Teaching kids about causes.

Teaching children about causes is an important thing. Well, teaching them to understand what a cause is and what they can do if they feel strongly about a cause is an important thing.

This can be done by talking about causes with them, taking them to volunteer with your causes, or having them donate to their causes.

Whether or not your child will believe in the same causes you believe in won’t be determined for a while. But it is important to teach them to care about things, people, and places that are bigger than themselves and their house. Caring is a part of being in the world and sharing it with other people. If more people cared, we would have a less callous world.

This came up in a family discussion over dinner last night. We were talking about the “Don’t buy gas on April 15th” cause. I mentioned that I don’t care for that cause because people will simply buy gas the day before or the day after – it will not really matter. I said, “I am all for causes that matter, but a cause or action that simply doesn’t make sense makes me want to scream.” My son asked, “What’s a cause mommy?” Which made me explain.

I told him that people are upset gas prices are high and want to do something about it – but instead of doing something that might matter, people are doing things that don’t make sense. He asked me what would matter. Here were some ideas I gave him: Reduce gas consumption, buy one less tank of gas a month, lobby for more public transportation, lobby for higher gas taxes so people will use less gas, or ask for more fuel efficient cars. All of those would be ways of reducing gas companies’ profits – but simply changing buying habits will not do anything.

He told me he didn’t care about gas. He said he cared about animals. So today we are going to go read about the rain forest and find something he can do for the rain forest.

Kids are never too little to be interested in causes, to participate in causes, and find a cause they care about. Evidently, they are never too young to listen in on dinner conversations and ask questions that make you spend an hour explaining things.


Product Review: Leapfrog Tag Junior

We love our Leapfrog Tag Junior. Some parents are against electronic toys – I understand their point of view. But for us, the Tag Junior has really helped. It allows our son to read on his own. In addition to reading the words of the story, the Tag Junior can be placed over various parts of the page and do different things. Sometimes it makes a sound, sometimes it tells more information, and sometimes it asks the child to find something from earlier in the book. These extras are a great incentive for a child to go exploring in a book.

In addition to the fun, this is something they can do on their own. We have used it on long car ride, when we need to get something done (like dishes or preparing for a lesson, or simply needing some space from each other). Our son will take it into his room and use it during quiet time.

This is not a substitute for a parent reading to a child. But it is a fun toy to use to get a child into reading, enjoying books, and learning more about things.

The only thing is – most of the books are pretty basic. Our son has, at the age of three, outgrown this on an academic level. He has used it for a year and a half. It has been great. We have used most of the books they have – the shapes, letters, emotions, opposites, colors, instruments, and rhymes. We have used the character books (Cars) and the “Mr. Brown Can Moo” book. He has really enjoyed these. He still enjoys reading them for fun. He is not learning as much from them anymore – he already knows is colors and thing – but he is learning the what the words for these things look like and still enjoys sitting down in his beanbag to read with the Tag Junior while I am feeding the baby.

Additionally, you can only keep about 5 books at a time on the Tag Junior. It is not hard to load and unload books, but it would be nice if you could keep more than five on there. However, 5 books is enough for most weeks – just not enough for long car rides.

Overall, we really enjoy the Leapfrog Tag Junior. It has done well, and we are looking forward to the Tag system – which is the next level up.

LeapFrog Tag Junior Book Pal

Getting admitted to college as a homeschool student

Many people I have talked to have asked me if I am worried about my son getting admitted to college as a homeschooled student. Putting aside the fact that he is now all of three years old, so college is in the way future, I have said no. Almost all colleges have a homeschool-admit policy. The truth is, I am homeschooling because I want him to have the best education and experiences I can. If a college doesn’t want to admit him because I wanted to give him a better education than he can get elsewhere, then they don’t deserve my son.

But just in case you don’t believe me, here is MIT’s homeschool admission policy:


Why preschool shouldn’t be like school – from Slate.

Here’s an article I really liked from Slate about why preschool shouldn’t be like school. It is really interesting and contains links and information from a UC Berkeley study and an MIT study.



Candyland is a great beginning board game. The rules are easy and movement is based on colors.

Candyland is a fairly well known game from childhood.

It is an easy game. It is based on colors. Essentially, the board is a pathway of different colored blocks. You move one or two colored blocks depending on the color and number of blocks on the card you draw. There are certain special cards that let you jump into the lead, or go back to the beginning.

Since it is based on colors, it is an easy game to teach preschoolers. We got this for my son, who just turned three, and we play it at least three or four times a day.

It requires everyone to take turns and move only the way the cards tell you to. This requires everyone to follow the rules.

So in addition to a new game, some fun, and working with colors, toddlers learn to follow the rules and take turns.

This is a very easy and basic game for toddlers. They can really get a sense of accomplishment when they finish and reach the castle at the end.


Two lessons about the body – in preparation for going to the doctor.

Today was a doctor’s visit day, so yesterday’s lesson and today’s lesson were about bodies. I try to attach our lessons to something we are going to do, so that he learns before we do. Since the doctor’s visits were today, we studies about our bodies and doctors for the last two days.

Body Chalk

Everyone remembers laying down on the cement and having a friend, teacher, or sibling trace them. This is a great activity for toddlers. My son traced me and I traced him. I also traced our four month old. Then he had to run around. When I said “head,” he had to jump on a head – anyone’s head, but it had to be a head. We did it with all the body parts.

Then we drew white lines inside our bodies for the “bones.” We talked about how we drink milk to make our bones strong so they can hold us up and we can play games and have fun outside. Our snack was milk and yogurt. Both of which are good foods and high in calcium – which is what we were talking about.

Remember that these lessons are for preschool (almost 3) aged children. You cannot talk about calcium and its importance – although you can mention calcium. Instead, it has to be geared towards a preschool-aged child. In this case – milk does a body good, and why.

After our snack we went outside and worked on some letters related to our bodies. We wrote our names above ourselves, and sounded them out. Once the names were written, he spelled them out. He is good at identifying letters and their sounds, so we practice them this way. When I wrote my name – Mommy – I then had him spell it (m-o-m-m-y), and sound out each letter.

He was then in charge of picking body parts (head, feet, legs, arms, hands, stomachs) and telling me what each one started with. I wrote the letter on the body part. He then got to draw faces on each person, and their hair. He got the hair colors right (brown and red), and the eye colors right. This was great practice for him to draw lines and circles and shapes (he made our noses triangles). This type of drawing will help him develop the small muscle control he needs to write letters.

We went inside and read “Farley Goes to the Doctor” four or five times (it is an old Sesame Street book from when I was younger).

So ended our lesson about our bodies for day one.

The Body – Day 2

Our second day was much more haphazard than the first. We sang “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes,” a few times, and even made up different verses (Fingers, Elbows, Legs, and Tummies). This was music, dance, and fun all in one. We also did the Hokey Pokey and put as many things “in” as we could find. I never thought you could put your ankles in and out, but it turns out he thinks you can. This lesson was a reinforcement lesson. It reinforced the names of the body parts and where they are on your body. But instead of repetition (doing the same drawing as yesterday), we had fun with it. It works wonders.

Then we played a version of doctor. He got all his stuffed animals out and lined them up. The he pulled out his doctor toys and “doctored” each animal. It was interesting the variety of problems the animals can have, and how he solved them. One elephant had a peanut stuck in his trunk. So he took the tweezers to get it out. When the dog complained of a headache, he asked for some ice for the dog’s head. This lesson helped him remember what was going to go on at the doctor’s office. It also had him work on his problem solving skills and verbal skills. When he couldn’t think of a solution, he asked for help. Instead of giving him the solution, I asked “What do you think would work?” He came up with a solution all on his own after that. Twelve animals later, he was ready to move on.

We looked at a book about muscles. I checked a book out from the library on the human body. We talked about how muscles help us do things like kick balls. We spent some time kicking balls and strengthening our muscles.

The day finished with reading the book on the human body, followed by “Farley Goes to the Doctor” again. Toddlers love repetition.

These were our lessons on the body. Nothing complex, nothing expensive. We simply used what we had to explore who we are. He amazed his doctor talking about bones and muscles today. I felt good he remembered something.

The game of “Memory.”

All the supplies you need to make your own memory game - index cards, a marker, and scissors. You can get more complex if you want to.

Everyone has played Memory. It’s the game where you have matching cards and you flip them over (so the pictures don’t show) and mix them up. Then you take turns picking two cards, hoping they will match, until all the matches are made.

We have an iPod app like that that my son likes, so I decided to make a set of those cards for us to use in our lesson this week on words, letters, and sounds.

I decided to focus on the letters A-I. I thought that 18 cards would be enough for a fun Memory game. It wouldn’t be so easy he would do it quickly, and it wouldn’t be so challenging he wouldn’t want to play again (Remember, he’s almost 3, so it has to be a smaller game).

All I did was cut the index cards in half. I wrote the letters A – I on 9 of the cards. Then on the other 9 I drew a picture for an object that starts with the same letter and wrote the name of the object below the picture. I’m no artist (see the picture of the finished game below), but it turns out I didn’t have to be to draw the cards.

You then simply put them out on the floor. Tell the child to flip one over. They are trying to match the letter they flip over to the picture that starts with the same letter. Then keep going until the game is done.

I didn’t expect this to be a great hit the first time. I was very wrong. We played 10 times before I drew an end to the game. We also played 5 times after dinner, and had to play again the next morning before he would eat breakfast. The whole thing took about 10 minutes to do (including pictures), and gave us a lot of fun. Every time he made a match he would dance and cheer for himself. So it was worth while. I figure we will do the next set of letters as soon as I make the next set of cards.

Here's the completed Memory game. I am no artist, but it was fun to make and fun to play.

Supplies needed: index cards, scissors (to cut the index cards in half), a marker. If you want to make more elaborate cards, go with colors or printed pictures of things.

Parallel play and cooperative play.

Parents of young children are familiar with parallel play. An example of parallel play is when two kids are sitting in the same area playing with cars. Occasionally they lean over and look at the other kid but, while they seem to be not interacting, they are still playing with the same thing in the same space. When the first child gives up the cars and moves onto a new play area or toy, the second child follows. This is parallel play.

Parallel play is the first real “play” a child does. Before parallel play, the children are simply observers. Sometime in the preschool years a child changes from parallel play to cooperative play – playing with the kids and the toys together.

Some educators think that when a child moves to cooperative play they will abandon parallel play. Since some educators think this, some parents think this too. Thus, when they see their child not moving into cooperative play, but staying with parallel play, they worry that their child is not developing.

Dr. Robinson, at BYU, discovered that children use parallel play to ease their way into a group before engaging in cooperative play. This can be exemplified by preschoolers in a sandbox. When there is a group of kids in the sandbox playing together, and a new kid comes, the new kid first observes the group, then plays in the sand next to the group (parallel play), before finally joining the group (cooperative play). In fact, parallel play does not really exit the scene. Children will most often use parallel play until they are about 5 years old, but parallel play exists when children play video games, work on the same thing (like assignments) but at their own desks. Parallel play never really goes away, but can become dominated by cooperative play.

Collaborative play includes behaviors such as sharing, taking turns, following directions, following rules, and negotiating. Collaborative play is where everyone works towards a similar goal (think kids playing knights and dragons, putting on a play, or working on a puzzle together). This stage of play involves recognizing that others are as important as they are and how to work with other people. Many social skills are mastered on the playground and in the sandbox during collaborative play.

And it is play that teaches these skills.

So make sure there is enough time in your child’s schedule for play. All of us just want the best for our children, and this can mean scheduling a lot of classes and structured time for them because we think that is best. However, kids need a chance to develop social skills with other kids while they are playing.  Because of this, unstructured playtime is just as important as structured time.



Santrock, John (1999.). Life-Span Development. New York: McGraw Hill, Inc..

Vasta, Ross (1999). Child Psychology. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..

Berk, Laura (2004). Development of the Life-Span. Boston: Allyn & Bacon




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