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?

Ladybug Pupa

We’ve been observing a lot of wildlife in our very own yard lately, though I think that’s because I have two inquisitive little boys who have the freedom to explore the yard often.  The other day my son was taking stems off our butterfly bush (because someone taught us how to propagate it), and he found something interesting attached to the underside of a leaf.  He came to me and said, “I think I found a ladybug pupa.”

I don’t even know where he learned that word, and I wasn’t sure he was right, but silly me, of course he was!  I looked up the life cycle of a ladybug on A Life Cycle App.  Sure enough, one of the pictures of the pupa stage looked exactly like what my son was holding in his hand.  It also said that it takes about one week before the adult ladybug emerges.

So, we put the sprig in a jar with a wee bit of water to keep the leaves alive, and we waited a week.  On the seventh day, we could see it moving.  On the eighth day, it came out!  It’s a yellow ladybug!

We took it back to the place where my son found it and released it.

What wild and wonderful things have you found in your yard?

Recording A Homeschool Student’s Progress: The Homeschool Portfolio, Part 1

{Homeschooling without a curriculum} {Eclectic Homeschooling} {Free print outs for your record keeping.}

Though I have seen countless blogs on the Internet offering advice on how to keep track of your child’s homeschool, I knew that I would have to come up with my own system or I wouldn’t stick to it.  So I write this post with a grain of salt and encourage you to do the same.  There’s no right or wrong here.

This past year was my “practice year” as I explained in my last post.  I’m really glad I took the effort to keep track of what we did because it has helped me create a system that I think I’ll stick with.

First of all, I don’t use a packaged curriculum.  I drew on different resources for my son’s “pre-kindergarten” year (which was actually kindergarten, and I’ll explain about that in my next post.)  Most people call this eclectic homeschooling.

I consulted a preschool and kindergarten “course of study” that used to be on the World Book Encyclopedia website.  I’m very disappointed they removed this page because it was very thorough, and upon reading whom they consulted to put it all together, I felt it was a good source.  Fortunately, Beverly Hernandez got permission to put this list on About.com before they took it down!  (Thank you, Beverly!)  You have to click on a lot of links to read all of it, but I’m grateful it’s there.  It’s comprehensive through the 12th grade.

I did not worry about covering everything on these lists, and I don’t think you should be either.  I was only intentional about teaching a few choice subjects: reading, math, the solar system, and the weather.  Everything else we covered through my son’s own interests!  Yes, that’s right!  (And I should note that after introducing him to the solar system and the weather, he took an interest in these subjects and we’ve done much more than I was planning.  Yay “mostly child-led”!) (Okay, so I’m intentional about storytelling too, but that doesn’t feel like work!)  Recently I went over these lists carefully, and I was able to check off every point except for one.  (Estimation, which is under math, so I’m doing that now.)

This is what I did this past year to keep track of our homeschool. To download these forms for free, see my printables page.

  • I created a Homeschool Chart that I kept on my desk at all times.  Across the top were all the subjects that I have to cover by law and other subjects important to me.  Since I walk by my desk several times a day, it was no problem checking off what we did and writing notes to help myself remember.
  • At the end of each week, I typed up a brief summery or Homeschool Journal.  I would list any books we read, chapters we covered, projects we worked on, outings, and classes.  Anything I thought was noteworthy. I knew I probably would not need all of these details, but I also felt it made a nice keepsake.
  • Last March I started an Excel spreadsheet for our Reading List.  I figured out that I can go online to my library account and copy and paste the list of book titles we checked out along with the author’s name and date we checked it out!  Then I put a checkmark next to them when we read them, or I deleted the row if we didn’t read it.  I keep another spreadsheet where I list books we own.  I’m adding to it as we read the books.
    • My strategy here was to take the stacks of books we read during “book time” and place them on my desk.  Then at some point during the day – or in the evening – I would update the spreadsheet.
  • Homeschool Portfolio:  I used a 3-ring binder to store the charts, the Homeschool Journal (which I printed out at the end of the year), some of my son’s work, the spreadsheets, pamphlets to places we’ve been, receipts for his classes and anything I bought for homeschooling. I plan to keep one binder for each year for each child. (I may just keep the past three years for our records, or I may consolidate them and keep some of it for a keepsake.)
    • I asked two facilitators from classes my son took to write up a brief report about him, and they were more than happy to do so.  I added these to the binder as well.

This sounds like a lot of work, but it didn’t feel like it because I came up with a strategy that worked for me.  I took the effort to make the chart and summary a habit, and I didn’t stress over fine details.

Last month (May 2012) I wrapped up the school year, and I wanted to commemorate it with a “pre-kindergarten” graduation.  To prepare for it, I wrote up a progress report as is required by Georgia law.  I’ll write more about that in the third part of this series, and I’ll share which parts of this record keeping I used and which parts I realized were not needed, and I’m debating whether or not to nix some of it.

I hope you’ll stay tuned by subscribing to my blog in the right-hand margin, and I hope you’ll share with me your record-keeping strategies!

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?

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.

***

OUR SNAKE PROJECT

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?