Ready For (Home)School!

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Can you believe it? Summer is OVER, and hi-ho-hi-ho it’s back to school we go. Back-to-school is always a special time of year, but this year is totally unique for us as it will be our inaugural year of homeschool. The butterflies are stirring.

Even though I’ve formally been out of the classroom for the last five years, I still suffer from Teacher Complex A. I can’t walk by the school supply aisle in a store without stopping to ogle the newest offerings, and I have a strong affinity for paper cutters and laminators. I speak in my Teacher Voice when I mean business–even with other grown adults. I’ve been known to opt out of traditional home décor in favor of colorful die-cut shapes so we can practice our letters and counting skills. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the teacher out of me.

You can imagine how giddy I’ve been these last couple of weeks, then, as I’ve eagerly set up my own classroom at home (and by classroom, I mean I have completely taken over the entire house). This was no small feat considering we just moved into this house a 12 days ago, but where there’s a will there’s a way, amirght?

We’re officially starting school next Tuesday after Labor Day, although we’ve already started tinkering around with some of the school stuff because the boys saw it and were curious and I’m not about to miss the opportunity to capitalize on their eagerness. Since this will be our first year of homeschool, I know that I’ll be making tweaks and adjustments as the year goes on. For now, though, here is the set up for the 2015-2016 school year at Peterson Learning Academy:

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This year we will be using a curriculum (and I use that term lightly) called Five In A Row (FIAR). After reviewing the first volume of FIAR, however, I decided that Before Five In A Row (BFIAR) would be a better fit for us this year since most of the FIAR lessons are geared toward early readers and writers and we’re just not quite there yet.

Each week we will read a different classic children’s book (think Going On A Bear Hunt and The Runaway Bunny) every day for a full week (five days in a school week = five in a row). The curriculum/guide suggests learning activities across all subject areas that go along with the themes of the story. This is called a unit study approach, and I really like this idea for my multi-age preschool (see how fancy we are here at the Peterson Learning Academy?). FIAR allows me to adapt ideas to meet the interests and needs of both boys while keeping the focus on hands-on activities (I have a strong aversion to worksheets and rote seat work for kids of this age, but we can get more into that later…).

I will also be supplementing a the BFIAR guide a bit as I find necessary. For Bible I plan on using the FIAR Bible Study Supplement, The Jesus Storybook Bible, and Five Minute Devotions for ChildrenFor handwriting practice (for David only) we’ll use the Get Set For School My First School Book by Handwriting Without TearsI made my own planning notebook because that’s just how I’ve always done it and it works and I like it.

As far as the classroom goes, we have several spaces to choose from. I’m sure as the year goes on I will see how each space works best and we’ll move around all day as it suits us. This is our learning corner where we will do calendar/circle time and work on projects at the boys’ small table.
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I also set up some bookshelves and storage on the opposite wall so I can keep books and supplies at the ready.IMG_6113

The drawers next to the bookshelves contain supplies (crayons, markers, scissors, glue, tape) and manipulatives (teacher speak for Stuff We Use…letter and number magnets, big foam dice, ice cube trays for sorting activities, blocks, felt board pieces, puppets, pointers…all kinds of goodies).IMG_6115

The living room just happens to be in the center of our learning space, so we’ll use the couch and fireplace for story time and cuddle breaks.IMG_6121

Our dining room table will be another great workspace since we can clear it off and have plenty of room to lay out projects.IMG_6123

The kitchen will play a big role in our learning adventures this year. I plan on doing at least one cooking project each week that goes along with our story, so I wanted to make sure the kitchen was accessible for the boys. I dedicated several lower drawers to the supplies they’ll be using most often in our cooking: measuring cups and spoons, baking dishes, bowls, and cutting boards.IMG_6126

Perhaps what I’m most excited about, as far as the actual learning space is concerned, is the fact that we will have nearly unlimited access to the Outdoor Classroom (thank you, California sunshine!). One of our decks will host our outdoor learning stations: a sensory table (designed and built by Jon, our resident playtime architect and Principal Daddy), the “Play Doh Table”, and a big tub of plastic toys and Play Doh tools (plus a comfy chair for Teacher Mommy).IMG_6130

Our new house is in an awesome location for outdoor explorations. We live in a mountain canyon with a creek in our back yard–what else could two little boys ask for? We will spend plenty of time out in nature exploring and using our senses as we learn about the world around us.IMG_5921

Right up the street from us is a large lake with trails and beaches. Yet another exciting venue to explore in our outdoor classroom.IMG_5971

Since reading books will be a big part of our year, we will also be spending plenty of time at our local library enjoying books together.IMG_5925

I’ve joined a local homeschool co-op that a fellow homeschooling friend of mine is a part of, and we’ll be having weekly park days and field trips throughout the year. Not only will the park days and field trips be fun for us, but they will also give me and the boys an opportunity to connect with our peers. In addition to the co-op, we’ll also be attending MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) or CBS (Community Bible Study) each Wednesday morning, and AWANA on Sunday evenings. We’ll have quite the varied schedule, but I’m sure we’ll never get bored!IMG_3285

I can’t wait to see what this year has in store for us as we embark on this new homeschool adventure together–wish us luck!

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Frozen Frog Pond Activity

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Last week we had our first real week of summer. We had sunshine every day, which was both amazing and confusing to us. What do we do outside when it’s actually warm out?  I think it reached 70 degrees one day and, having grown up in a rain cloud, my poor children thought they were dying from the heat. So, I came up with a simple game that would help keep us cool. I call it:

Frozen Frog Pond

What you need:
small containers (I used snack size Ziploc food containers)
plastic frogs (I got mine at the dollar store)
kiddie pool or a large plastic tub (although the bath tub would work just fine, too)

What you do:
1. Put a few frogs into each container and fill with water until the frogs are just covered. Freeze for 2 hours or until the frog-cubes are frozen solid.

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2. Pop the frozen frog-cubes out of the containers

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3. Put the frog-cubes into the pool. Challenge your kids to see who can set the frogs free from their icy prisons. Whoever gets the most frogs out of the ice wins!

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That’s it! The boys had a lot of fun trying to get their frogs out of the ice and they certainly got cooled off in the process (Jacob kept muttering, “So cold…” as he fumbled with his ice cubes). Here are a few other ideas to extend the froggy play time:

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– Gather sticks, leaves, and rocks and make homes for your froggy friends in their pond (this one probably wouldn’t work so well if you’re using your bath tub…)
-See how many pairs of the same frog you can find
-Order the frogs from smallest to largest
-Sort the frogs into color groups
-Have a leapfrog race
-Count the frogs or work out simple story problems using the frogs (“If I have 3 frogs in the pond and one jumps out, how many are still left in the water?”)
-Have a color race: Hold up a solid-colored frog, set a timer for 30 seconds, and see how many items your child can find that are the same color.

Stay cool, friends!

The Shape-Swat Game

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When I was teaching first grade I used to play  “the fly swatter game” with my students. It’s a great game that you can use to teach and reinforce basically any concept that you want your kids to learn. It’s a lot of fun, takes very little prep time or materials, and can be played for as short or as long a time as you have. You can adapt this game to work with kids as young as 2, but it’s also a lot of fun for older kids (I could even see playing a version of this game with high schoolers!).

IMG_0843To play, all you need is a fly swatter and some cards with your “learning concept” of the moment. For my 2 year old, I decided to focus on shapes and colors, but you could really use anything you want your kids to learn (see variations at the end of this post). My friend Krista told me about a website called mrprintables.com that has lots of fun, high quality free printables. I found some neat shape templates on the website and printed them off.

Then I just cut out the shapes for my “cards”.
*Note* If you want to be able to reuse your cards, glue your shapes onto cardstock or construction paper for some added durability.
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I used blue painter’s tape to tape the shapes up on the wall. Then I gave my little guy his flyswatter and showed him how to swat the shapes on the wall gently (which, in little boy speak, apparently means to strike repeatedly with all your force) .

When it was time to play, I started by saying a shape for him to find: “Find a triangle.” or “Find a square.” and he’d try to swat it. Then we played with colors: “Find a blue shape.” and “Find a yellow shape.”. Then we got really fancy. “Find a green square.”, “Find a round, red shape.” “Find something the same color as the sun.”

The fun thing about this game is that you can really make up whatever questions you want to to keep things interesting. When David would answer incorrectly or have trouble finding what I was asking for, I used it as a teachable moment to show him the correct answer and explain why it was correct. David was having so much fun playing that I doubt he even knew he was learning. Plus, he got to run around the room and hit Mommy’s wall on purpose–every little boys dream come true.

Here are a few variations of the game if you want to play at home with your little ones:

  • If you have 2 or more kids, have a race. Have both kids start at a designated spot with their fly swatters behind their backs. Then call out a card for them to find and have them race to see who can find it first.
  • Hide the cards around the room (but still make them visible without having to move anything) instead of just putting them on the wall. Make your kid run around to find the correct one.
  • Play with animal cards- say an animal’s name or sound and kids have to find the correct picture
  • Play with number cards- say a number or “what comes next: 1,2, __?” and kids have to find the numeral. For older kids, have them find the sum or solution to a math equation (3+2+? , 6-1+?, 3×2=?)
  • Play with letter cards- say a letter’s name or the sound it makes and kids have to find the correct letter. For older kids, you can use letter cards for spelling (find the last letter in the word “chair”).
  • Play with sight words (for ages 4 and up): put a different sight word on each card
  • Play with feelings (as long as you don’t hurt any–hehe!)- do a Google search for people making different faces (happy, sad, surprised, etc.) and print them off for your cards. Have your little one find the different emotions.

The possibilities are endless. Have fun playing with learning!