Pre-School At Home: What are my options?

Preschool at Home | Motherhood in the Trenches

I’ve had quite a few people ask me for ideas for doing pre-school at home so I thought, “Why not jump back on the ole’ blog and make a post?”  It’s been a long break and I have missed blogging so much. Since I’ve been gone, we’ve had another baby, sold our house, bought some land and SO MUCH MORE. As always, the blog has taken a back seat to the craziness. But I’m back…at least for today… ;)

Okay, so there are a lot of ideas about preschool. Some say, “Just let them play!” others say, “No, they must know how to read before Kindergarten!” And then there’s all sorts of in between. I personally don’t think preschool is necessary but I do think it’s fun! If you have a kiddo who is not interested then just let them play and don’t fret! So far my two oldest kiddos were big fans of both “tot school” and preschool, so we’ve had a fairly consistent preschool schedule. In my educated opinion, preschool is all about following your child’s developmental cues. Some kids want to sit and do activities, while others would rather run around and play. Both are totally okay! Just follow your kids’ lead!

Okay, so here we go…

Let’s break it up by age…

2 year olds

My favorite thing for this age is Tot School. I first heard this term 7 years ago when Carissa from 1+1+1=1 was posting all about the Tot School activities she was doing with her daughter. I started implementing them with Big Sis and it was SO MUCH FUN!!! I could sum up what Tot School is but Carissa does such a great job that I’m just gonna direct you to her, check it out here. And just for fun here are a few pics of Big Sis when she was just a little tot.

rice-on-floor

pipecleaners-shaker

Tot School | Motherhood in the Trenches

If you want something more “open and go”, check out Timberdoodle’s Tiny Tots Kit, or their Pre-School Kit. If you’re not ready to drop $600 on a full kit, they still have a lot of components that you can pick and choose from. See the next age group for our FAVORITE item from Timberdoodle.

Lastly, if you are comfortable with something less open and go, but more thorough than Tot School. Check out ABC Jesus Loves Me 2 Year curriculum.

They have free lesson plans and printables, all you need to do is buy supplies and borrow or buy the books recommended. I haven’t used it myself but I know a few friends who have and have really enjoyed it.

Pre-School/Pre-K:

Okay, so this is where I’ve had the most fun. Seeing your kiddos excited about learning is just so great! I still like to keep it fun and light hearted and I never force them to do any work. If they’re having an off day, I just say, “Okay, and we’re done for the day!” as if I had nothing else planned so that the kiddo doesn’t think that they’re being punished for not being interested. At this point I just let them learn at their own pace.

If you want a boxed curriculum, again I’ll direct you to Timberdoodle.

They have both Preschool and Pre-K curriculums. If you’re not sure which kit your kiddo should use check out their Early Education Placement Test. Don’t forget, if you have sticker shock for the whole kit, you can still purchase the pieces that you think your kiddos would most enjoy and benefit from.

ABC Jesus Loves Me also has free curriculum for ages 3, 4 and 5 so be sure to check them out if you’re looking for a full curriculum with less cost.

After much research and some experience here’s what I’ve pieced together that has worked for us:

Farm Math:

Preschool Curriculum Ideas | Motherhood in the Trenches

This is our favorite item from Timberdoodle. There’s book with different math scenarios to go over each week. It starts easy with sorting and goes all the way up to addition, without them really knowing that their adding, heh. This is a perfect mix of play and learning. My preschoolers have loved the lessons and A (2) loves to play with the mat and animals. I make up math stories for her using color and animal identification and she LOVES feeling like she’s doing school.

Handwriting Without Tears- My First School Book:

We use HWOT for all handwriting lessons and we really like them. I haven’t used any other handwriting curriculum to compare this to but Big Sis (8) has beautiful printing and cursive and E (4.5) did great in this book and is now onto the Kindergarten book. I bought the Teacher’s Guide when I used it with Big Sis but I didn’t use it much so I don’t buy them anymore. The wood pieces are a great manipulative to have but if you’re tight on money, space or both, you can definitely use construction paper or cardboard to make these.

All About Reading – Pre-Reading:

I can’t emphasize how much I LOVE this program. We have used it up to the end of Level 4. The Pre-Reading is hands on and both girls really loved it. If you look at the samples and think, “My kid can already recognize all of his/her uppercase/lowercase letters” know that there is so much more to it. From the very beginning this program teaches rhyming, syllables, word segmenting, so many skills needed to learn to read well. If your kiddo can recognize all upper and lower case letters, you can use the alphabet sheets as fun craft sheets for review.

Kumon Workbooks:

Both of my girls have enjoyed the Kumon books. Their favorite is the cutting book but they’ve also enjoyed the Differentiation and Mazes.

Read Alouds: There are obviously hundreds of amazing books to read aloud to your kiddos. I have found that my kiddos this age have some faves and we often read the same books over and over, which is great for comprehension. If you’re just not sure about what books to read check out Sarah Mackenzie’s book list which has some great suggestions.

Hands-On Manipulatives:

Our faves: Floof, Mad MattrThinking PuttyKinetic Sand, Homemade Playdough (our favorite recipe)

Day and Night: This is a fun and challenging puzzle that both of my girls have enjoyed.

Lastly, some of our favorite Preschool supplies…

Faber Castelle Beeswax Crayons: vibrant color with an easy carrying case to keep them all organized.

Training Scissors: These are great for 2 and up. They cut well, won’t cut hair (although thankfully we haven’t tested this) and can go from training scissors to regular with a flip of the little spring.

Golf Pencils: These are the perfect size for little hands. You won’t need as many as Amazon sells but it’s the cheapest option I’ve found.

I think that about sums it up. If you have any Preschool faves I’d love to hear them.

Books for Bird Study

We are wrapping up what has been my favorite study to date…BIRDS! I had no idea how much there is to know about birds. I’m constantly staring out the windows to see what the birds are up to. I’m so intrigued by their behaviors and sounds. Dirk now lovingly calls me a bird nerd. I just can’t stop.

So in our study of birds we’ve used quite a few different resources but, as always, books have offered us such a rich study. There are some great non-fiction books out there but I really prefer fiction books. While non-fiction books provide a lot of facts, I have found that when the facts are applied to a story we remember them so much better and it’s so much more fun! We found some really great books, both fiction and non-fiction, and I thought I’d share our favorites with you.

Books for Bird Study | Motherhood in the Trenches

First up we like the DK First Animal Encyclopedia. This is a newly released edition. It has some really great facts and has fun seek and find pictures at the beginning of each chapter. Both of my girls love it.

Now lets talk about two chapter books that we loved.


The Burgess Bird Book for Children is so fun and FULL of facts, in fact so many facts that you’ll never remember them all in just one reading. If you are an Epic! member you can read the full book on the app as well, if you aren’t a member of Epic you totally should be! Check out my blog post about it here, we LOVE it and use it almost every day. I read this book to Big Sis a bit but she mostly enjoyed listening to the audio on Librivox. If after reading a chapter, she was especially intrigued by a specific bird we would look up more info about the bird and maybe even make a nature journal page to go with it. It’s times like these that I think, “How did people homeschool without the internet?!” I mean seriously, we can let our curiosities lead us wherever we want and learn more than we could ever remember about a single bird. It seriously blows my mind.

Another read aloud that we have SO enjoyed is The Trumpet of the Swan. I just love E. B. White. This is a sweet story of Louis the trumpeter swan who is born without the ability to make a sound. With the help of a boy named Sam he figures out several clever ways to communicate. The vocabulary in this is perfect for a real aloud for young kiddos. Big Sis and I are absolutely loving it.

Edward the Emu was my girls’ favorite fiction bird book.

This is a fun light-hearted story about an emu who tries to take on the role of several different animals in the zoo in effort of trying to be the best animal at the zoo. Of course, Edward ends up learning that Emus are great and he should just be himself. The illustrations are fun and while there aren’t many bird facts it’s just an overall fun book.

My favorite story that we read was Albert.

I wasn’t expecting much from this book but it really was a sweet story and a great reminder that we should be getting out there even when it’s not easy. Basically Albert is a man who looks out his window each day and finds a reason not to go outside, it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, etc. But then a family of cardinals builds their nest in his hand and he is stuck there for months holding this nest. This would be an especially good book for kids who struggle with anxiety. One of our girls does and it was a great springboard for talking about all he was missing out on by making excuses not to go outside.

Hello My Name is Ruby is another fun book that will introduce your kids to whimsical images of different birds but the story is just a fun light-hearted story.



Feathers for Lunch is a fun, short little story, probably best for the youngest readers but Big Sis still liked to look at the various birds and feathers, which are labeled on each page. E really enjoyed the story though.

Pale Male was interesting true story of a hawk who takes up residence in New York City. The book is pretty long but Big Sis was interested in the story and wanted me to read it all in one sitting.

Mama Built a Little Nest is a cute story about different types of nests that birds build. There are also facts about each birds’ nest throughout the book.

An Egg is Quiet is about all different types of eggs, not just bird eggs. The illustrations are beautiful. There’s also a book, which we didn’t read, called A Nest is Noisy which is about different type of animal nests.

Feathers: Not Just for Flying is another beautifully illustrated book that talks about the various uses of feathers.

Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? was Big Sis’ favorite book. There are various birds’ calls within the book and Big Sis and E loved repeating after me.

There are also some really great bird books on Epic! that we enjoyed reading.

Adopted By An Owl on Epic! Books

Adopted by an Owl: The True Story of Jackson the Owl is a really cool story about a man who helps rehabilitate an owl and after releasing the owl, the owl decides to stay on the family farm for his whole life. It’s a really sweet story and a great way to open up the conversation about respecting nature.

Is-This-Panama

I really loved Is This Panama?: A Migration Story. It’s a super cute story of Sammy, a Wilson’s warbler, who is going to make his first migration from the Arctic Circle to Panama. He makes various friends along his way and finally makes it to Panama although he took the long way. At the end of the book you can see the normal path a Wilson warbler takes and the path that Sammy took.

We read a few other books as well but these were our favorites. Do you have a favorite bird book we haven’t mentioned? We’d love to check it out!

 

EPIC! Books – Netflix for Books

Happy New Year friends! It’s been awhile, I know. I miss blogging but life just hasn’t allowed for much of it these past few months. I wanted to come on and say Happy New Year and to let you in on a gem of a resource that we’ve been using.

I never click ads on Facebook, typically they’re pretty irrelevant but a few months ago a Facebook ad caught my attention:

The Netflix of Children's Books

Whaaaaat???? I LOVE children’s literature, like a lot, so I knew I had to check it out. As I looked into it I thought it sounded too good to be true. When I found out that I could try it out free for 30 days, I was hooked. I immediately downloaded it and set up a profile for Big Sis. We’ve used it for a few months now and I knew I just had to share.

Here are some great things about Epic! Books:

  1. You can read the books on iPhone, iPad or computer
  2. Each book shows it’s lexile level, AR level, age level and approximate reading time.
  3. There are new books added each week (and now educational videos too!)
  4. There’s a good selection of good quality educational books from Time magazine, National Geographic, and others.
  5. There’s something for all kids and each kid gets their own customized profile to match their interests and ages. Little E loves it just as much as Big Sis does. Some of the books at Little E’s age level even sing the words in the book. So fun!
  6. For my teacher friends, you get to use the app for FREE!!!!

Here are just some of the great selection of books you’ll find in the Epic! app.

Fancy Nancy “I Can Read” in Read to Me format – These books have the option to be read aloud to your kiddos. So perfect for those emergent readers.

Epic! Books - Netflix for Kids Books

Nancy Clancy

Epic! Books - Netflix for Kids Books

I was particularly excited to see “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine” as I have been trying to find a kid friendly book on her life.

Epic! Books - Netflix for Kids Books

Famous Children Series which tells stories from the early years of great composers and artists. These are also in “Read to Me” format.

Epic! Books - Netflix for Kids Books

Star Wars

Epic! Books - Netflix for Kids Books

 

Perhaps one of the most exciting for kids are the new activity books they just released. They have the “Lego Adventure” books, a Lego build-it-book, iSpy, recipe books, “Easy Magic Tricks”, “Cool Knitting”, “Science Around the House” and more!

Epic! Books - Netflix for Kids Books

 

Epic! Books - Netflix for Kids Books

Dover Classics like “Wind in the Willows” “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” “Jungle Book” “Anne of Green Gables” “The Secret Garden” and more

Epic! Books - Netflix for Kids Books

Berenstein Bears (including the “Big Book of Science and Nature”

Epic! Books - Netflix for Kids Books

There are also helpful resources like books on how to write a letter, or a research paper.

writing

There are so many other books on so many more topics. I could share all of the great ones with you but you really need to check it out for yourself. They have a 30 day free trial that I totally suggest you check out.

Back To School: 7 Products That Give Back

It’s already time for back to school shopping. I know some of you are anxious for school to start and others are dreading it. We are really looking forward to it over here, especially Big Sis. Whenever I know that I need to make a purchase I do two things, first I look for the sales and second, I look for ways to buy products that give back. Today I’m here to share with you 7 back to school shops that give back and a few deals on them as well.

7 Awesome School Supplies That Give Back | Motherhood in the Trenches

1. TOMS – This one almost goes without saying. I LOVE their shoes for the whole family but especially for my girls. They last a long time and are excellent quality. Little E has worn several pairs of Big Sis’ old shoes and I’ve even saved a few of those pairs for new baby too. A pair of shoes that can last through three kiddos has a big thumbs up from this mama. They also sell backpacks and other accessories. If you are a  new online customer, use this link to get $20 off $75 (disclaimer: this is a referral link).

2. dot – I recently stumbled upon this shop through another Instagram account I follow. Their school supplies look super cool and the best part is that with every purchase you make you are paying for a child in a developing country to attend school for half a day, including uniforms, supplies, and school fees.

3. Tink & Key - This shop sells the CUTEST tees for kids and mamas and they give back 10% of their sales to a different organization each month.

4. STATE Bags – These are super cute backpacks for boys and girls. “For every STATE bag purchased, STATE hand-delivers a backpack – packed with essential tools for success – to an American child in need.” They go even further in their mission. Check it all out here. The Kane backpacks are so cute and I love all of the pockets they have!

5. Yoobi - You may have seen these products at Target. They are a big line of colorful office and school supply products. For every Yoobi item you purchase a Yoobi item is donated to a US school to provide school supplies to all children.

6. Camplight Apparel - Another site with super cute tees for kids and adults. Although not publicly announced on their shop site, I found them through Instagram and saw that every shirt purchased helps provide school uniforms to children in need. The “They Call Me Brave” shirt specifically helps support a family who is adopting two kiddos from Uganda. You can read an interview with them and get a 20% off code here.

7. Mitscoots - This is a sock company with some super cute socks, especially for men and women. While on the streets of Austin, TX the founders discovered that the one thing the people on the streets wanted after food and water was socks. So if you buy a pair of socks and they will give socks of equal quality to a person in need. They also employ people who are transitioning out of homelessness to pack their boxes. Cute socks for you, warm toes for a person in need. Get 20% off for signing up for Mitscoots Mail. If you don’t get a pop up to do this, go to the very bottom of the homepage and it’s on the right hand side.

Surviving the First Year of Homeschooling : 5 Things I Learned Along the Way

What a wild ride this first homeschool year was. One thing I’m learning in this homeschooling world is that definitions and labels rarely apply. I’ve spent a lot of time researching the different homeschooling methods and trying to decide where my own educational philosophy fits. We aren’t really a unit studies family, we’re not unschoolers, we’re definitely not into traditional schooling, we did quite a bit of Montessori methods in the beginning but are starting to shy away from that as Big Sis gets older. (If you want to take a fun quiz to see what homeschooling methods you are most like check out this quiz) Both Charlotte Mason and Classical Education have pieces that are very appealing to me but still didn’t meet exactly what I felt was right for our family. One night I sat on the couch feeling totally defeated and torn between the Classical and Charlotte Mason methods. I poured out my frustrations to Dirk and he said, “You studied teaching methods for years, you have an elementary teaching credential, you are passionate about teaching and your teaching philosophy. Just do what you think is best for our family and for Big Sis.” DUH! Sometimes the things he says can seem so simple but feel so profound. And so from there I guess we would now be classified as an eclectic homeschool family. Every time I say that I can’t help but chuckle. If you know me, you know I am anything BUT eclectic.

Why did I just tell you this? Because it’s just a brief look into the struggles of the first year of homeschooling. I have talked to a lot of new homeschool moms and we all have the same issues plaguing our minds. We are constantly questioning ourselves, wondering if we are screwing up our kids, wondering if they are where they “need” to be. We are struggling to find where the rest of our lives fit in amongst this new homeschooling thing. How do we still pay attention to the little ones who are not being homeschooled? The first year is hard!

Surviving the First Year of Homeschooling | Motherhood in the Trenches

After talking to a few of my wisest and most seasoned homeschool friends this is what I learned and I thought I’d share it with you. Hopefully this will be just as encouraging for you as it was for me…

#1 Come up with a homeschooling mission statement.

Why are you homeschooling? You need to know this because there will be days, maybe even weeks when you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” You need to have something written on paper to refer back to and to remember why you are doing this. Why are you giving up coffee dates and play dates and some “me” time when you could be sending your kiddo to school and regaining some of those fun days. Some days sending Big Sis to school full time sounds freeing. Please do not misread this, sending your kid to school for 8 hours a day is NOT a bad thing but if you are called to homeschool this year you need to know why. Which brings me to another point…

#2 Know When It’s Time to Quit

I know I’m going to ruffle some homeschooling mama feathers out there but I do not believe that homeschooling is for every kid, for every family, or for every season of life. What might work for one kid doesn’t work for another. What has worked for two years may not work this coming year. Have a list of parameters in place to know when it’s time to quit and even if you think, “I would never stop homeschooling” know that there may be a time when you do have to call it quits. One of my very best friends recently ended, or at least suspended, her homeschool journey with her kiddos. This is a family who has been such an encouragement to me and in years past I know that she never would have thought she wouldn’t homeschool. I have so much respect for their family because despite what they always thought they would do, they had their list of reasons to stop homeschooling and when it was evident that God was calling them away from this method of schooling, they moved on to where God wanted them. It wasn’t easy for her but in the end God was of course faithful and has met the needs of every member of their family.

#3 Have a Support System

If you don’t know other moms who are homeschooling find some! I can’t tell you how many times I texted my homeschooling mom friends asking questions from what curriculum do you use for this? to did your kiddo ever experience this issue? So many questions and so much help and so much support. If you don’t have people around you who homeschool find people! Search Facebook to see if there’s a local homeschool Facebook group. Search the #wildandfree hashtag on Instagram. There are lots of homeschooling mamas on there who are so encouraging and many are willing to answer your questions. They even have periodic homeschool meetups all over the country. I’ll post the next time they have one to keep you in the loop. Ask around your church or play groups to see if people know homeschool families. To know that you are not alone in this is so helpful!

#4 Prioritize

When you homeschool, homeschooling is a priority and you need to be stubborn about this priority. Be ready to refer back to your mission statement. You will get invites from friends to do things, you will be tempted to commit to Bible Studies, weekly playgroups, etc. You have to decide what’s right for you and what you can handle while still keeping homeschooling a priority. One of the hardest things for me was that people who don’t homeschool, just don’t get it. At times I felt judged and was questioning whether it really was okay to be quitting this Bible Study or saying no to certain outings. In the end remember you can’t do it all!

#5 Be Prepared to Be Flexible

Be prepared for things to not go according to your plan. Your curriculum may not be the right fit or may need some tweaking. It’s going to take awhile, maybe a whole school year to figure out your schedule. And just when you figure it out, it’ll be time to figure out the following the year. Then there’s the issue of where you’re going to homeschool. You may think that homeschooling on your dining room table is going to work and then like us you realize that somedays you want to just leave school stuff out which leaves no where to eat dinner. Or maybe you have an empty space in your hallway, I know random right?, and so you set up your homeschool area there and realize that you all feel boxed in. Finally you decide that the extra sitting room in your master bedroom is actually the best fit and you move there and it mostly works but even after a full school year you haven’t found something that REALLY works so you brainstorm for the next year. Things aren’t always going to go your way. Your homeschooling is not going to and shouldn’t look like a traditional classroom setting. Things will need to be tweaked. Be prepare to be flexible.

There’s a long list of other things I’ve learned but I felt like these four things were the main things I learned this year. If you are a homeschool family, I’d love to hear things you’ve learned along the way. I know there are many of us who would benefit from your experience. Would you like to share? Leave a comment below!