Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thoughts on preschool/playschool for the fall

My son is 3. His birthday is in December, so in the middle of the traditional school year he'll turn 4 and my daughter will turn 2.

For my purposes, this upcoming school year will be more like "playschool." Minimal academics. Big on the Bible. Mostly reading good books together and playing with open-ended and educational toys, and doing preschool-type art projects. I'm not aiming to have him reading anytime soon.

I'm browsing several curriculum catalogs  and sites to get a feel for how some people approach this age group. I'm taking ideas from the following:
I'm not doing all of these curricula; I'm just learning about them and taking both concepts and actual resources I like. I don't think any one curriculum I've come across so far is exactly what I'm seeking (which seems to be the case for many homeschoolers).

I'd like to include both of my children in activities since I think that would be easier on us all. That's not to say that they'll both do the exact same things. Instead, if my son is doing a craft, I'll have something crafty for my daughter to do on her level.

I'm not wired to automatically know of fun things to do with babies and toddlers. I'm the kinda mom that needs to read books and browse websites to get inspiration for some things. As my kids have gotten older, it's becoming more easy for me to think of fun things on the fly.

For example, the other day Jon was talking about rainbows. Perhaps because it had been rainy and sunny, and he wondered if he'd see one? So, I was inspired to make a rainbow in our house using a clear water glass, some water and holding it up to a sunbeam coming in our window. Bada-bing, rainbow!

Then, we got out our markers and crayons and both kids colored their own rainbows. While they were doing that, I read a short page in one of their books that described rainbows. It was a prize from Chick-Fil-A one time, heh!

Then, we talked about the rainbow that God put in the sky after the flood.

When I write it out like that, it sounds forced, but believe me it just flowed really well and it felt natural. It all took maybe 30 minutes or less, but it was a fun instant mini-unit for all of us.

I'm glad I could piece something together like that myself, but I really do like to look at other resources for inspiration with this age group. Some mamas seem to really thrive with babies and toddlers. I suspect I'll really be in my element when the kids are elementary-aged or higher.

Anyway, I'm going to be learning more about these curricula and piecing together how I'd like the upcoming school year to look. I think the next year, the year Jon is 4 turning 5, is when I'll do a more academic preschool for him (but still heavy on play! Maybe some phonics and basic math). We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Games to occupy your toddler in the car

We have a few small games that we keep in the van for our 3-year-old to use on extended car trips. Usually, he's content to look out the window and tell me to "turn right" or "go faster/slow down" or the sort. But for longer trips, we like to have some games handy.

When we moved from Pennsylvania to Indiana last year, Jon was 2.5 years old. I bought a few games for him, and kept them hidden until it was clear he was bored. Out came a game, and I repeated it the next hour or so. These games are great in the car, but they're also just plain fun to have inside your home, or if you need something to occupy your child in a waiting room.

Educo Colorblock Sea Turtle bead maze* -- This is a magnetic maze game. You use the wand (which can snap apart if you choose) to drag and drop a bead to the corresponding space in the turtle. I like that this maze has two shades of blue and two shades of green to help teach color variations.

The beads are behind a sheet of plexiglass. The recommended age is 3+ for small parts, and I'm guessing that caution is referring to the wand. So yeah, keep an eye on your kid. Overall, it's a durable, entertaining toy that should last for several children. It's quiet, too! The bumps of the road might frustrate your kid, though.

Similar to the turtle maze are some offerings from Melissa & Doug. One is color-based; the other is counting-based. I haven't tried either one so I can't say for sure if this would be fun in a moving vehicle. Might be too hard to keep the board perfectly flat and still.

We have this wooden Melissa & Doug maze puzzle that my mother-in-law picked up at Goodwill. You slide the vehicles around the maze track to where they should go (or where you want them to go). A fun puzzle and since the pieces are self-contained, it's great to have in the car.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the classic Etch-A-Sketch and a travel-size Magna-Doodle. And what about Wooly Willy or Hair-do Harriet? You'd have to use your discretion to make sure your child wouldn't rip it to shreds in your van. :)

What toys do you like to keep in your vehicle?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Learning skills from Don't Break the Ice game

Don't Break The Ice* is a simple, entertaining game for the 3+ crowd. I picked a set up from Walmart the other day for $7.77. This old classic game is good for non-readers and introduces skills such as:
  • Taking turns
  • Following rules of the game
  • Being a good sport (losing and winning gracefully)
  • Strategy -- determining which piece to hammer so it won't fall through, and to perhaps sabotage your opponent
  • Fine motor skills -- hammering ever-so-carefully in one spot
Setting up the ice rink will require an adult or an older child. You have to wedge the ice cubes in place. The 2x2 square which contains an ice-skating polar bear can be placed anywhere in the ice rink, which allows for variety.
Take turns hammering out an ice cube, and the person hammering while the polar bear falls through loses.
Fun, a bit noisy, and can provide 15+ minutes of entertainment. While it's recommended for 2-4 players, you could set up one child with the game and he could entertain himself by seeing how many pieces he can remove before the polar bear falls.
*Affiliate link

Monday, April 16, 2012

Playing Candyland with my 3 year old

Ah, Candyland. Such a classic first game for little kids! I remember it when I was little. And I remember it being way more exciting way back when. The gameboard was way prettier, I think.

Jon got a new version for his birthday a few months ago and we've played it a few times.

As this was the first board game he attempted to play, we thought we'd try and teach him the rules:
  • Put your game piece at start
  • Take a card and move it to the next color. If there are two colored squares, move two pieces. Counting practice!
  • If the card has a picture of something, move your piece to that card
Simple enough, yah? Well, Jon wanted to make his own rules. He enjoyed moving the game piece to the correct color, but then he decided he wanted to move it to a different space. On his next turn, he wanted to move the piece to the lollipop. Then, he wanted to trade game pieces.

So ah...we need more practice with this one.

Candyland is good for teaching:
  • Colors
  • Taking turns
  • Following game rules
That's all I can think of. Mainly, I think games such as Candyland are good for little ones to simply get used to the idea of playing a board game. Gotta lay the foundation for future, more involved games.

If you're searching for Candyland for your kid, keep an eye out for sales around November-December. Hasbro also offers promotions from time to time. I've seen the game as cheap as $1.79 with coupons at Target, for instance. Don't pay more than $5 for a new version.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Playing Hi-Ho Cherry-O with my 3 year old

I picked up an older version of Hi, Ho Cherry-O at a kids consignment sale today. Paid $3, and was sorta bummed when I discovered a few cherries were missing.

We have enough to do a 3-player game, and considering our fourth member of our family is more likely to try to eat the pieces rather than play, I guess we'll be alright with what we've got.

I didn't realize there's a more modern version available now. It looks like it takes the game a bit beyond the super-basic. The modern version has fruits of various colors. It also includes a 9-piece jigsaw puzzle, which is somehow involved in the game's strategy. The latest rules on the Hasbro site (from 2006) don't mention the puzzle.

A board game for ages 3+ due to teeny-tiny pieces (choking hazard, yes, but also an up-the-nose hazard), this is a simple, easy-to-learn board game that will provide oh, 5-15 minutes of entertainment in one spell. Maybe. Maybe less, depending on your tot's attention span.

The gist:

You place 10 cherries on each player's tree. Spin the spinner to find out if you can pick 1, 2, 3, or 4 cherries and put them in your tiny cherry basket. If you land on the dog or bird space, you put two cherries from your basket back onto your tree.

Land on the spilled-bucket wedge, and oh noes! All cherries go back on the tree.

My son got a kick out of spinning the spinner, moving the cherries about, and calling out "Hi Ho, Cherry-O!" when he won. He beat me every time. My husband called me out on cheating, because when I landed on the spilled-bucket space, I put all my cherries from the tree into the bucket instead of the other way 'round.

Whoops. Guess mama needs some practice in following directions and paying attention.

We played three full games before we were ready to move on to something else. I'd say it took less than 10 minutes total.

Lessons learned while playing Hi Ho, Cherry-O:
  • Taking turns
  • Following rules of the game
  • Using fine motor skills to plant and pluck the tiny cherries
  • Counting
Ways to modify Hi Ho, Cherry-O
  • Use tweezers such as these to move your cherries around
  • If playing a two-player game, man two trees per player instead of one.
  • Older, mathy-type players can calculate probability of outcomes of the spinner. (Am I serious, or am I joking here?)
  • Here are many more skills you can introduce by modifying Hi Ho Cherry-O, depending on the version you have.
  • The latest version also seems to allow sorting and pattern-making skills, and then that jigsaw thing of course.
Hi Ho, Cherry-O is similar to:
 The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game ($17.35 today)
I'm going to keep my eyes out for the new version on sale or at a yard sale, and if it's a second-hand version I'll crack open the box to make sure it's the new one. And, I'm going to keep tabs on that sneaky squirrel game because it looks like it might be reasonably fun.

How about you? Is this a game you'd cherry-pick for your kid?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why I want to homeschool my kids

I started writing a post with lots of reasons on why I want to homeschool my kids.

I noticed my reasons all boil down to one main reason -- freedom.

Freedom to ...
  • Teach my kids the material they want to learn, in the way they learn it best
  • Teach my kids things that are important to me and my husband
  • Include our faith in my children's daily learning
  • Make the most of our time. Time spent doing the things we want to do, not wasting our time, and so on
I'm excited and nervous about homeschooling. I know it's going to be a big undertaking. I know there will be times when I'd rather put them on a bus and see them many hours later. Mostly, though, I think it'll be a positive experience for my family.
Parents have reasons for wanting to homeschool, or reasons for wanting to send their children to private school, or to public school. We all have our reasons for the choices we make, and I'm so thankful I live in a country where we can make these choices.
How about you? What are your reasons for homeschool, public or private?