Monday, April 14, 2014

No cost activities to do with your preschooler, already.

So, this homeschool gig.  It hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns for us this spring.  In large part due to the fact that we've all been sick about as much as we've been well since December.  I'm a strict no running, watch a lot of Caillou-type mom when the kids can't breathe without hacking up half a lung, which has definitely made our school schedule a little more spotty than I would have liked.  

We've been using this curriculum, which I really do love for several reasons: 1) it works chronologically through the Bible, complete with memory verses and fun activities to go along with each story.  I'll admit, I'm not much when it comes to the creative, project-based kinds of crafts that kids really do need to help them develop fine motor skills, creativity and problem solving.  It has been superawesomefantastic to have those laid out for me.  2) It focuses on one letter each week, going entirely out of order.  This is awesome because it gives us an entire week to focus on learning how to write the letter.  

The thing is, by about December, she outgrew it a bit.  Yes, we still follow the "guidelines" for the curriculum.  But there is emphasis on number recognition, shapes and colors, and phonics, all of which she knows.  Like, really, really well.  

So, even though I'm still following the general outline, we're also implementing other activities focusing on more kindergarten-ready skills like reading and math.  Yes, I know she just turned four.  The really great thing about homeschooling kids is that you can feed them what they're ready for, when they're ready for it.  And yes, that makes my Nerdy McTeacher brain get all tingly with excitement...

So although I haven't moved on to a more strict curriculum (but oh, do I have dreams!  So many dreams for next year!), here are, in no particular order, some of our favorite homeschool activities.  Simple, easy additions we throw in using stuff we've already got to help those developing preschool-y skills flourish. 

Multi-sensory letter play.

Playdough is one of my all-time favorite creations.  It's useful for so many, many different things.  The thing that's great about using it to support letter building is that it turns early writing skills into a multi-sensory activity.  Hooray for engaging all parts of the brain! 

Another variation on this theme is popsicle sticks.  What letters can they build with just a few popsicle sticks?  What letters can't they build?

Another simple thing we use all the time is paint.  We looooove paint.  Painted letters, counting with paint, painting with paint because it's fun and we can... you name it, we've painted it. 

Grooming optional when homeschooling.  One of the many things I love about it.

But it's also great for reinforcing phonics lessons.  

We knew that O is one of those funky letters that makes different sounds, but look at what happens when you stamp it in different combinations with a paper towel tube!  

Salt/rice/sugar/sand tray - still one of my go-to's for letter learning.  It's a great way to introduce a shape and allow kids to practice before asking them to go at it with pencil and paper.  Rice in a baking dish works equally as well, and again, anything multi-sensory engages parts of the brain that helps translate into long-term memory.  WIN!

Math lessons with found objects.
One of the important prerequisites to math is that a child first have number sense - the recognition that one item equates to one number.  Can they accurately count items in a group?  If so, they may be ready to start grouping items using the vocabulary of math.

We learned the words for + and = and are practicing using them in a sentence.  In other words, we're learning how to say equations. 

Then, to give it concrete meaning, we counted out the equation using raisins and chocolate chips.  Because that's what I had on hand that was small and yummy.

As she ate her math snack, she had to say each equation.  2+1=3.  More important than the math?  We talked about it.  You have two chocolate chips and one raisin.  How many items do you have altogether?  Which two cups have five things in them? (3+2 and 4+1).  WOW!  There's more than one way to make five!  The talk is every bit as important as the ability to count and group.  And, also, the eating of the math problems... totally necessary to blossoming mathematicians.

Magnetic numbers and letters.
These things are genius, and way more fun than regular letters.

We use them all the time, for all sorts of things.  Initial consonant sound (change rat to pat), building words (how do you spell dog?).  Here, we were taking our math equations to the next step - solving equations without the concrete representation of raisins and chocolate chips.

It was hard.  I over-reached on this one, for the record.  Still, magnetic letters are a fun way to switch up the basics.  She loves doing it on our chalk board; a cookie sheet works wonders, too.

Stuff and glue.
Because everybody needs to work those fine motor skills.

We've done more versions of stuff and glue than I can count.  Cotton balls.  Popsicle sticks.  Cereal.  Google eyes.  Felt.  Flower petals.  Rocks.  Paper plates.  Beans. Shapes.  Color sorts.  It doesn't matter, it's all good, and this one is an end in and of itself.  Important skills are at work any time they're cutting, organizing and gluing.

On this particular day (recent, as you can guess by the eggs), she had to first cut out the small boxes of numbers, then count the eggs and glue the corresponding number in the box.  

Again, hooray for the multi-step, multi-sensory project!

Sight words. 
The easy way - through forced memorization and stickers.

I'm a big fan of this method.  Each week, I select three sight words and post them at very visible locations throughout our house: on the downstairs bathroom door, on the fridge, on her door and on the upstairs bathroom mirror.  You know, places we'll eventually have to visit (no, I see no connection between that list of important places in my home and pregnancy.  Two bathrooms and a fridge... your point being?).  It's a helpful reminder, kind of like a "password" any time we see it, to read and spell the words.

She also has a sticker book, and gets a sticker for each word when she reads it correctly.  She loves getting stickers, and it helps me keep track of the words she's already mastered and the ones she needs to keep working on.  

Again, to reinforce these I simply point to sight words she knows in books as we're reading.  Nothing fancy.  No magic tools.  Just a small investment of time to reap really, really big rewards.  It's amazing what percentage of words she can actually read in text using only a small selection of sight words.  Those babies really do pop up a lot in texts!

There you have it.  A few very simple and effective activities we hope you can utilize with your preschooler.  And, if you have anything to add that you love, we'd LOVE to hear it!  Jump in - the greatest resource we have is each other!

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