Our Thanksgiving Lapbook – LINKS LINKS LINKS!

Well, I guess you could say I’m a lapbooking convert.

We did our first lap book back in October and I loved the way it neatly tied our lessons together, so we are working on another now. What better subject to study in November than the first Thanksgiving?

I confess, up until this point, I hadn’t tried to communicate much of our nation’s history to Noodle. Last Thanksgiving she was a young three, so we kept it simple with “today is a day we say thank you to God.” But this year I’m going to give it a real go to teach her a little more about the origins of the holiday.

I didn’t really know where to begin with someone who had absolutely no context for history and very little idea of geography, so we started out by reading The Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving by Ann McGovern. Noodle was very interested to learn about how the Pilgrims lived, and asked over and over how they made their own soap. And THIS is why I love homeschool, people! I took myself to Hobby Lobby and bought a Something Fabulous Soap Making Kit for $12 (after 40% off coupon frequently found on Hobby Lobby’s website). Did the Pilgrims use melt and pour soap? No sirree they did not. But Noodle got to do something fun and we did make a lesson of how the Pilgrims would have done it, and about our modern conveniences. Plus, now we have some yummy, peppermint, candy-cane striped soap for Christmas time! Too bad we didn’t make enough to give as gifts.

We also picked up Squanto and the First Thanksgiving by Joyce K. Kessel at the library. I really would have preferred Metaxas’ Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving as God’s sovereignty is more emphasized in that telling, but it wasn’t available, so I had to do the lesson on how God saved Squanto for a purpose by myself. Not a big deal. Noodle enjoyed the story and I’m pretty sure she got the point.

Anyway, back to lapbooking. After my success with the simplicity of our first lapbook, I searched all over for a preschool-appropriate Thanksgiving lapbook kit. You know what? I couldn’t find a free one! So I decided to get ambitious and plan my own using free resources I could find from all over the internet. Noodle will reap the benefits of this for sure, but since I went to the trouble of finding all this stuff, I figured I might as well share it with you, too! If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out this post at 1+1+1equals1, which is also a culmination of links I found really helpful in planning my own page.

For the lapbook’s cover, we used this cute coloring page I found on a google search. On the left flap will be a TBD Native American coloring page and few sentences about Squanto. On the right flap will be a Thanksgiving Maze and a pocket for Pilgrim and Indian popsicle puppets we will make out of these coloring pages. (Noodle really has a thing for puppet theater these days.)

On top of the middle flap will be a “thankful turkey” on whose feathers Noodle can list the things for which she is thankful this year. Below that will (I hope) be a pocket for Thanksgiving Bingo cards and a baggie full of Indian corn kernels to use as the markers for the Bingo game. (As of right now the links at the blog for the Bingo game are down… Hoping they get those back up but if not, we will paste corn kernels onto something or other.) Hubbo picked up three “mini” ears of Indian corn at Smith’s (our Kroger store) for $1.99, and we tweezed the corn kernels off for a fine motor activity after discussing…

The colors of salvation Indian corn activity, which will go on the back of the top flap to be seen when it opens. Below that will be a copywork page of Noodle’s Thanksgiving memory verse from Awana, Psalm 118:29 – “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” (By the way, if you want to make your own copywork pages, I hope you’ve discovered this amazing tool! Noodle is in trouble now that I’ve found this…)

And finally, underneath the middle flap, we will be assembling our own paper Mayflower! Can you tell I’m pretty excited to get going on this project? Mama loves history!

What’s in a Day? Our K4 Schedule

I’ve said before that Noodle is somewhere between preschool and kindergarten, so for labeling purposes I’ll call what we do a K4 homeschool day. Basically, she can read, but not yet write. She knows her numbers, but not arithmetic. We are in that gap space right now where she is beyond many curricula, but doesn’t have the skills to accomplish others.

There’s a gap space, right? Is it just me? Or is this where the veteran homeschooling mom realizes that every child is different…?

Anyway, I promised a while back that I would make a post about what kind of activities actually fill our homeschool days. Here it is! I’m just trying my hand at this, so my disclaimer is that this schedule is very subject to change! But I know I am always wondering what other moms are doing with their kids, so I might as well share the imperfect routine we have in our house.

Because Noodle is such a young four and we are still two years away from being legally obligated to school, our schedule is flexible and doesn’t happen every day. But most days, this is how we roll:

7:00-8:30 – Wake up, morning chores, breakfast and family devotions (we use Long Story Short)

8:30-8:50 – Phonics: Read about our experience with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons here. When we finish the book we will use this time to play phonics games, work on sight words, and read aloud.

8:50-9:00 – Calendar Time: We start by singing the “Days of the Week” and “Months of the Year” songs, then use Confessions of a Homeschooler’s Preschool Pack. We end Calendar Time singing Daddy’s phone number and our address.

9:00-9:20 – Fine Motor Activities: Noodle is a little behind in this area, I think because she broke her arm (and my heart!) twice this summer. We do a variety of activities in this time including cutting, pasting, handwriting, lacing, etc.

9:20-9:40 – Math: Noodle can count and recognize her numbers up to 100, so right now we spend most of our math time focused on handwriting and ordinals. When she is more comfortable writing we will begin some addition activities.

9:40-10:00 – Unit Study: This space is flexible. Sometimes this is where we stop for the day and head out to run errands or go to the library. On Thursdays and/or Fridays we use it for Noodle’s Awana homework. As I write this blog, we work on the Days of Creation Lapbook in this space, but hopefully by the time you read it we will have moved on to a Thanksgiving study.

10:00 – Read Aloud: Noodle has fallen in love with The Chronicles of Narnia series, so we are making our way through those books right now. I hope to read The Secret Garden with her next. Daddy also does some read-alouds for us at night.

And then our day is done! It’s really only an hour and a half of “school” time but I feel like that is plenty for my four-year-old. For the rest of the day, Noodle is free to learn through play, paint to her heart’s content, watch a little TV (yeah, I said it), help in the kitchen, earn pennies by completing her chores, or whatever! She is a busy girl, so I don’t have to worry too much free time will bore her.

In the Homeschool ABCs, T is for Toddler Trouble

I am blogging, very slowly, from my husband’s iPad today. It is nestled somewhat covertly in my lap and every few seconds I am looking up to make contact with Squirt as she plays in the living room. She is pretty comfortable with this arrangement – for now – but the moment she realizes my attention is on something other than her, all will be lost.

I don’t have kids who play well independently.

Squirt at 10 Months

Squirt at 10 Months

Squirt is really only 11 months old, but since she started walking at nine months, I think of her as a toddler. At the same time, she is a very young toddler, and has higher attention needs than many six-month-olds I know. This means I have to be creative about making the time to homeschool Noodle when Squirt is around.

It’s been a trial and error endeavor. Noodle is herself easily distracted, so if I give Squirt something to keep her busy while Noodle is working on school, generally Noodle becomes so interested in the busy work that she gets nothing done. Squirt devours good literature – and by that I mean she literally eats books, even board books – so those are out of the question right now. I’d love to do most of Noodle’s schooling while Squirt naps, but sadly she isn’t very reliable on that front either. This morning she slept nearly three hours; some days I am lucky if I get 20 minutes.

Here are some of the ways we do manage to get schoolwork done during her waking hours:

  • Snacktime: Squirt likes to be near her sister, so if I need to work with Noodle at the table, Squirt can sit in her high hair with some Cheerios. Until she starts to throw them. In addition, I have the power of nursing on my side. Squirt still nurses like a newborn (remember how I said she was a high-needs kid?) so sometimes I just have to feed her to satisfy her need for mama love.
  • Art: Squirt is just learning how to make marks on paper with crayons and markers. She still needs to be closely supervised in this though as she hasn’t completely overcome the temptation to eat her writing instruments. Sometimes she is content to just carry around the tub of markers and shake it. 🙂
  • Free reign: if you’re getting a feel for Squirt’s character, it shouldn’t surprise you that she’s not content to hang out in a pack ‘n play or enclosed play area by herself. The word “screaming” doesn’t quite capture the essence of what we experience when we try to go that route, and believe me, we have tried. So since we have a one-story and an open concept floorplan, most days we just close all the bedroom/bathroom doors and let her wander. She is never out of sight for long and we have baby-proofed so that I feel sufficiently safe in this so long as the doors are closed.
  • Squirt and Me at the Pumpkin Patch

  • Babywearing: Some days, nothing will do but that I hold my littlest baby. In days like that I am beyond grateful for my Moby Wrap and Maya Wrap. I’ll outline the details on why I love them each in another post, but if you have a needy baby, buy one now! You will not be sorry.
  • Creative Location: I mentioned in my post about our reading lessons that I like to experiment with doing school in different places in the house. Such a surprisingly simple strategy actually solves lots of problems for us, whether it be helping Noodle to focus, giving me some time to work on different areas of the house, or keeping Squirt occupied with a change of scenery. Specifically, Noodle and I do reading lessons cuddled in my bed while Squirt is sleeping; we do a lot of read-aloud time in Noodle’s bed while Squirt plays with her dollhouse; and some independent projects, like painting or crafting, Noodle can do on her own in her room. When it’s warmer and Squirt is a little bigger, I plan to take school outside as well.

How do you homeschool with a baby in the house? Share your tips and strategies for keeping baby busy. I know I could use them!

Teaching My Child to Read in 50 Easy Lessons and 50 Frustrating Ones

I love to read. I don’t get to do much of it nowadays except for articles on homeschooling or parenting books, but when I have some time to myself, I love a good novel.

You’d think that someone who has never struggled reading would be able to teach a preschooler how to do it.

Give it a try – I dare you.

Noodle has known her ABCs since she was 18 months old and been able to recognize the alphabet since age two. By two-and-a-half she knew all the sounds the letters made. And then things slowed down. Where do you go from there? Even I am not ambitious enough to teach a two-year-old to read.

When Noodle turned three, Hubbo and I had our annual vision-casting meeting, and decided teaching her to read would be one of our goals for the next year. She had the tools in her toolbox already, so it seemed like the next step. With no real appreciation for what a huge step it is from understanding letter sounds to blending them into a word, I grabbed a pack of sight word flashcards from the dollar store and set to work.

What a disaster!

I became convinced that my child was just trying to waste my time. She must understand and just be trying to fool me, right? How could she look at the word cat and pronounce it “kuh-ay-tuh?”

But as I am sure you know, and I did not, phonics and sight words are not the same thing.

Frustration, defeat, and quitting ensued. Enter my first ever homeschool conference! I happened to run into a friend from my birthing class there (obviously our children are around the same age) who was using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with her son. “It’s great!” she said. “There’s a script that tells you exactly what to say and how to teach them! Because don’t know how to teach a kid to read.”

100ezlessonsLight bulb! Just because I know how to read doesn’t mean I know how to teach reading. Why not give it a try?

I have to admit I am thankful I tried and failed first. If I hadn’t, I never would have humbled myself to admit I needed a script to tell me what to say to my child. But trust me when I say the script really works! For instance, calling the letters “sounds” and pronouncing them phonetically instead of calling them by their names is a stroke of genius I never would have come up with myself.

The first few lessons took some getting used to for both Noodle and myself. And then we got into a groove and I was sure she would be reading in three months. And then…

For some reason, Noodle was not as excited about learning to read as I was excited for her. “I don’t want to do reading time,” she’d whine. And I would panic, and I’d have to force her, and then she’d pretend she couldn’t read the word “the,” and I’d become impatient, and and and… You can see the predictable downward cycle coming.

This book has done amazing things for our family, but it has also been quite a struggle at times. It comes down to the fact that I have a very high-energy, easily-distracted kid. I have tried rewards systems, consequences, drawing a hard line and being as sweet and patient as can be. Surprise, the most important thing for my kid? Location location location!

We started out doing reading on the couch – but she spent most of the lesson wiggling around trying to get comfortable, standing up, sitting down, playing with her feet, jumping on the pillows. How can anybody read a word when her head is moving around so much? Then we moved to the kitchen table, which worked for a while. When behavior turned sour at the table, we moved to Mom and Dad’s bed. We snuggle under the covers and she sits on my lap so we can both see the words comfortably.

I’m pleased to announce that six months later, we are on lesson number 85. Noodle has learned to count to 100 with the help of this system, and she loves picking out the words she recognizes as I read to her from other books. She can read all the chores on her chore list and loves trying to sound out business names as we drive down the street. And me? Well, I’ve relaxed a little. I hope to finish the last fifteen lessons sometime before Christmas. 😉

What tips and tricks have worked for you as you taught your own child(ren) to read? Desperate moms want to know!

Why I Didn’t “Just Let Her Play,” or The Hardcore Overbearing Mama

Noodle turned three years old in October of 2012. Less than three months later, in January of 2013, we started homeschooling.

I never intended to homeschool preschool. I want my kids to have childhoods, play outside, imagine, and not be chained to desks so early in their lives. In fact, I want their childhoods to last a long time, which is one of the main reasons we wanted to homeschool in the first place. In the preschool age, kids learn most by experiencing the things in their natural surroundings (or so I’ve read), so why start homeschooling so early, nearly three years before NM state law requires it?

First, let me confess, I kind of did “just let her play.” But there are two reasons I got a little more serious about it than you might. One, I don’t like labels (for people! I love labels on any kind of container!), but if I did, I would stick Noodle in the ADHD box. Having structured activities and goals for a day helps her and me immensely.

Two, because I have a type-A personality and I also just happened to be really insecure about my ability to actually do this homeschool thing, I wanted some practice at what that meant before the hammer came down and it was time to start in earnest. So I decided to be more intentional about what kinds of “play” Noodle had access to, and to keep track of how much time per day she spent on enrichment in specific areas.

I would show you the ridiculously overcomplicated excel spreadsheet I made, but I’m too embarrassed.

However, I will share with you some of the activities that made it onto said sheet:

  • Family Devotionals and Awana: Hubbo has been great about diligently and consistently sharing devotionals with our family – twice a day most days. In the morning, we began using Clay Clarkson’s Our 24 Family Ways, and currently we are going through Long Story Short by Marty Machowski. At night, Hubbo tells a Bible story in his own words.
  • Worship Dancing: We love to crank the volume on our iTunes library and dance and sing. This counts as Bible time and major motor time.
  • Art: Noodle L. O. V. E. S. LOVES to paint, color, and draw. When I was tracking time, she earned most of her hours in the Fine Arts category; this also went into fine motor skills time.
  • Reading: We love to snuggle under a blanket on the couch and read almost everything. We also started using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons this year – I will post more about that later.
  • Field Trips: We have a membership to our local zoo, aquarium, and botanic gardens, so we can visit any time. On these trips, I try to be intentional about adding some educational commentary about the animals we see, but usually Noodle asks so many questions I don’t have to work very hard. I also added things like story time at the library into our sheet.
  • Puzzles and Blocks: Did you know that putting together puzzles is a pre-reading skill? You can get some great ones at the dollar store.
  • Cooking: My girl loves to “help” in the kitchen. Baking is especially good for learning, not only because there is lots to measure, but because we can talk about how heat changes liquid batter into cake. Science – check! And reward yourself with a delicious treat. *wink*
  • Other: Honestly, three-year-olds ask so many questions, almost anything can turn into a lesson. Noodle is particularly interested in “why” anything is the way it is right now. If I actually have an answer, I do my best to share it with her, and sometimes those conversations turn into the best “homeschool” lessons.

I no longer track the time Noodle spends on each category. I do intend to start keeping records again once we have to notify the state that we are homeschooling, but in a much more simplified way. My spreadsheet was really a manifestation of my worry that we weren’t doing enough of the right things, and for now, I’m feeling confident enough to let go of the intense tracking.

Now that Noodle is four, we are starting to structure a few more sit-down-and-do-school activities into our day, but only because my girl loves them and is ready and itching for them. Watch this space for another post on our exactly what those are.

Happy play-schooling your own preschoolers! What fun activities do you sneak into your little ones’ days so that they are learning through play?

God is Creator Science Unit

Noodle and Cubbie Bear

Noodle and Cubbie Bear

Noodle is finishing up her first unit in the Awana Cubbies Appleseed handbook – God is Creator. Enter me, trying to find a way to add a bit of science to our homeschool routine, and presto! It makes perfect sense that our first ever science unit would begin at the beginning.

This morning we did one of the suggested activities from her Cubbies handbook and made play-doh suns together. Noodle is the crafty type and never passes up a play-doh activity.This one gave us a great opportunity to talk about how making the sun wasn’t hard for God, and he didn’t make any mistakes, and how he didn’t need any resources to make it – he just spoke and there it was!

To go along with her lessons on the days of creation, I found this great free Days of Creation lapbook set from LapbookLessons.com. This is our first ever lapbook and I am actually rather surprised to say I am loving it! I have always been interested in doing unit studies but the idea of lapbooking scared me, mostly because I wasn’t sure how to assemble all the pieces together. When I discovered that I wasn’t actually responsible for finding the individual pieces myself and there were free sets available for download, well, cue the hallelujah chorus! It helps that the verse included for copy work (Genesis 1:1) is the same verse she is memorizing for Awana this week.

I also love the variety of activities included in lapbooking. All kids are different, as they say, and although my girl is already reading at age four, she has a lot of trouble with her handwriting and scissor skills. This project gives her practice with everything; and while she is copying, cutting, or coloring, I can sit and read the creation story to her straight from the Bible (if Squirt will allow it).

Noodle is really enjoying lapbooking, too. I was worried at first that she would be impatient with a project that took so long – she is usually in a hurry to see a finished product (what 4-year-old isn’t?). But so far each individual product she finishes seems to satisfy her until we do the next one, and she is always excited to add to her book. The minibook has been her favorite activity so far. She has understood the story of creation but has trouble remembering what happened when. She loves reading me the story from her own book, and I think it’s going to be a great memory tool for her.

One other great resource we’ve used for this unit is the book And God Created Squash by Martha Whitmore Hickman. Noodle received this as a Christmas gift a few years ago and it has been a favorite read-aloud ever since. It tells the creation story in order in a very accessible way without taking, I think, too many liberties with God’s character.

So – first lapbook, check! First unit study, check! First year of experimenting with this homeschool thing almost at an end. And I’m finally feeling like I’m getting it!