A Very Simple Exploration of Magnetism

Experiments in early childhood needn’t be complicated.

We read about magnetism during reading time yesterday, so our activity time was a very simple exploration of magnetism.

I gathered up a magnet for each child (the magnetic “keys” for our magnetic child locks are great because they have “handles”) and a selection of everyday items I have from around the house (Q-tips, pens, bobby pins, paper clips, barrettes, earrings, steel wool, etc.)

Each child got a piece of paper that had been divided in two and labeled “Y” for yes and “N” for no (with different colors for all the pre-readers). Their challenge was to guess which items the magnet would pick up and to put those on the “Y”. If they guessed that the magnet wouldn’t pick something up, they could put it on the “N”.

Exploring Magnetism

I explained that their guess was a hypothesis and that now they could test their hypothesis using the magnets.

While testing their hypotheses, they moved their objects from the paper to different cups.

Once they’d divided all their objects and tested all their hypotheses, they could get down and explore the house, making hypotheses about the objects they found around the house and testing their hypotheses.

That’s it. A very simple exploration of magnetism – and one that helped the children also understand a bit about the process of science.

You can help your child become a scientific thinker this same way.

Ask, “What do you think will happen if…”

Explain that what your child just guessed is their hypothesis.

Now ask the child if they’d like to test their hypothesis. Is their hypothesis true or false? Test it several times just to make sure.

Familiarizing your early learners with the scientific process is that easy.

You can do this!


The Value of Undirected Play

I could have called the kids in for a sensory bin for activity time this morning, but they were busy squishing mud into a muffin tin to make cupcakes.

So I let them learn.

Tirzah Mae and Louis making mudcakes

I could have called the kids in for a STEM activity for activity time this morning, but they were building an oven to bake their cupcakes in.

So I let them learn.

The "Oven"

I could have called the kids in for an art project for activity time this morning, but they were decorating their cupcakes with sunflower petals.

So I let them learn.

Sunflower decorations

And then I posted it to bekahcubed to remind myself that, especially in early childhood, undirected play is the best way to learn.


Last first day of homeschool

As much as I want to do everything all at once, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself it’s to not overdo it by trying to overhaul everything. So while I would have loved to have started off homeschool with a bang, I chose instead to start it slowly…very, very slowly.

Tirzah Mae is kindergarten-age this year and she’s been eager to get started. I was eager too, but didn’t want to start something I couldn’t sustain, so I kept telling her we’d start once we got settled in with Shiloh.

Of course, “settled in” is a nebulous concept and things change so rapidly in the early weeks that it’s all you can do to keep up… but when Shiloh was a couple days shy of a month old we were ready to start Phase 1.

Phase 1 was the resumption of Reading Time.

We’ve been doing reading time after breakfast for about a year now (if I remember right.) The kids like to linger over their breakfast and I’m frequently impatient to get started on my to-do list. Sitting waiting for them to finish up was excruciating – until I realized that was the perfect time to do read-alouds.

In the past, Reading Time has been whatever picture books I’ve got out of the library, but now that this is officially school, I’m being a bit more systematic. I’m not super convinced that kindergarten requires a whole lot of “subjects”, but I did want to at least introduce the concept of subjects. We’ve done this using the Core Knowledge book What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know. Each morning, we read a nursery rhyme or poem and then we get into our subject. We rotate through literature (mostly folktales), history and geography, and science topics from the kindergarten book, reading one story or section per day. After our “subject work”, we move on to the next picture book in line in our goal to read every book in the library (right now we’re reading lots of Tomie dePaola and Anna Dewdney, two very delightful authors!) Finally, we close out our reading time with the next chapter in our chapter book. So far in the 2020-2021 school year, we’ve read Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Florence and Richard Atwood and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We’ll start Betsy MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-wiggle tomorrow.

The second phase in our homeschool calendar was the resumption of Singing Time near the end of June. I’ve been doing some variation on Singing Time since Tirzah Mae was two, but it seems I tweak it a bit every year. This year, I’ve got folders for “current work”, “recent review”, and “long term review”. Every day, we sing every song in the “current work” folder (one “Sunday school” song, one “ordinary” children’s song, and one memory verse). We sing whatever song and recite whatever verse is at the front of their respective “recent review” folders. And we sing whatever song and recite whatever verse is at the front of the “long term review” folders. Once a week, I add a new song or verse to the “current work” folder, moving the older song from that category back to the “recent review” folder and the oldest song in the “recent review” folder back to the “long term review”. This way, we sing a song or recite a verse daily for three weeks, then every other day for three weeks, and periodically review thereafter. All told, we sing four songs and recite three verses daily.

The third phase of our school program is Activity Time.

Activity Time rotates through six different themes: Visual Arts, Cooking, Gross Motor Activities (P.E.), Musical Arts, Sewing, and Sensory Activities. I have lists of potential activities in each of these categories, but I try to be pretty flexible with these. So when we read about how Henry won the free-for-all in The Boxcar Children, we ran footraces in the yard, taking turns yelling “Get Ready, Get Set, Go!” and then racing full-tilt from fence to fence. I had an Introduction to Instruments and Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” out of the library one day so we listened to it while playing with playdough (a double-whammy of musical arts and sensory activities). For cooking, I have a list of skills I want Tirzah Mae to develop over the course of her kindergarten year, and I have a spreadsheet set up where I note each date that we work on a skill and the date that I consider her to have mastered it. I’m also keeping a list of each recipe she’s worked on and any notes about what she did, what needs more work, etc.

Thus far, all these phases include all four of the older children (although I often have variants for the different children in activity time – Sweet P (a young 2) has significantly different cooking tasks than Tirzah Mae (5.5) does.

Phase 4, which we started last week, is where some additional differentiation sets in. The three oldest gather for Calendar Time after I’ve put Sweet P down for her nap (she’s the only one still consistently napping, although I insist that everyone still take a rest time.) For now, we sing either the days of the week or the months of the year and we count to today’s date on the calendar. I will probably add a few more things to this time as we go along (in past years, we’ve done weather and the alphabet song at least), but for now, we’re establishing the pattern of calendar time.

After calendar time, Beth-Ellen goes to her room for a rest time and I worked individually with Louis and then with Tirzah Mae on Math. For these early years, I’m using Shiller Math, a Montessori-based math program. The first kit covers preK through 3rd grade and both Tirzah Mae and Louis did some of the activities last year. Shiller Math is grab and go – it’s fully scripted and the kit has all the needed manipulatives and materials, so it’s been pretty easy to get started.

And finally, there’s today. Today, Tirzah Mae and I started phonics. While Tirzah Mae and I have worked about a third of the way through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, I knew that I didn’t ultimately want to teach phonics using that book. It was a great resource for working towards Tirzah Mae’s goal of learning to read while mama was enduring a difficult pregnancy, but the lack of a logical framework for understanding phonics was driving me bonkers. So today we started American Language Series K Phonics, the same phonics program I used when I learned to read 30 years ago (albeit with a different name).

Tirzah Mae on her last first day of kindergarten

And with that we have completed our last first day of homeschool (for this year).


First Day of Prairie Elms Preschool 2018-2019

Since there’s no time like the present, Prairie Elms preschool reconvened for the 2018-2019 school year on Monday.

Our preschool class 2018-2019

I planned for two students, expecting that we’d do preschool while the little girls were napping –

The rest of our preschool class 2018-2019

but, so far, neither girl has cooperated with anything more than cursory morning naps – so four students it is!

Tirzah Mae first day of school 2018-2019

We do action songs and fingerplays and rhythm sticks and singing lessons. We check the weather and sing the days of the week. We sing the alphabet song and count a little. We read and read and read some more. We do ice cream cone math. And when we’re all done with “school”, we scrub potatoes (sensory win!) and fold laundry (life skills and fine motor). We decorate papa’s birthday cake (Happy birthday, Beloved!) We watch the garden spider on our door. We explore the leaf mould in the herb garden. We harvest basil and dry it. We watch caterpillars and birds and rolly pollies and all sorts of things mama later discovers are pests that she should have killed :-P

Louis first day of school 2018-2019

And when the day is done, we snuggle on the couch with papa and do our family worship.

It’s not much different than regular life, really.

But whatever it is, we’ve declared the preschool year to have commenced!


You have to have something for you

In our recent conversation about homeschooling, my mom stated that “you have to have something for you”.

Then she elaborated. “Intercessory prayer was that for me. And when you all were very young, Agape Handmaidens.”

That was about the extent of that bit of advice. But don’t let the brevity distract you from the wisdom.

Mom was telling me not to forget self-care. This is good. This was good for me to hear from my mother. Because self-care is a buzzword in today’s mommy-world and I’m often quick to dismiss it (out of distrust for anything popular in the parenting world).

But Mom’s elaboration also emphasized the difference between the popular conception of self-care and Mom’s conception of it.

Popular self-care involves manicures and pedicures, massages and spa days, hotel stays. Lots of money. Lots of time. Lots more money for babysitters.

Mom’s self-care was intercessory prayer: spending a couple hours a week praying for others with others, while we kids were babysat (when we were very young) or played independently in our pastor’s basement. Agape Handmaidens? One morning a month the ladies of the church got together to work on hand-work while the children were babysat. Mom often brought laundry to fold while she chatted with the other ladies.

That’s it. That was her self-care.

For this time-starved, uber-frugal mama, that’s exactly what I need to hear.

I do need to have something for me. Taking the time to prepare for and go to Tuesday Connection, our ladies’ Bible study at church, is important. Having that conversation with adults? That’s important.

But I don’t need to feel guilty that I’m not spending lots of money and lots of time doing those things that seem to me like pointless indulgences.


Separating “I wish I could have” from “I wish I had”

When I was in Lincoln last month, I asked my mother about homeschooling. Specifically, I asked her what advice she would have given twenty-seven-year-old her as she embarked on her homeschool journey.

She had a hard time coming up with an answer because, she told me, “There are things I wish I could have done, but they just weren’t possible.”

She wishes she could have taken more field trips with us. But she had seven children in ten years – and taking those field trips just wasn’t possible.

She wishes she could have provided more opportunities for certain of my siblings to follow their interests more. But those things just weren’t possible in the circumstances she and we were in.

So she did what she could.

Even though that statement wasn’t advice, per se, I found in it a useful principle.

It’s valuable to separate the “I wish I could have” from the “I wish I had”.

Maybe I wish I could do x, y, or z but time, money, or energy makes it impossible.

I wish I could have taken my older littles to baby storytime at the library – but they were NICU babies and needed to avoid other kids.

That’s a clear cut one. Others aren’t so obvious, but they’re there anyway.

I wish I could do more outings with the children period – but I’m a homebody and I get really crabby at my children if I’m running all day. In this season of intensive mothering, limiting our time outside the house to two days during the week keeps me sane and enables me to manage myself and treat my children with compassion (most of the time).

Sometimes, I need to let go of the things I wish I could have done. I need to let go of the dreams I had of being this or that sort of mother.

I need to do what I can, not be forever regretting what I can’t (or being a terrible mother in the now because I’m doing something I really shouldn’t).

Side note: Lest you get the wrong impression, 27 is what my mother would have been (give or take) when she was in my situation child-wise. I got started quite a bit later and am definitely *not* in my 20s any more :-)