Last week I asked if you had any teaching, homeschooling, or parenting questions for me. You answered!
In reading your questions, I noticed that some of you aren’t quite sure what I do over here. So let me explain.
I am neither teacher nor homeschooler, but I am both teacher and homeschooler.
Currently I am a stay-at-home mom. My kids are 7, almost 6, 4, 2, and 7 months. But I taught in the classroom for eight years before having children; I also earned a master’s degree with a focus on literacy. My teaching philosophy is rooted in my education and classroom experience.
As I state on my about page, I am not a full-time homeschooler. I “homeschool” for preschool, and my children begin school at our church’s excellent parochial school beginning with half-day kindergarten. But even with my children in school, I work to find ways to supplement their learning and share those resources with you.
The best of both worlds?
My teaching background means that I have the knowledge and experience to answer your questions about teaching methods. While you may not agree with all of my approaches to education (and that’s okay!), you can know that I am a trustworthy resource.
While I don’t homeschool full time – and won’t be able to share exactly what we do for your reference – the very fact that I don’t actually works in your favor. Since we have no family close by, and I have a little problem with perfectionism (okay, it’s a big problem), blogging and homeschooling would not be something I could do simultaneously. At least not well. So since I do not homeschool full time, I have more time to answer your questions and help you find the answers you need.
HOME PRESCHOOL ORGANIZATION
1. We have our house on the market and it’s been “professionally staged.” How do I create a suitable homeschool environment to teach my PK4 son, while keeping the house “showing” ready at a moment’s notice?
I love the big Iris scrapbooking cases from Michael’s. The 12 x 12 inch boxes are typically $8 without a coupon and are the perfect size for storing learning materials and games. They’ll make it easy for you to store and access your materials; you can also put them away quickly when the doorbell rings. You might have a different box for each subject area.
If you’re doing sensory play, put the material into a large plastic shoebox and cover it with a lid.
To make your learning even more portable, use a small dry erase board and store it in the big box.
TEACHING PRESCHOOL AND KINDERGARTEN AT HOME
2. How do you encourage preschoolers to focus on the task at hand? I have a 3-year-old son. We’re doing letter of the week, shapes, rhymes, etc. I’ve been taking him to trial “classes” such as art, PE, and “IQ.” We live in China, and people are shocked he’s not in preschool yet (full-time preschool for 3-year-olds is the norm).
At the PE class, he seemed to not pay attention like the teacher thought he should. He’d do the activity, then run around, then go back and do what the teacher said. This seemed to really bother the teacher, but I don’t think he has any type of learning or attention span problem.
I try to make learning fun, but sometimes I want to say, “JUST FOCUS FOR A MINUTE AND FINISH!”
My first thought is: “3 years old is very young.” His behavior does not surprise me at all. I’m not sure where you are originally from; when we lived in Hong Kong for a semester I observed that different things were expected of children than they are in America. When we went to the library on Saturday mornings, when parents were off work, the tables were full of parents sitting with their young kids. But they weren’t reading; they were doing workbook pages!
I think it’s wonderful that you are going against the grain and not sending him to full time preschool. I would encourage you to make his learning activities short bursts of time (10-15 minutes) and read, read, read. Spend time outside when you can, engage with him, and let him learn and discover as he plays.
3. How long do you suggest teaching each day? My 4-year-old loves learning and participating in the activities and learning, but starts to get tired and doesn’t want to continue. Should I encourage her to keep going or just let her go at her own pace?
As for total time, I have to say that all my children at age four were able to do table work for 15-30 minutes before they’d had enough. I think it’s okay to say “Let’s just finish this one real quick,” but don’t push too hard. You don’t want to discourage your child, but finishing what you started (within reason) is good too.
Of course, you will be playing, reading, singing, and talking with your child throughout the day; these are learning activities too. We do not have a regular preschool schedule at our house, but that’s because we also have a toddler and infant, and I haven’t figured out how to manage it!
My goal is to do more structured learning with my four-year-old for his last year before kindergarten. When returning from taking his older siblings to school, I’ll read to him from a short chapter book or a stack of picture books. Later in the morning we’ll do a few activities from his learning box (see question #1). I will design these based on what he needs… usually printable emergent readers, word family activities, and math games.
4. What is an appropriate amount of time to teach kindergarten homeschool?
For a point of reference, my son will be attending morning kindergarten from 8:20-11:20. Even though the full day ends at 3:00 (I chose the half-day option), all academic learning is done in the morning.
When you consider all the extra time it takes to manage twenty children, I am sure you could get your teaching done in two hours a day, maximum. Included in that time could be your read aloud time, singing, art, etc.
5. I am just starting homeschool with my 5-year-old and am wondering how long to spend on each concept – like the color red, or the letter T.
The simple answer: You take as long as your child needs. If he knows it, extend his learning or skip it altogether. If he has trouble, spend more time on it.
This is why I advise against planning a very detailed schedule at the beginning of the year. An overview is great, but be ready to change your daily lessons as you see what your child needs to know.
If you have more specific questions as the year progresses, feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email.
6. In just starting out, how do you change your schedule to be more purposeful in getting the homeschool stuff done? How do you transition/restructure your free days to school? I am used to going to the gym and doing other errands. She just plays a lot, and that’s great, but whenever I want to do an activity other than she wants, we struggle. She thrives on structure, but how do you change the structure?
Great question! I am right there with you on the challenge of it, as I’d like to transition into more purposeful learning time with my four-year-old in his last year before kindergarten.
My #1 tip is to create new routines one at a time. For a week or so, start with a short table time after breakfast (or whatever works for you). Teach her how to transition to that every day. When she’s used to it, add something else, like read together time right after lunch. Later, you might add sensory play while you’re preparing supper, or a quiet looking at books during rest time.
For a four-year-old, you do not need a large block for preschool time unless you are doing it with other families.
Make those learning times peaceful and enjoyable. I really want to start a “we’re all writing together” time at our kitchen table with all four of my big kids. But how to do this after school when my older kids are tired and the baby might be fussing? I’ll let you know when I figure it out. 😉
7. What schedule do you recommend for 3-year-old preschool at home? My child will be three at the end of September. My friends and I are beginning an at-home preschool twice a week. We are wanting to focus on a letter each week. Can you suggest a schedule we should use? I start reading your posts, get overwhelmed, and don’t know where to start!
There are different ways to approach this. While many preschool teachers teach with themes, I think Letter of the Week can work very well with young preschoolers provided you are also incorporating the whole alphabet.
Here is a sample schedule:
9 AM. Circle time: Sing songs, read a book or two. You can choose songs from my Little Letter Books to go with a particular letter or just choose favorite songs and rhymes the kids will enjoy.
9:15 AM. Alphabet Lesson: On day one, Introduce a letter and give the children something fun to do with it – like putting bear counters on a giant letter B. On day two, do an art activity (like printing with bubble wrap) or a craft (like making a bird out of the letter B).
9:30 AM. Sensory Play / Centers: You might have sensory play (like making bubbles outside) or other preschool activities (blocks, etc.) in different parts of the room that children can choose from. As the kids are playing, integrate some basic math (have them count for you, etc.).
10:00 AM. Snack/ Free Play
10:30 AM. More books and a whole alphabet activity – Browse my Alphabet Activities Pinterest board for some great ideas for learning about the alphabet as a whole.
There’s nothing sacred about this schedule – try it and change it up as needed. I do advise using very few (if any!) printed worksheets with young 3-year-olds.
SENDING KIDS TO PRESCHOOL
8. Would you push a 3.8 year old into preschool if he’s still extremely attached to you and says he doesn’t want to go unless you wait for him by the door? He was extremely excited to go to his own school when his big sister started kindergarten, so we started 30 minute drop off care. First time was a complete disaster; he made himself sick while I was filling out paperwork in the office. The second time he went in with his sister during her spring break, but got very apprehensive when we told him it was time she and I left.
When I promised him a toy car if he stayed without us without crying, approximately 30 minutes, he waited quietly on a chair by the door. Now he says he doesn’t want to go back unless I’m outside the door.
I’m a kindergarten teacher, currently raising my kiddos, so he really doesn’t need to be there. I can take care of him and homeschool and support his social interactions through our playgroup. I know what I used to advise parents to do when I was teaching. But I would love to hear your advice.
My heart says, “Keep him home!” Since he does not need to be at preschool – particularly because you are home and well equipped to teach him – I think that’s where he belongs. I recommend The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child’s Inner Potential about how kids can get the best learning experience during preschool when they’re at home with their parents.
Kids are going to be in school for years and years! I think it’s great to avoid burnout before kindergarten.
9. I intend to home educate my two-year-old twin girls, and I can’t decide whether to send them to nursery or not. They had a taster day and absolutely loved it. I’d feel horrible depriving them of the opportunity, but at the same time I’m going to feel horrible when they want to go up to school with all their new friends and I pull them out. I really don’t know what to do.
My first thought is, “Keep your babies home!” They are so young at two years old, and they have so much to learn from you, their mother. If they are disappointed, they will get over it. (And they’re two – they probably won’t even remember!) Preschool is a personal choice for families; we’ve chosen not to send our children at all. But if we did, we would start when they were four.
You can do so many fun things with just the two of them that can surpass the fun they would have at school. Take them on little field trips, cook with them, and read (and read and read) to them. Browse my sensory play board for lots of fun ideas that will help them love being at home.
If you want to know more about why and how to teach preschool at home, I recommend The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child’s Inner Potential.
10. Suggestions, please, for calming three-year-olds on their first day of preschool. Thanks so much!
I don’t send my children to preschool, but I’ve seen some great posts about this from some wonderful preschool teacher blogs. Check out this post about separation anxiety on Pre-K Pages. It’s written for teachers, but will still be helpful. Fun-a-Day has this post for parents of preschoolers. And No Time for Flashcards has this post about easing separation anxiety with a DIY photo book.
WRITING THE ALPHABET
11. What do you recommend in regards to teaching upper/lower case? When my daughter was this age, she was taught all uppercase to begin with at her preschool. But I’m finding conflicting information on this approach.
There are a lot of opinions on this one; I really think you can do whatever you feel is right. Some early childhood teachers think you should start with lowercase because more words are written in lowercase and because (they believe) it’s hard to “unteach” writing in capitals.
I disagree because capital letters are generally easier to recognize and definitely easier to write. My own children learned their capitals first and quickly learned their lowercase before age 4 without a lot of direct teaching. We just pointed them out in books and their environment.
I love this post about teaching letters and sounds from This Reading Mama.
12. How important is it to focus on correcting handwriting mistakes in first grade (specifically letter formation and writing letters backward)?
As a former first grade teacher I would first say that pencil grip is very important at this age. In fact, I bought the best pencil grips for my students and put them on pencils that we got out for handwriting practice. After children develop a bad pencil grip at this age, it’s very hard to reverse it.
You do want children to be forming letters correctly by first grade, because this is very hard to unlearn, especially if they are doing a lot of writing, as we hope they would be. You might want to check out my handwriting pages. They would work very well for a first grade struggling with letter formation because they give more support than regular handwriting pages.
As for writing letters backward, just be gentle but persistent with correction. If a child has a whole paper with backward b’s, for example, I would have him practice it correctly a few times and leave it at that.
My Writing the Alphabet Pinterest board has a lot of ideas for teaching letter formation in a fun way.
TEACHING KIDS TO READ
13. Any advice for getting over the hump of sounding out individual letters to combining them into words? I’m a homeschool mom of a little boy, and we just started kindergarten (he’s a spring birthday who’s a little behind in verbal skills). He’s determined that he’s learning to read.
I wasn’t planning on bringing it up for at least another six months, but whatever. He’s trying, and he is so happy when he makes progress. We’ve got letter sounds down, and with the exception of the p/q and d/b he’s got letter recognition.
Sight words are no problem whatsoever. He’s starting to show more interest in the whole area of reading comprehension. But he doesn’t seem quite ready to go from sounding out individual letters to combining letters into meaningful words. Any advice or stuff to do while we wait for maturity to catch up to determination?
It sounds to me like you are doing everything right. In my own personal experience as a parent, this is a developmental skill that one day finally clicks. The fact that he is happy and excited about his progress means that you are taking this at his pace without pushing. That’s so important!
My most popular post is called 5 things kids need before they can “sound it out.” This might give you some more answers. Also see my answer to the next question.
14. How do you encourage a preschooler/kindergartner to blend letters into words? My son, ages 5 years 2 months, loves being read to and is always asking what words around him say. He knows his letters and sounds well, but has a complete block when I encourage him to blend them into CVC words. He seems to panic and then give up. I have tried putting the letters onto Legos, train carriages, simply using magnetic letters and play dough letters.
He can write and recognize his own name, and Mommy. I have tried to keep it low key and stress free and all a game. I tried Bob books, and he freaked out, saying he didn’t want us to read anymore! I have backed off numerous times for several weeks/months at a time. I first started trying to put the CVC words together in January this year, but met with some resistance. I backed off. Tried again in about April – same thing, tried again in June, same. Now I would like to try again but am nervous!
Great question! First, read the post I recommended to the previous reader, 5 things kids need before they can “sound it out.” If your child has all those things in hand, I would keep doing more of what you are doing, without pushing. He still has time!
About the Bob books… some people will disagree with me, but I think they are a bad first choice. My son (soon to be 6) is starting kindergarten. He is a very fluent reader, but when we started sounding out words I pulled out the Bob books and he couldn’t stand them. They are awkward and stilted because they limit their vocabulary. It was painful to listen to him try to read them, so we put them away.
Do you like apps? My Four likes Rhyme to Read, and it’s really starting to help (you have to use it on an iPad or iPad mini). We don’t use it often, because we severely limit screen time, but it has helped him get over the hump a bit (he is not fluent at CVC, but making progress). Word slider cards might also be helpful. My word family houses might be a little tough at first, but as he gets going he might enjoy them.
It really sounds like you are doing the right things – hang in there! It will be so exciting when it finally “clicks.”
15. Are there any REAL picture books that work well with very beginning readers?
As you’ve probably noticed, these are really hard to find in your library! What Do We Do All Day recently had a great post with some easy reader books that are truly easy. My favorite from her list is the Elephant and Piggie series (I read them just for myself!) Recently we found Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack, which my Four loves to read by himself.
PRIMARY RESOURCES FOR TEACHING HISTORY
16. What are good resources that people have found for teaching history from the point of view of the country they are learning about? The founding of America as told by native Americans and Europeans would be fascinating.
Teaching with primary sources is a great way to teach history! Check out this series of books from Scholastic – Primary Sources Teaching Kits, by Karen Baicker. I saw books for teaching about the explorers, colonial America, the Civil War, the westward movement, and immigration.
GETTING KIDS INTERESTED IN LEARNING
17. How can you help a first grader want to study more? (Especially a boy.)
If you are talking about doing homework that someone else assigns, this can be challenging. I would need a more specific question and advise you to speak with your child’s teacher.
If you are designing the lessons yourself, however, I would suggest making your lessons multi-sensory and incorporate the arts wherever you can. Thankfully I have two chapters in my e-book, Top 10 Secrets to Great Teaching, that will help you out. You’ll find practical ways to do these things and links to other helpful articles.
You can get the book for free by subscribing by e-mail.
HOMESCHOOLING IN GENERAL
18. At what age did you start homeschooling your children? Did you use a full curriculum or a pieced together curriculum from different resources?
As stated at the beginning of this post, I do not technically homeschool. But we do a lot of learning at home, particularly before kindergarten. I start doing more structured, at the table learning activities around age 2 1/2. This is very informal and just a few times a week. By age 3 we are starting to do more letter of the week activities, but not on a strict schedule. At age 4 we are starting basic reading with word families. My oldest two started to “click” with reading at about age 5. They were both reading fluently when they began kindergarten.
If I were to homeschool past preschool, I would create my own curriculum for some subjects and piece together things from different places. I am very leery of sticking to a prescribed curriculum for any subject, although some are better than others. If I see a scripted curriculum, I run in the other direction!
TEACHING WRITING AND SPELLING
19. What are your tips for teaching writing in a K-2 classroom?
One of my favorite subjects! I believe in a writing workshop approach. Begin writing time with a short lesson, and give the students a long period of uninterrupted writing time. When they finish a piece of writing, they start a new one, so that no one is “done” before the writing period is over. They continue where they left off the following day. Of course, this will look different for a kindergartner (who might write two words or a single sentence) and a second grader (who might write an entire story). (By the way, writing workshop does not use writing prompts!)
During the writing period, the teacher moves among the classroom talking with students about what they’re doing and what they might try next.
You’ll definitely want to read through my 10-part series for writing with preschool and kindergarten and the 12-part series for writing with first and second grade. This Reading Mama and I had a lot of fun collaborating on these!
20. I really like word studies for reading, phonics, and spelling. What order do you recommend? We started with sight words and are now working on CVC words. What should come next?
Do you have a copy of Words Their Way? Their index has a giant list of word sorts for word study in a recommended progression. It’s the order I use and love. After CVC words, mix them up (for example, sort words with an, in, and un). Then sort short vowel words ending with ck, then words ending with mp, nd, and nk; finally, words ending with sh. You’ll also want to sort short vowel words beginning with blends.
Words Their Way will help you take it from there; I couldn’t do without my copy!
21. What number of children has been most challenging for you? Going from 0 to 1, 1 to 2, etc?
I always say that going from 0 to 1 was the hardest! I had been teaching quite a few years, and the transition to staying home all day with my fussy baby girl was extremely difficult. I remember always feeling tired and like I had nothing intelligent to say. After I got through my postpartum depression and my daughter turned into a smiley toddler, it was much better.
As for other transitions, it all depended on the baby’s temperament. 2 to 3 was also very hard because our third baby cried nearly all the time and did not nurse well.
3-4 wasn’t bad (easy baby), and 4-5 has been a dream!
22. What toys keep 4-year-olds busy for a LONG time? What toys are good for a 4-year-old and 2-year-old to play with together?
It depends on the child, but my four-year-old loves legos. My daughter (now seven) would stay busy for an hour or more with a box of books. If you give some children a box of paper, glue, scraps, and scissors they can stay busy for quite a while.
If you have the patience for it and the willingness to clean up, sensory play can keep kids very busy. If you get a tiny plastic baby pool and have the rule that sensory play (like dry oats, corn kernels, etc.) stays IN the pool, you can keep a child busy a long time. And two children can easily fit! Browse my sensory play Pinterest board for lots of ideas
My own kids love getting out the box of winter coats, hats, and scarves. If they have access to a mirror they will stay busy for a long time!
Another tip is to try play dough at the table. There are so many more things to do than just getting out a ball of dough. I collect the ideas I find on my Play Dough Pinterest board.
23. You have five kids but can still manage creating and managing your blog! How do you do it? I only have two kids and am pregnant for my third. I’m busy the whole day – I can’t finish housework, washing, cleaning, cooking, and teaching, yet I have fewer kids than you. How do you manage it?
I had to share this question because I get it all the time, and I want all of you to know that I can’t manage all of these things either! My blog is just a piece of my life. I love it because it’s beautiful (thanks to my lovely designer!) and organized and clean. The rest of my life isn’t that way!
I’m always behind on laundry, the kitchen piles up, and I am continually trying to balance time spent on this blog with giving my kids the attention they need and deserve.
I love, love, love creating, sharing, and writing here, so I make time for it in every spare moment. If I ever find the secret for balancing it all, I’ll write a blog post about it! But don’t hold your breath. 😉
In the meantime, you can read this post where I give the full truth: Confessions of a Mom Blogger!
If you have any further questions (or I accidentally missed yours), add a comment below!
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