Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fall Tot School/Preschool Activities

  Our fall activities have been what we have predominately done for school time recently. One wonderful aspect of homeschooling the early years is the ability to adapt concepts into fun themes! My goal, as always, is to present concepts in a fun, hands-on manner (with lots of reading as well!). The following are the activities we did to learn while also celebrate the fall season!

1) Leaf Color Sorting
       We brought along this activity on a trip, and enjoyed it with the company of a cousin. It's such a simple and fun activity for learning colors!
      For this activity, I wrote the names of the colors on construction paper and taped them to a wall. The children were then handed a foam leaf sticker, which they then ran to place it on the matching paper. (This activity doubles as gross motor skill activity! Perfect for energetic little ones!). 

2) Pumpkin Salt Tray 
      A salt tray allows children to learn to form letters/numbers/shapes etc. even before their fine motor skills are developed enough for proper pencil grip and writing. I chose pumpkins for our letter cards. I found an image online and printed it out on orange paper, and then wrote each letter. Finally, each pumpkin was run through the laminator to add durability so that we can continue to enjoy the activity in the future. (A far less time consuming approach would have been to purchase die-cuts as would be used on a classroom calendar or bulletin board. I may do this in the future because it was a lot of cutting. haha). For the salt, I decided to color it orange to match the pumpkins. For another tie to pumpkins, I used pie plates as the trays (as in pumpkin pie, get it?). 
     To use: Simple select a card. Demonstrate how the letter is formed. Allow the child to try. Shake the tray to practice another letter. 
      I really like the idea of the children being able to learn the shape of the letters even while their fine motor skills aren't quite developed enough for proper pencil grip and writing. However, I have been a little hesitant to introduce a salt tray as I imagined salt being tossed everywhere. (We've not had great success with sensory bins). However they were so engaged in this activity that they didn't just play wildly with it. They really surprised me in how well they already knew how to form the letters, though we've not done any formal lessons in writing. Shows you how much they naturally pick up on!

3) Leaf identification and matching
     When you live in an area that doesn't have the kind of trees that changes in the fall, you create some! I made these last year and don't know where I found the leaf images. I printed the leaf images twice. I wrote the type on the backs. Then, I laminated them for durability. This activity is small enough to easily use as an activity bag when out and about. 
     To use: Use these to identify the various leaves. You could also use these to develop description such as noting the shapes and color of each type of leaf. A third way to use these is to double print them to use as a matching game.  

4) Scented Play Dough with fall theme cookie cutters
       We do a lot of activities with play dough. It's inexpensive, easy and great for fine motor skill development. I made a batch of homemade play dough and added pumpkin spice blend seasoning and orange dye. We also had a set of fall theme cookie cutters that they used. They enjoyed making lots of play dough leaves! (I did have to watch them closely because the dough smelled delicious with all the fall spices!)

5) Memory/Matching Cards
      I printed and laminated these cards last year. (I can't remember where I found them online- sorry). For my youngest ones, we simply used these to match. For my older one (and sometimes my three year old as well), we used them to introduce the game of Memory. I started out with just four pairs. As they got the idea, I added another pair. I think the important aspect of learning this game is to start slow so that it doesn't become overwhelming and they feel defeated by it. This was another activity that was small enough to be used as an activity bag (though, I recommend only taking a small set. The entire set would be way too many cards to be managed on-the-go).

6) Scarecrow Flannelboard
       A fellow homeschool co-op mama introduced me to a flannelboard, and I've been in love with one ever since! For a fall flannelboard activity, we used felt scarecrows to go through the poem "Five Little Scarecrows." It's a fun, hands-on way to teach literacy (through the rhyme and rhythm of the poem) and math (counting, the concept of addition and subtraction). All the children were able to participate in this activity!
      Note- I discovered a new way of doing felt pieces. Print the desired image onto transfer paper, and then iron it onto the felt. Easy peasy felt pieces for the flannelboard! I found a friendly scarecrow image online, and thought it created the cutest felt scarecrow pieces!

7) Acorn Number Search
        This number recognition activity was inspired by nature's preparation for winter. The words on the sheet read, "Can you help the squirrel collect all the acorns to store for winter?" I attached large craft sticks to the acorns and stuck them in the ground in the backyard. The children then were given a sheet and a crayon. Each time they "found" and acorn they colored it in on their papers. It was a pretty fun activity to bring schooltime outside!

8) Leaf Toss/Raking
     We've had these leaves since Tennyson was a young toddler, and they are still a favorite. Back then, I had a little child-size rake for him to rake them up. It was such a fun activity for him at that age, especially since we didn't have a yard or trees for him to actually rake. I would still like to repeat that activity. However, I didn't want to contend with purchasing several rakes or the three oldest disputing over a single rake. So, this year we simply enjoyed tossing the leaves up and watching them fall. It's such a simple, simple activity but they all absolutely love it. (Plus, the leaves can double as decor when not in use!)

9) Pumpkin Painting
      We purchased each of the children a small pumpkin, and then enjoyed an afternoon on the back patio painting them! I have painted a pumpkin each fall for quite a few of my adult years, and it's always an enjoyable part of the season. This is one tradition I hope we continue for years to come!

10) Tea Time
       When possible, we gather together for a tea and story time each week. For a fall tea time, I lit a pumpkin spice candle, made individual pumpkin mug cakes (which were terrible, but we ate them anyways haha), and read several of our fall books. We're slowly trying to establish this as a weekly occasion. It's always a delightful pause to our ordinarily loud and busy days. I wish for them to be able to recognize and enjoy the beauty of slow and simple moments. (This sort of activity is the perfect calm and refreshment my soul needs. I'm the kind of person who enjoys a warm beverage, tasty treat, soft candle and good book most of all.)

11) Books, books, and more books!
      If we don't get to any schooltime activities, we at least have read several books. Books are central to our schooltime and family life.
     I love celebrating with books. Books are such a wonderful way to mark the beginning of a new season, a holiday or other occasion like a birthday. And so, I usually try to include a new book for us to enjoy. This year, I decided to get two books as my older two are able to understand books at a different level than my younger two. The older two received, The Berenstain Bears Fall Collection by Mike and Jan Berenstain*. And the younger two received, The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri*  (board book).
      I collect seasonal books year round from online marketplace sales, library book sales, and used book store. We've grown to have quite a collection that we read over and over again each fall!

12) Homeschool co-op
       One of the mamas in our homeschool co-op hosted a fun fall gathering for us. She created a picture checklist of fall items found in nature. The children then went on a scavenger hunt in the backyard for those items. When they found the item, they checked it off their lists. It was a delightful way to incorporate nature into learning!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Reenvisioning Our Homeschooling


     Now that we have four children four years old and under, I'm beginning to realize that life and homeschooling is going to look a little different than originally envisioned. There are quite a few tasks that must be completed within our home and a lot of people to care for in a day. It's admittedly a lot for one person. To be honest, I've even wondered if homeschooling while everyone is so young is even feasible. 

    I've expressed concern to my husband that I feared that whatever schooling we do accomplish still wouldn't keep them on pace with their peers. (I mean, my goodness- reading, writing, and math at 4 years old! We're not there at all). He reminded me of how we learned in the first grade what children are being taught in kindergarten. It's true. The education standards have shifted drastically since we were children, and so much more is being expected from young children now. We continued in discussing an article I read recently on allowing children to learn at their own pace. When a child is allowed to learn at a pace that is developmentally appropriate for him/her, then the concept or skill will be grasped and retained with far greater success. I'm reminded of the many articles and book excerpts I've read on how many countries with greater educational successes than this country actually do not begin teaching a concept like reading until closer to seven years old. Prior to that time, a non-academic approach to education and children is considered to be of greater importance. Perhaps they're on to something. Perhaps not being "on pace" isn't as bad as the perception of such. Perhaps there's another kind of education that can be achieved during these littlest years.

     And so, I suppose this is all to say that I'm coming to be okay with us being somewhat "behind" initially. If we don't move through the desired curriculum content, then that will simply be okay. We will get there. This place of rest hasn't been based on articles and books read on early education, but one something else as well- the desire for a joyful home, family, and early childhood. Far above learning letter sounds or to count is the desire for us all to enjoy these little years together. I want them to think fondly on their earliest childhood years. These years with so many so young can be stressful and busy. But, I believe they can also be enjoyable. We simply need to approach them with a vision.

     So, when I think about what I want my children to remember from these years I think about an attentive Mama who brought calm to inner chaos. I think about squeals of laughter and smiles so big cheeks hurt. I think about playing chase in the backyard. I think about stirring a big bowl of cookie dough together and secretly licking the spoon afterwards. I think about tea and treats enjoyed with a book on the picnic table on the patio. I think about special moments like creating our own ice cream sundaes or watching a movie while eating popcorn or pizza. I think about the observation of faith through reading a Bible story during breakfast each morning or their Mama singing hymns. I think of their Daddy reading stories with them each night. I think of stacks and stack of books read each day. I think of a basket of a few new special items and a book (always, a book) to celebrate the arrival of a season or holiday. So many lovely ways to spend a childhood.

      These moments won't just magically take place, they must be intentionally formed. We need this time to learn to temper our tempers and tantrums. We need this moment to learn how to treat others well, even when we are tired or stressed. We need this time to learn to move throughout the day as a team (because everyone going in separate directions is chaos and that is not the loveliness desired). We need this time to learn to take greater responsibility for everyone maintaining the house so that we may all enjoy this space together. We need this time to simply learn to press on through the messes (and well, many times mayhem). We need this time to learn to enjoy all the moments- big and small. This time is valuable and we need it to form a solid foundation to build our family culture.

     Homeschooling will come. I'll not entirely toss out the teacher's manuals. We'll still create a daily or weekly plan of learning activities. We'll still fill busy bags and bins with enriching activities. We'll still create and enjoy seasonal or holiday activities as a means of celebration and learning. But, I'll shift my focus on these activities being ones we need to do and instead view them as ones we get to do. The big truth is that if we don't enjoy our family time together now, then we'll not enjoy our homeschool time later. And so, I believe we'll adjust our focus slightly from academic learning to something a little different. We'll focus on family. We'll focus on enjoyment of these little years and our time together. We'll come together and read stories- lots of stories. We'll enjoy meals and treats. We'll laugh and play. We'll define our family culture and live it out. 


Monday, September 17, 2018

August 2018 In Our Home

Family tea time!
 Family Updates
Hello, Mr. Emerson!
      Welcome, baby #4! Phew, the wait this month was agonizing! I was so ready to move on to meeting this new little one. I had to continuously remind myself to set my expectations back to the due date as the last two babies were born around their due dates. I wrote an entire post on his arrival. I'm still in awe to have yet another sweet baby in my arms!

     It's been a project-full month! The motivation to continuously work on projects while waiting for baby #4 has been strong. This month we:
     - Completed getting everything onto the garage shelves and out of the floor. It's nice to have both cars in the garage now!
Living room shelves are hung and decorated! How'd I do?
     - Prepped two school units for tot school and preschool
     - Created a felt board and a few activities for it
     - Hosted our co-op which included creating several theme activities
     - Decorated our living room shelves
     - Worked on the many, many photobooks that are in progress (family yearbooks, pregnancy journals, and school books)
      I've found these creative outlets to have such an impact. As a creative kind of person, there is a need to be creative in some capacity. There has been a greater sense of livelihood to my being through these little projects. I so often allow such endeavors to fall to the wayside in favor of the many practical needs of a day. However, I really want to begin giving them a greater priority. I'm not sure how I'll do that with a newborn, but I believe it's important to find a way. I believe this one simple act is one way to maintain oneself while also being fully immersed in the roles of mama and homemaker. 

     -(finished) Am I Messing Up My Kids by Lysa TerKeurst
"I'm hiding in the forest!"
 Imaginative play is a beautiful thing!
           This is the second book I've read by this author. I wasn't impressed at all with the other book I had read, but decided to give her another chance. I picked this book up at the big library sale recently, so figured I wasn't out much if it wasn't great. Unfortunately, my thoughts of this book were similar to the other book I had read. The title and chapter titles are excellent, and lead me to believe the chapter contents would be as well. However, I found the chapters to be severely lacking. It was painfully surface-level in thought. So much more could have been done with those headings and topics. I found maybe a line or two in each chapter to underline or otherwise note. I also didn't care for some of her story examples. Some seemed to make minor situations more grandiose. Others seemed to show a more materialistic perspective. There were stories that began with complaints about granite countertops, shortened trip to Disney (that was provided for by a conference), and a suggestion to create a basket of favorite items and then thanking God for his blessings of them to you. From a faith standpoint, I personally prefer a less prosperity-driven viewpoint. In essence, I didn't think the book was very strong in theology or thought. 
      On a more positive note,  the book was written in a very conversational tone and was broken up into short chapters. I could easily read several chapters in one sitting (which is usually pretty brief!). So, it was nice to be able to start and finish a book rather quickly. 
       All in all, it just didn't resonate with me personally, I suppose. To each his own, though, because online ratings and reviews are high for the book.  

     -(finished) Adventures in Missing the Point
      From the back of the book :
Daddy and Annelise getting some quality
 time in the kitchen. Creating something in the
 kitchen is one of the children's favorite activities!
How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel If you’re brave enough to take an honest look at the issues facing the culture–controlled church―and the issues in your own life―read on. Do you ever look at how the Christian faith is being lived out in the new millennium and wonder if we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing? That we still haven’t quite “gotten it”? That we’ve missed the point regarding many important issues? It’s understandable if we’ve relied on what we’ve been told to believe or what’s widely accepted by the Christian community. But if we truly turned a constructive, critical eye toward our beliefs and vigorously questioned them and their origins, where would we find ourselves? Best-selling authors Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo invite you to do just that. Join them on an adventure―one that’s about uncovering and naming faulty conclusions, suppositions, and assumptions about the Christian faith. In Adventures in Missing the Point, the authors take turns addressing how we’ve missed the point on crucial topics such as: salvation, the Bible, being postmodern, worship, homosexuality, truth, and many more.
       I don't believe I could write a better summary. The book is excellent. I enjoy that it presents a different perspective to common issues, and will make you think. I believe it's wise to periodically examine what you believe and why. This book will certainly prompt a lot of thought and discussion. (I frequently would finish a chapter and then be eager to tell my husband all about it!). I highly recommend this book!

     We haven't done as much school time activities this month as we've been in baby prep mode. I've put more energy and effort towards maintaining the house than usual knowing that I wouldn't want whoever comes to help with the older children to walk into a mess. This is all part of the transition time of having a new baby, and we'll once again find our groove for including more school time activities.
     Co-op this month was a bit of an abbreviated calendar. We attended one gathering hosted by another family. She (as always!) did a fantastic job with a color theme. We then hosted the next week with an ice cream theme. There was another gathering hosting by another mama that was a planned field trip to the vet. We decided to take a break for the month of September as several families, including us, would be unavailable. We'll resume in October, and we're all excited for some fall theme units!
Homeschooling photobook in progress!
     One fun new project I've begun in relation to our homeschool is the creation of photobooks! I had been saving all the paperwork aspects that the children made and made notes regarding our activities. The folder was getting rather full and we still have a long way to go in our curriculum sets! It then occurred to me to create a photobook! I record all our activities on one side and the other side contains photos and scanned copies of their work. I love it! It will be so nice to be able to look back on these books each year and see the work accomplished and moments enjoyed together! (I love photobooks!)

Personal Growth & Parenting
     I experienced a moment of awakening this month. After speaking with someone potentially at the end of their life, I came to a fuller awareness of just how important it is to be intentional in life, especially with regards to relationships. Quality relationships require intentionality. They won't simply form and/or exist on their own. It all depends on the quality and quantity of investment made. It all depends on the choices we make in life. This interaction prompted a lot of thought and change within me. I believe we may look upon the choices or life of another, not in a condemning way, but in a way of extracting wisdom for ourselves. We can determine to not repeat the poor choices that led to a poor outcome. We can choose to live life a little differently.
Huxley playing in the sprinklers!
With so many super hot days, we've
 thoroughly enjoyed the sprinkler!
      I've thought considerably on the quality of our home and family. What is the state of the relationships between my children and I? How do they see me? Are their hearts assured of my love? What messages, both positive and negative, might I be conveying to them?
     I've contemplated on areas in which I may be conveying a flip and flop message of love/hate and presence/absense to my children. My heart breaks for every instance in which I see more clearly the connection between us broken. Yes, I'm often so very exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed. However, I still have a great responsibility to instill in them a sense of family, and for home and family to be good things in life. I want them to have close relationships with their family, to always find comfort in home, and to simply live unburdened and happy (at least from a family perspective). So, what am I doing to help or hinder that outcome? Am I emotionally reacting to their reactions? Or, am I adding calm to their moments of chaos? Am I using words which will build them up, even in moments of correction? Or am I carelessly using words that cut and scar them? As Peggy O'Mara said, "The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice." I fully agree.
      I've long desired a greater gentleness and steadiness to my motherhood, but have gone astray during the challenges of this pregnancy. The recent conversation has prompted a realignment of my focus to my ideals. I feel as though this journey to gentle is an uphill climb, but it's one that is well worth traveling and enduring. These little lives entrusted to me are far too important to be careless.
      I've begun being more conscientious of my reactions. I wish to respond versus react. I'll remind myself to pause and teach. Soften and slow my voice instead of raise it. Instruct instead of correct. Connect often. Smile and embrace often. Offer words of praise. 

         The conversation also provided me an opportunity to voice support for the blessing of children. His perspective of them as burdens saddens me greatly as I feel he's missing out on an aspect of life that adds such richness. Yes, life with young children can be very exhausting, stressful and overwhelming. Yes, there are a lot of sacrifices that must be made. No, you probably won't get to do and live according to your own desires. However, I see these "sacrifices" as good things! It's good to learn to be more selfless. It's good to learn to see beyond ourselves to see the importance and value of others! The children won't always be so young. Life won't always be just as it is at this moment. What a misfortune to miss the joy of life with these four unique people for my own momentary desires or conveniences! I'd rather have a busy, chaotic home full of people than a silent, empty home to myself any day!

Looking Ahead
      September will be all about adjusting to life with all four children. It still seems astonishing to me that we will have four children four years old and under. David will take two week's of vacation to help at home, and then his parents will be coming in to help out for about a week. Then, it will be Mama plus the four littles each day! I'm sure we'll be spending most of our time simply figuring out ways to occupy everyone, get everything done in a day, and how to manage the various aspects of a day according to everyone's needs (naptimes, feeding times etc.). It's all part of the adventure!
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