Schooling With Littles

The most common questions I receive about homeschooling have to do with curriculum and how to manage school with younger siblings. Homeschooling multiple ages and grades can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. If the idea is embraced rather than resisted, it often leads to a richer educational and relational experience.

Seven years into this homeschooling journey, I have a few suggestions and recommendations to share. It is important to remember that every child, every relationship, every family dynamic is different. Attention spans and developmental skills widely vary across ages. Try not to compare your own children to each other. Be flexible and keep trying until you find what works best for you and your kids.

With that said, there are several things that have helped while I was homeschooling with a baby, then a toddler, then a preschooler, and now finally with three different levels.

1.) Include younger siblings in all lessons as much as possible. Little brothers and sisters love to be part of the action. Make a special spot for them at your homeschool table. Encourage them to try some of their older sibling’s activities. Print off an extra page, make a copy of the worksheet, give them their own paper and pencil. Make it a big deal that they have “schoolwork” to do too.

This might sound easier said than done, and it will probably add some distraction and extra things to manage. It may also require an extra dose of strength and patience. BUT it will make your younger children feel loved, respected, and important. This is great for building family team and rapport.

Homeschooling is really about teamwork. And you, as the team leader, are laying the foundation for your team to be successful. In a team, everyone is important and brings something special to the table. That includes the littlest team members.

2.) Plan special activities just for them.

Littles have a short attention spans. Lessons and activities should be kept brief, include movement, and varied activities. Include younger siblings as much as you can in big kid activities, but give them their own activities too. I’ve created a list of recommendations at my Amazon Storefront.

Child led, Imagination Infused, Play Ideas List

Some ideas to try:

  • Sensory Boxes. Check out a few ideas on my Pinterest board!
  • BOX TIME! Make special boxes for each day of the week. Label five plastic shoeboxes or bins with the days of the week. Add different objects, items and toys that can only be used during “box time.” Switch out the toys or items weekly or every couple of weeks. Items in the boxes could be as simple as a sheet of stickers and colorful paper, or as special as a new toy.
  • Music makes everything better. When emotions seem to be running high, try classical music as a calming agent. It does wonders for the imagination too!
  • Take time to stretch. Every so often, stop lessons, stretch together as a family. Try some jumping jacks or switch to dance music to get bodies moving.

(Amazon Affiliate links included. While it does not cost you anything extra, I earn a small commission for each product ordered.)

3.) Wait for naptimes to “do” school.

This was incredibly helpful to me when my son was born and my daughters were in kindergarten and first grade. I was nursing every three hours and being interrupted more often than that. I tried to “school” the girls, but all the distractions were very frustrating and usually resulted in one of us in tears.

We changed up our school schedule, and started waiting for my son’s naptime to do the work that required more focus and less distractions (reading, language arts, and some math.) This worked so well that we continued to do this until my son stopped taking naps.

4.) An effective behavior management system.

This is a big topic to break down and discuss, so I will save it for another blog post. But, do you have a system of behavior management and discipline that is working for you and your family? In short, the less words and emotion you use, the more clear and consistent expectations are given, the more effective discipline will be.

I really like Magic 1-2-3. I have found success with this program when I was teaching in a special education in a public school classroom and at home with my own children.

5.) Breathe

When homeschooling, especially multiple ages, each day can feel very long. Yet, the days add up quickly and go by fast. Enjoy the age that your children are at. Hard days pass, new challenges come. Don’t forget to breathe.


Quick Tips for School Days at Home

Have you recently been promoted as your child’s homeschool teacher? Need some ideas, resources, and help during this transition. I’ve been homeschooling my three children for over seven years, and would love to offer you encouragement and recommendations.

Quick tips to starting a “school day” at home:

– make a schedule, BUT be flexible when keeping to it (leave lots of room for connections and conversations)

– choose a “classroom” This could be the kitchen or dining room table, playroom, desk or office area. In our homeschool, we always start in our designated school room, then end up “schooling” through the house.

– read aloud as much as time allows. Our read aloud time is one of our most treasured homeschool times. A few of our favorite read alouds are the Chronicles of Narnia (https://amzn.to/2TS3Iz7); The Penderwicks (https://amzn.to/3aUQfvX); The Witch at Blackbird Pond (https://amzn.to/2WbAdtj) Beverly Clearly books, (https://amzn.to/2xChcGo) and Heroes of the Faith books (https://amzn.to/3d1hhno)

– nail down those math facts! We use a free computer program https://xtramath.org/#/home/index

– Life is a learning experience. Cooking can be a reading comprehension, math lesson. Cleaning the house works on character building and time management. Sending a letter to grandma helps with writing and organizational skills.

-take a trip around the world. Online, virtual field trips are available to many incredible places around the world, like exploring the inside of a pyramid or viewing an art exhibition at the Louvre https://www.louvre.fr/en/visites-en-ligne

-get outside!! I can not stress this one enough! Free play, problem solving, confidence building, exercise, imagination, and vitamin D- a whole body experience. We keep track out our outside hours with a fun chart that I am happy to share- just send me a message.

– use this time to explore your child’s interests and hobbies. Your child was created with unique interests and giftings. Use this time to help them discover them.

-sometimes stopping is the best action. One of the benefits of homeschooling is flexibility. If a school day becomes stressful and pushing through work becomes frustrating and unfruitful, just stop. Take a break, enjoy some ice cream, go back to it later in the day or take the rest of the day off.

– give grace and enjoy. Give your kids grace, give yourself grace, accept grace. Transitions are hard. Pray. Do your best, and let go of the rest. And enjoy this time! Kids don’t keep. While moments seem long, they add up to years that go by too quickly.

I am happy to share anything I’ve learned and offer specific recommendations. Please comment below or send me a message.

Grace and peace to you!

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Poetry Tea Time- Why and How?

Like so many other families, our family has a busy schedule. Our days are packed with schooling, activities, and ministry. We often have the next activity on our minds before we finish the task at hand. As the kids get older, it seems we only getting busier. And if we are not careful (and intentional), our family can easily become like ships passing in the night, each going his or her own way.

You may be thinking, “I know exactly what you mean! This is our family too!” Or maybe you are thinking, “Shanna, how is it possible for you to miss connection in your family when you live, school, and work at home? You see each other everyday, for like every minute of everyday!”

Well, it’s very possible, maybe even more possible. There is big a difference between being with people in a physical space versus connecting with people in a heart and mind space. When you see people often, there is a danger in taking their presence and their unique person for granted. Extra effort and intentionality are necessary to continue growing connections and relationships. Time is invaluable to check-in with each other to bust apart assumptions of how and what the other person may/may not have been feeling and the way they are experiencing life.

This is one of the reasons why I love Poetry Teatime. Teatime is an intentional, weekly break in our busy week to rest and reconnect with each other. It is a time to come to the table to enjoy. We set the table beautiful with “proper” tea cups and bring books to sit at our sides. We wait while the tea steeps and others speak, taking turns reading and listening to poems and plays. We slowly sip, nibble special treats, and relish the images that words and conversations bring to our minds.

It might seem very “Mary Poppins-like,” it kind of is. In a world that is increasingly becoming more confusing, dark and scary, these “Mary Poppins-like” moments are increasingly more precious to help celebrate the good and keep cheerful and magical moments alive. There are plenty of other moments in our week when the reality of the world comes crushing through our door with hard to answer questions. We don’t shy away from these things or from topics of current world issues. When these discussions and questions come, I often find myself leading a quick ground training of how to react and respond to these issues in love and according to our beliefs. Poetry Tea Time is a chance to for all of us to take a break, to refreshed and revived from our schedule and these heavy things.

So how? How does Teatime work? How can you start a time like this in your home? Teatime in your family doesn’t have to look exactly like ours. You can find some helpful tips from Julie Bogart, the creator of Poetry Tea Time here, http://poetryteatime.com. There are several components that make teatime special and enjoyable.

THE TABLE

On our table is always set with a table cloth and ceramic cups. I like to use my grandmother’s blue and white set, but we use other sets too. The Goodwill and Salvation Army are great places to find and purchase tea sets and cups. I always add fresh flowers or plants to the table. It is especially special to use something we found in our backyard- like pine boughs in the winter or daffodils in the spring. We always have at least one candle lit and sometimes my daughters will make a special table place card for each setting.

THE TREAT

Sometimes we bake our treats (or more accurately my daughter bakes them.) Sometimes we buy them. It’s fun to try cookies and treats we haven’t tried before. Then there are sometimes we use what we have in our pantry- like granola bars or crackers with peanut butter. Everything can be special and look differently when plated creatively. 🙂

THE TEA

I keep a collection of herbal and caffeine-free teas on hand and set them out on the table with sugar, milk and honey in ceramics. Sugar cubes are always fun to have. I buy them on Amazon as I haven’t had much luck finding them in my local grocery store.

THE WORDS

There are several books that always seem to make their way to the table. I encourage my kids to bring a poem, verse or short story they like to share. Sometimes the poems comes from our specific poetry books, and sometimes from unexpected places (like finding a poem in my daughter’s weekly reading assignment.) I’ve recently been encouraging all of us write our own poetry, but we are still working on that.

Sometimes, we have a Readers Theater during Teatime. We ALL love that! Here are some scripts we have used and enjoyed.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Fractured-Fairy-Tale-Readers-Theater-Scripts-Writing-Activities-Grade-3456-3560643

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-True-Story-of-the-Three-Little-Pigs-Readers-Theater-Script-and-Craftivity-1125274

And sometimes, I bring our current read alouds to the table. Here are some suggestions:

https://embraceenthusiasm.net/bookshelf/


During readings, we listen to the reader and usually clap when he/she is finished. Sometimes we ask questions. Sometimes we share why we picked the poem. Sometimes we share our favorite parts. Sometimes the poem leads us into other conversations. Our Teatime lasts an hour long, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer. There is a lot of “sometimes” in all of it because I feel like this is a time to just flow without an agenda.

There are many ways to set aside time and connect with family. Poetry Tea Time is just one way we do it in our family. There are other ways we connect that have nothing to do with tea or books. The important thing is making sure we are using our time wisely and and be intentional about creating spaces of connection.

How about you? How are you intentional in creating spaces to rest and reconnect as a family?

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What Is Education?

Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy and methods motivate me to think about the definition and purpose of education. Her words have helped shape my personal philosophy of education, which gives focus, directs goals and provides reason to what we do in our homeschooling and why.

I believe education is a continuous process of developing character and cultivating knowledge to be used in life. It focuses on serving the individual child as is-mind, body, soul. It respects the child’s able, eager mind and places importance on his/her unique needs and capabilities. It employs teaching methods which encourage learning at different speeds, using appropriate leveled materials. Subjects are introduced though living ideas and relationships.  

I believe education should foster interests, develop lovers of literature and arts, encourage curiosity and creativity, and allow for play and outdoor time. It’s learning that lingers in nature, applauds observations and problem solving, and uses discussion as a showcase to express ideas. Most importantly (for me), it’s education in which Biblical Christianity is the truth and the foundation of all other knowledge.  

This may sound idealistic, too good to be true, but it is possible. Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. It’s the way our family strives to live out education in our home. Homeschooling provides us the time, flexibility and freedom to learn in these ways.

It’s always a process. I never feel we do “education” perfectly (perfect is boring, right?) I try to embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn and place high value on educating myself so I can educate others. I am constantly reevaluating and considering the options and the methods; considering each child’s needs as we go. As much as Charlotte Mason inspires me, I would not consider myself to be a “purist.” I use many of Miss Mason’s wonderful methods and ideas, but I use other methods as well. Methods that I’ve found to be effective and valuable through years of teaching experience.

As with many other parents and teachers, I feel a great weight of responsibility to ensure my children are prepared for life, for them to know the enjoyment of living. I cannot do this on my own. Our days are covered with prayer and we rely on a huge portion of grace and God-given strength. Each day, is a new adventure to look forward to. Homeschooling my children is a wonderful opportunity, a time to wonder and grow together as we explore and open the gift of education that is life.

You can learn more about Charlotte Mason and her methods from these books:

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Raising Monarchs

raisingmonarchbutterflies

There is a sticky milkweed patch that grows by the side of our house. All summer long it grows and grows and hosts a variety of pests. Wasps, spiders, flies, aphids, beetles- the so-called ickiest of invertebrates and arthropods. There is only one reason I will not let my husband “deal” with the plants -the monarch butterfly.

Year after year, the monarch butterflies return to our patch to deposit their tiny, cone-shaped eggs on the underside of the leaves. For years, I have assumed the eggs successfully hatch into feasting caterpillars. Healthy caterpillars who eat and eat, grow and grow before enclosing themselves into a beautiful chrysalis, and then finally emerging into butterflies. I hadn’t given much thought to the whole process other than we were doing a good job keeping the milkweed there and the beautiful monarch kept  returning and visiting.

At the end of August, I stumbled across some information about the monarch butterfly population declining and the fact that only 10% of monarchs make it from egg to adult in the wild. I read about people collecting the eggs, raising the caterpillars. and then releasing the butterflies in hopes of helping the monarch population to return and increase.

In previous years, I have raised painted lady butterflies in classrooms and in homeschool lessons. I knew a good amount about process of metamorphosis but only witnessed it with painted lady butterflies. And with painted lady butterflies, the caterpillars are purchased online and then come in little containers with an all you they eat buffet! Raising monarchs from eggs found outside was a different thing.

But, I was curious. Could we too raise monarchs successfully from egg to adult? Could we play a part in helping the monarch population increase? Since introduced with new knowledge, every time I walked by our milkweed patch after that, I looked at the milkweed plants in a different way.  I noticed more and more caterpillar bite marks on the leaves and then a local naturalist pointed out some monarch eggs. He advised us to check the plants at night to see if we could find any caterpillars. The first night we went out caterpillar hunting we were successful. Not only did we find eggs and we also found one tiny caterpillar. We brought it in with the leave it was munching and placed it into our mesh butterfly habitat (the one we used with the painted lady butterflies.) Then we hoped for the best. Unfortunately, our hopes were met with sadness, even with the best researched care, the caterpillar died a few days later.

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It was easier for us to see the butterfly eggs and the caterpillar activity at night.

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First caterpillar found- RIP Little One

We did not want to give up. Over the next couple of days, we went out again, collecting five eggs. In my research, I had learned that caterpillars eat A LOT of milkweed. The experts advised to be intentional not to take any more eggs than caterpillars you could feed. Looking at our milkweed patch, there was only so much fresh and new leaves available.

One of the coolest things about the butterfly egg is how you can tell when the caterpillar will hatch. When you see a black dot at the tip of the clear egg, you know the caterpillar will hatch within 24 hours. Like clockwork, this happened with every caterpillar and out of those tiny eggs came the tiniest little creature who right away began eating. First it ate its egg case and then moved on to the tender underside of the leaves. Then it never stopped eating.

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When the tip of the tiny egg turns black, you know the caterpillar will hatch within twenty-four hours.

Our caterpillars grew quickly. And they only stopped eating to molt. It was hard to figure out if and when they were molting into a new instar (they molt five times- called instars.) The information and picture cards from the Nebraska Game & Parks were extremely helpful during this process, as well as these other resources :

Monarch Raising Guide

and this awesome field guide the Commission for Environmental Cooperation

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We were constantly referring to these Butterfly Life Cycle cards from Nebraska Game & Parks: https://outdoornebraska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Lesson-Plan-Monarch-Life-Cycle-Sort.pdf

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Having available milkweed was NO JOKE! And the caterpillars ate a tremendous amount as they grew. We quickly went through all the young plants in our patch and then I needed to scout out (and take) milkweed from the side of the road and in abandoned parking lots. To keep the milkweed fresh, I took the the plant by the root (or the part I needed if the plant was too large) and then placed the stem through a styrofoam cup (for stability) over the top of a cut water bottle (water for plant.)  Another thing to note, the tremendous amount of eating produced a tremendous amount of caterpillar waste- or frass. The butterfly habitat needed to be changed daily.  Raising monarchs is a time commitment.

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Hungry, hungry caterpillars!!

Two weeks from hatching, the now two-inch long caterpillar was ready to pupate. The clear sign of this change is when a caterpillar spins a silk “button” on the top of the habitat and hangs in a J-shape. I have to admit feeling a bit sad at this stage- all the care, all the milkweed hunting trips, all the cleaning, I knew I would not see the caterpillar in this form again. The feelings lasted only a few moments as nothing stays the same, everything changes, and when the thought of the beautiful butterfly that would emerge and we could set free, things were quickly better.

As the caterpillar pupates, it turns greenish, and basically splits, spilling its guts, and hardening into a chrysalis. There is a time lapse video at the end of the post where you can see this process from start to finish.

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J-shape! Getting ready to turn into a chrysalis.

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The chrysalis is a minty green color, with what looks like pure gold spots. Absolutely beautiful!

The caterpillar stays in its chrysalis for 10-14 days before miraculously emerging into beautiful butterfly.  At then end of the four week process, all five of our eggs made it to adult butterflies!!

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A few of our butterflies lingered on our fingers, hands, and jackets, testing our their wings before they flew away giving us the most amazing up close view of their gorgeous wings before taking flight!

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Out of the five caterpillars, four were females and one was a male.  Here’e a quick identification to tell the difference.

This entire experience was amazing and I am so glad to have shared it with my kids. We nature journaled each stage, sketching and creating watercolors. I had the older girls write about their experience and my Kindergartner created a book. We entered their completed work into the fair and they won Honorable Mentions. It was definitely a big time commitment but I think well worth it. And I believe we will consider doing it again next year. 🙂

 

BUTTERFLY BOOKSHELF:

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BUTTERFLY BENEDICTION:

May the morning sun caress you,
The rains of change refresh you,
And the gentle breeze of His Spirit
Lift the wings of your transformation.

By: Richard D. Breen

 

 

 



Nature Print Eggs with Natural Dyes

natureprinteggs

This week we are learning about Romania and I wanted to find a craft to tie into our studies. I searched online for Romanian crafts ideas and pictures of leaf print eggs caught my attention. The eggs are dyed in natural dyes (which also tied in nicely with our medieval studies) and finding the little flowers, ferns, and tiny leaves to imprint on our eggs added to this week’s nature studies. Multi-subject lessons are the best! I’m not sure how Romanian these eggs are but they were fun to make and they are absolutely beautiful.

Just a few words to keep things real, this project was time consuming. From boiling the eggs, preparing the natural dyes, patience with the egg designs and waiting for the colors to come through, and the mess (oh, the mess!! see end of post) this is not your average-throw-a-color-tablet-in-a-cup-of-vinegar-and-add-an-egg type of thing. BUT if you are adventurous and like a good creative-challenge, this project is for you!!! (And my four year old stayed with us and enjoyed the project the whole time, so if he can do it…..)

Materials:

  • white eggs (hardboiled)
  • tumeric
  • beets
  • coffee
  • red cabbage
  • white vinegar
  • water
  • nylon knee highs
  • small hair elastics
  • small flowers, leaves, clovers
  • papertowels

Directions:

1.) Boil the eggs and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2.) Search outside for small flowers, interesting leaves, ferns, and clovers. Cilantro and celery leaves would also work.

2.) Make the natural dyes. I followed Martha Stewart’s directions for dying eggs naturally.

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3.) Decorate the eggs. We noticed the condensation on the eggs (from being in the refrigerator) helped the leaves and petals stick better. If the eggshells were dry, we added a little moisture to the leaves to help keep things in place. This cut down on frustration levels for those with little hands. 🙂

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4.) Cover decorated egg with nylon. The foot of a knee high works great but since we only had two per package, we had to create our own “foot” with an extra small elastic. Pull nylon tightly around the egg to hold things in place.

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5.) Give the eggs a natural dye bath. The longer the eggs soak, the more vibrant the color. We left the eggs in the dye for a minimum of an hour. See Martha Stewart’s directions for time and color suggestions.

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6.) Cut off the nylon and peel off leaves and flowers. (We patted the egg dry with a paper towel before we cut the nylon. I am not sure if this make a difference in color but it made the eggs less slippery to work with.)

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7.) Observe and enjoy!!!

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And the promised TRUTH…(BUT it was worth it!!!)

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