Homeschool Kindergarten

“In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet and growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it for the most part spent out in the fresh air.” Charlotte Mason, Vol.1 pg 43

I didn’t blog a bit this past year about our gentle kindergarten experience. Probably because I was creating it as I went. Although I consider myself a CM-inspired homeschooler, I have my own take on things. With a daughter already reading and desperate to learn as much as she could, I decided to go ahead and do a structured kindergarten – so not CM! But we kept to the principles of the “early years” – low pressure, lots of empty time for play, and as much outdoors as we could handle.

About the outdoors element: we live in Florida. It’s hot year round. There isn’t a day since we moved here that my kids haven’t been icky sweaty by the end of the day. So we tried. I know I fell WAY short of the 4-6 hours CM recommends but yet, I’m content that 30 minutes is better than nothing. We do what we’re able.

Here’s what our gentle CM inspired kindergarten involved:

Lots of snuggling on the couch reading worthwhile stories. A little math, a little writing, some phonics practice. Singing hymns and memorizing psalms. Followed by more snuggling and reading

For reading aloud, I kept one longer literature book going at a time to help build the skills of listening and remembering. We read a stack of TW Burgess animal stories, such as Reddy Fox and Buster Bear. These stories are an excellent introduction to chapter books – the characters are fun, the chapters are short, and the morals aren’t too overwhelming. Our top two literature reads for the year were Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Brisley and Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.

I used Give Your Child The World by Jamie C Martin as the main source of book ideas for our “Culture/Geography” category. One of our major goals for our homeschool is to introduce our children to the rest of the world. We want them to love people who are different than them and respect them, while maintaining our Christian worldview. I loved the picture book selections Give your Child The World offers. It offers suggestions for different age groups (4-6, 6-8, 8-10, and 10-12) for each of the major regions of the world. We didn’t have a particular order or pattern – basically I checked out whatever I could find from our local library. We stuck mostly to the picture books from the 4-6 age group. We would read the story, talk a little about how their life compares to ours, and locate the setting on the map. I kept a list of the titles we read in my bullet journal and tried to represent a wide variety of cultures.

Our favorite books in this category were:

  • Mirror by Jeanie Baker. A book without words, it shows an average day in two families: Australian on one side, Moroccan on the other. The mixed media artwork is beautiful and we had lots of fun coming up with the story ourselves.
  • Chandra’s Magic Light by Theresa Heine. Set in Nepal, two sisters earn money to replace their family kerosene lamp with a solar powered one. This book does show Hinduism. We used it as a great conversation about what we believe as well as a chance to pray.
  • Everything by Patricia Polacco! She is an excellent story teller. She writes about her history coming from a Russian Jewish family frequently, especially her beloved babushka, but dives into many other areas as well. Our favorites are The Keeping Quilt, Just Plain Fancy, and Fiona’s Lace.

We chose Singapore for math but will be switching this year.

I picked the Pathway Readers series to help Grace develop her reading skills. She took to reading like a duck to water when she was four, but she isn’t very careful. She skips words and makes up pronunciations sometimes instead of slowing down to actually figure it out. We read aloud from these for 5-10 minutes a day to practice these weaknesses. We love the Pathway Readers – simple stories of a (Mennonite? Amish?) farming family. They have a baby horse and a kitten and the siblings have to learn to play together. After reading them together, Grace poured over them again and again, savoring the stories. We will continue through these for at least one more year.

And this is a quick glance at my not-planning system. It is more of a record keeping than a planning system. I wrote a running record in a bullet journal style each day we had school. I have collections at the front for loose preplanning and an at-a-glance book list (you can see the one for our culture books above) and some of our procedure lists at the back, such as what is included in morning basket.

Other miscellaneous details: We followed the artist, composer, and hymn selections from AmblesideOnline. We sort of did drawing lessons from Draw Write Now but those fell off at some point and I just gave her the book to enjoy. We took the Christmas season to do The Promises study from Stone Soup for Five. We also did handwriting using PenTime.

And that’s it! Most days took less than 45 minutes. This left lots of time for free play – often in the form of Lego building and story telling.

We’re a few weeks from starting Year One from AmblesideOnline. Originally I had brilliant ideas of altering things but after a few months of considering and evaluating, we’re using it *almost* exactly as written. Really the only change is that I’m continuing with PenTime instead of doing copywork from our reading books. I need open and go in that area. I’m really excited to get into our beautiful stack of books!

Advertisements

Spring Herbs Play Dough

Last week the girls were begging for new play dough. Having recently seen some beautiful invitations to play on Imagination Tree, it didn’t take long to gather supplies to let them explore the abundance of herbs blooming in our garden.

5 2014 198

Snip some fresh herbs from the garden (peppermint, spearmint, oregano, and chive blossoms. There might be some sage on the tray, too).

5 2014 199

Fresh batch of green play dough, plus tools to explore.

5 2014 203

Lots of time to freely explore the scents, colors, tastes (herbs only!), and textures.

5 2014 211

They quickly transitioned into their favorite game – Princess in a Castle.

5 2014 206

Play dough is excellent for fine motor practice.

5 2014 214

It’s all kinds of beautiful! Especially the purple chive blossoms against the green dough.

I kept this play dough for a week after our activity. The girls love it and have been using it to play ice cream stand. It was still in great shape and would have lasted longer, but I can’t handle the smell of the oregano anymore… so to the trash it goes, replaced with normal grape kool-aid glitter dough.

Original inspiration credit: Natural Mint Play Dough; Natural Herbal Play Dough. Except I use my basic cooked dough recipe as follows:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 T cooking oil
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup water
Food coloring or 1 Kool-Aid mix

Stir together and cook over low heat until dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the pot.

Lemon Tarts Play Dough

I haven’t posted much about our sensory play lately. We’ve spent the past several months mostly stuck inside due to the weather – sub-zero temperatures and lots of snow (for this area at least). We are still doing lots of sensory play, but it hasn’t been terribly original or ground breaking. This activity turned out cute enough to share, though: Lemon Tarts!

 

1

I whipped up a quick batch of lemonade scented play dough using my basic recipe (read more here) then turned the kids loose with various kitchen implements that Grace got for Christmas to use in her play kitchen. Plus glitter – there is ALWAYS glitter around here! The bowl full of lemons was just sitting there for inspiration.

Lemon Tart Play Dough at Gabi Sunshine

Aren’t these tiny tart pans the cutest?

We continue to use the play dough, but the glitter is a one-time thing. I put it away after our first use. By then the glitter is worked all the way through the dough and more just means more mess for cleaning up. These girls never get tired of playing Bakery. Every time the play dough comes out, they ask for tart pans or cake pans plus a handful of tooth picks and craft sticks for candles. It’s been their go-to game for about 5 months now.

In case you didn’t know, play dough is a great activity for developing hand strength and fine motor skills. I can tie a lot of learning in without any pressure. I offer simple ideas to direct their play in ways that work on the target skill. We used this activity to practice making balls and putting them on sticks – also known as cake pops! This reinforces shape knowledge, hand strength, and lots of coordination to actually make the balls, line them up, and get them on the stick in the middle without pushing too far.

Lemon Tart Play Dough at Gabi Sunshine

What are you playing this long, snowy winter? Without sensory play, I know we’d be going CRAZY by now!

Crafting the Christmas Story

For the past several years, I’ve been somewhat disillusioned about Christmas. I’m sure you’ve heard it – “Christmas is for kids.” Whether that’s true or not, it’s how I’ve felt. After getting married and having Grace, we’ve waffled back and forth on what role we want Christmas to have in our family. I’m sure it’ll be an annual conversation, but for this year we wanted to focus in on the Bible story and actually celebrate!

Which sent me into the crazy twilight zone that is Pinterest, where I was promptly overwhelmed. I thought about combining a little of this; doing a little of that; modifying the creepy elf thing; calenders, paper chains, oh my! And then a friend pointed me to Truth in the Tinsel. It’s like the best parts of what I was trying to create, except already created! (which was good, since it was already December 3 at this point).

Every day, there’s a short Bible story focusing in on one aspect of the Incarnation – Christ coming to earth as a man. Each scripture passage is used at least 2 days to really drive it home. Then, there is a simple ornament craft to help you remember that element of the story. We collected the ornaments on a small 3′ tree I call our “touch tree” – Grace can’t touch the big tree so I redirect her to the little one to play with as she pleases.

new tree

It was such a blessing to share this experience with our friends who join us 3 days a week. The big girls get each other all excited as we do the Bible story. They each remember different parts of it so by the end of each lesson we’ve covered all of it. Even the little guy happily joined us as we sang various Christmas carols – Joy to the World is the smash hit of 2013! I love how every time we reviewed, they knew exactly what each symbol on our calendar meant and how it pointed to Jesus. Same with each ornament. For the calendar, the green square symbols are included with the ebook. My husband made the number circles in PSE. The board was a hideous painting that I covered with wrapping paper. I may post a quick tutorial later this week.

calendar

And what did we make? A mess, mostly, of paint and glitter and straw and yarn. Fuzzies from cut pipe cleaners. Broken crayons. And lots of lovely memories! We didn’t get to every ornament this year, partly due to scheduling and partly due to ages (1.5, 2.5, 3.5 years old), but I have every intention of doing the program again in 2014. And then the little hands will be better equipped to tackle some of the ornaments. All the same, I’m super thrilled with our collection! 12 out of 24 ornaments isn’t bad, and we actually hit about 16 of the lessons through combining.

ornament collage copyFrom left to right: Row 1 – The sun; a crown; Mary and Joseph; Row 2 – a CD (for Mary’s song in Luke 1); 3 wise men; zzz (Joseph dreams of Gabriel), a candle; Row 3 – The angel Gabriel; the stable; a sheep; Bottom middle – Baby Jesus in the manger

Now that Christmas is over, I’m a little torn about not having an activity and a lesson all laid out each day. I may keep some of them up in Grace’s room as decorations. One thing I won’t miss though – glitter all over everything! (Though I did see something on the author’s blog of Truth in the Tinsel that she’s got a non-seasonal lesson guide… so we might be right back at it again soon!)

Autumn Sensory Play {And my favorite play dough recipe}

I almost titled this post, “Come on, people, it isn’t Christmas yet.” Apparently pretty much everyone in retail missed that memo… Oh well. November! The beautiful finale to the masterpiece called autumn. There’s more leaves on the ground than in the trees. The wind turns a little more brisk. Rains keep us inside. Recipes switch to more storage crops – I think I used either butternut squash or sweet potatoes every day last week. Thanksgiving is coming (even if the stores forgot it). We have much to be thankful for 🙂

And much indoor sensory play to be played!

Fall Harvest Sensory Bin

11 2013 085

A friend gave me a gallon bag of field corn, which the kids ADORE playing with. It makes a delightful sound when it “rains.” Everything else is from last year’s bin – silk leaves, both oak and maple; “gumball” seed pods from a tree down the street; and sparkly foam pumpkins. Plus an assortment of scoops and spoons for digging around with.

11 2013 091

For some reason, they’re making soup. The pumpkins are tomatoes. I don’t ask too many questions – I love their creativity! Crazy kids 😀

11 2013 088

 

Pumpkin Pie Play Dough

We love play dough around here. Last month we had some random purple sparkly mess that 9 times out of 10 was shaped into birthday cakes. I should have known showing the birthday episode from Little Einsteins would lead to much imagination play. It’s time to move on… some songs get really really annoying about the 3rd time a couple toddlers sing it. When you hit the 30th you decide to set out a new invitation to play.

11 2013 075

So in honor of the mass baking that will be occurring over the next week, Pumpkin Pie scented dough.

11 2013 074

This is my basic recipe for play dough. I always forget it, so I’m posting it here for my reference as much as for anyone else:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 T cooking oil
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup water
Food coloring or 1 Kool-Aid mix

Stir together and cook over low heat until dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the pot.

I claim no rights to it! I got it from a friend, who got it from a friend, who I think got it from one of the local preschools. But it’s almost identical to several I’ve found online. I’ve tried several different no-cook recipes and they all turn out sticky messes for me. This one has been fail-proof even if it does take a little longer. My first batch lasted 4 months of almost daily use and would have kept going if the toddler hadn’t left it out on the table overnight.

11 2013 083

To make it pumpkin pie scent, leave out the kool-aid. Add 1tbsp ish (I’m not big on measuring) of pie spice blend – store bought or make your own, heavy on cinnamon with a little ginger, nutmeg, allspice, etc. A little food coloring makes it pleasantly orange. On the table, I’ve added a rolling pin, muffin tin, pie plate, small spatula, sil-pat mats, and a couple cookie cutters.

11 2013 080

And after seeing today’s facebook link from The Imagination Tree, shakers of cinnamon and gold glitter 🙂 I buy my cinnamon in bulk at a local warehouse store and it’s over a year old, so it’s time to use it up and buy fresh. This is as good a use as any!

11 2013 073

Plenty of lovely autumn sensory play to get us through the last week and a half. THEN it can be Christmas, folks! It’s just not special if it goes own for 7+ weeks. Besides, I haven’t had my fill of pumpkin lattes yet!

Rainbow Rice Sensory Play

For years now, I keep seeing rainbow themed sensory bins pop up on Pinterest and the creative play blogs I follow. And while I have colored rice for Grace to play with, I’ve never gone all out to make several colors for a true rainbow.

Until now!

9 2013 095

Awww… pretty colors! If you haven’t done it before, coloring rice is super easy. I put two cups rice in each of six ziplock bags (sorry indigo… not going to even try). Add roughly 6 drops of regular liquid food coloring and a small squirt of rubbing alcohol. The alcohol helps spread the dye and evaporates quickly. Toss and shake your rice and color until you get what you’re looking for – I know I had to add extra color to the yellow. Then let dry before playing. I just opened the bags to let air flow; some people spread on a cookie sheet. If you use only a tiny bit of alcohol opening the bags worked quite well enough.

9 2013 094

To add to the exploring, I found colored tooth picks that have been sitting around for a couple years. I didn’t have purple so I used a regular marker to color a plain wooden pick. Then I pulled a tool basket from my stash of sensory bin items. I have a shelf in our basement filled clear plastic containers, scoops, spoons, shovels, forks, plus items from previous bins and various odds and ends I’ve discovered. Here’s what they get this time:

9 2013 096

The kids had a total blast! At first they just stared:

9 2013 097

But then their caution evaporated into curiosity:

9 2013 105

Which led to an extravaganza of scooping and stirring:

9 2013 122

Even the littlest guy got in on this one, though I did have to watch him closely – apparently rainbow rice looks a lot like candy!

9 2013 113

I’m glad I finally got around to making rainbow rice. It only took a few minutes – maybe 10? – to color all the rice. Rice is super cheap and everything else I had around the house. It obviously didn’t stay sorted by color very long but I actually love the way it looks combined. We’ll keep playing with it as is for now then store it as a base for a future bin down the road.

Happy playing!

Let’s Go Camping Learning Basket

A few weeks ago, our Learning Basket for Play School was all about camping. Camping is our family’s new thing this year – we’ve really come to enjoy slipping away for a night or two to be outside and away from the regular routine. It’s a nice chance to refocus on us without the distractions that come with our current lives. A full schedule of meetings, play dates, chores, and technology draws us apart and wears us out. I love our quick forays into simplified, just-us time.

So it only made sense to do a camping themed learning basket!

8 2013 107

Fiction:

  • Lady Bug Girl and Bingo (by far the favorite!), David Soman and Jacky Davis
  • Flat Stanley Goes Camping, Jeff Brown and Macky Pamintuan
  • Fancy Nancy Stellar Stargazer!, Jane O’Connor
  • Because your Mommy Loves You, Andrew Clements

Non-Fiction (I forgot to mark the specific titles; they were very general though)

  • Knots
  • Campfire activities for girls
  • General camping book

8 2013 108

My husband carved this awesome wood forest toy set for Grace last Christmas. It was a little early for imagination play then, but now several months later she thought they were just the coolest things. They were made using patterns from Natural Wooden Toys. I’m crazy about them and want him to make dozens more this winter as we move from outside activities to inside activities when the weather turns.

We had lots of fun playing with the flashlight. Nothing specific – just playing 🙂

This next activity I’ll show you, but let me be really honest – it’s way about toddler abilities. I thought it would be neat to make a card with strings on it so I could teach the kids knotting. 2 year olds and 3 year olds can’t tie knots. Their little fingers just don’t work that way. However! I love these cards! I’m storing them in our play school box to bring out again in a couple years:

8 2013 109

We even did a quick painting project. My philosophy on art/craft projects with toddlers is it’s all about the process, not the finished project. Due to that, we do a lot of projects on recycled brown paper grocery sacks that, after hanging around for a few days, find themselves moving on to the recycling bin. I want to move into more of the Charlotte Mason style handicrafts eventually, but at this point, art work is more sensory play so I just let Grace explore. Here’s our campfire. First we colored the logs, then hand printed the fire:

8 2013 111

I’m so glad it’s fall! This is by far my favorite season. I hope you’re finding a chance to enjoy the outdoors, too 🙂