Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reading Music

I asked my friend the music major for ideas on teaching children to read music.  He said to introduce notes without the staff, so students can visually see the notes going up and down, something like this: 

Then, show them the notes on the staff, still labeled with the letter, and then eventually, show the students the notes on a staff without the labels.  

Here is where that great website (toytheater.com) comes in to play.  Under music heading, the composer game allows the kids to create music, placing different notes (quarter notes, half notes, etc) on to the letter.  Then, you can play back your music.  The kids can see the music going up and down (or staying the same) as well as hear it at the same time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Games Website

Another great site to check out: toytheater.com.  All kinds of fun games, educational for a wide variety of interests and ages. 

Our particular favorites so far, under the math tab: bowling and frogwise.  My daughter has also enjoyed exploring some of the art and music.  We haven't spent much time in the other categories yet.  Some of the activities are above her level (that is kindergarden), but there are still plenty to choose from.

Thanks Sarah, for the great tip!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Some days my kids are harder to motivate than others. Some days things go smoothly and perfectly – the kids do some learning activities, they are very helpful with all the chores, etc. But many days are not so perfect and organized and my plans for the day are at odds for their plans. On those days everything becomes a battle and I struggle with motivating my kids to stay on task, whether that be picking up their toys, or doing our school activities.

So how should I motivate my children to work with me instead of fight against me? Well, there's the bribe and reward idea. The bribing (“if you do your reading with me, I'll let you go play with your friends” or “if you pick up your toys, I'll give you some candy”) seems to work for the short run, but then the kids think that every chore completed deserves a treat or privilege. Hmmm. This is not exactly what I had in mind.

Okay, let's try threatening and yelling or punishment. That'll do it. “If you don't clean up this room right now, you can't play outside the rest of the day!” (Wait, that's punishing me more than them!) Well, that might motivate them, but if it doesn't, we are still stuck with a messy room and children who aren't allowed to go outside to play. Hmmm. Still not quite the motivation I was looking for.

Reason and expectations has actually seemed to work best. When I establish a good routine and tell the children the plans for the day ahead of time, the kids are less likely to fight me on chores or schoolwork or whatever. Set the routine that we will do two school activities everyday, no whining about it. That's just what we do. Chores are a must. There is an expectation that things must be completed before moving on to other activities, that everyone in the family contributes (although not equally, since my older girls will complain, “but the baby's not helping!”).

I build in natural rewards/consequences, which may almost be in the bribe category, but it is conveyed in a much different tone. For example, when talking about our plans for the day over breakfast, “After breakfast, we will clear the table, do our Bible lesson and math lesson. Then, we will start the laundry and do a few things in the kitchen to get ready for supper tonight. If we get all that done in time, then we can have a picnic snack on the porch.” There is a reward, but its conditional on getting all the essentials done first. And the reward is not a treat bribe so much as a natural part of our day, to which they will not get to take part in if we run out of time. This is a natural consequence rather than them bargaining with me for a bribe. Same goes for the afternoon routine – we don't go play with the neighbor kids until we have had a rest time and the house is picked up (although, we fudge on this a little by letting the neighbor kids come over sometimes and help us pick up!). And if the kids do work extra hard, I don't mind rewarding the hard work with some sort of extra treat.

I also reason with my daughter about natural consequences.* If she is complaining about doing her chores or about having to do her reading lesson, I talk to her about being a big girl. If she wants me to treat her as a big girl, then she has to do big girl things like helping me in the kitchen or doing her reading lesson. If she wants to get to big girl things, like riding her bike or playing with her friends, or staying up later than her sisters, then she has to complete her tasks. With privileges come responsibility. I think even a four year old can understand that a little bit.

So, I kind of know what works with my kids, but the daily enforcing is a much more difficult. The weather is so nice, so we go outside before all our tasks are done, and then the kids whine about having to do them later. They have their stubborn days and I have my days of less patience. Some days none of us are motivated to get anything done, but then there are days when we enjoy learning together and enjoy serving around the house together. We have those opportunities to teach our children to work at everything they do with their whole hearts, as working to the Lord (Colossians 3:23).
* By the way, I'm a fan of Kevin Leman's book Making Children Mind without Losing Yours. He talks quite a bit about natural consequences.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Education on a Budget

I'm always looking for educational things to do with my kids that are free. I do love looking at teacher supply stores and looking at bookstores for curriculum, but I don't usually spend lots of money there. Why spend money when I can find so many free alternatives?

Here are some ways we do school without spending money:
  1. Utilize the library. We love to check out books. We read together, I research things, whether parenting or homeschooling or health or topics I want to teach my kids, or how to books (like sewing and gardening, etc). I have also found books and music that I can use for teaching my music class at our homeschool co-op. We also sometimes attend a pre-school hour at the library, where the kids hear a story, do several songs, talk about the calendar, and do a few worksheet activities.
  2. Share books and other items with friends. Our reading curriculum was given to me by my sister-in-law. I've also passed on things that we are finished with or that we weren't using. We've borrowed books or videos from friends.
  3. Using items we already have. My husband made our abacus out of materials we already had at home. We also do counting activities with things around the house (money, food – like goldfish, laundry, whatever). We use lots of plain paper and some lined tablets. We make our own flashcards for reading or math. They draw and write, but we don't have a lot of worksheets or curriculum to go by. The Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling lends itself very well to a low budget approach to schooling, because it encourages using literature as a springboard for everything else.  Handwriting, spelling, etc is taught from regular books rather than text books.
  4. Use the internet. We can look up all kinds of information together. For example, we looked up the kind of flowers growing in the neighborhood, or we looked up information about geysers and watched some on youtube because their dad was on a trip at Yosemite National Park. There are also many websites with lesson plans and print outs available, for example hubbardscupboard. I also allow my children to spend a limited amount of time playing computer games. We have a few that their grandparents bought them, but I have been way more impressed with starfall.com, which is free! My daughters have learned a lot of the alphabet and sounds from this website. It also has music, stories, and holiday pages.
  5. Join a co-op. We have enjoyed going to Friday school with other families. We get to pool our resources together and offer each other new ideas. For my three kids for the whole semester, I paid $29. Not bad! Aside from doing the official Friday school, I love to exchange ideas with other moms and we sometimes get together and do activities together with our kids.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Great Website for Parents of Kindergardeners and Younger

My friend emailed me this link this week, I have to say that I'm impressed. Hubbards Cupboard has a vast amount of lesson plans and information for teaching young children, as well as a link to her blog with information on her schooling of older children.

There is a large section on Bible verse memory. There are printouts with pictures, coloring sheets, verses to song, etc. There is also preschool lesson plans with Bible verses and character traits integrated throughout. Looks like some great ideas.

There is also other ideas of what your child should know or be learning at different levels. There is some printouts and activities for various subjects (math, science, social studies, literacy, family involvement, Bible, etc).

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I have always loved to play cards. In fact, for my seventh birthday, my parents bought me 32 decks of cards!!* So, I have been anxiously awaiting the time when my kids are old enough to enjoy a game of cards with me.
  1. Crazy 8s. The time has come where now two of my girls like to play Crazy 8s. I've been amazed at how this game has taught my three year old to recognize and distinguish numbers. The girls are learning to take turns, to recognize the different suites, and to match numbers.

    Here is how we play: You begin by dealing 8 cards to each player. Put one card face up in the center of your playing area – the discard pile. The remainder of the cards becomes the draw pile. Players take turns playing a card either of the same number or same suite as the card in the discard pile or you may play an 8 and then name the suite that the next player must play. If you do not have any cards of the same suite or number, you have to draw cards until you have something to play. The first person to run out of cards wins. For more official rules and variations, see http://www.pagat.com/eights/crazy8s.html
  1. Match (or Concentration). Take several matching pairs of cards. Mix them up and turn them over. Then take turns turning over cards, trying to find a matching pair. You can make this easy by using only a few pairs, or more difficult by using half a deck. This game practices turn taking, memory skills and matching skills. It's one of the first games I have played with my children. There are picture matching games, but I still find that a deck of cards is convenient and versatile.

    1. War or Battle. This game is great for teaching greater than and less than. The traditional game is played where players are dealt equal number of cards. Then player put out one card. The player with the card of higher value takes both cards. If the cards are equal then you have to “do battle.” The player who takes all the cards wins.

      I have to admit, we rarely finish a game of war, because it can go on for a long time, and the game is a little too hard (and therefore boring) to my three year old. So, I still play it sometimes with my older child. She is learning the value of numbers. There is an addition variation suggested by the book Games for Learning, (which I have previously recommended). In this version of war, players each put out two cards. The player with the higher total keeps all four cards. I think this is a great idea for older children who are learning and practicing addition.
  1. Go Fish. This again is great to practice taking turns, practice matching and learning basics that will later turn into skills needed for higher level card games. You can vary up the game, by requiring two of a kind as a match or four of a kind as a match.

  2. Make up your own card game. I let my four year old use her creativity to come up with a new game. Like we might sort the cards into piles – of matching numbers or suites, or whatever. It's fun to play games similar to what we already play but with a different twist.

* Actually, they were supposed to be party favors to give to my friends, but we forgot to give them out, so I got to keep them!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Magnet Board

One day my daughter asked can we put pictures on a board and make them stick and move them around and tell a story. I didn't quite understand what she meant but after some more discussion I realized she was talking about something like a flannelboard that they had at church.

I thought a flannelboard sounded like a good idea for teaching Bible stories so off to the teacher supply store we went. The prices on the flannelboard stuff was a little (actually a lot) more than I was wanting to spend that day, but we came across some large punch out pictures of people and scenes from the New Testament. We took those home and stuck magnet strips on the back.

We have a nice size magnet board to tell Bible stories using these cut outs, anything from the birth of Jesus, to miracles performed by Jesus, to the resurrection. There are pictures of people Jesus healed as well as pictures of his followers and of the religious leaders. I might tell a story and then later have the kids retell it with the pictures. Or when we are with a group of kids, like during our Bible study night with friends and their kids, we might let the kids each have a character in hand and they listen for their part in the story and place it on the magnet board.

On other days we use our imagination and make up stories about people in general and transform these pictures into anything we want. Then we can make more magnets to go into our stories – cut out pictures of animals or things from magazines, glue them on cardstock for extra strength and add a magnet on the back, or put magnets on the back of family pictures.

We have also made other games/activities on our magnet board. We have magnetic letters, as well as magnetic words (a lot of which is left over from my days of teaching ESL). We have cut up craft foam into various shapes, added magnets on the back, and then made a picture with those shapes. We have glued a picture to cardstock and then cut it up, adding magnets to the back of each small piece, thus making a magnet puzzle.

One game my daughter likes to play is to put a bunch of things on the magnet board. We look at it for a minute and then close our eyes. While we are not looking, she will take something off. Then we have to look at it again and figure out what item is missing. I know they play this game at church, to reinforce what characters were all in the story or to remember some other detail like that.

We have a lot of fun with our magnet board. I think felt or flannelboards are great too for story-telling, but the magnet board lends to flexibility because for less than a dollar's worth of magnetic strips, it is easy to turn anything into a magnet!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

SCIENCE: Night Time Talks

Right before bed, the kids are interested in talking about all kinds of things just so they can stay up later and not have to go to sleep. So, on nights where we don't have a lot going on (and especially on nights when Daddy is working late or off somewhere), I start the bed time routine earlier and we have our long talks. Its early enough that I don't feel so rushed in getting them to sleep but being in their room ready for bed helps wind them down. Then we have special talks.

Often our discussions are of a scientific nature. We talk about how plants grow, about gardening, about the weather. We talk about animals and creation and how God made everything. One of my daughters likes to talk about cars and driving.We talk about stories from when they were babies, which often leads to other discussions. For example, one of my daughters was born premature and had to be in the hospital for two weeks. So we talk about hospitals and about illness. We then talk about how our bodies work and learn body parts.

We use this time to talk about questions they have. How do you make paper? How was our house built? What is it made of? If its raining here, is it raining in the next town over? How does God make it rain? How are raisins made? Sometimes they stump me and I'll have to look it up, but it makes for interesting discussions.

Sometimes we review things we have learned about or talked about during the day. Its low key discussion, quality conversation, but the kids are usally very attentive, wanting my attention as the day ends. I look forward to our night time talks and try to make them special.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Games for Learning

Making learning fun is one of my mottos for creative education. This motto is exactly what drew me to the book Games for Learning. This book gives lots of ideas for games to play with pre-schoolers through third grade. These games help children develop academic skills. The first part of the book focuses not on exact academic skills, but skills that will translate into academic success: like visual memory, sound memory, and fine motor skills, as well as logical thinking and spatial thinking.

We like to play “Matching Numbers.” This game might accomplish some of the same things as doing a maze – thinking ahead and staying within the lines (which can translate into handwriting skills). We take turns drawing a line from #1 to #1, then #2 to #2, without crossing over another line.  This can be done with more numbers for more of a challenge and written in any random order.

We also like “Drawn to Order,” also good for handwriting practice.  We take turns tracing around a small design using different colors.  The design then gets bigger and bigger.  The fine motor skills are developed through drawing (with much less pressure) rather than writing letters.

There are also many word games, like rhyming games, spelling games, categorizing games.

We haven't gotten to play a lot of these games yet, but I really like the ideas and I look forward to trying out some more of these. In fact, while trying to write this post, I keep getting distracted reading some more ideas and trying them out on the kids. You can check out the book at my amazon store or look at the author's website PeggyKaye.com