Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Homeschool Day

In this post I will be sharing with you some tips and Do's and Don't when planning your homeschool day.  This is geared towards ages 3-5 but you could just vamp it up a notch and have it be for your older children as well.

I don't claim to be an expert on anything, all I can do is share what works for our house, but I will share a little bit of my background if it might help: I was an assistant and afternoon kindergarten teacher for over 10 years before becoming a stay at home mom, so it's never been a debate that I won't teach my own kids.  It's just in my blood: I have to! I love to teach, especially Kindergarten age when the kids are learning to read.

Even though my girls are 4 years and almost 2 years. I have already started to do a little homeschooling for my oldest. Even though people complain that I may be starting too young, you really have to take it one child at a time. Kara knew her letter sounds when she was just over 2 years.--not forced I might add! And now she goes around the house sounding out the first sound in any word she can think of-- she is ready and eager to learn to read.  So, I'm taking advantage of her readiness a bit early.  But my focus as every mom should have when starting to homeschool, is to make learning fun and simply setting aside some time in our day to focus on learning.

Before we get into the actual logistics here are a couple things to remember when planning your homeschool day:


-Don't Just Use Workbooks: Little ones are still developing their eyes, so lots of detailed small work is not good.  Put a limit on it.  We do 2 pages a day, sometimes just 1 if I have a lot of other stuff planned. Just doing workbooks is not going to be fun enough to keep your kids wanting to do it for more than a week. 
-Don't Confine Them To A Chair:  Kids have low attention spans!  Just grasp that and let it soak in.  In order to keep them having fun make sure they can move around a lot.  We start at our desk, then move to our reading chairs for a book and/or Bible time, then she picks one activity out of her bucket at a time.  This means she may go back 3 or 4 times to her bucket.  So she's never sitting down for more than 10 minutes or so.
-Don't Teach For Hours:  If your kids are young like mine even just a half hour of one on one teaching is enough and then you can add some fun educational games, file folder activities, math manipulatives and etc. to help keep things fresh.  Don't create burnout in your 4 year old.  There is no need for hardcore tutoring right now.  Just make learning fun and limit your amount of time.
-Don't Force Reading:  If your child is not ready and/or interested in reading then continue to focus on other things while you wait.  It will come!  There really is a 'lightbulb' in a child's eyes in Kindergarten when they all of a sudden get it.  I've seen it so many times. Pushing and forcing it on them will just be a waste of energy and frustration on yours and the child's part.  


-Do Mix Things Up:  Variety really is the spice of life here! What makes our drawer system fun is that everyday is something new.  Yes, she will find some repeat items in their but I always try to keep adding things she wouldn't expect. 
-Do Add a Lot of Games and Centers: The way I do this is by using my play rotation cards. It will be explained in greater detail below, but games are a great way for kids to learn.  Games incorporate numbers, counting, fine motor skills of moving pieces and rolling dice, etc.
-Have Time Set Aside: If you haven't already seen my post on mommy sanity, you should check it out.  Most moms struggle with feelings of guilt, and being overwhelmed, inadequate.  We secretly are jealous of how other mom's seem to have it all together and wonder what we're doing wrong and why can never seem to accomplish anything.  If you are feeling that way, please check out my post and see what has truly been a life saver for my sanity.
-Do Make it LOTS of Fun: If something is not working, then try something new.  No one says you have to do things a certain way.  If this system starts to not work for us then I'll adapt something new.  The important thing is to keep learning fun!
-Do Expect To Help A Lot:
-Do Set Up Your Room To Succeed:

Our School Time:

Now, here is our simple Homeschool approach in a nutshell:

Now I will try to elaborate a bit more on each step of our day.

1. Workbook:

We start with 1-2 pages of her workbook.  We limit this time for her eye development and boredom factor.  We found a couple really good preschool workbooks from Costco that we switch between. I love these ones because they have lots of cutting skills, sticker pages and coloring, not a lot of small detail oriented stuff.  Kara leaves her pencil in the last page we completed so she already knows where to open it up and we work on a page or two together.  I let her pick which workbook for the day.  She loves feeling in control of her choice.  I don't plan the themes into my lesson planner but I do write down what we did on each day onto the planner.  Then she puts it away in her desk drawer.

One thing to mention:  Kara has her own desk, next to mine, which she sits at.  With her being so young, I help her in almost everything so I need to be close. So plan your homeschool room accordingly.  They need you to be close.

2. Drawer Work:

Here's a picture of our drawers:

I also got this at Costco once upon a time (can you tell we're Costco freaks yet?). Anyways, each drawer is labeled for the day and she pulls it out to see what's inside.  I find the element of surprise the best thing ever!  She loves opening it up to see what's next for the day. 

She usually will have multiple items in her drawer so we always work from the top to bottom.  It's fun for her because she can see what's gonna be next once she finishes her current work.  It's a great motivator.  Also, she is ultimately working towards the 'play rotation' card at the bottom, which I will explain next.

What do I put inside my drawer?:
I usually put a lot of randomness to be honest.  I make sure to mix some fun centers with other more learning tasks.  Here's some of the things I try to sneak in every day or at least once a week:
-Bible lesson (everyday- I will usually switch up a theme for the week by doing different things each day like: reading a book, sequencing cards, memory verse, bible craft, bible story box, flannel story, etc)
-Letter work (everyday- something related to our letter of the week)
-File Folder game
-Math Center
-Pocket Chart
-Flashcards (we make them into a sorting game, or quiz)
-Craft (we have a bible craft every week and then other crafts whenever)
-Science (I plan to do experiments when she's older, but right now we just learn about animals mostly)
-Books (everyday- I usually have it start with the letter of the week to help reiterate that)
-Whatever else you can think of!
-Last, but the most important thing I place at the bottom of every drawer is our PLAY ROTATION (see below)

Honestly, variety is the spice of life here. She loves finding things in her drawer she never had before and I love making sure to use up the resources I have or find online and I really don't make sure everything matches. If I want her to learn about cats even though we're on the letter D I don't care. I just know that she's getting knowledge in her and she's having fun along the way.  The biggest thing I had to teach myself in starting this was to unlearn some of my formal teaching. I was taught very young how to create a lesson plan and how to have it be all theme or letter related and have everything correlate. Now, I go with the flow and I find it to be more fun and a lot less stress for me when it comes time to plan. Plus, how easy is it to just find some random fun stuff and projects around the house and throw them in each drawer- planning done.

Of course, you could make it a more thorough curriculum if you wanted.  Which I'm sure as my girls get older I will make sure we cover more stuff on a regular basis.  I could plan a focus for each day: phonics, writing, reading, science, etc. Or I could add a small amount of each of those to each drawer making sure that it progresses each day. However, keeping in mind that my girls are still so young my job is just to train a habit for learning and making it be fun to do so! So for me, the easier the better.

3. Play Rotation:

What are Play Rotation Cards?:
Play rotation cards are the gem of our lesson time.  Below I put a few pictures for you to get a visual but let me first explain what they are and why they work.  Who doesn't love a reward? Aren't we all in some way working towards a goal or reward in everything we do? You work out to look good or feel better. You work to get money. You go to school to eventually get a good job and be an educated member of society.  Well, our little ones love to work for a goal too and while they can't quite comprehend the fact that increasing their knowledge now will help them be better people of society, they can focus on a daily goal: of reaching their PLAY ROTATION.

Play rotation cards are the secret envelope system I designed for a reward for all my daughters hard work in school.  She pulls out a drawer and sees all the fun school stuff and then peeks down and sees her play rotation envelope at the bottom. That is what she's working towards.  When she finishes her tasks above, then she gets to open her secret card.

Inside she will find a laminated center card.  It could be anything from books, to computer time, to puzzles, to her animal hospital game, mr. potato head, swim time or anything else.  (I will try to list the cards for you later to get some ideas) She always gets excited for the secret card inside. Remember the element of surprise is your friend here.  Even though it may not be her favorite center she still gets a little excited and we make it a big deal: "Awesome, you get to do ...... today!".

Here's a look at some of the laminated cards the I put inside:

Keys to make it work for you:

-Make sure it's centers he/she likes.  Sometimes I will put a center I think is fun only to find out Kara doesn't really like it. If I put too many centers in a row that she didn't like, the fun of play rotation would quickly wear off.  Remember: this is a reward for all their hard labors of not complaining through schooling!
-Set a timer.  The remainder of our set aside time is for play rotation. So, if we only have 20 minutes before lunch then she only gets 20 minutes to play.  Also,  on those days that I put a task that's not her favorite and I can see her attitude shifting I always set the timer for a little bit less.  Maybe only 10 minutes before she can have some free time before lunch. If she's not having fun you're not reaching your goal of a reward!
-Have a good variety.  Try to make a lot of center cards so that you can switch them out and keep your children on their toes just a bit.  I started with just a few and now my collection of cards has grown to quite a lot.  Sometimes we get in a routine of having free art on Tuesdays and Movie on Fridays, and then after a while of doing that I switch those out for something else.  The only reason I have those repeat though is because she LOVES art and we usually watch a movie that goes with our Bible lesson for the week.
-Make it a solo task.  In our schedule I have this play rotation time designated as planning time for me. So, with that Kara knows that this is mommy's time to work while she gets her play rotation to do by herself.  If she can't do it by herself yet than I might include it inside her drawer and train her in it before having it become an official card in her rotation. 
-Try to keep the rotations unique.  I try to keep a lot of my teaching toys, manipulatives, puzzles and games that I pick for my play rotations out of reach from normal play use.  This makes these activities more fun and exciting.  It also guarantees that Kara usually won't complain about it.  If I just included the same old toys that they had day in and day out it wouldn't be as effective.  Although there are some I still include, such as our doll house or our train set, etc. these I include because sometimes they just get forgotten. 

Well, that wraps up our homeschooling day.  It's simple and sweet and can be as easy to plan or as time involved as you want to spend on it.  Some days I know we're busy I can go into the box and just take a few of the tasks out to cut down on time.  I love the freedom it allows me and I hope you will too!

Remember you are not cramming your kids with knowledge. You're building and training them up in a love of learning.  So, don't be rushed through everything.  If they get interested in something plan to learn about it with them.  If you get them to love learning, schooling will never be a struggle for each of you.

Happy Schooling and God Bless!

Heather Joy

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