Graduating to Kindergarten or 1st Grade?

{Part 2 of Recording A Homeschool Student’s Progress: The Homeschool Portfolio}

In my last post I listed all the ways that I kept track of my son’s homeschool this past year from June 2011 – May 2012.  In June 2011, I wrote a post stating that I had an official kindergartener, and indeed, we completed a course of study for a Kindergartener this year.

But last month, in May 2012, I completely changed my mind about his grade level, and I’ve decided to consider him a Kindergartener again in this coming year.  Why?  The simple answer is that if he were going to public school, he would be entering Kindergarten this fall because his birthday is so close to the cut-off date.  (I wouldn’t want him to be the youngest child in the class, and I’ve read much on this subject and spoke to a Kindergarten teacher at his would-be school who agreed with this decision.)

In many ways it’s silly for me to give his grade level any thought at all, especially since we’re homeschooling.  I believe grade levels are arbitrary, and children should be educated at their own personal level otherwise you’ll risk losing that spark they have for learning.  So why am I labeling him as a Kindergartener?

  • Frankly, and perhaps it’s not a good reason and you can argue with me, but I’m doing it for the rest of the world.  It’s how our society works at this time, and I want our family and friends to be able to understand where my son would be if he were in school.  I think they’ll be more comfortable with our homeschooling that way, and as my son gets older and has to answer other people’s questions, it may help him be more comfortable with the rest of the world.
  • Second, I worry that if I call him a 1st grader, I may push him too hard this year.  I always have to remind myself how old he is and how far ahead he is – I don’t need to worry or push him.  Keeping it as it would be if he were in school will keep me on an even keel!
  • Third, it’s much easier (and more impressive) for us to say he’s a Kindergartener doing mostly 1st grade work than to say that he’s a 1st grader but he may not be up to that level in some areas.

So I’m saying he’s a Kindergartener, but let’s not lose sight of the fact we’re homeschooling!

  • We will teach at his level in an engaging manner until he gets the concept!
  • He won’t have to worry about grades, and he won’t even know what they are.  Mama will know what he knows.
  • He won’t have to worry about tests.  (Except for a few required by law.)
  • We (our whole family) will explore the world together, and learn together.
  • We will have awesome conversations, quality time together, less stress, and plenty of time for weird, spontaneous science experiments.
  • No one is going to kill his passion for asking bizarre questions and taking off on tangents that might not have been in our original plan.
  • He’s a Kindergartener doing 1st grade work!

In my next post, I’ll write about why I decided to do a pre-K graduation and how it helped me understand what I’ll truly need for our record-keeping.

A Child-Led Project: The Celery Lettuce Cake

Note: This column was printed in the May 2, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.

I am all for giving children as much freedom as possible.  They need time to play, create and build.  This make-believe and the trial and error of creating teaches them more lessons than they could ever learn from the well-meaning words of adults. This is at the heart of project-based homeschooling.

But in real life, it’s awfully hard to let my five-year-old pursue every project he thinks up.  Sometimes I’m rushing around the house trying to get us ready to go out when he says something like, “Mommy, I think we could make a giant eel out of paper.”  Please, I think, don’t talk to me now, but I don’t say it.  He’ll go on and on about his idea while I’m only half listening.

Other times his ideas are just impossible.  “Mommy, maybe sometime we can go to Greenland.”  Uh huh.  (Though requests like that are good ways to start explaining concepts like money, time and distance.)

For these reasons, I was happy the other day that we had the opportunity to let him run with one of his crazy ideas.  I was cleaning up the lunch dishes, and I had planned to take the boys outside after that.  It was a beautiful day, but my son had another idea.

“Mommy, I have an idea for a recipe.  It would need celery and lettuce, and I would mash them together with that masher you use for making mashed potatoes.  Then I would need that thing you use to mix stuff…”

I’ll interject here to explain that celery and lettuce are the only two vegetables my five-year-old will eat.  He likes celery dipped in Catalina dressing, and he’ll eat a little bit of plain lettuce that he grew himself in the garden.  And after more discussion, I figured out that the second utensil he was referring to was a whisk.

Now he continues, “…and then after it’s all mashed, we’ll make a cake out of it, and then we can put it in the oven and cook it for ten minutes!”

Oh yes…you can imagine how much he was whetting my appetite!  But I stifled my laugh.  Just as I was going to come up with a gentle explanation as to why that wouldn’t taste good, I thought to myself, “What would it hurt to let him find out for himself?”

All the stars seemed to be aligned for this special project.  We weren’t going anywhere, and I had the two ingredients.  The celery we had needed to be used up anyway.  In addition to this, the two-year-old was in a rare, independent mood and went upstairs to play by himself for a while.

I laid out a cutting board, a big bowl, the masher and whisk.  Then I cleaned a few sticks of celery and leaves of lettuce.  I also gave my son a little knife to cut the celery with.  My five-year-old is a cautious fellow, so if he knows something can hurt him, he’s very careful with it.

He stood on our step stool and went to work on his own recipe.  He was very serious about it.  I heard him counting the small pieces of celery he chopped and added to the bowl.  At first he said he’d use nine pieces, but as he continued to work, he decided he needed more celery, and I cleaned a couple more stalks.  He ripped up the lettuce into small pieces too.

He discovered that it’s very hard to mash celery.  At this point I suggested that he chop the pieces smaller.  He tried that, but I think it was too much work.  He went back to the masher.

To my surprise, celery can be mashed if you keep at it a very long time. My son worked diligently for almost an hour.  It gave me time to fold the laundry.

Finally the concoction was ready, but he said it needed water.  We decided half a cup would do, and then I gave him a small casserole dish.  He poured it in there, patted it down, and then I baked it at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

After it cooled down, we had the big taste test.  My son took a bite, and though his expression was subtle, I wish I had videotaped it.  After some contemplation, he admitted it wasn’t so good.  But I knew it was a good day, and I’ll always remember the look of joy and determination on my son’s face while he was making his “celery and lettuce cake.”

Kelly O. Sullivan (@KellyOSullivan), a friend of mine on Twitter said, “That attitude of ‘try again but tweak’ is at the heart of science and experimentation.”  So it is, but when my son said, “Maybe it will taste better if we put something else on top of it,” I finally snickered.  Sometimes you gotta teach them when to cut loose.

Educational Television for Children, Part 3 of 3

Part 3 of Will Too Much T.V. Hurt My Children?

This is what happens when we get busy and forget about our afternoon T.V. time! —–>

I thought I’d follow-up my series about watching television with a list of the shows that my kid’s love to watch.  There are, of course, more great shows out there, but this is what we’ve been able to watch via Apple TV/Netflix.  Most of these you can access on Netflix, but there’ s a few we purchased on iTunes that you can’t get on Netflix – I put a star next to those.

If you aren’t already aware of either Apple TV, the Roku Box, or similar gadget, I highly recommend it.  The gadget isn’t too expensive, and if you can get Netflix on it, it’s only $8 a month to have access to some great programming.  All the nature shows listed below were found on Netflix. If you have questions, feel free to e-mail me!

What isn’t listed here:  the movies my kids watch, the sitcoms we occasionally watch together, or shows that they’ve only watched once or twice.  What is listed below makes up 95% of what they watch, and they have watched the kid’s programs over and over.  They usually pick a show and watch through all the episodes we have access to.  Right now my eldest is in a Curious George marathon.

To find out how often my boys watch T.V. and how I regulate it, go to my last post.

Shows they watch on their own:

  • Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse* ~ Very first show for both my boys at the age of 2. The five-year-old still likes it.
  • My Friends Tigger and Pooh* ~ Very prosocial, I believe.
  • Curious George
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Kipper
  • Word World*
  • Disney’s little einstein’s*
  • Super Why! ~ Probably one of the best with helping to learn how to read.
  • Caillou
  • Backyardigans
  • Dora the Explorer
  • Go Diego Go
  • Thomas and Friends
  • Bob the Builder
  • Walking with the Dinosaurs ~ This is probably not for everyone or for very young children.  My oldest son didn’t watch these until he was little older, and it’s only been recently that the 2-year-old started liking them. (No, make that loving them.)  It’s a documentary-like program with computer generated dinosaurs recreating what life might have been for the dinosaurs.  It can be rather gruesome at times too. (We let them watch Walking with the Dinosaurs on their own because we’ve watched with them enough to explain what’s happening.)

A note about nature shows:  Programs depicting how animals live (or how prehistoric animals might have lived) can be violent and sad, but frankly I think super heroes or other adult shows are just as bad, if not worse.

As a typical boy, my five-year-old picked out the animal-eating-other-animal after watching just one or two nature shows, and that is what most of his make-believe is about.  Neither of us introduced it or encouraged it (except for letting him watch nature shows).  It just happened.  I think no matter what he watched or what we hide from him, he’s going to find some way to let this natural, boy aggressive behavior out.

Frankly, I would rather he pretend about animals rather than pretend-play with guns.  My boys don’t watch super-hero cartoons or anything else like that.  For the record, I think stories with super heroes can have some very good, moral lessons in them, but I’m glad we happened to navigate to the world of animals in our house.  Though life in the wild can be cruel, my son understands that animals have to do these things to survive.  He’s learning about the natural world through a scientist’s eyes, and he’s developing a keen appreciation for nature while learning that life is not easy either.

Here are some wonderful documentaries we’ve been able to watch on Netflix.  I think I’ll add to this list as we watch more because it makes for good record-keeping for my son’s portfolio.  (Opps. I haven’t kept this promise – see below.) They are in no particular order, but I put my favorites on top.  Actually, I loved them all!

  • National Geographic: Climbing Redwood Giants
  • National Geographic: Gabon: The Last Eden
  • National Geographic: American Serengeti
  • Nature: Wolverine
  • All of David Attenborough’s wildlife specials (BBC)
  • Turtle: The Incredible Journey
  • The Last Continent
  • Colossal Squid
  • National Geographic: Antarctica Wildlife Adventure
  • National Geographic: Incredible Human Machine
  • Discover Planet Ocean
  • Discover: Prehistoric Planet
  • Journey Into Amazing Caves: IMAX
  • Animal Planet: Safari
  • Beavers: IMAX
  • National Geographic: Creepy Creatures ~ good for Halloween
  • Lizard Kings: On the Trail of the Monitor Lizards: NOVA (PBS)
  • National Geographic: Secret Yosemite
  • National Geographic: Bear Island
  • Wolves in Pardise
  • National Geographic: Thunderbeast
  • At Close Range with National Geographic
  • Antarctic Mission
  • National Geographic: Eden at the End of the World
  • National Geographic: Big Sur: Wild California

Please tell me about any shows I should watch that isn’t listed here!

UPDATE March 2013:  I’m sorry I haven’t kept my promise to update this list, but recently I have begun a Pinterest board of our favorite Netflix shows which I’m adding to (with commentary) as we watch them. Check it out here.

What’s A Mama To Do Without Nap Time?

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal April 11, 2012.  For more information about how I’m dealing with the loss of nap time in our homeschooling routine, scroll to the bottom of this post.

For most mothers, nap time is our saving grace.  For those mothers with babies who don’t nap, I don’t know how they do it.  My five-year-old was a wonderful sleeper as a baby and toddler.  He gave me about 10 hours at night and a 2-3 hour nap time every afternoon. I’m sure I didn’t know how luxurious that was.

When my five-year-old was three, he began to resist nap time.  It became clear that he was transitioning out of them.  I still needed my nap, however, so I took my mother’s advice and created “quiet time.”  I told my son he would need to play quietly upstairs for a while by himself.

This worked well, and I think it helped him learn how to entertain himself.  Sometimes I would find him upstairs asleep on the floor beside his toys, but at least I didn’t have to fight him to go to sleep.  Other days he didn’t need a nap, so he played for an hour and then came downstairs.

I was preparing myself to have an opposite experience with my second child, but I was blessed with another good sleeper.  (Thank you!)  The only difference is that his naps have been shorter, and he’s transitioned out of them much earlier than his brother.

I knew a few months ago that he probably didn’t need his naps because he would lay awake in his crib until late in the night “singing.”  Sometimes he’d call us in there a few times too.  I resisted not giving him a nap though.  Not only did I use that time to do one-on-one work with my five-year-old, I also used part of it as break time for myself.

As other mothers have also told me, it’s kind of a frightful moment to realize that daily nap times are almost over.  We wonder how will we ever live without it?

Even as I dreaded losing nap time, I knew that it was a silly thing to worry about.  Look at all the mothers with older children who don’t nap anymore…they have survived!

As it turned out, transitioning out of nap time was much harder for me than it was for my two-year-old.  Unlike his older brother, he never resisted going down for a nap, but once I let him not nap, he won’t go back.  We had a few days when he got pretty cranky in the afternoon without his nap, but sometimes he was like that anyway, so who knows?

So no more naps, and no more singing at night… He’s out like a light!  But how is mama holding up?  Actually, not bad.  It’s been very freeing to give up nap time.  Suddenly I have a huge space in the day when I can take the boys to the store or do an extra project with them.  There’s no rushing home for nap time or worrying how to get something done around it.

As far as my one-on-one time with my five-year-old, that has changed a bit. (See below for more information about that.) For now we’re sticking to things that his younger brother can join in too, but over the next few months I hope to figure out a new homeschool schedule.

Sometimes the five-year-old will grumble about his little brother interrupting his projects, but for the most part, we’ve been able to let him work alongside us.  When my son wants to make something with paper and scissors, the two-year-old gets busy cutting up bits of paper too.  (Can bits of paper scattered on the floor be considered a new fashion décor?)

Sometimes I’m the one who’s too hesitant to try something new with the two-year-old.  The other day my eldest son insisted that we try dissecting his human body model with his brother – something we always did while he was napping because I was afraid body parts would be flying all over the room.

To my surprise, the two-year-old was very careful with the pieces and curious about the whole process.  Only once I had to threaten a time out when he refused to give back the liver and stomach.  If you think about it, losing nap time isn’t half as bad as the day they’re gonna tell me they want to dissect a real frog or something like that!

Note: That was my column.  Below is some more information about how I’m dealing with the loss of nap time in our homeschooling routine.

Here’s a debrief of my thoughts about losing nap time:

  • Whaa!!
  • Okay, it’s nothing to cry about.  It actually gives us more freedom because I don’t have to work around the two-year-old’s naps.
  • At first, I didn’t worry about doing any formal lessons with my five-year-old.  I was already pretty laid back about this, and I wrote about how I conducted our homeschool in this post.
  • It’s springtime, and I feel pretty certain that every year during spring, we’re going to change our routine. It’s a priority of mine to let my boys spend a lot of time outside.  We still have book time, we create, we tell stories, and they play, play, play.  That’s all we need to do right now.
  • But recently I have been considering how to work in a small amount of time dedicated to the basics: reading and math.  Then I noticed that my two-year-old liked to sit quietly and watch his older brother play on the computer.  So I signed up for the paid portion of  This is a wonderful site, and we’ve used it a lot in the past.  (There’s a lot on there that’s free, but they’ve added much more, including math, and they are only charging $35 a year for access to it.  Not a bad deal, if your child likes it.)  Twice I’ve sat down with my five-year-old, and we’ve read through two or three, short Starfall “books.”  My two-year-old has been in the room with us, and he likes to watch while at the same time playing with puzzles or other things in our activity room.  Don’t get me wrong – he is distracting.  But my five-year-old gets distracted no matter what when he has to sound out a word he doesn’t know.  This is why I don’t push more than two or three books at a time.
  • The site also has a lot of entertaining but educational math songs, nursery rhymes, etc.  So my thought is that we’ll spend a little time at the computer when we can, and I’ll make sure the five-year-old gets some practice reading.  Then we’ll have fun exploring the site.  It will be “school” for both of them.
  • My plan is to work this into our morning schedule between book time and our puppet shows.
  • Of course, this is all a work in progress.  I’ve just started doing this, and I don’t know what it will look like next month or next year.  I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
But Wait!?  You might be wondering: what about Mama’s Nap Time?  What about her Free time?  This is a subject for an upcoming blog post, but the short answer is that I let my boys watch T.V. in the afternoons (and evenings).  I hope you’ll stick with me because I’ll confess it all and explain why I don’t think T.V. hurts them…

How have you changed your routine as your children transition out of nap time?

Homeschooling Kindergarten Math


Note:  Below is my column as it appeared in the March 28, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.  Scroll down to find some other helpful links and ways that I’ve tried to teach math.

When I was a young girl, I was gently reprimanded for using my fingers to do math.  I had to do it in my head.  Throughout school, I never liked math, and I never did well in it.  I sat in the back of the room during high school geometry, and I barely listened to the teacher.  For algebra, the teacher was my high school’s football coach, and I remember him bellowing out instructions like he was on the football field.

In college I majored in English, and one of my professors said, “English majors are notorious for hating math.”  I was only required to take one math class in college, and I waited until my senior year to take it.  The teacher was excellent, and my study skills had improved remarkably by that year. I got an A in the class.

Even now, math is not my forte.  If I have to figure out how much to tip someone, it will take me much longer than most people.

But just because it takes me longer to figure out simple math, doesn’t mean that I can’t do it.  While reading Discover Your Child’s Learning Style, I discovered that I’m a very strong visual learner.  Though I knew I was visual, it surprised me at how much this learning style was dominant for me.

I started thinking about how I add, and although I don’t count on my fingers anymore, I actually visualize them in my head when I’m adding simple numbers.  So, I guess I showed those teachers!

I’m not sure how math is taught in school now, but I’m aware that several math curriculums available to homeschoolers use manipulatives for learning addition and subtraction.  Using beads or small blocks, a student is allowed to move the pieces around and actually see that two beads plus two beads equal four beads.  I don’t ever remember getting to use something like that as a child.

I don’t know if you can make someone like math if they aren’t good at it, but as I think about how I want to teach my boys math at home, I know I’m going to do everything I can so that it’s engaging.  I want to show them how we use math everyday, and if they want to use their fingers, you can bet I’ll let them.

My five-year-old is very creative and loves stories, so I purchased the first two books in a series called Life of Fred.  They aren’t too expensive, and the books are comprehensive through college-level math.

Life of Fred teaches math through a story about a character named Fred.  It’s funny and quirky, and my five-year-old loves it, and he even asks to do more.  It’s easy to do one chapter in less than an hour, and I like that there are only a few problems to work out at the end of each chapter.

The second book has proven to be a little beyond my son’s ability at this time, so I’ve decided to wait awhile before we work through it.  In the meantime, I’m doing a few other things to teach him math.

At the library, we found the shelf with all the preschool and kindergarten level math books, and I’ve been checking them out and reading them at a leisurely pace. Some of the books are easier for him than others, but he seems to like learning about numbers through story.  I try to get him to work out some of the equations, but I help him when needed.

He is an auditory and visual learner, so I downloaded some math songs to play on my iPod in the car, and we’ve watched several YouTube videos about math.  I also try to teach him math while we’re cooking or baking together.

Before I started doing these things, I thought I was losing him because one bad day he told me that math wasn’t fun.  After stopping the formal lessons and instead trying the story books and music, he delighted me one day by writing several equations on a piece of paper.  He drew smiley faces:  two smiley faces + three smiley faces = five smiley faces.

My husband and I were pleasantly surprised and it confirmed my opinion that children learn best when they aren’t forced to learn.  Introduce them to ideas, books, educational television, and most importantly, show them how this stuff is used in everyday life.  They will catch on and learn it at their own pace.

Note:  So that was my column as it appeared in the March 28, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.  Below are some helpful links and other ways I’ve tried to teach math.

  • As I mentioned in the column, we love Life of Fred.  We have worked through Life of Fred: Apples, and we’re going to save Life of Fred: Butterflies for next year.  (For those of you who are secular homeschoolers, you may want to know that a Christian company publishes these.  I have not seen many references to Christianity in the books, and so far what I have seen has not bothered me.  If you order the books, you will receive some advertisements for other, Christian publications they offer.)
  • Last year I purchased an inexpensive poster (less than $3) of the numbers 1-100 at a local teacher’s store. My son really enjoyed looking at it when we first purchased it, and it’s been helpful along the way too.  Counting by 5s is a challenge for him at this point, but I’m glad I have the chart to refer to when trying to explain these concepts.
  • I’ve had some success with the math books we’ve found at the library.  Some of the titles we found were:
      • Patterns by Hammersmith, Craig.
      • Patterns by Pistoia, Sara.
      • My two book by Moncure, Jane Belk. – There’s a series of these books, and while they are preschoolish, there was enough simple math in them to make it worthwhile for my five-year-old, I thought.
      • My five book by Moncure , Jane Belk.
      • Give me half! by Murphy, Stuart J. – Excellent book.  My five-year-old loved it.
      • The Hershey’s Kisses subtraction book by  Pallotta, Jerry.
      • Springtime addition by Fuller, Jill
      • Making change at the fair by Dalton, Julie
      • Measurement by Pistoia, Sara. – After this book, my five-year-old wanted to use the measuring tape to measure things around the house.
      • Math for all seasons : mind-stretching math riddles by Tang, Greg. – Challenging and worthwhile for my five-year-old.
      • There are many other math books, and I hope to make use of many of them!  You can find several on Amazon.
  • Audio Memory Math Songs (I purchased only the songs on Amazon.)
  • Some YouTube videos the boys enjoy:
  • We received Inchimals for a Christmas gift, and my five-year-old loves them!  Unfortunately we haven’t made using them a habit.
  • I have purchased Eat Your Math Homeworkbut we haven’t used it yet.  However, whenever I cook with my five-year-old, I try to emphasize how we measure and count the ingredients.
  • As you can see in the photo, we have a bucket of little vehicles that have been invaluable to me as I teach my son math skills.  We have used them while working through the Life of Fred math books, and I even used them the other day when I incorporated math into one of our puppet shows.  (More about that in a future post!)  These were a gift and also purchased at a local teacher’s supply store.
  • When my son was younger, we used some preschool workbooks, and I’ve also used some inexpensive flash cards, but not very often.
  • We also have several computer programs and apps that teach math, but since there are so many out there, I’m sure you’re already aware of this.  I pretty much let my son play with these on his own, though I think they would be more helpful if I sat with him while he was working through the problems.
  • Other than this, I try to catch the teachable moments and make him figure out simple, everyday math in his head.

Similar to how I have taught beginning reading, I have used resources that were available to me or inexpensive.  I consider it all a work in progress, and as he gets older, I’ll try to find other resources to fill in the gaps.

What recommendations do you have for teaching early math skills?

How I’ve Taught Kindergarten Reading


I’ve written a lot about how I haven’t pressed too much formal learning on my five-year-old.  I believe playing, fostering his imagination, and letting him acquire a love of stories and books is the most important part of Kindergarten.

I tried short, formal lessons though, and it worked for a while, but now I’ve stopped.  This is partly because my two-year-old has stopped taking naps and we’re having an early, beautiful spring, but mostly because he was struggling to stayed focused, and I feared he would start to hate reading (math too).  Since he’s above his grade level anyway (his birthday is late August, and he would begin Kindergarten this coming fall, if I were enrolling him in public school), I’m certainly not going to worry about letting him go at his own pace.

To give you an idea of where we’re at, he is a master at the ABCs & phonics.  He can sound out many simple words, though he is often reluctant to do so.  He knows several sight words.  He still struggles when reading early readers, though.  He is good at reading the online books at

This is what I’ve done to get him this far.  Click on the links to learn more:

  • My five-year-old learned the ABCs very early, around 21~22 months.  It was part of our everyday fun.  (Don’t worry if your child didn’t learn the ABCs this fast. My two-year-old still doesn’t know them. He’s a completely different kind of learner.)
  • To be honest, I don’t remember how he learned the phonics.  I think he taught himself!
  • We worked through Lesson 70 of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  (That’s the longest and most formal of all the reading lessons I’ve done with him.)
  • Sometimes we play the sight word game that I made up.
  • He has watched Meet the Sight Words 1 from Preschool Prep Company several times.  (This was a gift, and he likes it.  I haven’t bought the others in the series though.)  If you have an auditory/visual learner like my son, these may be worth looking into.
  • I’ve sat with him and had him try to read early readers.  We’ve got many books, but I especially like the We Both Read books.  Since he struggles to focus, I only make him read 2~3 pages at a time.
  • We used Progressive Phonics for a while, and I really like it, but we’ve gotten out of the habit. (PP is FREE!) (Thanks to For Love of Education for telling me about PP!)
  • Recently I went back to In the past I’ve let him play with Starfall on his own, but now I sit with him and do one line at a time (if you go to this page, you’ll see how each line is numbered.)  He can do the quizzes and read the books well, and I think it’s a good review/practice for him.  As we have time, I’ll keep doing this.  He likes it as long as I don’t push him too hard. (SF is FREE, but they’ve added more to it that is accessible via subscription, but it’s reasonably priced.  I’ve considered signing up for it, and I may in the future, since my son likes the site.)

None of this includes the exposure he gets to reading and phonics through other means, such as books I read to him, computer/iPod games, and television shows he watches.  Though he hasn’t asked to play on the computer/iPod in a long time, he does love educational television shows.  Right now he’s on a Super Why! kick, which has to be one of the best shows that teaches reading.  Another good one in regards to sounding out and building words is Word World.  He has watched that quite a bit.

As you can see, if you want a solid, how-to teach my child to read, I’m not the blogger you should read.  I have tried different things because 1) I had them or I could afford them, and 2) my son liked them.  I watch my son closely to see what he likes and doesn’t like, and I ask him too.

For now, this works for me, although I have great respect for those who need a curriculum plan laid out for them.  I completely understand how we need that sometimes, and we each have different personalities, organizational and learning styles.  As we teach our children, we have to find what works best for them and us.  Otherwise, we’ll get over-anxious, frustrated, and that will not help the learning process for sure!

What are your favorite resources for beginning reading?

Stay tuned!  Next week I’m writing a column about math!

Intentional Reading Using Georgia’s PINES Online Library Catalog

This is a follow-up to my previous post Fostering a Book Time Ritual.


I love the library.  What homeschooler does not like the library!?  However, I noticed over the past year that we were not going to the library as much as I had imagined we would when I started to have children.  Play dates, errands, chores…everything piles up, and it’s hard to find time for something extra.  On top of that, we have plenty of books at home.

But then one day I overheard a homeschooling mom say that she would bring a small wagon to the library to carry the books that she and her children checked out.   That image stuck with me, and I asked myself, “Why am I not using our library more?”

We have a wonderful, little library less than a ten-minute drive from our house.  NOTHING ELSE is that close to use!  I have to drive twenty minutes to the grocery store and close to thirty minutes for everything else.  Sometimes I complain about that, but I have no excuses when it comes to the library.

Even though this library is very small (probably no bigger than the downstairs of my house), it has a great selection of children’s books.  But even better, it’s connected to the PINES Online Library Catalog, and libraries throughout Georgia are part of the Pines System.

If you live in Georgia, you need to learn more about this wonderful service.  You can place books on hold through the PINES website, and they will be delivered to your home library at no expense.  You can return them to any library in the PINES system.  This means you get to browse books at more than 275 libraries!  Waiting for the books to arrive may take some time, but I have not had a problem with that.

I also learned that I can checked out up to 50 books on one card! I’m sure systems like this are available in other places, so be sure to ask at your local library!

There are other, larger libraries that we visit too.  We call the Athens-Clarke Library the “big library,” and my boys love to go there.  This is what I have decided when it comes to using the libraries:

  • If you are searching for books on a specific topic, such as “planets” or “weather” or “math” then go to the library and search for the shelf with those books.
  • However, if you are searching for a specific title, go to the Internet and order it through the PINES catalog.  Because I have trouble finding specific titles when I’m at the library.  One of the books the librarian searched for me had been missing from their shelf for over a year.

Intentional Reading/Generating Reading Lists for Your Children

So what books am I checking out for my five-year-old who is a homeschooled kindergartener?  I already explained how he loves non-fiction books in my last post, and I’m using book time to cover certain “kindergarten” topics such as the solar system and the weather/water cycle, etc.

But I’ve decided I wanted to be more proactive about what kind of literature I’m going to chose for him too.  Don’t get me wrong – the best way to start using the library is to go there and let your children pick whatever books they want!  I’m just adding to that.

To get me started, I found two resources that I love:

  • DAWCL or Database of Award-Winning Children’s Literature – Lisa R. Bartle is a librarian who came up with the idea for this wonderful database.  The best part about it is the search parameters.   You can search by age, setting, historical period, ethnicity of protagonist or tale, languages, genre and more!  If you are studying a specific topic, this is a wonderful resource!  I generated a list of multicultural early readers for my son because one of my goals is teaching international education.
  • The second resource is something I had been wishing for: 75 Books That Build Character was put together by Allison McDonald on No Time for Flash Cards(I thank Ahimsa Mama for tipping me off to this list….Click on her link for other good reading resources.)  Not only have I been wanting to be more selective about the books I pick for my son, I had also been wanting to find a resource for character building – teaching him how to be good, humble, honest, etc.  So I’ve started ordering a few of these books through the interlibrary loan.  We already read the first title, Shelia Rae, The Brave, by Kevin Henkes, and my son loved it.

I’m sure I could accomplish the same goals just by reading as many books to him as I can get my hands on, and I’ll continue to do that.  But I am a planner/organizer, and as I think about our homeschool mission, it feels good to have goals and lists to work through.

Do you have any resources to share on generating great reading lists for children? 

(And psssst…..There will be a free give-away later next week on my blog for mothers who want to nurture their creativity! So stay tuned!)

Fostering a Book Time Ritual

You may also be interested in these posts:

How I’ve Taught Kindergarten Reading  and  Homeschooling Reading and Language Arts for Kindergarten/1st Grade

I think the most important part of an education is allowing children to develop a love of books.  Through books children will learn.  This is why it’s one of my main priorities, and even when we can’t follow through on the other homeschool priorities I have for them, I always find time for book time.

Making Books Accessible

My husband and I have been reading to both boys since they were about 1½, mostly at night before bed, but also during the day.  When my first-born was about two years old, I cleared a low shelf in my bookcase and made that the shelf for the children’s books.  This way, my son could easily look at the books whenever he wanted.

Later we converted our dining room into the “activity room,” and we bought some used bookshelves and painted them.  We have accumulated quite a few children’s books through gifts from relatives each birthday and Christmas, and I am a big fan of library book sales and used books bins.  Occasionally I have bought a book full price when I had a specific need.

Making books easily accessible has been key to allowing my sons to develop a natural love of them.  They seek out the books just like they do toys. 

I don’t think you need a lot of books to do this.  I just think you need to keep them accessible.  Lately I have been making good use of our local library system, and I keep a big stack of library books on a small, separate bookshelf so that I don’t lose track of them.  I’ll write more about how I use the library in my next post.

The Book Time Ritual

We read books everyday right after breakfast.  I call out, “Let’s do book time!  Everybody pick a book!”  Letting everyone pick a book (or books) is essential:

  • The two-year-old gets to pick his favorite books – those same books over and over and over again.  Sigh.  Yet I know this is normal and healthy, and it’s creating a love of books for him.
  • The five-year-old gets to pick something he’s excited about.  Thankfully he is past the stage of always picking the same book.  He usually picks the library books that he chose when we were at the library.  He likes non-fiction.  This week he wanted books about the solar system and also Native Americans.
  • I get to pick 1) something different, which is key to keeping me awake and enthusiastic about book time, and 2) something educational (yet fun) that I’m trying to work on with the five-year-old.  Though my son is picking really cool, educational stuff, I have some “goals” I’m working on, which I’ll talk more about in a minute.

Many of the picture books I pick can keep both of my boy’s attention, but frequently while I’m reading the two-year-old’s choices, the five-year-old gets bored and starts playing on his own.  It also happens the other way around.  This is okay with me.  What is tricky is that the books I read to the five-year-old are longer, and the two-year-old doesn’t always go off to play nicely by himself.  He makes noise or goes into the refrigerator and brings back food he wants to eat — My five-year-old and I have to endure a lot of interruptions.  I simply do the best I can with this.  Sometimes we put a bookmark in the longer books and go back to it later.  

Meeting Educational Goals Through Book Time

I have said many times that I don’t think formal lessons are necessary at this age (my boys are 5 and 2), but through books I find that I can cover a lot of educational goals that the five-year-old would be learning if he were in Kindergarten.  (Note: I wouldn’t start him in Kindergarten until this coming fall, if he were attending public school.)  Curling up on the sofa with some good books is a very no-pressure way of teaching, and so far my five-year-old son is very interested in all the non-fiction books we’ve read.  By seeking these out at the library, we’ve been covering these subjects this past year.  (All of these subjects will eventually get their own blog post.  I’ll add links as I write them.)

  • The solar system: As you might imagine, there are plenty of books about the solar system and different planets at the library.
  • The weather: I also found a lot of good books about the weather at the library, particularly about the water cycle, which was fun and easy for my five-year-old to understand.  He also picked out books about hurricanes and tornadoes, which interested him very much.
  • Math: I have pulled back on formal lessons with math, and I’m just reading math picture books to the five-year-old.  There are many of them to choose from.  There’s even a series about each number that includes some simple addition.  My son enjoys them, and I think it’s helping him realize that math can be fun.
  • Literature: This is my favorite and easiest to take care of!  The library is brimming with storybooks!  Any book will do!  But I have taken a more intentional role with choosing which books I’ll read, and I’ve found some resources to help me.  I’ll write about that in my very next post. 

Please stay tuned! You can sign up for my RSS feed or sign up to receive my posts by e-mail in the right hand margin.  

How do foster a love of reading in your home?

Boys Like to Build

Once after watching an episode of Bob the Builder, the five-year-old told me he wanted to build a bridge. Who says TV is bad for kids?!

Thanks to Lori of Camp Creek Blog I tuned into the fact that boys like to build.  Boys like hands-on activities.  (Of course, lots of girls do too!) Building fosters their creativity, organizational and problem solving skills.

At her suggestion, I started of a box of building supplies, which you can see in my photo down below.  You might like to do this too, especially since it’s a great way to recycle!  Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:

  • cardboard from old boxes, cereal boxes, etc.
  • empty boxes
  • paper towel and toilet paper tubes
  • gallon jugs
  • string
  • popsicle sticks
  • wine corks
  • scrap paper
  • old bottles
  • clothes pins
  • toothpicks
  • anything laying around the house that looks useful!

I try to let my son run with his ideas, although he often comes up with ideas that are impossible to implement.  Without discouraging him too much, I remind him of what materials we have and don’t have, and I tell him when my skills are limited. Sometimes I have to tell him that we simply can’t do what he’s asking.  Then I suggest going another route.  I’m finding it very rewarding to sit back and let him find out for himself what works and doesn’t work.  I do have to help him a lot, but I let him instruct me as to what I’m supposed to do!  (Pssst: I’m getting better at not making suggestions. See Building the Titanic: Project-based Homeschooling.)

He can be quite the perfectionist, so if something falls apart on him, he can get quite upset.  Then I make suggestions too, and I keep telling him that he just has to try another way.  I’m hoping over time that his angst will lessen!

I try very hard not to micro-manage when he “builds.” I was very impressed with how he “measured” the bridge with a measuring tape,and then he counted the popsicle sticks to make sure they were the same size on both sides.

I’ve also begun to slowly accumulate some inexpensive store bought art materials on hand:

  • various sizes of construction paper and poster paper
  • special art paper such as watercolor paper
  • watercolor paints and pencils
  • crayons & markers
  • extra scissors & glue
  • paints and brushes
  • air-dry modeling clay
  • craft thread, squares of fabric & fabric scissors
  • felt
  • little wooden sticks and cubes
  • googly eyes
  • sparkly sequins etc.
  • stickers
  • colorful feathers
  • pastels
  • anything fun

Our box of building supplies.

In my attempt to allow the boys ample freedom yet also preserve paper, I keep a box for the scrap paper. We reuse as much as possible.

To my pleasant surprise, and before I even showed my five-year-old the box of building supplies, he announced one night that he wanted to make a rocket.  I have no idea where he got this desire, but I was so happy to have that box with a paper towel tube in it!  So I showed him the box, and ever since then, he’s frequently wanted to make something.  

The Rocket. Making things pretty is definitely a girl thing. I always suggest that we complete these projects by painting them or covering them with paper, but the five-year-old doesn’t care for that. He wants a simple structure that he can play with right away.

Sometimes he comes up with his own ideas.  Other times he finds something to build with and asks, “What can I make with this?”  The piggy bank was one such item where we started out with a gallon jug and searched for an idea.  EcoArt! by Laurie Carlson is a book that we were given one Christmas, and it’s full of great ideas.

Piggy Bank made from gallon jug and wine corks. Five-year-old did want to decorate this with stickers – his favorite!

So here’s a picture portfolio of some of his work thus far.  If you are wondering, “Where will she put all this stuff?” that’s a very good question.  I’m wondering that myself!  (Suggestions or advice will be much appreciated!)  Eventually we’ll be able to weed through some of this.  We’ll keep a few things and throw the rest away, but I think my son might build at a rate that I can’t keep up with!  It’ll be fun to see what happens, though.

octopus made with toilet paper tube, felt and googly eyes

Popsicle stick creations! My son made this, and it’s supposed to be a raft, although we haven’t tried to make it float.

This one worked well, though! Thank goodness my boys like to eat a lot of popsicles.

A blowhorn. Don’t know where he got the idea to make this. But it works well. Unfortunately.

Like the five-year-old at that age, my two-year-old loves to just cut paper. This is where that scrap paper box comes in real handy.

And we still love to make paper animals, which I wrote about when my son was doing preschool work.  The scrap paper box is essential for that.

How do you encourage your children to create?

Setting Our Homeschool Priorities for Two Boys, ages 5 & 2

In my last post I shared our homeschool mission statement and how I brainstormed what was most important to me to teach my children.  But how does that look on a day-to-day basis while my boys are five and two-years-old?  Obviously I’m not going to teach everything all at once.   Instead, I sorted out what my priorities are for them at this time.

I should note that I’m mainly referring to my five-year-old when I talk about specific things I’m teaching.  My two-year-old is happily tagging along and I involve him in what I can.

So what are my priorities for my five-year-old, a.k.a. Kindergartener?  I have read some blogs by homeschoolers with children this age, and it  amazes me what they are doing! I’m impressed how they spend a good portion of their day on “homeschool” whether they use a curriculum or various resources. At first I was inclined to think we weren’t doing enough, but then something occurred to me.  Usually these other families had one or more girls.  Maybe there was a boy in the mix, but there was always a girl. Having two boys, I know there is no way we could sit down and do formal lessons for more than say….twenty minutes (give or take)! Maybe it’s just my two boys, but having read many resources about boys, I’m inclined to believe gender can make a difference. (Though I think some girls can be this way too!) Of course, family dynamics can make a difference too, and every family has to figure out what works for them. I made this list for myself to sort out what is most important for my five-year-old at this time. (And, honestly, if I had a girl, I think these would be my priorities too.)

All of these are equally important to me.  Click the links to go to the follow up post on each topic.

  • Imagination/Play/Motion – Let him use his imagination and be in motion as much as he needs to be. Allowing for a lot of movement and having ample space for that is especially important for young kids.
  • Literature – Immerse him in books and storytelling.
  • Exploration/Nature – Let him explore the world and get into nature as much as possible.
  • How to find answers – Encourage him to ask questions and teach him how to find answers.
  • Spend quality, stress-free time together – Use our time wisely.  Don’t over schedule the kids or myself.  Allow for plenty of time at home for free, unstructured playtime.  Allow for quiet time in the afternoons.
  • Teach responsibility/involve him in my work – I explain why we (mom and dad) need to work, why we all need to take care of our (only) home, and I plan to engage him more in the work/hobbies that I enjoy like blogging and photography.

Notice that except for literature, I didn’t mention any academic subjects.  This is because I don’t feel academics should be a priority for a five-year-old.   However, I am teaching my son reading and math right now, and I do think this is important.  These formal lessons are short and slow-paced, and I’ll explain the why, what and how of that in a future post.

And as I mentioned above, I’ll be following up this post with a series on how I accomplish all of these things.  I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and stay tuned!  Thank you for stopping by!

Please tell me what your priorities are for your child whatever his/her age might be.