Thursday, September 30, 2010


My first two lessons of teaching rhythm at homeschool co-op.

Rhythm lesson #1
Pulse means steady beat, like the pulse in your body, the steady pumping of your heart.
Do a few songs – first time clap on the steady beat. Second time, clap to the rhythm of the word
    * Zaccheus song

    * Praise Him all ye Little Children
Rhythm lesson #2 
Look at flashcards of quarter note, half note, eighth notes.
Learn what these notes are called, and we are going to read them:
      * Quarter note – Ta
      * Eighth note – Ti Ti
      * Half note – Ta – a

Read a few rhythms that are written out on posterboard. Practice chanting them. Also practice clapping them, pulsing hands on silent beats.

Example: In the song London Bridges, each word is a beat. So if the words have two syllables, then each syllable is an eighth note. The words with one syllable are each quarter notes.

There are generally four beats in a measure. I made flashcards with four beats. We can rearrange them to play in different order. Chanting with ta and ti ti help get the concept of rhythm but it is also good to teach them to count beats within a measure. So, I have included both ways of chanting the beats.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Every Day a Song

I often find myself breaking out into song. Something in ordinary life just reminds me of a phrase from a song and I just have to sing it. So I'm always singing to my children. I probably get that from my mom, who used to wake me up singing, “Good morning, Chris, how are you? I hope you're feeling fine ...” from the Veggie Tales movie Rack, Shack and Benny.

So, here are a few songs that we just sing as life happens: Splish Splash I was Taking a Bath, Rock around the Clock, Chantilly Lace (that starts out “Hello, Baby”), Sunshine Day, (from the Brady Bunch, I think I'll go for a walk outside now...), Yakety Yak, Don't Talk Back, Lollipop, Ghostbusters (the theme song, who are you going to call?) Hmmm. So far all these songs are old songs, probably the songs my parents were singing to me... Of course, I'm always singing songs from Sound of Music as well.

I'll admit I don't know as many newer songs, except some of our favorites from Veggie Tales, Leap Frog or High School Musical. The Leap Frog Back to School has some great songs for teaching the months of the years and counting to twenty. I find myself singing them all the time, which annoys my husband a little. But at least the kids can count to twenty now without skipping 16 every time.

Of course we are also singing praise songs too. My children and I especially will sing songs about God creating and His creation. Every time we see the stars out my three year old leads us in worship with “you placed the stars in the sky and you know by name, you are amazing God.” I love how life just makes us want to sing.

It's fun also to make up our own songs. To tell silly stories with song or sing our prayers or sing about whatever we are doing. Awhile ago we made up a silly song about one of the girls giving up her pacifier. Another time, we sing to the tune of “Skip to my Lou,” about every family we know. “I knew a boy named Gideon, I knew a girl named Magdalyn, I knew a dog named Moses, skip to the Lou, my darling” and on it goes until we have sung it about all their friends, brothers, sisters, parents, pets and everything.

Or to the tune of “Here we go round the mulberry bush” sing a song about our family members and what they are doing: Daddy drives his truck to work(repeat)...early in the morning, Hannah likes to ride her bike....every single day. And on and on it can go and the kids like to help me think up the next verses.

So, what songs do you sing to your kids, or make up with your kids, or teach your kids with?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Activities for the Hyper-Active Child

What do you do with a child who is always full of energy and always into everything? I have one such child. She is good-natured, but is BUSY. Sometimes its a challenge to find constructive things for her to do (she's only three, so its hard to find age-appropriate things for her). But I find that she THRIVES when given some constructive activities instead of just commands to “stop touching that” “stop climbing” “stop getting into everything!”

So here are some ideas of how to get their energy out & learn something or accomplish something in the process.
  1. Make cleaning up into a game. Race to pick up the toys. Or “go put this in your room and come back and give me a five.” Then next round.
  2. Touching and counting items in the house. When Daddy first gets home, my three year old gets so wound up so we have her run around the house touching and counting the objects in the house – like “go touch all the beds in the house and then come back.” Next lap, go count all the chairs in the house, touch them, and come back.” After about six laps like that, she is calm enough to interact with Mama and Daddy without climbing all over Daddy.
  3. What's this made of game? We are learning the differences between metal, wood, plastic, etc. I have the kids go “touch something made of wood” “go touch something metal.” For my three year old, hands on and moving is the key to her learning. The kids also like to take small magnets and touch them to objects in the house to find out what is magnetic (helps in determining if something is metal). Sometimes, I'll find a random magnet stuck to the metal of our folding chairs.
  4. Learn the ABCs through movement. My daughter for the longest time would not sit still to even look at the ABCs. So one day, we made the letter B out of blankets and bean bags. I had her run the shape of the letter B and we talked about bean bag and blanket and bounce all start with B. Amazingly, she began to recognize the letter B, but only when I had made effort to get her moving.
  5. Tip-toe through the Tulips. This is a song I learned as a kid, singing different actions for different verses. The kids tip toe or walk or run or crawl or jump or spin through the tulips. Or roll or skip or scoot or somersault through the tulips. The kids like the song and it gets their energy out.
  6. Simon Says or as we sometimes call it, the obey game, to practice obeying. Jump up and down, do a somersault, go touch the door. Or we can even play it in the car, to keep the kids from messing with each other – raise your hands, kick your feet, wiggle your fingers, or whatever else.
  7. Finding Constructive Activities to keep busy with – playing playdough, helping Mama in the kitchen, coloring, washing dishes (or at least allowing them to play in the water a little with a few small bowls or measuring cups), building a tent with a blanket and some chairs, playing hide and seek, playing outside in the sand or playing ball.
It seems to work much better to give the child SOMETHING to do rather than constant directions to NOT do something. It is also wise to have allowable places in the house to burn off energy, while still setting limits. Maybe jumping on the bed is off limits, but allowing them to put pillows and blankets on the floor to bounce on might be okay. Limits are a must with hyper-active kids but not everything should be off limits.

Busyness is certainly better than laziness, so we don't want to squelch that productive spirit in a child, we just want to channel it in the right direction. My daughter loves to help and as she is able to master more skills I hope to channel her energy into productivity – to be like her dad, who can't sit still but loves to work and build and fix and accomplish.

Friday, September 24, 2010

School in the Kitchen

(continued from Turning Chores into Education)
I also like to have the kids help in the kitchen, although not all at the same time. Sometimes they are just watching, but I try to find something on their level to do. Sometimes, it's stirring, or getting something from the fridge, or adding seasonings or washing vegetables. We talk about food groups as we cook – name vegetables, name meats, what is dairy, what is protein, what is carbs, what has sugar in it, etc. I also teach them about different seasonings. At one time we tried to grow oregano, basil and chives, so they are learning about herbs as not just something you get from the store, but they originate from herbs or other plants.

They learn proper care of food, such as not touching raw meat or eating raw meat. 'Why, Mom?' questions then lead to discussions on bacteria and how heating food kills the bacteria (germs). The same for washing hands. They help me put food away, by sealing it, by putting things in the fridge, etc. This can lead to explanations of how food spoils or what is mold (when things do go bad, yuck!). I think including kids in our everyday activities can lead to all kinds of discussions on how the world works if we decide to take the time to answer their questions and present them with opportunities to be curious. It does sometimes take a lot of effort to include kids in the chores and it certainly not necessary to include them in every chore every day, but those everyday type chores can definitely teach kids a lot when we do take the time and energy for it.

I also let the girls help me debone a chicken. After the chicken is cooked and cooled, they help me separate the meat from the bones, the skin and the ligaments. I told them the names of the bones (I looked it up online to make sure – like the sternum, clavicle (collar bone or wishbone), vertebra). I also showed them the ligaments (joints) and how the bones are connected together. The kids like to help with this deboning process and they learn a lot from it. Later, we might just be talking about our own anatomy and the kids will point to joints and tell me how are bones are connected by ligaments. They not only have learned the terminology, but through the hands on process of deboning a chicken, they have a visual understanding of what a ligament is, what bone structure is, etc. It's more than just a vague concept from a book.

Finally, one night my husband and daughter made me cookies (how sweet!) and my husband turned it into a reading lesson. He had her get out the cookbook and read the recipe. She is just learning how to read, but she could pick out some of the words (like 'cup', 'eggs') and with some help could put together a lot of words (like 'butter' 'oats'). He taught her that 'tsp' means teaspoon. He had her go find the ingredients that she read and then had her read the label to see that the words match (like baking powder – she knew what to get when told to get the baking powder, but this was the first time that she actually read the label). It turned out to be a great reading lesson. She had so much fun, she didn't even realize that Daddy had turned it into a school activity. And the cookies were great too! It will be great having daughters that know how to cook....

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What to Do While We Wait

How do you keep the kids from going stir-crazy while waiting at the doctors' office, while waiting in the car, or while they are bored somewhere that is not too kid-friendly? Here are top five educational games we do, that require little if any props:

  1. The classic Eye Spy Game. Take turns 'spying' an object in the room and 'I spy something [name the color]' and have everyone else guess what it is. This game helped my middle daughter learn her colors and then it became her favorite game. You can also vary up the game if the kids are ready for something different. 'I spy something made of wood (or metal or plastic or fabric or whatever).' or 'I spy something that starts with the letter B.'
  2. The animal game. This one does require the kids to move around a little, so maybe you wouldn't do this one in the car, but we have definitely done this when stuck in the room waiting for the doctor. Have kids (or parent and kids) take turns acting out animals while everyone guesses what it is. Sounds are usually allowed and used, which makes it too easy, but then we try to venture away from just the 'cat' 'dog' 'pig' 'cow', to ones with more movement or posture 'ostrich' 'flamingo' 'penguin' 'snake'.
  3. Name that tune. We take turns humming or la, la-ing to a song and then guessing what song it is. Again, this activity doesn't require anything but voice and turn-taking.
  4. Twenty Questions (although we don't usually limit it to just 20 questions). Someone is thinking of an object. The others guess what it is, narrowing it down by asking yes or no questions. This teaches categorizing skills and logic skills. Ask the question: is it a person? Yes. 'is it a kid? no. By logic, then it must be an adult. Or if it's not a person, then what else could it be? If it's a thing, then where is it (in this room?) or what color is it or how big is it.
  5. Quiz Time – asking questions, making it into a game. See my Quiz Time blog post for more ideas on this activity.

The great thing about the above games is that they can be played almost anywhere, with no props and can be modified for any age group or level. We can take a few minutes that we would just be waiting and play a game that will not only keep them from getting antsy, but will keep them thinking and learning as well.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Turning Chores into Education

A lot has been written about unschooling, that is, teaching through living life instead of teaching with text books, workbooks and a desk. I believe there is value in both and I do much more teaching through life than “school time” where we read or write or whatever.

For example, we turn our chores into school lessons. My daughter's favorite number is 98. Anytime we see a lot of something, she says, “there must be like 98 of them!” So, looking at our large pile of laundry, she made another such comment. So I said, “Well, let's count them and find out.” We turned doing laundry into a counting activity and that day we had 115 pieces of laundry to sort and fold! I like to have the kids help me fold clothes, either help with sorting, or folding their own clothes, or putting away the kitchen rags or whatever. It gives us an opportunity to work together, for me to teach them life skills, and sometimes we get to talk about stuff. (Of course, there are many days when having kids help is more stressful, trying to keep them on task or keeping them from fighting with each other. So, its not always fun!)

Another chore that children can learn much from, is taking care of a garden or other plants. We don't currently have a garden, but many of our friends do. Children can learn a lot from the hands on activity of gardening. At one time, we had an indoor AeroGarden, where we grew lettuce. We had to add water and nutrients and then when the plants had grown enough, the kids could go pick their own lettuce leaves to go on their tacos. Even with out a garden, kids can learn a lot about earth science from other yard work activity, such as trimming the trees, pulling up weeds, raking leaves, etc. All these activities can lead to discussions about how plants grow, about rain and the weather, about seasons, etc. When I go out to tree some branches with my big cutters, I let the kids have some scissors to cut weeds. We can work together to accomplish something and talk about it while we work.

And I desire to teach them not only life skills and academics but to teach them to enjoy working together. In our world that is so big on multi-tasking, why not do chores and school at the same time? I enjoy accomplishing two things at once!! (Hey, and it keeps the kids out of trouble, making more mess and chores to be done, if they are actually with me, helping me.)

Of course, there are lots of things to do together in the kitchen that lead to good school lessons, but that will have to be for another post....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dump Trucks to Chrysanthemums

"Dump trucks are good at dump, dump, dumping,
carrying heavy loads, lifting and tipping,
out fall the rocks, CRASH,
rumbling and tumbling,
they can work all day."

These words are stuck in my head! Why? These are the words my three year old chants all the time, from her library book that we read weeks ago. She is especially proud of memorizing these words. It's really her first time to “read” a book to someone, all by herself. She can “read” most of the book, because of its poetic, repetitive nature. (Actually, the day she learned these words, she was very sleepy and asked me to read the page over and over. I read it over and over, more softly and more rhythmic each time until she fell asleep. The next day she was quoting it to me and everyone else.)

So, here I would like to recommend several of my kids favorite books, ones with rhyme and patterns that the kids like and are easy to remember, books that are rhythmic enough to sing.

First, Dig, Dig, Digging. Each page has the same pattern of verbs and descriptions and end with the same phrase. It also lends to discussion about machinery.

Pajama Time – very rhythmic and rhymes, a bed time favorite. Another book by the same author, 15 Animals, actually has a song on their website to sing the book.

Are You Quite Polite? is fun for older kids, singing to tunes of traditional kids songs with different, funny words. Some of the songs were a little gross for my taste, but we did especially like the songs about chewing gum, about quiet in the library and about writing thank yous. The humor in these are probably for older children, but my kids like the singsong value of these poems.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? And the book by the same author, Adam, Adam, What Do You See? Have repetition that lend to letting children “read” these books by themselves.

Going Home, has a similar poem structure to the Dig, Dig, Digging book, with a repeated phrase at the end. It has a higher vocabulary than does the dig book, but has great pictures and explains to children the concept of migration.

These few below are not of the same rhythmic, poetic type books, but they have been library book favorites.

Bippity-Bop Barber Shop is a nice story about son getting his first haircut at the barbershop with Dad.
How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin has been one of our favorite library books. It has a nice story, teaches a little about pumpkins, and has some math to it (counting by 2s and 5s and 10s).

Chrysanthemum has been a favorite and it is appropriate to my little girls. Chrysanthemum is her name and she faces teasing because her name is not normal, but she learns to appreciate the meaning of her name and that it is special. (My girls don't all have “normal” names but they are names with meaning.)

I have added all these books to the recommended products, under children's books, so you can view more information about these books. We have found a lot of these books at the library, but some we also own.

The following links are good discussions about repetitive books. These articles actually both mention some of our favorite books, too!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Teaching Bible

He Established a Testimony

We have begun using this Bible curriculum for the past several weeks. It is a coloring book with a picture for every story in the Old Testament. On the page next to the the picture, is the Scripture reference and key themes that a child should learn. There are few questions or comments to guide discussion of the Bible with your children.

This curriculum has been developed by Bethlehem Baptist Church, pastored by John Piper. Several years ago, I used this curriculum to teach Sunday school to 4 and 5 year olds. I was very impressed with the introduction of the teaching manual. It encouraged teachers to study the Scripture passage for themselves and strive to teach the Bible in context. It gave a list of themes and truths that run through the Old Testament and then each lesson has one or more of these truths that need to be presented. For example, truths include: man is in need of God, God is powerful, God is loving, God is just, God is creator, sin deserves punishment, etc.  The curriculum stresses the need to teach what the text is teaching in context.  For example, when Jesus feeds 5000 people with fish and loaves from a little boy, traditional Sunday school material may teach that the boy was generous and so young children can learn to share also.  If this is all that is taught, we miss talking about the power and authority of Jesus and His nature and our lessons just become moralistic. 

While I have been challenged by the high standards of teaching the Bible as written, in context, with an eye on the character of God, I admit that this was a hard curriculum to teach in a Sunday school setting where I was expected to fill an hour and a half and all they gave me to go on was the Bible truth/theme sheet, the picture to color and the Bible reference. But I have found it very useful in an at-home setting, where we can go at our own pace and just spend 15 minutes talking about the Bible while the kids color the picture. On my more creative days, we add something to our coloring sheet that gives us more opportunity to talk about the lesson and the Bible truths for that day. For example, we drew and cut out a snake and added to the picture of Adam and Eve with the fruit in the garden and we talked about the conversation that went on there, that they were questioning God and his command. Or, we did star stamps and stickers on the picture of Abraham looking up at the sky, hearing the promise of God that the number of his descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

So far, our Bible study time has been going well. The kids look forward to it. We can look back at the pictures and discuss the lessons from previous days. I like the chronological building of the lessons and I hope that it gives them a foundation of how things fit together in the Old Testament. It gives us something structured to go through, as well as a visual reminder of the story. This also doesn't skip stories and hard lessons that many children's Bibles skip.

So, check out He Established a Testimony. The coloring books are not that expensive and you can even just buy a digital copy to print yourself. I do recommend the teacher manual for its insight on teaching the Bible in context, but it is more pricey, if you are not using it in a church setting. You may also want to check out some of the other curriculum from Bethlehem Baptist Church – other foundational teachings, those on the New Testament and the ABCs of God.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Spell to Write and Read

Spell to Write and Read: A Step by Step Guide to Foundational Language Arts

This book fasicinates me as a linguist. I have a background in teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) and this book is everything I wished I would have learned in my college courses. It gives details of all of our spelling rules in the English language that we take for granted, that we may not have even learned well ourselves.

This book goes beyond the normal phonetics and actually teaches multiple sounds for each letter. Students learn that 'a' actually makes three sounds and 's' makes the 'z' sound in addition to the 's' sound. It also teaches when spelling rules are broken, that is, when foreign words are added to the English vocabulary, like tortilla or ski. The book encourages students to sound out words based on spelling rules and then to write them.  Reading comes naturally after knowing words through spelling and writing.

I have not started using this curriculum yet, but my sister-in-law Rebekah has used it with her children. She started her children with the 100 Easy Lessons to Teach your Child to Read, in order to build up decoding skills as well as general confidence in reading. Then, she has moved on to Spell to Write and Read to focus more on spelling and handwriting and to give her children a good foundation on all areas of reading skills.

Rebekah has developed a system of flashcards to incorporate the 200 most common words in the English language and grouped them by spelling rules. These flashcards are not directly related to the book, but this book inspired her development of the flashcard system.

This curriculum does encourage a lot of writing, and she has learned to not push too hard on writing too early and to also incorporate all the types of learning more in to her teaching of spelling (that is auditory – hear the word and the spelling, visual – seeing the word, hands on – actually writing the word).

So, I look to use this book after we complete our first reading curriculum. However, the curriculum can be started without already knowing decoding skills, but it is helpful for the child to have enough fine motor skills to be able to write without too much frustration.

I'm thankful to have a sister to give me ideas and pass on her curriculum to me and I can learn from what worked for her and what didn't work.  Thanks, Rebekah for the recommendation!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Charlotte Mason Help

I have recently come across a website called “Charlotte Mason Help.” This site is written by a homeschooling mom who has recently been attending my church. I couldn't help but be impressed with her articulate teenage daughters. In fact, the daughters were the ones who pointed me to the website and told me what a passion their mom has for helping younger mothers get started with homeschooling.

So that night I checked out the website: and immediately found some inspiration for teaching my own children and for ways to approach to discipline. I was particularly interested in the section on copywork.

I have recently been fighting battles with handwriting practice, with my daughter hating to write. This article emphasized quality work over quantity. It also helped me realize I may be pushing my daughter a little too hard.

Over the course of the last week, we have had great improvements in our handwriting, both in quality of work and in attitude. We are focusing now on having just a few letters done right over more letters done haphazardly and I am learning to give more focused time on helping with the handwriting and giving more immediate feedback. (And the focus part can be difficult with little ones in the house!!)

Anyway, I plan to continue to read some more articles from this website to get inspired, encouraged and to get some ideas from a mom who has much more experience.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Guerilla Learning

Guerrilla Learning: How to Give your Kids a Real Education with or without School
I enjoyed and recommend this book for several reasons. First, this book is written to all kinds of parents. It is not just a homeschooling book, but it is a book about parents being involved in their children's education, whether that be at home or in school or in any number of learning situations.

Second, this book encourages us to think beyond traditional education methods and challenges the assumption that teaching=learning. Just because something is being taught in the classroom (or at home) does not mean that the children are learning anything or that the information will be later retained.* It encourages much of education to be directed by curiosity and student interest rather than on grades. This book explains the five keys to Guerilla Learning (opportunity, timing, interest, freedom, and support) and also gives practical examples of how to use these keys to stimilate true learning.

*This is not a new idea to me. It was first introduced to me in a book called Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything at Church and How to Fix It, which is a book about teaching and learning within the church. 

Llewellyn, Grace and Amy Silver. Guerrilla Learning: How to Give your Kids a Real Education with or without School. John Wiley & Sons, Inc: New York, 2001. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Thinking about Children

While reading Nurture Shock:New Thinking about Children, I found several chapters relevant to children and education. In parallel to another book I have been reading (The Hurried Child), these authors give evidence that more and earlier is not always better. This book contains many insightful thoughts (backed up by research) on child development and how these findings sometimes go against what is popular or mainstream thinking. Well, worth the read.

Several chapters that stood out to me:
1. “Can Self-Control Be Taught?” describes Tools of the Mind program for pre-K and kindergarden students. I have used some of the ideas in teaching my young children at home. I particularly like the suggestions for teaching handwriting. Students are asked to mark which letters are best on the other students papers. Students learn what quality work looks like, distinguishing well-formed letters with the sloppy letters. I encourage my daughter to put stickers next to her best letters during our handwriting practice.

Another idea for working with young kids is to have children write out their play plan and then to stay on task with it. Children learn to focus and they have a say in how they will spend their time.

2. “Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't?” In this chapter, the authors discuss the complex process of language acquisition. One of the most determining factors of how quickly children learn to talk is parental attentiveness. This makes sense with my own children. My first child learned to talk much earlier than my other children have, I think, in part, because she had my full attention. But even now, I can see how applying this chapter to my 15 month baby has helped her in learning to speak. It is a very simple technique – repeat words for whatever your child is looking at or touching – their language acquisition is based on their interst, not on parents' interests. When children do attempt to speak, acknowledge and encourage it. These two simple steps go a long way in encouraging a child to speak, much farther than exposing them to electronic learning toys.

This book also contains information on topics ranging from children lying to rebelliousness and risk taking among teens, to teaching children to get along well with each other. There are chapters on the caveats of the self-esteem movement and on the myth of the supertrait.

Bronson, PO and Ashley Merryman.  Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children.  Hatchette Book Group: New York, 2009.