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Archive for the ‘Methods’ Category

Homeschool in Freedom: Throwing Out the Rules

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on February 18, 2012

Many homeschoolers, especially new homeschoolers, live under a self-imposed set of “rules” based on their perceptions of what homeschooling should be. These unspoken “rules” are often based on our experiences with public schools. These “rules” often hurt us and our kids. They need to be discarded and replaced by the rule of true freedom. Here are some of the rules that I’m talking about:

-There’s no rule that says that you have to be perfect to homeschool: You don’t have to start out with tons of patience or wisdom; often God gives us that along the way. If you feel challenged by this, consider it an opportunity that God is giving you to step out in faith, grow in your spiritual walk with Him, and grow your spiritual gifts.

-There’s no rule that says that you have to be supermom: Many new homeschooling moms try to “do it all”. Sometimes they feel they have to prove themselves to others; other times they just don’t want to give up their mental picture of what homeschooling should be like. The expectations we put on ourselves are often unrealistic and have to be revised. Expect it and don’t let it depress you.

The hardest part of homeschooling is NOT the academics; it’s balancing homeschooling with the needs of daily life (keeping the house clean, the laundry done, doing errands, etc.) You may have to get help for a time, or even lower your standards for a while. Remember, it’s the eternal things (relationships) that matter most, not how clean your house is. Enlist your kid’s help, no matter their age, and you’ll find your “balance” soon enough.

-There’s no rule that says that your kids have to be “super-kids”: There is a perception out there that all homeschooled kids are above-average, if not brilliant. The reality is, most of them are simply “normal” or “average” academically, and that’s O.K.

Many homeschooled kids come across as “smart” or “mature” simply because, in general, they are polite, have good vocabularies, and are not afraid to talk to adults.

Putting things in the proper perspective is important. Remember those “main things” we want our children to excel at: Relationships, spiritual knowledge, wisdom (which is applied knowledge), maturity, manners, common sense, and a love of learning. If they have those things, they will have an amazing advantage in all matters, academic or otherwise.

-There is no rule that says that if you choose to homeschool now, you have to homeschool forever; many folks homeschool from year to year. Any amount of time that you can homeschool your children will be beneficial to them.

The only time this rule applies is during high school. If you start homeschooling your high school aged child, you should plan to homeschool them all four years, since enrolling them in public school can be problematic (some public schools will make them start as a freshman instead of counting the classes you’ve already done at home, for example.)

It is also important to remember that no matter how or where your children are educated, we, as Christian parents, are responsible to see that they receive a thoroughly CHRISTIAN education. As Daniel Webster said, “Education without the Bible is useless.”

–There’s no rule that says that you must have a college degree or a super high IQ to homeschool your kids: Remember, studies have shown that homeschooled kids do better than publically schooled kids do–no matter the educational level of their parents. You don’t have to “know it all”; you can learn along with your kids. All you have to do is stay one lesson ahead of them.

-There is no rule that says that you  have to know how to do algebra or be able to speak a foreign language in order to homeschool: Let’s face it, we all have subjects that we are weak in, don’t know, or just don’t like. But don’t worry; you don’t have to know it all! There are many non-traditional ways to cover those hard subjects: As homeschoolers, we are free to use video curriculum, curriculum on computer, or co-op classes. Some homeschoolers recruit other family members to teach those subjects they love or specialize in. If you still don’t find a workable resource, get creative: My daughter covered her foreign language requirement in high school through being tutored by a foreign exchange student. She learned to read, write, and speak Japanese, which is not a language commonly offered in high schools. Where there is a will, there is a way.

–There is no rule that says that you must involve your child in every out-of-the-home activity available so that your child is properly “socialized.” While some such activities are enjoyable and recommended, remember to find the balance: After all, you have to be home to do homeschool! Only participate in activities that provide positive socialization, and which do not wear you (or your children) out. Remember that the home is the primary place for teaching manners and proper socialization; in reality, your children need little more.

-There is no rule that says that you have to do fifteen different subjects in one day. That is how many subjects some curriculum suppliers offer: Bible, math, reading, phonics, grammar, writing, handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, history, health, science, art, music, and foreign language. Alternate your lessons by day of the week, by unit, or by semester so that you are teaching either science OR history, spelling OR vocabulary, grammar OR writing, science OR health, but never everything in the same day.

As for grammar: Grammar  can be saved until your child is reading well (till phonics is done, or even later.)

-There is no rule that says you have to do school Monday-Friday, August through May. Many homeschoolers use a year round plan, taking their vacations off-season, starting school early or “late”, and so on. If you want to do a four-day week, you can. If you want to do school on Saturday, that’s OK. It’s also OK to count your vacation days as “school” days if you are doing something educational (visiting a state park, museum, etc…field trip!)

-There is no rule that says that you have to start school at eight o’clock. Not all of us are morning people; many of us do our best work in the afternoons.  Oh—by the way—it really is OK to homeschool in your pajamas.

-There is no rule that says that you have to use textbooks. Often, especially in the early grades, the same material can be covered in a much more interesting way by reading aloud real books to your children. Remember, ANYTHING we use to help our children learn is “curriculum”, including real books, videos, games, activities and even un-planned, real life experiences.

-There is no rule that says you shouldn’t use textbooks, either. As a dear friend reminded me recently–textbooks are not intrinsically evil! Textbooks are merely tools that parents use to help their children learn.

A few words of advice: If you do choose to go the textbook route, don’t turn too much of it over to your kids to do independently. Make sure you follow up on every lesson immediately, and discuss the lessons with your children, even when they can read them for themselves. Additionally, make sure that textbooks aren’t your children’s ONLY reading. Continue to read good literature aloud to them, even once they learn how to read themselves; and once they learn to read, make sure they read LOTS on their own, too. (This is so important!) Plan time for those “electives”, which are more than  “optional extras”—subjects like art, music, and PE are vitally important for normal development. Additionally, give your children the time they need to explore their own interests (academic and otherwise.)

Personally, I tend to use real books almost exclusively during the early years (pre-K-First grade, at least), but I slowly edge a little more towards textbooks as my children get older. We usually end up using a “mix” including (an abundance of) real books, and some textbooks, too.

(To be continued)

© 2012 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.


Posted in Education, Family Life, Family Rules, Homeschool, homeschool methods, Homeschooling, Methods | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

More About the Charlotte Mason Approach (for preschool through high school!)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on August 7, 2011

If you are trying to wrap your head around the Charlotte Mason approach—if you’d like to begin using her approach in your homepreschool/homeschool, then you might appreciate the following links and ideas:

To help you get started, I would like to encourage you to feel free to start with two or three ideas that you can apply now. Although CM “purists” might protest, I suggest “gleaning” or “picking and choosing” only the portions of the CM method (or any method) that will work for
your family
. After all, curriculum and methods are simply TOOLS for us to use as we see fit. Few homeschoolers fall entirely into one camp; most are
eclectic in nature, using a little from here and a little from there to make a unique whole. I myself am a “unit study/ Charlotte Mason/Ruth Beechick/literature- approach” type of homeschool mom. I use elements of each of these approaches in our homeschool (you can find out which methods you gravitate towards by taking THIS SURVEY—scroll down to the second page.)

I take the best parts of these approaches—the parts that work for our family—and make my own custom “approach.” Personally, I can’t imagine CM’s basic ideas failing anyone. They add depth and beauty to your curriculum, to your home…to your life! Remember, if you are overwhelmed by CM’s ideas/own writing, start with just two or three key elements and try implementing them in your homeschool. I think that when you do, you’ll be hooked and ready to try more.

Here are some more details about several different CM elements that are important yet easy to add to your homepreschool/homeschool:

 *Work to train/develop proper habits in your family. So much of our life is habit! According to Laying Down the Rails, developing habits is like laying down ruts for a wagon, or tracks for a train…they make the path easier. CM herself says, “The mother devotes herself to
the formation of one habit at a time, doing no more than keep watch over those already formed. If she be appalled by the thought of overmuch labour, let her limit the number of good habits she will lay herself out to form. The child who starts life with, say, twenty good habits, begins with a certain capital which he will lay out to endless profit as the years go on.” 
Examples of important habits: Obedience, truthfulness, self-control, patience, temperance, orderliness, and so on.

Links having to do with habit training:

FREE e-book on habits

Habit training tips

*Give your children the opportunity to spend lots of time outside. The heart of nature study begins with spending time outside. To quote CM: …the chief function of the child––his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life––is to find out all he can,
about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavor of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects…”

   Charlotte suggests spending as much time outside as possible, even eating outside, when weather permits. You can extend your children’s learning by allowing them to start nature collections (help them label what they can) by exploring new natural environments together, and by reading books about what you see and find. (See my posts on nature study: Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4.)

Expose your children to the best in literature, art, and music: 

*Read lots of “living” books. Expand your read aloud time! My goal is to read aloud to our children at least four times a day: 1) During Bible time,

2) During circle time, 3) After lunch/before nap, and 4) Before bed.

Even if you decide that the CM method isn’t for you, keep the read aloud time! The time you spend together with your children (and discussing what you’ve read) is the heart of the homeschooling lifestyle.

*Listen to classical music, and enjoy “folk” music together (“folk” music: Traditional American children’s music such as “You Are My Sunshine”, “Row Your Boat”, “On Top of Old Smokey”, etc.) CM encourages “composer study”, but the aim of composer study, in my opinion, is not only to get to know the composers, but to get to recognize, know, and love the composer’s music. Even young children can learn to name classical pieces like the “Flight of the Bumblebee” or recognize portions of “Peter and the Wolf.” Older children can begin to learn to identify the composer, too. And while CM referred to classical music, I like to expose my children to many different types of music—choral music, show-tunes, bluegrass, and “new” classical-type music (such as John Williams), American folksongs (lots of singing here), etc.  I want my children to develop an “ear” for music and LOVE music! So the best place to start is simply listening to good music and playing with music (rhythm instruments, singing, chanting, etc)—for enjoyment. Later, as children get older, they can begin more serious composer study and formal music lessons.

*Provide your children with a multitude of different, open-ended art/craft activities and expose your children to the work of the masters. Even preschoolers enjoy looking at fine art!  Look at and talk about famous art pieces with your young children…talk about the medium used, the use of light in the picture, etc. Open-ended art/craft experiences are important for many reasons; they provide an opportunity for children to express themselves and their emotions; they build attentiveness and patience in children; they build eye-hand coordination, muscle strength and small muscle control; they teach science (color mixing, light and shadow), language (talking about art/describing pictures), math (shapes/spatial skills), and art itself (art
appreciation; art skills and art terms such as “perspective”, “shadow”, “color wash”, etc.)


   By bringing these few elements into your homepreschool/homeschool, you will be giving your children a tremendous advantage. Perhaps consistently using a few of CM’s ideas will inspire you to investigate her philosophy further, or add other CM elements to your day. If so, great! If not, you and your children will still benefit from these ideas. Along with Bible training, I consider them to be at the heart of successful homeschooling.


Helpful CM Links:

Charlotte Mason Help

Penny Gardner’s site

Be sure to download the FREE e-books about the CM approach at Simply Charlotte Mason. Also: Check out Simply Charlotte Mason’s take on making the transition to a CM approach…I like the simple way it is laid out here—but I must emphasize that there is no right or wrong way to use the CM approach; feel free to pick and choose the elements that work for you. Personally, my “basics” are the ones I listed above (they are different than Simply Charlotte Mason’s.) Also, I use more of a “literature approach” than a pure CM approach.

Catherine Levinson’s site, “Charlotte Mason Education”

© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved. Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Art, Charlotte Mason, Charlotte Mason Approach, Crafts, Encouragement, Family Life, Homepreschool, Homeschool, homeschool methods, Homeschool Preschool, Methods, Music, Nature Study, Reading Aloud | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Gleaning From Charlotte Mason

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on July 31, 2011

This article originally appeared in Home School Enrichment Magazine, issue 37, Jan/Feb ’09. HSE has graciously given me permission to reprint it on my blog. Thanks, HSE! NOTE: I will share more Charlotte Mason approach ideas and links in upcoming posts.

Even if you’re new to homeschooling, you’ve probably heard the name Charlotte Mason. Maybe you’ve heard other terms linked to her name, such as “living literature,” “twaddle,” or “literature approach.” Who was Charlotte Mason? And can parents of young children glean anything helpful from her ideas?

Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived during the Victorian era. Her writings were first introduced to Americans by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in her book, For the Children’s Sake. Soon after its release, homeschooling moms (myself included) were wading through reprints of Mason’s six-volume Original Homeschool Series. This series, though difficult to read through, contains many inspiring and applicable ideas. So many, in fact, that other homeschool moms started writing about Mason’s writings, translating them into a more modern, easily digestible style. Now there are numerous books, Web sites, seminars and curriculums dedicated to the Charlotte Mason (CM) approach.

The CM approach is perfect for young learners. Her mottos, emphasis on reading aloud, and use of short lessons all lend themselves naturally to preschoolers, kindergarteners and 1st graders. Charlotte Mason’s motto was, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” (1) The atmosphere of the home is important to every homeschooler and includes two vital areas: The emotional tone or feel of our homes, which is dependent upon the attitudes and relationships within a family, and the physical atmosphere in our homes, which is made up of the things within it—books, plants, animals, art, toys, and more.

Obviously, the emotional tone of the home is set by us—the parents. Remember the saying, “When Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? We all know it’s true. As parents, we need to remember that we set the mood of the day. Our goal is to exemplify the qualities listed in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc). Additionally, we must be conscious relationship builders within our family—good listeners and conversationalists who make together-time a priority.

The physical atmosphere of the home is also important. It should be warm, comfortable, and welcoming. We’ve filled our house with books, traditional toys, plants, and animals (I like to say I decorate with books). I want our home to be a haven against the troubles of the world. The discipline Charlotte Mason talks about has to do with the daily routines of life that keep us in order, as well as disciplines of habits. Mason states that most of what makes up our lives is habit.

“The habits of the child produce the character of man, because certain mental habitudes once set up, their nature is to go on forever unless they should be displaced by other habits. Here is an end to the easy philosophy of, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ ‘Oh, he’ll grow out of it,’ ‘He’ll know better by and by,’ ‘He’s so young, what can we expect?’ and so on. Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits
in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.” (2)

Mason emphasized that “a habit is ten Natures.” She believed that parents should help their children develop more than twenty habits, training them one at a time, starting in infancy. Examples of sought-after habits include self-control, courtesy, diligence, truthfulness, kindness, respectfulness, thankfulness, attentiveness, and so on.

 “Each of us has in his possession an exceedingly good servant or a very bad master, known as habits. The heedless, listless person is a servant of habit; the useful, alert person is the master of a valuable habit.”  (3)

Obviously, habits are easier to learn than they are to break, and the earlier good habits are mastered, the better. A wonderful book that pulls together Mason’s ideas about habits and how to train them is Laying Down the Rails, by Sonja Shafer.

The life Mason talks about comes from the influence of parents, the atmosphere of the home, and the ideas which influence our lives. Many interpret this to mean “learning is life.” While this is true, Mason seemed to think of education’s “life” as more than that. Mason often referred to both ideas and books as “living.” Ideas grow and change with us, influencing us in ways too numerous to expound upon. They become a part of our very selves. Mason believed that ideas, which often come from books, are to our hearts and minds as food is to our bodies. They are an important part of the “life” of education. Thus books, or at least the ideas in them, are called “living.”

Charlotte Mason says that every child needs “something to do, something to think about, and something to love” everyday.  The home is the ideal place to provide these things for our children. Other commonly used Charlotte Mason terms:

•  Narration: “Telling back” a story or experience, thus promoting retention and speech skills. This is sometimes called “oral composition.”

•  Nature study: Charlotte Mason encouraged parents to take their children outside and into nature everyday—even if only into their own backyards. Neighborhood walks and tromps through the woods or parks are perfect for preschoolers. Mason encouraged children to bring along sketchbooks so they could draw what they see. Parents can extend such learning by bringing along binoculars, hand-held microscopes, cameras, and field guides. “The child who does not know the portly form and spotted breast of the thrush, the graceful flight of the swallow, the yellow bill of the blackbird, the gush of song which the skylark pours from above, is nearly as much to be pitied as those London children who had never seen a bee.’” (4)

•  Picture study: Display copies of famous paintings for your children to look at. Discuss the medium used, and try them for yourself. Notice the use of line,  color, and light in the pictures. Talk about the objects in the picture: What do you see? How does it make you feel? Charlotte Mason suggests looking at pictures from one artist at a time.

•  Living books: Living books are “whole books” (not abridged), written by one author (versus a “textbook committee”) who knows and loves his subject. Classic books are living books. These are the books we can’t put down—the kind that make children beg for “Just one more chapter, pleeeze?!” Classic picture books are the books we enjoy, too, and don’t mind reading to our children over and over.

•  Poetry: Every literature program should include poetry. Start with simple nursery rhymes, and work your way up to A Child’s Garden of Verses, Now We are Six, Eric Caryles Animals Animals, Famous Poems Old and New, and so on .

•  Recitation (Memory Work): The Bible is perfect for memory work, as is poetry. Don’t memorize through drill—practice memory work by reading verses and passages to your children over and over. Play with words, and recite small passages throughout the day.

•  Masterly inactivity: Free time for constructive pursuits such as hobbies, art, exploration, and creative play. Mason advocated that children should have their afternoons free for activities of their own making.

•  Twaddle: “Dumbed-down” books or lessons; meaningless books written to sell a product, books based on a movie, abridged books, and some textbooks.

•  Short lessons: Charlotte Mason taught that short lessons actually encourage the habit of attention.

•  Copybook: What is more natural for young children who are interested in learning to read or write than copying their name, and later, short sentences from books? Copywork is a great way to learn to write. You can extend that learning for older children by using the methods laid out in The Three R’s by Dr. Ruth Beechick.

•  Geography: Geography for the young child should be related to the world they know (home) and the world of books. When you read a picture book that takes place in another country, show your child where the country is on a globe. How far away is it from home? When Daddy takes a trip, show your children his route.

As you can see, the CM approach is a natural approach that works beautifully—especially with young children. It makes use of principles that good parents use instinctively and trains both the heart and the mind. The CM approach can be interpreted and applied in many different ways: Some parents use CM with a strict literature approach, but others use CM methodology with unit studies or even the classical approach (which I think is developmentally inappropriate for young children). For more information about applying the CM approach in your homeschool, investigate the resources listed below.

Recomended Books:

A Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola

Educating the Wholehearted Child, by Clay and Sally Clarkson

For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Laying Down the Rails, by Sonja Shafer

The Original Home Schooling Series, by Charlotte Mason

The Three R’s, by Ruth Beechick

Websites: (NOTE: I cannot vouch for all the content of these sites, nor their links.)


www.amblesideonline.org (good articles, classical approach; but be warned, there is lots of mythology included. You can read CM’s books on this site.)


1. Charlotte Mason’s  Original Homeschooling Series, vol. 6 

2. Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series, vol. 1, p. 96

3. Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series, vol. 4

4. Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series, vol. 1

© 2009 Homeschool Enrichment Magazine, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Posted in Art, Charlotte Mason Approach, Family Life, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Homeschool Preschool, Homeschooling, Methods, Music, Nature Study, Preschool Science, Reading Aloud | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Curriculum Review: Peak With Books

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on June 11, 2011

      Peak With Books: An Early Childhood Resource for Balanced Literacy, in one sentence: Before Five in a Row on steroids!  According to Dr. Ruth Beechick, author of some of the best homeschooling books on the market:

     “I think this book is topnotch. Any parent who used these lesson plans for awhile would be getting a good education in using books with children and building upon them to expand vocabulary, experiences and thoughts. For people who want to do the “living books” thing that Susan Macaulay has popularized, here is the Kindergarten program all worked out for them.”

      From the back of the book: “Peak With Books shows how to use popular children’s literature to build reading, writing, and cognitive skills in an inquiry-based environment. Instead of using a “skill and drill” approach, the authors employ conversations, questions, and meaning-based activities to stimulate children’s curiosity, confidence and thirst for knowledge.”

Peak With Books, like Before Five in a Row, is:


*encourages multiple readings of each book

*includes discussion ideas and activities related to each book.

*Peak With Books does not include daily lesson plans. Like Before Five in a Row, you will have to decide how and when to use the activities.

*You should choose the activities that you think would be the most helpful for your child; don’t think you have to do them all.

Unlike Before Five in a Row:

Peak With Books is written primarily for classroom use. Even so, the activities are easily adapted for home use.

Peak With Books is adaptable to ages 4-7…it is for advanced preschoolers, Kindergarteners, and First graders, depending on their readiness/development (some activities will may not be appropriate for preschoolers.)

Peak With Books is a curriculum. It is not a distinctly Christian curriculum, however, and therefore it does not include Bible/character study ideas (I prefer more of a Biblical emphasis; however, from what I have read of the curriculum, you would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely offensive or inappropriate.)

*It is not a complete curriculum. Its purpose is to build literacy skills, thinking skills and vocabulary. You will need other resources to cover Bible/character traits, as well as phonics, handwriting, math, science, social studies (history), etc for Kindergarten and First grade.)

      Peak With Books (PWB) uses 42 picture books; many of which are classics.  Additionally, related books are listed  (“story time extensions.”) The front of the book includes a list intended to be used to turn PWB into a sort of unit study or thematic approach.  Personally, I don’t think it goes nearly far enough for that…no non-fiction books are suggested!  Additionally, the books listed under each “unit” aren’t well enough related to me, and many of the topics are weak, at best. (Some of the weak topics include:  Bear Hugs, Caps and Hats, Circle Stories, and Walking. It does include some good themes, such as “animal habitats”, but without non-fiction books, so much learning is left out.) Compare these themes to my suggested units HERE or my unit study archives (see categories on the left sidebar.)  

     Peak With Books includes story questions (good conversation starters), music (mostly singing; CD’s are suggested), drama ideas, 84 finger plays (Peak With Books calls them “finger rhymes”), and 82 poems.  It focuses on early writing skills, “reproductions and retellings”, as well as learning games and activities that are intended to help children learn those “preschool/Kindergarten facts” such as letter recognition, beginning writing, colors, etc. Thinking games and memory games and included as well.


     PWB is a good resource for those who want to learn how to pull elements out of literature (parts of the story, illustrations, questions, etc) and use them to teach their children literacy, vocabulary and thinking skills. It would also be a good starting point for families who want to use a literature approach, and need some “starter ideas.”  But to me, it seemed incomplete.  It felt like the authors had a good start on a wonderful unit study, but left it unfinished. They only needed to add only a few elements to turn each book into a full-fledged unit study. Since no non-fiction books were used at all, I don’t feel it could really be called a complete “thematic approach” or “unit study; it is not fully integrated. It does fulfill its purpose: Building literacy.  However, for as much time as you would spend doing the various activities, you could easily enjoy a full-fledged unit study and achieve a better and more complete result.  In my opinion, Five in a Row is a  better option. It is much more complete, especially when you add the Bible supplement. 


© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Book Reviews, Curiculum Reviews, Curriculum, Early Academics, Elementary School, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Methods, preschool at home, preschool curriculum, Reading Aloud | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Method Review: Before Five in a Row

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 17, 2011

        Before Five in a Row: A treasury of creative ideas to inspire learning readiness is a great resource for families who would like a little more “specific” help homepreschooling their very young children (those not ready for themes or unit studies).

        Before Five in a Row  is not a curriculum or an intensive “readiness” (i.e. formal academic) program; it does not concentrate on teaching A, B, C’s or 1, 2, 3’s (and rightly so; after all, Before Five in a Row is intended for children ages 2-4–I think it’s best for age 2-3.) Instead, Before Five in a Row uses the best in children’s literature to get preschoolers talking, thinking, playing and learning via relating to their favorite picture books. And once preschoolers get talking, thinking and playing, their learning really does take off. To quote from the introduction of Before Five in a Row, “This series of little ‘lessons’ was created especially to bring enjoyment to children ages two through four. The point is not so much to instruct or teach as it is have a happy introduction to books, provide an interesting, light introduction to many different topics, and to build intimacy between the  reader and the child. The topical subject headings are only to suggest in what areas these activities might lay a foundation for academic subject to be encountered by your child on later grades.”

        Before Five in a Row  offers ideas and activities that lay foundations in the areas of Bible, art, language arts, cognitive skills (noticing/talking about colors, patterns, shapes, sequencing, problem solving, etc); drama, literature, poetry and art; noticing order and detail;  science, games, math, etc all in a developmentally appropriate/fun way. Before Five in a Row uses classic picture books such as Caps for Sale, Blueberries for Sal, Angus Lost, and Corduroy as the basis for its “lessons” (24 books in all.) Many of the “lessons” are simply observing things about the book or its characters through conversation. This can be done during the time of the reading, or later—whenever “life” relates to the lessons of the book, or whenever the book is re-read (these books are so good that your preschoolers will want to hear them over and over!)

How Before Five in a Row Differs from Five in a Row

    First of all, Five in a Row is a “curriculum” (unit study/literature approach) for ages 4-8.  Five in a Row gets its name from the fact that you read each picture book every day for five days; thus the title, “Five in a Row.” After the daily reading, you proceed to do one or more of the activities suggested in the curriculum—you pick and choose the activities depending on the age, attention span, and abilities of your children. But Before Five in a Row doesn’t work that way. It does not encourage you to read the same book each day for five days in a row. The suggested activities are not intended to be used all in one week, either. Instead, they are meant to be used as a natural part of life during the reading and subsequent readings of the books.

Even More About Before Five in a Row  

        The first half of the book includes the books and activities, while the second half of the book includes a “treasury of creative ideas for learning readiness.” It includes activities in the areas of reading readiness, music, coordination, activities for the bathroom and kitchen, the arts, and more.

 My Thoughts

        Before Five in a Row is a good introduction to the literature approach for parents of very young children. The second half of the book is a good reference of basic activities. This book would be especially helpful for parents of 2-3 year olds who need a little help figuring out how to pull learning activities/conversations out of picture books.

        If you would like more activity/play/unit study ideas for preschoolers, check out my tabs, archives, and especially Homepreschool and Beyond.   

© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Book Reviews, Homepreschool, Homepreschool and Beyond, Homeschool Preschool, Methods, Picture Books, preschool at home, preschool curriculum | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Old Schoolhouse’s Review of Homepreschool and Beyond

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 10, 2011

     I’m excited to announce that The Old Schoolhouse magazine has included a review of my book, Homepreschool and Beyond, in it’s latest issue.  Amy M. O’Quinn gave a very positive review, stating that Homepreschool and Beyond is “a resource that is sure to become a handbook for home preschool education for years to come.” You can read the review for yourself HERE.


Posted in Homepreschool, Homepreschool and Beyond, Homeschool Preschool, Homeschooling, Methods, Reviews of Homepreschool and Beyond, Susan Lemons | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Homepreschool/Homeschool Learning Centers: The “Creative Curriculum”

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 25, 2011

         NOTE:  The Creative Curriculum is the “curriculum” used by most institutional preschools, and taught at most colleges. (The book was a required element in one of my Child Development courses.)  As I stated in a previous post, the book itself is really intended for preschool teachers and daycare providers; much of its content is not for home use and it is very expensive. However, I have heard of a few homeschooling families who are using the Creative Curriculum as their homepreschool/homeschool “method”. Since there are some ideas that you might be able to use in your homepreschool/homeschool, I thought I would share about it–specifically, about the use of “learning centers”.

         The book, The Creative Curriculum, lays out the traditional institutional preschool setup: A daily schedule centered around learning through creative play and including a thematic approach (what we homeschoolers call “unit studies”.) A typical day would include circle time (music, finger plays, story time), play time, and learning centers. 

Learning Centers 

        A learning center is just an area set aside for a certain purpose or activity. They don’t have to be big; they can even be a box or dish tub with special items kept in it. There are many different types of centers used in preschools; some are set up all the time, and some are rotated. The centers that are almost always set up are:

1) Blocks (various types of blocks and cars; this is usually an open rug area)
2) Housekeeping (dress up, play kitchen, dolls and cradles, etc)
3) Table toys or manipulatives (Lego Duplos, puzzles, pegboards, stacking/nesting toys, lacing cards, big beads to string, etc–either set out on tables or placed on shelves near tables so that children can choose their own activities)
4) Art (usually crayons and paper, felt tipped pens, etc; some preschools keep easels out all the time; others only offer the “project of the day” at this center.)                                                                                                                   5) Library (sometimes audio books are included–a cozy area with books and throw pillows.)

        Some preschools include computer centers and music centers (although, to my way of thinking, computers simply take away from active play time…and leaving musical instruments/rhythm band out all the time is too loud.) Other activities or “centers” that are often offered but usually rotated include sensory tables (sand and water tables, or rice/bird seed bins) and cooking experiences.

        The activities in the centers change according to the theme (especially the library) and the specific skills that are being emphasized (especially the table toys.)

        The outside environment is considered a “center” by some, complete with activities that are alternated: Outside toys (balls, hoops), obstacle courses, and props for dramatic play (boxes, sidewalk chalk, etc.) Sensory tables and easel painting are often offered outside only, due to the mess.

        Some preschools allow children to freely move around the room, choosing the centers/activities they want to participate in during inside play time; others divide the children into groups and rotate them through the centers. Children might rotate between circle time, art, cooking experience/snack, and a table activity such as manipulatives, but the disadvantage to this is that some children don’t have enough time in the play/art centers. Other preschools do circle time, music, art, and cooking experiences as a group and then let the children move freely around the centers as they see fit…taking all the time they want for art, manipulatives, play, etc.

Applying These Ideas to the Home 

        Some families try to totally copy the institutional model–making their homes into “schools at home”. They set up a spare bedroom, play room (wouldn’t that be nice to have?), family room, or basement just like an institutional preschool, complete with “centers“. I don’t think this is necessary, however, I do like the idea of having certain materials available for my children to use whenever they like.  Even in a small house with no spare rooms, it is really easy to set up a few areas of your home to accommodate your children’s play/activities—without having to rearrange the whole house. I know it’s possible, because our first place (with kids) was around 1000 square feet, and our second only 1400.  Here are some ideas we used:

-Blocks: When my children were little, we always kept blocks, cars, and plastic animals underneath our coffee table in bins or baskets. The table served double duty as a play table. We’d often keep bins with Duplo Legos or other toys nearby.  Lately, I’ve given up my formal dining room table for puzzles, blocks, and models.

 -Housekeeping: When my daughter was young, she had a plastic “play kitchen” and a doll cradle that were kept in various places–sometimes in her room, and sometimes near the real kitchen, so that I could keep an eye on her as I worked. Even an old box with kitchen burners drawn on it with felt-tipped pens will do. (I also kept plastics and non-breakables in a couple of low kitchen cupboards for my little ones to play with. Toddlers like nothing better than banging on pots and pans with old spoons–if you can stand the noise!) If you have room, you can save old kitchen items (plastics, small pots, spoons, etc), old boxes of cereal and empty juice cans (metal cans often have sharp edges, so use paper or plastic juice cans instead. You can tape labels from other canned goods over the top of the juice cans.) These are also fun for playing “store.” Dress-up: Purchase an old suitcase from Goodwill and fill it with dress-up clothes: Hats, old dresses, high heels…and for boys, old suits and ties, camouflage clothes, firefighter hats, cowboy hats, etc. My boys used to love to put on an old snow suit, snow boots, and a bike helmet to play pilot or “astronaut.”  For girls it’s fun to include an old square dancing petticoat or other type of full skirt for dancing and spinning to music. The suitcase can be kept under a bed, so that it can be pulled out or put away with ease.  

-Table toys and manipulatives: I kept these types of activities in a bedroom closet, hall closet, or low bookshelf. Most often I’d pull them out one at a time, usually late-morning or late-afternoon (after extended outside play!). Sometimes I let the children choose their activity;  other times I’d just set things out on the kitchen table or coffee table for them to “find”.

-Art: I’ve always believed that it is important to have art supplies available for children to use whenever they want to (not messy things like paint or glue, or items that need close supervision, like scissors; make sure whatever you leave out is safe for your children‘s abilities.) For many years we’ve used a re-purposed china hutch for this. The drawers hold crayons, paper, and learning games; the shelves hold books, more games, and school supplies. If you don’t have the space for such a big piece of furniture, you could easily use plastic drawers on wheels instead. We usually keep out copy paper, scraps of paper from previous projects, scrap booking paper (which is heavier), pens and pencils, crayons, colored pencils, felt tipped pens, glue sticks, stickers, safety scissors (4+ if they won’t cut their own hair with them), hole punches and stencils (plastic or homemade shapes to trace, cookie cutters to trace, etc). The rest we keep out of reach. This way, the children are able to draw/color whenever they want to (as long as they pick up after themselves later.)  Play dough and projects involving paint or glue need my full attention, so these materials are brought out at my discretion. 

 -Library: Collecting picture books for your children?  It’s easy to turn your bookshelves into a “home library.“ Make your “library” cozy and inviting for your children by placing big, fluffy pillows or a bean bag chair nearby, so that children can sit and relax while looking at books. Be sure to keep preschool books down low, so that your child can choose books for himself. You can also use dish tubs or baskets to display books that are appealing to your children, alternating them by season, holiday, or the theme/topic that you are learning about. 

        There are two more home learning center ideas that I’d like to share. One is a science or collection table (or shelf.)  Children love to look at and collect natural objects. It’s wonderful to have those materials on display, where children can touch them, look at them and learn more about them. Ideas for a nature table (for all ages): Natural objects/collections of shells, stones, feathers, bird nests, pinecones, plants, etc; small live animals/insects (caterpillars, gold fish, hamsters); science books, field guides and magnifying glasses. You could even include magnets, compasses and motion/tornado bottles.  A nature table can even be seasonal…in fall, display beautiful leaves, acorns, etc; in spring, blooming tree branches, pussywillows, and so on.  Some families also use their nature table as a holiday table, setting up touchable displays related to the holiday (this is big with Waldorf homeschoolers.) Nature tables are great for displaying treasures from nature walks/nature studies.

        Another fun table or shelf to set up is a unit shelf or table. Your unit shelf could include books related to your unit and hands-on items related to your unit (to explore.) For example, for a unit on “farms” you might have different kinds of fruits and vegetables for your children to touch and smell, or plastic farm animals to play with; for a unit on rocks and minerals you could have samples of various types of rocks, books about rocks, field guides, and magnifiers; for a unit about birds you could have bird nests, blown eggs, feathers, books/field guides…you get the idea. Older children might enjoy the addition of notebooking supplies, file folder games/matching games (from free printables on the ‘net), etc.  

        Other ideas for older children include:  Scrapbooking/journaling centers, academically themed areas such as file-folder centers, math centers (weights, scales, things to measure, abacus, money/money games), etc.  The possibilities are really endless.

        These ideas allow us to enrich our children’s play and education while maintaining a homey atmosphere. 

Links, pictures and other ideas                                                            (remember that I can only vouch for the particular blog page that I link to):

Learning Center Ideas

Ideas for “Creative Learning Centers”—fun items to alternate

The Attached Mama: Behind the Scenes: Our Learning Environment (Note: Remember, if you don’t have space or money for all these goodies OR a an extra room for a “school room”, don’t worry; these things are nice to have, but not necessary to the success of your homepreschool/homeschool. See my post, “The Keyword in Homeschool is Home.”)

Some of My Favorite Things for Learning Centers/Manipulatives/Play Time (No, I don’t get any money out of this…)

Insect Lore (we had great fun with the ladybug house last summer)

Discovery Toys (some of the best educational toys available, divided by age; our favorites include Measure UP! Cups,  The Giant Pegboard, Place and Trace Puzzles, A, B, Seas,  and for older kids, Marbleworks and Mosaic Mysteries.)

Dr. Drew’s Blocks (we made our own–fun and appealing to all ages!))

Citi Blocks (fun and appealing to all ages!)

Wooden Pattern Blocks

Lauri Puzzles

Ravensburger puzzles (they are expensive, but they are the best…beautiful.)

Duplo Legos


       Have fun! But remember…these things are nice to have, but not necessary. That being said…the toys I linked to above are classic and your children will enjoy them for years. In fact, we’re saving our blocks and plastic animals for the grandkids (someday!)

© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Family Life, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Homeschool Preschool, Homeschooling, Learning Centers at Home, Methods, Play, Toys | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Exploring the Montessori Method

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 14, 2011

        Warning:  This is a long and complex post.  I understand that many Montessori experts will not agree with my interpretations of the method, and am open to kind comments (see my previous post.)   I did my best to use reputable sources, including Montessori’s own writing.  NOTE:  Please excuse the lousy ads on the You Tube videos.

        The Montessori Method  is based the writings and schools developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, one of the first female medical doctors in Italy.  Montessori was Catholic, and many of her first schools served the developmentally disabled and the disadvantaged; many Montessori schools were Catholic schools.  Montessori was greatly influenced by the time she spent in India…many writers label her philosophy as a mixture of Catholicism and Indian mysticism (see point six.)   Quoting from The Essential Montessori, p. 15:  “In later years, her combining of the mystical and the methodological makes the content (of her writings) even more difficult to understand.”  

        The Montessori Method is best known for its sequential “exercises” or “work” in several different subject areas: 

 –Sensory materials (or sensorial) help children learn concepts through hands-on, “sensory” manipulatives; these materials teach discernment of color, weight, size, temperature, sound, etc.  (Watch Barrick Tablet lessons HERE.)

 Practical life materials include child-size, real tools that children use to practice various skills that help them grow in independence and coordination, such as hand-washing, wiping tables, arranging flowers, dusting, folding clothes, shining shoes, pouring water, spooning rice and/or beans, and using “frames” to practice tying, buttoning, fastening, etc (don’t all good moms do this sort of thing?  Just doing day-to-day “life” with your children—like chores—and teaching your children how to dress themselves–takes care of this one.)

-Academic subject materials, or “materials for development”, including materials used to help children grasp mathematics (things like The Bank Math Game, counting & matching,) language arts (sandpaper letters, the “movable alphabet”, science, history, geography, etc. 

-Other common Montessori activities include:

-“Gymnastics” (marching, exercises, walking a line, swinging, games with balls, gardening–what we’d call PE), as well as “respiratory gymnastics” (breathing exercises)

-Music (there is mention of singing, chanting etc; some do formal lessons; Montessori classrooms keep musical instruments available, such as “tonal bells”)

-“Manual work” (making vases from clay, making little bricks which are then used to make mini walls and houses, etc) 

-Art:  The purpose of art to Montessori was not to provide the child with an opportunity for free expression, but to train the child’s eye and hand for later such expressions.  Art exercises often include exposure to the masters as well as activities such as methodically outlining/filling in geometric shapes.  She felt that such an approach to art laid a foundation for later art experiences.   To quote:  “…the so-called “free drawing” has no place in my system.  I avoid all those useless, immature, weary efforts and those frightful drawings that are so popular in “advanced” schools today…we do not give lessons in drawing or in modeling, and yet many of our children know how to draw flowers, birds, landscapes, and even imaginary scenes in a very admirable way…We do not teach a child to draw by having him draw, but by giving him the opportunity to prepare his means of expression…” (The Discovery of the Child, p. 318.) Again, I disagree.  Any artist will tell you that to learn to draw, you draw.  Besides that, any type of art, including “free drawing” is more about self-expression and the enjoyment of the process than the end product. 

        I have noticed that most modern Montessori blogs—especially homeschooling blogs—don’t seem to follow this part of Montessori’s methods…most homeschooling Montessori families do a lot of arts and crafts—some involving “free expression”, some including “lessons.” 

Important Things Montessori Has Given us:

-Child-sized materials (tables and chairs, toys, tools, and manipulatives)

-Educational toys

-The idea of “observing” children, which is now an important part of child development programs and studies

-The idea of a “prepared environment”:  A home/classroom environment designed with carefully designed elements to promote self-teaching

-Self-correcting toys and learning materials

-An emphasis on learning through the senses (training the senses—touch, vision, smell, sound, etc)

-The idea of multi-age teaching (“open” classrooms—of course, all homeschools work this way.)

-The idea that there are “sensitive periods” in development, and that the years from 0-6 are “the formative years” (although there is some controversy about specified “sensitive” periods, since the timelines of normal child development vary so much, even in normal children.)

The Montessori Philosophy

        Montessori believed that every child has an “inner force” that drives them to learn.  “The fundamental principles of her method are observation, individual liberty, and the preparation of the environment.”* (The environment includes the materials, the room, the teacher, etc.)  Her ultimate goal was to help each child “return to a state of its true normal way of being; i.e. the normalized child; with the qualities of spontaneous self-discipline, love of order and constructive activity, attachment to reality, and complete harmony with the entire environment”. *   In her book, The Absorbent Mind, Montessori states that “normalization is the most important part of our work.”  (p. 204.)  Montessori further stated that, “Normalization causes the disappearance of many childhood traits….which are generally thought to be virtues….the so-called ‘creative imagination,’ delight in stories, attachments to individuals, play, submissiveness.”  (From The Secret of Childhood, p. 204.)  I don’t know about you, but I do think those things are virtues, and I wouldn’t want my child to be “normalized” if the result would be their loss—especially “attachments to individuals”, which would be a very great loss, indeed. 

        Montessori also believed that it was through “individual free choice that the child perfects himself and is enabled to work with the particular piece of apparatus most needed to fulfill something within him.”* (I’m sorry, but any mom will tell you that children are not always drawn to what they need.)  In The Montessori Method, she stated that “it is necessary that the child perfect himself through his own efforts…a man is not what he is because of the teacher he has had, but because of what he has done.”  (Luke 6: 40 says that “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”)  In The Montessori Method, p. 373, she states that “Each one of them (children) perfects himself through his own powers, and goes forward guided by that inner force which distinguishes him as an individual.” In The Essential Montessori, this concept is explained a little better:  “The educational value of a movement depends on the finality of the movement; and it must be such that it helps the child to perfect something in himself; either it perfects the voluntary muscular system; or some mental capacity; or both.  Educational movement must always be an activity which builds up and fortifies the personality, giving him a new power and not leaving him where he was…”  (p. 104. emphasis added.)  The idea of a child “perfecting himself” troubles me…especially in the areas of mental or personality development.   In my opinion, children cannot perfect themselves…and even if we exchange the word “mature” for “perfect”, we must acknowledge that maturity, especially in the mental and spiritual sense, is a life-long work in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  The maturation process must include more than just educational activities; discipling through teaching and example is necessary, and that is not something that a child can do through his own efforts alone.  Children need guidance; children need parents– they cannot “raise” themselves!  Even in regards to the later quote, referring to the perfection of the muscular system or some mental capacity—perfection is not a term I would use.  Growth perhaps, but not perfection.

        According to Montessori, the main job of the teacher is that of an observer; she “teaches little and observes much.” (Montessori Method, p. 173).  The “directress”, as Montessori teachers are called, is not to force a child to do (or repeat) lessons, nor “make the child feel that he has made a mistake, or that he is not understood”.  (Montessori Method, page 109.)  (If the teacher cannot correct the child, how will the child learn the right answer from the wrong?)  The directress observes the children at their work, records their progress, and then presents new challenges to them in a sequential order.  I had assumed that the teacher did very little “direct teaching”, however, by reviewing the use of some of the materials, you can see that the teacher does “give lessons”—not only to introduce children to the materials (and often, how to use them), but also using the materials to give “lessons”; very often a “three period lesson”.   Most lessons are individualized lessons, not group lessons. 

Different Interpretations of “Montessori” 

         Since the name “Montessori” now belongs to public domain, there are now many types of “Montessori” preschools, schools and homeschools—each with their own interpretations of the method.  For instance, it is my understanding that some Montessori schools allow children to choose ALL their own activities throughout the day (including when to go outside), with little-to-no guidance (in this case, my kids would choose to play outside and never use the academic subject materials), while in other schools, there is a daily routine—but the children are expected to use the Montessori materials (during a “work” period”) for a certain amount of time (they are given the “freedom” to choose the materials they want to use during this time.) 

        You can find lots of examples of Montessori materials and different types of lessons on You Tube, including lessons for the famous “pink tower”, which is probably the most widely recognized of all Montessori materials (I found it interesting that this teacher states that the children CAN use the Pink Tower in different ways…but I can’t help but wonder if the child would be allowed to make houses with the towers, or use them with toy cars?  I rather doubt it.)  A good overview of the classic Montessori materials can be found on these sites:   

Montessori Cottage-scroll down for nice descriptions of the different types of materials

My Montessori House-materials—Montessori materials and ideas for their use

More of Montessori’s Ideas/Things I like about the Montessori approach:

-The idea of helping our children build their independence and self-confidence:  To quote from The Montessori Method, pages 97-98, “We habitually serve children; and this is not only an act of servility toward them, but it is dangerous, since it tends to suffocate their useful, spontaneous activity. We are inclined to believe that children are like puppets, and we wash them and feed them as if they were dolls. We do not stop to think that the child who does not do, does not know how to do. He must, nevertheless, do these things, and nature has furnished him with the physical means for carrying on these various activities, and with the intellectual means for learning how to do them. And our duty toward him is, in every case, that of helping him to make a conquest of such useful acts as nature intended he should perform for himself.  (It’s OK to serve our children from time to time, but chronically doing for them what they can do for themselves isn’t healthy.)

-The idea that ages 0-6 are the “formative” years—much of the child’s personality and basic knowledge about the world is built during these years  

-The materials themselves, which can be wonderful learning experiences for children.  I have used similar materials in preschool classrooms and at home.

 -The idea that “Man is an intelligent being, and needs mental food almost more than physical food.”  (The Absorbent Mind, p.  200)

Concepts I Disagree With:

-The idea that goodness and compassion are inborn, and don’t have to be taught, only protected. (I’ve seen this phrase over and over in writings about Montessori and her approach. Here’s an entire quote from Michael Olaf, of the Michael Olaf Montessori Company:  The most important discovery that Dr. Montessori has contributed to the field of child development and education is the fostering of the best in each child. She discovered that in an environment where children are allowed to choose their work and to concentrate for as long as needed on that task, that they come out of this period of concentration (or meditation or contemplation) refreshed and full of good will toward others. The teacher must know how to offer work, to link the child to the environment who is the real teacher, and to protect this process. We know now that this natural goodness and compassion are inborn, and do not need to be taught, but to be protected.”   The Bible says that we are born with a sin-nature (Romans 5:12-5:21, 1 Corinthians 15:22-15:22, Psalms 51:5-51.)  Children are not born with “goodness and compassion”—those things have to be taught.  They are taught from the moment of birth, even as Mom is lovingly caring for her newborn.  True, children are “innocent”—they don’t know or understand many of the ways of the world …and this innocence must be protected.  But innocence is not the same as “goodness” or “compassion” (in fact, young children are notoriously selfish or “ego-centric”.) To emphasize:  Goodness and compassion must be taught. 

-The idea that using the Montessori materials will teach (self-teach or “auto-educate”) the child or “normalize” the child.  Concentrating on manipulatives do not fundamentally change a child’s personality (normalize them).  They can help children build skills, self-confidence, etc.  I also disagree with her statement that “Growth comes from activity, not from intellectual understanding” (quote # 115.)

-These quotes: “The child becomes a person through work.”  (What is he before work, a non-person?) and, “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.”

-Her belief that “Character formation cannot be taught. It comes from experience and not from explanation.” No way!  Character can and must be taught.  It is taught through example, through teaching, through conversation, and through reading aloud.     

-The idea that “the children being free are not obliged to remain in their places quiet and ready to listen to the teacher, or to watch what she is doing.” (The Montessori Method, by Maria Montessori, p. 107-108.)  I believe that children should be taught to sit and pay attention to their Mom (or any other authority) at story-time—in fact, whenever she is speaking, thus teaching obedience, respect, and self-control as well as developing the attention span.  Additionally, I believe that there should be a balance of free choice/child-led and teacher/mom-led activities.      

-The idea that it is important to “free the child from his role of dependency on adults if he was to develop into a truly free and independent person.” (The Essential Montessori, p. 58.)  Young children do not need to be “freed” from their parents.   Preschoolers are, and should be, still dependant on their parents for many years to come.  Independence develops slowly, as children mature in their abilities and their decision making skills.  Helping our children grow up and become more self-sufficient does not preclude the fact that they still are dependent on us. 

-The idea that children naturally love to work and will almost always choose “work” (“working” with Montessori materials) over creative play or play with toys.  In the book, The Essential Montessori, Hainstock says that “It is easier for the young child to relate to reality because it’s something tangible and concrete.  Montessori observed that children, given a choice, preferred activities related to the environment around them: reality-oriented objects and actions” (p. 99.)  I disagree.  I have observed that young children are equally at home in “reality” and “make believe.”  Furthermore, children’s play often allows them a chance to “act out” or practice reality-based activities of their future life—being a mommy, going to work, and doing other “grown-up” things. (See my article, Why Preschoolers Need to Play.)  Besides, according to everything I’ve read, Montessori decided that children preferred “work” because the she observed that the children in her classroom chose her materials over toys.  Well, the Montessori materials were displayed prominently and neatly on shelves, but the toys were crammed in a toy box.  No wonder the children chose the Montessori materials!  Besides that, the quality of the other toys must be questioned (remember, educational toys had not been invented yet.)  Perhaps if the toys had been high-quality, open-ended toys that were displayed attractively on the shelves, they would have been played with more often.  

        I’ve noticed that my own children enjoy manipulative-type activities, and will often seek them out on their own.  However, they always turn back to the toys that can be used creatively—especially those that can be used as props for dramatic play (cars, Legos, blocks and plastic animals, baby dolls, etc.)

-The idea that the Montessori Method is a “scientific” method:  I may get some flack for this, but I don’t think that the field of education is a “science.”  Educational methods (or theories, or philosophies) cannot be “scientific”.  These fields are not based on scientific fact, but personal observation and opinion (which is colored by personal biases and perceptions), not based on scientific experimentation.  Methods are not one-size-fits-all; they don’t always get the same results, since each child and each parent is different.

-The idea that children should learn what they love, since the “rest” would be hated/forgotten anyway (if so, who would ever choose to learn algebra or grammar?)  I do agree that it is beneficial to encourage children’s interests, and help them explore them fully (this is often called “delight directed study.”)  But we should not teach our children only the things they are interested in. 

-The fact that in many Montessori schools (probably not all), the manipulatives are intended to be used one way, and only one way; creative use of the materials is discouraged or not allowed (some answer this argument by saying that other materials are available for creative use.   This may be true in some classrooms/homes.  But it is my understanding that during their “work periods”, children are only allowed to use the special “exercises” or Montessori materials, and only as directed.  I realize that there are many interpretations of this, so this is not true in every case.  Many homeschooling parents do allow their children to use the materials in creative ways.) 

-Montessori “believers” insist that the children will do the exercises over and over.  It’s true that repetition is a powerful force for children…we especially see it in reference to practicing new physical skills, music, and in reading aloud (children often want their favorite stories read to them over and over.)  But in my experience, when it comes to manipulatives, any materials or toys that can be used in only one way are quickly set aside in favor of materials that can be used in more than one way (i.e. used creatively.)  And once most children master their new skills (be it mastering a physical skill such as walking up stairs, or mastering a self-correcting toy), they are usually anxious to move on to new things.

-I don’t agree with Montessori’s belief that punishments and rewards are “the bench of the soul, the instrument of slavery for the spirit.”  (Montessori Method, p. 21.) In my experience, rewards are highly motivating for children, and punishments (or preferably “discipline”) is necessary.  The Bible speaks at great length about the importance of child-training, and the principles of sowing and reaping.  Besides, everything in modern society is based on rewards and punishments; go to work, do a good job and your reward is a nice paycheck.  Refuse to do the things the boss wants you to do, and you get fired (sowing and reaping.) This is not slavery, by any measure of the word.     

-Montessori’s belief that “obedience appears in the child as a latent instinct as soon as his personality begins to take form (The Montessori Method, page 367.)    She also believed that children under the age of three cannot obey unless what the child is told to do “corresponds to one of his vital urges” (The Absorbent Mind p. 258.)  In The Secret of Childhood, she states that “we should remember that a child loves us and wants to obey” (p. 127.)  Once again, I disagree.  Children don’t always want to obey…usually they want their own way.  Obedience is not an instinct; it is taught.  Additionally, young children can be taught to obey, even if their “vital urges” make them want to do otherwise.

-The very humanistic idea that “All human victories, all human progress, stand upon the inner force.”  (The Montessori Method, p. 24.)  The truth is, as human beings, we have very little in the way of natural self-discipline or drive…we need to learn self-discipline…and many people are not “driven” to do anything against their own selfish natures (especially children.)  Most of all, if we are to accomplish anything important…if we are to mature and learn self-discipline, we must remember that as Christians, we can ONLY do it with the help of the Holy Spirit. 

-The idea that “the first thing to be done, therefore, is to discover the true nature of a child and then assist him in his normal development” (The Secret of Childhood, p. 166-182).  As I said, the true nature of a child is a sin nature!  This “nature” is what we were put in this world to overcome, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  We do not “unconsciously suppress the development of the child’s own personality” by correcting our children; (The Secret of Childhood, p.20).  Even if the “true nature of the child” refers to personality, we must admit that children need guidance in this area as well.  What if our child’s natural personality is rebellious and grumpy, or painfully shy?  Shouldn’t we try to help our children overcome these personality traits through training, teaching, and self-control?  I think so.   

-The idea of “normalization”; that children can/will spontaneously become self-disciplined, lovers of order, etc (again, see above.  I think this is not only undesirable, but un-Biblical, too.)

Other Possible Problems with the Approach (Common Objections to it): 

-The idea that writing should precede reading (I don’t think there’s any “correct” method here.  But traditionally, writing follows reading, since many children’s writing skills lag behind their ability to read, often due to a lack of small muscle strength and control…especially in children who learn to read early.)

-The cost of the materials (though many materials can be adapted or home-made), and the space needed to store it all

-Too much freedom (when children choose all their own activities), or alternately, too little (when children are expected to spend too long on the exercises)

-Starting children on the exercises at age 15-18 months, as many moms and schools do (see my archives and tabs on readiness.)

-Lack of creativity and free-play, AND/OR the very idea that creative/dramatic/fantasy play should not be encouraged, but seen as something that the children should overcome (almost all experts agree that creative play is one of the cornerstones of normal development.) 


        Montessori has given the world a lot of good ideas and a lot of good manipulative materials that we can use to help our children learn.  However, mixed in with her good ideas are ideas that, in my opinion, are not Biblical—many of her ideas come across as very humanistic to me.  I would have to say that I do not/could not personally agree with or use the Montessori philosophy, but I could (and have) use(d) the Montessori materials.  But when using them, my goals would be different than Montessori’s.  My goal is not normalization.  My goals would be to help the child develop specific skills, such as eye-hand coordination, small muscle strength and control, etc.  Additionally, once my children were interested and ready for a gentle introduction to “academics”, the materials can be used to teach through play (what I call “playful learning”; I have a whole chapter on this in my book, including specific ideas and recommended resources.)  The Montessori materials are also great for reinforcing concepts that are not quite mastered.

        I recommend Montessori and Montessori-like activities as long as they are used in balance with other methods.  They should be used as a part of your day, not your entire day.  They can be used for their intended purposes (yes, even used for “lessons” IF they are developmentally appropriate lessons), but they should also be available for children to use creatively.  (Remember, “developmentally appropriate” has different meaning for each child.  We don’t want to push our children, but we don’t want to hold them back, either…especially if they are gifted or truly ready for the next step.  We are seeking balance!) 

        It’s OK to let your child choose which materials to use for himself, but it’s also OK to simply pull out some materials (or trays, the trays are nice) and say, “Now we’re going to do some tweezing” (although I would never force the issue with a preschooler…as I said, there are so many other ways to learn, simple conversation and reading aloud being some of the best.)

        However nice the materials are, though, remember that they are not “magic”.  Also remember that home-made substitutes or just plain old TOYS can teach many of the same skills, and more cheaply, too–especially when pared with conversation/playing with Mom.

         If you would like more information about the Montessori Method, ;please investigate on your own and decide for yourself how to interpret her method.  Here are more links to help you get started (some of these blogs have some really neat activity ideas that would be usable by anyone, no matter their preferred “method”: 

Common objections to the method, some with rebuttals

Montessori Blogs

Montessori Goldmine (scroll down for some examples of activities) My Montessori Journey 

 Montessori Materials:

Montessori Mom (free printables and downloads)

Montessori for Everyone (free printables and downloads)

Affordable Montessori (online store)

Ways to use the materials: 

See another way to use the movable alphabet at Amongst Lovely Things

You Tube example of using the movable alphabet

More about fantasy versus reality:

Maria Montessori.com

Montessori Quotes:




*The Essential Montessori: An Introduction to the Woman, the Writings, the Method, and the Movement by Elizabeth G. Hainstock

Montessori’s own writings, as reference above

Various websites, as referenced above

© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Homepreschool, Homeschool, Homeschooling, Methods, Montessori | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

More About Methods: The Waldorf Approach

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 6, 2011

        In my last post, I shared about my belief in the importance of balance when it comes to preschool/homeschool “teaching methods”.  I also promised to introduce you to a few of the more popular methods, and help you glean their best ideas for use in your home.  I’m going to start with Waldorf method.  But before I do, I’d like to share a little more about “method obsession.” 

        I disagree with the idea that there is any “perfect” method (or curriculum, later), OR any one method that we should become obsessed with.  Every child–every mom–every family–is different, and must choose the methods/philosophies that fit their needs, goals and beliefs.  I mention this because while I’ve been researching various methods, I’ve discovered that some proponents of certain methods go “over the top” with their enthusiasm.  For example, a book I read about the Montessori approach referred to the fact that early teachers of the method were thought of as  “goddesses” who were “worshipped” by their devoted followers (even if that is “just an expression”, that is NOT O.K.)  Others referred to the results of the approach as “magic”…but we all know that there is no such thing as “magic”.  As I say in my book:

 “…Not only is there no perfect curriculum, but there is no perfect or magical method or way of teaching that can guarantee success.  The most magical thing I can think of is simply the love, time, and attention of a patient parent who wants to help his children learn.  Because the truth is, homeschooling is more about relationship than curriculum or methods.  Parents can and do make just about anything work as curriculum if they have to.  More than the perfect curriculum, what learning takes is your time. Learning takes repetition, work, and discussion with an involved parent. Every method, book or text has its own strengths and weaknesses, but it is you-the “teacher”-that teaches, not the text or method.  What you bring to your homeschool is most important.”

        Another thing I’ve noticed that disturbs me: Many method enthusiasts vehemently object to any criticism of their preferred method, and take the criticism personally.  Instead of debating calmly or even “agreeing to disagree”, they become rude and hateful…even to the point of trying to take “revenge” on other people, putting them down, or trying to harm their reputations.  I’ve even seen people who claim to be Christians do this…this very un-Christian behavior.  I feel sure that my regular readers have more integrity than to behave that way, and I trust that new visitors to my site will behave accordingly.

        It is not my intention to initiate a fire storm, especially with me at the center of it.  I don’t want to get burned.  Nevertheless, I am determined to share my own personal opinions about these matters.  If you believe that I am in error, please feel free to comment about it—but do it kindly, gently, and in a spirit of Christian love and concern, which is the same spirit in which I endeavor to write.

        Finally, you should know that when I examine any “method”, I examine the main ideas it is known for, but I also go deeper and examine the method’s “founder” (if there is a single person famous for the approach), and his or her goals (what should the method achieve?) and world-view.  Is this person a Christian?  Does the method intend to impart any certain religious view or message?  If so, what is the message?  Is it Biblical? 

        Personally, I am extremely suspicious of any philosophy or “method” that is based on any ONE PERSON’S ideas. 

        The Word of God is our standard, and it is the only “perfect” method. 

What I Like and Don’t Like About the Waldorf Method

        The Waldorf method is gaining in popularity, and so it is a name that you may hear discussed in homeschooling circles.  It is an international movement, based on the writings of Rudolf Steiner.  The Waldorf method is best known for its most positive elements—the things I like about Waldorf (although they are NOT unique to Waldorf):

-A home-like environment filled with natural objects

-An emphasis on creative play and the imagination, including dramatic play, dress-up, etc {also used in the Creative Curriculum and the Charlotte Mason approach.}

-Lots of time spent outside, gardening and exploring nature {also used in the Charlotte Mason approach}

– Following a daily rhythm (routine), and following the rhythm of the year in regards to activities and stories (seasons, holidays and “festivals” are important in the Waldorf method; most homeschooling families make a big deal out of them, too.)  {These methods are also used in the Creative Curriculum approach.}

-The planning of specific activities for each day of the week (there is no rule about this–Monday could be painting day; Tuesday baking day; Wednesday nature walk day; Thursday dress-up day, Friday is cooking or hands-on science day, etc)  {a slightly different take on routines that would work with ANY method.}

– Encourage the use of imagination through stories and dramatic play (prop boxes are great for this.) {Creative Curriculum} 

-Emphasis on the arts: Singing, chanting, making music, painting and ceramics (sculpting/clay) and knitting (yes, even in the early years) are especially encouraged.  {Creative Curriculum, Charlotte Mason again.}

-Teachers stay with their students several years in Waldorf schools (often 8 years; of course, when you homeschool, your children will always know who their teacher is!)

-Television and computer time should be kept to a bare minimum (always a good idea.)

        As you can see, Waldorf has some ideas that are applicable to homepreschoolers/homeschoolers.  However, I cannot recommend the “Waldorf method” since it contains new-age, occult elements (reincarnation, pagan rituals, “karma”, clairvoyance, etc).  Even if/when these elements are not taught directly to the students, they are at the heart of the philosophy.   Waldorf also contains some very odd beliefs about education.  From the sources linked below, I’ve learned that, in general:

-“Outlining” (i.e. “drawing” or “sketching”) is discouraged; painting is preferred, wet-on-wet;

-No black or brown colors are to be used;

-No felt-tipped pens are allowed;

-Oral storytelling is preferred over picture books (oral storytelling is fun, but you know how adamently I feel about the importance of picture books!);

-Fairy-tales, myths, and legends (along with fairies, gnomes, and “gods”) are introduced to young children and presented almost as fact;

-Listening to recorded music is discouraged during the early years (I disagree; young children need to be introduced to classical music!)

-Only natural materials are to be used for clothing and in the classroom/home (no plastic toys, only toys made from natural materials such as wood, silk, or cotton is allowed/child-made/homemade is encouraged);

-Academics are delayed even if readiness, interest, or self-teaching exists (until around age 7, or the loss of the first tooth?!)

-“Spirituality” is emphasized, but only in reference to Waldorf beliefs, NOT Christianity (many beliefs and rituals are introduced, all on equal footing)

        According to Wikipedia, “The educational philosophy’s overarching goals are to provide young people the basis on which to develop into free, morally responsible, and integrated individuals, and to help every child fulfill his or her unique destiny, the existence of which anthroposophy posits.” (Huh?! Anthroposophy  is the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf’s founder.) 

        Some people claim that Waldorf is based on Christianity.  I disagree.  It is based on Steiner’s theories about child development, and his occultic philosophy of anthroposophy.  In my opinion, Waldorf is the ultimate in syncretism, or the blending of Christianity with other religions, beliefs, and gods—and humanism (the idea that man can better himself, without God.)  There is even a racist element to Waldorf. 

        The positive and best-known tenants of this method are  appealing at face-value, if they are separated from all occult content, but they are NOT unique; they are important parts of several other “methods” (I put them in brackets { } above.)  Therefore, even though I see the value in some of Waldorf’s ideas, in light of Waldorf’s occult content, I could NEVER call myself a proponent of the Waldorf method.  I also would NEVER choose to go ANY deeper into ANY of the Waldorf philosophies…or participate in ANY Waldorf-method training, due to those concerns…and I warn you not to, either.  For some other opinions and facts about Waldorf, check out the links below:

Warldorf’s twisted treatment of mythology and history

Spiritual aspects/ occultist teachings/Racist elements, written by a Jewish parent

Waldorf Watch:  The goal of Waldorf teachers—to become clairvoyant (with quotes from Steiner)

More information about Steiner, and his theories/beliefs

One family’s experiences in a Waldorf school (some interesting insights into the philosophy)

In Steiner’s own words:  His lectures  




        And finally, for another take on Waldorf, through a couple of popular Waldorf sites (they look so appealing!  Remember, there are many takes on the Waldorf method; but the philosophy behind the method is NOT Christian. Some Christians chose to identify themselves with the method anyway…hopefully, they “pick out the bones and use the meat”…separating themselves and the positive elements/methods from the spiritual beliefs of Steiner. 

The Magic Onions

Waldorf Homeschoolers        

Next post:  The Montessori method

© 2011 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Some of this post was taken from the book, Homepreschool and Beyond; used with permission.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Homeschool, Homeschool Preschool, Methods, preschool at home, preschool curriculum | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Routines, Part Two: Developing Your Own Daily Routines (for homepreschool/homeschool)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on November 25, 2010

        If you have decided that you need to establish routines for your family—or even tweak the routines you already have in place—the first thing that you should remember is that this will take a little planning and a LOT of time and commitment (remember, the only way a routine becomes a routine is if it is consistently practiced on a day-to-day basis–so that it becomes a habit.)   

Planning Your Routines

        The first thing that you need to do is decide what the “skeleton” of your routine should be.  These are the non-negotiable things that must happen everyday…the things that you can’t skip or re-arrange.  These are the things that should get done even if you run into unusual circumstances such as illnesses, interruptions, doctor’s appointments, and so on.   My “skeleton” includes Bible/devotions (Monday through Friday), meals and snacks, nap time and bedtime.  In between the “bones” of my routine, I’m free to plan our day however I want to.  If you’d like to see some sample routines for preschool and kindergarten-aged children, be sure to check out my tab, “4R’s: Routine.”

        In addition to the basic examples of routines on my tab, there are some other items that we should remember to include in our routines…errands.  Many families choose a specific time one day per week to run errands, cook and freeze meals, clean house, etc.  We  opt to “do school” formally only 4 days a week, saving Fridays for messy art projects, field trips, park days (this is the fun stuff—what I call “Friday school”), and/OR cleaning house, running errands, and so on.  On Fridays, only the skeleton of our routine remains.  Similarly, on weekends, only the “skeleton” of the routine remains, leaving us free to be spontaneous, relax, or continue our housework.

What to Do if You Have Older and Younger Children

         So far, the things I’ve talked about are pretty basic.  But how do you plan your day if you have preschoolers AND older children?  How do you ensure that all your children get what they need?  That’s a lot harder.  I know from experience…I’ve done both Kindergarten and high school with babies/preschoolers in tow.  I know it’s tough!  None of us want our preschoolers to get “mommy leftovers”; nor do we want our older children to be left unsupervised, or trusted to do too much of their school work independently.

        So, what’s a mother to do? Here are the three best planning options that I have come across (the meat on the bones!):

1. Alternate your entire day between older and younger children, starting with the youngest. Spend time with your preschoolers, then alternate and spend time with your older children…continue this pattern throughout the day.  Be sure to give your preschoolers their own “preschool” time (circle time, art, developmentally appropriate activities/play), so that they will see that they are just as important to you as your older children are.  After all, we plan activities for our older children, don’t we?  I believe our preschoolers deserve the same.  An hour or two of special attention is all it takes. 

 2. Concentrate on your preschoolers in the morning, and then your older children in the afternoon.  Assign your older children independent work in the morning for an hour or two while you enjoy your “homepreschool” time with your young ones.  Depending on the ages of your older children, independent work could include things such as personal daily devotions/Bible reading, handwriting or copy work, spelling, independent reading, music practice, etc. Once your homepreschool time is done, get your preschoolers involved in play and then work with your older children.  Be sure to read my article, “Keeping Little Ones Busy”  for ideas to help your preschoolers stay busy and happy while your school your older children.    In the morning, your older children will enjoy taking breaks to “help you” do music with your preschoolers; if you provide open-ended art for your preschoolers, older children will enjoy joining you for those activities, too.  Don’t forget to give your older children frequent play breaks, as well.

        After lunch, read aloud to your preschoolers and then put them down for nap or quiet time in their rooms. 

        Once the preschoolers are settled, concentrate on your older children.  Start by checking the work they have done in the morning.  Then, while your preschoolers are still napping, work on your hardest school subjects/the subjects that need the most uninterrupted attention (phonics, math, editing writing, etc.)  I usually sit between my boys while they do these subjects. Try to look at, discuss, and correct the rest of your children’s work right as they finish it. 

        Once your preschoolers wake up from nap, take a break and cuddle them awhile, give everyone a snack, and then get your preschoolers involved in some play before continuing your school time with your older children (if necessary.)  This might be a good time to do the subjects that need lots of discussion—science OR history (alternate them–don’t try to do both in one day!)  Once your school time is done, follow the rest of your daily routine like normal.

3.  Teach all your children together as much as you can, using the unit study/“bus stop” method (there is still some alternating involved.)  If your children are fairly close in age (preschool-first grade, for example) it’s easy to do almost everything together—especially if you use a unit study method.  The rule is: Do what your can with all your children, and then let your youngest “off the bus” for free play whilst you continue to work with your older children.  Take frequent play breaks, and be careful to keep things developmentally appropriate for your youngest children. 

        The thought behind this: a) Preschoolers pick up a lot by listening in on older children’s lessons (passive learning), and b) it saves time, making a shorter day compared to the first two options. 

         If you choose to use this method, you’ll want to treat everything you do like a unit study: Everyone “studies” the same things, but each “studies” at their own level.  Here is what a typical day might look like: 

        Do your family worship and Bible time with all your children first thing in the morning; yes, including your preschoolers.  Preschoolers love to participate in worship and Bible memory work.  If your older children’s Bible story/devotional doesn’t hold your preschooler’s attention as well as you’d like, read your preschoolers a short, age-appropriate version of your Bible story first, and then let them “off the bus” to color printable Bible story pages that correlate with the Bible story while you continue Bible with your older children (OR let your preschoolers play quietly with Bible felt sets/your “box of the day.”)  After a short break, do your “circle time” with all your children:  Calendar, perhaps the flag salute, music/singing, and then your story time. This is your unit study—the time you spend reading about the topic/theme of your choice.  Spend a little time talking about what you read and reviewing any new vocabulary.  If you have any activity to accompany your unit (remember, activities are not required), do it next.

        After another play break, let your preschoolers “off the bus” for the day.  Get them involved in some play (or perhaps your box of the day—be sure to read “Keeping Little Ones Busy”) while your older children do their math lessons (keep your preschoolers close by, and/or let them play with math manipulatives.)  After math is completed (be sure to check it on the spot!), have everyone take an outside play break for 20-30 minutes.  When you come inside, have your morning snack before getting your preschoolers involved in another activity—play dough, a sensory tub, or a simple art project that isn’t too messy (stickers and felt tipped pens, stencils and colored pencils, water colors, etc).  While they are happily engaged, start your phonics/language arts lessons.  After your phonics/language arts lessons are complete, take another play break together…perhaps a longer one, if time permits.  Try to get some outside play time if weather permits. 

        If you start your day at a reasonable hour and keep your lessons developmentally appropriate (in other words, on the short side), you should be able to wrap up your school time before noon.  During the afternoons while your preschoolers nap, your older children can finish their lessons (if they haven’t already.) 

        Once everyone is awake again, use the rest of your day for more creative/outside play, art, learning games for your older preschoolers, and so on.

    Let me know how it goes–I love comments!


© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Elementary School, Family Life, Homepreschool, Methods, preschool at home, Routines, Unit Studies | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Disturbing Article From the NY Times–“Picture Books No Longer a Staple For Children”?!

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on October 8, 2010

     Apparently, picture books are on the decline.  According to this article from the NY Times, picture books are no longer the “staples” of early childhood that they used to be. 

     Say it isn’t so! 

     The article cites several reasons.  One is the cost of picture books (I agree with this–new hardbacks are ridiculously expensive), the economy, and…guess what?  Another form of “curriculum push-down.”  Yep.  Here we go again.  Apparently, many parents feel so pressured to help their children  become early readers that they are pushing them OUT of picture books prematurely–many times as early as age 4. 

     Pushing them OUT of picture books, and choosing to read only chapter books to them, instead.  

     This is NOT the way to grow fluent, confident readers.

     Don’t get me wrong–I’m not bashing chapter books.  You know that I LOVE chapter books.  But preschoolers need picture books.  kindergarteners need picture books.  First graders need picture books, too.   Emergent readers REALLY need picture books.  The shorter sentences, the beautiful pictures and the familiar stories help young readers practice their reading in an enjoyable way.  Picture books build their confidence.  One of the best things you can provide for an emerging reader is lots of practice with their favorite picture books.  For goodness sake, my boys are 9 and 7, and while we read lots of chapter books, they still love picture books!  The best picture books are enjoyable for people of all ages.

    We tend to think of picture books as being immature or simplistic.  While this is true for some picture books (the twaddly ones), many picture books are actually amazingly complex.  The pictures are works of art.  The text often uses amazingly complex vocabularies.  The key is finding the right picture books.  (Be sure to see my posts on Choosing and Finding Classic Picture Books, and my abbreviated List of Classic Picture Books.  If you want the whole long 25+ page list, you’ll need to purchase my book!) 

     By all means, when your children are ready, read them longer picture books. Next, work your way up to real chapter books (usually around age 5-6.)   But don’t be too quick to give up on picture books!      

     Remember that pushing our children to “grow up” to soon–either emotionally or academically–usually backfires on us.  Our goals should be to help our children learn and mature without pushing them, but without holding them back, either. 

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Book Lists, Elementary School, Homepreschool, Homeschooling, Methods, Picture Books, Reading Aloud, Teaching Reading | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Helpful Advice for Homeschooling Elementary School-Aged Children

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on June 12, 2010

Simplify the Curriculum, or “Colette’s List of 10 Things  (with my own comments added):

1).  Keep everything as simple as you can. Jesus wrote with a stick in the dirt, and He was the greatest teacher that ever lived. He used no curriculum or flannel graphs or lesson plans. Homeschooling can be made far more complicated than it should be. A simpler approach is much more effective.

     Why do we make things so difficult for ourselves?  Why do we feel we need to spend hundreds of dollars on curriculum, “educational toys”, manipulatives, etc to homeschool successfully?  Why do we glue ourselves to one single method or curriculum? 

      Remember, there is no perfect curriculum.  There is no special toy/manipulative or magical homeschooling method that will teach your children and solve all your problems.  The truth is, we can make almost anything “work” as curriculum if we need to–in fact, before buying curriculum, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself if it is really necessary at all.  Many topics can be taught naturally using real books and discussion. 

     The key to homeschool success is relationship–your relationship with your children; the time you spend working with them one-on-one; your ability to individualize your methods and curiculum; the time you spend reading aloud and then discussing what you’ve read.  Relationship is more important than curriculum (or method.)

2).  Stick to the 3 R’s. They form the foundation of life-long learning in every field because they are the tools of study. There will be no need to formalize any other subject if the children are doing their best in these 3, because people who are well grounded in reading, writing and math will approach other subjects boldly, independently and confidently.

     I have to add Bible to that…I believe our most important subjects are Bible/Christian Character, math, and language arts.  We should concentrate most of our time on these.  Be sure to go for mastery, not just “exposure” in these subjects.  I have a good friend who says, “If your child knows and loves the Lord, loves to learn, can read and write well, knows basic math, and knows how to do research –then what else does he need?”   (Thanks, Peggy!)

     Do you worry about “gaps”?!  Things your children will miss?  All children have “gaps”.  You have them, too.  There is simply too much to learn; no one can master it all.  But if you love to learn and if you know how to do research, you will want to fill those gaps when they come up–and you’ll know how to do so.  You will be a lifelong learner.

     Don’t get me wrong; I do want my children to know science, history, geography, etc.  We do teach those subjects in our homeschool.  I also believe that art and music are important.  But sometimes we overlook the fact that our children learn lots from real life, being read to and through independent reading.  We make things harder than they need to be.  If your children haven’t mastered the basics yet, try concentrating on mastering them  for awhile.  For your other subjects, read aloud to your children, and discuss what you’ve read.  Also encourage your children to explore their own interests during their free time. 

3).  Let the children teach themselves as much as they are able to. This teaches them responsibility, intellectual independence, and builds confidence. It’s also better for the parent/child relationship because you can focus on parenting instead of playing schoolteacher.

     I agree, and yet disagree with this one.  I make it a rule not to do anything for my children that they can do for themselves; I encourage them to learn how to work “independently”  in their chores and their schoolwork (more and more as they grow older.)   But that doesn’t mean I expect to totally give up my role as “teacher-mom”  and turn all learning over to my children.  I think there has to be a balance of independent work and facitiated learning/discusion. 

      Sometimes in our haste to make things easier for ourselves, we turn too much over to our children too soon.  To make the most of our homeschool, we need to maintain our involvement in our children’s school work.  At the least, we should introduce new concepts and discuss them; introduce new assignments, communicating to our children exactly what is expected of them; supervise/check in on our children as they work; read aloud/discuss their learning; ask them to talk to you about what they’ve learned (or narrate–either verbally or through a report), and finally, inspect (check) their work immediately upon it’s completion.  If we overlook these things, we miss out on the best parts of homeschooling and in my opinion, let our children down. 

     I must admit, I didn’t do the best job with this for my older set of children.  I was so busy with my little ones that I entrusted them with too much independence too soon.  I didn’t discern their true needs.  Be careful to find a balance in your homeschool, so that you don’t repeat my mistakes.  (Note:  Plan to sit right with your children while they are doing their assignments for the first few years.  Maturity comes before independence.)

4).  Use the most direct method available. For reading, read. For writing, write, for math, do it, and for Bible, read it. Don’t fall for catchy curriculums or methods that are really just something else for you and your child to learn. 

     See my post, “Homeschooling Early Elementary…Keep it Simple”, HERE.  

5).  Don’t worry about your child’s age or grade. Just let him do the best he can each day. Children grow intellectually like they do physically: in spurts. Although we may have an audience of skeptical relatives, homeschooling is not a circus, and we refuse to train our children to do tricks for people.

     Our goal should be to find out where our children are now, and then move them forward from there.  Slow and steady wins the race!  We tend to expect far too much of our younger children, and not nearly enough of our older children.  Instead, duing the early elementary years, back off a bit and wait for readiness.  Children in Sweeden and Switzerland don’t even start school until they are 7, and yet they outscore American children on standardized tests.  (See my tab, “Readiness”, and my archived posts on readiness as well.)

 6).  Minimize distractions in the home. Watch for excessiveness in entertainments, snacking, outings, phone conversations and the like. These sorts of things can easily get out of hand and compete with the effectiveness of a homeschool and sap the family of time and energy.

     Such distractions also get in the way of our children’s time to play,  explore their hobbies/interests, and so on.  These are vitally important to children of all ages.  Distractions eat up our own time as well; especially the time we could be spend reading the Bible,  playing games with our children, and giving them unrushed, real life experiences (cooking, nature walks, art, etc) they need.

7).  Seek quality over quantity. A few tapes of great music, a small case of carefully chosen books, a few special play mates, and an occasional outing is better than a large, but poor quality collection.

     Often we spend hundreds of dollars on these things–with the best of intentions–only to have them gathering dust on a shelf.  Start with a few of the best, and use them.  Once your children become familiar with the books and CD’s you have, you can add more.  This saves you from stress and guilt…and it saves money, too.  Sometimes I think we give ourselves so many options that we don’t know what to do; we’re like toddlers overwhelmed by a mountain of toys.  Less really can be “more.”  Believe me about this–I’ve learned it the hard way.

8).  If you must document your school activities, do it after the fact. This way you will not make promises you cannot keep. If you are required to make lesson plans, be as vague as permissible. Don’t let transcripts, diplomas, records and tests determine your academic plans. Focus on learning and the rest will follow.

     I don’t know about you, but I hate those “teacher plan” books…I dispise those empty boxes (even if I planned my day that way–i.e. alternating subjects.)  This year we’re using a simple, journal-type planner.  I added my own tabs to divide up the weeks, as well as tabs for writing down the books we read, resources we’re using, etc.

9).  Put the needs of your youngest, most vulnerable children first. If an older child gets a little behind in school, I’m sure you can forgive yourself. But if something happened to the toddler while you were busy homeschooling, I don’t think you would be able to say the same.

     Once we’ve given our youngest what they need, they will be content to let us work with our older children.  See my tab on “Routine”, and my article, “Keeping Little Ones Busy.”

10).  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and don’t neglect to seek him early…giving him the first fruits of your day and teach your children to do the same. I know that you are tired and that there aren’t enough hours in your day, but we serve a God who can make the sun stand still.

     Examine yourself:  Do you “make the main thing (JESUS!) the main thing”  in your personal life/homeschool/family life?  Do you spend time in the Word everyday?   Does your life reflect your most important goals?  Do you live out your faith?  Does your life rotate around GOD, or your family/homeschool?  (OUCH.)   I know I have a long way to go regarding these matters…I’ve been very convicted lately about truly living out my most important goals.  

     For more about “the main thing”, see my post, “Challenge To Christian Parents.” 

     Live the 4R’s!   ~~Susan

     Info about this post:  Simplifying,”   according to my information, this was orginally posted on the RC4JC Yahoo group and is used with permission:  “Anyone can use Colette’s list of 10 things; she’d like it if they credit the e-group or her by name, but it’s otherwise free for use without any conditions.”  (If this information is incorrect, please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due.  I did my best to find the orginal source.)

Colette is one of the moderators of the Robinson Curriculum email group:
Robinson Users for Christ

Simplify the Curriculum © Colette Longo, used with permission.  Other portions of this post: © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Curriculum, Elementary School, Encouragement, Goals, Holiness, Homeschool, Homeschooling, Methods, Readiness, Reading Aloud, Relationships, The 4 R's, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Me and the Moores: What Peaked my Interest in Homeschooling

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 19, 2010

        Way back in 1990, when my oldest was two, I heard Dr. Raymond Moore talk about homeschooling on the radio show,   Focus on the Family.  That single show started our family down a path to a major lifestyle decision–homeschooling. 

        Before my son was born, I was a huge supporter of institutional preschools.  I planned to keep teaching after our first was born.  I thought I’d find a preschool/daycare situation where I could take my baby to work with me…I was also considering starting my own home daycare.  But once I held my son in my arms, I saw preschool/daycare in an entirely new light.   I realized how much time it takes to care for a baby.   I remembered the preschoolers I worked with and saw them through new eyes…the eyes of a mother.  I realized that most of the children I worked with were lost, confused, and hungry for love and attention.  I knew I wanted better for my little boy.

        After hearing that radio show, I knew in my heart that the solution for us was homeschooling.  I’d already realized that I enjoyed the company of my then 2 year old way too much to ever send him away to preschool, but before the show I had never thought about homeschooling him.  I don’t know if I’d even heard of homeschooling.  

        I started to research homeschooling right away.  The first thing I did was to check out the book, Homegrown Kids from the library (Dr. Moore’s book).  I didn’t agree with everything in the book, but my background in Child Development told me that his emphasis on readiness and natural learning was right on the mark.  

        Dr. Raymond Moore is considered to be the “father” of the homeschool movement, and rightly so. The Moores have been at the forefront of the homeschooling movement since the early 1980’s.  The Moores emphasize developmental readiness, and introduced the idea of an “Integrated Maturity Level” or IML.   The IML includes our children’s cognitive, physical (including eye sight, eye-hand coordination, small muscle strength, and general coordination), and social maturity, which often doesn’t “come together” until age 8-10; therefore, the Moores suggest that children should learn in natural ways and not be forced into formal academic lessons until that time.   The Moore Formula encourages us to provide our children with approximately equal amounts of 1) manual work (think, life-skills!), 2) service (in the home or the community), and 3) “school” or study time (for young children, reading aloud and natural learning.)  I would add play to the list, especially for younger children. 

        Although the Moore’s method is often called “delayed learning”, it is anything but.  As I stated in my post, Preschool Myths, waiting for readiness is not the same as withholding learning.  It’s very different from un-schooling, as well.  The Moore’s advocate neither pushing children nor holding them back; they simply discourage “formal” or workbook/textbook type learning early on.  Instead, children learn through loving, consistent care and conversation (relationship),  a regular routine, lots of reading aloud, unit studies (delight directed), real life/hands-on experiences, games and oral work, and often through starting their own home business or helping their parents with theirs (a large component of their method.) Obviously the Moores have had a huge influence on me, since I am definitely a proponent of relationship, routine, readiness, reading aloud, and unit studies!

        The Moore Formula meshes well with many other methods, including Charlotte Mason (lots of lit; few if any textbooks, short lessons, oral work, etc) unit studies (lots of books and hands on/life experiences) and the Beechick method (again, lots of books and reading aloud, readiness, life experiences; emphasis on correct dating of early history), and even Montessori (life skills, hands-on activities, using real, adult-sized tools versus toys.)   

         Personally, I don’t go quite as far as the Moores do when it comes to delaying formal academics…Dr. Moore would have us wait for any type of formal academic lessons until our children are 8 years old.  Instead, I believe a more balanced approach is in order.  Having had an early reader (reading well at age 5-6) and a later reader (not reading much at all until age 10), I believe I see both sides of the issue.  I do believe in planning short, play-based lessons for the early years, but I believe they should be done carefully, with readiness and interest in mind.  Even so, I do see the good of the Moore Formula and I think their research is very comforting to parents of young children.  I recommend that parents of preschoolers and Kindergarteners (especially) read Home Grown Kids–if for no other reason than to help them relax and back off from an emphasis on formal academics during the preschool and early elementary years.  

        Reading Home Grown Kids helped me let my young children be young children, without worrying about a check-list of “facts” and “skills” they should conquer by age 4 or 5.  Their research held me together when my second born was struggling with reading.  The Moores are right–delayed readers do just as well or better than children who learn early (and I might add, there is not one study that shows that learning to read early is beneficial in the long run.)  My daughter went from struggling to read the simplest books (Boxcar children–at age 10) to reading Lord of the Rings so fast it made my head spin.  She now holds our family record for the most books read in one year, and she wants to be a Christian fiction writer. She never goes anywhere without a notebook, and she loves to read.

        I guess my point is, if you haven’t read Home Grown Kids, it’s worth your time.  If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the Moore’s developmental research, read Better Late Than Early, too.  The book, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook shows how the formula works in real families.

        To find out more about the Moore Formula, check out these links:

Read explanations of the Moore Formula HERE

Read articles about using the Moore Formula HERE

Read the article, Learning How to Think by the Moores (great ideas, except for the line about “the family democracy”; I don’t know about you, but our family is NOT a democracy!) 

Read the article, Unschooling and the Moore Method, by Dorothy Moore HERE.    

 © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Curriculum, Deciding to Homeschool or Hompreschool, Elementary School, Encouragement, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Methods, Readiness, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »