Archive for December, 2011

If your preschooler like puzzles, you know how pricey they can be. One way to help in the cost is to make your own. To make a puzzle, follow these simple instructions.

Find a very simple coloring book picture similar to those in a “first coloring book” or something similar. You will need to make 2 copies on heavy cardstock. Color the pictures identically. Laminate both sheets. On the first sheet, carefully trace all of the lines with dimensional paint using a thin line. Allow to dry thoroughly. Cut out the “pieces” on the second sheet. When cutting, remove all of the black lines so that when the puzzle is put together the pieces will fit within the painted lines of the “puzzle board.”

Voila’ You have a simple homemade puzzle!

Puzzle number 2:

This is one of the easiest of puzzles to make. You can use any picture that your child will find interesting. Laminate the picture. Cut the picture into strips that are about 1 1/2 inches wide. Best if the puzzle strips are horizontal on the picture.

Puzzle number 3:

This is one that I saw on You Tube before and thought a great idea. The child completing the puzzle was autistic and doing the puzzle as a TEACCH task. The puzzle was a very simple color picture that had been laminated. In this case, it was a picture of an apple tree. The picture had about 6 circle punches (about 1 1/2 inch diameter) cut from various parts of the picture. A long-reaching hole punch would be needed unless you have access to a diecut machine. Many scrapbook stores and some teacher supply stores have diecut machines available.

These are just a few of the ideas. Making puzzles can be as easy or as difficult as you choose to make them.


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I was blessed to find new little workbooks for Little Miss to help with her reading & phonics. All 3 were on clearance which is another blessing. One book is a set of 15 little emergent readers. Each reader has an activity page to go with it. I love the layout of these readers and the activity which has the child searching in the book for words from the word family focused on in that book. I may copy that worksheet for use with other little books that we have at home.

The second workbook that I found is filled with learning centers or file folder games. These games are focused on literacy and contain much using phonics. Little Miss loves doing the file folder games. By having these also teaching/reviewing letter sounds and word families, it will give her yet another method of learning and retaining the information.

The third workbook is a general studies workbook that contains, reading, language arts, and math worksheets. The pages in this book are going to be helpful in providing an alternative method. As she is going through her main set of workbooks, if I see an area that she needs extra practice in, I can use pages from this workbook to supplement and reinforce the information she is being introduced to.

The last thing that I found was a Word Families wall chart which I laminated. I will cut apart the boxes for each word family and turn them into pockets on another wall chart. I can then have strips of cardstock with various words from the word families written on them. She will sort the words and place them in the correct word family pocket. As much as Little Miss enjoys hands-on activities, she will enjoy this.

It is a matter of my stepping out of the box slightly. I am just grateful that I was able to catch the problem she was having before it got too far.

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This week, I looked over the catalog from Little Miss’ curriculum. I planned out the purchase of next year’s curriculum. Yeah, I know. I am a wee bit early considering that we are still in the first semester of the current homeschool year. I am planning early for a couple of reasons. First, I want to set aside a little bit each payday to save up for the curriculum purchase. I needed to know the exact cost so that I can plan accordingly. I am also wanting to take advantage of early purchase to avoid any backlog when schools start placing their orders for the next school year.

By purchasing early, I have time to go through the materials and plan any supplemental materials that we may need. Some courses ask for specific literature or children’s books to be used. Maybe there is a topic in history that you would like to have a lapbook for. For art, you may need to go online and find pictures or prints to use as visual aids when teaching about a specific artist or artistic style.

One of the areas that I am seeing a need to invest more is interactive materials. Educational posters to be made into interactive versions is one such investment. Again, this is where seeing the course materials ahead of time will be beneficial. I will be able to look at the table of contents for each course and determine if there is any topic that an interactive poster, lapbook, or other hands-on activity would be helpful.

I realize that to some parents this may seem silly or overboard. I am the type of person who never does well “winging it” but needs a solid plan to base everything on. I am able to make adjustments, but never do well just planning each day as it comes. It keeps me focused to have a plan set up. It is always informal enough that we can do an impromptu field trip or activity on short notice. The important thing for me however is to have at least a foundation to build from.

Who knows, by planning ahead I may actually be prepared for a curriculum fair this time. With the cash on hand, I may be able to get a good discount by purchasing at the fair instead of through mail order.

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Little Miss has been doing great in homeschool. Suddenly, we hit the proverbial brick wall. She is great at memorizing sight words. She knows all of her letter sounds. Her recent lessons though that require her to sound out the words has her challenged. I love it. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t enjoy that she is so challenged to understand how to blend the letter sounds to read a word. That is hard. What I am enjoying is that she is very determined and has a great attitude about it. This is one of the issues in homeschooling that I love. Had she been in public school, the chances are very high that the teacher would have missed this fact. Not that the teacher wouldn’t have cared. It is simply a statement of truth that due to class sizes and how busy the teachers can be, they often overlook a problem until it is too late to easily overcome.

Being that Little Miss is challenged in this area, I am going back a step or two. I am setting aside her workbooks and finding supplemental resources online to help her overcome this little bump in the road. Starfall is a free online phonics course that we happen to have a workbook for. On the website, you can either buy the little books and workbooks, or you can print them yourself for free. My in-laws happen to find the levels 1 & 2 workbooks in new condition at a yard sale and got them for Little Miss. Now, I am going to go to the website and download the little books to print for her.

I am also looking for activities that she can do to help her with word families. I have some ideas, just need to implement them. One is to make her an interactive poster. I just love Sue Patrick’s ideas regarding these! Her book, Sue Patrick’s Workbox System: A User’s Guide, explains how to turn an educational poster into an interactive teaching tool. The way I am going to use it is to make sorting pockets for the various word families. On index cards, make word flash cards using those word families. Little Miss will then have to sort the words, saying each one, and placing the flashcard into it’s word family pocket. For example, for the “__at” word family pocket, she may have the words “bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, rat, sat.” At the book store, they have a really nice word family poster. I may use it to make her an interactive poster. While there, I will go ahead and get a poster for consonant blends.

Some may get frustrated over this challenge. Let’s face it, you spend a lot on curriculum and are not always looking for alternative methods. I feel it is a blessing to have this challenge. It provides proof that not all kids learn the same way. A curriculum approach that works great for one child in a class, may not be effective for another sitting next to them. As a homeschooling parent, we have to be willing to put our children’s personalities and learning styles in the forefront. The approach in Little Miss’ workbooks may work well for some. She needs to be taught in a bit of a different way. In this respect, the experience is teaching me to think outside of the box. When it is time to teach her younger brother, I will be more prepared in my way of thinking when it comes to his education. I don’t see a downside to this. I only see the positives. I caught on to her lack of understanding early. We are addressing it immediately and by so doing, are avoiding problems down the road. In all likelihood, once we get over this little bump in the road, her reading ability will take off. The best part of all is that even though she is challenged by this step in learning to read, she has her sense of pride in what she does understand. No loss of dignity there!

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On Monday, I began preschooling Little Man. Up until now, I have worked with him in preparation for using the TEACCH approach to preschool him at home. It is going to be a while before he fully has the sequence down, but he is doing great so far.

The first obstacle was to help him sit still long enough to do a task. Our son loves to walk in circles and is nearly always on the move. We first started with a low children’s table & chairs. While a nice idea, it didn’t work. He was able to get up and walk whenever he had a mind to do so. Unfortunately, he had a mind to walk quite a lot! I ended up sitting him at the kitchen table with his older sister who is homeschooling at the 1st grade level. Being in a booster seat, he is not able to get up. This is working out much better. He doesn’t even try to get up, but will wait for me to get his activity ready in front of him. At this point, I do not have a work center set up. I bring the activities to him one at a time.

The next step was having a signal for him to understand that we are going to be working on his schooling. Little Man has one of those ear flap hats that are so popular today. When wearing it, he stops any fussing or squirming. We refer to it as his “thinking cap” and put it on him when it is time to do the task boxes. Surprisingly, as long as he has that hat on, he is very cooperative. If the hat comes off, he is ready to get down from the table and go roaming about the house. It is funny how it works. Some kids on the autism spectrum need a fidget cushion or a weighted lap mat to apply the weight and pressure they need to sit still. Little man just needs his hat.

I had 3 tasks set up for his first day. He loves to paint with the wooden handled foam daubers. I taped the corners of a sheet of cardstock to the table in front of him. On the cardstock, I had drawn a simple Christmas tree made up of a large triangle with a rectangle for the trunk. I placed a dollop of green and brown Tempura paints on an old deli lid and got him started. Our son needs the gentle guidance of my hand touching his elbow. I pointed to the pencil lines of the triangle and guided him in pouncing the paint onto the pencil lines. Once he pounced the paint on with my help for 3 times, he finished on his own. The only thing he needed was for me to help guide where his hand moved by the touching of his elbow. It is really low key guidance. He just needs a slight touch. If I remove my hand, he stops working. Once he finished painting the triangle border, he painted the inside of the triangle. Finally, using the brown to paint the trunk. The entire time, he worked with my fingers gradually easing the touch on his elbow to a feathery pressure. I lifted my hand away at one point and he finished the picture completely on his own. I removed the cardstock and gave him a blank sheet to paint all on his own while I set the tree painting aside to dry.

After painting, his next task was to place 8 wooden alphabet building blocks into a bowl. While the painting with a dauber used his larger muscles in his arm, this activity with the blocks used more fine motor development. He had to pick up the blocks one at a time and put them into the bowl. I had to use hand over hand for much of it. I learned that painting will have to be the last activity each day or else he is not happy to do other tasks. While he did complete the task, he wasn’t as happy about it as he was with the painting. Since he was not as cooperative, I allowed him a break for a little while to calm down and become ready to get back to task.

The last task of the session was to glue pom poms (ornaments) onto his tree. This one was very difficult. He had unexpected sensory issues over that task. He has a sensory bin filled with pom poms that he has used without any problems. Dipping a pom pom into the dollop of glue and putting it on the tree was another matter entirely. It was a struggle. I finally got him to do a few, using the hand over hand method, before allowing him to walk away from the activity. I am not sure what set him off. He has touched the pom poms before. Today the texture of them didn’t agree with him.

Overall, Little Man did great. He worked 3 tasks, completing 2 of the 3 without much protest. Getting him used to doing the structured tasks will take time. I am encouraged with how well he did. I am going to start using painting as his “reward” for doing his activities each day. One thing I would do different however is to grab an old adult sized t-shirt and make a paint shirt before he paints again. A very simple way to make the paint shirt is to cut up the center back of the t-shirt from hem to neck. This makes an open back, think hospital gown, for covering his clothing. To fasten it, you can stitch a ribbon or bias tape on each side of the neckline for typing. An even more simplistic method would be to use a large safety pin to fasten the neck area.

It is such a blessing to see Little Man’s progress. Even though part of the activities were more of a challenge for him, he really made some milestones. He was able to follow the direction of painting along a line. He was able to do the block activity. Even though he didn’t enjoy gluing the pom poms onto the tree, he did a few. He did awesome!

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Homeschool Record Keeping

One decision that all homeschooling families have to make is how to keep track of their homeschool. No matter which homeschooling method you use, most states require some type of record keeping. Even in the more relaxed states, where record keeping is minimal, you have to use some method to keep record of it all.

There are 2 basic methods that I am using in conjunction with each other. I have a homeschool binder that I am using to set up lesson plans for Little Miss and to keep track of Little Man’s task boxes. You can find free printables online or purchase a lesson planner. The basic records that I keep are attendance, curriculum materials we are using, and lesson plan in the form of a workbox worksheet. I also have forms for tracking lapbooks and unit studies that we do. The second form of record keeping that I have is Homeschool Tracker’s Basic version. Homeschool Tracker is a computer program that was designed by a homeschool family. It contains all of the basic records that you would need to meet the state requirements in even the most restrictive state in the US. The basic version is a fully functioning free download. I used it before with my older children years ago and loved it. The program is very easy to use and the user’s guide is a well written manual that is downloaded in pdf format. You can purchase a premium version of the program for a low cost that has additional options and records.

Keeping 2 forms of the records may seem like “too much” for some, but it works for me. I don’t always have my netbook battery charged, so the binder is nice for daily use. I don’t have to turn on my netbook each time I need to reference something. The computer records are simply a back-up that is organized in a way that can be printed out if I ever needed it. I like knowing that if I ever had to turn in a report of our homeschooling, I would have a nicely organized report ready to print out.

In our state, we do not have to file reports. I still like to keep the records though. It gives me a good idea of what we have done and how the kids are progressing. If ever a day should come when we did have to start keeping records, I will already have a method in place. It is a comfort to know that we will not be having to scramble to generate records on a short notice.

I am finding that keeping records is helping to keep me focused. Must be my personality, but I feel more comfortable if I have records to show what we have done. It is easy to miss a subject without the records. Little Miss’ curriculum publisher does not have a history or science curriculum for 1st grade. Their focus is mainly on the 3R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic) to lay a strong academic foundation on which to build. Their idea is that if the child’s foundation in the 3R’s is weak, it will make learning in future lessons much more of a challenge. I am rounding out her schooling with unit studies that cover the science and history areas. She may be doing well with a science unit, but in the process I may overlook history. By tracking what we do, I am able to catch that situation early and make adjustments as needed.

With Little Man, there is no true academics being taught in the preschooling we are preparing to do. To track his activities, I am using a workbox worksheet that I found online to record the activities we do. I can journal any details that may need to be recorded. One thing I will be doing with Little Man is recording each day how he does with each activity. Does he show interest in it? How does he perform the task? Is it too challenging and best used later on? These observations will be helpful to me as I plan out his tasks. I will see what areas he is needing more help in.

How you track your homeschooling is up to you. Each family has to find a method that is easy to maintain and set up. No one method works for everybody. A quick search online and you can find many free forms available. If you are just starting to think about how to keep the records, check various blogs and websites to find the options out there. You may be surprised at how many there are to choose from.

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One of our goals for Little Man is to homeschool him along side of his big sister. Last Thursday, his preschool materials arrived and I am now prepared to get started. I placed the pages from the first set of workbooks into sheet protectors. Little Man doesn’t have the hand pressure to write with a pencil or crayon. While he is working on that, we use paints and markers most often. I don’t care what he writes/colors with as long as he is writing and coloring. By placing the workbook pages into sheet protectors, we can use them like a dry-erase page. He isn’t ready to do most of the workbook activities, but will get there in time. Some of the pages do have activities he is capable of, with some guidance. We will begin very slowly. In reality, his preschool curriculum could take up to 3 years for him to progress through.

I am setting up workbox tasks for Little Man. With the Christmas season here, I took inspiration from that to make his tasks. One that I am doing is helping him make a Christmas tree. He paints with the wood handled paint daubers and tempura paint. He will be painting a tree on art paper. Once dried, he will be gluing colored pom poms onto the tree for ornaments. This is the first time he will be using glue. Will be fun to see how he does with it.

A second task is playing with gingerbread play dough. That went over really well last week, so I am going to be making more this week. Will be fun to see what he does with it. May make more handprints to give out as gifts to all of the grandparents. He enjoyed making one before.

Color & Pattern Matching – a fast and inexpensive idea is to utilize scrapbook papers to make 3 x 5 inch cards. Make 2 sets of cards from plain colored cardstock or from patterned papers. Adhere one set of up to 12 cards into a file folder. The second set are your game pieces. The child matches the papers.

Simple Color Matching: Using colored cardstock, make 2-4 pockets of different colors inside of a file folder. Next, cut 4-5 strips from each of the same cardstock colors. Make the strips about 3/4 inch wide and long enough to stick out of the pockets. To play the game, the child tucks each color strip into it’s matching color pocket.

Favorite Things Match game – make a matching game using pictures of your child’s favorite things. Adhere one set to a file folder and use the other as game pieces. You could also do this with animals, favorite places to go, or using pictures of family members.

There is so much that I can guide Little Man in doing. Yes, we are starting simple and gentle in his preschooling. At this point, it is a matter of teaching him what to do with each task. He is literally a “clean slate” when it comes to learning. Like many autistic children, he has to be taught how to learn. Repetition is very important as is taking it in very small increments. I am excited though. I know he is capable of doing this and much more. It will all come together in time.

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