Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tot School Continues

I am now in the throws of homeschooling two kids, but as tends in happen in larger families I think, the youngest will not be left out. I've had to find a way to incorporate Eleanor of late (she's 15 months, so you can imagine how well that's going!) without "diluting" the educational experience for the older two. (Scratching head over this a bit, still.)

Workboxes were an OK start to schooling Ava (to read how Ava announced one day that she was ready for school, and how I threw something together to meet her needs, this is the post for you), but with Eleanor really showing interest in being a part of the family's school time, I needed to rethink the structure and approach of our school a bit.

First, you may want to check out our daily routine, which describes in detail when each component of our school day happens. We've been doing our heavy skill- and knowledge-based work in the afternoon, when either one or both of the younger kids are sleeping. This is ideal. It means my time for folding laundry and answering emails gets pushed to the late evening hours, but that's a small sacrifice for a smoothly running school day.

We are doing our Five in a Row work in the morning, when all the kids are up and can participate. I've been differentiating the levels quite a bit to meet each child's needs (think mapping a country for Ben, coloring a flag the proper colors for Ava, and letting Eleanor go to town with coordinating stickers).  Actually, I'm thinking about starting Before Five in a Row for next school year to better hit the needs of the younger kids, but that's a whole different post...

Still, there has been this discrepancy between the amount of time that it was taking Ben to complete his more complex work, and the time it was taking the girls to finish theirs. I initially thought that they would migrate to other areas of the house to play... and they sometimes do... but not always. They want to be a part of the action, and since we're working very hard to create a culture of community learning in our family it was clear to me that they needed more extended activities in addition to their participation in FIAR.

Having studied Montessori in some depth during graduate school, I immediately went to that approach. Maria Montessori's Prepared Environment was going to be a great way to provide the younger children with meaningful activity and exploration- in the same room where school is happening for myself and Ben. While I sort of wish I could have purchased authentic Montessori materials, substitutes which target main learning areas from the Montessori approach have sufficed. You will see plastic materials in the pictures- what can I say? I'm educating three kids on a yard sale budget. *smile*

For those who may not know, in a Montessori setting the teacher lays out tools and materials to stimulate a child to think along certain lines or to practice a certain skill. The rest is interest driven by the child.

Here's what I have set up for Eleanor at the moment. (Sorry for the terrible picture.) She has one shelf which she really uses as a table more often than not.

 On the top she has a latches board by Melissa and Doug, which focuses in the Practical Life section of Montessori.  She also has a re-purposed food container with holes cut in the top for pom pom stuffing. (So fun for the little ones.)


The bottom shelf has a nesting Three Little Pigs play set with Uncle Phil and Auntie Kiki got for Ben years ago (it's a classic at our house). It also has a wooden knob puzzle and a (albeit plastic) music set for some exploration. These get at the Sensorial, Mathematics, and Cultural Studies areas of the Prepared Environment.
Ava's shelves are a bit more complex, but not terribly so.

The bottom shelf contains a simple shape puzzle since we've been working on identifying shapes, and a balance shape sorter as well. The middle item is this Melissa and Doug lacing beads kit ( with large wooden beads perfect for beginners).
The middle shelf contains a homemade color wheel (I used cardboard, clothespins, and dot markers to make it).
The basket contains a stickers alphabet puzzle Grandma gave us, and Ava's notebook of flashcards (right now they have shapes and the letters/numbers she working on learning to identify). The wooden box with a bear imprint next to it is this Melissa and Doug dress up bear puzzle because we just have to work on those Practical Life skills!
The top of her bookcase contains a basket of foam letters which she's already learned. I hot glued magnets to the back of them so she can arrange them on the floor, or she can use them on metal surfaces (or our whiteboard). The glitter lines you can see on the letters were a tactile element I added to help her remember which side of the letter is "up". She can see the line and also run her fingers along it to reinforce the concept.
 The last item is a re-purposed wooden tray containing pattern blocks and a few patterns for her to mimic. Sometimes she makes the provided patterns, and sometimes she makes her own. I love this tray for this activity because it keeps the oh-so-many little pieces together.

Phew! There you have a look at the new shelves for our Tot School. So far, so good!


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