Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Homeschool Kindergarten - A Blast from the Past!

The "clean sweep" has finally made it to our files!  It has been a long time coming, and we finally pulled out and dug through all the old files full of papers collected over the past couple of decades of marriage!!  Hooray!

I found this old letter--originally written on May 20, 1999, when my three oldest children were 5, 3, and 15 months respectively.  Talk about a blast from the past!  They are now almost 17, 15, 13, and there's an additional 10-year old sister in the mix!

The original letter was in response to a friend's query about how we were handling homeschool kindergarten without pre-fab curriculum.

What is chronicled here is so very different from how we ended up having to handle it the fourth time around! (EL had three older siblings who were in middle and high school as she came along--and we had begun serious lessons and co-op participation and the like--so her homeschool kindergarten was decidedly different from this!)

So, here it is, in my own words, so very many years and so very many seasons ago.  For whatever it is worth...

Dear Heather,
Please forgive the incongruity of this letter... these thoughts are only moderately organized in my mind, so they may come out disjointed and/or confusing.  Sorry!  Also, what I'm doing this year, curriculum-wise, is so bound up in what I've already done, that I feel like I'll just have to share that, and get to the actual materials at the end.  Take or leave whatever, whatever it's worth...

(Inserted thought, at the end of it all: I read over this note, once I finished it, to see if it made sense, and it all sounds remarkable and wonderful and organized.  I feel inadequate and intimidated next to my own description of myself!  So, know that these things don't always happen as smoothly and consistently as this straight description makes it seem!)

Thoughts about homeschooling, and feeling overwhelmed: Every day I wonder if I can do this thing, and if I'll mess up my kids, and if they'll learn what they need to, etc...  I have a teaching degree and I fear these things a ton, so know that those feelings are part of it, no matter how "qualified" or "unqualified" you may be in the world's eyes...

Thoughts about how I began "schooling" for little ones (and how it wasn't really "schooling" at first, at all): My goal, before I ever began any academic training, was to be relatively certain that the important character-training issues were well underway in my home.  Thus, our first years have focused on things like:

*Discipline (obedience, contradicting/backtalk, arguing, throwing fits, etc.): You need to be reasonably sure you can expect your child to respond to you in obedience IN LIFE before you expect him to respond obediently in a teaching setting.

* Bible training (stories, memory verses, crafts, application, etc.): My kids began memorizing "ABC verses" from the time they were two.  I have sort of fallen into the realization that, in addition to filling their minds with God's truth in His Word, this has led to many other wonderful "by-products."  It was great training in self-discipline--memorizing and practicing and retaining something requires great diligence and self-control.  Also, letter and phonics recognition that just sort of happened along the way... for example, as they memorized the verse that began with "A," I showed them a big and little A and taught them that "A says a" (as in the short vowel sound in cat)... same with all the letters.  By the end of the memory program, they recognized most all the letters and beginning phonics sounds (short vowels and hard consonants) and I hadn't had to sit down and teach them, per se.

* Sitting still and quiet in certain settings: I've also sort of "stumbled" into realizing the huge by-product blessing it has been to train them to be quiet and still when they need to be.  They remain with us in church and meetings, they can go to the ballet and the symphony and any place like that when someone wants to take them, and they are primed for sitting still and quiet for learning/schooling scenarios later.

* Praying together: We pray about anything, but I make a point to pray with them at times other than just meal time.  Also, we have a "quiet time" together in the mornings, where we read and discuss a short passage of Scripture together--currently, a part of a Psalm each day.  This will eventually turn into their own personal devotion time; I just want to train them early to work this into their days, so that they won't have as much struggle with it later as I do!  This time is separate from "Bible time," which is a fun family devotion time Daddy does in the evening, which involves a story and discussion and some singing.  It is also separate from "Bible cards," which is a time I go through some A Beka Bible Flash Cards with them each day.  I've borrowed these from a friend who owns all the sets, and they are wonderful.  We are working on slowly obtaining some of our own, as gift money and stuff comes in for the kids.  This is what we do in the afternoon just before "quiet play time" (for EV-5) and "rest time" (for PT-3), which may or may not include a nap.  They love these Bible cards.

* Household skills (chores, cooking, gardening, organizing, etc.);  This is just worked into our life routine, but it also seems to teach much self-discipline... EV(5) and PT(3) make their beds, dress themselves, help fold laundry and put it away, set the table, load and empty the dishwasher, help me make food and bake bread, etc.  We have taught (by example and by what we demand of them) that "everything has its place," and that you must put it back there when you're finished with it.  We've only allowed play with one thing at a time, after which you put that away before you get out another thing, etc.  There are a lot of baskets and boxes and such in our home, such that "all the Legos go here," and "all the sewing cards go here," etc.

* Safety skills (memorized name/address/phone, fire & water skills, go meet a fireman and policeman, etc.)

* Motor skills--large and small: This is accomplished for us by (LMS) playing outside, walks and/or bike rides, hopping, skipping, climbing, trampoline jumping, etc. (SMS) sewing cards, Barbie and paper dolls, Playmobil guys, colorforms, PlayDoh, holding a pencil properly when drawing, coloring in the lines, using scissors to cut on lines or around pictures, etc.

*Educational-minded games: Early on, this is things like colors, body parts, animals, shapes, etc.  Later it is things like puzzles, KingSize Uno, rock/paper/scissors, tic-tac-toe, letter bingo, "memory" games, CandyLand, magnets, etc.

* Reading aloud: This is huge, I think, as far as teaching a love of literature, exposure to English cadence and language rhythm, vocabulary expansion, etc.  We read "non-picture books" from very early on: daily, a page or two, of books like Beatrix Potter tales (Peter Rabbit, etc.), Pooh tales (the original ones), classic fairy tales, etc. Also, Richard Scarry-type books for vocabulary expansion and exposure to things I can't actually take them to see...

* Going places ("field trips"): kids' museum, zoo, beach, park, etc.

* Ministry and service: We try to keep our eyes and ears open to needs within the Body and meet them when we can.  I try to really involved the kids when this happens (making & taking a meal to someone, watching someone's children for them, cleaning someone's house for them, etc.)--especially is if disrupts our usual "school routine"--and explain as we go how we're serving the Lord and His church by doing this certain thing.

SO, all of that is what goes in to stuff before I ever begin teaching anything "academic," per se.  With EV(5), and now PT(3), what I've begun with, after all this is at least moderately established, is "reading instruction."  I feel pretty vulnerable and silly sharing this, because it is so casual and "unofficial" (in the curriculum sense), and it is stuff I've just created myself.  (This is nice because it is then FREE!)  I made flash cards first of all with all the capital and small letters and numerals 1-10.  (I'm sure to include a goofy-looking small A like is in most printed material, and I make the 4 look both ways they'll potentially see it, etc.)  We go through those daily (for however long their relative attention spans will handle, and building to more daily as they get more used to doing it) until I'm relatively sure they know the letters and basic phonetic sounds as described above.  This is a relatively short phase for me because of the Bible memory lessons they already had, but I'd stay at this stage as long as necessary until I was sure they had it.  If it was taking a long time and being really boring, I'd read a ton of ABC books together, too, to speed it along.  Put letter magnets on the fridge.  Play letter match puzzle games.  Anything to reinforce the letters (and, for me, the simple sound that goes with it).

Next I went to making flashcards with two-letter words that follow "pure simple phonics" rules (short vowel/hard consonant). [A says a, T says g, a-t, at] etc...

After that I went to three-letter words of the same phonetic make-up.  This step was a little slower with EV than with PT.  She spent a while saying, for example, "B-at" (a two-syllable thing involving a "B" sound followed by the word "at" but not getting how to blend it all together) or "B-ox" and the like.  Spending some time with opening blends will help if this is the case (ba-, be-, bi-, bo-, bu-, bl-, br-, etc.)  After they've mastered the three-letter words (with or without opening blends practice), I move onto four-letter pure phonics words and a few "sight words" (the, because, is, was, etc.).  Don't introduce too many sight words at once or they'll get confused.  Just one at a time until they have it.

After they've gotten the concept of all that, and can read all those flash cards fluently and quickly, they are more than ready to move on to "real books," and I've borrowed from a friend just the readers to the "Sing, Spell, Read, and Write" program.  This is a great phonics/reading program with a lot of "bells and whistles" (music, singing, rhymes, etc.) that costs a couple hundred bucks.  My friend bought just the readers for $18.  (And I borrow them, so far, which costs nothing, though I've been on the lookout for my own set!)  The readers progressively take you through each phonetic rule they should learn, so we just work through them from book one (which is all short A vowel words put into stories).  We also occasionally check out the "Bob" books from the library just because they're fun and something different for her to read.  At this point PT(3) is reading the flash cards (and asking to move on to the books!) and EV(5) is in book 9 of the readers.

I let them go through those "preschool skills" book you pick up at dollar stores and stuff, a lot.  They do things like mazes and dot-to-dots and tracing on the lines and that sort of thing.  Iivo's mother gives them lots of these, too, so we've utilized the fact that they are here, for "free," so to speak.

During this time, as far as "arithmetic" went, we did numeral recognition and quantity concepts with a number puzzle we have that pairs up 1-24 numbers with pieces that have that number of things pictured on them.  We also spent time counting and manipulating poker chips in "math-y" ways.  Nothing official, again...

I hung up a manuscript ABC border in my kids' bedrooms, and in the dining room (our "school room") and they've both just learned to make the letters by looking up and copying them.  I taught them first to write their names (that's all PT(3) can do, and a couple of other letters) and then EV(5) would just seems to practice writing letters as she drew and colored and played in that way.  I bought one of those rubber pencil-grip things that makes them hold their hand properly, from the teachers' store, and I make them use that when they draw.  I let them learn to make their letters on unlined paper, and this year EV and I will work for the first time on official "penmanship."  I bought an A Beka book called Writing with Phonics K4 for this purpose.  It reinforces the phonics instruction while teaching them proper spacing and alignment for writing letters on lined paper.  (You have to order the manuscript edition special, if you want them to learn to print, as A Beka is big on teaching cursive early and they have cursive editions as the standard.)  I also bought Writing with Phonics K5, which I will move on to whenever we finish the K4 book.  The only other official "curriculum-type thing" I bought for this coming year for EV were the A Beka books called Letters and Sounds K and Number Skills K Arithmetic.  I didn't (and wouldn't) buy any of the teacher's manuals unless you are just a big teacher's-manual-type person.  The books themselves are rather self-explanatory at this stage, and the money will be better spent later, on other curricula, in my opinion.  I plan to cover these "disposables" workbooks with contact paper to keep them looking fresh and new, as I think that keeps the kids careful and tidy with their books.  Of course, they write directly in the workbooks, and I think I'll save them as part of a "record" filed away for later.  I also save the best of their drawings and crafty things they create and put them in a file, "for posterity," and to document things should anyone ever want to see it.

As far as "science" and "social studies" go this year, I have a vague sense that I will try to incorporate these things in casual, fun, free ways.  I have a hands-on preschool science experiment book that we may plan to do one or two days a week.  I also have hung a map, and I think I'll read stories to the kids from various locations around the world, and then mark those locations on the map with a little circle representing the story somehow.  I plan to use the story as a springboard for studying the other culture somehow.  (For instance, the Madeleine books to study about France, the Peng books to study about China, etc.)

I myself have never attended a curriculum fair, nor do I plan to attend one this year.  (I did go to just the A Beka demonstration this year because I wanted to see the books hands-on and find out just what level I though EV was ready for--and you get free shipping if you order them there!  I thought I could handle one guy, in one room, full of only one curriculum! ;)  I find myself too overwhelmed in life by the whole homeschool concept, and I refuse to allow myself to freak out and get too stressed out over kindergarten!  From what I understand, curriculum fairs can be desperately overwhelming!  

We're just slowly plugging along with whatever we can do for pretty much close-to-free, and I'm not sweating how it "officially" lines up with someone's idea of kindergarten.  I have requested a copy of the SOLs ("Standards of Learning") from the local school board, just so I'll know what they think a kid should be learning at this stage, but I don't feel too hyper about trying to teach right to that.  As far as opinions I have about various curricula: these I've obtained by just "picking the brains" of several homeschool moms that I admire and respect.  I figure it is worth finding out, from a variety of people, what has worked and what hasn't, in their experience.  THAT is more valuable to me than trying to swim through 10,000 books at a huge fair where everyone is trying to convince me that their stuff is exactly what I need.  My personality can be overwhelmed by that, and I know that I could become "convinced" that I "needed" far more stuff than I actually do, or can afford--especially for kindergarten!!

There is a homeschool co-op at our church that I have found invaluable as far as providing several things I can't provide by myself at home: "official" accountability with other homeschool moms, structured social interactions for my kids with other kids, opportunities for a "literary magazine" of sorts and for "oral presentations," a chance to learn and say the pledge of allegiance, exposure for my kids to other teachers and teaching styles, and all those sorts of things that can't happen so well with only one or two kids at home (organized PE games, drama and acting stuff, etc.)  I'd recommend finding some such group in your area, if there is one...

So, there it is, the Laurie hodge podge of what I've done and hope to do with my little preschoolers by way of "schooling" them.  As, as you can tell, all of it is quite casual and unstructured.  (Our reading instruction, for example, often happens with all of us piled into our queen-sized bed!)  Each of these things doesn't happen each day, by any means, but at least one of these things happens each day.

I don't know if I've helped you at all, or it I've just confused you and made everything worse.  Whichever is the case, feel free to write at any time with any questions or comments, or to share any of your own experiences and suggestions.  My "schooling" is ever-evolving and ever-incorporating as I share with other moms.  In fact, for most of the ideas expressed here, I need to give credit to the many mothers I've "stolen" ideas from.  (Thanks to Karen McD., Elizabeth T., Kathy T., Cheri D.!)

Partners in this crazy adventure of motherhood and education,

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