Art time: Collages

Collages are the ultimate art activity when you have a little bit of everything but not enough of anything. In order to do collages all the supplies you need are as follows:

Paper, glue/adhesive, any art supplies you have (we used glitter, sequins, stickers, googly eyes, and rhinestones). You can even do collages with multiple colors of paper – simply cut the paper into random shapes to glue onto the backing.

Simply put everything out on the table, and let the kids go to work.

This is the collage that my son made. He was responsible for putting the glue down onto the paper for the sequins and googly eyes. This made him practice squeezing a bottle and making it go where he wanted. Watching him put the sequins onto the glue was a lot like watching him – as a baby – rake Cheerios on his high chair tray. But he practiced and by the end of art hour he had it down. Same theory on removing the back of stickers from the stars and guitars.

I let him put things wherever he wanted. It was his job to express himself and make something that he wanted to make. I simply provided the supplies and was there to help if he needed it.

He made me put it right up on our art wall at home and he showed it off to his dad saying “Daddy, I made something beautiful today.” He is really proud of his art work. That’s the goal of art after all. And he even helped with cleanup afterwards.


Gardening is all about learning.

Anyone who has gardened knows that gardening is all about learning. You learn how dirt feels, how to dig a hole, how to water and feed plants, how to plant, when not to over-water. You also learn about things growing and delayed gratification (strawberries will grow on the plants, but they are not here now). These are all ideal lessons for toddlers to learn.

Gardening is active learning – it is an activity. There does not have to be much “lecturing” during gardening. You show the toddler the plant, give them their shovel, and ask them to dig a hole they think the plant will fit in. Then, when they say they are done, you try to put the plant in the hole. If it is not big enough, simply ask, “Does it have to be bigger or smaller?” Eventually your holes will get dug (you can only do this with smaller plants. A lemon tree sized hole is not the thing to have a toddler dig).

There is also a reward. Instead of merely being told that plants grow, toddlers will get to see it in action. They get the satisfaction of actually planting a plant, and the satisfaction of watching it grow. If they have helped pick out the plants, that gives them even more incentive.

Responsibility is learned by caring for the plants. Watering is a task that has to be done every day. In our house, we have a list of tasks on a white board. These are the tasks that have to be done that day. When a task is finished, it gets wiped off the board. Watering is now a task – a responsibility – on the list.

Toddlers love to play with dirt and this is simply an extension of that. A small garden (this one has 6 herb plants, 8 strawberry plants, and a lemon tree) can teach a toddler a lot about how things grow. In fact, one thing we did was measure the plants at the beginning. I had my son write down the measurements and now he wants to measure them every day to see if they are growing.

Gardening is a great tool for teaching by doing instead of teaching by showing or teaching by telling. For boys, who tend to be active learners, this is a great thing.

Additionally, gardening can be made into a week of lessons. If your children are older they can take graph paper and draw out the planned garden. They can work on a budget for the garden. The smaller children can learn about plant life cycles. There can be a whole lesson on the color green and finding green things in the garden. Green and garden both start with “g” so there is a whole lesson about the letter “g” as well. You can read a book on gardening. Sesame Street has a “Gardening with Friends” mini-book that we read everyday before we garden. There are other books centered around gardens that can be tied into the lessons as well (The Secret Garden, Garden Spells, Growing Things, etc.).

Review: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Let’s Learn Numbers and Counting

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Let's Learn Numbers and Counting might work for some toddler, like mine, but parents might not like it.

I use a lot of workbooks right now in teaching my son. Workbooks are a fun, relatively cheap, easy way to have activities to do – on paper- that he and I can sit down and do together. They are put together by someone else (saves time) and have activities that are already geared towards helping your child learn.

Not all workbooks are created equal – as I am learning. I love the Kumon series of workbooks because they are easy to use, complete lessons on each page, and have instructions to help parents guide their children.

The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Let’s Learn Numbers and Counting workbook was not like this at all. First, there are pages filled with story lines that are supposed to get the kid into doing the worksheet pages. My son doesn’t need a story. He just needs to see Mickey and friends on the page, so the story didn’t work. Secondly, the lessons are not on complete pages that you can tear out. The lessons start on the back of a page and go to the front of the next page – which makes it impossible to tear them out. I like books where I can tear the pages out so I don’t have to carry the book or have the book on the table. My son gets distracted and will want to read the whole book and pick and choose what he will do. I eliminate this problem by tearing out the worksheets we will do, and put them in a folder. Then he gets to choose the order of the worksheets in the folder.

Also, this book was too involved. The stickers and pieces for games were in the back. Nothing was punch out, you would have to cut all the pieces out by hand for each activity. Activities that should have been done with stickers (put the matching puzzle piece here), were done by cutting out pieces and gluing them down. It was too much work.

I really didn’t like it. It did have him count in each lesson and write the numbers in each lesson (with my help). But it didn’t have an easy of use that the Kumon books have. Maybe for an older kid, or a parent with more time, or a kid who can use scissors and do the cutting themselves, this book would have been great. But for our family, this book didn’t work.

Before I buy another Disney workbook, I will have to make sure it isn’t like this one. Although the Disney characters helped my son want to sit down and do the work, the work outside of the worksheet was too much to make this book easy to use.

Creating a lesson plan.

Lesson planning is something all homeschooling families disagree on. Some families believe each day should have actual lesson plans, others make a list of goals, still others do a weekly list – or even a monthly list. John Holt famously said that lesson plans shouldn’t be part of a homeschooler’s life because it would make the homeschool a copy of a traditional school.

Planning has a place in the life of a homeschooler. How else do you know what you want to accomplish that day, week, month, or year? How else can you schedule trips and plan to engage in activities to make that trip meaningful? How else can you make sure to have the right supplies, books, and knowledge available? Planning has its place. This includes lesson plans.

At the moment, our lesson plans are more of a list – a checklist of things that need to get done. On the list goes the type of work we do each day – numbers, letters, mazes – books I want to make sure to read (we are reading about the Ancient Greek gods at the moment), places we should go, and any big activities we want to do. I sit down on Sunday and make our list.

After I make our list I use our lesson folders to make the lessons. I have a folder for each day of the week. All the worksheets we will accomplish in a day – whether they are homemade worksheets or store-bought ones – go into the appropriate folder (Monday to Saturday). Then a list goes into the folder of all the things we will do each day. A list is also made and put on the outside of the box of all the supplies we will need for the week so that I can double check that we have them or make a shopping trip on Monday to get them.

These aren’t involved lesson plans. I don’t have time stamps on them or anything, but I do have plans. My list method has flexibility in it and still gives me the ability to plan. Any lesson plan is a good plan, and they will get better as you go along.

Creating a learning space.

Some of the posters on our wall in our learning space.

Our music learning wall.

How can you create a learning space in your home?

Some people don’t think they need a learning space, learning can be done everywhere. While that is true, it is also good to have a space dedicated to learning things that a child might need to sit down a learn. Also, it will help keep you organized if you have all your supplies, learning toys, developmental goals, and other assorted tools in one space. We have a small play room at the front of the house that has been dedicated as a learning space.

This isn’t a school room. This isn’t the only place we learn in the house. I use the whole house (neighborhood and community too) as a learning space. But in this space, we can dedicate certain time and things to learning. Toddlers and kids of all ages do better with routines, and having a learning space can help reinforce a routine.

I am not that good at drawing. So I went to Lakeshore Learning and got posters of things I wanted up on the wall. Shapes, colors, letters, opposites, numbers, and beginning reading words are all up on the wall. They give my son something to look at. It also gives me a way to have “running lessons” – he stands at the other end of the room and I call something out and he runs to it and touches it.

We do school time in our learning room. It helps me, and him, focus on what we are doing. There are no snacks to distract us, no mess to make me want to go clean while he works….we simply focus on learning.

I also have a piano there that we play, and put the music learning next to the piano. He likes to look at what I am playing and point to the pictures on the wall and tell me how they are similar.

You can create a learning space anywhere, and with any budget. Simply decide where you want that space to be and put everything you need for homeschooling there. Then keep it neat and tidy so everyone can focus when they are in the learning space.

Whether you create your own posters, buy posters, don’t have posters, or whatever way you choose to decorate, keep the space focused on learning. There is a reason why education specialists say to have a homework space clear of everything but what the kids need to do their homework – it is because having a dedicated space to learn in makes it more likely that children will learn. And eventually they are going to need to sit down and learn things, and focus on certain skills – so having that practice in the “learning space” while they are young will reinforce this idea for when they are older.

Teaching letter sounds with construction trucks.

Letter sounds and construction trucks make for an enjoyable lesson.

Whenever I plan a lesson, I make sure my lessons are about 10 minutes long. Any longer, and a 3 year old boy will lose interest. I also make sure there are ways to continue the lesson in case he gets really involved and wants to learn more. But, for the most part, I stick to 10 minute lessons.

One of the reasons I love the idea of homeschooling is that I know my child best. Whereas in a preschool or regular school he might have to learn letter sounds using whatever they are using (animals, a book, strange words), at home I get to pick. For this lesson I picked construction trucks – he loves construction trucks.

So I had construction truck stickers (found in Target’s $1.00 value area, so I picked up a bunch), a piece of paper, and crayons. When he sat down with me I asked him what color I should use to write “Construction Site” on the top of the paper. He chose brown. I then had him tell me what letter “Construction” and “Site” began with. We sounded out the words and picked the opening letters. I was correct, so I wrote the words and showed him how they were spelled and we sounded them out. Then onto the fun part – the trucks.


I gave him the stickers and crayons and asked him to draw me a construction site with the crayons and put the stickers of the trucks on where they are supposed to work. He happily worked away for 10 minutes, telling me what he was doing as he was doing it. I asked questions of him if he stopped talking. “What kind of truck is that?” “What is that truck doing?” What are you coloring?” and more questions were the leading questions while he was making his construction site. When he was finished, he gave it to me and I told him what a good job he did.

Then we sounded out the words of the construction trucks. I had him discover what letter each truck began with and I helped him write those letters by the trucks.

So we worked on motor skills (coloring, pulling stickers off, writing), letters (sounds), and imagination. All while still doing it in a fun way so he would learn.

Teaching your child is about learning through fun, guiding their play, not simply sitting them down in front of books.

Product Review: Kumon Book of Easy Mazes (ages 2-3-4).

Kumon's Easy Mazes: An opportunity for children to being logical thinking and problem solving.

I purchased this book from the Barnes and Noble on Sunrise in Sacramento. This particular Barnes and Noble has a big section of “schooling” books and kids developmental toys and projects. I went browsing for a book that would do three things:

1. Teach him how to follow directions.

2. Learn beginning problem solving and logical thinking.

3. Practice drawing and tracing.

I saw the “My Book of Easy Mazes” and decided it would do all three things. The mazes are all set up the same – go from the arrow to the star staying on the path (following directions). Figuring out how to get from the arrow to the star teaches beginning problem solving and logical thinking (when I hit the wall I have to turn around). Then actually drawing the path works on his fine motor skills that he’s going to need to write letters in the future (drawing and tracing).

My son loves the mazes and wants to do them before he eats breakfast. They go from very easy (the first maze has the arrow at the mouth of a worm and the star at the end and no deviations from the path), to more complex mazes. We are working our way up and he’s doing much better now with tracing the path and drawing than he was at the beginning. He’s also developing more problem solving skills with problems other than how to reach the cookies on the top shelf.

I like it because the instructions are clear. There are even tips on how to work the book in the front (for parents). Every maze is done in a set of two – you can rip the pages out and put them in a folder and each “lesson” is simply the front and back of the page.

This book is easy to use, does what I wanted it to do, and is age appropriate. It is not so “baby” that he’s not interested and not so complex he’s unable to do them.

I recommend this book.

Bubble experiments.

Playing in bubbles teaches science to preschoolers while still being fun.

Not every lesson has to be a lesson. While homeschooling parents (and parents in general) vary on how they teach their children, all parents recognize that children learn in various ways.

One of the ways that young children learn is through play. By creating a “play” situation for them, you can teach them about things while they are playing.

This is a bubble experiment.

Equipment needed: A sink/tub/bucket/bathtub, something to make bubbles, toys of various shapes and densities. Towels for clean up.

I created a play area – the sink filled with bubbles and some toys were put next to the sink – and let my son play in it. He naturally threw the toys into the sink. Then he was shocked that some floated and some sunk.

When he asked why – as toddlers ask all the time – we talked about things being denser or less dense than water. Then I pulled out some toys I had hidden and before he threw each one into the tub asked him, “Do you think this will float or sink? Why?” He guessed (some right and some wrong), but always said, “Because it is less dense than water.” (He thought everything would float). When he got tired of that game we simply played in the water and the bubbles.

It was bubbles and fun and a science lesson all in one. It was easy to do, and he helped clean up the water that was spilled (he always has to help clean up a mess he makes because it teaches him to clean up after himself).

Science is easy when it is combined with playtime.

Easy ways to incorporate music into your day.

Music time

Teaching music to toddlers can be simple and fun

Music time happens every day at our house. It is not a formal thing, but music is a part of our life and a part of our day. Whether you have older children who play instruments or sing and need to practice every day, or if you have infants and toddlers and just want music to be a part of their life, it is easy to include it.

Our daily music time lessons always include singing. I make sure we sing in the car. Car rides are a great time to expose children to all kinds of music – they are a captive audience. Everything from classical to 80s rock gets played in our car. I will intersperse one song I like with a bunch of the children’s songs. However you choose to do it, singing in the car is a great way to instill some love of music in your toddler.

At home we leave the TV off (when it is off) and we listen to music – a large variety. We dance to the music, making sure to jump on the beats. This is teaching music, expression, and whether the beat is in the music. Learning where the beat is in a song is something everyone can benefit from regardless of whether they will sing, play an instrument, or simply be enjoyers of music.

We don’t have sit-down music lessons. We simply do a bunch of music all day long. Sometimes, we even go to the piano and practice playing with our fingers, one at a time. Then we also sing the names of the notes of the piano keys.

Toddlers learn a lot through absorption, even when you don’t think they are learning. So however you incorporate music into your daily life, know that they children are learning as you sing, dance, and play music.

Easy ways to include music:

1. Sing in the car.

2. Dance to music at home instead of having the TV on.

3. Make tambourines or shakers out of paper plates and toilet paper rolls, then shake them and dance (or shake them to the beat of a favorite song).

4. Make up a song about “cleaning up” and sing it every time you clean up.

5. Sing a special “potty time” song when your child is on the potty.

6. Play freeze dance as a game.

7. Give your child access to a piano and let them play – hands only (toddlers might want to play with their feet or elbows or head).

Create your own book

One thing we all want our kids to do is read and write. Sometimes kids really don’t like to read, or to write, and so parents have to use tricks to get them to do this.

If your child is in school, it is possible they simply don’t like what they have to write about. I have worked with many neighborhood children to improve their reading and writing. The first thing I have to do, which normally solves all other problems, is to find something that interests them. I let them pick the subject and they way they want to write. If they want to draw and then write a comic book, I encourage it. Writing is writing.
If the problem is reading you have to pick a book they will find interesting, and a method they will find interesting. Barnes and Noble’s color Nook will interact with your kids. As will any number of books on the iPod and iPad. The Leap Frog reading systems (Tag and Tag Jr.) are also great. But in the end, it has to be something that interests them. Get a library card and go visit the library so they can choose between a lot of subjects. Eventually they will find something they like.
Tikatok lets the children create their own books. They have options for blank books, partially done books, and memory books. It is an interesting system that lets the children illustrate and write their own story. My son is too young to write his own story, so he tells me the story and I write it for him. We have also taken his favorite made-up bedtime stories, the “Prince Nicholas” stories, and made them into books.
If you don’t want to pay to create a book, you can always make your own by taking 8.5″x11″ paper, folding it in half, and stapling it in the middle. Then you can write on the pages and make your own book.
All of this captures his interest and creates a love of reading that I hope will stick with him throughout his life.
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