Singapore Math Earlybird Kindergarten

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Three criteria steered me in the direction of Singapore Math (SM) for my son’s homeschool kindergarten year. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. I feel strongly that little children in general and little boys in particular need lots of hands-on activities to grasp abstract concepts. SM provides lots of practical activities in one lesson before asking a young child to use pen and paper and demonstrate understanding. The written practice is short and sweet, too.

2. I believe that math, like any other subject, can be as boring or as exciting as a teacher makes it. SM makes math fun to teach. As I bring out visual aids and tactile props, my son gets excited. I enjoy watching him learn. Probably because it feels like play time. No groans – like the time I put a Rod and Staff workbook in front of him. He comes up with his own way of using these manipulatives, too. I believe it proves instruction just took place.

3. Asian students always win or place very high in international math competitions. I grew up in Romania and I know that plenty of Romanian students win or place high, as well. Because of my background, I am not bound to the American way of looking at numbers. SM comes close to the way I learned math.

Singapore Math Earlybird Kindergarten

Book A

The book is colorful, which helps a young child, I think. The lessons are short and move from hands-on to abstract, a transition that is not always easy. However, I noticed that if I let him “play” with the manipulatives long enough, he is more inclined to color in/match/draw lines in the book afterwards.

I like the emphasis on vocabulary and proper grammar, too. The books suggests the teacher have the child repeat full sentences about the new concept, e.g. “The pattern repeats itself every three pieces.”

All in all, we love Singapore Math Earlybird Kindergarten. Besides the workbooks (A and B), we bought the ten booklets suggested, which contain nursery rhymes like Hickory, Dickory, Dock or classic stories like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Though not required, these readers add to the overall experience and show my son that math is all around us.

Bonus: my daughter joins us for reading time, so we are all together again. I love the way homeschooling facilitates learning and bonding as a family.

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How to Come Up with 4 Hours of Homeschooling Kindergarten

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Some states ask homeschoolers to perform four hours of instruction in each of the 180 days of school they must report at the end of the school year. Tennessee, where I live, is one of those states.

State officials do not ask for specifics on what we did each day during those four hours. However, for my own sake, I keep tabs on what we do daily and how long each activity took. I use a simple notebook on each child, even though my daughter is in preschool and, as such, her instruction is not “official.”

Now, let’s define instruction. Any time knowledge is imparted, instruction happens. Children do not receive instruction only if they are seatead at a desk with their textbooks opened at a specific page as directed by an adult licensed as a teacher, who is standing in front of a blackboard or white board or SMART interactive board.

Children learn all the time. It’s what children do. They learn. They haven’t been around much, so most of what they see around them is new and exciting. Our task as parents is to surround them with positive, age-appropriate sources of information, according to their learning styles.

My daughter, a preschooler, joins us for most activities, so I use plural when I describe what we do. Here’s how I come up with four hours of instruction for my son, who is in homeschool kindergarten.

 

First Hour

30 minutes – Bible. This represents both our morning and evening devotional times, during which we read stories from age-appropriate Bible curriculum, learn hymns and praise songs, memorize passages of Scripture, pray, and do crafts or activities that will solidify and make real the knowledge of God. This time also covers those precious moments throughout the day when we talk about God because they ask about life and I direct their minds to the truths of the Bible.

30 minutes – Home Ec. Think making the bed, taking dirty clothes to the hamper, putting toys and school supplies up at the end of the day, dusting, wiping the table after meals, doing laundry, setting the table, stirring the oatmeal I cook for breakfast, pouring flour from the measuring cup into the mixing bowl for pancakes, pushing buttons on the blender filled with yummy ingredients under my supervision, learning to mow with daddy, emptying the dishwasher… I could go on and on. Home ec. skills are life skills which establish habits that will make them great spouses and parents and responsible adults with healthy self-images. Instruction happens throughout the day in small bits. I have approximated this to be half an hour daily.

 

Second Hour

1 hour – Romanian (mother tongue). I speak with them in Romanian 90% of the time I am with them. I also read to them in Romanian. It adds up to more than one hour a day, but I keep it simple for recording purposes.

 

Third Hour

30 minutes – Recess. Why not? If they count it as school time in public schools, we can, too.

30 minutes – Reading with mommy. I read picture books and various readers to them. We worked our way through “Before Five in a Row” and SimplyCharlotteMason.com reading lists. Now we are working through “Books Children Love.” Sometimes I have my son read a page or a whole reader, depending on how motivated he feels that morning.

Fourth Hour

30 minutes – P.E. Every day, as long as it is over 46F and dry, my children spend time outside on their bikes or doing various ball activities with me or with each other. Today we played a bit of tennis, for instance. Catching, throwing, rolling, and bouncing a ball are important large motor skills. Some days they bike the Gatlinburg trail. Daddy and I run alongside them. It is four miles both ways and we do it in 70 minutes, including a five-minute break when we turn around at Sugarlands Visitor Center. Great cardio workout. When it’s warm, we go to the pool. Every other month, they take swim lessons.

30 minutes – The 3Rs, i.e. formal instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic. Ten minutes per subject is plenty for a five-year-old. A child’s attention span is their age in minutes plus one. So a three-year-old can focus for about four minutes and a five-year-old for about six minutes. I make sure I don’t push my son beyond his limits. We might take a break and talk about something (he always has a story to share) before we go on to the next concept. We will probably do fifteen minutes per subject in the second semester; by then, my son will be six.

 

Fifth Hour

30 minutes – Reading with daddy. This is a nightly routine which happens after supper and just before bedtime.

10 minutes – Music. I play classical music for them throughout the day, during meals, or in the car. If they are interested, I tell them it is Telemann or Handel or Mozart etc.

10 minutes – Arts & Crafts. They make cards for different events and people on a regular basis. They draw, cut and paste in their lapbooks. They decorate their bedroom according to their fancy with old ribbons and scotch tape. They paint. They draw with chalk in the driveway.

10 minutes – Science. Once a month, they take a class at Ripley’s Aquarium. Nature walks or simply being in the yard provide an opportunity for spotting insects and animals. We melt ice. We make popsicles. We grow butterflies out of caterpillars we mail ordered. We write in our nature journals. We learn to cook and can and garden.

10 minutes – Foreign Languages. I tell them things in French and Spanish every day. Simple things. “Thank you” or “here you are” or “please” or whatever simple phrase I may use in Romanian, I repeat it in French. Or Spanish. Or English. I find myself saying the same thing in three or four different ways. Sometimes I make them repeat it, but other times, if we are hard at play, I just say it and we move on. We also repeat the days of the week and the months of the year in several languages for our calendar activities.

As you can see, I easily come up with more than five hours of “instruction” per day. Which means that I can leave out certain activities based on what we have on our schedule as a family that particular day. Activities can carry over for recording purposes, too. It works out well. I told you homeschooling was a flexible endeavor.

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First Day of Homeschooling

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And… they’re off! No, not exactly. They are still here, at home. And yet, they are learning. A lot. Isn’t that amazing? Our homeschooling journey started yesterday, on September 1. Of course, Self-University Week started yesterday, too. When I made this schedule I did not know about this neat coincidence.

I dressed the kids up in their school uniforms. DD asked, “Do I have to wear this all the time?” She’s such a girlie girl, she wants the scoop on her outfitting options. “Only for school time.” She accepted it.

I chose to buy school uniforms because

a. children look cute in uniforms.

b. it helps them get into “school mode”.

c. we are a private school. Well, sort of.

d. we can use them on field trips.

The routine wasn’t much different than before, but we did take pictures.

First Day of Preschool at Home

DD and I

We started with our Accountable Kids morning cards, followed by a devotional. We are using GraceLink Kindergarten for our Bible story time. This week’s lesson is about Baby Moses. It find it providential, because when God came to me about homeschooling two years ago, He used the story of Baby Moses. Another neat coincidence for our first day of homeschooling.

DS tutored himself through Simple and Motorized Mechanisms from LEGO Education while I worked with my daughter on preschool activities. She was very eager to learn, but got silly after 10-15 minutes. That was my cue she was done. I sent her to play by herself, which she was happy to do, while DS and I tackled the 3 Rs for 30 minutes.

They had recess and lunch. Then, they had P.E. and art (drawing with chalk).

That was it. Easy, peasy, homeschoolese.

First Day of Kindergarten at Home

DS and I

However, it was not smooth. In the early morning, our cat left us a calling card on the living room carpet. Later on, as I reached for a box, I knocked down a tray. Glass shattered and contents spilled out. My husband and I spent fifteen minutes cleaning. Just when I thought I could start teaching, I noticed the magnetic letters I had chosen so carefully the night before for my son’s reading lesson were missing. DD had noticed them in my tote bag and put them back up where they belong. So I had to pick them out all over again.

How do I come up with the four hours of homeschooling instruction required by the State of Tennessee? I’ll tell you in a future blog post. For now, I covet your prayers on our behalf. We need wisdom to guide our children well. Thank you in advance for praying for us!

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Homeschooling 101

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You have decided: you will homeschool. Now what?

Let me say this: if the “why” is big enough, the “how” will follow. In every aspect of life. Homeschooling is no exception.

Researching how to get started takes time. Don’t let it get you discouraged. Take it in stride.

Here is a checklist for you to follow, based on what I did:

1. Find out the deadline for registering in your school district. This determines how much time you have to do research and it will keep you focused. I had eighteen months, but a friend of mine said, “That first day of kindergarten will be here before you know it.” She was right.

2. Familiarize yourself with the law in your state. The HSLDA website should give you a great start to this process. There, you can locate your state’s homeschool organization and work with them directly. Whatever you do, don’t rely on word of mouth. Do you own research.

3. Plug into a support system – locally, there should be a homeschooling group you can call upon with questions. These families are usually generous with their time and knowledge, but you must remember that they will tell you what their experience has been. It may or may not apply to your family. Weigh the answers.

4. Gather up all the documentation needed to register. Depending on what you find in the previous steps, you might need a lot or a little. While you’re at it, get organized. Prepare a file strictly for the legalities of homeschooling and keep it where you can easily access it. Guess what? You would have to take this step even if you put your child in a traditional classroom.

5. Read up on homeschooling approaches, curriculum choices and learning styles. Get used to the lingo. Don’t get intimidated. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. This friend of mine told me about her first days of homeschooling: “I kept asking myself, ‘What do I do?'” She had the jitters. She also had a master’s degree in education and several years of classroom teaching experience. It is normal to feel nervous, but don’t let nervousness stop you from enjoying this exciting time.

Even if you are short on time, read the first few chapters of Cathy Duffy’s “101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.” Do you have to read all the reviews? No, you don’t. Thank God. That’s the beauty of this book. Do your homework in the beginning of the book and then you will only have a handful curriculum choices to review.

6. Get curriculum, either new or used. Get school supplies. Don’t shop till you drop. Newbies usually get too much. Rainbow Resource Center, Amazon and homeschoolclassifieds.com are great places. Your local bookstore might have a homeschooling section. Visit the bookstore to hold the book in your hand before you order it online. Used curriculum fairs happen regularly in your area. Check with your local support group.

7. Plan your school year or, at the very least, the first month of teaching. Donna Young will help you there with free planners, lesson plans, nature journals, notebooking pages and any other type of form you can think of. Did I mention they are free? Notebooking Pages might be of interest, as well.

8. Sign up for newsletters and magazines. These resources can get overwhelming. I signed up for three magazines, for instance, and realized I only read two of them. Also, if you find they do not fit your homeschool, unsubscribe. Look for a better fit. Homeschooling happens in so many ways. You will eventually find your style and your clan in the beautiful world of homeschooling.

9. Register.

10. Relax. You are home free.

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Spell to Write and Read

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As I researched spelling curricula, I bumped into Spell to Write and Read. It was love at first sight.

From what I can tell, my children like it already, too. You see, for preschoolers or non-readers, Spell to Write and Read (SWR) offers a variety of games to develop phonemic awareness – the key to good spelling and reading skills.

On pages 20-22 of the Teacher’s Manual, Wanda Sanseri, the author, offers several games to play with preschoolers. I have already done some of these at random times of the day. They don’t even know they are learning because I took the work out of it by saying, “Let’s play a game.”

One such example is “Run around the clock,” an exercise used to teach the directional orientation needed for writing. I made 12 3×5 cards with numbers 1-12, as suggested, and placed them on the floor of our living room like the face of a clock. I asked the kids to stand at number 12 and then I gave them directions: “Run to 6”, or “Walk to 3” etc. They loved it. They asked to switch with me and they gave me commands, too. I walked or ran as they gave me my marching orders, no pun intended.

When I got a chance, after they slowed down their excited comments, I told them: “This direction is called clockwise because this is how the clock hands move. When we learn to write though, we will move in a funny direction called counterclockwise”. I said that several times. They blinked and listened.

Most of what I do with them now is quick and painless, fit for their attention span. I just drop concepts into their receptive minds and let it go. When they hear about it again, it will sound familiar. Hopefully.

But the greatest moment for me was when my son took the game one step further. After playing it for a few minutes, he ran to the table, grabbed a stack of construction paper and several markers and made 12 different drawings which he placed next to each number card. He drew several types of trucks, a teddybear, a ship, a volcano, an ambulance, a map… you get the idea. Things a 5-year-old would draw. Then, he asked me to go to the truck and run to the map. Or walk from the map to the teddybear.

He was having so much fun, he asked me not to put the clock away overnight. He wanted to play some more the next day.

Another SWR game we play (sometimes even in the car) is vowelizing words. I was trying to teach them to count the syllables in a word, but found that they started prolonging vowels and so they would end up with extra claps and extra syllables.

So he said “CAT!” and clapped once. He knew that was one syllable. Then, he said “CA-A-A-AT” and the result was confusion.

His younger sister started imitating him, as she does in everything. From my reaction, she realized she would go down the wrong path. She went back to her clapping the word and not exaggerating the vowels. She takes her learning seriously, even though everything else in life is a game for her. She is my happy-go-lucky child, but she shows a lot of maturity when it comes to learning. Meanwhile, my son got stuck.

My strategy was to get him to hum the word (as suggested on page 21 of the red SWR Teacher’s Manual). That way, he could not go wrong. I asked him to say “CAT” with his mouth closed tightly. He went, “Hum!” That was it. One syllable. Once I showed him that, I could tell he was relieved he had a tool.

This spelling curriculum, like many others, is all about giving children tools. Wish me luck as I delve into it more and more.

What about you? Have you looked at Spell to Write and Read? Have you attended any of their training seminars? Have you used it in your homeschool? Why? Why not?

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Deciding to Homeschool

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It took me years to make this decision. Here’s the background…

Back in 1993, I moved from Romania to the United States on a college scholarship. Some of my classmates had been homeschooled K-12. Their maturity level and quality of social interaction were well above average. Mental note #1.

I read Dr. Raymond Moore’s “Better Late Than Early” for my Education minor. Mental note #2.

In 1999 and in 2001, I worked alongside Dr. Moore himself. I understood a bit more about homeschooling as I watched the tutors at The Moore Foundation counsel with parents over the phone. Mental note #3.

A decade, a wedding, and two children later, I started looking at educational options for my children. My private school of choice was one hour away. Not feasible. Our public school system produces National Merit Scholars, but I felt a tug at my heart about teaching my own. Besides the tug, I felt insecurity and fear that I would not know how to homeschool. I prayed for wisdom and figured that if this were a calling, things would fall into place.

I also decided knowledge would be power, so I got knowledge. I spent hundreds of hours pouring over how-to-homeschool manuals, magazines and blogs, over a period of eighteen months. Kind of like a master’s degree in education, but without the $30,000+ piece of paper called “Diploma.”

What I found was inspiring and liberating. I felt I was home free. Literally. Mental note #4.

My husband and I decided it was worth a try. I am leaving out many details, which I will tackle one at a time in future posts.

This blog is my way of giving back to the cyber space which offered me so much information and asked for nothing in return.

2013 may be the year we start homeschooling officially, but we already have eight years under our belts as parent teachers. How so? I hear you ask. Well, tell me, dear reader, don’t we all teach our children since birth? Every step they take, every word they say, every skill they acquire, they all come with guidance from parents. Not to mention colors, shapes, letters, numbers, animals, manners, Latin… Well, maybe not quite the Latin part yet, but you get my point.

Then, I count each child’s age separately, not cumulatively. Why? Because every child is unique. Every child learns differently. That requires different skills and methods from me as their teacher. My children are three and five as I type. As such, I have 3+5=8 years of experience in preschool. Voilà! Eight years in the trenches, molding and shaping little hands, hearts and heads.

My hope for this blog is that it will become a forum where questions can be asked and answered by people interested in home education.

What about you? How did you decide (not) to homeschool?

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