Homeschooling preschoolers – a new year begins.

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One more homeschool cupboard has been cleaned out and set up ready for the new year. Our 3 1/2 year old little man has joined the ranks with his older brothers and sisters to do “school” after breakfast each morning.

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Now I know how important it is at this age to keep school relaxed and enjoyable and not to focus on too much bookwork. Plenty of time for creative, open-ended and active play is an absolute necessity, along with character training as a firm foundation for all other skills. However… there is a place for teaching little boys to sit and concentrate on a task for a good length of time. For some this is more difficult than others but it can be done and dare I say it, must be done. You are doing your sons no favours if you do not teach them the self-control necessary to sit still and achieve a task that is set by someone else. Think ahead to a work or classroom situation – hard as it may be, they need this skill.

This training ideally starts early, with sit time in the highchair, mat time while you prepare dinner, playpen time as babies and all the other parent-directed periods that are so vital to a balanced routine. If you have had all these in place since babyhood then starting some kindergarten activities at the table will be a breeze. If not; it’s not too late – start now! Start small and build on it until it is easy for your little one to sit for a while and finish an activity that you set for them to do.

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I use a workbox system for my younger students and find it works well. It takes a little time to set up but pretty much runs itself once you are going, with change-overs only necessary every couple of weeks as skills are mastered or interest wanes with particular activities over time. We do “school” at home four days a week so there are 4 shelves of 2 boxes per day. The first box holds the “work” that is done with my supervision and the second box holds independent activities that are completed with some choice once the set tasks are done.

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We have already been working on basic counting skills and our little man is familiar with the alphabet and knows most of the sounds. To build on this, his work for the day will be a Montessori style maths counting tray followed by an initial sounds worksheet involving a little bit of writing practice.

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The counting trays all follow the same principle to keep it simple; place the numbers in order, then count out the correct number of objects. Pasta dinosaurs will drink at the watering hole, flowers fill the love heart dishes, coloured bead “food” is served at the number restaurant and coloured tiles line up above the bottle tops. All made with household objects for almost no cost and with visual and tactile appeal to a small person who needs to practise the same skill over and over and still be interested in the task at hand. They are also self-checking in that there is exactly the right number of objects to count and in some, like the plates and watering holes, the items can be matched to the dots to check if the right number has been counted out. (Check out the “Workjobs and Montessori Activities” category on the left for many more ideas for hands-on tray activities.)

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These initial sounds worksheets are so quick and simple but give that bookwork feel that my little kids love because it makes them think they are doing real school just like the big kids. They have to review the letter name and sound then say the name of each object slowly to see if it starts with the right sound. They circle the ones that do and cross out the ones that don’t before tracing the large letter in the middle a couple of times in varying colours. Just a little bit of pencil work to practice but nothing too taxing.

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The fun boxes hold activities that can be done without help but still have educational value. Fine motor skills, problem solving, language development and more are included here on a rotational basis.

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Monday has magnetic dressing dolls, playdough and letter stamps and our “Day and Night” puzzle that requires the children to match the silhouette or picture in the direction cards.

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Tuesday has finger puppets, regular cardboard puzzle and lacing beads. The large wooden lacing stick makes it easier for little fingers to put the beads on.

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Thursday’s workbox has another puzzle, magnetic pictures and magnetic white board and number lacing beads.

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The Friday box includes a puzzle plus magnetic alphabet letters and and magnetic whiteboard, along with some paper, scissors, glue, texts and Star Wars wrapping paper (saved from the Christmas presents) to create with.

Our little man was already asking to have a go at bits and pieces as I was putting these together so that’s a good sign. Keeping school toys out of the general rotation means that these are almost like new and he can’t wait to start.

Next up; the 6 year old twin’s cupboards. Year 1 here we come!

 

Preschool at our house: Workbox system for 5 year olds

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Here is the latest workbox style arrangement for our 5 year old preschoolers which will allow them to get the direct instruction from me that they need as they learn basic reading and writing skills, while at the same time having some degree of independence in their other work. I have always invested some time in one-on-one teaching at this age because helping each child to become a proficient reader is one of the keys to independent learning and self-educating later on (one of my goals for all my children.) The children have access to plenty of creative play opportunities and lots of great hands-on learning tools at other times in the day but this morning period is slightly more “bookish” as we step into more formalised learning.

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My older girls (7 and 9) both work from a written schedule for several reasons; they know exactly what to do, when to do it and how much they need to do before they are done for the day. My 11 year old son also works from a schedule, but is free to decide the “when” for himself, having shown responsibility in managing his time in the past. The twins (5 years) have a pictorial schedule to gently ease them into a more independent role in the future but don’t really need it because their boxes are numbered and they are under my direction anyway. (It’s more so that I can keep track of what they are supposed to be doing!)

I researched workbox homeschooling several years ago and most of the examples I found on the web involved nightly or at least weekly changing of the contents. I knew that wasn’t going to work for me so I devised a simple system that only needed to be changed out about once a month. (See details here.) There will be some items in the boxes that needs to be updated more regularly (Sight words as they are learnt for example) but this will require minimal effort as the sets of words etc. that I need are all ready to go.

Some advice that I always give beginner homeschoolers, especially those with a large family, is to set their homeschool up so that  it will continue to run without them as much as is possible. Life intrudes; an unexpected visitor, an unscheduled phone call, the baby is sick and on and on. Set things up so that you are not required to be “teaching” directly all the time or the pace may be too hard to keep up. With only one or two children you may be able to do it but not with the number of blessings we have!

So.. what’s in the boxes?

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Daily diary writing (See full explanation here.)

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Bob Books and a file folder game to practise sight words. As the child chooses a word it is read and fed to Mugs the dog through the hole in his mouth. (See this post for how to teach children to read and this one for some info on beginner readers.)

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Segmenting words game based on All About Spelling level 1. I am using this programme as a rough guide at this stage. We will get into it more next year but for now our activities are loosely base around the progression in this book which is very thorough. We are using the flip boxes to review the single sounds we already know before moving on to more complex phonograms.

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Montessori style counting activity tray. Developing one-to-one correspondence is crucial before any real maths skills can be developed and these simple counting activities give heaps of practise while also working on fine motor skills. In the top activity the expresso cups are set out with the numbers in order from 6 to 10 and the child uses the tongs to add the correct number of sugar lumps to each cup. In the second activity the small tongs are used to transfer the correct number of marbles to the suckers on these soap holding shapes – the kind that suction onto your sink to stop the soap slipping away.

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We use Math-u-see for the first couple of years and Primer is the first book in the series. I cover all of the concepts with  hands-on tray activities first and once they are well mastered the children can work through the book as a bridge to the bookwork they will be doing the following year. We also have the Dive CD’s which have videos for each lesson in the student books so some added “teacher” instruction is given as well to help fill any small gaps that may still be there.

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Tracing letters and numbers. I try to supervise handwriting practise to ensure that the correct letter formations are being made. There are heaps of free worksheets on the net. Look for some in your preferred font and laminate them if you choose for repeat practise. For children who find fine motor control difficult, the channel writing (bubble letter style) are the best because it allows more leeway than dotted letters for wobbly pencil paths. It can be very discouraging for children who try so hard and yet cannot stay on that dotted line. The “fat” letters to keep inside are somewhat more forgiving.

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The last workbox contains a selection from some free printable worksheets to go with the Bob Books that I have found online, mainly for my daughter who finishes all her school work in nanoseconds and wants to know what else there is to do. She loves to do “real” school work like her older siblings so the more books and worksheets I supply her with the happier she is. My son will do them if he wants to which will translate to not doing any at all except possibly using the bingo dotters to follow the word paths simply because he wants to randomly dot paint everywhere 🙂

 

Montessori style hands-on tray activities for toddlers and preschoolers

Activities for young children are cheap and easy to put together and the peace they will bring to your daily routine is priceless! Teaching your little ones to sit and concentrate for extended periods is one of the key skills every parent should be working on in the early years and one that will pay dividends in the future. Choose a variety of attractive materials that will stimulate their interest and be prepared to change them fairly regularly. It is important that the activity is not too difficult nor too easy. A little bit of a challenge will keep them interested – too challenging and they will be unable to succeed. If you present a tray that is too difficult, simply remove it and put it away for the future. Chances are they will love it in just a few short months.

I have written several posts detailing how to train your children to sit in their highchair, mat or playpen and the practicalities of when and how to change activities. Getting started takes a little extra time, but once you have built “tray time” into your day, it will become something your child looks forward to. Place them somewhere near you so you can chat and interact while you are cooking or doing some other task that enables you to encourage them in what they are doing when they need it and keep an eye on those smaller objects that they may find tempting to put in their mouths. Here are several ideas for the 2 to 5 age-range (approximately) that I have used in the past with my own children.

Sliding oversized paperclips onto matching coloured cardboard squares.

Matching clips to coloured popsticks. Great pincer-grip training for later writing. Make sure the clips you get have long enough handles and are not too stiff to open. These clips have one short and one long side and the children were not able to grip them properly.

Sorting popsticks by colour.

Tong transfer combined with colour sorting. The flowers came from a cheap plastic Hawaiian lei.

Duplo colour sort.

Tong transfer combined with bead colour or shape sort.

Golf tee hammering by colour. A piece of foam salvaged from packaging and a light wooden hammer from a Tap Tap game.

Colour and shape match combined with pincer grip practise while pegging.

Shape puzzle. This is a commercial set of attribute blocks. I remove all bar one set of the same colour and thickness and use it as a simple shape puzzle. Once they master this, I add other colours and thicknesses back in.

Pattern blocks are lots of fun. Leave them out on a small table and even your older children will not be able to resist putting a bunch together to make a picture. Young children enjoy the matching cards you can purchase to go with them.

Geoboard matching. Little ones just experiment with elastic bands but older children can do a variety of extension activities. Matching and copying geometric shapes is one.

Shape matching cards. You could use them for basic card games as well.

Good quality wooden puzzles are always attractive for children.

Chunky, simple puzzles are a good start for younger kids.

The concepts of heavier, lighter, full, empty etc. can be developed while playing with a set of balance scales.

Stacking and nesting objects develops the concept of size seriation; in this case, measuring cups.

This is a cardboard stacking box set that does the same as the Montessori pink tower. Not as nice but a lot cheaper!

Graduated wooden rings.

Picture to picture matching.

Matching picture halves is a good introduction to puzzles for those who get overwhelmed with too many pieces. Start with just a few pairs and work up.

Toddler busy bag exchange

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A good friend of mine recently hosted an activity bag exchange for young children and toddlers. Each Mum involved made 13 copies of an activity of their choice. We all got together for a chat and to exchange our bags with each other, leaving us all with 13 different activities to use with our own children. Here are the wonderful bags the ladies made. (While none of these are original ideas, they can be found in so many places across the web that I haven’t tried to give credit to sources in most cases.)

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Pizza factory. The children follow the order cards to custom-make each pizza according to their customer’s preferences. (Links to free printable order cards and other busy bag swap ideas here.)

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Popstick pattern match. Use the coloured popsticks to copy the picture patterns. Several of the cards have plain colours on the back to convert  the activity to a colour match instead.

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Button snake. Great for learning how to do up buttons; excellent for fine motor control. The felt pieces are pushed on and off the “snake” using the button head.

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Pipecleaner bracelets. Thread the cut straws onto the pipecleaners to make patterns and jewellery. You could do this as a colour matching activity if you have the right straws and pipe cleaner colours

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Sandpaper and wool pictures. Again with patterns to follow and copy, placing the pieces of wool onto the sandpaper to make pictures.

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Paper clip feet. Slide the paper clips onto the toes by colour or write a number on each foot for counting practise as well as fine motor skills. Young children can just pile the paperclips on top if it is too difficult to push them on.

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Tissue paper pictures. Tear pieces of tissue or crumple into balls to decorate the pictures or make you own with the blank paper and glue. Stickers and crayons are added for extra fun as well.

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Paint swatch pegging. Pincer grip (necessary for writing later) is exercised by opening the pegs to match them to the correct colour swatch.

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Shape puzzle. A simple make-your-own puzzle with foam sheet cut into geometric shapes

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Pop-pom push jar. Push the pompoms through 2 sizes of holes into the plastic container. (Tip: Use a drill to make the holes.)

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My youngest enjoyed the pompom posting and soon figured out that he could shake the small ones back out again – saving me the trouble of taking the lid on and off for him!

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Felt chains. Perfect timing for Christmas! While the rest of the family are producing reams of paper chain to decorate the entire house (or is that just my children?) the youngest can be practising with felt and velcro, to be made and re-made over and over again.

The last 2 bags were mine and I made sewing and threading activities and a basic gluing bag. Sorry, no photos, but check here and here for some gluing and fine-motor ideas.)

Other posts you may find helpful:

Ziploc activity bags for toddlers and preschoolers

Toddler busy boxes 

Sensory tub ideas

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 multiplication trays: Hands-on mathematics

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Wooden peg-board (the kind you use to hang tools from in the garage) is a cheap and simple alternative to purchasing a multiplication board.

Continuing on with my mathematics tray ideas this week (introduction and addition trays here, subtraction trays here), here are some multiplication ideas for learning times tables. We made our own homemade Montessori multiplication board using pegboard wood for a cheap alternative. For another easier method using a rubber bath mat, see this post. While the Montessori multiplication boards are an excellent idea, my children found it quite tedious placing the beads into each little hole every time, preferring to use the blocks from our Math-U-See sets, MAB’s or other manipulatives instead.

Whichever way you choose to present multiplication, make it visual, tactile and concrete to begin with, before moving to abstract concepts. The following tray ideas are for children who already understand the concept of multiplication and simply need some more practise of their basic facts (their times tables) in order to commit them to memory.

times table popstick start finish game

Threading beads onto pipe cleaners (bend the ends to keep the beads from slipping off) is a home-made alternative to the Montessori bead materials. They become the manipulatives, with the multiplication problems written on popsicle sticks. The popsticks are laid out, making sure that the word “start” and all the answer sides are upright. The child turns over the “start” stick and uses the bead strings to solve the problem on the other side. They find the answer to that problem on the next stick and turn it over to reveal a new sum on the other side and continue on in the same way until they reach the “finish” stick. If at any time they turn over the finish stick before they have completed all the other sticks, it indicates they have made an error along the way.

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Wooden MAB’s (multi-based arithmetic blocks) are the “old fashioned” mathematics manipulative that I grew up with. They can be used in place of bead chains for many math concepts. Here they are set out for learning the 10 times table (multiplying by 10’s.) The sum is on the left and the small circles show a running total, with the large circle answer at the end of the chain. A small pad is included for recording the answers.

count by 10s MABs

These plates are actually set up for skip counting in the photograph, however with the addition of some multiplication problems, lend themselves very well to practising times tables.

icecream lid popstick 9 times table

Popsicle sticks with answers are matched to multiplication problems on an icecream container lid.

egg carton 8 times table

Popsicle sticks with the problem are slid into slots with matching answers on the egg carton.

multiplication times table puzzle

A cheap (yet difficult) puzzle was a fun way to practise. Answers are written on the back board to match the puzzle piece with the corresponding problem. The puzzle must be difficult enough that the child cannot easily cheat by just following the picture, rather than working out the sums. (Not that any of your children would ever do that!!)

white ball to iceblock tray match 1 to 10

Plastic balls with problems are matched to the answers in an iceblock tray.

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Pegs with problems are pegged on to the answer segment on the container, which doubles as a storage place.

mixed operation bingo

Dice are thrown (you need 3) to create any combination of addition, subtraction or multiplication problem and the answer is covered on the board. The idea is to continue until all answer squares have been covered. This is for children who already have a fairly good mastery of their basic number facts and tables.

4 times table multipication jewel cont

Each square container holds 4 little plastic shot glasses for practising the 4 times table. Jewels are counted into each glass and totalled to find the answers.

pattipan in box 4 times tables

A plastic lunchbox filled with pattipan answers to match problems on circle.

castle flag multiplication

The correct number of flags are inserted into the castles, with the castles showing how many groups.

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Pegs are slid on to the matching answers on the paper plates. A manipulative is needed for working out the problems unless the child is able to complete them mentally.

ping pong ball egg tray 5 times table

Ping pong ball problems are matched to the answers in an egg holder from the fridge.

Montessori subtraction trays: Hands-on mathematics

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These Montessori style hand-on subtraction activity ideas are great for preschoolers and young children who need plenty of experience with concrete materials to consolidate basic mathematical skills. (See my last post for more info.)

As with the addition trays, the subtraction facts that  the child has already memorised are added to the screw-top jar to provide a visual indicator of their progress.

Initially, the subtraction problems are split into sets; subtract 0, subtract 1, subtract 2 and so on and only 1 set is out at a time.  Once they know the sets fairly well individually, we combine the lot, taking out the ones they have mastered and working on what is left. As with addition, learning to take away 0, 1, 2, and 10  is very easy, so starting with these gives the child a boost of confidence as they quickly master the first sets, filling that jar almost immediately.

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The subtraction materials are set out as above. The first and last plate are deliberately different from the second to provide a visual reminder of the relationship between the two. Subtraction must be done in order (numbers are not interchangeable as they are for addition and multiplication problems) so the child first counts out the number of objects they are starting with into the first plate. The smaller plate shows what has been taken away (removed, subtracted etc.) and what is left on the first plate is scooped over to the final plate, providing the answer.

When the novelty of the plate tray wears off, I present the subtraction problems the child has not mastered in different formats to provide extra practise and revive interest in the activity.

icecream cont sub pegging

Subtraction problems on pegs are pegged onto the side of the container with the correct answer. The counters are the manipulative. Provide more than one container or a multi-sided container if you want a broader scope of answers.

Cinderella's slipper subtraction

These subtraction cards are a set from Kmart that we were given. A dry erase marker can be used to mark the answers on the cards. The “glass” slippers are wedding favours. My girls love this activity just because they get to handle the tiny shoes! An attractive material will draw them in every time. Add an interesting story to the tray (How many spare slippers Cinderella keeps in her closet?) and you will have them begging to have a go.

bead string subtraction

The same subtraction card set paired with any manipulative of your choice gives you a fresh “new” activity. This time the children were doing the problems in their heads and finding the correct bead string for the answers – good for those who find writing a chore. There is exactly the right number of bead strings so if the strings do not match the last cards this alerts the child to an error that they can find and address.

It doesn’t take too much extra time or effort to keep learning engaging and enjoyable. Have a look around your house or check out your local discount variety store for a couple of different kinds of manipulatives and you are on your way.

Posts you may find useful:

List of useful materials to collect and buy for hands-on tray activities  

Building focussing and concentrating skills in toddlers

Workboxes – homeschooling multiple ages

Surviving new babies, sick kids and interruptions