Preschool, Take Four

IMG_6697Someone asked me what I did differently with preschool the fourth time around.

Answer: not much. Really, my approach to preschool boils down to one thing. A lot of reading.

At our house, preschool for any age (2, 3, 4) consists of:

  • A story from a Bible story book (this is our new favorite)
  • A story from Aesop’s Fables
  • Several pages of one of our collection of Mother Goose anthologies (it turns out that nursery rhymes are key for pre-reading skills, but I also think they are a good introduction to poetry and they turn up in literature all the time) – a few of our favorites are this, this, this, this, this, and this,¬†but we have others. ūüôā
  • Five (or more) picture books from our collection

Ideally, I kick off the day with Eliza’s one-on-one preschool time, because she’s always up and raring to go early and it fills her tank so she can listen and color or play quietly alongside the big kids when they are getting my focus the rest of the morning. Eliza turned 4 in May, so this year she adds in reading lessons (5 minutes) and some basic handwriting and numbers (5 minutes) to the usual preschool¬†routine described above. She is fairly desperate to learn to read, and is diligently identifying words and sounds whenever she can. She sits for long stretches of time with books in her lap, attempting to read them, then announces to all and sundry that it’s VERY difficult to read when you can’t read WORDS. We’ll get there.

We use picture books from a variety of lists, from Ambleside Online, Sonlight, etc. I started with lists but didn’t stop there. , Over time I developed a sense of what kind of books I like to read and share with the kids–interesting illustrations, vivid language, no didactic lessons or tiresome data or cartoon characters–with good books I feel like I know it when I see it.

I’d love to read more picture books than our preschool time, and some days I do, but even when I don’t get to it, Eliza has a lot of reading in her life. In addition to her preschool reading, Eliza sits in on all Bible and school reading for the other kids, our family read-aloud time, and her older siblings read to her daily.¬†Some days, if time allows, I do Margaret’s reading (five or more board books) right after Eliza’s preschool, and both girls listen to both types of books.

My focused preschool time with Eliza takes 30-45 minutes per day, depending on the length of books we read. This is not to say that she doesn’t do other preschool-y things throughout the day, such as cutting up bits of paper with scissors, playing with playdough, coloring, doing puzzles, lacing cards, etc. We have a box of those things that she can use during school time, and she does. But I’ve found that kids actually do better and enjoy those things more when Mama isn’t hovering. Fortunately, with five children in the posse, helicopter parenting is right out!

And that’s preschool at our house this year (you can read more about our school day here). If you have preschoolers, what does your day look like?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

School’s Out!

We crossed our required 180 days of instruction threshold early last week, but it made sense to keep going a little longer in order to finish up some books and start our summer break with a fun trip. ¬†We’ll be exploring the living history museums at Williamsburg and Jamestown next week, and also visiting some historic sites at Princeton. ¬†Other than those field trips {note to criminals: we are not leaving the house unattended: Josh is staying home, and he is fierce, so burgle elsewhere!} I’m calling this school year well and thoroughly over at 190 days total! ¬†Here is a round-up for each child:

Hannah, age 8 (2nd grade by age)

This year Hannah grew a lot in her ability to do independent work.  She learned about how to manage assignments throughout the week, which is a good skill for studying and general time management.  I saw a lot of growth in her ability to analyze and integrate facts and ideas.

  • Math: Hannah finished a Singapore math book and then we moved back to Saxon because it’s a better fit for our family right now. ¬†She finished Saxon 3,which goes through multiplication and division. ¬†She and I will do some review of long division concepts over the summer, because she needs some reinforcement there and I don’t want to have to start from scratch in the fall.
  • Language Arts: We got most of the way through First Language Lessons 3 (diagramming) and Writing With Ease 3, although I saved some of the supplements to tie in with projects next year. ¬†She also did additional writing assignments that tied in to her history and literature studies, such as writing compare and contrast essays, plays, and poetry.
  • Spelling: We squeaked through the second grade level lists in Spelling Plus. ¬†Barely.
  • Handwriting: Hannah’s cursive saw much improvement in New American Cursive II, and she also did copywork and sometimes spelling in cursive.
  • History/Literature/Geography: ¬†In our Tapestry of Grace Year 2 studies, Hannah covered history, literature, geography, church history, and other related subjects at the upper grammar level, and also did most of the dialectic level readings. ¬†She read an untold number of additional books on the side, because she loves to read.
  • Latin: We worked through part of Latin for Children Primer A, but then switched back to Prima Latina for review and to regain confidence.
  • Fine Arts: We enjoyed lots of art projects related to our history studies, and also studied several artists and composers throughout the year. ¬†Our attempt at piano lessons taught by Mama was mixed.
  • Science: ¬†Our co-op group did lots of great experiments from a children’s physics curriculum, and we also continued our study of birds from Apologia’s Flying Creatures text and activity book.

Jack, age 6 (first grade by age)

Jack started voluntarily reading longer chapter books on his own this year, and his writing really took off.  He loves to draw and build things, has great spatial awareness, and has done a lot of voluntary creative writing.

  • Math: Jack did a Singapore math book and then completed Saxon 2, which starts multiplication.
  • Language Arts:¬†He finished most of First Language Lessons 2, which covers more complicated parts of speech, and Writing With Ease 2, in addition to writing letters and doing other writing assignments along the way.
  • Spelling:¬† Jack completed All About Spelling Level 2, which incorporates dictation and seemed a great fit for him.
  • Handwriting:¬†I was surprised when Jack asked to learn cursive, but he did a good job of completing New American Cursive I, and has a legible cursive signature complete with John Hancock type flourish!
  • History/Literature/Geography:¬†For the most part Jack’s assignments were from the Lower Grammar level of Tapestry of Grace Year 2, but by the end of the year he also did the Upper Grammar literature readings.
  • Fine Arts:¬†We enjoyed lots of art projects related to our history studies, and also studied several artists and composers throughout the year. ¬†Our attempt at piano lessons taught by Mama was mixed, but Jack can play simple songs.
  • Science:¬†Our co-op group did lots of great experiments from a children’s physics curriculum, and we also continued our study of birds from Apologia’s Flying Creatures text¬†and activity book.

Sarah, age 5 (pre-school 4/5 by age)

Sarah learned to read this year, at long last! ¬†She had been asking for a long time, and one side-effect of waiting until she was 4 1/2 to start lessons was that it was a lot easier to teach her. ¬†She also went crazy with math and basically always tries to do whatever the older kids are doing, so this wasn’t really a preschool year for her. ¬†I have mixed feelings about that.

  • Math: I had not intended to give Sarah a math curriculum for PreK, but she asked for one so I got her Saxon K. ¬†She finished that, so I got her Saxon 1. She completed the first half of Saxon 1, plus a chunk of lessons from the second half of Saxon 1.
  • Language Arts:¬†I let Sarah sit in on First Language Lessons 1 (parts of speech) while I reviewed it with the big kids this fall. ¬†Then I went through it with her again once the other kids moved on. ¬†After she sailed through it the second time we went through it once more, because it seemed weird to move a preschooler into the second grade book. ¬†But this is a girl who knows the basic parts of speech down COLD!
  • Reading:¬†Sarah did the first 130 lessons from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. ¬†The book covers phonics concepts and builds reading fluency, but Sarah is in the phase where she can read complicated stories in the reading book but doubts her ability to read regular books. ¬†I think summer reading will help.
  • Handwriting: I don’t know how Sarah learned to write but she did, so I just assigned her copywork every day, including her name, the date, and a sentence or poem or something related to what she was reading or learning in another subject.
  • History/Literature/Geography:¬†Sarah enjoyed the Lower Grammar books from Tapestry of Grace Year 2, which I read aloud to all of the kids. ¬†I also tried to make sure that I read her several literature-quality picture books each day, taken from the Sonlight selections we enjoyed so much with Hannah and Jack.
  • Fine Arts:¬†We enjoyed lots of art projects related to our history studies, and also studied several artists and composers throughout the year. ¬†Our attempt at piano lessons taught by Mama was mixed, but Sarah does know where Middle C is now, and can identify basic stuff like the staff, treble clef, etc.
  • Science:¬†Our co-op group did lots of great experiments from a children’s physics curriculum, and we also continued our study of birds from Apologia’s Flying Creatures text¬†and activity book.

In conclusion, I would say that overall this has been a really great year of school for us. ¬†We have learned a lot, grown a lot, and had a great time together (for the most part). ¬†I’m not going to lie to you, homeschooling is really hard work. ¬†Parenting issues become classroom issues, my own faults are made glaringly obvious, and that can be draining and discouraging at times. ¬†But what I’ve come to realize more over the course of this year is that I am really passionate about education–particularly about how to personalize education for my unique children–and the value I see and satisfaction I find from homeschooling far outweighs the challenges.

Happy Summer to All!


Disclosure: The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. ¬†If you ever choose to buy something from Tapestry of Grace based on my reviews, I’d love it if you list me as your reference [chgillespie {{at}} gmail {{dot}} com], but my Tapestry of Grace links are not direct affiliate links.

Preschool Nature Study: Butterflies and Cocoons

My mom teaches science and likes to help her students learn about nature, so last week when we were visiting my parents in Virginia we got to see her Monarch butterfly cocoon.¬† Isn’t it lovely?¬† The cocoon is a milky blue and jade with gold accents.¬† It looks like jewelry.

When the butterfly hatches out of the cocoon, it has to dry its wings before it can fly.  My mom let Hannah hold the butterfly that was drying.  At first she was not so sure about this listless creature.

But she took to it pretty quickly!  We missed the second butterfly, because it hatched while we were gone, but it was neat for the kids to see the process in real life!

We have looked at several books about butterflies from the library, but I haven’t found any living books that really met our needs.¬† Two reference books that we do like are¬†Look What I’ve Found: A Cocoon, a board book about the butterfly life cycle over the different seasons of the year, and Caterpillars and Butterflies from the Usborne Beginners series.

If you know of any great books about butterflies and cocoons, please share with us in the comments!