Invitations to Play and Learn: Letter B Fine Motor Activities

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I recently added another young preschooler to our school days and have had the opportunity to become much more intentional with my work with Jack. I’ve been wanting to work more with him for a while and adding A (she’s almost exactly a year older than he is) has been just the impetus I needed!

I’m doing a simple “Letter of The Week” type curriculum with them using some of the activities from ABCJESUSLOVESME and some other activities that I’ve either done with the bigger children when they were little or found online.

This week we looked at the letter B, and did a couple of activities that were also good for improving hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

At the beginning of the week, I printed several copies of Big B and Little b from the ABCJKLM curriculum and put them in the tot’s folders.

On Monday I presented them with a page of B’s each, a bottle of school glue and a selection of dried beans. We talked a little bit about words beginning with a “B” sound and then I showed them how to put a line of glue on their letters and place the beans into the glue to outline the letters.

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This is always an interesting project with toddler/ early preschool aged children. Some will practically wallow in glue and cover their papers with glue and beans to the point where they nearly tear from the combined wet glue and bean weight while others don’t like the feel of the glue at all and carefully place the minimum number of beans while getting as little glue on their fingertips as they can manage.

Some children are also very particular about using only one type of bean while others don’t seem to notice the differences and just glue on beans.

These two definitely noticed the differences and wanted to know the names of the beans we were using (split chickpeas (Chana Dal), Great Northern, and Pinto), and were very precise in placement but didn’t worry too much about lining them up straight or using only certain ones in certain places. A had to be reassured a couple of times that we would wash hands when the project was done, but did really well with the feel of the glue which I know she doesn’t prefer.

The second project also involved the letter B and glue but this time we used scraps of blue, black and brown paper and glue sticks.

One of the things we’re working on is identifying different shades of the same color as part of the same group so we had two different shades of blue.

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Jack was still in his pajamas since he likes to wear them and keep his feet warm and we weren’t planning to go anywhere. A wasn’t with us as the snow made transportation difficult.

I like glue sticks at this age as they give the children a lot of freedom to glue where they want to without making a huge sticky mess or over wetting the paper.

These gluing onto an outline projects are so wonderful for the following skills:

  • hand-eye coordination
  • following directions
  • spatial relationships
  • pincer movement
  • Using multiple steps to accomplish something (putting on glue, choosing a piece to glue, placing the piece, putting on more glue)

All of these skills will be heavily used in learning to read and in math and this fun approach to building them helps to give a strong foundation.

For more ideas:

Follow Kyndra’s board Letter of the Week on Pinterest.

Follow Kyndra’s board Tot School on Pinterest.

 

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Invitations to Play and Learn: Science Center and Collaberation

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As the big children continue to mature in their learning I am trying to move them towards more independent learning and learning to work together to do a project or master a concept. As I set up the schoolroom upstairs I tried to think about making spaces that would encourage them to work together with minimal help or supervision from me.

One natural place for that kind of work is in science- so I decided to establish a science center and to have them work with each other on the both scientific areas we had chosen for this year.

I tried to make the space inviting and to have them work in it every day. All of the materials they might need are nearby and the little table provides enough space to work without isolating them from each other.

 

Every Classroom Needs A Skeleton!

Science In Epiphany:

I thought it would be appropriate to study the stars during Epiphany so I collected materials on constellations and stars and wrote assignments into my planner.

So far I’ve learned the following:

  • Neither of them is very good at explaining their ideas to the other. There tends to be a fair amount of perceived disagreement with me sitting on the other side of the room working with the little boys and saying things like, “Neither of you is in charge.”, “Listen to him/her before you say ‘no, that won’t work”, “Do you need to take a break?”
  • Both of them have a good grasp of how to read something and pull out the important information. I’m pleased because I haven’t really taught them this intentionally.
  • Mouse is capable of much neater work than Buggle, but he is more likely to insist on her doing careful work than she is. He will make her get a ruler and cut labels straight before he accepts them. She’s ready to move on to the next thing when she’s made some kind of label.
  • He has a tendency to be over meticulous. She shakes him out of that.
  • Their retention of information when working together is impressive. They both tend to “teach” the little boys random facts from their own lessons. The level of accuracy and detail when they have studied something together is much greater.
  • These assignments are going to take longer than if they were working individually.

In two weeks they have read two books about stars, started a “galaxy of star facts” on the wall, and made and mounted a diagram of the life cycle of a star.

The "Galaxy of Star Facts" is at the top of the picture.

The “Galaxy of Star Facts” is at the top of the picture.

 

Life Cycle of a Star

Life Cycle of a Star 2

 

We’re not moving as quickly as I had thought we would, but I’m not unhappy with that. Science is something we do all year and I’m very pleased with the way having them work together with very little input from me is helping them to deal with their strengths and weaknesses. The skills they are developing in listening, making a plan for a project, figuring out who should do what to accomplish it and actually implementing their plan are skills that will be useful for their entire lives. They are learning the material thoroughly even if slowly and that’s a trade off I’m content with for now!

 

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How-To Feed Two Families With One Chicken (and have some leftovers)

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The other day I decided to cook a broiler as I’m trying to eat down the store of food in the freezer! A friend of mine had had a weekend of sick children so I thought I’d stretch that bird into a casserole for us and some soup for them.

Here’s how it went:

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8:00 am: Send Buggle down to the freezer in the basement for the bird. Have him come back to report that he can’t find one and that the large bag of frozen cranberries has spilled all over the freezer. Go down myself, rescue the cranberries that haven’t spilled and find the bird. Put it, still frozen into the crockpot, add one tea kettle full of boiling water, find that the lid won’t go on over the frozen bird. Balance the lid on the bird, turn the crockpot on high and go upstairs to teach school.

11:00 am: Come down to discover the bird has thawed enough the lid can now be put on. Decide it needs a couple more hours to cook, and I might be able to get a bit of a nap after lunch.

2:00 pm: Get up off the couch, think about calling children down to help, decide I want the quiet more than the help. Pull the now falling-off-the-bones bird out of the crockpot to cool for picking. Wonder again what has happened to my meat fork and kitchen tongs which have been missing for months! Think about getting some next time I go to the store but forget to write it on the list.

2:10 pm: Quickly make a batch of roll dough and set it on the warm radiator to rise. Take the time to take a picture and post it to Facebook!

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2:20 pm: Pick the chicken and dump the bones back into the crockpot. Regret briefly that I didn’t call a child down to do this as it’s not one of my favorite jobs. Decide again that I really need the quiet.

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2:30 pm: Realize I have an hour and a half before I need to take Bull to dance and drop off the soup.  Chop two onions and start them frying for the casserole base and the soup.  Load some dishes into the sink and call Mouse down to load the dishwasher. Check the roll dough and punch it down. Grease two half sheets and form the rolls. Return them to the radiator to rise.

2:45 pm: Decide I need a cup of tea. Turn the kettle on, boil water and pour a cup, then forget to fix it several times!  Take a picture even though the counter has coffee grounds all over it. Walk away and forget to fix it again!

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3:15 pm: Finally remember to fix the tea and drink it quickly as it is now tepid. Add boiling water and fresh parsley to the soup base as well as most of the broth from the crockpot. Use the rest of  broth and some flour to make white sauce for the casserole base. Add chicken to both dishes and put the rest of the chicken in the fridge. Add frozen peas and lima beans to the soup as well as thyme. Grind some pepper and add salt and pepper to both dishes. Put a pot on for pasta for the casserole. Check the rolls, decide they are ready and put them in the oven.

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3:45 pm:  Add a pound of frozen spinach to the casserole base, stir the base together with the cooked pasta, pour it into a casserole dish and add bread crumbs to the top. Tell the children to load into the car.  Check the rolls, decide they aren’t quite ready. Wonder if we’re going to make it to dance on time.

3:55 pm: Everything is ready and the children are in the car. Take the soup and a pan of rolls out, put the casserole in the oven to heat while we are at dance.

4:10 pm: Deliver the soup and rolls and hustle off to dance. Decide that all that cooking is definitely worth a blog post!

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Kitchen Kids: Preschoolers and Kindergartners Can Cook!

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Recently my most avid kitchen helpers have been the toddler and the five year old. Partly this is a matter of interest and partly it is a result of the bigger two consistently having either chores or schoolwork to finish up when I’m making dinner.

Unfortunately, supper making time coincides with “We’re tired and cranky and need attention” time  for toddlers and five year olds so supper making is often interspersed with tears, snuggles and time in “the whining chair”.

Still giving them something to do helps quite a bit. Here are a few of my favorite jobs for preschool and kindergarten age helpers!

  • Peeling: Potatoes and carrots are good candidates for preschooler attention. I’ve also had them do garlic and sometimes onions. Garlic is pretty easy but having them do onions works better if I remember to put the onions in the fridge around lunchtime. Chilling them seems to cut down on the juices and eyes don’t “get spicy”.

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I really like this peeler. It’s easy to hold and because you peel away from the hand holding the vegetable accidentally peeling their fingers is much harder!

  • Chopping/Slicing: I give them a somewhat dull, serrated knife for this. Bull is able to cut most vegetables with this although the thickest parts of a carrot can be too much for his hands. Some of the rounder vegetables I will cut in half first so that they have a flat side on the cutting board. Precooked meat is also an easy item for them to cut.

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The serrated knife makes it difficult to cut themselves and I stay fairly close by until I’m sure they understand to keep their fingers away from their blade.

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Having Bull cut things up can actually be quite a time saver for me and it’s good practice for him in paying attention and precision.

  • Measuring: Counting and the sizes of things are skills that kindergartners learn in school. Measuring the rice and water into the rice cooker or the flour into the bread dough are good ways to reinforce those skills at home. Since we use a rice cooker almost every day, that’s a logical job to have the little boys do together. Bull does the measuring, they both count and Jack turns the cooker on. I do keep a little eye on them but they can pretty much do it on their own.

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None of these are particularly difficult skills  but they are foundational to other cooking skills and they can be a big help once they are mastered. Some safety precautions need to be taken of course, but with consistent training and application preschoolers can be quite helpful in the kitchen!

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Waiting For Obedience Before Moving On

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One of the lessons that seems to be most difficult for my bigger children is understanding that they need to obey in the little things before we can move on to other (often good) things they feel like doing in the moment.

The other morning was a good example: Buggle had an increasingly bad attitude towards his work as it wasn’t coming together as quickly and easily as he had expected. After several reminders to control himself and not become frustrated and angry with his work. I sent him to lie in his bed quietly and take a break. He was too frustrated to want to leave the work he had, and didn’t feel like obeying. He did go to his bed, but an hour or so later he still has not managed to be quiet for more than a minute. He keeps saying that he is ready to do his schoolwork, but I know that until he is ready to yield obediently to my instructions to be quiet, coming back to school will only result in more attitude and frustration.

This is one of those places where my patience is tried. I have many things to do each day and maintaining a calm voice while firmly applying consequences takes time and energy!

There are not many ways to speed up the process of a child choosing to exercise self-control and choose to have a good attitude or work at something they don’t really want to do. And in a way I don’t really want to force them as much as have them choose to exercise the self control I know they have.

What this often means is that I spend a good portion of my time waiting on children to make wise choices. Although our days need to proceed on a routine in order to accomplish everything in the day’s plan, I have found that it is better to call a halt to a particular child’s day until the attitude has improved and obedience and self control have been chosen than to try to push through against the heart issue.

Sometimes this has meant that we sit down for a meal without the child who is pitching a fit or dawdling over a job. Sometimes it has meant that a child has been in bed working on getting their attitude together while friends are visiting. Sometimes everyone is effected when someone’s attitude means that we have to stay home from an anticipated event. These things make an impression and as time goes on the children are more and more able to stop and regulate their own behavior and attitudes. I often don’t see the progress from one day to another but when I look back over months or weeks I am able to say ” So and So had trouble with that, but they pulled themselves together much more quickly than they could have a six months ago.”

And that I think is the point. I won’t always be around to stop them and ask them to control themselves and the sooner they are able to stop themselves and choose obedience and self control the sooner they will be ready for the responsibilities involved in managing their own lives!

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Show Me: Bookshelves

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First of all: If you have enough bookshelves please let me know how you achieved that!

Mine are rather disorganized at the moment. Actually I’ve been saying since we moved here a year ago that I was going to organize them….ain’t happened yet!

Plus they end up piled with extra stuff that need a temporary home (or that I don’t feel like taking to it’s permanent home right then). I do clear the extra stuff from time to time, but somehow it comes back!

Anyway here they are:

Mostly books and mostly for grown-ups. One shelf of picture books for the little boys (and the bin for socks waiting to be matched!)

Mostly books and mostly for grown-ups. One shelf of picture books for the little boys (and the bin for socks waiting to be matched!)

One of the great catch-all spaces in the house! If you can't find it where it belong look on the dining room shelves. Everything from bowls waiting for me to make a thrift store trip to stuff I've confiscated from the children and put up out of reach! Also more books, mostly from my college days, and our hymnal collection.

One of the great catch-all spaces in the house! If you can’t find it where it belongs look on the dining room shelves. Everything from bowls waiting for me to make a thrift store trip to stuff I’ve confiscated from the children and put up out of reach! Also more books, mostly from my college days, and our hymnal collection.

Also in the dining room the little shelf where the everyday dishes and the water tank live...

Also in the dining room the little shelf where the everyday dishes and the water tank live…

 

In the basement one shelf with homeschool materials- books no one is using right now, reference/ continuing ed stuff for me and the Encyclopedia Britannica my grandmother purchased for my Dad and his brothers (and yes we do use it!)

In the basement one shelf with homeschool materials- books no one is using right now, reference/ continuing ed stuff for me and the Encyclopedia Britannica my grandmother purchased for my Dad and his brothers (and yes we do use it!)

 

The only shelves in the schoolroom don't actually hold books! Just the toys for the little boys to use during school and naptime. Books live in  cubbies and desks.

The only shelves in the schoolroom don’t actually hold books! Just the toys for the little boys to use during school and naptime. Books live in cubbies and desks.

 

And finally the book closet in Mouse's bedroom. Most of the children's books live here although some have migrated to the closet on the other side of the room as I've attempted to keep certain subjects together and needed more room...

And finally the book closet in Mouse’s bedroom. Most of the children’s books live here although some have migrated to the closet on the other side of the room as I’ve attempted to keep certain subjects together and needed more room…

Be sure to check out some of my friend’s posts!
Amy at Http://homegrownhatfields.wordpress.com
Michelle at http://homeschoolerontheedge.crookers.com/
Julie at http://modernproverbs31woman.com/

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Invitations To Play And Learn: Work Trays

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One of the things that I have learned over time is that limits improve children’s interactions with the materials around them. Over the past several months I’ve been trying to include limits as natural guides in our learning spaces.

One way of doing this has been to simply reduce the number of materials available.

Another way has been the introduction of work trays into the little boys’ day.

I first ran across the concept of work trays on some Montessori blogs I was reading. I had some trays I had bought at the Dollar Store to use as play surfaces during a car trip so I thought I’d give the concept a try. At first I offered too many options with which to use the trays (pattern blocks, and puzzles, and dot markers, plus some other things) and the boys tended to flit from one thing to another without engaging for more than a few minutes. I also found that the noise of toys and blocks clicking on the metal trays was exceedingly annoying to the noise sensitive students in the room.

The noise problem was relatively easy to solve. I always have some felt around and dry mount glue (the kind that comes in a spray can) is perfect for bonding felt to metal! A quick spray and overnight dry gave me two trays that the little boys could use. Additionally, the felt gives a surface with enough texture that pattern blocks and other “slick” items are much easier to use.

When we moved the schoolroom up from the basement, I decided to limit the available materials even further and just rotate them monthly. Each little boy has one cubby for his books and his workbox (crayons, scissors, glue etc.) and one cubby for his work tray along with two baskets containing whatever we are working on this month. Bull uses all four baskets, and Jack uses his two mostly independently and occasionally uses Bull’s with some assistance.

Here’s the tray work for this month:

Jack:

Making pictures out of precut shapes: Using this idea off of Pinterest I cut out squares, triangles, rectangles and circles.  Both boys enjoy this activity, I’ve spent a bit of time showing Jack what to do, but mostly let him make things on his work tray before gluing them to a sheet of paper. I love how this activity helps them learn to look at things and break them into parts (an important pre- reading and pre-math skill) as well as work on fine motor, and hand-eye coordination skills.

Tot School Work Tray With Trucks

Preschool Work Tray With TrucksPattern Blocks:

These are a favorite of both boys. They often spend the whole time trying to fill up the tray using as many of a certain piece as they can.

 

Bull:

Montessori style continent cards from Mama’s Learning Corner: I really love these and Bull is enjoying learning about different habitats and the animals that live in them. Of course we started with North America because of his current obsession with Canada and Polar Bears! In addition to doing the matching in the tray, we are also finding the places on the world map and keeping a notebook about the various animals and their habitats.

Jack enjoys this activity too and is actually quite good at matching the shape on the card to the shape on the map.

Montessori Continent Card Tray Work

 

Matching Continent Cards To The World Map

 

Brothers working together

 

Math combinations with the Cuisenaire Rods: Right now we are just learning which rods will add up to other rods as that goes along nicely with his math lessons (MEP Primary/Year One). This is a good activity for him to do when I need to take a few minutes with the other children.

The limitation of materials has really helped the boys to focus and engage with the materials and lessons. They are spending an average of twenty minutes on each activity and I am seeing progress in the complexity of the things they attempt. I’m looking forward to incorporating new activities each month and building on these Invitations To Play and Learn.

 

 

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Show Me: Favorite Organizational Tools

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This is a fun link up begun by a friend of mine- a different theme  for every week all built around the idea of glimpses of each other’s lives!

 

I’m a list kind of a girl, and I generate a tremendous amount of paper! Keeping it all straight is a trick especially since I’m not a naturally organized person (or a tidy one) at all!

I do, however, love planners and binders and without them I would really be lost. Here’s a brief look at my “system” such as it is!

School Planner

 

My School Binder:

This is a large (3 inch) binder with a section for the preschooler and first grader in the front, a divider and a section for the 3rd and 4th graders in the back. I gave up this year on finding a pre-made planner that I liked, or a printable one as there was simply never enough space for me to make all the jottings and notes that I like. Instead I came up with a two-page spread, of lessons on the left and a space for notes (broken down by subject) on the right. So far I’m pretty happy with it and will use it again next year with some minor tweaks.

Sticky Notes:

I use these all the time. In the school binder I use a different color for each child and write the day’s assignments on them. The children stick them to their desks, do the work, then throw away the note. I also use different colored notes in my planner for the year to list projects I want to do at a certain time, themes for the month, and special events.

File Holder:

file holder for school assignments

 

Again this is color coded. Each child has a folder for completed work, plus I have a couple for pages I’ve copied or printed for future use (I try to keep the contents down to a week or two in the future, paper clipped together). Once I have checked the work, it goes into the correct file until I can file it by month in the completed schoolwork file.

 Cubbies:

This is a new one but I think I am going to love it. Our new schoolroom setup has several sets of cubbies and I am finding that they make it so much easier to tidy the room at the end of the day. They also limit how much I am able to have in the schoolroom at any time, which helps keep the clutter to a minimum (or at least a manageable point)!

Please share your own organizing favorites and be sure to check out some of my friend’s posts!

Amy at Http://homegrownhatfields.wordpress.com
Michelle at http://homeschoolerontheedge.crookers.com/
Julie at http://modernproverbs31woman.com/

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Working The Plan: Back To School After Christmas Break

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Working the plan

 

Aaahh! Time to resume our “normal” life after the holidays! The schoolroom move is nearly complete and I’m ready to get back into lessons and regular chores! I’m not sure if the children are as ready as I am, but I think they are.

Here’s a brief run down of the week:

 

Monday: 

  • Start school again in our new space, keeping the assignments a bit on the light side so everyone can learn the new routines of the new space.
  • Do the chores on the charts and inspect the results. Give teaching and training where needed. Work on doing a complete job the first time, and picking up as we go along.
  • 20 week ultrasound
  • Bull starts back to dance
  • Plan the meals for the week
  • Do some writing

 

Tuesday:

  • School and chores
  • No errands or appointments
  • Work on cleaning up the basement
  • Do something creative
  • Writing
  • Supposed to be really cold so plan some things to keep the children busy and active
  • RCIA in the evening?
  • Make a cake for Three Kings Day and bless the house

 

Wednesday:

  • School and chores
  • No errands or appointments
  • Work on the basement again (it’s really bad!)
  • Take down the Christmas tree
  • Make copies for Story of the World for the next couple of weeks while working in the basement since that’s where the materials are.

Thursday:

 

  • School and chores
  • Big three start Swim and Gym again
  • Run errands with Jack during Swim and Gym? I might just stay home and do a sewing project- two hours is a good chunk of time!
  • Writing- I have a bunch of projects I’m trying to finish before May!

 

Friday:

 

  • Bible study/ homeschool group
  • Doctor’s appointment for me
  • Dance for Mouse
  • Grocery store while Mouse is at dance
  • Definitely a crockpot day!

 

I think that’s it. Two doctor’s appointments in one week probably wasn’t the best planning but in a way I’d rather have a super full week every once in a while than keep having one interruption to our routine every week.

What are you planning on? Please share in the comments, including links to your own blog if you have one or on the Facebook Page.

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The End Of The Break

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We took a good bit of time off in December. Children were sick, I was sick and Christmas and Advent stuff needed doing.  It was nice to have a bit of a change and to get some projects done but now it’s time to get back into schooling, regular chores, and taking advantage of the colder days to do interesting projects indoors.

I’ve spent the past week moving the children’s bedrooms around and bringing the schoolroom up from the basement into one of the bedrooms. The basement is just too dark for us to spend three plus hours down there every day. We’ve tried adding lights and it still feels like descending into a cave!

 

Basement schoolroom

The big bedroom on the front of the house will make a bright, yet cozy space for us and I’m concentrating on only bringing up the things that we will use regularly and keeping the basement for storage, projects, and electronics.

 

Science Corner

Every Classroom Needs A Skeleton!

 

Next week is a bit crazy schedule-wise; not only do I have two doctor’ appointments but Bull and Mouse start dance again, all three bigs start the winter session of Swim and Gym at the YMCA and our homeschool group starts meeting again! When I looked at the calendar the other day I realized we would only get two full days of school in instead of our usual four which touched off a small panic moment!

Truthfully though, I need to spend much of next week getting everyone back into routines, and teaching the routine changes that come along with moving the classroom to  a new space. I think we’ll just ease into our space and routines and I will just keep reminding myself that the point of this week isn’t accomplishing lots of schoolwork but learning how to work peacefully in our space!

As usual for me at about this stage in pregnancy, I’ve begun thinking (and making lists) of the things that I want to have accomplished before the baby comes! One big one is, of course, whether or not to potty train Jack. I’m not completely decided yet, but since he is completely uninterested and can’t quite manage pulling his own pants up, I’ll probably wait until summer.  The other big one is getting everyone into a good school and chores routine where they are taking primary responsibility for accomplishing the things on their list and not hoping I don’t notice that they’ve skipped stuff!

Ideally of course I’d like school to be finished for the year by the end of April, but that’s not going to happen except for a few subjects. Instead I’m going to have to concentrate on teaching them to work well (whether at chores or school) even if I’m busy with something else. Mostly I need to do a better of job of setting time limits within which to accomplish tasks and inspecting completed jobs.

Today, I plan to spend finishing things up for Monday. I have some stuff to laminate and cut out for the little boys’ work trays and it isn’t actually possible to walk across the basement at the moment! S is going on a hunt for a piece of MDF for me to paint and put into the awesome blackboard frame a friend gave me. I’ve never done that before so I’ll be sure to post and let you know how it goes!

 

Old fashioned blackboard

I’m starting back in with the “Working The Plan” series on Mondays as well as “Invitations to Play and Learn” and “Kitchen Kids” in the coming weeks. I’ll also be joining up with friends at Modern Proverbs 31 Woman for a weekly “Show Me” Series!

 

 

 

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