Homepreschool and Beyond

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    Homepreschool and Beyond will give parents the knowledge they need to find “balance” for their family. Find out what young children need to know—and how to teach it. Gain the confidence you need to relax and enjoy those precious preschool years—and beyond.

    “Susan Lemons gives you the blueprint…”

    • 26 Chapters
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    • For a ages 2-8
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Archive for the ‘Play’ Category

Homepreschool 101: What Preschoolers Learn Through Play, Art, and Music

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on September 10, 2014

What’s the big deal about play? Isn’t it….just play?

If you’ve followed my blog for any time at all, you would know that I emphasize the importance of play for children—especially for preschoolers. The value of play is greatly underestimated in our society today. Not so long ago, young children spent most of their time in creative, unstructured play. Older children played from the time school let our until dinnertime. But nowadays, more and more of our children’s time is taken up with “educational” activities, parent-initiated activities, television. and computer time. Dr. Alvin Rosenfield, a noted child psychiatrist, recently quoted these startling new statistics:

“In the past twenty years, structured sports time has doubled, unstructured children’s activities have declined by 50%, household conversations have become far less frequent, family dinners have declined by 33%, and family vacations have decreased by 28%.”

This change in family dynamics seems to be a modern phenomena that affects all families, whether we realize it or not. Even families with preschoolers are often so busy driving their children from one adult initiated activity to another that little time remains for family and playtime. In fact, many parents feel guilty if they do not keep their children busy this way. They seem to think that these “enriching activities” keep children busy, happy, and learning. But the reality is, this “busyness” is stopping us from giving our children what they need most: Time to develop close bonds with family members, and time to play.

Experts agree (how often does that happen?) that play is key to normal child development: Normal social, emotional, physical, and academic development is dependent on large daily doses of unstructured play. Through play, children learn. Here is a list, off the top of my head, that shows you what I mean:

What Preschoolers Learn Through Play

Through block or building play, preschoolers learn: Shapes, sizes, pre-math/math skills, thinking skills, cause-and-effect, planning skills, one-to-one correspondence, counting skills, and more.

Creative play is what we used to call “dramatic play.” It’s the type of play your child is engaging in, either alone or with others, when they take on the “role” of another–a mother, a dad, another person in the family, a super-hero, a doctor, a policeman…you get the idea. Through such play, preschoolers learn: Social skills, emotional skills (they use play to work out their emotions and practice appropriate social reactions, and so on), as well as speech/vocabulary skills, thinking skills, and more.

Through manipulative play (puzzles, Duplo’s “fit together” toys) preschooler’s learn: Spatial awareness, size/shape awareness, matching skills, eye-hand coordination, thinking skills, planning skills, pre-math/math skills, colors, and more.

Through outside/physical play, preschoolers practice coordination, large and small-muscle strength and control, “sport” related skills, and let out pent-up emotions. Outside play is often combined with creative/dramatic play for increased learning. Outside playtime is also key to physical fitness. Additionally, much has been said of late, about the need for children to get out into nature. Richard Louv, in his book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” makes a strong case for children’s need to spend extended amounts of time in nature (not in suburban areas, but in “wild” areas.) I think time “in the woods” is good for our souls.

Other activities that I emphasize for young children are art and music. Art and music are more than just “extra curricular” activities of little import. Rather, they are also key activities in the lives of children of all ages.
Children should be exposed to music from birth. Singing calms babies and is an expression of love. I strongly believe that while musical skill can be inherited, it is usually directly related to the amount of early exposure to quality music. In fact, I believe it is directly proportional to it (i.e. the more they hear, the greater their “ear” and skill for it. That’s why, musical ability so often runs in families.) There is no replacement for developing an “ear” for music–that instinct of what comes next, as well as the ability to hear and “stay on” the melody when singing or playing an instrument–OR the ability to hear/pick out the rhythm or the harmony (and again, the ability to stay on that part.)
You can learn more about the importance of music and see my specific recommendations when it comes to choosing good music, as well as a list of activities and skills, in the chapter on music in my book, Homepreschool and Beyond. You can find a much shortened version of that chapter HERE.

What else do preschoolers learn through finger-plays and music? Preschoolers learn: Speech and vocabulary skills, grammar and language skills, small-muscle control, listening skills, counting forwards and backwards (through finger-plays), math skills (music is closely related to math, believe it or not), and more. Through listening to or participating in musical activities and musical play, preschoolers develop their “ear” for music, which is key to later skills involved in singing or playing an instrument–such as rhythm, matching pitch, and the intuitive “ear” for music. The truly amazing thing about music that should interest all parents is the fact that studies have shown that children who are involved in music do better in every other subject in school–and no one can explain why.

And what about art? Art is important to children’s development for a plethora of reasons. Art, like music, is also important for self-expression, as well as the control and release of emotions.
Through art, preschoolers learn: Through art, preschoolers learn cause and effect, colors and color mixing, small muscle control (which is vital for writing), pencil/pen control, eye-hand coordination, art appreciation, self-expression, and of course, art skills. Art experiences of all types are really “pre-writing” experiences. For a more complete list of what preschoolers learn through art, how to set up your house for art, a list of suggested supplies, as well as important things you need to know about talking to children about their art, check out the art chapter in my book OR read a very abbreviated version HERE.

Important Tips:

~Never allow yourself to think, “She’s just playing.”

~Now that you are aware of the value of play, be careful not to let play become an academic exercise. Once in a while, introducing a purposeful type of play (play with a learning goal at heart–what I call “playful learning” in Homepreschool and Beyond) is OK. But be careful not to do this too often. At its heart, play should be child-initiated and child-le. Be careful not to over-analyze your child’s play, watching for “what they are learning today.” Play for play’s sake is enough.

~Provide open-ended toys and props that your children can use in many different ways. If you buy a set of duplo legos or wooden building blocks, s/he could play all kinds of things! He could build a city, adding some cars to drive on the “roads”; add plastic animals and she could build a zoo, and on and on. It’s a good idea to avoid toys that need batteries; 100% kid-powered is better.
For creative or “dramatic” play, children also enjoy the type of toys that allow them to act out adulthood or toys that make them feel powerful. That’s why dollies and cradles, play kitchens, cars and trucks, a doctor’s kit, and dress-up clothes (including “capes” for super-hero play) continue to be popular choices.

~Play with your children, but don’t assume a leadership role in their play. Instead, follow your child’s lead.

~Limit television and computer time. Let your children come up with their own imaginary scenarios–or let them get inspiration from books (instead of acting out what they’ve seen on television.)

~Observe your children’s play: That’s what child development experts do! Watching your children’s play clues you in on their secret world.

~Children will play longer and play safely if you stay nearby to watch and give occasional feedback. Obviously it’s not safe to let your children play outside alone nowadays, so plan your days in such a way that you have free time to spend outside with your preschoolers, ideally for part of every morning and afternoon.

~Be “that Mom” or “that house” where the neighborhood kids gather. Many kids are drawn to the house on the block where a Mom or Dad is around, creative toys abound, and cookies or cool-aid is served. Really, the key is having parents around who care. (I’ve also seen that the reverse be true: The kids who are used to being totally unsupervised and who don’t want to obey our rules quickly stop coming over.) Most afternoons I have two to four children from the neighborhood either in my yard or in my house. This is a form of Christian hospitality that can even open the door for sharing the gospel.

~Try and offer your children opportunities to play outside, weather permitting, as often as possible. Outside play and exposure to nature are especially important experiences for children of all ages.

Give your children plenty of time for unstructured. uninterrupted, creative play. They need it more than you can ever imagine.

Check out these important links to learn more about the importance of play– in our homes and our homeschools.

An Excerpt from A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fanasy Play, by Vivian Gussin Paley

Why Play? The Importance of Play

Learning Through Play by David Elkind

(NOTE: I haven’t investigated the other articles on these sites, and so can only recommend the pages above, not other pages on these links or their recommended links.)

Note: Homepreschool and Beyond has a whole chapter on play, how to play with your children, how to choose good toys, and more.

This post contains excerpts from the book,Homepreschool and Beyond”; used with permission. © 2010, 2011, 2014 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.


Posted in Art, Homepreschool, Homepreschool and Beyond, Homeschool Preschool, Play, Preschool Art, preschool at home, Toys | Leave a Comment »

PE for Homeschoolers/Homepreschoolers (Activities, Games, and More)

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on February 27, 2012

If there is one area that homeschoolers tend to neglect, it has to be PE. I think many homeschoolers have the attitude that, “if we have to be weak in one area, being weak in PE isn’t so bad.” After all, the public schools are weak in PE, too: Many schools are shortening recesses and shortening or eliminating PE altogether.

There are lots of ways to cover PE…you can even enroll your children in outside-of-the-home activities if you desire (many sport centers even offer classes for homeschoolers now. There are also sport opportunities available through city leagues, private classes, etc—and sometimes PE is offered by homeschool support groups.) However, for the sake of this post, I’m going to stick to providing PE at home.

PE at home isn’t hard to do; it just takes a time commitment. I recommend that you make sure your children spend some time playing outside every day, weather permitting. An hour a day is a good goal (you can even break it up into 15 minute segments if you need to.)

If you don’t have any outside space available to you at home, you’ll have to get creative. A few ideas: Taking off for the park a two or three days a week; purchasing a rebounder, and using it inside; jumping rope; purchasing an exercise DVD, and doing it together; exercising with your Wii. You could also run in place, do sit-ups, jumping jacks, and so on inside.

Even if you do have a backyard, just getting your kids outside to play isn’t really enough. Two or three days a week, plan to go outside with them and lead them in a more “official” PE time. Use this time to build their coordination, strength, endurance, and sport skills (listening skills, too!)

Here are some ideas that are appropriate for children of all ages (unless otherwise noted):

Work on specific sports skills: Throwing and catching balls of all sizes; throwing and catching bean bags, Frisbees, etc; bouncing balls (dribbling); controlling a ball with feet (soccer skills, including kicking); batting skills; basketball skills (making baskets; throwing with good aim, passing, etc)  AND whatever sport skills are important to you or your child. You might even want to choose a “sport of the month” or “skill of the month” to work on.

*Jump rope play: Learn to jump rope (5+) alone and when others turning the rope for them; have two people hold the rope, or tie it to something on one end (I tie mine to one end of our swing set) and then: wiggle it and have your kids try to jump over it without touching it (we call this playing “snake”); jump over the rope when it is held up (“high waters”); lay the jump rope on the ground and walk on it like a balance beam, and so on (get creative!)

*Play outside games: Some games need multiple players, but many can be adapted for even one child (and a parent.)  Examples: Hide and Seek, What Time is it Mr. Fox, Horse, and so on. (see below for other specific suggestions.)

*Practice coordination/build stamina with props: Use hula hoops to make paths to jump/hop/step over; learn to twirl and throw the hoops, etc; balance a ball on a Frisbee and see how far you can walk without dropping it; dance or move while holding streamers, and so on. Go to any dollar store and you are sure to find some props for PE on the cheap.

*Do stretches then calisthenics: Jumping jacks, sit-ups, etc (My Fit has a list of suggested exercises.)

Specific Activities:

*Play kickball, soccer or baseball with a beach ball or other large ball

*Set up “target practice” with bean bags and laundry baskets (you could also use Nerf balls or wiffle balls.)

*Use old 2 liter soda bottles as bowling pins, and a softball as the bowling ball and “bowl”

*Set up an obstacle course and have your children run through it. Use a stop-watch to see if each child can improve their time.

*Learn how to play “four square” (6+), hopscotch, (5+) jacks (6+), and Chinese jump-rope (6+), marbles and croquet (6+)

*Play “red light, green light”: You can play this with even one child. The basic directions are HERE (along with some other fun games); or, play it by having children run, hop, crawl, walk backwards, etc on the “green lights.”

*Play “Simon says” the usual way, or: “Simon says climb up the slide, then run over to the fence and touch it, then walk backwards to me. Ready, set, go!” Or, “Simon says do 25 jumping jacks.”

*Try having your children move in different ways: Hop, skip, jump, run; walk backwards, crab-walk; walk toe-to-toe, tip-toe, walk on heels, tiptoe, side-step, and so on; try moving  like animals: turtle, rabbit, gorilla, lion, dog, cat, bird, and so on.

*Make your child into a living wheelbarrow: Have your child get down on his hands and knees in front of you. Pick up your child’s legs at the ankles and have your child “walk” on his hands. This is a great workout for his arms and back.

*Older children will enjoy playing ping-pong, laser tag or dart tag (with Nerf guns.)

*Have several children or a co-op group? Try rely races: Have children pass a ball over their heads then between their legs; run to a spot, turn around, then tag the next person in line; or, have children run to a specific spot, pick up an object, run it back to the next person, who then runs to the same spot and puts in down, and so on. Games are also tons of fun. A larger group with several adults for supervision can even play more complicated strategy games like capture the flag. Other fun: parachute play (you can substitute a large sheet for a parachute.)

*Some days, you just can’t do everything you’d like to do PE wise. Perhaps your kids need PE, but you aren’t feeling good…perhaps you are over-committed (or just overwhelmed) for that day. That’s the time to use a back up plan. Make up a simple plan to use when you need to get your kids moving but you know you can’t be overly involved.  Have them: 1) Walk around the yard 3 times. 2)  Do 25 jumping jacks. 3) Jump rope 50 times. 4) Walk around the yard one more time. 5) Play outside for at least a half an hour.  Make your own plan, including activities your children know and enjoy. Use it on the days you don’t do formal PE with them, or the days when you need a break.


There aren’t very many websites or blogs that have ideas about homeschool PE on them, so if you have any links or ideas to share, please share them in the comment section.  If you are looking for some fun props and toys to use for playtime and PE, check out Hearth Song for some unique outdoor toys. Finally: Have fun. Try to make PE fun for your kids. They will get more out of it and be more cooperative, too.

© 2012 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.  Portions of this post are taken from Homepreschoool and Beyond, used with permission. Copyrighted materials may not be re-distributed or re-posted without express permission from the author.

Posted in Elementary School, Homepreschool, Homeschooling, PE, Play | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

How to Play Double Solitaire

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 10, 2011

   Here are the Lemons’ Family Rules for double solitaire:

   Tip: Start with two different sets of cards–cards that look different so that they are easy to separate at the end of the game. Remove the Jokers.

   Sit facing your opponent. Each player sets up his/her own, traditional Solitaire game, leaving space in the middle for runs starting with aces as usual. There are no turns; as soon as both players are ready, just say “go” and start playing (it’s a race!)  The goal of the game, just like in single solitaire, is to use all your cards–those under the 7 piles, and those in your hand. Play is the same as with single solitaire, except:

-You may play on your opponents cards, but you may not move your opponent’s cards.

-You may fill any empty space in your cards, but not your opponents.

-You may fill your empty spaces with any card that you choose (doesn’t have to be a King).

-Both players can play in the center space (the ace runs) at will, including removing end-cards to use elsewhere. BUT you cannot split the runs to remove cards or build more runs. All runs in the center must start with aces.

-If both players cannot play, they can agree to change the way they use their card pile–the cards you hold in your hand. I.E., instead of going through the card pile by 3’s, you can agree to go by 2’s. This rarely happens; usually the game goes fast and furious until someone is “out.” 

  Have fun! ~Susan

© 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 Fun, Games, Play | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

More About Family Games/Playing Games with Preschoolers

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 7, 2011

        Is your family a game-playing family? Our family loves to play games. In fact, some of my favorite childhood memories involve games, because games are a wonderful way of building relationships (watching movies…not so much.)  I can remember playing games with my mother when I was young, and playing hours-long Monopoly games with my brothers. The first games we learned to play were Parcheesi, checkers, Uno, and Booby Trap;  when we got older, we played Scrabble, Rummy-Z (a tile-rummy game; look on E-Bay), Yatzee and various card games.  Most of all, I remember our “holiday” games. There was another family that we were very close to; we spent almost all our holidays together. Traditionally, we would play games after dinner.  Most often we would play Tripoli (a combination of Poker, Michigan Rummy and Hearts) or Rummy-Z, although we dabbled with other games, as well. We would laugh at how seriously our friends took the rules, and looked suspiciously at anyone who had to “look at the box” (the directions ofTripoli were printed on the lid, and explained which hands were the best during poker.) There were almost always peanuts on the table, and chips and dip nearby.

        The key to game-playing is, dare I say it? Starting early (gasp…) I feel the same way about music, too…listening to and participating in music play from an early age is key to develop an “ear” for music/musical skill, just as watching others play/enjoy games from an early age helps children become interested in games, learn the rules of games, etc (as long as you keep it FUN and developmentally appropriate.) Our children grew up watching us play games, sitting on our laps to “help” us play games, etc. It was an important day for them when they graduated to sitting next to mom or dad, playing on their own hands!

        In my book, I list a ton of games/learning games for preschoolers—some home-made, some store bought. Some are “learning” games that teach specific skills, others are more generic. I can’t share all the game ideas that are in my book, but I can list some of our favorite, “generic”, family games. I’ve listed them (approximately) by age. Since game playing is another developmental skill, be sure to check the recommended ages and use your own discernment. We found that our children could often play the games at least a year younger than recommended on the box (especially with help) but your children might be different.

First Card Games (age 4 and up, with help)

Go Fish, Uno, Tutti Fruiti (this game is not made anymore; watch for it at yard sales or on Amazon and E-Bay. It was from Discovery Toys.

Other First Games

Uno Moo, Memory, Toss-A-Cross, Hi Ho Cherry-O, Candyland, Chutes and Ladders

Next Step Card Games (in approximate order of easiest to hardest; age 5 with help, age 6+ independent play):

Slamwhich OR Slap, War, Casino, Four Kings in a Corner, Uno Attack

Other Next Step Games:

Twister, Sorry, Parcheesi or Chinese Checkers (basically different takes on the same games); Blockus; Checkers (begin to learn, anyway; a fun variation is to play it with different colored Goldfish crackers or small cookies; eat what you jump!), Monopoly Junior, Jenga,Sum Swamp, Connect Four

Harder Card Games (for older kids/adults):

Golf , Solitaire, Double Solitaire (I’ll share our special rules in the next post), Racko, Pit (loud, fast, and fun! Great for a crowd of older kids, teens and adults); Skip Bo, Poker, Uno Flash, Simple Rummy Games (various)

Other Types of Harder Games:

Chess, Mancala, Monopoly, Apples to Apples Junior/Apples to Apples, Up Words, Scrabble, Banana Grams…

        There are so many more!  We have several new games we’re dying to try out: Five Crowns, Swap, Phase 10, Monopoly Deal, Rage….fun, fun, FUN! 

        If your family has never been a “game playing” family, I’d like to encourage you to try. Set aside a special “game night”; serve an easy, favorite meal (pizza, barbeque, etc) and then spend an hour (or two!) playing games.  You will be building relationships, building memories, and helping your children build thinking skills. Give it a try; you won’t regret it.

        Is your family a game playing family? Do you have any games to recommend? I’d love to hear your comments.

         Next post: Rules for Double Solitaire

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

Posted in Challenge to Parents, Encouragement, Family Fun, Games, Parenting, Play, Relationships | 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 »

Generations Radio Interview

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on October 22, 2010

      Ever wonder what I sound like?  I’m sure it won’t be what you imagine.  But if you’d like to know, you can listen to me on Generations Radio

    I was blessed to be interviewed this week by Kevin Swanson, a Pastor, author, leader in the homeschool community, and a homeschooling dad. 

    We talk about my book, the advantages of homepreschool versus institutional preschool, building relationships, the importance of conversation, music, and lots more.  You can listen HERE.

     Live the 4R’s!


Posted in Homepreschool, Homepreschool and Beyond, Homeschool, Homeschool Preschool, Kindergarten Readiness, Mothering, Music, Parenting, Picture Books, Play, preschool at home, Radio Interviews, Readiness, Reading Aloud, Susan Lemons, Teaching Reading | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What Babies Really Need: Creating a Stimulating Home Environment for Babies

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 11, 2010

         If babies don’t need curriculum, what do they need?  Babies really need only two things:  1). Loving, responsive, and consistent care from their parents, and 2). A stimulating (or enriching) home environment.

         The most important thing babies need is their parents. No substitute caregiver or expensive “curriculum” can replace this need.  During their first year, babies are bonding with their parents, and learning that they can trust their parents to take care of them.  From this trust grows security—and security is essential for normal personality development.  

Loving care:  Babies need to know that they are loved.  We communicate our love to them in many ways; by gently caring for them, through appropriate touch, and by the tone of voice we use when we talk to them. Remember to make eye contact with your baby, and engage her in “conversations” (she makes a sound, you reply; you then wait for her to respond again.)

Responsive care:  Some developmental “experts” encourage parents to deny their instincts when it comes to their babies—even newborn babies.  They encourage parents to strictly schedule their baby’s feedings, and make them “cry it out” at night until the clock says its time for them to wake up and/or be fed.  Babies don’t function by the clock.  (Dr. Penelope Leach has made the news lately by stating that crying it out damages babies brains…it’s common sense that such a strict schedule might be emotionally damaging for babies.)  For nursing babies, it is especially dangerous (some parents have actually starved their nursing infants to death by keeping them on a strict feeding schedule….nursing is a balance between supply and demand.)  Instead, follow your heart and respond to your baby’s cries.  Remember that your baby has emotional and social needs as well as physical needs, and give your baby the time and attention he deserves by letting him be closely attached to you.   Also remember that comforting your baby and bonding with him are legitimate reasons to let him nurse, even if “he shouldn’t be hungry yet.”

        Some “experts” believe that babies can be spoiled by too much attention…especially if they are held too much.  But in my experience, babies can’t be spoiled.  In fact, by giving them the emotional attachment they need while they are small, we are giving them what they need to grow up to be independent, self-confident and secure.  Besides, studies have shown that babies who are held more cry less…and isn’t that every parent’s goal?

Consistent Care/Routines:  Too strict of a schedule is problematic not only for baby, but for you as well.  Instead of trying to adopt a strict schedule, try a simple routine.  Instead of a timed-to-the-minute schedule that can become oppressive, a routine is simply an “order of events” for the day.  It can be flexible, reflecting baby’s needs and your needs as well.  This allows us to be consistent in our care-giving, while allowing for interruptions to our routine such as illness, travel, etc. 

        Babies, like preschoolers, come to depend on that sense of what comes next.  Routines keep babies on an even keep emotionally, and helps prevent meltdowns.  (See the tab 4 R’s: Routine.)   If you really are serious about enriching baby’s development, consider planning to include some of the elements listed below under “a stimulating home environment” during your baby’s quiet and alert times.

Repetition:  Babies thrive on repetition.  They don’t need a “curriculum” full of 20 million different board books, lullabies, baby-games, nursery rhymes, etc; instead, choose a few of your favorite elements and include them, a few at a time,  every day (as part of your “stimulating home environment”.)  Remember, babies love and need repetition, so use only a few at a time.

A Stimulating Home Environment:  Babies don’t need a pre-planned curriculum to learn.  We can easily provide them with all they need.   Here are some of the most important elements:  

~Routine:  Bring baby into your daily routine, talking to her  about everything you are doing. 

~Floor time:  Babies need time on the floor every day to help them improve their muscle control  and coordination.  Try these ideas:   Place baby on his tummy near a shatter proof mirror, or place colorful toys, toys with black and white designs, or board books with pictures of faces near baby.  These encourage baby to lift his head to take a look around.  You can also try laying baby on his back underneath a mobile or baby gym. 

~Offer your baby a change of perspective:  Alternate baby between different places and types of safe environments so that she can get a new perspective on the world.  Besides the floor, try a baby swing,  bouncer seat (we used these a lot on top of the kitchen island while I was cooking),  saucer seat,  Johnny Jump-Up,  etc as is appropriate for your baby’s age and development.  Babies love being outside as well—sometimes nothing else will soothe them.  Just remember to keep your baby out of the direct sun (we trained our babies to wear hats from infancy, to protect their tender skin and eyes.)   Even providing a new quilt for baby to lie on during floor time changes baby’s view of the world. 

~Play time:  Our babies need us to play with them every day.  Traditional baby games such as Peek-a-boo, How Big is Baby?, etc are not only fun but bonding and learning experiences for babies.  For some great ideas, visit your local Gymboree class, or invest in one of these books:

 ~Reading Aloud:  Have you started reading aloud to your baby everyday?  Reading aloud is one of the most important things parents can do to help their baby learn.  Here are a few of my favorites for the first year:

~ Singing:  Do you sing to your baby?  Babies need to be sung to everyday, no matter how bad we think we sound.  Singing to babies helps them to develop their language and listening skills, musical skills, and more.  Here are some of our favorites:

  • Lullabies:  Jesus Loves Me, You are My Sunshine, Rock-a-bye Baby, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Hush Little Baby, Brahms Lullaby, etc. 
  • Action songs and lap songs:  Wheels on the Bus (circle hands or feet), Row Your Boat (circle baby’s feet), The Noble Duke of York, Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes (touch correct body parts), and Open, Shut Them (since babies can’t open and close their hands yet, do this by spreading their arms way out, and then crossing them over their chest for “shut them”), This is the Way the Ladies Ride, and so on; and bath time songs such as “This is the Way We Wash our Hair” etc (my favorite source is Joanie Bartel’s Bathtime Magic ~~all of hers are good.  I also recomend Raffi’s Singable Songs for the Very Young.)   

Final Helps:  Here are some articles to help you become a more responsive parent to you baby:

More about Dr. Leach & crying babies (both sides of the issue) http://www.wikio.co.uk/news/Penelope+Leach

 Dr. Sear’s site on attachment parenting (remember to keep this balanced…no one can hold their baby all the time, and co-sleeping has it’s own pro’s/cons/safety issues):  http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/T130300.asp

 You Tube Videos on Dunston’s baby language (how to understand your baby’s cries–it’s worth a try!):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6CFSGAueyo

 Dunston’s own website: http://www.dunstanbaby.com

        Remember, what your baby needs most is not some new “educational” toy or “curriculum”; your baby needs YOU.  

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Babies, Book Lists, Curriculum, Mothering, Music, Parenting, Play, Reading Aloud, Relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Common Preschool Myths Debunked: Part 1

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on April 6, 2010

            It’s amazing to me that so many parents stubbornly hold on to these common  “preschool myths”–even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Many parents believe these myths so strongly that they will not even investigate any evidence that might disprove their premise.  I hope that you, my dear readers, will have open minds.  If you don’t believe me, look up the evidence I site and find out the truth for yourself.

Myth #1: We haven’t started doing anything educational with our young children yet; our children are “just playing.”

Truth:  All children are learning, all the time–whether we are aware of it or not.  All play is learning– especially child-initiated play.  Through play, children learn:

~Academic readiness skills/academics

~Thinking skills

~Speech skills

~Small and large muscle strength, control, and coordination

~Eye-hand coordination

~Play gives children the opportunity to:  Act out and deal with emotional upsets; practice social skills; develop their attention spans.

~Play is vital to normal child development. 

        Never underestimate the value of play, or your child’s need for it.  The best type of play for young children is “creative” or “dramatic” play—the type of play where your child comes up with “pretend” scenarios.  Examples:  A “Mommy” and her baby, a cowboy/cowgirl (“playing ponies” is what we used to call it for my daughter), a superhero, a doctor, firefighter, etc.  Preschoolers also need plenty of time for “manipulative” play; puzzles, play-dough, table top blocks, pattern blocks, rice bins, and so on.

 Myth #2:  Preschoolers need special, “educational” toys in order to optimize their brain development.

Truth:  All toys are educational.  Many of the toys that are labeled “educational” are simply labeled as such for marketing purposes. 

    The best toys are interactive and child-powered.  Avoid toys that are battery run or computer based like the plaque.  These toys often promise great educational benefits, but in truth, they fall short.  (Read the article, Hi-Tech Toys Offer No Educational Gain.  It is also wise to avoid toys that are based off  television shows or movies; these have limited play possibilities.   

     The best toys are the “traditional” toys.  They can be used in many different ways.  When your child plays with a Buzz Light Year action figure, he will always play “Space” or “Buzz.”  But when your child plays with blocks, he can use them as props for many different imaginary scenarios:  He could build a “space station” or add cars for a city; s/he could add plastic animals for a zoo; she could add small dolls to play mommy, or just practice building and stacking.  All traditional toys like blocks, cars, dolls, play kitchen, building toys (like magnetic building toys and Legos), balls, stuffed animals, plastic animals, and so on inspire endless opportunities for years of creative play.

 Myth #3:  The preschool years represent a limited “window of opportunity” when it comes to learning.  Preschooler’s brains are growing neural connections at an unprecedented rate.  We must take advantage of this brain development, or our children will lose the opportunity forever. 

Truth:  It’s true that it is very important to provide a loving, stimulating, and balanced environment for all children, no matter their age.  It’s also true that young children’s brains are growing new neural connections at an astonishing rate.  In fact, by the time children are 11 years old they have almost twice as many neural connections as adults do.  Starting at around age 11,  the unnecessary (unused) connections are pruned away. 

        Older children and adults continue growing and pruning neural connections throughout their lifetimes, and can learn just as well as young children can.  However, there are three areas of special concern when it comes to early brain development:

~Speech development:  Young children learn to speak by hearing speech and then copying it.  It is critically important for brain development and speech skills that you talk to your children all the time about everything you do (from birth.)  Make eye contact with your children, and engage them in “conversations” (yes, even babies!)  Conversations involve a “back and forth” interaction (i.e. baby makes a sound, you make the sound back, adding some speech as well; then wait for baby to respond again.)  It is also important to sing to your children, and read to them everyday (preferably many times.)  All these activities help to stimulate speech development and thinking skills.

~Language development (foreign language):  Baby’s brains are primed to learn language—any language.  So it’s true that it is easier for very young children to learn to speak a second language than it is for an adult (especially if you want to sound like a native speaker.)   However, this doesn’t mean that an older child/adult can’t learn a new language.  

     If you missed out on teaching a second language to your  young child, don’t worry about it; the window isn’t closed;  all is not lost.  Your children can pick it up later.  My daughter took up Japanese in high school (took 3 years of lessons from an exchange student) and I can vouch for the fact that interest and determination makes all the difference.

   If it is important to you that your child becomes fluently bilingual, you might want to introduce him to a foreign language early on (just be sure to do it in a fun, non-pressured sort of way.)  The best way to do this would be to find someone to spend time with him who speaks the language you want him to learn.  Have this person speak the language while playing with/reading to your child.  Ideas:  Foreign exchange students, extended family, etc.  If this is impractical, check out the resources offered by Sing ‘n Learn-especially the “Teach Me” CD’s.

~Music:  I don’t have any proof of it, but I’m convinced that the people who have developed a good “ear” for music–and those who seem to have “natural musical talent”–grew up in musical homes.  The amount of time you spend singing with your children and listening to classical/quality music together is directly proportionate to their later musical talent and “ear” or instinct for music (including pitch.)  It’s not only in the genes; it’s in the nursery (or the CD player?)  So turn off the TV and expose your children to music (see the tab, “My Articles”, then scroll down to “Why Music Matters for Preschoolers” for more information.)

         What about teaching very young children to read or do math?   If their brains are developing so rapidly, shouldn’t we take advantage of that growth and push them ahead academically?  I’ll address that in my next post.

 For more information about brain development, read Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think-and What We Can Do About It, and Your Child’s Growing Mind:  Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence, by Jane M.Healy, PH.D.

 © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.

Posted in Babies, Encouragement, Homepreschool, Homeschool, Mothering, Play | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »