Jesus' Precious Little Lambs

A Charlotte Mason Christian Home School: Preschool – 5th Grade :)

Simple At Home Preschool

Homeschool is For Everyone

If our endless crafts and creativity at Jesus’ Precious Little Lambs School makes you say “I could never do homeschool like that!”, then this post is to show you the simple side of at home teaching. If you long for practical help, rather than lots of educational philosophy, then this post is for you! This post is also about the at home teaching that moms of preschooled children want to make sure they are providing as well. Whether you have chosen to preschool or not to preschool, you will always be homeschooling to some degree because as a parent, you are inherently designated as your child’s lifelong teacher. That is why this blog is written with EVERYONE in mind.

After all, parents are indispensable teachers with the largest and first responsibility for educating their children. Parents of school students still have the responsibility to educate their own children, and school is not a surrender of that responsibility. I was a preschool teacher 4 years ago, and the kids in my class who knew their numbers and letters were the ones being taught at home, the ones whose parents were not surrendering up everything to the teachers. The children faring poorly academically had some of the least involved parents. Learning in a large group environment at a pace set by the teacher, not by individual needs, is like learning by osmosis. I think my preschoolers picked up a few things academically here and there during school time, but not at all like a child does in a one on one tutoring type of environment at home with a parent. I especially don’t feel that preschool or kindergarten teachers teach a child to read (I know I never taught anyone to read in my years of teaching), it is really the parents who do so. Reading or otherwise, leaving education entirely up to the schools should not occur in preschool, elementary, middleschool, or highschool.

The Japanese Educational Challenge demonstrates the remarkable effect of a mothers’ total involvement in their children’s education. In Riverside, New York, school administrators were mystified to find many Japanese families purchasing two set of textbooks. Author Merry White recounts, “… set was for the mother, who would study the lessons ahead of her child to help him or her in schoolwork. The result was that Japanese children who entered school in September knowing little or no English often finished in June at the top of the class in all subjects.” Its time for our society as a whole to take more responsibility for teaching our own children instead of only bemoaning the sad state of our schools, and feeling “trapped” by it. Dean and I can attest that as soon as we said yes to homeschooling, our minds opened up to see how every little life experience together could be used to teach, and how this may not have so readily dawned on us otherwise. We surmised that if we had not made the homeschooling decision, eventually we may have unconsciously felt a little too released from our responsibility as our children’s main educators, lazily assuming school was teaching them most of what they needed to know, and lining up with the rest of status quo. This being said, more important than making a homeschooling decision, is a parents day in and day out mindset towards education, and the will to take on the largest share of her child’s education.

Keep it Simple

Ok, so onto the practical advice I promised! I felt that some of you would appreciate some explicit how-to teach lessons at home information. Here is homeschool preschool (and beyond!) academics pared down into what really matters: The 3 R’s–Arithmetic, Reading, Writing. Yup, that’s it. Everything else– science and history and art– is more optional, interest of the moment driven, and learned as you go (in books, on trips, on a nature walk; as it comes up). Yes, Precious Lambs does a lot of fun crafty fluff, unnecessary things even. I am probably too influenced by my structured preschool educator background; but for me, all the cutesy stuff is fun. However, what kids really need more than cutesy stuff is the basics and a strong attachment environment to learn it in. An emotionally warm, unrushed, somewhat unstructured, and often child-led morning of activities.

Teaching background, credentials or not, no matter; you can offer your child this: the academic basics in an attachment environment. Most of us can teach a young child the 3 R’s. I think most of us can handle teaching simple arithmetic by counting and adding up all kinds of things around the house with our children (sometimes taking things away too–subtraction). Handwriting is something that the child just kind of has to be ready for after working his muscles in play dough, gluing tiny object on paper, and things like that. Writing obviously can not be done by small children, but their “writing” is in the form of narration. Have your child tell you about the story you just read sometimes. Telling a story from beginning to end will prepare a child to write later. So that is all pretty easy, but teaching reading seems mystifying to most new parents. To me, the academic basic that really matters between ages 3 to 5 is learning to read (but this is not universally accepted as some parents feel that formal academics is unneeded before age 6). There is more than one right way to teach reading, but this post is where I will share what seems to be working for us so far.

One Must Have Product

First, its quite important to mention that we focus on lowercase letters and letter sounds because this is what matters for reading. (Most preschools learn it the reverse way first–uppercase and letter names– which doesn’t make a lot of sense) Having a lowercase alphabet that can be manipulated by the child’s hands is really good to have! The one we ordered from Rainbow Resource has been our one indispensable homeschool teaching tool thus far (see pics below). Beneath each letter puzzle piece is a picture of something that starts with the sound (like drum for d), which I have come to find is apparently an exciting and engaging surprise element for my children. Most of the following teaching ideas I am going to share with you evolved from working with this puzzle regularly over the last 6 months–rudimentary activities eventually evolving into more complex ones as new ideas for how to use the puzzle came to mind. When I say we work with the puzzle “regularly”, I mean just 10 or 15 minutes a day usually. So simple to complete some preschool learning during breakfast and have the rest of the day for play! This is all it really takes to learn the basics, not two or more full mornings of preschool a week like we are conditioned to think. This is not preschool classroom “osmosis” type of learning, this is golden one on one work which doesn’t take much time. I feel that having a good teaching tool like an alphabet puzzle is imperative for building your phonics activities upon at home.

Don’t Underestimate Yourself

Thinking up our alphabet learning activities myself, rather than using canned curriculum, has been a really rewarding part of schooling my children. It always seems to be true in life that whatever comes from you, is part of you, brought out to fill a need, is the most effective and strangely satisfying way to provide. Its also an unforgettable experience–literally. Use a curriculum to teach your first child how to read, and you will inevitably forget how to teach reading to your second child unless you dredge up the curriculum book again. Teach reading from your own ideas, and you will never forget, it will always be a part of you. The following ideas I will share were not part of my past preschool curriculum and teaching experience, the following activities were largely absent from my well regarded Pre-K classroom (and I daresay this would be the norm), and that is why I say parents have to teach their own children. In my former Pre-K class, phonics was like 2 minutes introducing the letter of the week at circle time and occasionally reading Alphtales, handwriting was worksheet style letter printing despite the lack of student readiness, math consisted mostly of counting the days of school (again despite the lack of readiness for grasping large numbers), and we did no student narrating as preparation for writing. Mostly, we were pretty much there to have fun–not provide a firm foundation in the basics of reading, writing, and math. If I went back to teach after homeschooling my own kids, I would be a MUCH better teacher, but still hardly able to make a dent in real learning due to the high student to teacher ratio. Most preschool teachers out there only know to do what I used know, or less. I say all this so that you will not overestimate the ability of your preschool teachers, nor underestimate your ability as parent teacher.

Keeping learning simple in the simple environment of home is exactly what cultivates true learning of the basics. Preschool is not a simple environment—learning the basics is complicated in the overly stimulating classroom, in the way an environment is structured in order to coral a group of 24; learning the basics competes against the high amount of entertainment required just to keep the attention of the large group.  I think you will love teaching reading simply from your own ideas in your own home, so I would like to get you started with some tangible activity examples for teaching reading.

Teaching 26 Letter Sounds

We started out with the idea of simply singing “ah, buh, cuh, duh….” while pointing to each letter on the alphabet puzzle, and then removing a few letters at a time to find pictures of things that start with those sounds. I would ask, “Can you think of/find something else that starts with that sound?” An appropriate question, but requiring a lot of help in the beginning. The process of teaching 26 different specific letter sounds is slow. The beginning of that process for Noah dates back to age 2 before we had the puzzle, but I can see that now at 3 1/2 yrs. letter sound learning is really picking up speed and finally sticking too (due to both the puzzle and his age). There are lots of ways to learn letter sounds–phonics toys, flashcard drill,, letter puzzles, etc. Just don’t do too much at one time–try not to let your child’s eyes glaze over! As long as you are doing just a little bit each day, and it stays fun, have no worries that you are pushing academics too soon–it will be a slow natural progression leading your child into the wonderful world of reading (much sooner than his school taught peers).

Teaching First Sounds in Words

Several months ago my next idea was to start pointing out beginning sounds, in words of interest, randomly throughout the day. “I wonder what b-b-blueberry starts with?!” Pause, pause. “Say it slow. Bllluuuuebeeeerrrrryyyy. Can you hear it?” Of course I had to supply the answer for quite awhile. Now days when I ask, “What does tomato start with?”, most of the time Noah will respond with the correct beginning sound (I am always supplying new words, Noah’s answers are not memorized responses). Sometimes I hand him a letter from the puzzle and ask, “Can you find something that starts with this sound?”, (from a group of items sitting in front of him). Now we are moving along into hearing ending sounds which is looking very promising lately as well.

The next idea that came was to build words using the alphabet puzzle, spelling 3 letter words like cat, wig, and bug. In order to succeed at encoding (build words), a child should know several letter sounds, be sufficiently familiarized with the location of each letter on the puzzle board (or whatever you are using), and able to hear some of the sounds in a word. Once your child can do these 3 things, the idea of building words as the logical next step becomes apparent to the parent constantly contemplating, “where are we going from here?”. Building your child’s ear for first sounds, which are easiest to hear, then last sounds, which are next easiest to hear, and finally middle sounds can be a loose phonics guideline.

I am amazed at the growth I am beholding in Noah since we officially began homeschool last winter! I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be the one who is responsible for all this academic growth (like deciphering sounds in words) in my son!!! I know you will love it too!

Teaching Phonemic Awareness

Noah and I also just play around with words at the breakfast or lunch table. We tend to spend a lot of time at the table during meals together, but wherever you and your children happen to spend time together will probably work as well. Basically you want to build your child’s ear for sounds, and conveniently you don’t need any supplies to do these games. We clap out syllables just for fun. Or I ask, “How many buh’s do you hear in baby?” “Hey! Blueberry has two words in it! Do you hear what they are?” “Here is a silly sentence: Baby and Bubs eat blueberries for breakfast.” This rhyming game always makes Noah smile, “Baby, waby. Baby, saby. Baby, maybe.” “Can you guess what this word is: “cuh” “uh” “puh”? If you just do whatever silly sound game that comes to mind, it will be a phonics lesson. Phonemic awareness activities seem like goofy stuff, and young children eat it up (especially if you appear to be having a ball)! Eventually your child catches on and joins in, or even starts initiating the games.

Don’t get caught up in rigorous formal phonics packaged curriculums. It will take the spontaneous fun out of things for you and your child as it can never be ‘interest of the moment’ driven. If you are full time homeschooling, your child might as well go to school if you go the canned curriculum route. 😉 Trust me, ideas will come as you step out and just try it, and as you pray for them. Don’t worry, there is a natural progression to this stuff and you don’t need to be an expert to teach reading. But how do I know my child is learning everything? As your child starts to stand out head and shoulders academically, so to speak, amongst his same age school peers, your fears will be put to rest. Mine are already evaporating as I see Noah achieving what I know could never happen in a 3’s class at preschool.

Where Do We Go From Here?

This has probably been enough to think about for now, but if you are the kind of person who has to know what is up ahead, I will attempt to provide a glimpse. Its all a little foggy for me still right now, and that’s why homeschooling takes faith–the fog doesn’t clear up until you are in the midst of it. But it does clear as you take one step at a time, as I have shown you in this post how my own teaching reading methods are becoming more clear simply through experience. The appropriate idea never fails to come just as you arrive at the place of needing that next logical step, and your child’s readiness for the next step will conveniently happen to correspond, but before then it is much too hard and confusing to think it all through to places too far ahead. Try not to think too far ahead, especially outside of your prayer time. Curriculums seem to be the perfect answer for the confusion, for giving you that picture you crave of where you are headed, but they also bring on much confusion with their one size fits all scope and approach, not to mention ripping you off of an experience so rich and confidence building as you personally generate your own material. The rewards of personally and divinely generated provision can not be substituted for! This is the stuff that makes a person–allow God to use homeschool to form your life and shape your faith. Don’t be fainthearted, you can teach your children step by step too!

Soon enough I will need another alphabet manipulative with more than one of each letter so that we can build bigger words. Montessori students use something called a moveable alphabet that we will soon be purchasing. Look it up and you will see why it is a better choice than magnet letters or letter tiles. I think the alphabet puzzle is a better starter item because of the visibility and display of the letters, but it of course does not have indefinite usefulness. With the moveable alphabet, we will eventually move into building 4 and 5 letter words that can be sounded out. Additionally, I foresee us memorizing words that can’t be sounded out (sight words), and perhaps learning a phonics rule here or there if its really helpful (like the silent “e” at the end of a word makes the other vowel long as in “rake” or “poke”). But we will not be bogged down in learning every single phonics rule that I don’t remember anymore anyway (not sure if I learned them in the first place), because its simply not necessary for most children in order to learn how to read, and its way too tedious. But this is territory we have not yet ventured into yet. Perhaps we can keep you updated when we get into all this fun “advanced” kinder/1st grade level stuff!

Perhaps you have some reading or education wisdom to share yourself, and we welcome that here! I would love to have other contributing writers on this blog, as well as hear your comments regularly.

And So Then We Will Be Reading?

Building words (encoding, or spelling) is easier for kids than breaking down words (decoding, reading) and is thus our main focus right now. But from time to time we sound out some words in books as we are reading as well. My feeling is that lots of encoding work will turn a child into a good reader, and make decoding work less of a struggle. My aforementioned phonemic awareness/word play activities and encoding/word building activities are, in a nutshell, how I am currently teaching my children to read.

I hope teaching reading is no longer mystified for you.

(Let me know if you have any questions though as I am all too happy to help with whatever I might know. ;))

The whole Teaching Reading series of articles on offers some great step by step instruction as well, with a low emphasis on tedious amounts of phonics. It will take you more into the “advanced” stuff too if that is where your child happens to be.

A Peek into our Jamma Preschool:

Mealtimes are Great Learning Times

We count berries or grapes or raisins all the time (math), or find a word of interest on our plate for deciphering beginning sounds (phonics).

Learning at Breakfast!

Noah successfully matched up some letters with fruits and veggies that start with the corresponding sounds after eating breakfast at his play kitchen table one day.

Building a Word

Another day, and still preschooling in our jammas. 😀 (Lest you think homeschoolers never emerge out of pajamas– we do get dressed before learning time on some of our summer days, and definitely during the school year since we co-op)