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Homeschooling | Encouragement for the Little Years

Our four children are five and a half years apart, meaning when we began our first formal year of homeschooling, I had a kindergartener, two preschoolers, and an older infant. I also had a calendar grid of all of the curriculum and plans I had researched and assembled for our learning––music, handwriting, math, reading, art, spelling, history, science and so on––I was optimistic, enthusiastic, and full of ambition. I had put so much thought and time into our decision to homeschool, I felt sure that with all of my plans in place, we could do it! And then, as happens with a home full of children under six, plans fell apart. Just a couple of months in, I found myself frustrated, sometimes only crossing one “school” plan off in a day and on the hardest days, not even crossing off one. I began doubting whether I actually could homeschool. Mark would come home and ask how the day went. Some days I could run him through some activities we had accomplished, but most days, I could only shoulder shrug: what had we actually done? I would rehearse the day aloud, at times feeling defeated by the mundanity: meals/snacks, laundry, nursing? Toilet training, tantrums, sibling squabbles? Read aloud, Legos, painting, play outside? Did we finish our reading lesson, have tears during math, practice our handwriting?

I was looking for check marks, for progression through my plans for our year. I was looking for affirmation, signs that I wasn’t going to screw up my children.  I needed a sign that what we were doing mattered. Like many parents, I wanted so much for our homeschool experience and was working hard to tweak and  improve. I wanted to have an answer when people casually asked about science or history or spelling, to prove that I really could do this, even if it was simply proving it to myself. Homeschooling worked so neatly together in my head, and yet in action, it seemed to be a mess! Some days our home life felt smooth and in sync, in spite of their busyness and our slow academic progress.

When I look back to those early years of mothering and homeschooling, what I needed most was encouragement––little reminders to keep going, perspective from a mother just a few steps ahead. I realize that every parent and home is different. Our goals vary and the texture and nuances of our days will too. That’s exactly as it should be, but today, I want to speak specifically to the readers with littles at home, those who are considering or trying out homeschooling for the first time, for families who have younger siblings at home with you. Here are a few things I wish an older homeschooling mother would have said to me in those years when I was about to quit because I couldn’t reconcile our family logistics with all I had hoped in my head or my plans.

You are exactly who your child needs. Your children are a gift to you, and you to them. Wisdom, counsel, and troubleshooting are so helpful on this journey, but in the end, you have to make choices for your home. Pray. Observe. Listen. Use your intuition. Ask for wisdom from people you trust. And just go with it.

You do not have to do it all to be successful. And neither do your children. Focus on a few important goals each day and let go of the rest for now. I wrote more specifically about this here and here.

Be present. The little years are so demanding, but you will miss them. They are foundational for who your children are to become, for how you will relate as they grow. Don’t worry about what you will do or how you will make it through tomorrow. Work patiently and connected with your children today and you will be prepared for it.

Build your day’s activities around your natural home rhythm, not an academic agenda. When I look back now I notice how often I was fighting our home rhythm. My plans were good plans, but aside from meal and nap times, they had omitted our daily living practices, the personal nuances that make our home work.

Be patient with yourself, and with them. As your children grow, their capacity and attention will grow, too. They’re not interested in a writing yet? Focus on reading and letter recognition and offer them play to strengthen writing muscles. Tears everyday in math? Try a more hands-on approach, like here, or wait a bit longer to begin lessons. Your child is eager for academic lessons, but your home schedule or routine doesn’t consistently allow it? Invite them to help with home tasks for a time and set a specific time for you to work one-one-one with their “school” work.

You do not need an academic checklists to validate your days. For list-makers and high-achievers (raises hand), put aside your plans and study your children. If you must make lists (raises hand again), list books you might enjoy together or a few craft ideas for your week or month. List questions they ask or topics them mention for your next trip to the library or museum or nature walk. Make your lists responsive to the conversations in your home, not burdensome tasks. The early years carry enough tasks and burdens of their own. Wink.

Play more. Play more. Play more. The gift of time and play are one of the best gifts for homeschool families. Here is a favorite book list for ideas to encourage play at home and some of the ways it benefits children of all ages.

Let them be messy. And teach them clean up. Wink. But seriously, the little years are busy and messy. That’s okay. Regular practice of cleaning up together with help them learn a bit about respecting spaces and how to care for one another and our things. It takes time. Our family is still learning this skill.

Save lessons that require more focus for a quieter part of the day. Most children need a quiet time for reading lessons or math. Consider how younger sibling activity and interruptions affect lessons with older children. Look for quiet windows of time, and consider using one of those instead.

Home care and self care are important, too. Teaching your child how to care for the home and themselves is an important lifeskill.  Perhaps your child loathes sitting still but loves helping in the kitchen or with chores. This won’t always be the case, but consider the ways busy hands might prefer to learn.

Everyone has opinions. Smile at strangers who glare or who give their opinions in the grocery line. Also have a short response in your mind’s pocket for the “what about socialization?” question. Wink.

Take care of yourself in the process. Some days you will need to just enjoy coffee on the back porch, while your children play. If you start to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, stop and breathe. Let the kids play. Put the baby in the crib. Turn on a brief educational show for a bit. Make space for yourself to breathe and regroup. Mothering is hard work and you matter, too. Don’t feel guilty about carving space to take care of yourself in the process.

OTHER FAVORITE RESOURCES TO ENCOURAGE + LEAD

Wild+Free | A beautiful homeschool community full of rich wisdom and varied experience.

Whole Family Rhythms | Seasonal guides for the preschool years at home, inspired by Waldorf methodology.

The Peaceful Preschool | A gentle literature and project-based curriculum, inspired by a variety of methodologies.

Play the Forest Way | Several activities/projects to encourage parents and young children to play in the woods.

The Life-Giving Home | A wonderful encouragement for mothers about the beauty of home in each month and season.

 

 

a simple path to nature study

 
doing_less_homeschooling-2a simple path to nature studyEach afternoon, indoors or outdoors depending on the weather, I read aloud with the kids, while they flip through nature books, illustrate and paint. We’ve always had a simple approach to our study and enjoyment of nature, beginning with simply playing [and hiking and camping] outdoors when they were young. I use the term study loosely here since we aren’t often researching Latin names or classifications of plants and animals, although my oldest three have done so more as they grow, simply from their curiosity. For now, the primary focus of this time is merely to learn to pay attention to the world around them, to observe details in the things and places we experience, and even the illustrations we notice in a book.

Children can craft their own exploration through well-illustrated books just as well as they can in the outdoors, so I try to leave a variety of well-illustrated nature books available on the table for them to thumb through whenever. Ideally, these books compliment their outdoor time, even if they aren’t exactly the same in content and timing.  Together we might talk about a certain animal or ecosystem as they pop up in our stories or research something new we find outdoors, but for the most part I encourage freedom and curiosity in their nature studies, both indoors and out. I simply ask them to choose something that interests them, sketch it as best they can, and add color. For the older ones, I encourage more labeling, but for Olive, who tends to grow frustrated that she can’t draw as well as her older siblings, I simply encourage her observation and drawing skills.

For young children, I’ve also noticed drawing is far less intimidating when sketching from a book than trying to sketch a living thing, so I also keep a variety of drawing books around to help encourage them to notice the elements of shape in illustrations. A how-to on one bird will easily translate to another. A cat might have the same shape as a fox with different details. Sketching one leaf, will help you sketch another. And so on. Notice and alter the details, I encourage.

We haven’t ever kept a nature journal in the traditional sense, although I admire those who do. For now, notebook-ing is an easier commitment and process for us. After their artwork has dried, we simply slip it into a page protector in a binder to preserve it. Naturally, their notebooks also reflect their whim––opposed to a more orderly and processed study––revealing a starfish on one page and a rabbit on the next. But I’m okay with this right now, as it fits into our day in a less stressful way, giving exposure to a variety of living things perhaps they’ll order in later years.

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For those of you interested in beautiful resources, here are some of the ones we are using and enjoying in our home, often in those afternoon table scenes I share on Instagram:

DRAWING + JOURNALING REFERENCES /

Draw Write Now series (for young children) 

Drawing With Children (teaching parents to teach their children to draw)

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling  (for older children and adults)

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You (for older children and adults) 

The Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders All Around You (wonderful for cultivating simple connections to nature from home)

ILLUSTRATED BOOKS /

Nature Anatomy

Farm Anatomy

Animalium

Natural World: A Visual Compendium of Wonders from Nature

Botanicum (pre-ordered and so excited to add to our study of plant life)

Nature’s Day: Discover the World of Wonder On Your Doorstep (wonderful for younger children) 

REFERENCES FOR PARENTS

Last Child in the Woods (re-reading this now; so good)

Play the Forest School Way (a wonderful resource of playful activities with nature, geared toward ages 4-11)

Wild + Free (their monthly bundles always include a beautiful section for nature study by Kristin Rogers)

The Handbook of Nature Study (intimidating in size and text, but a great reference for older children and adults)

SUPPLIES

LYRA Rembrandt Polycolor pencils

Stockmar primary watercolors

110# cardstock paper (cheaper than watercolor paper)

1″ recycled binder 

page protectors

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saving seeds from the home garden

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We didn’t plant a spring garden this year, minus a few yukon gold potato plants (which we’ve already harvested) and a handful of herbs. The spring felt heavy with projects around our home, and I felt the need to let the soil and my management of it rest for a season. In reality, I’m a novice gardener, learning most often though trial and error (more of the latter, I’m afraid), tons of internet research, and the simple practice again and again. I hope bringing my children into the learning process will teach them something practical about botany and science. More abstractly, I want them to learn how to patiently wait and tend small beginnings, and also to cultivate life.

After opting to rest our garden space this season, my sister mentioned letting our autumn garden go to seed, a new process for our home. The children are generally familiar with the work of seeds at this point and the assortment of sizes we find at our local farm store, but we’ve never seen them grow from the vegetable plant itself. This was the perfect year to try.

Our broccoli plants were hearty this year and produced well, so we opted to begin there. For weeks the stalks extended, shooting a stray broccoli floret that if left untouched would flower with the gentlest yellow blooms. Sometimes we would eat them anyway and find them just as tender. Nibbling vegetables straight from the garden is a simple life pleasure. After a while, the plant began to make slim bean pods, like a miniature sugar snap pea or green bean. We left them on the stem to dry out right on the plant. This process took a few weeks. When we noticed the pods turn a golden straw color, it was time to collect the seeds. The boys were away that afternoon, so the girls and I enjoyed the easy task of plucking pods and emptying seeds into a bowl on our own. It was a simple task for a child of any age to enjoy. The dried pods easily pried open to release the minuscule black seeds. For simplicity, we used a bowl, and afterward I funneled the seeds into a small, air-tight glass jar which I’ll store in our pantry until the autumn planting season. Although it’s still early in the summer growing season for running to seed, I thought I’d share a few tips for any of you wanting to save your seeds later.

Collect heirloom seeds only. / Apparently, hybrid plants are often genetically programmed to be sterile after one season, so the harvested seeds may not sprout next season. If you generally plant hybrid seeds, consider trying one heirloom plant to collect seeds from next season.

Allow seeds to dry on the plant. / It can take longer for seeds to dry out after plucking, so allow the sun and air to do the work for you. Let them dry before you pick them.

Plan ahead for seed saving. / Not all plants produce seeds the first growing season. Also if I had planted a spring garden, the broccoli wouldn’t have gone to seed quick enough for us to collect. According to this article, beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers are the best plants for beginning seed savers. Since tomatoes are commonly grown in this season, here’s a helpful page on saving tomato seeds.

Be patient. / This part of the process takes just as much patience as waiting for the first fruits. I will note: it didn’t require quite as much work in the waiting.

 

real talk real moms | on preschool at home

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One of the greatest gifts in my thirteen years of motherhood has been friendship, having other women in my life to hash out the hard questions and celebrate the victories of this beautiful, complicated journey. I also appreciate hearing thoughts and perspectives from mothers, even when we are approaching motherhood in a different manner. It’s nice to be reminded there’s no one set path. We all have something to learn from the other. On that note, I’m glad to be joining a few other mothers each month to write and share thoughts around a single topic. The series is called Real Talk, Real Moms and today I’m joining them to discuss thoughts on education, more specifically preschool–a topic dear to me.

It may surprise some to know I never planned to homeschool. My two oldest went to a sweet preschool two times a week, and it was in my oldest son’s last preschool year, we decided to homeschool instead of sending him to kindergarten. Perhaps I feel endeared to these years because of the sharp turn in trajectory it took for our family. Or perhaps it is that we are now closing this chapter of life for our family that allows me to see the beauty and simplicity of those years. Children learn so much in those years. Their imaginations and ideas literally gape open to the world around them. Still the preschool years can be busy and overwhelming, too. The changing brain causes shifting emotions and behaviors, too. When it comes to deciding how to best prepare young ones for the grammar school years, it can be intimidating to take the responsibility on at home. Where do I begin? How do I know if they’ll be prepared to leave for school? Will this mean I homeschool forever? Will they have enough interactions with other kids? Can I really do this? Thoughts can easily spiral. It’s normal, especially for your oldest child(ren).

Yet preschool at home doesn’t mean recreating a classroom experience at home. The home and world outside it IS the classroom. As Charlotte Mason famously noted, “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Homeschooling the little years isn’t simply about finding the right curriculum or creating all the right folder games or even making sure they know a certain amount of information before age five. It doesn’t mean you even need to know what to do the following year or how long you will homeschool. It simply requires you to be attentive, to be willing to step into something new alongside your child. As Mary Oliver wrote, “to pay attention, this is our greatest work.” Homeschooling in general is in many ways simply learning to pay attention. For those of you who are considering homeschooling your preschooler or kindergartener next year, here’s a few helpful lessons I’ve learned along the way, often times the hard way.

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TIPS FOR HOMESCHOOLING THE PRESCHOOL YEARS

start small / Begin with something familiar, with what you know and already naturally do in your home. Do you love making food or being outdoors or painting? Use those processes to introduce letters/sounds and numbers.

focus on your home / Social media can be inspiring and paralyzing. Don’t work to live according to other home principles, but instead open your heart and eyes to see your own. Work to establish an atmosphere of curiosity and conversation. Children want to learn in the early years. They want to satisfy curiosities and discover causal relationships. And for the most part, they love being with you.

read books often / Reading aloud to your children will not necessarily mean they will learn to read earlier, but it will develop a love for stories and expand their vocabulary. Developing a reading culture at home will create an appetite for a lifelong love of words.

play with various art materials / Purchase a variety of quality art materials for your children to use and explore mediums. Make collages from different types of paper or magazines. Draw with pastels as well as crayons and pencils.

keep a basket for busy bees / If you have multiple children or small children who love to be busy, keep a special basket for them to play with at certain times of the day. Consider wood blocks, stamps, play-dough, doodle books, needling board, a lap loom, and so on. Pull it out during read-a-loud or when you’re needing to make dinner or spend one-on-one time with another child.

observe + study your children / Become a student of your children. Watch them. How do they respond to large groups versus alone time? Do they tend to move to learn or sit still and focus? Do they have trouble holding writing utensils? Understanding who your children are and how they learn will help you parent them, whether homeschooling or not.

consider hiring help / No one said you need to do everything to be a good mother. Prioritize what’s most important and look for ways to delegate other tasks. Do you have room in your budget to hire help with cleaning or a babysitter to help run errands or play with the kids for a few hours a week? If your budget is small, consider swapping children with a close friend or asking a close relative for help.

play, play, play / Children discover so much on their own by simply playing. Allow them time to create their own play, checking in on them occasionally for safety.

choose simple materials / When I began homeschooling during these early years, all of the materials we used fit into a small antique cabinet in our dining area (maybe one square foot of interior space). I kept a stack of drawing paper, watercolors, crayons, colored pencils, a reading guide, and pre-k materials from Handwriting Without Tears. We made weekly trips to the library and our local children’s museum, and I met weekly with a couple of friends to do a few simple activities, have lunch, and play.

MORE I’VE WRITTEN ON PRESCHOOL AT HOME

Other contributors to this series:

AVE Styles

Design for Mankind

The Effortless Chic

The Refined Woman

Sarah Sherman Samuel

 

handwork: a philosophy + practice in the homeschool

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When children are very young, they have natural curiosities about the world and explore them, trying diligently to figure out what is real. As they become “producers ” they fall away from exploration and start fishing for the right answers with little thought. They believe they must always be right, so they quickly forget mistakes and how these mistakes were made. They believe that the only good response from the teacher is “yes,” and that a “no” is defeat. ― John Holt, How Children Fail

I often receive questions from parents, wondering if we will homeschool our children in high school, or how I will teach them more complex maths or sciences. I truly don’t know the answer to either of those questions right now. Yet my years of experience thus far have taught me this: teaching my children from home doesn’t require that I know everything or even be everything for them; it simply requires a willing heart, one that will learn with them, try new things, and adapt when something isn’t working. Generally speaking, I must live in a way that models I am learning, and mistakes and struggle are a part of my process, too.

Still, this can be the most uncomfortable part of this journey for me, as I learned very young how to be what Holt refers to as an academic “producer.” I learned unconsciously how to diminish the value of process and uphold the end result instead. Right? Good. Wrong? Bad. Yes? Good. No? Bad. Inwardly and almost intuitively, I labeled mistakes as failures and naturally leaned toward the successes, often avoiding the embarrassing words “I don’t know” or “I can’t do that.” I simply wouldn’t. I like knowing. Maybe it’s due to being a first-born. Maybe it’s tied to temperament. Maybe it’s more deeply tied to my humanity, to that fruit Adam and Eve tasted so long ago. I don’t know. What I do know is the slow work of parenting and homeschooling are teaching me about the beauty of process. There are no short-cuts to the end result on this journey. There are adaptations and amendments. There are different styles and ideas to share and learn. There are endless amounts of resources and tools. Yet regardless of one’s personal family ethos or pedagogy, there is no way around the slow, unfolding work of raising and educating a child. It is the hardest, most beautiful process, but it is still a process. In a very practical way, I must choose to step forward without knowing where exactly this road ends.

For our children, these lessons begin with small, concrete experiences. How to crack an egg. How to draw a line. How to form a stitch. By introducing them to specific tools, whether a needle, a loom, a pottery wheel, or a knife, we also introduce them to the value of process. They have eyes and ears, moving bodies and strong voices, busy hands, imaginative minds and curious spirits. This, I have decided, is enough to begin any endeavor if given the right tools. The same is still true for myself. We try new things. We practice. We make mistakes. We learn something new. We meet a goal. We repeat. In a concrete way we are learning a skill. In an abstract way we are accepting a process.

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Although quite un-fancy, here are some of the ways this practice in hand and work has evolved in our own home. I imagine it will look different in your own, as it should, but sharing these little journeys somehow makes me feel less alone. Be comforted, dear reader, you are not alone.

HOW TO BEGIN

begin with a specific period of daily time | We generally have a block of time in the late morning or early afternoon, depending on the day. In the morning, my younger children work on a handcraft while I work through a Latin lesson with my oldest. In the afternoon, I set aside time to work through a new skill together. I admit, this is hard to practice. My children might carve or weave at the end of the day or during rest, a way to release the tension of the pencil work. It’s important to find when it will work best for you.

begin where you are | In our early years, we explored color beginning with primaries and blending to form secondaries and so on. Color, like numbers, is infinite. We have explored different artists and mediums of wax, various paints, chalk, charcoal, oil pastels, and so on. We used scissors and made collages or 3-D paper structures, like houses or barns for paper animals. Many of these activities I began with a book or art supplies; the children created the project.

begin with something familiar | It is most innate to begin first with what you know. If like me, it simply providing a time of playing with popsicle sticks and paper and color, begin there. If you are a seamstress or a woodworker or a painter or a ceramicist, begin there. The goal in the beginning is to form a habit of practice.

begin with a natural gift or interest  |When in doubt, begin with something small that you might enjoy and can learn alongside them. Enthusiasm is contagious. Watch how your children play or learn. Observation is the best way to begin gently leading your children in any endeavor. Offering them tools that might compliment their natural gifts can open a whole new world for them. For instance, if your child loves building play dough, try a child’s pottery wheel. If your child enjoys clothing or textiles, introduce a weaving loom or how to sew. I have listed many hand-resources we love or plan to use here.

begin with a gentle guide | Handwork is a major component of Waldorf (Rudolph Steiner) pedagogy. Although we are not strictly a Waldorf family, there’s so much to learn from their gentle rhythms of head, heart, and hands. Also, if you have the budget, consider tutors/teachers who can introduce a new skill to your children.

homeschool_handwork_waldorf-14homeschool_handwork_waldorf-5HOW TO PRACTICE

understand your child’s thresholds | Watch your children. If they seem frustrated, pause and see if there’s a way to adjust the work. When my children and I were learning basic sewing stitches last fall, my youngest was frustrated. When I watched her, I realized the details of thread and needle were too small for her yet, so I moved her to a large needle and yarn so she could control it better. I cut paperboard from a cereal box and poked holes in shapes with a large needle. And she loved it.

participate with them | This is hard. I love releasing my children to independent work, but the truth is it takes a bit of practice to learn something independently. Plus, children love working on projects or handwork with their parents. Consider this a different point of connection in your day.

choose quality tools | Choosing a quality knife or loom or paper, let’s your child know you take their work seriously. If it is a tool that belongs to them alone, and not the family, make a big deal of it. Reinforce that the tool is important to their work, and you trust them with it. (This happened when we gave our children knives.)

introduce slowly | When introducing a new skill, I like to take it in a 4-6 week block to allow practice. It also allows space for weeks we’re off routine for any reason. It also also allow enough time for them to learn to enjoy it (at the earliest stages).

discuss the larger picture | I find it helpful, especially when enthusiasm wanes, to talk with my children about the value of handwork, or a specific craft. How does one fold into another? What might be possible to do after much time practicing? How does this teach them about patience? About themselves? About community? About God? I love showing my children photos or videos of woodworkers, musicians, dancers, painters, designers, and so on. It helps them connect what small things they are learning now to a potential practice down the road.

structured independent work | Now that my children can do a few things on their own. I might assign them to choose their own handwork to do 30-60 minutes on their own. Some days, if the kids are bickering or nagging, I might send them outdoors to work with their hands, whittling or sculpting or painting. It builds structure for them to work through their emotions, but also time for them to work alone. What they produce (if anything at all) may not be useful or perfect, but again that’s not entirely the point.

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for the weekend | handmade, eco-friendly valentines

handmade_eco-friendly_valentine_card_2 handmade_eco-friendly_valentine_cards_3handmade_eco-friendly_valentine_card_web As a child, Valentine’s Day was one of my favorites. At home, our celebration was beautifully simple, typically a special dessert or snack or note in our lunchbox. At school, we had an elaborate celebration with baked goods and sweet drinks. Everyone brought self-decorated shoeboxes with little slits in the top, cut like a mail drop in a door. We shared notes (often generic ones with a cartoon on the front), and the very best ones included stickers or candy.

I cannot reproduce this experience entirely for my children now, but I do try to find ways to make the season special at home with small handmade projects or heart-shaped snacks. This year, we’re using supplies and materials we already own to create our valentines. It’s flexible for all ages, and just the sort of light-hearted project to enjoy as a family over the weekend or to occupy busy bees during the week. I shared more details today on the Babiekins blog.

On the same note: other handmade cards we’ve made  | the year I forgot Valentine’s Day | the year I learned the hard truth of love on Valentine’s Day

Happy weekend, friends! x

 

a gentle beginning to math at home

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Although I did well in maths growing up, teaching it is an entirely different story. For me, each class during my childhood to early-adult years was a practice of mastering one section of a puzzle without understanding its connection to the next. What I mean to say is: I have never felt intuitive with numbers in the way I do with language, which intimidated me at the beginning of our homeschool journey so many years ago. It might sound odd to feel terrified of teaching Kindergarten maths, but I kind of was when we first began.

Like so many parents who decide to take ownership of teaching their children, when we first decided to homeschool, I began with tons of curriculum research. I was too academically driven at the time for a no-curriculum approach, something I wish I could go back in time and speak more confidence to with my younger self. Instead, I will speak it to you, dear readers, in the event you find yourself terrified of teaching maths (or any other area) to your little ones, too. Do not be afraid.

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It is good to know as a parent that every child will take to pencil and paper work differently. Some children will struggle because of dyslexia or dysgraphia or underdeveloped fine motor skills or simply because of the hardship of sitting still for longer period of time. There are only a few things necessary for learning about numbers in the early years (roughly ages 3-6).

If your child loves paperwork, you can begin with most any workbook or curriculum for practice with writing numbers. But maths needn’t be strictly for paper, and in my experience, children will enjoy it more if you begin with a chalkboard and something familiar for play. I keep a small basket of wooden people on a bookshelf, which Olive uses for pretend play, for art, and as it turns out, for math. Anything of this type in your own home will work. Here’s a few ways how:

Counting || You can use anything you have around your house for counting: toys, crayons, blocks, Legos, beans, and so on. Begin with counting forward to 10. When your child can do that, count backward from 10. Move up to 20. And backward. Move up to 30. And backward. Continue until you get to one hundred before you begin equal groups (or skip counting).

Sorting || Practice sorting by shape, color, or any other characteristic you can imagine. This process can be done over and over again with materials already around your home: laundry, blocks, crayons, and so on.

Ordering numbers || Numbers give us order. Use language such as first, second, third, and so on. This is particularly easy in the kitchen. As your child become more familiar with the terms, change it up a bit. “I need to add the carrots second. Do I need to do something before this?” You can use manipulative (such as the wood people), too. Giving oral instructions for your child(ren) to follow.  “[named girl] is first in line and [another named girl] is second. Who shall we put third?” This application can work with most any set of instructions around the home.

Drawing || Art and math are intrinsic to one another, and if I’m honest, I didn’t realize how much so until my adult years as a homeschooling parent. As your child learns shapes, you are teaching beginning design and form. Draw often during maths in early years. Encourage your child to draw pictures of their math stories if they enjoy it, or rather look for shapes together in your child’s existing art. Can you find a line? A circle? Rectangle? And so on.

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Create number stories || Introduce math operations through stories. Begin with addition. “We have ___ and add ___ more. How many do we have now?” This is the simplest plot that can be elaborated in millions of ways to become more details. When this becomes more comfortable or predictable, add subtraction stories, where something is taken away or disappears. Multiplication story plots (later) always include sharing and equality of groups. Division’s plot (as they grow older) tells of a generous person who is giving all they have away to a specific number of people and wants to make sure they all have equal amounts. You get the idea.

Since we often use our wooden people, Olive will create the story around the people and possibly a road trip or playtime at a friend’s house. I’ll prompt her with questions along the way: “Where are we going? Who is going with us?” I record the numbers on the board and she writes the answer. Now that she is older and has practiced math for a while, I’ll ask her to identify the two primary functions or addition and subtraction on her own. “If more people are coming, what sign do we use?”

Numbers in daily living || Numbers give form to the abstractions of time and space. With numbers we can gauge the seasons, weather, calendar, time of day, how to make a recipe consistently, or know how much something costs to purchase. By them we can travel the world and space or, in the very simplest of ways, bake bread. When possible, I try to connect the importance of numbers in daily living, even still with my older children. Numbers are consistent and absolute, even when they are relative. While your preschooler doesn’t have to understand all of these things yet, these years are wonderful for pointing to numbers in every day life.

math books for littles we’ve loved || Anything by Tana Hoban | How Much is a Million? series | Mat Man | Beas, Snails, & Peacocks

 

 

 

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a gift guide for the homeschool

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We tend to keep the holiday season in our home fairly simple in terms of gift giving, both the quantity and expense. This isn’t from a desire to be Scrooge-like or withholding, but instead another way we’ve learned over the years to simplify, to stay within our financial means, and to help keep our home filled with fewer things we really enjoy and can manage well. Living in a small home has taught me a valuable life lesson: less really can be more, but it means making tough decisions. Buying less, means I choose something far more carefully. My husband and I often pick high quality gifts, something that can easily be passed down between siblings, family, or friends when they’ve outgrown it. We also love giving gifts that engage their interest and skill sets, tools that can double for our home school experience, too.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve received a few emails and comments and texts from other parents asking about Christmas gifts for their own homes, wondering what we’re getting our children or asking about our favorite books or toys or nature books. Although it took me a bit of time to collect a few, I created this gift guide as a way to share both our favorite learning tools and ones still on our wishlist. I added “gifts of experience” section to each category, because often we have given experience over things to our children for Christmas or their birthday. It can be a fantastic way to give something meaningful without carting more things into your home or when finances are a little tighter. Clearly, this is not a finite list, nor is it strictly for the homeschool or Christmas season, but I hope it in itself is a tool of inspiration. Enjoy.

gift-guide-nature_cloistered_away_homeschool[ THE YOUNG NATURALIST ]

1. Kanken mini backpack | full size 2. Suunto compass 3. Wild Explorers Adventure Club membership 4. Critter Cabin 5. National Park pass (4th graders are free!) 6. Nature Anatomy 7. Cavallini Insects wrapping paper (frame it as a poster)  8. Fujifilm instant film camera 9. Strathmore watercolor journal 10. Animalium 11. laminated local pocket field guides 12. Magiscope

 GIFT EXPERIENCE | museum passes | a state or national park pass | handmade coupons to use during the year for weekend camping, star-gazing, fishing, or hiking | Wild Explorers membership

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[ THE YOUNG FOODIE ]

13. Odette Williams apron set 14. Farm Anatomy  15. A Kid’s Herb Book 16. Garden in a Can 17. Le Petit Chef Set 18. Chop Chop: A Kid’s Guide to Cooking Real Food 19. The Simple Hearth play kitchen 21. Mini Woven Basket 22. Moleskine Recipe Journal

GIFT EXPERIENCE | 20. local cooking classes | handmade coupons for special kitchen time together | meal at a special/favorite restaurant

gift_guide_artist_homeschool_cloistered_away[ THE YOUNG ARTIST + DOODLER ]

23. Tabletop Paper Holder 24. Pottery Wheel 25. Paint Jar Holder 26. Lrya Rembrandt Polycolor pencils 27. Strathmore Mixed Media Journal 28. Lyra Ferby colored pencils (best for little hands) 29. Lost Ocean coloring book  30. WhatchamaDRAWit  31. Fun with Architecture book and stamp set  32. Drawing with Children  33.Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series  34. Stockmar Beeswax crayons  35. Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Places Real and Imagined  36. Stockmar watercolor paint

GIFT EXPERIENCE | 37. art museum membership or trip | art lessons | meet a local artist in a similar medium

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[ THE YOUNG WRITER + BOOKWORM ]

38. Bookrest Lamp  39. The Puffin In Bloom Collection  40. Emoji Stickers  41. Personalized Pencils  42. Postcard Set  43. Calligraphy + Lettering Set  44. Mamoo Bookbag  45. The Storymatic Kids Game  46. Tell Me a Story  47. Wood Small Moveable Alphabet  48. Wool Writing Journal  49. Don’t Forget to Write (elementary grades) | (secondary grades)  50. Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing

 GIFT EXPERIENCE | tickets to a play | homemade coupons for a new monthly book | summer writing camp | create your own story prompts

gift_guide_young_maker_homeschool_cloistered_away

[ THE YOUNG TINKERER + BUSY BODY ]

51. Lap Loom  52. TinkerCrate subscription  53. Things Come Apart  54. Morakniv Wood Carving Junior Knife  55. Rulers and Compass  56. Seedling Fashion Design Kit  57. The New Way Things Work  58. Wooden Child-sized Real Tools  59. Child’s Natural Broom  60. Playful Math Kit  61. European Math Kit  62. Sewing Kit  63. Child’s String Mop

GIFT EXPERIENCE | build or make something together | sewing or woodworking classes | tickets to a science museum or the Exploratorium in San Fransisco

 

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the origins of Thanksgiving

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I have always appreciated the simplicity of Thanksgiving, how much and how little it requires of me all at once. On one hand it is an elaborate meal, one many families take great care to celebrate with foods, people, and activities that feel meaningful to them, often handed down generationally. On the other hand, Thanksgiving is a cultural history, a connection to our country’s blended origins and a celebration of choice, of perseverance, of courage, and belief. I want my children to remember this holiday holding both parts.

As typical by this part in semester, our school routine is beginning to fall out and we’re all ready for the holiday break, BUT I’m trying to do a little school work this week to hold what little momentum we have until we pause for Christmas. I’ve scaled our work way down though. The kids will do a little math and reading each day, but we have already and will continue to spend some time doing a few other projects appropriate for the season, projects I’m quite excited about: candle-making, leaf projects, writing our gratitudes, and reading/writing/illustrating around The First Thanksgiving, a picture book from one of my favorite children’s writers Jean Craighead George. I love the more balanced perspective of this book for younger ages, that courage and hardship didn’t just belong to the Pilgrims.  It feels honest and yet approachable for a family read. If you’re interested, I recently wrote some more about how I use this book and why I return to it every year, which you can now read on the Babiekins blog