Homeschooling with Littles (aka: HoWL)
When we sit down at the school table every morning, I like to have a handy supply nearby or already pulled out to entertain my youngest two. Your "supply" may be a stack of board books or a coloring book and crayons. And, although these are great staples to have on hand, little ones grow tired of these, or you are stuck reading the same book over and over and over again when you really should be instructing grammar or conducting a spelling test. To help out, here are some of the ideas we use in our house.
Most of you have seen or heard of Preschool Activities in a Bag. If you haven't, then I strongly suggest borrowing copies of their two books, or purchasing the e-books through their website. Once you get the general idea of filling a zip-close bag with little hands-on activities, you can expound from what they suggest and make variations of your own. Before you know it, you can have a HUGE supply on hand. I have made plenty, and have had friends pass theirs on to me when their older children grew too old for the activities. I have also found tons at used curriculum fairs, most of which were free or very very cheap. I have 58 bags in all!
I have also been a part of a few Preschool Activities in a Bag co-ops. Basically you and a few other moms share the load in making a large sum of activities and then separate the bounty out when your done. In turn you don't have to buy supplies for all 36 activities, but just for 12 or so. You can meet and assemble them together or just meet up to divide the bags out in the end. The website I gave above has a coordinator book that includes all the tips you need to host a successful swap/co-op.
Here are a few ideas for bag activities:
1. cut straws into 1, 2, 3, and 4 inch segments. place those and some colorful pipe cleaner/chenille stems in a bag. for the activity part, the child will push the pipe cleaners through the straw openings, placing as many on as possible. works on hand-eye coordination. suitable for 1.5 years and up. *possible choking hazard! use discretion.
2. save spent canning lids (not the rings for this), or save frozen juice can lids. decorate two with identical stickers. repeat with the other lids. you can use any stickers you have on hand. this will be a basic matching activity. you can use basic shapes and colors for younger children and numbers and letters for older children. you can also affix magnets to the backs so that they stick together as pairs or can be sorted on the refrigerator or other magnetic surface. suitable for 2 years and up.
3. cut shapes out of foam craft squares. use a hole punch to punch holes close, but not too close, along the edge of the shape. take a shoe string, and tying one knot at the end so that it will stay in place, show the child how to lace, or "sew" around the shape. to make them extra sturdy, if you want these to last through multiple children, glue two foam craft squares together before cutting them into a shape. suitable for 2 years and up.
4. pipe cleaners and cheerios, beads, or circular pasta. show the child how to place the pipe cleaner through the objects. work on patterns if you use colorful cheerios or beads. use discretion when choosing the object to place in the bag, beads and pasta can be choking hazards for babies and some toddlers. suitable for 1.5 years and up.
*I want to make this a regular segment on my blog, so be looking for bag activity posts in the future!
For littles who have not developed hand-eye dexterity, keep a supply of used cereal/cracker boxes, laundry detergent lids, empty oatmeal containers, etc. and let them fill and pour and close and open to their hearts delight. Some items that I have found that young toddlers enjoy placing in the containers are clothes pins, large hair bows, measuring spoons, and plastic spoons. Any item that is not a choking hazard works well and really can absorb a child for long periods of time.
We've all probably heard the idea of separating out your children's toys and putting some away, so that when you pull them out later, it is as though they have these new toys they have never seen. You can also implement this idea outside of the home!
Chances are you have a handful of friends who have children around the same age as yours. And chances are they have a handy supply of toys, bag activities, and books that they currently use in their homes. If they happen to mention how their child just seems bored with the toys they have currently, then why not ask if they would be interested in a Swap. If each family filled a tote with toys, books, and bag activities (along with a detailed list of what's inside the tote, family name, etc.) and if you had 3-5 families involved, you could host a Swap weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly and your child would have new toys and activities at the ready. Of course there is always a risk that items could get lost or damaged, so be sure to only put those objects in that you or your child don't have emotional attachments to.
If you have a local homeschool support group, try sending out an email asking others if they are interested in such an idea.
Investing in good toys, educational supplies, and books is instrumental in rounding out your supply. But be wise in your investments. Sure, those electronic toys hold their attention and bring a smile to their face. And some are worth the price. But, electronic toys don't last. They need batteries. They are noisy and, when brought into the schooling area, can cause disruptions. Paper and plastic toys and supplies are wonderfully inexpensive, but these also don't last.
I have a supply of 5-10 sturdy wooden toys, 5-10 wooden puzzles, and wooden blocks of varying size and shapes. These have lasted through all four of my children and show little to no signs of wear. I divide them up and put half up on a high shelf, so that I can switch out the supply as needed.
Check used books stores and used curriculum fairs for sturdy board books. Plastic bathtub books will also take a large amount of abuse and are drool proof when you have them on hand for teething 6-8 month olds.
The biggest investment we make each year is on our school books. This is also playing a huge role in my "Prepare" segment because the choices you make in curriculum could have the most impact on how well you survive homeschooing with littles.
When my third child was born, I was teaching my two oldest, then in 2nd grade and kindergarten. I thought I could handle a full regiment of academically challenging (yes I realize they were little, but I was a little over-ambitious at that time) school subjects. Halfway through the year I thought I was going to throw every school book I purchased out the window. I over-curriculumed myself. I had to take care of nursing and holding a 12 hour a day crying baby. I couldn't keep up and it took a toll on all of us.
If I was handing out advice, the one that I would stress above all others would be to invest in the minimum (both academically challenging and how many subjects to implement) of what you think you will need. Don't buy that full year, 5 day a week, Science curriculum, with weekly experiments...blah blah blah....yes, that one. Invest in two easy to implement Science unit studies. My next school year, when my third was a one year old, I purchased two easy unit studies, one on botany and one on anatomy (for k-3rd grade). I thought I would have one done in 6 weeks to 3 months depending on my ambition, and the same with the other unit study, with ample time at the end of the year to make up for days missed or to just take it easy. Turned out it took me 6 months to do just one! Yikes. Thankfully it was in my plan and it worked. I didn't over-curriculum myself.
By the time #4 came along, sweet Harry, I knew my limits and I knew where I could push it. My oldest could handle a bit more academically challenging subjects, but I chose to limit that to subjects that she could do on her own and would not require me to invest time away from baby and *ahem* intense toddler. She did challenging Bible studies and way above age-level Reading requirements, but stayed easy on Math, Grammar, History, and Science.
Also, don't invest in expensive co-ops that require a lot of your time and that you know will require extra homework. Save soccer, softball, basketball, and the like for another year. Over-committing yourself can affect your homeschool environment. Your littles won't be littles forever, and it will be easier another year to add in your extra-curricular activities. For now, be content with the minimum. Know your boundaries. Organize playdates or small unit study based co-ops with others to get your socializing in.
That was it! This post was a doozy! Thanks for hangin' in till the end!
For the next post, I will discuss how to organize your supplies and schedule. Why go through all that work preparing and not know where anything is or how best to schedule it all in to your busy day?!