Online Resources for Homeschooling a Preschooler, Part 3

My youngest is ready to get at that computer too!

This is the third part of my 3-part column series that I wrote for The Barrow Journal about homeschooling a preschooler.  In it I focus on our online learning.  Click here to read the full column, and scroll down to find all the links I mention in the column plus more! — great for teaching kids their ABCs and phonics –>  and Free! —  a full, online curriculum for Pre-K through 8th grade; includes reports (except for Pre-K portion)  –>  $20 per month (But they are having an April special for $4.99, so you can check it out for cheap, if you want!) — I didn’t mention this in my column because we have not used it yet, and I think my son needs to get a little older before we do.  But it looks awesome, and it’s FREE!  It’s great for math and science.

A few other sites that I have found, which look great, but I haven’t used them much. —  (My sister, the first grade teacher, tipped me off to this one as well as

We also use applications or “apps” on my iPod Touch.  You have to download iTunes to access these.  ( iTunes is free to download, and it works on a PC too.

These apps were all under $2 to use.

“Letter Tracer” by Niftybrick Software

“First Words: Vehicles” and similar apps by Learning Touch

“TeachMe: Kindergarten” by 24x7digital LLC

“Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Wheels on the Bus” and similar apps by Duck Duck Moose

Last but not least, my son and I LOVE YouTube.  I only gave it a paragraph in my column, but I wanted to go on and on about it. Sure, YouTube has a lot of junk on it, but you can also find many gems.  In the past, we have used it to look up different kinds of music and musicians because my son likes music, especially classical.  (“Play something with no words, Mommy.”)  Mostly we use it to look up videos of animals, especially ocean animals.  In fact, every time we make a paper animal as I mentioned in my earlier post/column, we always look it up on YouTube to see a video of the real animal in action.

If you are interested, here are a few of my son’s favorite videos on YouTube.  I have bookmarked them and taught him how to retrieve them, so once in a while, he watches them by himself.  (By teaching him to use the bookmarks, he goes down the list, and I don’t have to worry too much about him clicking on something I don’t want him to watch.  But I do check on him often, if I let him sit and watch by himself, just in case.)

Hermit Crab Shell Change — This hermit crab is a pet for a Kindergarten class in Florida, and in this video, you can watch it get a new home.

Lobster Migration —  Narrated by David Attenborough.  A BBC production.  For some reason, I think this is my son’s favorite.  Go figure!

Swimming with a Manta Ray —  Such beautiful creatures.  Another BBC production.

Army of Sea Urchins — Part of BBC’s Planet Earth.  (We are planning to watch that whole series sometime.)  This is a cool video because you can watch the sea urchins and starfish move in fast motion.

Shark vs. Octopus — by National Geographic.  Not for the faint of heart.

Stingray — by National Geographic.

Of course, you can watch lots of videos for kids at National Geographic for Kids!

These links are only a drop in the ocean of what is available to our kids today.  As long as children have a good balance of play time, outdoor time, and other activities, I strongly believe that it’s okay to let kids use computers, television and gadgets to learn, and I believe they enhance learning and the imagination too!  When our kids are adults, the world will be even more technologically sophisticated than it is today!  If a parent is able, why not let them start using these devices?

More Preschool Posts:

Homeschooling a Preschooler, Part 2

As promised, here is the second column that I wrote for The Barrow Journal on homeschooling a preschooler. In it I write some specific examples of what I do to teach my son, such as activity books, games, puzzles, and some of the arts and crafts we do.  Next week I’ll post the third column, which focuses solely on the online resources that I have used with him.

Click here to read the full column, or you can scroll down to see some related links and photos.

One of the activity books we have used….  It’s probably the most “school like” thing that we do.

My son and nephew playing a game together.  We love games and puzzles, and we use a lot of them.  To learn more about the benefits of playing puzzles, click here. To learn about an easy sight word game I invented, click here.

When I first began to wonder what kind of arts and crafts I could do with my son, I discovered that he didn’t like to paint or draw, but he liked using scissors!  He cut up small bits of paper, so I began to use those scraps to make paper animals.  This is the first one I made.  He calls it his “rainbow fish” after the popular children’s book of the same name.

I try not to spend a lot of money on homeschooling, but not long ago I invested in a laminator.  I got this one on Amazon for about $30, and a packet of 50 laminating sheets for about $11.  The sheets will last a long time.  I’m very happy with it, and I think that it’ll be very helpful over the long haul.

This is one of the projects we did with the paper animals.  We learned all about what kinds of animals live in trees.  On our first day of making the tree, we took a white sheet outside and shook some branches over it.  At that time, the trees in our yard yielded only an ant and a spider, but we knew all sorts of animals live in trees.  We made a new animal every few days.  🙂

Now we have an ocean on the wall.  However, I have not taught my son what lives in the ocean because HE TEACHES ME.  This kid is obsessed with ocean animals, and we already had a full supply of paper ocean animals to fill up our ocean.  (And some of them are not on the board because he likes to play with them.)

For a long time, it was Mama making all the animals, and my son refused to help.  This was a little frustrating for me, but I didn’t pressure him to change (too much), and over time, he started to help make parts of the animals (like the teeth of the saw shark above), and now he will even make the animals by himself!  Hooray!  Sometimes he gets busy making animals while I’m busy doing something else.  Double Hooray!!

I really think having an activity room helps encourage him to create and learn on his own.

This is the first animal he made:  a whipnose.  They are fish that live in the very deep parts of the ocean and have fishing-pole-like noses.

Here is his lion fish.  He likes to look in the animal encyclopedia that my nephew gave him for Christmas for new animals.

And I’m happy to say that he also likes to paint and draw now too!

What kinds of things do you do to help your children soar?!

More Preschool Posts:

How I taught my son his ABCs, 123s, and a little bit of my philosophy too

Soon I will post the second in my series of columns about homeschooling a preschooler, but first I thought it might be appropriate to start at the very beginning….That is, how I taught my son his ABCs and 123s.

I believe that learning happens all the time, and as Maria Montessori said, it begins at birth.  There are the kinds of things we teach ourselves, such as learning how to walk, talk, love and explore.  Then there is the “school” kind of learning:  learning the language our parents speak, our history, math and critical thinking.  Every kind of learning is important.

Of all the things I want to teach my sons, what I hope to teach them above all is to love learning. This world is beautiful, distressing and complex.  I hope to instill in them the desire to discover, and I want to teach them how they can find answers for themselves.  I also want them to know it’s okay to keep asking questions and how to embrace mystery, if need be.

That may sound lofty, but it’s for those reasons that I try to take my son’s lead with learning, especially now when he’s only four years old.  If I push anything on him, he’s going to balk.  As long as he’s inquisitive and thinks what we’re doing is fun, I’m going to roll with it.  (We will re-evaluate this method as he gets older.)

But I don’t sit back and wait for him to pick up a book either.  I show him books, and I introduce new ideas to him.  Usually he thinks my suggestions are pretty cool. After all, he is FOUR.

My eldest son learned his ABCs very early.  By 21 months, he could correctly identify each letter.  That is, I could say, “Point to the M,” and he would point to the correct letter.  I taught my son his letters in a variety of ways, but I think what helped him the most was our lessons in the bathtub.

I bought those letters that you can use in the tub, and we would play with them, and I simply stated the names of the letters as we moved them around.  Sometimes we would line up three letters on the edge of the tub, and I would say their names as I pointed to them.  For a while, I thought that what I was doing was pointless and that he was probably too young to get it, but then one night I asked him to pick up such and such letter and he did it!  And then he did it again!  I was amazed!

Nowadays Daddy usually gives him a bath, but not long ago I did, and that night he wanted to try to “build words” like they do in the PBS show “Word World.”  (I also credit and thank educational television shows for teaching my son the basics better than I can!  If used properly, T.V. is not bad for kids!  You can read a column I wrote about children and television here.)  You can see one word we built above.  I had to assemble it on the toilet because his younger brother kept grabbing and throwing the letters around.

Another fun activity we did was writing the alphabet on the sidewalk outside and then walking along and saying the letters.

I also used the chalk to teach him numbers.  I wrote the numbers with the chalk on the sidewalk, and I drew dots under each numeral…..1 dot for the number one, 2 dots for the number 2, etc.  Then we would find objects to put under each letter:  2 acorns, 3 leaves, etc.  I think this really helped him to understand what the numbers meant.

These are simple exercises, and they were simply part of our routine.  I did not do any planning.  I just took advantage of the moments when my son was focused and willing to learn.

Moral of the story:  Teach when child is willing and you have the energy!

It should not go unmentioned that my youngest son, the 19-month-old, is a completely different character!  Even if I had the opportunity to spend leisure, uninterrupted one-on-one time with him like I did with my first child, I’m not sure he would learn the same way.  He never sits still.  In the bathtub, he’s a fish flipping from one side to the other, and he chews on the letters.

I have not tried to teach the 19-month-old anything because I just don’t have the time or energy, but I’m not worried about him.  He is vibrant, curious, and he loves books.  He loves nothing more than sitting in my lap with a book and flipping through the pages.  Sometimes he’ll point to the images and say, “ugh!” which means I need to tell him what it is.  He will definitely learn differently than his older brother, but as you can see, he has already taken the lead on how.

If you have any other fun, easy methods for teaching toddlers the basics, please leave a note in the comment section!

Homeschooling a Preschooler with a Baby in the House, Part 1

As promised, I’m posting the first of my (what is now THREE-part) series of columns about my experience homeschooling a preschooler.  It’s been a challenge to do anything that looks like learning with a high energy one-year-old in the house, but after writing the columns, I have realized that we’ve managed to do quite a lot.  This is a good testament to keeping some kind of record or portfolio of your children’s work, if you choose to homeschool.

In the column I mentioned that I used the World Book Typical Course of Study (UPDATE: Unfortunately, World Book has removed this page from their website, but put it on their website. You can access it here.) to give me peace of mind about the “academics” side of the equation, although at this age, I really do feel it’s more important for children to have free time to play and explore their worlds more than anything else.  I wrote a column about the importance of playing make-believe a while back, if you are interested.

Above you can see my son’s “Learning Box.”  He and I decorated it together, and I fill it with the things that I want us to work on when we have time.  This is a huge help because I don’t have time for any kind of “planning.”

I keep the box in our “activity room.” It’s been a big help to have a space we dedicate to activities and learning.  All the tools are very accessible to my son, and he is increasingly going in there to use them.  Much of the learning we do is done spontaneously when he gets interested in doing it!

Click here to read the column, and please sign up for my RSS Feed so that you won’t miss the upcoming columns in which I write about what we use for learning and some of our favorite activities!  These columns will definitely have more “meat” about how to homeschool a preschooler.

As always, thank you for stopping by, and please leave your own insights about homeschooling during the preschool years!


UPDATE: To make it easier for you, I’m including my Table of Contents for Preschool here:

Making Spiral Berry Soup

This morning I had an impromptu exercise in “play.”  I am calling it “making spiral berry soup” because that is what my four-year-old said he was doing.  As you can see I gave them some cups of two different dried beans and pasta, several utensils and containers, and then I just let them have fun.  They had the best time, and I was happy that the toddler did not put the ingredients in his mouth or dump all of it onto the floor. (Though a lot of it did end up on the floor.)

I got this idea from two things:  1) For the hundredth time this morning, my toddler got into the dog food.  I could tell he just wanted to have fun scooping it up and dumping it, etc.  2) When he did that, I remembered the teacher in my four-year-old’s Creative Play and Movement class telling me that my son loved the exercise when they played make-believe with dried beans and pasta.  She said kids love to feel the different textures.  So I thought I’d recreate that for the two of them.

I have let my four-year-old play with the dried beans and pasta before and create some art with it, but I didn’t want to get out the glue with the toddler.  This was just as fun.

We’ll have to do this more often.

Preschool Body Tracing Activity

I am in the process of writing a 3-part column about homeschooling a preschooler.  The first part was going to print this upcoming week in the newspaper, but I have asked them to postpone it because I wanted to write about the terrible disaster occurring now in Japan.   So, it will be a while before my preschool columns are printed and shared online.  I hope you’ll check back here for those when I post them.  I will have several extra details to share with you on my blog, mostly in the form of photos.

I can share one photo and details about it now: Above you can see the body tracings that my four-year-old and I did together.  I can remember doing this in my early years at school.  Can you?

We were lucky enough to participate in a “Mystery Friend” program at our church.  I was anonymously paired with a young person at our church, and my son was paired with an adult.  Then we exchanged letters and trinkets for several weeks before revealing our identities at a special event.  It was a nice way for the children and adults in the church to get to know each other, and it was perfect for my goal of socializing my son!  My son got a really good mystery friend who gave him some great activities to do during those weeks.

One of the activities she gave him was this huge sheet of paper and some extra markers.  She gave him the directions to trace his mother’s body on one side and his on the other.  So we did that, and then he wanted me to trace his body again, so we did it over my tracing.  Then he added the eyes and mouth and colored them in (a little).

I was very grateful to her.  I had thought about this before, but I never got around to finding paper large enough.  This activity is an oldie but goody!  We had lots of fun!

P.S.  See that coloring of the pretty flower on the left?  My Mystery Friend gave me that!  I also got a super cool mystery friend!

Homeschooling: A Look At Our Hammerhead Shark Project (Part 2 of Project-based learning)

This is a column that I wrote for The Barrow Journal, and it’s the second part of a two-part series on project-based learning.  In it I describe the hammerhead shark project that I did with my 4-year-old son.  You can read the first part here.  Above is a photo of the poster board we made during this fun project.

Last week I wrote what I learned about project-based learning from Lori Pickert’s blog at  This week I’m going to tell you about my son’s first project.  When I asked him what he might want to learn about, he told me, “hammerhead sharks.”  He loves ocean animals, so this wasn’t a surprise to me.

In project-based learning, the emphasis is to teach children how to acquire information.  It also emphasizes letting them have as much control over the project as possible.  Asking children questions instead of supplying them with quick answers engages them in problem solving.

At age four, however, my son doesn’t have a lot of ideas on how to proceed with projects.  He either says an emphatic yes or no to my suggestions.  At this point project-based learning is more for me to learn and think about ways in which I can get him to take the lead and learn where to go for information.

In the past if my son asked me about hammerhead sharks, I would have gone straight to the Internet and looked up a video about hammerhead sharks to show him.  This time, I asked him where he thought we might look for information about them.  I expected him to say the computer, but he surprised me by saying a hammerhead shark was on one of his “cards.”

A while back, he received for a gift a stack of cards about oceans animals, bound together with a large ring.  On the back of each card, there are two or three basic facts about the animal.  I had forgotten about these cards, but he didn’t, and it was a good starting point.  For example, we learned there are nine species of hammerhead sharks. Though he might not always have an answer for me when I ask him where we should go for information, I could certainly see the benefit in giving him the chance.

Later in the day while his little brother was napping, we made a poster about hammerhead sharks.  I was surprised at how interested and attentive he was.   He was willing to copy the words “hammerhead shark” on the top, and we colored a picture we found on the Internet.  We also reviewed the sound “SH” as in “shark.”  It was much more fun than the preschool workbooks that we often do together during this time.

The most fun we had was when we got a long string and measured it to 18 feet, which is as long as a hammerhead shark can grow.  Then we rolled up the string and taped it to the poster board.  After that, my son wanted to measure how long a humpback whale would be, so we looked it up and found out that they grow between 39-53 feet.  It was a good lesson in numbers and measurement, and we were both delighted and surprised to find out that a humpback could grow longer than our house!

The next day we went to the library, and my son said he wanted books about hammerhead sharks and humpback whales.  Usually I ask the librarian, or I look up the books on the computer, but this time I thought I would encourage my son to ask the librarian himself.  Sometimes he’s shy, so I wasn’t sure if he would.  Again, my son surprised me by speaking up when we were in front of the librarian, and he was very happy with the books she found for him.

By the next day, my son seemed satisfied with our work on hammerhead sharks and didn’t want to pursue it anymore.  This was fine with me, although I admit I would have happily delved further into the subject.

When I contacted Lori by e-mail, she told me that I don’t have to worry too much about projects at this age.  Right now it’s important to create an environment where materials are accessible to him, and it’s helpful if I begin to keep notes about the questions he asks and the things he does.  I don’t know if we will always used a project-based approach to homeschooling, but I have learned some valuable tools that will help me help him.

Have you used project-based learning?  Please tell me about it.

Homeschooling: A Fun Sight Word Game

{learning sight words : a fun sight word activity}

Every child learns at a different pace, so I do not want to push my children to learn anything before they are ready.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t figure out fun ways to try to get them to learn.  If they think it’s fun, they want to do it!

My four-year-old learned his alphabet very early and easily, and after that, learning the sounds of the letters seemed like a piece of cake.  Some people I know suggested I might try teaching him the sight words.  These are common words that we see everyday, and some educators feel it’s easier for kids to learn them by sight instead of trying to sound them out.  You can buy a pack of word cards for under $4.

I was told that I could introduce about three words each week to my son.  I could hang them somewhere like the refrigerator and just point them out to him each day until he became familiar with them.  The first time I tried this, I could see that he wasn’t ready for them, so I put them away and didn’t worry about it for several weeks.  The next time I tried it, I found out that not only was he disinterested in looking at the words, I was too.  I never remembered to point them out to him!  It’s kind of a boring exercise, if you ask me.

My step-mother gave him a sight word video, and he likes to watch it.  To me, it’s a boring video of words going across the screen and lackluster animations — but I’m not 4 years old.  He likes it, and he has started to learn some words from it.

I realized that part of the reason that hanging the sight words on the refrigerator didn’t work is because he would never really look at them.  I wondered how I could get him to see the whole word.  That’s when I invented this game:

I wrote some sight words on post-it notes (five seems to be the right amount for my son), and then I posted them around our living room — on the wall, hearth, T.V., sofa.  I made sure they were at my son’s eye level.  Then I gave him one card with a sight word on it.  I told him what it was, and I asked him to look for it around the room.  As he looked for it, I repeated the word over and over.  I told him if he brought the word’s “match” back to me, he’d get a sticker.  We have a special piece of paper that he gets to stick his sight word stickers to.

This game has been a success.  Now he’s really seeing the word – he has to study it in order to find the match.  At first I thought giving him a sticker for each word might be a little excessive, but after playing this game with him a few times, I realized he needed the incentive, and I want the game to just be fun for him.

As with everything we do, he can lose interest in it.  He doesn’t want to play it everyday, but even if we do it every once in a while, I think it will help.  This game and his sight word video has helped him learn a few words, and now he gets excited if he identifies a word while I’m reading a book to him!

Experimenting with Project-based Homeschooling, Part 1

Note: This is a column I wrote for The Barrow Journal.  For a list of all our projects, see the Table of Contents for Project-based learning.

Now that the holidays are over, visiting relatives are gone, and we are overcoming two back-to-back illnesses, I think (I hope) I can finally begin to think about a regular routine.  One thing I have been intending to do is think more about how I want to homeschool.  After reading a website I bookmarked several months ago, I’ve decided to experiment with project-based homeschooling.

Lori Pickert is a homeschooling mom of two boys, but before her days at home, she was the director of a private preschool for several years.  Her school used a project-based curriculum in multi-aged classrooms.  Now she writes extensively about this approach to teaching on her Camp Creek Blog, which you can find at

I think project-based learning can be useful for kids whether they attend school or not, so if this peaks your interest, be sure to read through Lori’s blog.  I am not an expert on the subject, and I’ll only be sharing the highlights of what interested me about this approach and how I hope to apply them when working with my son.

In project-based learning, a child gets to choose a project that interests him or her and then study it in depth.  Then they chose who they might want to share their information with and in what format:  a book, video, poster, etc.  The teacher or parent is there to offer support and help the child find the materials he needs to fulfill his projects, but the parent should not take over the project or push her agenda on the child. 

I am guilty of this myself.  Sometimes when I sit down with my son to work on a craft, I have a hard time letting go of control.  I want that fish we’re creating to look like a real fish, so I volunteer to glue the eyes on for him or cut the paper just so.  I’m getting better at sitting back and letting him do the work, and Lori’s website was a good reminder why this is so important.  Kids learn by doing.

After reading her posts, I realized that it’s important for me to ask my son more questions instead of always offering the answer right away.  Project-based learning emphasizes that it’s less important for children to memorize facts than it is for them to learn how to acquire information.  Isn’t that the most useful thing we can teach children?  Children learn the most when they are engaged in an activity that makes them problem solve and search for the answers themselves.

There was one post on her site where Lori shared a comment from a teacher, and the teacher gave this story.  She said that one of her second grade boys once asked her whether the Loch Ness monster was real or not.  She told him she didn’t know, but she’d help him find out.  Over the next few days, this little boy visited the library, and he also interviewed his classmates to see what they thought.  She said he was having a lot of fun, and obviously he was learning valuable skills along the way.

After a few days, the teacher said the boy dropped the subject altogether.  When she asked him why, he told her that he asked his dad, and his dad told him there was no such thing as the Loch Ness monster, so that was it.  My feeling is that even though the boy may have dropped the subject eventually when he felt satisfied with his research, parents can do a disservice by supplying quick answers.

When children are truly interested in a subject, they have much longer attention spans than many adults give them credit for.  I know that my son has wanted to read the same books over and over again, and he can also watch the same television programs night after night.  There is something about these things that are captivating to him.

Another tip I learned from this site was that I should write down the questions my son asks me.  This was a light bulb moment for me because he has been asking me off the wall questions for several weeks now, and usually he asks them when we’re driving in the car, or I’m dealing with the baby or some other chore, and I can’t always engage him at that moment.  So now, I’m jotting down the questions he asks, such as, “What is a lighthouse?”  “What does fire burn?”  …Two questions he asked me out of the blue yesterday!  When we have more time, I’ll ask him if wants to me to help him find the answers.

When I told my son about working on a project and asked him what he might be interested in learning about, he came up with “hammerhead shark.”  This didn’t surprise me because he loves ocean animals.  Next week, I’ll write about our project and let you know what we came up with.

Click here to go to Part 2.  UPDATE: Now my son is older, and I’m much wiser! To learn more about project-based learning, see my Project-based Homeschooling page.

Homeschooling: A Room for Learning


Learning happens all the time EVERYWHERE, but sometimes it’s helpful to have a place to put all the great tools we use for learning:

This post was originally published on August 16, 2010:

Since we’re homeschooling, we decided to convert our dining room into a school room.  We painted the walls a soothing yellow, found some bargain bookshelves and painted them the color that my four-year-old picked – blue, and we were gifted a round table and chairs.  We also found some school desks, and we let him inherit daddy’s old computer.  Ta-da.  It’s a great learning space, and we’re already using it a lot.

I’m amazed that in four short years, we have acquired quite a few educational materials.  It’s nice to have a place to put these things, and I feel that having easy access to them will encourage my son to use them more often.

I’m enjoying the colors very much too.  It’s bright and airy without being distracting.

I’m curious.  Do other homeschoolers create a space in their homes for learning?  Or maybe you don’t homeschool, but you have a place for your children to do their homework?  Do you think it’s beneficial to them?  What kinds of things do you put in this space?

On another note, I don’t really like calling it a “school room.”  Do you have any suggestions for me?

Update, January 31, 2011:

We have been very happy with the room, and we use it almost everyday.  My four-year-old can access his writing and drawing tools more easily, and I think this has encouraged him to do activities like this more often.  Unfortunately, the 17-month-old is tall, so our shelves are top-heavy.  It’s rather cluttered and hard to get at things.  Hopefully once we’re passed this stage of grab-everything-he-can-get-a-hold-of, we can put it back into a more manageable order.

For some reason, I kept calling the room, “the activity room,” so that has stuck.

Update, June 7, 2011:

I found this helpful column by Rose Godfrey about setting up her homeschool room.  She says, “After 12 years of homeschooling, I still cannot define the ideal homeschool workspace.”  Homeschool workplaces can be anywhere and can suit our own tastes.  I am glad that I got my son’s input when setting up our space too.