"…And she smiles at the future." ~Proverbs 31:25

Posts tagged ‘preschool’

They are us

Those of you who stop by here regularly may remember from this post, or maybe from this one, that my youngest daughter often surprises me with her unexpected responses to my questions. I love her original answers and wish I took the time to document more of them.

Last fall we enjoyed going through this little preschool workbook together:

On one occasion, I showed her the picture below and asked the related question: “What game are the children playing?”

Her answer? “Math.”

OK, so I guess I can appreciate that she noticed the numbers and made that connection. But mostly, I’m thinking we need to bust out that sidewalk chalk way more often around here!

A few pages later, she correctly answered the first question, “What can you use to write letters to friends?” with “Computer.” (Although, I think the answer I would have given as a child–pen and paper–would have been perfectly acceptable, too. Just sayin’.)

To the bonus question, “What else can you do with it?” she answered, “Work on my blog.” Yes, she said “MY blog.” As in, Remington’s.

Bear in mind that she has almost never seen me working on my own blog, as I usually only do that when she’s asleep. I guess that’s why it struck me as funny when I found her sitting at the kids’ computer desk one day, and asked her what she was doing, and she answered, “Oh, I’m just working. On my blog.”

(Notice that the computer isn’t even on!)

You know where I’m going with this, right? Our children ARE watching us. What are they seeing? What are they copying?

I love this quote by David Bly:

Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.

Kind of scary, huh? But it’s also very motivating. If we want our kids to be world changers; if we want them to be honest and hardworking and loving and forgiving; if we want them to be people of integrity, then let’s work on having those characteristics ourselves. We can’t ask of them what we’re not willing to do.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Can’t argue with that

Remi loves to do her Brain Quest preschool cards. We came to this one…

…and I read her the question as usual. But I wasn’t expecting her reply.

So, what was her answer?

“A human.”

(No, I didn’t argue.)

Good work, Remington. Good work.

Thanks for stopping by!

The bonus post (Tiny Tots Week, Day 6)

Just when you thought we’d covered everything you could possibly want to know (and then some) about play-teaching toddlers and preschoolers, here’s one more “bonus” follow-up entry with a few more ideas on some of the subjects we covered in the past week…

More thoughts on tot school fun: (See the original post here.)

In answer to the logistical question of how and when we do tot school, I have to tell you honestly that it’s different every day. Normally, I try to do some fun activities with Remington early in the day, while she’s happy and interested. But sometimes circumstances dictate that other things have to come first.

Often we do the activities with her strapped into a booster chair, mainly because it seems to help her maintain focus on what we’re doing and it keeps our supplies from getting strewn all over the house. But other times we do tot school outside, or on the floor, or in some other random place, and occasionally we skip the PLANNED activities all together. (She doesn’t often let me get away with that, though!)

But even on the days you don’t sit down to a concentrated time of learning, remember that your child is learning all day as you interact and play with him! Don’t restrict tot school to certain times and places, and don’t restrict it to only your own ideas. I would certainly never have planned to have Remi measure Addy’s knitting needles, but there was a ruler sitting around, and her two-year-old curiosity just got the best of her…

(By the way, it was “a million.”)

Besides our sit-down times, we do tot school in the car (listening to CDs and talking about everything we pass), in line at the grocery store (looking for shapes and colors), before naps (reading books together), while fixing meals in the kitchen (counting forks and napkins, measuring, and pouring), during family devotionals and while lying in bed at night (listening to Bible stories), and so on. For a toddler, life is all about learning. The focused activities are special and fun, but they’re the extras.

Here’s an example of “spontaneous tot school:”

Yesterday was Saturday. I didn’t have a single formal activity planned for my toddler—we were just going to hang out. While walking around outside, she became intrigued by the colorful fall leaves on the ground. She started collecting them, and as she did so we examined each one and talked about the different colors and about why leaves fall from the trees.

We took them inside and ironed them between two sheets of wax paper to make a fun little autumn place mat for her spot at the table. She totally got into the ironing part!

We counted each leaf as she put it on, and she made them into families (which is why you’ll notice some of the leaves are stacked…Those are the mamas and daddies holding their babies.)

She spelled her name for me while I helped her cut the letters out using my Cricut.  (I put the letters on the wax paper so it would actually spell Remi, but she did all the rest, and I left everything just the way she put it, which is why the hearts are upside down and most of the leaves are turned over backwards. The colors were so vivid on the front sides…but this was her masterpiece!)

No planned activity. Plenty of learning fun. Oh, and as usual, she wanted to take a picture of me, too. I think I’m raising a little photographer! (But she has some practicing to do…)

Photo by Remington

More thoughts on doing tot school on a shoestring: (See the original post here.)

Please remember that my little toddler is our fourth child, so I’ve been collecting fun resources for quite a while! And one thing I’ve always done is to buy ahead. That means that if I find a great resource at a great price, I’ll pick it up now to have on hand when we need it. (Think of it like stocking up on groceries when they’re on sale or you have a good coupon.)  Here are a couple of personal examples from this past week:

I loved these colorful wooden shape puzzles with numbered pieces, but I knew they’d be a little advanced for my two-year-old. (This was confirmed after purchase!)

But, I also knew that they’d be great to have during her preschool years, and that they probably won’t be available for $2.50 each in the Target Dollar Spot by the time she’s ready for them. So now, they’re ready for HER.

I found a whole set of these telling-the-time puzzle cards at a thrift store for fifty cents:

I have no desire to teach Remi how to tell time right now, or any time soon. She’s only two!  But these cards are super cute and will be great when we’re ready for them…and she’ll probably still play with them now, just matching the pieces that fit together…and did you hear me say they were FIFTY CENTS?!?

Speaking of thrift stores…Unless you are just rolling in money or don’t have anything else to spend it on, don’t be above buying second hand. My husband will tell you that I go a little crazy cleaning things I’ve bought used, but once that’s done we have all kinds of fun resources at incredible savings.

For example, Amazon sells this product (called Max Discovers Shapes & Colors) for $13.99. I found mine at the same thrift store where I bought the time puzzle cards. I paid fifty cents.

The instructions were missing. But I can tell you right now that we are going to be matching shapes and colors, copying patterns, extending patterns, and probably lots more with this set.

I found this Imaginarium art kit at a yard sale yesterday, also for fifty cents. Everything is in the box, including full bottles of paint!

Just remember to keep your eyes open wherever you are, always being on the lookout for fun, inexpensive ways to play and learn with your little one. I found these last week at Dollar Tree (for a buck) and immediately thought of tons of ways to use them in our tot school!

One addition to my favorite toddler resources:  (See the original post here.)

Since the original post was monstrously long, I waited to share this last suggestion with you here. One of my very favorite and most budget-friendly resources for teaching toddlers is…the internet! There is an unbelievable amount of free inspiration online. I use the internet for ideas and to download free printables, which I can tailor to our specific needs. For example, after our recent family camping trip, I printed lots of fun camping-themed activities for Remi to have fun with in tot school. Here are just a few of the ones we did that week:

"T is for tent" Do-a-Dot paint marker page

Matchng camping supplies

Arranging lanterns and canteens by size

Matching camping items (like sleeping bag and campfire) to their shadows

The activities were more meaningful to her because of what she’d just experienced.  Whether you are going to the zoo, the farm, the circus, or Grandma’s house, internet resources can help you make your tot school relevant to your situation. I got the downloads for the activities above here and here.

One final thought on tot school organization: (See the original post here.)

After a time of trying to keep up with lots of little zipper baggies full of pieces from cute activities I’d printed from the internet, I finally came up with an EASY way to store them where I could see them, get to them, and put them away again easily. I took a 3-ring binder, added page protectors, and inserted each set into its own sleeve. I can easily flip through and find what I want this way, and NO MORE WANDERING PIECES! Yea!

The activity showing is from a now-defunct website (or I'd give credit).

Well, this is officially the final post of Tiny Tots Week. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and gotten some helpful ideas.

By the way, it THRILLED me to hear from some of you who have already tried out some activities, or have been inspired to think of your own. If you’ve done either, I’d LOVE to hear about it!

Thanks for stopping by.

Tot School organization (Tiny Tots Week, Day 4)

Tiny Tots Week continues! Now that you’ve gotten an idea of the fun you can experience doing Tot School, as well as how you can enjoy it on the cheap, let’s look at some ways to keep all the fun organized. I’ll share two big things today: How I organize my supplies and how I organize my plans. These are the things that work for me, although I’m continually tweaking to make things better. As always, I hope you’ll share your own ideas in the comments below.

1. Organizing the stuff

First off, I try to keep as many of our tot school resources as possible together in one place. This makes it so much easier to actually sit down and do the activities. I use a set of wire cubes (purchased from Target) and a set of plastic shelves (picked up from a yard sale) to corral our tot school goodies. Both are set up in our school room near the bigger kids’ learning materials.

I keep the things that have lots of pieces (like pompoms, cotton swabs, and dry pasta) in baskets on the higher cubes, just so they don’t end up all over the floor. Stickers go here, too…for obvious reasons.

On the lower cubes and shelves, I keep the items it wouldn’t kill me for her to get into, like her chalkboard, stacking cubes, and so on…

…as well as floor puzzles, book & tape sets, Little People toys, magnetic sets, and lift-the-flap books.

By the way, that package to the left of the shelves in the above picture contains a big foam floor puzzle. Here’s what it looks like when it’s done, Remi style.  (And yes, she was wearing a Pull-Up when I took this picture…really…I promise!)

Next to the cube tower is another set of cubes (on floor level) which contain the items I want my toddler to have free access to, like blocks and sturdier toys. (The lidded tubs contain multiple-piece toys, but since she can’t open the snap-on lids, we’re safe…for now.)

In addition to these items, I have quite a few supplies stashed away on a couple of bookshelves tucked back in the schoolroom closet. These are kept behind closed doors, either because they are things that she can only use with me (like scissors, crayons, and Play-Doh) or because they present a choking hazard (like beads, marbles, and games with tiny pieces).

(Granted, some of these aren’t really dangerous; I just got tired of having them as floor decorations…)

You may have noticed one of my main principles for organizing tot school (or just about anything else) is this: Label everything! Unless it is 1) in a see-through container, or 2) in its original container with a descriptive label clearly showing from its position on my shelves, it gets a label. Even a lot of my clear containers are labeled, just because I have multiple storage pieces that are similar and this makes it easier to quickly identify what’s inside each.

By the way, those blocks in the top container aren’t wood. They’re foam! And I love them more than I can say. They’re quiet (nice when the tower falls) and they’re soft (nice when she’s happily hurling them across the room), and I found the whole lot at a garage sale for exactly two bucks. {happy dance} If you can find some, buy them. Today.

2. Organizing myself/my plans

So, there’s a glimpse into how I contain all the little goodies we play with in our tot school. But, I’ve learned that the more fun stuff you assemble, the easier it is to forget 1) what you have to choose from and 2) what you haven’t played with for a while. Here’s the system I came up with to make sure I’m providing my little one with a variety of different experiences which address different areas of growth and learning.

I started with a plastic file box (labeled, of course!) so I’d have a place to keep all my plans and ideas together, even if the supplies they use are on different shelves or in different rooms. (Like the kitchen, remember?)

I then made a card for each type of activity I want my toddler to be able to do. (My cards are 4 x 6, just because that’s what I already had on hand.) Most of the time, I just make a note of the supplies needed for the activity, and the plan is obvious. Here’s an example from one of the activities I showed you in Tuesday’s post:

If there’s a chance I won’t remember what I’m planning to do with the supplies by the time we get to the activity, I make some additional notes or sketches to jog my memory.

Finally, I made a set of dividers with the different categories represented by the various activities I’d planned.

Obviously, you could skip this step, and if you’re just starting out, maybe that would be best. I just found that it made it much easier for me to rotate through different kinds of activities if I divided them this way. While I don’t really want our tot school to be a structured endeavor, I also don’t want to get into a rut of working puzzles every day but never focusing on my toddler’s motor skills, or building with blocks every day without ever practicing visual discrimination. And it probably doesn’t even matter, as long as she’s playing... I just want to be well rounded in my efforts and I know my own tendencies. Some people have organized minds…I don’t. So, I rely on external organization (i.e. lists, card files, etc.) to keep me on track. Go with whatever you own personality dictates.

If you do decide to divide the activities this way, I suggest labeling each card with its related category (See the top line in my examples, above) to make it quick and simple to re-file the card when you’re finished with it. (If you have a question about what’s included in any of my categories, let me know in the comments and I’ll explain and/or give examples to clarify.)

Once you have your supplies and your ideas organized, it is so simple to sit down and enjoy fun learning activities with your child whenever the mood strikes either of you!  Here’s how I do it:

1. Grab a card from the file box (from the next category, OR whatever category we feel like enjoying)

2. Grab from our stash whatever supplies are listed on the card

3. Find a good place to “work” (Read: PLAY)

4. Have fun together—learning, making memories, and probably making a mess along the way, too

5. Stop while she’s still having fun, so she’ll look forward to next time

6. Re-file the card in the BACK of whatever category I took it from (if I didn’t do this right away), and put away the supplies for another day

I should tell you here that if she is really loving a certain activity, we may do the same thing for several days in a row before retiring it to the back of the section. We are NOT slaves to this system!

NOTE: Don’t forget to take some pictures during some of your activities together. Your tiny tot is growing up too fast, and you’ll always want to remember how much fun this time together was for both of you! Get a good shot or two, then put your camera away and just be in the moment with your little sweetie.

I hope you’re enjoying Tiny Tots Week, and that you’ll jump in and share your own great ideas with us in the comments section below. Tomorrow I hope to show you some of my very favorite resources and my own toddler’s all-time favorite activities. In case you missed any of the other posts in this series, here’s the rundown:

Monday: Helping our wee helpers

Tuesday: Tot School fun

Wednesday:  Tot School on a shoestring

Thursday: Tot School organization

Friday: My favorite toddler resources

And, see the bonus post here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tot School on a shoestring (Tiny Tots Week, Day 3)

I’ll admit it: It’s hard for me to pass up a good deal on a good book. Or an educational game. Or anything else that looks like a fun learning experience for my kiddos. I don’t spend much on clothes, make-up, or electronics, but learning tools are a weakness for me! (Is that weird?)

Cute, colorful toddler and preschool learning activities present even more of a temptation. But, since I have three older kids to educate, too, and expenses for their books and field trips tend to add up quickly, I have a very limited budget for those fun toddler items. If you are in the same boat, never fear! So much learning can take place in your home, with just a minimal investment of funds.

Finding new ways to use what you have = super cheap-o fun!

Here are just a few of my favorite ways to keep it cheap when playing, purchasing, protecting, and storing:

1. Playing on a shoestring

There is great fun to be had in your home without breaking the bank to make it happen. Want to know the secret? Use what you already have!  

Dump a package of dry (uncooked) beans in a big bowl and give your child something fun to scoop them with so he can dig around and play.

I got my scoops at the dollar store, but you could use measuring cups from your kitchen drawer and not spend a dime! I also got the big plastic bowls there–a set of TWO for a dollar–so she can transfer the beans from one to the other. I store the beans in the (stacked) bowls on a high closet shelf.

I’m telling you right now that I don’t think there’s a child alive who wouldn’t enjoy getting into a big bowl of beans like this! You’ll be amazed at how long it will hold your little one’s attention.  Will your tot make a mess with these? You’d better believe it!

Probably a big one, too…

…but the clean-up is actually fairly easy and your little one can be taught to help you as part of the activity.

Rice and salt are also fun things to dig around in. I hide tiny toys in the containers so she can dig around and search for surprises. (I’ve pulled some to the top so you can see them, but usually they’re hidden and she has to find them.)

Obviously, these, too, need to be stored on a high shelf with tight lids, and I wouldn’t pull out either if the vacuum were broken…Otherwise, clean-up is quick and easy.

Just as I was about to toss the packaging from some Play-Doh I’d purchased…

…I realized the pre-cut circles in the sturdy box would provide ready-made holes, perfect for inserting round blocks or clothes pins. Let your toddler have a pile of “stuff” so he can discover on his own what fits through the holes and what doesn’t. Remember, at this age, playing IS learning. (You can also make holes in an empty cereal box and let your child try to poke in pieces of uncooked, tube-shaped pasta or crayons.)

You know those free calendars you get? Don’t toss those, either.

Instead, spend a few minutes cutting out the pictures of trees or animals or pretty flowers for you little one. The same goes for the fun cards your kids receive in the mail or on birthdays…

Store the cut-out pieces in a box with a non-toxic glue stick, and your child is ready for some big-time gluing fun!

What do you have sitting around your house that you can re-purpose into a learning game for your toddler or preschooler? My tot had a blast filling up an empty ice tray with her counting bears, and using a long-handled spoon made it a challenging exercise in dexterity.

She told me she was “making ice,” and when she was done she asked if she could have some real ice to play with. (Yeah, right.)

I save all those plastic eggs after Easter because my toddler loves, loves, loves to play with them. She opens them, closes them, shuffles them around, and yes, throws them.

I washed out a plastic Parmesan cheese container once we’d emptied it, and it’s perfect for challenging little hands to fit cotton swabs into the holes.

I keep all the “mess-ups” from our printer in a special tray underneath it, and I let Remi use them for gluing, sticking stickers, practicing cutting, and scribbling on. Cost = zero. 🙂

Do you have dominoes? Your tot can practice stacking them and building towers.  A deck of playing cards handy? He can sort them by color and, eventually, by suit. Cereal in the pantry? Cheerios, Apple Jacks, or Fruit Loops your child strings onto a piece of yarn or string will produce a great, edible necklace. What else can you come up with as you look around the house?

I bought my 9-year-old daughter some of those pink, sponge curlers from the dollar store, but noticed they kept leaving her bathroom drawer and ending up all over the house. The toddler was the culprit. It turns out she thoroughly enjoys taking them apart, putting them back together, opening them, and snapping them shut. And they are QUIET! So, they’re now part of Remi’s tot school repertoire. (Sorry, Addy, but at least your hair looks pretty when it’s straight.)

Hopefully you’re getting the idea that you already have plenty of items around your house that are fun and educational for your little one. I really enjoy the challenge of figuring out how what we already own can benefit our tot school, and now even Remi is getting in on that action. Here’s the game she made up for herself today:

The wooden block usually holds our steak knives, but Remi wanted to know if she could play with it with the butter knives. I gave her some old, mismatched ones (Why do we have those, anyway?!) and she had so much fun putting them all in the slots and then taking them back out again. I lost track of how many times she ended up doing this.

2. Purchasing on a shoestring

If you do want to go beyond what you already have available at home, please, please do not feel like you need to go out and buy all the latest and greatest supplies, all at once. Just keep your eyes open for deals and pick them up as you can. I have built up quite a stash of tot school materials, but I did it over a long period of time and bought MANY of them at yard sales, thrift shops, homeschool association used book sales, and day care/preschool closings.

Many of the items on our shelves--and even the shelves themselves--were purchased second-hand.

And remember, the dollar store is your friend! That’s where I got these butterfly hair clips (3/$1), pompoms, and ramekins (3/$1), and they can be used for all kinds of transferring and sorting activities.

I also got this little plastic bird feeder at the dollar store, and its round opening is just right for fitting in pompoms, Teddy Grahams, or marbles.

Do you shop at Target? Their “dollar spot” often has great things to use in your tot school, like these Animal Action cards. They are not only cute (I love the clean background!), but they encourage my baby girl to wiggle, waddle, and bounce. All for a buck and tax!

3. Protection on a shoestring

If you have a toddler, you already have messes. If you are going to do fun learning activities with your tot, your mess potential can only increase.  Being the cheapskate careful spender that I am, I’ve found some cheap-o ways to protect floors, furniture, and work surfaces, like these cutting mats I got in a 2-pack from Dollar Tree:

We use these at the table under EVERY paper we draw on, paint on, color on, or use markers on. We use them under our Play-Doh when we’re sculpting. We use them while we’re gluing. And they look awful, but just look at how nice they’ve kept the table, all for only 50 cents a pop! (I keep four of these in a cabinet next to the table where we work and play, and all the kids use them during potentially-messy activities.)

If you don’t take a print newspaper (We don’t), cut or tear the seams of a large yard bag to spread out on the floor under your little painter. And if you don’t happen to have an art smock, no worries…Daddy’s old T-shirts work great, too! If they’re in good condition, I also recycle those plastic table cloths we use at birthday parties to cover our work table or floor during messy projects and activities. No stress over trashing the floor or furniture means more fun with my little one!

4. Storage on a shoestring

I know, I know, the temptation to stock up on attractive storage containers can be quite the draw, especially once you’ve corralled all these great tot school supplies that need a good home. Don’t give in! Shoe boxes work just as well, and you can save your money for more important things, like the contents of the boxes. Just make sure you label them, then stack away. 

My favorite free storage option: Save the empty baby wipe boxes.

They are the perfect size for much of what you’ll be storing…

…and they stack well on the shelves, too.

So, there you have it…a no-money-is-no-excuse plan for educating your tot at home. Now, go raid those kitchen drawers, bathroom drawers, pantry shelves, and craft cabinets! You’ll find a treasure trove of fun toddler activities for you and your little blessing to do together to make learning a treat. And by all means, please let me know what you come up with! (I love your comments!)

Oh, and please come back tomorrow and I’ll try to help you organize all your great finds!

Here’s what’s on the schedule for the rest of Tiny Tots Week:

Monday: Helping our wee helpers

Tuesday: Tot School fun

Wednesday:  Tot School on a shoestring

Thursday: Tot School organization

Friday: My favorite toddler resources

And, see the bonus post here.

Thanks for stopping by!

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