How to Plan Using Themes for Tots and Preschoolers

How to Plan Using Themes

I don’t always have a theme going on, but I often base Tot School, Preschool, and Kindergarten activities around a theme. I am going to share a bit about how I organize my thoughts, our stuff, and our week within a theme. This post is more for those moms who are feeling a bit lost and just need some simple direction. If you already use themes in your homeschool, I doubt you will learn anything new ~ I could probably learn from you!

Before I begin, please know that it is totally OK if you don’t do theme based learning with young kids.  I did very little of this with PacMan, and he has turned out just fine!  I think we homeschool moms can tend to go overboard sometimes, and feel the need to do it all.  I struggle with this too and need to remind myself that my simple presence as their mom and teacher is more important than any theme we ever do!  That being said, I do enjoy our themes and so do my kids.  We all think it is fun, so it works for us right now during this season of life!


~ How I Choose Themes ~

Themes in our homeschool are usually chosen one of two ways.  First, I will develop a school theme around a particular interest my child has.  A few examples of this in action are below…

The second way I choose themes is based around seasons or holidays.


~ How I Plan for the Theme ~

Once I have decided on the theme, I gather all of my own items, which includes:

  • Sensory Bin items {we don’t always have a sensory bin, but often I do include one for theme weeks}
  • Special toys {animals, games, etc.} that go along with the theme
  • Printables
  • Books IMG_0668

After I gather what I already have I begin searching online for what is new, mainly in the area of printables.  I create a Pinterest board for the theme and record all of my findings, whether I use them or not.  Using the Angry Birds theme as an example, here is my idea collection board. I try to keep my Pinterest Boards alphabetized in the theme section, so you can easily find my ideas.  This way when I go back to blog about anything, I can easily find links to share when we used things others have created.

I do not print an entire printable pack.  I usually will only print a few pages specific to the interests/abilities of my child. 

I utilize notebooks to save on printing and laminating.  I will put together a notebook with printables.  Printables that can be used with dry erase markers are slipped into heavy weight sheet protectors.  Consumable printables are 3 hole punched and placed in the notebook also, so I don’t forget what I have. Below is a photo of her Fall Theme notebook…

Fall Tot School-3310

 

I get my new themes set up for the kids on Sunday evening, so that is my final night of prep and set up.  By that point it is fairly easy to pull out and set up everything I have gathered.  Here are a few photos of theme set ups, the beauty only lasts for a few seconds on Monday morning, the rest of the week it is always a bit chaotic.  I enjoy the organized set-up and display! I do NOT always do an elaborate set-up for a theme, it is certainly not necessary at all.  Ladybug really enjoys the display so I will do it for her if I have the energy!

All photos are linked to the blog post they came from. Our shelf is from Ikea {Trofast}.

IMG_0659 IMG_4738

IMG_5091 IMG_8361

Pumpkin Tot School-3446 Thanksgiving Theme Tot School-4075



~ How I Organize the Stuff ~

Along with themes comes a lot of stuff; books, sensory bin items, special toys/games, and of course printables! When certain themes are not in use, the stuff is sorted so I can find it easily. 

Printables are stored using this methodStoring Theme Printables

 

Books are sorted using this methodBook Storage

 

Extra stuff, including small toys, animals, and more are stored in labeled bins.  Although, some things that are played with on a regular basis, are sorted within their regular toys so I have to remember to dig things out. Here are a couple of my bins, which are stored in our storage room.  You can see our homeschool storage room here, and here.

IMG_7044 IMG_7047

I store seasonal themes in bigger bins, with the book boxes alongside.  Here is a shot of my storage shelves for the season themes…

IMG_7034


~ A Few FAQ ~

Do you use everything you print, or set up out for a theme?

NO!  I almost always have more than we use.  If my young child isn’t interested, we skip certain things.  I do my best to print and create activities my child will enjoy, but sometimes I am wrong.  I believe in child-led exploration and learning during the younger years, so even though I may fill her trays and notebook with many activities, it is OK if she only chooses to do a few. 

What about “normal” school during a theme?

Usually I just throw in a theme along with whatever curriculum/program we are using.  There are times I will take a break from regular curriculum and just do a theme.  I don’t have any set rule for this, I just go with the flow.

What about multiple ages?  What do your other kids do when a theme is planned specifically for 1 child?

I do my best to include the other kids in a theme as much as possible.  PacMan joins in with special games, and also loves sensory bin play! If a theme is for Krash {such as Angry Birds} I find ways to included the other 2 in the play/learning time too. Same is true when ladybug has a special theme, such as Doc McStuffins.  We all played doctor the animals together!  I usually focus my theme efforts around one child {age}, and then will add in a couple of extras for the others.


Be sure to visit iHomeschool Network to see more Homeschool Planning posts!

homeschool-planning-lamp



The Best Seat in the House

Ahh Bean Bag Chairs

AHH Bean Bag Chairs {Ahh Products} have been a part of our life for a few years now!  I wrote a bean bag chair review back in 2010, when we were first introduced! We currently own 3 bean bag chairs, and they are each used daily.  If you follow my blog, you see them in tons of homeschooling pictures!  Be sure to read my full review here, if you are looking for even more details, this review is an update now that we have owned them for a couple of years.

Bean Bag Chair

Because my children use these beanbags not only as places to snuggle and sit, but also as jumping pads, they have had to be refilled. Jade from AHH Products has really helped me understand this and why jumping on them will flatten them out and just sitting will leave them feeling fuller.  Bean Bag Chair

So, I will say, if you have kids who you think will use these for fun, you should expect to refill them in the future.  Jade assured me that when they are used for sitting only, the air in the Styrofoam pellets doesn’t compress and flatten out as much.

Bean Bag Chair

Jade told me her daughter has a 37” bean bag and has had it for 5 years and it has never been refilled, but she only uses it for sitting!  My kids most certainly use ours for active play.  For us, this is great, and the refill is worth it.  They are pieces of furniture for us, but also are durable enough to withstand the craziness of our kids.

Bean Bag Chair

Also, I must share that 2 of our bean bags have been urinated on by our cat, and you would never know.  The covers slipped right off and the waterproof liner protected it as it said it would.  The cuddle fabric we have washed up beautifully and still looks brand new.

Bean Bag Chair

Some specific info on the bean bags from www.ahhprods.com ~

  • Cover, Liner, and Filling: nothing else to buy
  • Zip-off, machine-washable cover
  • Covers made of high quality fabrics, including "true" 14 ounce denims
  • Water-repel, stain-resist liner made of extremely strong microfiber that holds the filling
  • Refillable liners have child-resistant self-locking zippers
  • Double-stitched seams on covers and liners, will not break
  • Hidden seams for finished look preferred by professional decorators
  • Made in Virginia, USA
  • 10 year warranty, will last years beyond that
  • Exceeds U.S. flammability standards
  • Choice of regular or virgin bead Styrofoam filling for what you expect a bean bag to feel like
  • $25 refill discount for AHH bean bag owners only
  • 365-day no-hassle return policy
  • Shipping included



Curriculum Choices 2012-2013

Homeschool Curriculum

Finally, my updated 2012-2013 Curriculum post! See other curriculum posts here:

See our new Weekly Wrap-Up posts here where I share more about what our group time together looks like, as well as a peek into Krash and PacMan’s homeschool life!


Back to School 2012-1043

Ladybug ~ Tot School, age 3 1/2

Back to School 2012-1059Krash ~  1st, age 6

Back to School 2012-1070PacMan ~ 5th Grade, age 10

Back to School 2012-1030 Family

FAQ ~

I heard your boys are enrolled in a cyber school, how does this work?

Yes, they are and we have a VERY unique situation.  We are enrolled in a cyber school but we traditionally homeschool just like someone using Calvert who bought it from their site.  The only difference is that my kids get their supplies, curriculum, computer, printer, and MUCH support for free.  We are so incredibly blessed to have this option, it is working for us right now.  I teach them every single subject, and we use traditional Calvert texts and books…hardly anything is done online for my boys-except fun games and such we have access to.  This is another perk for us we have free access to: First in Math, Study Island, Let’s Go Learn, Brain Pop, and more.  These sites are amazing.

If you are wondering what state we live in, you can email me privately.  I just don’t publicly share the name of our specific school and location online.  Let me emphasize that all sates are different and ALL cyber schools are different.  I personally do not know ANYONE else who has a situation like mine {except a few who are enrolled in my particular cyber school}, most are much more controlled from what I have heard.  Here is a place on Calvert’s website that allows you to seek out using Calvert with a partner school in your state.

Would you use Calvert even if you didn’t get it for free through your state? 

I am not sure.  I do love it, but I think I would look into something like Sonlight or My Father’s World ~ with a more Christian backbone.  I have heard great things about those.  I also think Mystery of History and many products from Bright Ideas Press look awesome.  I would probably piece together subject by subject, although the box curriculum approach is really nice and works for us.  So, maybe I would stick with Calvert, maybe not.  I honestly don’t know!  I have NO problems with Calvert, and it has served us well since PacMan’s PreK year.  I specifically have really enjoyed Calvert from grade 2 on, which is the beginning of where I am not as comfortable teaching!  I absolutely love Calvert this year {5th grade} and am really benefitting from the box approach in a grade I am so uncomfortable teaching!

Why are you using All About Reading for Krash if Calvert has a good reading program within it?

Honestly-I got AAR to review and decided to review it fully to help my blog readers.  I do not need a program to teach reading, I have done it with hundreds of children and it just comes naturally for me {I am a former Kindergarten teacher for any new readers}.  Something I truly love.  I followed Calvert’s program with Pac, but still basically did my own thing, which is what I have done with Krash too.  BUT, I get tons of questions from moms who tell me that teaching reading does not come naturally for them!  They want me to recommend a program and up until now I couldn’t since I had no experience with any homeschool reading program {other than Calvert}.  I can’t recommend Calvert’s reading program separately {it is great, but it only comes with the complete box curriculum}. When given the opportunity to review AAR Level 1, I jumped at the chance, knowing this would give me the experience I needed to give my readers an opinion on this reading program-which so far is amazing and definitely what I recommend!  I used All About Spelling Levels 1 & 2 with Pac and loved it.  We went to AAS when he began struggling early on.  He has now went back to the Calvert spelling program and does fine. Our great experience with All About Spelling led me to want to review All About Reading.

Will you enroll Ladybug in the cyber school when she is in PreK?

Probably not, I am thinking of taking PreK-1st and doing it myself for her.  But, that may change and we may enroll her if Calvert is still available.  Being a former K teacher, I just really, really enjoy doing my own things for these lower grades!

Will you always homeschool?

We believe in making this decision on a year-by-year, kid-by-kid basis.  We had no idea we would ever be homeschoolers, so we realize that we have no clue what God has in store for our family.  For now, we cannot imagine not homeschooling, and are very thankful to have been led here.

Are you against public/private school?

Absolutely NOT!  I believe that the decision of schooling needs to be made by individual families based on so many different circumstances.  I NEVER thought we would homeschool, but now am so glad we do {although it was very rough for me the first year}.  Some homeschooling families need to go back to group education for various reasons or during different seasons of life and who knows-that may be us one day.  I know the Lord will guide us each year in making this decision and I trust He guides families individually in this area. 

Why do you homeschool?

Honestly we started because of the area we live in.  We are inner city missionaries living in one of America’s toughest neighborhoods and the schools aren’t anything to jump for joy about.  We looked into private school but it just wasn’t in the budget, and it wasn’t something we really felt called to.  We have fellow missionaries on our team who homeschool and even though at first I thought they were a bit nuts-ha ha, I now adore them and the knowledge they have shared with me.  Although the decision to homeschool was made due to circumstances, we now feel we would continue even if we had the opportunity to send our kids to a great public school.

Do you have a daily schedule or routine? How do you “do it all”?

Updated: See our A Day in Our Homeschool Series Here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 {part 4 coming eventually}.

Loosely, yes…but we seem to work better being a bit more flexible.  We know what we need to accomplish and we usually do that-but we tend to go with the flow more since Ladybug often has sassy attitude problems and throws our mornings off a bit.  We school intensely each afternoon while she naps…even if she doesn’t sleep she is in her bed from at least 1-3:00.  This afternoon quiet time is vital to our day!

We try to keep a basic outline of a routine…Calendar Notebooks first thing, Pac upstairs to accomplish independent work while I play with the little 2 {focusing on Ladybug for at least 30 minutes each morning}.  Snack, recess, lunch… Then nap for L-bug and individual school for the boys.  We usually finish up all school around 3pm each day.  In the middle of it all we fit everything in somehow!

We still use a lesson plan blog for PacMan, and Krash is pretty easy going with following my lead for school, so we don’t have a super cool plan, we just get things done.  I now categorize Pac’s blog by colors {green-independent, blue-possibly need help, red-with mom}. It is SO easy and we both love it.

It is hard for me…the whole schedule thing.  We have good and bad days.  We have on and off-routine days.  We get things done most of the time and then there are days when I let the little 2 watch too many “educational” DVDs.  There are days I adore being with my kids all day long and days I wish I could bury my head in the pillow and not emerge for hours, or possibly days!  If you are struggling with creating a routine/schedule that works…know you are not alone.  I have been at this homeschooling things for 5 years now and I still struggle.  We get through yes-but it is still a struggle for me.  I often get asked how I “do it all” and I wrote a post about that here if you’ve wondered my thoughts on this topic.  The post is older but still applies!


If you have any other general questions about our curriculum, please leave in the comments below and I will do my best to add the answers to this list!



Tot School is Delayed…

We are away camping and get to stay an extra day, so Tot School will post Monday evening sometime, after we get home!  We are busy having loads of fall camping fun!

©www.1plus1plus1equals1.net ©www.1plus1plus1equals1.net

If you want to see more of our trip, I tend to Instagram a lot…it’s my way of “blogging” vacations for my personal family blog!  Makes the recap posts so much easier, plus allows the grandparents to see the action as it is happening!  You are welcome to follow along {1plus1plus1} too if you use Instagram!



Another New Addition

We are officially crazy.  We went out to get shoes and came home with a puppy.  Yup, we live crazy like that.  Meet our new baby…

New Puppy-2580

After our doggie passed away about 6 months ago, we knew we would eventually get another dog, but had planned to wait a couple of years. 

New Puppy-2625

Well, plans changed.

New Puppy-2642

Honestly, plans changed because of the kids.  Especially my big kid.  He wanted another dog SO badly.  Waiting 2 more years began to seem silly.  All of the reasons we were waiting would still be there in 2 years {puppy raising/training stuff mostly}.

New Puppy-2656

So this sweet girly is now ours.  She is a long haired Dachshund, the kind we had always dreamed of getting.  Her ears feel exactly the way I always imagined.  She doesn’t have a name, but the most recent vote was Sweenie, short for “Super Weenie".  I am also gathering suggestions here on my Facebook page, I love hearing all of the great ideas! 

New Puppy-2674

Sunday is usually my homeschool planning day {which thankfully I had gotten done on Sat night} and blog post scheduling day and instead it was get-a-puppy-day.  My whole life is gonna be a bit off {just what I needed, I truly am nuts} for a bit, having a new puppy is a lot of work.  Life will settle though, and when I snuggle those silky ears and look into those sweet eyes, it will all be worth it!