are quite stiff so the children can’t get a good grip to press them open and clip them onto things. I let them have a try but we usually just end up sorting them into the compartments. I’ve kept them because they are bright colours and the kids do find them an attractive material to handle.

Six trays in an hour of prep (most of which was getting the stuff out and packing it away when I’d finished) and I am set for a good few weeks. I’m guessing that by the time the interest in these wears off, they will both be able to count to 5 and ready to move on to counting to 10 trays. Or back to initial sounds, or 3 letter words or… whatever takes our fancy next.

More posts you may be interested in:

Montessori tray activities – starting out

More ideas for 1 to 5 counting

Make your own baby and toddler Montessori toys 

circle time

Homeschooling with toddlers and preschoolers

Twin's tot school activities

Whether you like to call them Montessori tray activities, tot school, preschool, workboxes, workjobs, shoebox tasks or Ziploc bag activities, providing younger siblings with engaging, educational and worthwhile tasks to do while you homeschool older siblings is vital for a smooth day with well occupied children.

While you can get some schooling done while little ones are napping, I prefer to get the bulk of our formal schooling completed as early in the day as possible when the children (and I) are freshest. Last year we had around an hour while the younger ones were in room time (playpen time for littlies) and we could also use mat time (or blanket time.) Now that we have older children though, this is not long enough to complete all of their workload and the twins are turning 3 so a new era has dawned!

The twins will be “starting school” with the big kids. They will now be included in our morning circle time, followed by table activities before they go off to room time. The list of possible table activity ideas is almost endless but our “school” trays will be more Montessori in style.

As I have done in the past, I have chosen a list of categories for each tray and put one example of each category out on the shelf. When it comes time to update the trays in a couple of weeks as interest declines, I will simply swap out the materials but keep the type of activity the same. (See starting out.) This term our trays are gluing, cutting, stickers and drawing, tong transfer, spooning/teddy play, scooping/teddy play, threading. Duplo copying and water pouring. 

The best thing about this year’s preparation is that in the past I have taken photographs of all our tray activities along the way. This meant that I could simply hand the older children a couple each and ask them to go and get everything in the photo and assemble the activity. I pointed out that this was an opportunity to bless their little brother and sister. They quite enjoyed doing it, especially as I gave them latitude to change the activities a little with different pretty pots and equipment to suit their own tastes. In about an hour we had a whole term worth of trays set up and ready to go. (Plus the extra half hour to put away all the mess that the children created as they were collecting the gear but I wont mention that!)