Kindergarten Necessities

So, you want to homeschool? You’re starting with your Kindergartner, and you have no idea what you should do. You start researching curriculum, you even buy a bunch. There’s not a lot of Kindergarten – compared to other grades. But you still manage to get quite a pile.

Your Kindergartner is less than thrilled. Teaching reading is frustrating. And don’t even get me started on math! Your child doesn’t seem to be learning, and is definitely not having fun. Actually, what is a Kindergartner supposed to learn? If you do a google search, you’ll find a huge list of Kindergarten readiness and even more lists of what your child should know by the end of Kindergarten. It’s overwhelming.

So, let’s start at the top. Kindergarten is from German and literally translated means “Children’s Garden”. It’s supposed to be a time of learning, fun, and adventure.

But how do you do this and still teach the necessary academics?

For starters. What exactly is necessary in Kindergarten? When I was a kid, it was reading, writing, and math. And lots of time on the playground. And even then, it was less than is expected of my kids now. It was totally normal for half the class to be reading by the end of Kindergarten and the other class to just not quite be there yet. But, everyone would be reading by the end of first grade. Nowdays people want their kids to read before they start Kindergarten (check out those Kindergarten readiness lists I mentioned) Speaking of reading, what exactly does that look like for a Kindergartner?

I have 3 academic goals in Kindergarten for my kids. Reading, Math, and Writing. We cover other subjects like history and science. But not in a formal book learning manner. My Kindergartner often sits in while I’m working on history with my 3rd grader. She definitely participates in any and all science experiments – because those are always cool. And we do lots of fun field trips like the local symphony orchestra, replicas of Columbus’s ships, the local science museum, zoo, etc.

But as far as formal teaching. I can’t effectively teach anything else until my child can read, have a basic understanding of numbers, and write legibly.

Because Kindergarten shouldn’t be frustrating. And you should be working with your child at their pace. Here’s what I do. It worked well with my now 3rd grader and it’s producing a non-frustrating year for my Kindergartner.

1. Reading – I love, love, love Hooked on Phonics. I tried it out for my first child and I’m just loving it! Did I mention how awesome it is? The preschool level is all about learning your letter names and sounds – my 3yr old loves to get his book out and “do school” with us. He’ll get out crayons, markers, etc. and trace letters for a good 30 minutes and we’ll discuss the sounds and letter names that he’s tracing.

The K level is all about short vowel words. It’s divided in segments that are easy for a young child to handle. My 5yr old who insists she can’t read, is reading these books just fine. And since each lesson builds on the past one, your child will be reading more and more without realizing how much they actually can read. – Seems to be a common problem in my house. “I can’t read that!” declares the child. Who then reads it, and is shocked that it was way easier than expected.

We barely made it into the 2nd grade level when my oldest decided that she didn’t need them any more. She reads to herself every night when she goes to bed plus other reading for school and such throughout the day. She really didn’t need any more teaching on how to read by this stage, so we dropped it. I do have the books through 4th grade in case I need them though.

One awesome things about hooked on phonics, if you’re on a tight budget, these books can usually be found at your local library and you can just keep borrowing them over and over as you need them.

One other thing that has really helped our reading is these blend ladders from Abeka. We work on a sheet a day – sometimes the same sheet for a couple of days. And it’s great at helping kids get comfortable putting two sounds together. It’s always amazing to me how my children’s reading makes a huge leap forward at the exact same time that reading blends becomes easy.

Education2. Math – My favorite math is Abeka. It’s possible that this is because this is the math I grew up with. However, it also seems to work well for my girls. The pages are colorful. And everything is in short segments. There’s one clock, 5 addition problems, 5 number order problems, a color by number, etc.

Here’s the thing about math. I know Abeka is this way, and I assume a lot of other math curriculum is this way as well. They repeat the same thing every year. So, if your child doesn’t get it completely the first year. Don’t stress, they’ll get it next year or the year after. If you’re child is way behind, I would be concerned. But if your Kindergartner is basically on par with their peers and can generally do their math with assistance from you. They’re just fine.

For my oldest, I spent the entire Kindergarten year explaining what addition and subtraction are. She figured it out just fine by 1st grade. For my current Kindergartner, she already knew this somehow. I think my oldest must have taught her. Teaching her math is so easy! Addition, subtraction, number sequence, telling time, and patterns are all Kindergarten skills.

For you parents with a struggling Kindergartner, the key is just perseverance. Keep teaching them and they will get it. How do I know? you ask. Well, I would classify my current 3rd grader as struggling in math until this year. K through 2nd grade was just hard. She’s very literal and just struggled if you changed anything (like 5+2 and 2+5 being the same thing was hard for her to grasp). This year, in 3rd grade – which is WAY harder than previous grades – things seem to have finally clicked. Math isn’t her favorite subject, but she’s no longer struggling with it – and we’re already doing long division 1/4 of the way through the year. (actually, spelling somehow tops the list as “most hated 3rd grade subject”).

So, if your child is struggling, just keep patiently explaining it to them over and over. Sometimes it’s just a matter of their ability to analyze things catching up with what you’re trying to teach them. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is a great motto for math.

3. Handwriting – First things first, don’t stress if you can’t read your kindergartner’s handwriting. It’ll be a few years before most kids can really hold a pencil perfectly. The key at this age is that they’re at least trying to form the letters and numbers properly. Writing some numbers and letters backwards is perfectly normal. Just keep modeling the right way to write and they’ll get it eventually.

I did get a writing curriculum – just the worksheets – because I like having a curriculum. But, to be honest, my Kindergartner’s best writing practice is done on this dry erase book. It’s $4 on Amazon and has free shipping if you have prime. Well worth the money, in my opinion. She’ll spend a good deal of time each week tracing, erasing, and re-tracing her letters. I’m perfectly happy to let her do this instead of her handwriting curriculum. The goal is that she learn how to write her letters and any method that she likes is good with me.

K is for Kinder

Did you know that our word Kindergarten is from German? Literally translated it means Children Garden. The original Kindergartens were designed as a place for pre-school children to play and grow. The word itself pictures the natural growth of childhood in a nurturing environment.

I remember my year in Kindergarten as being so much fun. I did learn to read, and I’m pretty sure I learned to count, and I definitely remember all the cool toys we got to play with, the playground, and the fun performance we got to put on for our parents at the end. Oh, and I loved my teacher, she was so sweet, and learning was so much fun.

And that’s what I think of Kindergarten and all the pre-school years. They should be years of fun, wonder, and nuture. Years where my children grow without the pressures of growing up. Like little flowers in a garden. To be carefully tended, loved, taught, and encouraged to bloom. You can’t make a flower bloom any faster by opening it up yourself, you have to wait. And just like flowers, each child will bloom when they’re ready. And not all will bloom at the same time.

I’m reminded of this line from Mulan – My, my, what beautiful blossoms we have this year. But look, this one’s late! I bet when it blooms, it will be most beautiful of all” by Fa Zhou – I provide all the nuture, care, attention, training, teaching, etc. and my children will bloom when they’re ready.

So, let your children be children. Let them enjoy being children. Because childhood is so magical, and so short.


F is for Friends

One thing I’ve never understood is why homeschooling gets a bad rap for socialization. I think for my generation (when I was a kid) this was a big concern for people. And I’m happy to see that as much less of a concern for my kids. I almost never get asked “do your kids have friends?”. And I remember my mom being asked that many, many times. Or maybe it’s just the “bubble” that I’m in. I know a LOT of homeschoolers these days!

Or maybe no one asks me about my kids socialization because my kids are doing all the talking. They like to talk. To everyone.

So, how do my kids make friends? Well, first of all I live in a city that I would describe as very homeschool friendly. You either homeschool, or many of your friends homeschool. Because there are so many homeschoolers, my kids have lots of friends (both homeschooled and non-homeschooled) and no one expected kids to act different based on where they’re going to school.

Church – We live in the Bible Belt and while religion is an integral part of our lives, Church is also a major socialization group in this area of the country. It’s totally normal and acceptable for people to attend one church and participate in activities (such as preschool, AWANA, women’s groups, sports, etc. in another church). And there are a lot of Churches that host a lot of different events. So, not only do my kids get to see their friends Sundays, they’re also meeting other kids during the week.

Homeschool Groups – And there are lots of these in my town. There are groups that meet just for parental support. Groups for kids classes. Educational groups. Facebook groups – used for forming your own sub-groups for activities and such. You name it, there’s probably a homeschool group for it. We’re in a Classical Conversations group so my kids see the same group of kids on a weekly basis.

My Friends – No surprises here, but my friends have kids around my kid’s ages. So, playdates, museum trips, etc. are a fun way to catch up and let the kids have fun.

Extras – And then there’s the extracurricular activities like dance and sports. It’s not uncommon to keep running into the same people at these activities. My kids have friends that they know from church, dance, and the museum class. We just keep running into them. It’s always fun to sit with someone that you already know.

My kids have lots of friends. And because I also know most of their friends parents, we get to hang out and have fun with friends way more than we would if my children were not homeschooled.

The Thing About Little Boys

Remember those old rhymes about what girls and boys are made of?

Sugar & Spice and Everything Nice for Girls

Snakes & Snails and Puppy Dog Tails for Boys

I had two girls and then a boy, and boy are they different!

My girls are very girly, glitter, sparkles, dresses. If it’s girly, they love it. They don’t like getting dirty, and they sit still and quiet in Church. They want to have tea parties (with sugar and milk). They want to wear makup and have their hair fixed up. They talk a lot, but they’re really not loud.

Then, along comes the boy. He’s oh, so different. And I’m loving all of it.

1. He just won’t sit still – The girls have no problem sitting through a 1hr meeting (with snacks or something to color of course). The little guy? Sitting is always optional, anywhere. And sitting through a meeting is just out of the question.

I remember moms with boys commenting on how well my girls sat still and quiet, and being polite I would always reply with something along the lines of “it’s just easier for girls to sit quietly”. I’m so glad I said that!

It really is true. My Father in Law tried to take my almost 2yr old boy to the Church service with him the other Sunday. He didn’t last long before he took him to the nursery. He apparently wanted to talk the entire time and wanted to explore instead of sitting still. Yup, and that is why there is a nursery. For all those active little boys.

photo_1581_200605172. He loves to get dirty – really dirty. A real conversation between me and my husband.

Husband – “what does he do outside?”

Me – “gets dirty.”

Husband follows son into the yard and watches what he does.

Husband – “it’s like he wants to get dirty.”

Yes, he wants to get dirty. What fun is the outdoors if you don’t come inside covered in it?

My girls on the other hand, refused to go down the slide the other day because it was a tad muddy at the bottom. –

Girls, don’t let your brother know…

3. He loves sticks – I’m still teaching him that “we do not hit our sisters with sticks”, and he does pretty good about it. So he is allowed to play with sticks.

Every time we go out the door he feels compelled to get a pile of sticks. He brings them in the car and when we get home my 6yr old throws them out in the yard.

Sticks are great for a variety of things. Stirring puddles so that they become mud puddles, banging the swingset, running around the yard with one in each hand – also very effective for clearing a path as everyone wants out of the path of a stick-wielding child, and of course they’re just great to have on hand.

Football Equipment4. He also loves balls – and he can identify them all, football, baseball, basketball, bouncyball. And all round objects are balls. He thought baked potatoes were awesome until I cut one open, then I had ruined his ball. The same thing with tomatoes, he loves to play with them but he wouldn’t dare destroy a ball by eating it.

5. And cars – before he came along my house was filled with dolls and barbies, now we’ve added hotwheels and thomas trains. I keep a couple of hotwheels in my purse for emergencies. It’s amazing how calming a tiny car is to a little boy.

They’re also great for plopping into your sister’s tea cups if you want to join their tea party, and they’re just the right size for dropping in the Children’s Hospital donation box at the grocery store – yes, he dropped his favorite car in there while we were checking out. They were really nice and got a manager with a key to come up and rescue it for him.

And it’s not just the little cars that he likes. He wants to play with the big ones. He would like to run out in the street and he’ll actually run towards moving cars in the parking lot!

Yellow toy race car6. He’s an explorer – The girls stay with me, if I’m more than half an aisle away at the grocery store they come running. Not the little guy, he’s pretty certain that getting lost is just a state of mind. Nevermind that the fish tanks at the pet store are at the opposite end of the store from mommy. Fish are awesome!

7. He’s oh so sweet – As full throttle as he is about just being a boy, he’s also so very sweet. He likes to snuggle way more than the girls ever did and if anyone starts crying he has to be right there to give a hug and tell them it’s ok.

He loves hugs so I’m going to enjoy them while I can because I know that in just a few short years he’ll be all grown up and won’t be quite as interested in hugging his momma.

I Am Thankful

It being that Thanksgiving time of year, I feel I should do a post about what I’m thankful for. Let’s go with the first 10 things I think of.

1. My husband. So, I’ll admit, it hasn’t exactly been a terrific year for him. We added a new baby and with 3 young children I’m pretty maxed out. By the time we get them all in bed for the last time it’s 10pm or later and I’m just ready for bed. He’s so sweet, longsuffering, and patient. He tries hard to understand, but you know ladies, even I don’t understand myself half the time, I don’t see how he possibly has a chance! He’s still staying with it though and I’m really hoping that with the baby getting older I’ll be a better wife this coming year (hmm…let’s add this to the list of New Years resolutions…I’ll get back to this in a month)

2. My kids. Yes, they wear me out. Like last night I just wanted a little before dinner nap but the baby was cranky for 3 hours and just wanted to be held. Really, baby, can you not play with your mobile for 15 minutes! Poor little fella, I did enjoy snuggling him and snoozing on the couch though. Of course, those time when they come up and give you a kiss, hug, or just tell you that they love you make it all worth it!

3. The Holidays. I really love this time of year. We get Thanksgiving to review what we’re thankful for. Christmas to celebrate Christ’s birth and to spend lots of time with family. And then New Year’s so we can stay up till midnight watching some random show that we’ll then decide was the worst one we’d seen all year. Mainly, this is because my husband and I cannot agree on our holiday movie selection so we watch something non-holiday related and we always wish we’d just watched one of the holiday movies. (we’ve been doing this since the first year we were married, so why switch it up now)

4. Horrible Movies. Speaking of movies, if you want to see something laughably terrible try Santa Clause Conquers the Martins (I won this at a White Elephant Party) or Soylent Green. Either one of these will leave you wondering why you even bothered and give you something to laugh about for years to come.

5. Family. As in, lots and lots of family. I can always call one of my relatives when I need help or advice. I’m so grateful for a wonderful family and wonderful in-laws.

6. Sunshine. I love sunshine, and especially this time of year I wish for more of it. I’m a summer person so I could totally do without the cold weather and I’m grateful for any warm days I can get this time of year.

7. Music. I love my music. I love playing my instrument, watching my kids learn to play, and participating in my Church Band. It’s always a place of relaxation and refreshment for me.

8. Food. I love steak, eggs, veggies, fruits, fish, chicken (but not when I’m pregnant), licorice (I love those black licorice holiday or party canisters), milk chocolate, and coconut. I’m picky about my desserts, I don’t like my ice cream to touch my cake and I do not like it when someone dips cookies in my milk. I love to cook and I love teaching my children to cook. I’m looking forward to the day when they can do more than stir the ingredients that I put in the bowl, I can’t wait to see what they come up with (I may regret this statement in a few years…I hope they’re good cooks). Food is fuel for living and something to get everyone together for a good time. It’s so much more than just eating, it’s fun!

9. Creativity. I love trying new recipes, making things for the house, decorating (but not rearranging furniture), and anything else that strikes me as fun. Life would be so boring (and probably a lot less messy) if I never got the urge to create.

10. Friendships. What would I do without my friends? I have friends who are in the same place I am, several little children, no time for themselves, but still loving life. We can cry together, laugh together, or just sympathize. They know how it is and we give each other lots of grace because we know we all need it. I have friends who are way past me with kids all grown and they fondly remember these days (one day I’ll be there). I have friends who don’t have kids and I try not to give them too much information, seriously, I don’t want to scare them too much, they may want kids one of these days…Friendships keep me balanced, in touch with the world, and their kids are friends with my kids so we’re just perpetuating this friendship trend!

My Child’s Heart

Sometimes I think that as a parent I seek out too much information on child rearing.  And so much of it is conflicting that it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in whether I’m parenting right or wrong.

First there’s the argument over whether you should let your infant cry or pick up your infant instantly. Do I nurse or bottle feed? Do I feed my infant on demand or on a schedule? How do I stop toddler temper tantrums? Is spanking my child appropriate? How about time outs, do they give my child too much time to pout? How much TV should I let my children watch? Is it ok to give them candy? How soon can I give them peanut butter? Shouldn’t my child be reading at 3? Do I tell my child “no” enough? Do I tell her “yes” enough? Am I spending enough time with them? Should I be playing instead of cleaning the kitchen? Should I be cleaning my house instead of playing? Am I too indulgent? Am I too strict?

There are hundreds of parenting books, blogs, and articles. I can also get opinions and advice from friends, family, and complete strangers. And people often disagree.

It’s so easy for me to focus on am I parenting “right”. Do my children have the right environment for learning? Do I have clear rules? Do I allow them the freedom to be creative? Am I feeding them healthy food? Am I teaching them to be polite? Do they obey me in public – yes, in public, I’m not embarrassed if they don’t obey me in private. Do we spend enough family time together?

I focus on all of this and forget to focus on what’s really important. My child’s heart. I’m focusing on what I can see and often ignoring what I can feel. Why is my child not obeying? Am I guiding her to a strong relationship with God? Am I honest when I fail? Am I teaching good behavior because it’s good or because it’s socially expected?

I’m not saying the physical things aren’t important. I take my kids to meetings and expect them to sit quietly for an hour. I don’t allow temper tantrums. My oldest takes music and dance lessons. We go to the park often. The kids help me in the kitchen. Two of my kids know their alphabet, and one is almost reading. We eat peanut butter and candy. I often play with the kids instead of clean up the house.

It’s just so easy for me to focus on these. I want to see my kids achieve. I want to see them excel. And I want to see them behave. But really, what good does this all do me if I raise a child who is well behaved, well educated, successful, and self centered.

If I teach my child that life is all about success, looking good, and getting what you want, what have I really accomplished?

I really want to teach my children to seek the Lord, serve God, glorify God, and serve others. And this, I’m discovering, is immeasurably more difficult than just teaching my children to be good.

Easter Chocolate

I love making stuff in the kitchen with the kids and now that my oldest is almost 5 it’s gotten even more exciting. She’s actually able to do a lot of things by herself and supervision means I get to stand by and take LOTS of pictures!

One of the easiest projects I’ve found is the molded chocolate. I picked up a bunch of trays at a yard sale last year and I buy the chocolate when it’s 50% off after holidays so it’s really a pretty inexpensive project. I also got some flavorings over Christmas and we love using those. My husband found the blue cinnamon eggs to be a little unexpected so as long as guests are warned about the flavorings it’s all good.

The purple ones are peppermint and the brown are cherry. My favorite are the brown ones, you can’t go wrong with chocolate and cherry!

I did all the microwaving, but once the chocolate was soft my 4 yr old was able to do all the pouring and tray tapping (to get the bubbles out of the chocolate you have to drop the tray on the counter a gazillion times – which she loved!)

Add some coconut dyed green and you have a great, easy, edible, Easter decoration!

Musings on Motherhood

Motherhood with young children has it’s ups and downs, but, the ups far outweigh the downs. And getting enough sleep is overrated, right?

I get frustrated with my infant when she insists on eating multiple times at night instead of her usual once, but, really, how can you beat snoozing with a warm, snuggly infant. (until of course, she spits up on you and you have to change your pjs in the middle of the night)

And then the 6:30 am wakeup calls… but, those sweet smiles in the morning make getting up worth it. My littlest one has learned to roll over, so she rolls over and grins at me when I come in the room to get her in the mornings. Then, after she eats she relaxes on my lap in bed while my toddler climbs up and rests on my husband’s pillow. I think he wishes he could stay with us instead of going to work in the mornings.

Yesterday, my almost 3yr old rode the mini roller coaster at the amusement park all by herself. I was so worried. But she loved it! I’m happy to see her so independent (especially since I couldn’t take the baby on the ride), but at the same time, it’s sad that she doesn’t need me to ride it with her.

And as I type this, I look at my very messy office and remember how clean things were before kids (how did we end up with so many toys!), but I also watch my child dance to some music we have playing and that alone makes me ok with the constant picking up. I enjoy watching my children play, seeing their personalities, creativity, and watching what they get out of life.

Children are such a precious gift, and I have my days/moments when I just need a break, but, really, I would miss so much without them!