Behind the Scenes ~ Where do I Begin?

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I get this question a lot, the one from a mom trying to do the best for her tot, but feeling a tad bit overwhelmed when she stumbles upon my site and others geared towards educating tots at home. Thankful for the info, but still overwhelmed. This particular mom put it nicely…

“I just feel like a tiny ant with a huge mountain of information and ideas dumped on top of me!!”

This post is for her and any others who feel that way…hopefully to help you navigate through the mountain of ideas dumped before you!!!

The mountain IS big, but that doesn’t mean you need to climb to the top right now, hanging out at the bottom with a few good ideas is just fine…slowly climbing as you feel less overwhelmed.

I too feel overwhelmed sometimes and honestly when the idea of Tot School first hit me, I overwhelmed myself, trying to put my thoughts all in order. Sure I had the early childhood education, I knew the right and wrong ways to teach a young child, but I was still a mom with a tot-trying to do my best for him.

First things first, if you are new to my site or to Tot School, please know that I am not perfect. My long time readers are aware of that fact and have often comforted me through my “I’m such a bad Mommy” times. I am not a bad mommy, and I am not a perfect mommy, I am mommy-just like you. My blog may make it appear that things like Tot School run perfectly in our house-but let me assure you-we have most if not all of the same stumbling blocks that you do.

Go here and read this post if you have never seen it. It gives a minute by minute account of a Tot School hour in our house. Krash was 27 months old when I wrote it and as you will see he was screaming in protest within the first 5 minutes!!!

After you see that, then go here and read through my Tot School FAQ page. Be sure to read the part about my beliefs on educating young children. I am certainly not claiming my way is the right way but it is good for you to know what I believe. These beliefs are what guide my decisions for every Tot School decision I make.

Now that you’ve read both of those, let’s talk about what YOU are going to do to get going with Tot School at your house. Here’s a few recommendations for you, that can hopefully help you climb that mountain slowly and feel more confident as a teacher-mom.

  • Make a List! Get a note pad and a pen and go around your house and find every toy that you already own that could be used for exposing early learning skills (this will be most toys if you think hard enough!). What skills you ask? Go here to this post to see the checklists I provide to give you some ideas. None of these skills are skills a tot HAS to learn, they are just skills to be exposed-key word-EXPOSED. Do not feel you need to teach your tot-you really are just playing with a purpose!
  • Now, go here and look through my Tot School Tools Store and see if you already own any of these and forgot to list them, and if there are a few that really stand out to you-write a list of your “I hope to own” tools. But don’t go buying anything yet unless you have gobs of money to spare. You can also go here to see my Behind the Scenes post on storing our Tot School Tools, to see more ideas of toys that can be tools, and answers to some other common Tot School questions.
  • In order to keep things simple, let’s stop here. Look at the first list you made and select 5 toys you think your tot would enjoy playing with-WITH you. Try to choose things s/he hasn’t played with in awhile or ever…to peak his/her interest. For example’s sake let’s say you choose these foam blocks

Here’s what I would do to purposefully play with my tot…

  • Sit on the floor with him.
  • Show him the blocks. If he dives right in, let him and just sit back and watch him explore without teaching anything or even saying much. (If he doesn’t dive right in but just waits for you, begin stacking or lining them…inviting him to join you.)
  • After he has explored on his own for a bit, join in with him, by doing whatever it was that he was doing (stacking, scattering, lining them up, etc.) Start using purposeful language as you play…” Look at this pretty PURPLE block,” “oooh I see an A on this one,” I am putting the RED one on top of the BLUE one.” Just your simple phrases are teaching your tot SO much.
  • Now try to show your tot how to do something different with the blocks. If he was stacking, why don’t you try lining. If he is resistant to you, try lining them up next to him while he still stacks. Then just invite him to join you.
  • Add something else into your play-maybe a toy car to drive along the line of blocks you made.
  • Maybe get an empty laundry basket and toss the blocks into the basket.
  • Hide some blocks around the room and go find them, announcing the color each time he finds one.
  • The opportunities are endless with just this one toy…. this is why I said you don’t need to go buy new toys-you just need to think deeper and use the ones you already have!!!
  • Here’s the kicker to this whole process, especially if your tot is on the younger end, STOP when he loses interest. You can try to re-engage with a new addition (like the basket or the little car). But when he’s done-he’s done. Let him wander off, and be done. Forcing Tot School (purposeful play with your tot) on him isn’t going to do either of you any good.

Each day, try to purposefully play with your tot like this-using the same toys if s/he really loves them, or bringing out something different each day. If something doesn’t work, have a back up ready to go. That’s why I said to have 5 in mind when you begin. It is frustrating when your great tot school ideas are rejected by your tot-but don’t let the frustration last for long! Just try another toy and keep playing!

Now, for a bit more of the Tot School mountain….

  • I recommend going to my most recent Tot School posts and glancing through the list of moms linked up. They are all putting the ages of their tot(s) in ( ) now. Find a few blogs that show tots that are within a couple of months of the age of your tot. Visit their blogs and glance through some of their recent Tot School posts. You don’t even have to read them, just glance at the photos-I promise you’ll be filled with ideas in just a few minutes! If you like a blog, be sure to add it to your blog reader. If you don’t know what a blog reader is, go here to read that post.
  • Please remember that ALL TOTS ARE DIFFERENT, even if the ages are similar. Not everything that works for one will work for another. Don’t let that frustrate you!!!
  • If you have your own blog, start recording your Tot School adventures and start linking up. More about that can be found here!

As you slowly climb the mountain, begin exploring the following ideas as you feel less overwhelmed. Don’t try to do this all at once, your tot just needs YOU. Each new thing you add is just a bonus.

If your tot is almost 3 or over 3, you might want to read this-which is my post about transitioning from Tot School into Pre K.

In summary-in case you now feel even more overwhelmed after reading all of that…here’s the basics…

  1. make a list of tot school tools you already own
  2. choose 5 to purposefully play with, with your tot
  3. sit and play with your tot, exposing early learning skills
  4. find other moms online who have tots the same age as yours
  5. expand slowly to include more ideas into your Tot School
  6. remember that your tot needs YOU, not stuff…give your tot purposeful play time with you each day…that’s Tot School!

Have fun!

Behind the Scenes ~ Transitioning from Tot School

Behind the Scenes ~ Transitioning from Tot School to Preschool

Krash has recently turned 3, which means it is time to begin the slow transition from child-led Tot School to Mommy-led school. This is not an easy transition and one I struggled greatly with when homeschooling my oldest son during Pre K. Let me begin this post by saying that every idea I present in this post might fail!!! I have not managed this transition successfully in the past and Krash will be the first child I will have completely Tot-Schooled at home and then brought up into PreK. Pac Man attended a 2 day per week pre-school when he was 3 and that accounted for much of our problem with Pre K. Most of it was him missing “Going School” as he called it. So, as you read, please know that these are just my ideas, not my stories of success!

My long term plans for Krash…

  • Krash turned 3 in May 2009. I plan to begin a more formal Pre K program with him in the fall of 2010, when he is about 4 1/2. This is when Pac Man began Pre K and we moved at his pace, I plan to do the same with Krash. I do not push my kids, however I love that homeschooling allows them to move at their own academic pace.

My plan for the next year leading up to Pre K…

  • My plan is to slowly transition Krash from being the leader of school into being more of the teacher-led student. I do not un-school (I personally think it’s neat I just could never handle it myself!), therefore I believe we need to make this transition.
  • I say SLOWLY as I do not want to squash his love for school and learning.
  • If you read my FAQ page about tot school, you will see a long version of what I believe about educating young children. I will still believe this as he goes through this next year and even in the next couple of years, but there will be more teacher-led learning along the way!
My beliefs behind the transition period and how I plan to do it…
  • I am one of those “pick your battle” type of moms. I will fight the big battles in discipline and I will win. I love the quote from Dr. Dobson’s book, The New Dare to Discipline… “when you are defiantly challenged, win decisively.” Basically that we don’t have to engage in every disciplinary battle but when we do choose to engage, we, the parent, MUST win the battle. If we do not-it begins a path of destruction to the child’s idea of who is really in charge. I firmly believe that God is in control of my life and He has placed me as the earthly parent of his children. Although I do not fully understand God’s ways and probably will always fail-I am always trying to be the type of parent God desires me to be. They are after all, HIS children.
  • All that said, I believe this applies with the transition I speak of. I will slowly introduce me as the lead teacher(and decision maker) in small ways.

Some practical ideas for the transition…

    • Already I have begun to expect Krash to complete a puzzle when he begins one. He often likes to do half and I used to let him. Now, I am expecting him to complete what he starts. He battles with me at times, but I remain firm-he always finishes the puzzles now-even if it is with my hand guiding his and him screaming at me :). Below are 2 examples of puzzles he did not choose and did not want to complete…at first. After I convinced him they were fun, he became engaged. He did NOT want to complete the ABC puzzle, but I required him to. Afterwards he felt a great sense of success as we high-fived!!!

  • If he is doing a tray activity, I require him to clean up the tray. I do NOT require him to stay with the tray long-if he’s not interested after a few seconds, that’s fine. I AM requiring him to clean it up. We have always worked on cleaning up, but now it is being enforced all the more.
  • If an activity has a clear ending point, I will begin to enforce following through until it is completed.

 

What are some ways I am NOT transitioning yet…

  • Activities like bead stringing, lacing, drawing, Play-Doh, and others that don’t have a definitive ending point, I am still letting him be the leader with. An example is pictured below. When he said he was done with the stickers, he was done and that’s fine with me!
  • I am not transitioning in the area of choosing activities yet, I am still letting him choose from the activities being offered on his shelf. On the shelf below, I really wanted him to work with the abc beanbags, he did not choose them yet and it has been over a week. I took them off for this week and will try again later!I will sometimes ask if he wants to do a particular thing and show him how, but I will back off if he’s not interested.
  • Gradually as the year progresses this will change.

YOUR tot…

We are all at differing stages of tot-hood, as the age range I suggest- 12-47 months- is a very wide one. It is also a wide developmental range. Please keep this in mind as you read through the ideas of others. I have asked Tot School participants to put their tot’s current age in ( ) after their post on the Linky-I hope this helps you when you are surfing for ideas. Also, please remember that even though specific ages are often given, ALL tots are different. Here’s some general thoughts about Tot-Schooling during this period.

  • The 12 month tots…you are transitioning into Tot School, very slowly. It is basically what you’ve been doing ALL along-playing with your baby. Your own mind just becomes more intentional as you make sure you play each and every day with a variety of toys. This transition will gradually become more and more focused as the year goes on. Keep two words in mind-FOCUS and FUN. Just become more focused while having fun with your young tot.
  • The 24 month tots…this is the heart of tot school time in my opinion. It is the true child-led portion for most tots. This is the stage we have been in the past year and I have posted the most about.
  • The 36 month tots… This is the stage I am writing about in this post-the tots who are spending their year preparing for Pre K. Some tots will need longer than a year to be ready for a more formal Pre K, some will be ready before they are 4. My beliefs regarding readiness are very simple. The child must be ready both academically and emotionally. I believe Krash will be ready academically long before he is ready emotionally. With Pac Man it was the opposite. Every child is different and that’s the glory of homeschooling, we can meet our kids where they are at!

I know my own personal beliefs may not jive with yours, we all have them and they are rarely the exact same! I share my thoughts in case someone can glean some insight from them. Again, I am not saying my way is right, or even works…it’s just the route I plan to take! I will keep you updated as we continue on our journey!

Then-I will begin all over again as my little girl will be turning 1 right when Krash is turning 4! Tot School is no where near over for us!

 

Behinds the Scenes ~ Blog /Web Surfing, Organizing Ideas

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I am obviously online a lot, and I get asked often what I use to help simplify my online life! This post is dedicated to sharing that with you!

BLOGS…

First, if you are reading more than 5 blogs per day I HIGHLY recommend using a blog reader. If you are unfamiliar with this, I recommend learning it (not difficult at all), as it will make your blog surfing much easier and more time efficient! I have used Google Reader (with iGoogle also-I still use Google Calendar though)) and Bloglines, and I have now recently switched everything back to Bloglines, it is my personal favorite.

My favorite things about it is the little notifier I have on my desktop, it’s like an email notifier, so I always know if any of my subscribed blogs have updated.

I often skim through blogs in Bloglines and then when one strikes me, or there’s one I want to leave a comment on, I will open it up on the actual blog to remind myself I want to read that one further. I do that after I have sifted through Bloglines for the day- then the ones that I have opened are there for me to go back to before I am done!

I currently have 63 feeds coming in and obviously I do not have time to visit all of these blogs everyday. Bloglines only shows me NEW posts for that day! If I see an IDEA I like that’s where my next recommendation comes in…

ONLINE IDEAS…
Before I go any further I want to thank Alicia for sharing this with me last week, as I am new to it and already in LOVE! Evernote is the solution (for me at least) to organizing ideas I find online.
I am a very visual person and because of this my favorites bookmarks have gotten out of control, as I can’t remember why I put something in there, even if it is well labeled. The visual cue that Evernote provides is the answer for me!!!

The basic idea is that you “clip” a portion of a blog, or site (even straight from Bloglines) and send it to your Evernote account! It is so easy, fast, simple and AMAZING!

I am not going into a tutorial of how it works, but I promise with a bit of time YOU can figure it out! If you have ?s you can certainly see their FAQ page or contact their support. Here’s a bit of what I have learned and how I am using it so far…

Here’s a screen shot of a couple of my sections so far, the first is entitled “Homeschooling Ideas to MAKE” for all of those ideas I see online (mainly in blogs) that I am not ready to make yet but want to refer back to. In this image, you can see the little photos, and underneath is the blog/post name, and LINK back to it!!! They are also each individually tagged for even further organization. Here’s an example…I like the idea I found on Story Time and More. It is in my Homeschool Ideas folder, but also tagged with: colors, book ideas, Eric Carle. So if I wanted to find all things tagged about colors it would show up there too!

Here’s a screen shot of my “Tot Tray Ideas” folder…
Any time I come across a blog/site with a good idea for a Tot Tray I put it in this folder and then label it with tags too.

THE PRINTED STUFF…

Here’s my current homeschool binders…

  • Tot School: I keep his assessment sheets, master list of Tot School toys/tools we own, Tot Tray stuff, idea sheets, and more. Basically anything that is hand written about tot school is in here.
  • Pac Man’s Lesson Plans (in it I file the old ones, and keep the new ones, as well as blank sheets for planning). His current weekly plan is stored in a tray thing on our school table, the notebook is mainly for storage of plans we’re not currently using.
  • File Folders games/Matching Boards (both K and P’s are in a big 3 inch one now, probably will have to divide them soon)
  • SOTW (Story of the World) papers: Pac has one notebook to put his completed SOTW pages into.
  • Old Testament Overview: Pac also has one special notebook just for his Bible work.
  • Pac Man’s Stories

Right now that’s all I have. I do NOT print anything in advance, I only print things when I plan to use it. That’s why I love Evernote. I do not print lapbooking materials until right before we begin that particular lapbook. I only print worksheets I like or printed cards/activities I like, if I plan to use them that week. If they are not for immediate use-they get filed in Evernote. I hate wasting paper and having tons of it everywhere.

I am NO expert in this field (you should see my desk right now!!!!), and have learned about everything mentioned in this post from other wonderful moms online!!! If you have ideas, please share them in the comments below!

Behind the Scenes ~ Saving $$ on Supplies

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Not sure if this post will be of help to any of you, but I thought it might be so I decided to write it up. My thoughts were that we homeschoolers use a lot of office type supplies and obviously school supplies, and paying for these adds up! If my experience can help even one of you, it’s worth it to me to write up the post!

I have been a loyal Office Depot shopper for years now and without a doubt shopping with them saves me TONS of money and allows me to be able to order many special homeschooling supplies. I have heard other people who shop exclusively at Staples, or Office Max, but I personally have used Office Depot. What I will recommend is sticking with one office supply store, you will reap the rewards of being a loyal customer, I promise!

Here’s why… (I will be speaking only of OD, although these same things probably apply to the others)

  • Office Depot provides FREE shipping if your order is more than $50 (to most areas). We always wait until we need $50 worth of supplies before we order. AND it is delivered the next day!!! We actually JUST got an order at our door TODAY!
  • Hot Offers (2.15 - 2.21)

  • They have a Worklife Rewards program, that tracks our sales and gives us rewards for the amount we spend each quarter. This is where store-loyalty pays off-we received $69.27 for 2008 in rewards money. These rewards come quarterly in the form of a gift card, I just turn around and type in the code for our next order and it takes that amount off!
  • They track my past purchases in “My Account” on their website so re-ordering things we run out of is VERY easy.
  • They send me valuable coupons in the mail, constantly. I always use a coupon, that usually takes a significant amount off of my purchase. For example, the coupon I just used on my order that arrived today was for $21.55 off of a $100 purchase! That’s a great one! Sometimes we get free gifts (which a few we have actually liked and still use), and other times it is for different percentages off of certain amounts.
  • NO, I do not work for Office Depot-I just really like their store, products, and service!!!

A few of the things I order regularly from Office Depot to help me with homeschooling and more :)

Other School Supplies…

I do a majority of my shopping at Office Depot throughout the year, but I do some major stock-up during Back-To-School shopping time (Jul-Sept). The BEST place I have found for this is Staples, and their 1 cent deals. This is where we get our pencils, folders, binders, and MANY more items for the year. Start watching for these deals to begin in July, and they change them up each week.

I also love Target’s Back-To-School section, which always has some neat items that are hard to find the rest of the year. The best example: our tot trainer scissors, I can’t seem to find them anywhere now, and I got them last year during BTS time at Target!

Dollar Tree has a little school section, with teacher items too, sometimes I hit the jackpot there. If you’ve never found this section at your Dollar Tree, be sure to look for it! The $1 section at Target often rotates out different school items too, always worth walking through, especially at season change times-if you’re lucky enough to hit the half price days!

I also shop at Costco for some of our supplies. The best thing I have found there that are much better priced are: 3 ring binders (I use all sizes of these for organizing many different things), they have a whole aisle of office/school supplies and change them up often. Sometimes you can find GREAT deals there!

What about non-office related supplies?

If we’re shopping for books, the best places I have found are:

The first 2 you are all probably familiar with but just in case you haven’t heard of LES, you should certainly check it out. You have to be a member to shop there, but you will find incredible deals on books you can’t even find elsewhere-they are a wholesale company. My best examples are my science series books, we LOVE these books and I snatch up the sets when they put them on sale (I am talking deep sale, it’s amazing). As for CDB, I shop there a LOT. They do charge shipping but it is always very reasonable. When ordering a book, I will usually check a few sources to get my best price and for me it usually ends up being one of these places.

Honestly, I order just about everything else that is a puzzle, game, toy, etc. from Amazon. I ONLY buy things under their free-shipping option, and always search around for the best price. If I am not ordering online, I will use AC Moore or Michaels (especially for Melissa and Doug Tot School stuff) and get one at a time with their weekly 40% or 50% off coupons. I obviously also stock up on craft/art supplies this way too, saving the bigger ticket items for use with coupons and hitting the moonlight madness sales (usually 25% off your whole purchase) to get the little things. If you don’t already, be sure to get on the mailing list of these stores in your area, that way you’ll get email reminders of the current weekly sales and you can check your ever growing wish list compared to their sales!

If you have some great advice for stocking up on supplies-the cheap way-leave your ideas below in the comments, as I know I am not the only one with a few ideas and I would love to know of even more places the deals are hiding! If you have any questions, leave them below too, I will try my best to answer them!

Behind the Scenes ~ Book Storage

Behind the Scenes ~ Book Storage

I recently got asked how I store all of our children’s books. This was a very simple answer so I thought I would put it in a Behind the Scenes post! This issue haunted me at first as I had TONS of children’s books even before I began homeschooling. I used to teach Kindergarten and had kept all of the books I purchased myself over the years. Finally I came up with a solution!

I bought cardboard magazine boxes, made labels for them and sorted the books by the general themes or concepts. Specifically I have these boxes from Ikea, and I used my printer to make the labels, you could use a label making machine or just hand write them!

This makes it so much easier for me to find what we are studying at a particular time, or just to find books we want to read! As for my categories of books, I made them based on the books we had, trying to divide as much as I could to make it more simple to find things.I also keep our holiday/seasonal books like this so I can easily pull them down. I usually keep these in a special basket at the bottom of the bookshelf during that particular time so we can read them. I don’t have a photo of it, but at the bottom of this bookshelf there is a shelf with no boxes-it is for Krash’s books. Mostly board books, baby books, and stuff like that. Obviously those are on the bottom so he can easily get to them when he wants.

We also have books all over the house, I just keep our main storage here (it’s in our living room). I rotate out books for the boys in their rooms from here. Pac Man is also old enough to find what he is looking for and also help me put books back in the correct boxes- it’s awesome!