Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Preschool at Our House


Warning: This is long and rambling. I wrote this up for my own fun, but I hope some of you fellow moms can find it useful. But mainly it was just fun for me to type it up. I always love reading what others are doing for preschool activities for their kids, but that doesn't mean this will hold deep interest for others.


I started to try to do some very low-key preschool activities with Hans last year, the fall he was 3. Nope. Epic fail. He saw right through my attempt to disguise any "book work" as fun. That kid is way too crafty (mind-wise, not folded-paper-and-glue-wise).

Hans' thought process: "Hmm, okay. I'll let Mom dictate the directions here, but let's see how she deals with my mad stalling skills. I can act clueless and in need of help with the best of them."

Um, no. Not cool. Not worth it. The kid was 3, after all. It's not like I had a stubborn 6 year old on my hand. The kid wanted fresh air! Exercise! Anything but pencil or crayon and paper (I'm an evil Mom and have banned kid markers in this house). Besides, although we plan to school our kids classically, which calls for academic rigor among other things, the fact is that classical education really isn't distinct until 2nd grade or so, and for early learners I have some mild leanings towards Montessori and Charlotte Mason, the former of which packages learning as play and the latter of which doesn't even believe in formal schooling until age 6. So meanwhile we hyper-disguised learning as play, working on number and letter concepts, patterns, etc. But mainly played and built a lot of things.

This summer Hans started talking about the starting sound of words all. the. time. "Mommy, tall starts with a 't'." And he was coming up on 4 years old, so I started thinking, hmm, maybe some "real" school this fall? He'd known all his letter sounds for a year and a half or so, but never showed the least aptitude to stringing those letter sounds into words.

Me: "Look, Hans! B-E-N. Buh, eh, nuh. Ben! Like Uncle Ben."
Hans, without skipping a beat: "Yeah! And Uncle Ben has a motorcycle!"

Then he would move right on to his next train of thought, never having a "click" moment that the letters actually spelled out the word. To him, the important thing he remembered from that encounter was a discussion of Uncle Ben having a motorcycle :-). So I decided to gingerly attempt some K-4 activities, but keep it low-key and short unless he showed interest.

I really had little clue what sorts of things a "typical" 4 year old preschooler needs to learn to prep for kindergarten, and decided it would be a fun and useful option to purchase this K4 curriculum from Confessions of a Homeschooler. $10 for dozens of files and suggested weekly and daily lesson plans? Very helpful for this type-A mother. I know some moms would find it not helpful and like to just wing it, but I like having a nice base plan, and THEN winging it (and believe me - I wing a lot!). Then I at least have a starting point from which to wing.

I actually purchased her Letter of the Week curriculum first, since I hadn't done much formal work with Hans (Does counting while playing "Hide and Seek" count?) and didn't feel he was ready for a lesson set described as designed for 4-5 year olds that are "kindergarten ready". He was barely 4 and schoolwork-skeptical.

The Letter of the Week curriculum is. . . a lot of busy work. And a LOT of paper waste, in my opinion. I think a lot of my opinion just comes from my dislike of busy work and over-complicating early education. I think that it would be a great option for a mom who likes lots of activities for letters and for a kid who thrives on that sort of thing. Since I already have the curriculum, and since Gretchen does have a much higher tolerance for and in fact relish of seat work, I will probably use ideas from it for her for next year or the year after. There are some great ideas in it; it's just a bit overkill, in my opinion. For Hans, singing about letters and sounds, and using some basic letter manipulatives did the job just as well, perhaps better, because we could do it while playing blocks or riding his tricycle outside.

But her K4 curriculum is great! I think it was really well put together. I discovered, by the way, that "challenging preschool curriculum" and "kindergarten ready" has more to do with a kid's aptness for picking up things than it does any prerequisites a kid has covered. I mean, come on, pre-K4 and kindergarten really don't have prerequisites except shapes and basic letter/number recognition. We had those bases covered. So despite my initial hesitation, it did end up being a great fit for Hans' abilities. The K4 curriculum still has what many would consider to be "busy work," but a more focused busy work that I think works well for an active 4 year old mind :-). Kids like things that are fun so I'm all about fun! But 12 activities on "A is for Apple" is not something Hans is going to tolerate. . .

(Side note: most of the Letter of the Week and K4 activities are on her website for free download, but purchasing the curriculum does two things which I was more than willing to pay a small fee to obtain: (1) it organizes all the activities into weekly and daily lessons and sets a nice pace for the school work and also suggests additional supplementary activities, and (2) quite frankly, with all the work she's put into the stuff, I was more than happy to give her a small compensation to say "thank you." I'm all about getting things for free, but I also like giving credit where credit is due, and $10 for each gigantic set of files = totally worth it.)

Given our less than glamorous attempt at preschool the previous year and given Hans' continued skepticism/resistance of anything that looked like school, I determined a few things before embarking on school with him this fall:

(1) I will keep my voice a normal volume and pleasant tone. He WILL not be able to see that he is frustrating me if he dawdles or plays ignorant, no matter how much I want to scream. He will not win that battle! (I can't say this has been perfectly kept, but I have made significant effort to keep this, and was 100% successful during the first several key weeks, when the tone for our school time was set.)

(2) He is 4 years old. I will remember this. If he truly is not mature enough for school, big fat deal. We move on with life and try again at a much later date. He needs physical activity more than mental stretching right now.

(3) We will start "school" first thing after breakfast every. single. week day. He had to see it was a pattern. And he had to see it was a priority. And I had to recognize it was a priority and not think "I'll just do one more chore, and then we'll start," which could easily become 11:30am, with cranky hungry children. He is happy, fed, and alert after breakfast. Take advantage.

(4) We will make "school" extremely short until or unless we establish a pattern of fun and interest, and he latches onto the idea. Our first week was approximately 10-15 minutes each day, that's it. Enough to whet his appetite, give him a sense of accomplishment, and show him it really was fun, not just thinly-disguised work (more like thickly-disguised work).

And guess what? He loved it! It totally blew my socks off (proverbial, since I boycott socks from March-November every year, and we started school in August). Was he skeptical? Yes. Did he try to stall and act dumb? Yes. Did he quickly realize that this thing called school was actually fun and a great way to get undivided Mommy attention first thing every morning? Yes.

So what all are we doing? Well, we started out heavily following (with definite modifications) the K4 curriculum I purchased. It was a great start for us, but as the weeks progressed, I've deviated from it more and more, though we still use some activities from it. She has some really great ideas that supplement well with other activities we're doing.

At first I deviated because the beginning phonics moved way too quickly through concepts - on week 7, I think, they were sounding out words with -ain and then similar special letter groupings. I wanted Hans to get a solid grip on sounding out words before doing special digraphs like that. I had bought a K-2 set of Hooked on Phonics on clearance a year or two ago, and so we started that and he loves it! He sped through the kindergarten program in 5 weeks flat, so we're on the 1st grade program now. The Hooked on Phonics program is awesome, and it hasn't done -ain yet ;-). The K program is all about getting a solid grasp on basic sounding out of words, with a hefty number of sight words thrown in the mix. We're getting a lot more letter combos in the 1st grade book now.

The other reason I started deviating from the K4 curriculum is because the math was too easy for Hans. I do not think this is the fault of the curriculum. Every kid learns at different rates. But for Hans, after a few weeks of "missing numbers worksheets," I knew we had to move on before he stagnated and started to hate the repetition. Hans does not like doing things he already knows how to do - after a repetition or two, he starts to gets suspicious and bored. So I bought the Essential Mathematics Singapore Math books (their no-frills K math option - they have another more-exciting option) and he loves it. The first part is really easy (as is every K math book, since they start with no prerequisites) so we're flying through it right now (almost half-way done), but I know we'll slow down when we get past stuff he already knows.

We're still heavily depending on the K4 handwriting options, and they are great. I'm also supplementing by creating sheets from this site, which is fabulous.  And I'm still using her sight word activities, because they're fabulous and complement the Hooked on Phonics great, and Hans loves doing them. Also, some of the K4 math activities have been great to supplement Singapore. Those are the biggies for us right now - phonics, math, handwriting.

Handwriting is definitely Hans' weakness of the three, but he's coming along nicely and is finally starting to be willing to form letters without the dashes :-). I'm also supplementing with mazes, dot-to-dots, and other stealth-handwriting-development options ;-). Making cards for friends is a fabulous way to get him to practice handwriting without him realizing it :-). And we have a 100 chart that we're using to reinforce counting to 100 (which Hans can finally do!) And we're doing a lot of addition and subtraction with poker chips (don't judge). And counting during hide-and-seek, frontwards as well as backwards (only backwards from 20-0, mind you). I also found a few Kumon books at a rummage sale - Let's Cut Paper and Let's Sticker and Paste. The latter is really too easy for Hans (I'll save for Gretchen), but the Cut Paper one has been phenomenal for Hans, in getting him over his fear of cutting (his fear was not of the scissors, but in not cutting perfectly - he has a major perfection complex like his mom!). I can't say I would have spent the full price on the book ($6), but it was totally worth getting used.

We do some crafts also, but the problem with crafts is that Hans wants to save every one, and supplies can get pricey, in addition to the added clutter of keeping projects. So those are more like once-a-week, which works out great.

Our plans for the future? More of the same. We're doing approximately an hour of school each week day now, and often stop because *I* say it's time. I usually give Hans the option of stopping or continuing with a new activity when we get past 45 minutes, and he very often asks to continue. But if his attention span is wavering,  we stop. He's 4 and I don't expect him to act older. It also helps to start with the "tougher" stuff, and save the more palatable options for last, so he wants to keep going :-D. His attention span is also way better on weeks where we get outside to play more. . . which is harder with the recent cold weather :-P.

We will keep on keeping on with phonics and math and handwriting. We're leaning towards continuing with Singapore Math, but supplementing with more drill, as that is the weakness of Singapore. But we'll see what we choose. We're covered in phonics for a while, as he still has 3 more workbooks after he finishes the ones he's doing (5 total workbooks for the program). I've purchased Rod and Staff's 1st grade handwriting program, which we will start at some point, but not anytime soon. We're not there yet. And next fall we'll do some life science (I'm using a lot of Well Trained Mind's suggestions for science books - I had very mixed feelings about that book and loved some of it, strongly disagreed with other aspects, but her science suggestions have seemed good), but keeping it low-key. I'm also planning on doing basic geography with Hans next fall, using this resource, as well as the essential maps and globe - legally reproducible with worksheets? Yes, please! I might start Shurley Grammar 1 next fall, if I feel Hans is ready, but I'm leaning towards delaying a bit. I'm just not sure he will be ready from a cognition standpoint, though the only real prerequisite is "able to read very basic sentences," which he can already do. But comprehension v. basic reading are two very different things.

One other thing to note: doing school with Hans has really improved our relationship. Hans can be really stubborn. And he can try to get attention in the wrong ways :-P. Preschool together has done two wonderful things for our relationship: first, it has given him nearly-undivided (see below paragraph) Mommy-time first thing in the morning, and second, it gives him a sense of accomplishment as he sees very tangibly his accomplishments in learning. He is the kind of kid who hesitates to try anything because he's afraid of failure, but when he does try and succeed, it's a huge boost for him. So school has been great for him in this :-).

So what does Gretchen do while Hans and I do school? Don't hate me. She just sits there and pleasantly colors and cuts up paper or affixes stickers to paper scraps. Or looks at letter manipulatives (Confessions of a Homeschooler has some great ideas for creating letter manipulatives). Or other basic activities (puzzles, peg board, etc.). Sometimes she asks to sit on my lap. The end. I have it made. Yes I realize that. Easiestchildever.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


The Christian life is a life of trust, and pregnancy is no exception. Every woman is aware that loss is a possibility in pregnancy, but I don't think it really comes home until you've experienced it yourself. Hypothetical and real are two different things. And when loss becomes real instead of hypothetical - I've lost two babies in utero, including most recently this past spring - it makes each future pregnancy even more a matter of trust than it was before you experienced loss.

Trust that God has given this life for a reason.

Trust that all things work together for good for those who love Him.

Trust that the good each small life will work (however long or short our paths cross) will be the conforming of my sinful self into the image of His Son. No matter the outcome. Period.

Trust that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Trust that God holds the future in His hand.

Trust that God is all-good and all-powerful.

Notice I didn't say "trust that God will protect my baby's life," or "trust that God won't put me through that trial again." God doesn't promise a smooth passage, but He promises to be with us through life's storms and sunny sailing, both.

I've looked in the Bible for absolute promises to specific circumstances in my life, including pregnancy and the life of my children - they're not in there. It's not because He didn't get around to it. It's because part of the "being conformed to the image of His Son" happens when we have to hold loosely our desires, our expectations, our hopes, and dreams. It's when our hopes and dreams are reborn in His likeness that we find real peace and real joy. This is trust in God. This isn't hypothetical read-about-in-books type of thing; this is where the rubber hits the road.

So we begin this journey again. Welcoming a new life, thanking God for another baby to love and cherish, but holding our hopes and dreams loosely. Looking to eternity, not just to the temporal. Praying that God will let us meet this little one next June, but trusting that God is good, no matter His plan.