Homeschooling Preschool the 2nd Time: My Four-Year-Old’s Letter D

In some ways, I hesitate to say that I homeschooled preschool with my first son. I was fairly relaxed with him during his “preschool” years (which isn’t to say I didn’t worry or wonder if I was doing it right), and he made it easy because he learned to recognize the ABCs before he could even speak all their names at 22 months. At two- and three-years-old all I did was play with him with some rubber letters in the bathtub. Sometimes I would write the letters in chalk outside on the sidewalk. It was all fun and games to him. At age four, I just got a little more intentional about what I was doing.

I’m also relaxed (more so) with my four-year-old, but for completely different reasons. (And I’m not worried about whether I’m doing it right anymore. Be sure to read The Only Preschool Curriculum You Need Is Your Enthusiasm.)

My four-year-old is a very different boy, and he’s having a completely different experience during these early years from what his brother had. While my first born spent a lot of time at home alone with me because we didn’t have as many friends back then, my four-year-old has the benefit of not only more friends but tagging along to classes that my older son attends. He has also started taking the knee-high naturalist class like his brother did at this age, and I’m able to leave my older boy home with his dad, so he can have his “own” class.

My current preschooler did not learn his letters and numbers early like his brother, but without doing any intentional ABC “games” he has mastered at least half the ABCs on his own. And now he counts to 10 flawlessly.

He loves to count things. For a long time, he counted, although he was wrong most of the time. “One, one, one, one,” he would say. Or “One, two, three, six, eight,” he would say. I didn’t try to correct him much. I praised his effort, and sometimes we would take turns counting.

Slowly his counting improved. He might miss just one number. Then he would count to ten correctly one time, but the next time he would trip up. Now, he counts to 10 perfectly every time unless he starts to count too fast or gets silly about it.

It’s been fun to witness this progression. And relaxing. I haven’t really done anything to promote or encourage it. I just watch and listen and follow his cues. Since I’m busy working with my older son on his projects, it eases my mind to know my preschooler is teaching himself.

I see the same thing happening with the alphabet. Recently my preschooler has been enjoying some little cookies with the letters printed on them. When he eats them, he wants me to sit with him and tell him what each letter is, and he asks me what sound it makes. Whenever he happens to pull out an alphabet book or alphabet puzzle, I try to tell him the letter and its sound.

I keep the rubber letters that I used in the bathtub with my older son in a basket downstairs now. The other night, my four-year-old began spreading the letters around on the living room floor, and he wanted me to sit with him. Then while we were looking at them, he took the letter D over to the activity room, and through his actions, I knew he wanted to try to make something – it was the first time I witnessed him initiate a building or art project like his older brother does!!! I was very excited.

I just watched him awhile. He got a strip of white paper that we had been using the previous day to make bookmarks. Then he got out some pens and string and scissors and tape. He was very serious as he went about decorating this piece of paper with the pens and string. And then he folded it up.

He was trying to make a letter D. But he couldn’t get the paper shaped right. As I watched him, I saw how I could gently fold and bend the paper to make a D shape without compromising his efforts too much, so I did that for him. He was pleased.

And I was tickled pink. Here’s my preschooler, teaching himself and beginning to emulate the positive actions of his older brother. Of course, I also give myself (and my husband) some credit. We have created a household where books are loved, stories are told, conversations brew and questions are honored.  I have created an environment where both boys have access to materials for creative endeavors, and I don’t stop them from making messes. And I get excited about their work, I showcase it, and I take so many photos of it that if I forget, they’ll remind me!

I guess you can say that now that my sons are seven- and four-years-old, I am seeing my efforts pay off. I am seeing results, and I get the feeling that we’ll continue down this course of learning how to love learning. It makes me giddy.

Please share. What’s your child’s latest handiwork?

The Storytelling Advocate

I am advocating that all parents tell their children stories.  Not just any stories – but your stories.  

Whether made up or from our own lives, children need to hear our voices and our stories.

Storytelling is an expression of love, and there is no better way to impart your values or teach your children where they came from. Although I love books, I don’t think that reading from a book can capture a child’s imagination like when they hear something made up just for them.  They know it’s special, and they want to listen.  If you’re having trouble getting your child to enjoy books, try asking, “Can I tell you a story?”  If you love reading books together, try asking, “Can I tell you a story?”  It will be the icing on the cake.

But you think it’s too much trouble, and you aren’t creative enough, right? You’re wrong. If you tell a story with love, it will be a story that your kids want to hear.  As you tell more stories, you’ll get better at it.  I promise.

When my eldest son was a little younger, I told him a story every night. This lasted for three or four years, and while he’s kind of outgrown wanting to hear my stories, I cherish those years I was able to sit back and dig into my creative well and pull out a story. It was relaxing, and I felt I was connecting to my son more than when I read aloud from a book.

My younger son heard a story by his father for many years too. After about two years, I think my husband finally wearied of telling about Dig Dig the Dinosaur and his many adventures! But he wins an award in my book for telling about the same character for that long!

If you homeschool, you’ll be happy to know that storytelling is part of your child’s language arts requirement.  Whether you homeschool or not, you’ll be adding value to your child’s life, fostering their creativity, igniting their love of language, and helping them begin to write their own story.

I have been told no adult forgets the person who told them stories as a child. I don’t know if this is true, but I hope it will be.

All you have to do is begin “Once Upon A Time….” and think about what is important to your child that day.   But if you need a little more help, here are some posts I wrote while telling my stories, and a little more too:


Guest Post at Simple Homeschool: Using Storytelling In Your Home Education

The Gift of Story

Why Tell Stories?

The Benefits of Storytelling

Storytelling and what that has to do with Homeschooling

How To Tell Stories To Your Children

Book Review: Tell Me a Story by Chase Collins ~or~ How I Use Storytelling as a Teaching Tool

How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children

Two Stories I Made Up For My Five-Year-Old – to Show That YOU Can Do It Too!

Using Storytelling and Puppet Shows In Your Homeschool

The Gift of Story

Inspiration: Examples of Stories with Storytelling Tips

Two Stories I Made Up For My Five-Year-Old – to Show That YOU Can Do It Too!

Merry Christmas and My Gift to You

Story: Lego Boy

Inspiration: Storytellers

Remembering my friend and storyteller, J.J. Reneaux

Wisdom from Storyteller Winston Stephens  – includes venues for adult storytelling around Athens, Georgia.

Storytelling Links

National Storytelling Network

National Storytelling Festival – Every October in Jonesborough, TN

Southern Order of Storytellers – based in Atlanta, Georgia and encouraging “clusters” or storytelling groups to start throughout Georgia.

Rabbit Box – Fostering the art of storytelling in Athens, Georgia. We provide a forum for people to share true stories from their lives. (Adult storytelling)

Bill Harley – This storyteller had my sons in stitches with his tape “Dinosaurs Don’t Say Please and Other Stories.” Just wanted to give him a shout-out for all my story loving friends.

…And if I can think of anything else that will help inspire you to tell stories to your children, you can bet I’ll add it here!


My Definition of Child-led Learning

I feel it’s important for me to define “child-led learning” as it works for my family because I’m sure there are different variations of child-led learning in each family who choose this way of homeschooling.  (I think that’s great because every parent has to determine what works best for his or her child.)  Unfortunately, people hear the term “child-led learning” and often come up with their own judgment about it based on an arbitrary news report, article or a homeschool family they have met.  I think it’s wiser to hold off on our judgments until we know more about that family and the needs of the children.

For me, doing “child-led learning” means introducing my boys to a variety of ideas, subjects, books, places, classes, stories, and people.  I am a facilitator and mentor.  As we explore the world together, I’m going to observe what they love the most.  When they gain interest in a particular subject, I’m going to let them delve into it further, and I’m going to do everything I can to help them learn more about it until they are satisfied.  I expect some interests may peter out and others may be life-long passions.

I am going to make sure my children learn the basics: reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.  In fact, according to the law in Georgia (U.S.A.), I have to, but I do believe that each child may learn at a different pace.  I will nudge, but I will not push.  If I nudge I can tell whether or not my child is ready for a specific subject by his reaction to it.   I’m not going to force anything, and I’m not going to test (except when the state requires it).  If I can find ways of helping them learn difficult subjects, I’ll do that, but I think it’s useless to make a child learn something he or she isn’t ready for or doesn’t want to learn. 

I will also concentrate more on helping my children how to find answers to their questions, fostering their imaginations, and helping them learn how to manage daily life.  I’ll write more about this in future posts.

As an example of encouraging my son’s passions, I am currently working on a snake project with my five-year-old.  I am not interested in snakes, but he is, so I suggested we make a book about snakes.  He loved the idea.  Through this project, we are working on his research, writing and reading skills.  It’s also part of his science requirement.  If I can think of other ways to teach him basic skills through his love of snakes, I’ll do it.  For example, we might use a measuring tape to see what the length of a snake is.  In addition, (at my son’s request) snakes are always characters in our nightly stories.

As he gets older, I’m hoping he’ll be more in charge of deciding what his projects are and how we’ll complete them.

I should also mention that occasionally I will make my children do somethingThis goes back to my statement above when I said that I would introduce “my boys to a variety of books, places, classes, stories, and people.”  For example, the nature center we go to frequently is offering an after-Christmas mini-camp.  I know he will love this!  But when I asked him if wanted to go, he said “No.”  I know that he just doesn’t understand what a mini-camp is, so I decided that if we could get in, I’d make him try it.  Fortunately, after I took the time to explain what it was about more thoroughly, he wanted to go. If he tries it and hates it, we’ll reassess, but trying is a must.

There are other things that will be required of my boys like contributing to the care of the house and each other, but I hope to approach this in a manner so that they understand the value of it and want to do it.  I will write more about this in future posts as well.

What is your perceived definition of child-led learning?  Do you think it’s good or bad? 

Please stay tuned.  After the New Year I’ll be starting a series of posts about our homeschool mission, priorities, and how we do it on a daily basis.

The Eastern King Snake & Our Snake Project

An Eastern King Snake.  This photo is courtesy of Bill Peterman.  Check out his wonderful herpetology photos by clicking here.

One of the main reasons I want to homeschool is so that I can allow my child’s interests to guide us in the learning process.  As if to test me on this philosophy, my five-year-old son has taken a keen interest in snakes.

I have never been particularly fond of reptiles or amphibians, but truthfully I just never gave them much thought until I met one of my best friends who is a herpetologist.  She shared her love of frogs, salamanders and snakes with me and though you still won’t find me out trying to catch any, I have a respect for the little critters.

Now my son is into them, and thanks to the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, he gets to see and touch them quite often.  We are taking classes out there, and we’ve been to snake day twice, and recently we went to Scary, Slimy, Oozy Day, which was their Halloween festival.  It definitely satisfied my son’s slimy, oozy side.

A while back I bought my son two posters for his room at the Nature Center.  One features photos of snakes and the other frogs.  “Snakes of Georgia” hangs on his wall right next to his bed.  Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when I bought that poster, but seriously, I’m thrilled when he wants to learn about anything, snakes included.

And it’s funny how you can get used to “slimy and oozy” just like your nose gets used to bad smells.  Now I’m kind of fascinated with snakes or at least one in particular: the Eastern Kingsnake.

I saw my first Eastern Kingsnake several weeks ago in our yard.  I thought my cat was going after a lizard, and when I approached her to save the lizard, I saw it was really a baby snake.  It was black with yellow strips – pretty, as far as snakes go.  Unfortunately, the snake disappeared under a thick layer of leaves before my son could see it.

Curious, I ran upstairs to look at my son’s poster and found out that it was an Eastern Kingsnake, and I was relieved to note that it was not listed as venomous.

Several weeks later, my husband saw an Eastern Kingsnake while he was out jogging.   It was near our house, so he ran to get us, and we watched the snake slither into the woods.  I don’t know if it was the same snake that I saw, but it was also a small one.

Since then I have learned that Eastern Kingsnakes are very good snakes to have around.  The main reason is because they eat venomous snakes, and a favorite meal is the copperhead.  When I was at Slimy, Oozy Day, a UGA ecology student told me that copperheads are on the rise in Athens-Clarke County, and they think maybe one reason is because the Eastern Kingsnake is in decline.

I looked up the Eastern Kingsnake on the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory’s (SREL) Herpetology website, which is a great resource, if you’re interested in snakes or other reptiles or amphibians.  This site describes Eastern Kingsnakes as “shiny-black, smooth-scaled snakes with white or yellow chain-link bands that cross the back and connect along the sides.”

I learned that Eastern Kingsnakes are resistant to the venom of pit-vipers, and they can eat copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes.  They also eat lizards, rodents, birds and turtles eggs.

There is some concern that these snakes are in decline in some areas of the Coastal Plain and in Florida.  The reason is unclear.  There was once a large population of this snake near the Savannah River Site that has disappeared over the last 20 years.

So please take heed: If you see an Eastern Kingsnake in your yard, DO NOT KILL IT!  In fact, you shouldn’t kill any snake.  Most snakes are not venomous, and they are very beneficial.  They eat rats, mice, insects and other pests.

According to Geoff Stein, author of “Snakes – Good for the Garden,” snakes do not damage the environment at all.  “They don’t dig holes….They don’t chew or damage the landscape….They don’t contribute one bit to noise pollution,” he says.  He goes on to point out that snakes will not bite unless stepped on, picked up or forced into a corner or otherwise threatened.  Usually snakes just want to get away.

There are venomous snakes that we need to be wary of and usher out of our gardens, and if you’d like to learn more about those, the SREL website is a good place to go.

So, as scary, slimy and oozy as some of us think snakes are, we need to respect these creatures, who help balance the ecosystem in important ways.

This column was originally printed in the November 2, 2011 edition of the Barrow Journal.



Since my five-year-old loves snakes so much, I suggested another project for him.  We’re making a “book” about snakes.  We’re using his poster as a guide by going down the list from top to bottom.  Our book is in a three-ring binder.  We look up the snake online, and my son chooses a photo, and he writes the name of the snake on the page.  Then I write in some facts about the snake.  I hope that as he gets older and learns how to read, he’ll enjoy this little resource we’re making.  (I always note where we get the information and give credit to the photographer, if possible.)

While we’re doing this, I read about the snake to my son, and he also likes to watch some video about the snake, if we can find one.

Would you be willing to visit a slimy and oozy world for the sake of your child’s passions?

Learning Is Like a Chain Link Fence

A bit of homeschooling philosophy: Learning is like a chain link fence.  

Not a crummy, dusty fence in a barren lot, but a fence with bends and dips and muscadine grape vines interlacing it.  Every time we learn some small fact, we add a link.  We build a fence of knowledge and wrap it around our minds.  As we add more links, the fence gets bigger and so does our mind.  It’s not a fence that blocks out anything….no no…It doesn’t block anything out unless we stop adding links to it.  It’s more of a container with wild grasses, ideas, questions, fruit and nectar growing inside and overflowing…


I don’t purport to say that this is an original concept.  Not at all.  I’m only reporting on what I’ve been witnessing with my child, and in addition, I am a writer, so I like to think in metaphors.

I’ve been thinking about this as my child asks me questions…

  • What did the Native Americans do?
  • What is inside Jupiter?
  • What is inside our body?
  • Can we plant pumpkin seeds?
  • Did he die?
  • What is God?

…and I endeavor to answer.

For the Native American question, I was prepared.  Last year I bought a really cool book titled The Very First Americans.  It introduces many of the Native American tribes.  It’s general but full of good information for that first question.  It’s the first link in my son’s understanding of Native Americans.

The question, “What is inside Jupiter?” came as a result of our study of the solar system.  My son has told me that Jupiter is his favorite planet.  To answer that question, we looked online, and once I said “gas,” that was enough for my son.  But…but…but… I was tempted to add on to that, read more of the website or at least explain what “gas” is.  But he didn’t want to know all that.  He just wanted to know what was inside Jupiter.  It’s another link in his knowledge of the “The Solar System.”

“What is inside our body?”  He has asked this question in many ways over a long period of time, so I know that it’s something that truly interests him.  When we went to the toy store to pick out his birthday presents, he picked (all by himself) a human anatomy model.  He loves it, and we’ve dissected it several times. He also requested a book on the human body, which I got for him, and he’s even watched a long National Geographic documentary on the human body.  So I haven’t had to answer that question.  He’s been finding out for himself.  He’s got a lot of links on his knowledge of the human body.

My son loves plants and planting.  This summer I was going to keep gardening at a minimum since I’m so busy with the kids, but my son delighted me by becoming the gardener.  He helped me plant some tomatoes, and then at his request we’ve planted pumpkins, beans and lettuce.  I’ll talk more about his study of plants and seeds in another post, but suffice it to say, he has many links on plant knowledge too.

“Did he die?”  It might be a strange question for a five-year-old to ask, but I don’t think so.  As we begin to tell him about history and time, it’s inevitable that he must learn about death.  So this question pops up a lot when we’re reading books or watching T.V. with people he’s never seen before.  It must be his way of figuring out many things all at once, including time and life and what those mean.

“What is God?”  I have talked about God before, but the first time my son asked me about it, I got very excited.  There’s so much I want to teach him and share with him. My beliefs.  The beliefs of others.  I want to hear what he thinks too.  But I remembered the Jupiter question, so I treaded softly.  I told him in as simple of terms as I could muster, and then I read the book I’ve been saving, In God’s Name by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso.  I think by the end of the book, he was bored with the subject.

I pondered that for a few days.  I wasn’t satisfied with how I answered him, and I thought of other ways I might approach the subject.  How can I be more prepared next time?  But that is when I realized that learning is like a chain-link fence.  At first I thought “learning is like a chain with links,” but no, that wasn’t good enough.  We take our knowledge in many directions.  We make decisions.  One by one, we add a little knowledge.  We build on it.  The more we study, the longer it gets.

I thought, that was his first link in the God question.

Remember: It’s not a fence that blocks out anything unless we stop adding links to it.

I don’t expect my son to remember all the details he’s learning.  I certainly had to brush up on my knowledge of the solar system before I taught it to him.  But I do know that learning something over time, repeatedly, especially if it’s something we’re interested in, will help us in mastering that subject.  Students are told by their professors to start studying right away and not wait until the last minute! A cram session the night before an exam does little for long-term retention.

I’m writing this as a reminder to myself more than anything.  If I fear I haven’t answered a question well, I shouldn’t worry too much.  My son is building a fence of knowledge that he’ll piece together over time.  By mostly following his lead, I hope that if we don’t master long-term retention, we’ll at least foster a love of learning, and we’ll find some surprises along the way…

What is your metaphor for learning?

Music Appreciation with Beethoven

Or An Example of Child Led Learning…

Note: This column was first published in the Barrow Journal on September 28, 2011.  You can view the online version by clicking here.

When I was pregnant with my first baby, my husband and I took advantage of the free music concerts at UGA.  One of the concerts my husband wanted to attend was a performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  It was during that concert that I felt my baby move for the first time.

Fast forward a few years until my first born is five-years-old.  He loves the cartoon Little Einsteins, which features music by a famous composer in each episode.  Out of all the music he hears on that show, he begins to hum (constantly) Beethoven’s 9th symphony or the part we are most familiar with: “Ode to Joy.”

Is it a coincidence, or is that just a catchy tune?  Obviously it’s a catchy tune, but I’ll always wonder if that prenatal exposure might have given him a predisposition to liking that music.  Anything is possible, right?

So our house is full of Beethoven these days.  I don’t think my five-year-old’s renditions of “Ode to Joy” are what Beethoven had in mind for his work, but I can say that forevermore I’ll be able to identify at least one piece of famous music.

I am not musically inclined.  I love listening to music and I like a variety of genres, but I am hopeless when it comes to remembering even the simplest lyrics.  I can carry a tune only so far, and you don’t want to know about my attempt to play the flute in the fifth grade.

My husband, on the other hand, while not a musician, is much more knowledgeable about music.  While I would rather listen to talk radio, he keeps his iTunes library neatly organized into categories and genres.  He listens to everything from classical to hard rock.  He likes to look up information about musicians, and sometimes he relaxes by watching excerpts of concerts on YouTube.

When my son first began to hum “Ode to Joy,” I couldn’t name the tune even though I had heard it hundreds of times. (Yes, I’m that pitiful.) I told my son to ask his father about it. So that evening my husband pulled up a YouTube video of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  Then my little boy started to ask questions.

“Is that Beethoven?” he asked as he pointed to one of the musicians.

We had to explain that Beethoven lived a very long time ago and that he died a very long time ago.

Pointing to another musician in the symphony, my son asked, “Is he dead too?”

While it’s fun to find learning opportunities in a child’s interests, it is difficult to balance what we adults want to teach with what a five-year-old really wants to know.

“No,” we said, “he’s not dead.”

Then we found a photo of Beethoven, and this made my son very happy.  And then he patiently listened to that whole section of the symphony.

Since he was so interested in this music, I asked my son if he’d like to do a project on Beethoven, and he was enthusiastic about the idea.  He wanted to make a book, so we printed out a photo of Beethoven, wrote a few facts about this life, included a map of Germany with an arrow pointing to Bonn (where Beethoven was born), and then we added the sheet music for “Ode to Joy.”  We punched holes in the side of the paper, tied the pages to together and voila – a little book to showcase his obsession.

My son continues to hum, chant, and create odious lyrics for “Ode to Joy.” He also tries to play it on our small piano, and when we go somewhere in the car, he requests Beethoven’s 9th symphony, which my husband is more than happy to play on the stereo.

I can’t complain that my son loves Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  Will it turn into something else?  A musical talent?  I have no idea.  But I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

{Pointing to Bonn, Germany, which is where Beethoven was born}

What is your child’s latest obsession?