Category Archives: Toddlers

How I Teach Language Arts – Relaxed Homeschooling in the Early Elementary Years Series

Relaxed Homeschooling in the Early Elementary Years Language Arts

I almost feel like it is dishonest to say how I teach language arts because I sometimes feel like I haven’t. I have facilitated a lot of learning. If there is any area where I feel like I’ve really embraced a relaxed approach to homeschooling and can see how well it can work, it is language arts.

I should also say as way of background that I spent a lot of time the first few years working on relationship building with Caroline. Due to health issues I had, our relationship had been through a lot of disruption between the ages of two and a half and four and a half. So more important to me than any learning was making sure our relationship was strong.

Here’s the background to get you to where we are now.

We started “teaching” Caroline when she was about six months old. That’s when she would sit in our laps and look at baby books with us. I consider that the start of her language arts education. We also talked with her all the time. We used adult voices, adult sentence construction, and a rich vocabulary. We talked about the books we were sharing together. We talked about what we saw when we were in the car. We talked about everything. We didn’t let her watch TV until she was almost two. So from six months to twenty-three months, we read multiple books to her a couple of times a day and we had lots of conversations with her. She always had access to a huge basket full of books. We gave her a lot of unstructured play time. We utilized books for conversation.

From two years to four years we pretty much did the same thing. Lots and lots of books, lots of conversation, lots of play, and some selected DVDs. We primarily used the Baby Einstein DVDs and we used them as a discussion tool. She LOVED them. We tied them in with books in the house, drives that we took, places we visited, etc. When she was about two and a half, we even used sticker books as learning tools which worked wonderfully well! I wrote extensively about what we did (and didn’t do) when she had just turned three in How I currently “teach” Caroline.

At four years of age, we did a bit of a trial homeschool preschool. Even though I had always intended to homeschool, I felt a bit angsty about her being an only child and wondered if she would be happier with other kids. (I also wondered if I would be happier if she was with other kids.)  It was when we did the trial preschool that I started to realize she was a different kind of learner. She was not interested in doing the same things over and over again. She thrived on variety. Not just preferred it, but thrived. I had purchased the Confessions of a Homeschooler Letter of the Week Curriculum and she was completely bored with it by about the third or fourth day. Once she had done an activity once or twice, there was no way she was going to do it again for another fifteen or twenty letters. I wrote extensively about our trial in Reflections on our practice homeschool preschool.

At five years of age, we did kindergarten. By this time, Caroline had pretty much taught herself to read after playing on websites like Starfall.com, ABCMouse.com, etc. She started out using Starfall, but we eventually also subscribed to ABCMouse (which I wrote about here) and wish I had done it sooner since it had so much great stuff! I sometimes sat down with her while she was working on a concept that I knew she didn’t know, but the repetition and exploring on her own just did it for her. I wrote about Teaching Our Spirited, Active Child to Read when she was six.

However, I would say much of preschool and kindergarten was simply play. I had lots of plans for kindergarten and we even tried to keep a regular schedule, but ended up really having to switch things up part way through the year.

Her sight word vocabulary astounds me. I think the reason she knows so many words by sight is she usually turns on the closed captioning while watching videos. So she’s reading along with the video. I never encouraged her to do this. She just did it and it has been a great thing for her.

Which brings us to first grade (last year) and second grade (this year).

I guess no one will be surprised when I tell you we still do basically the same things. After a few years of trial and error, I’ve learned what works with her and I just go with it. We read a lot to her, we have her read to us, we talk a lot, she uses computer programs, she does stuff on the Kindle Fire HD, and we do some worksheets that I pull from different workbooks I’ve picked up. We play games that relate to reading whether they are games I’ve purchased or my own products that I create.

Like many right-brained children, she is not a fan of writing. This is one area where I am letting her lead me. My intuition tells me that to push it is completely counter-productive. And so she still dictates her journal to me and then illustrates it. I plan work that takes minimal writing. Eventually it will click with her. In the meantime, I make sure it doesn’t prevent us from moving ahead in other areas. I just plan things that don’t require a lot of writing.

Making these changes to a relaxed approach to language arts (and learning in general) was a huge change for me as a former first grade teacher. But I can see that this is what Caroline needs and that is the whole point in homeschooling her! We homeschool her to give her what she needs, how she needs it, and when she needs it. We focus on keeping strong relationships and carefully observing her so we can provide the learning opportunities she needs in all areas, including Language Arts.

So far we can see that this has been a good thing. :-)

This is part of my Relaxed Homeschooling in the Early Elementary Years series. Read the Introduction to the series here.

HopscotchiHNJanuary2013

This is also part of the iHN January Hopscotch. Check out all the fun series here!

Posted in Caroline, Early Elementary, First Grade, Home Education/Homeschooling, Kindergarten, Language Arts and Literacy, Learning and Homeschooling, Only Children, Preschoolers, Relaxed Homeschooling in Early Elementary, Right Brained Learners, Second Grade, Toddlers | 1 Comment

How To Raise a Reader

How To Raise a Reader

Reading has always been a super high priority with me when it comes to being a mom.  Our rule from the time Caroline was old enough to attend to a book (six or seven months?) was to always read to her when she asked. Even if it was inconvenient at the moment.  Yes, reading to her was that important.  We rarely turned her away or put her off if she brought a book to us.

This Babycenter article about How to raise a reader is really super (minus the part about the Teletubbies).  LOL! No, seriously, it has excellent information. Any new moms who are feeling anxious about their child’s development should read this and take it to heart.  Infants, toddlers and preschoolers don’t need tons of fancy toys.  Reading to them and giving them a print and verbal rich environment is the most important thing.

Caroline was watching a video of herself today from when she was two and a half.  I knew she was a verbal two year old, but now I really marvel at her vocabulary.  I mean I knew it at the time, but now I see it in a whole new way.  The two keys?  We read to her all the time and we talked about anything and everything all the time.  We used a wide adult vocabulary, expanded on what she said when she talked to us, and just generally spoke to her on a high level.

Reading ability is one of the biggest predictors of school success. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your child is a love of books and print in general. A large vocabulary will serve your child well, too. Spend lots of time at the library and read, read, read and talk, talk, talk!

Photo is Caroline enjoying books at fifteen months. She had a huge basket of books next to her bear chair.  :-)

Posted in Books, Caroline, Language Arts and Literacy, Learning and Homeschooling, Preschoolers, Toddlers | Leave a comment

Teaching Our Spirited, Active Child to Read

Teaching Our Spirited Active Child to Read

I wanted to bring together two topics near and dear to my heart in this one post. Spirited children and homeschooling. More specifically, how we taught our spirited child to read. (If you aren’t familiar with the concept of a spirited child or wonder if you have one, you might want to check out my spirited child page that has lots of resources and links.)

I think that effectively teaching a spirited child to read boils down to one thing: Don’t teach her to read.

Yes, you read that correctly. Don’t try to teach her to read. Allow the child to teach herself to read.

Now let me explain.

Early Reading and Talking Strategies

Caroline constantly amazes me with her reading. She amazes me because I have done relatively little direct instruction with her and so I’m somewhat taken aback at how much she knows. To be sure, David and I have done a great deal to invest in her developing ability to read. Probably most importantly, we have read multiple books to her every day since she was around six months old as part of our desire to raise a reader. The power of reading a variety of books every day to your child cannot be overstated. We surrounded her with print material including books and subscriptions to magazines such as Baby Animals (Now Highlights Hello) and High Five (Thanks, Mom!). The other biggie is we talk. A lot. And we never did the baby talk thing. We always spoke in adult voices with her and didn’t dumb down our language. We expanded on the things she said so as to greatly increase her vocabulary. (If someone wants an explanation of this, just ask.)

But we have not “taught” her how to read. She has taught herself so much that I can’t point to a curriculum and say, “Caroline knows these words because we’ve learned them and I’ve tested her on them.” This summer we were out driving and another car had one of those baby screens in the back window. She said, “The First Years.” I had no idea she knew the words “first” and “years” but she obviously did because she read them with absolutely no supporting context at all. She basically does this every day. Every day I discover another group of words she knows that she learned somewhere.

The Philosophy of How to Educate a Spirited Child

When I realized Caroline was a spirited child, I knew I had to rethink every aspect of my educational philosophy in light of the child I had been blessed with by God. I’m a former teacher and I had thought a great deal about homeschooling while waiting to be blessed with a child. But none of that really mattered. I wasn’t trying to figure out how to teach a class of twenty-five first graders to read. I had one child to consider. Mine. And it really didn’t matter which curriculum choices sent my heart racing with possibilities. It only mattered what would get Caroline excited about learning. So I had to rethink all of my approaches in light of my child. Some of my views would remain the same, some would adjust slightly, and others would take me in completely different directions.

One of the realizations I had early on was that any thought of the two of us sitting down and me “instructing” her how to read was simply not going to fly. She wouldn’t sit still that long and it isn’t how she functions best. I knew we would both be miserable. She learns best by watching and acting. So I made the choice to embrace two mediums I would not have expected: DVDs and websites.

Utilizing DVDs

Caroline didn’t watch TV or DVDs until she was almost two years old at which time I started to let her watch Baby Einstein videos. She loved them and we used them as an educational tool to foster discussion about all kinds of topics. Yes, they also worked as an excellent babysitter to give us a break. But we just didn’t let her watch them without also discussing them, connecting them to her real world, etc. So, for example, Baby MacDonald – A Day on the Farm (the “Cow” video as it was called in our house) was connected through other books we read, toys we bought, and regular rides we took in the countryside to help her see in person what she was seeing on the television.

Over the past four years we’ve allowed Caroline to watch a lot of carefully selected DVDs. I know they have helped her advance as far as she has. The LeapFrog videos have been great. I think the quality of them has diminished somewhat with the later ones, but they have still been helpful.

Caroline really solidified her knowledge of the letters and sounds with Letter Factory. I never really taught Caroline how to put words together. She learned that on Talking Words Factory. She learned about reading sentences on Learn to Read at the Storybook Factory. (These videos were also great with math with Math Adventure to the Moon and Math Circus.)

Using Learning Websites

The other biggie has been Starfall. We also subscribed to the More Starfall when it became available. Some of the stuff on Starfall is hokey and cheesy. There is stuff on there that makes me wince at the dubious quality. But Caroline learned so much from Starfall and More Starfall. We’ve also subscribed to ABCMouse.com for a season and are utilizing ABCya.com. But Starfall has been the biggie.

Teaching I Do

Now there are ways that I will have to teach Caroline. She definitely needs work on the long vowel sound patterns and so we will practice those. We’ll play games with word families. I utilize the pocket chart and learning games as much as possible. I do everything I can to get her to read without it being obvious that we’re working on reading. But it is soooo much easier because all of the foundation is there. I just work at filling in the holes and not trying to build it from the ground up. Drilling her and working on sight words from scratch would have been an exercise in frustration for both of us. This is much better.

I’ve been quizzing her on the Fry’s First Hundred Words to see what she knows because I honestly wasn’t sure. She basically already knows all but about ten of the first hundred words that are supposed to be learned in first grade. We started going through the second hundred words for second grade and I’m guessing she probably already knows at least a third of them, probably more. I’m going to check her on the third grade words as well. I’m guessing just by looking at them she already knows quite a few of them as well.

More Learning DVDs

Back to the DVDs… The other DVDs that we’ve utilized have been the Little Einsteins (such as Flight of the Instrument Fairies, Team Up for Adventure, and Our Big Huge Adventure) and Curious George (such as Curious George: Back to School, Curious George Makes New Friends, and Curious George Goes to the Doctor and Lends a Helping Hand). (We purchase all of the DVDs in both of these series and she has enjoyed them over and over and over and over…) The thing that I like about both of these series is that they have a learning component but they also meet her need for creativity and fun. She has such an imagination and these two series really seem to feed it for some reason. The Curious George videos have a real life segment at the end of each episode that shows real kids doing real things related to the topic. These have been a great springboard for further discussion or projects.

Doing What Works for My Child

So there’s a little bit about how we’ve “taught” Caroline to read. Will our method work for every spirited child? I have no idea. But I do know that spirited kids who are more of everything need a different approach to much of life. This is what I discerned about how to handle the reading aspect. It was a big shift for me because I tend to be rather low enthusiasm on the technology front. I think it has its place, but I’m not interested in getting sucked up into it. But I know this was the best way to approach reading with Caroline and I’m just thrilled so see what a great job she is doing.

It also fits well with our philosophy of making all of life a learning experience. Caroline taught herself to read through the tools we gave her in our home (books, games, DVDs, computer, reading aloud, library visits, etc.). We have shown her that learning happens all the time and she can embrace learning on her own as well as with us. We have empowered her to read and we reinforce that every time she reads something and astounds us yet again. Her reading is her own, not something we gave her. And that is a powerful lesson for her to begin learning even as a first grader.

I’ll try to follow up with another post with some of the other reading resources we’ve used (games, books, etc.) and maybe even a post about how we are rapidly becoming semi-structured, semi-unschoolers. :mrgreen:

Note: Since writing this, I have also realized Caroline is a right-brained learner and that also figures heavily into why this method worked so well. Generally speaking, right-brained children love to learn, but hate to be taught. :-)

Posted in Books, Caroline, DVDs, Home Education/Homeschooling, Learning and Homeschooling, Preschoolers, Toddlers | Leave a comment

Duck, Duck, Goose! A Coyote’s on the Loose!

Duck Duck Goose a Coyote's on the Loose


Some books are just fun.  Duck, Duck, Goose!: A Coyote’s on the Loose! is one of those books.  I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve already read it and how many times Caroline has recited just the title.

She’s also memorized quite a bit of the inside text.  I suspected this would be a winner because funny animals are all the rage right now.  :-)

Posted in Books, Learning and Homeschooling, Preschoolers, Toddlers | Leave a comment

LeapFrog Letter Factory: It’s Officially a Big Hit

LeapFrog Letter Factory DVD

I can officially call LeapFrog Letter Factory a big hit with Caroline.

Now that I know she likes it, I’ll look into the other related ones as well.  Thanks very much for the recommendations! I’ll be checking out some of the others soon!

I also purchased the Fridge Words Magnetic Word Builder today. We already had the LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Alphabet Set and it helped Caroline learn her letters very early on.  But she has shown such an interest in words and spellings lately that I knew it was time to move her along to something more challenging.

Posted in DVDs, Early Elementary, Kindergarten, Language Arts and Literacy, Learning and Homeschooling, Preschoolers, Product Reviews, Toddlers | 2 Comments

How I currently “teach” Caroline

Several days ago Kat left a comment asking if I would share how I organize Caroline’s day, what we are doing with her learning, etc.  So, for what it is worth, here is where we are right now.  And this is honesty at its finest.

I am motivated. Caroline is not ready.

I feel guilty for not doing more structured things with her.  Caroline is not ready.

I am tempted to feel angst over the “lost” months this summer when I was too sick to do much of anything with her except watch Pride and Prejudice (A&E) more times than I will ever publicly admit.  (She was obsessed with it for quite awhile and it worked for me.) Caroline hasn’t really suffered for it except in my overly conscientious mind.

The truth of the matter is that we are very unstructured right now. Part of it is that we are just getting somewhat back to normal after me being anything but normal physically since late February.  Part of it is simply that Caroline is not ready.

I read these blogs of women who do all these amazing, planned things with their children who are a similar age and am tempted to feel guilty.  But Caroline is just not ready.  She isn’t ready for structured learning.

This is one of those areas where I just have to trust my gut.  And I also have to trust my convictions.  I’ve believed for a long time that children are too over structured too early.  I believe strongly in the importance of open-ended play.  I really appreciate the teachings of Charlotte Mason

We don’t read nearly as much as I would like to.  For some reason, she just doesn’t respond to the idea right now.  I’m not going to fight her on this so we don’t read as much as I thought we would.

So that is a little bit about what we aren’t doing.  There is no structured learning going on in our house.  That isn’t to say that there isn’t learning.  We learn all the time.  But it is much more situational and arises spur of the moment far more often than me planning that Caroline is going to work on “X” skill.

Truth be told, I am still trying to figure Caroline out.  She is a mystery to me in many ways and it has been a challenge.  In many ways I cannot figure out what makes her tick.  It is hard for me as her mother to feel that way, especially since I am a very insightful person.  But she has a complicated little personality and it has been one of the big challenges of parenting so far.

So what do we do?

We go places – Meijer Gardens, the zoo, Children’s Museum, stores, Starbucks, apple orchards, drives in the country… We have to literally drag her out of Starbucks.  How great is it that she loves hanging out in a coffee shop?  :mrgreen:

We work together – loading laundry into dryer, putting things in shopping cart, cleaning the bathroom, putting laundry away, dusting, cleaning mirrors, working in the garden…

We read books and printed materials. She’s fascinated by catalogs.

We watch grown up DVDs – the exception is Baby Einstein and home DVDs.  She has learned so much from Baby Einstein DVDs. We started watching those right before her second birthday and they have been wonderful. I plan on doing a post on that.

We listen to a lot of classical and instrumental music.  When she hears something on the stereo that was in one of her Baby Einstein videos she will say, “That’s like Cow” or “That’s like on Horse!”  or “That’s on Instruments!”  (She identifies most of the BE videos by the animal on the cover.)

We dance.

We talk about things all the time.

A little bit of “school” stuff – When I find something online that I think she will like, we do it.  Totbooks, cutting and pasting activities, etc.  If a teachable moment arises related to letters or words, I use it.

We use Bing video searches – This started kind of by accident, but we look up videos on Bing and she loves it.  (I think she is a highly visual learner.)  Daddy actually does most of this with her and they’ve learned about windmills, waterfalls, trumpets, Celtic Women Christmas, Christmas trees, dogs… Lots of things.  Here are her two favorites that she has watched over and over and over again…

Here is the first favorite – Wynton Marsalis playing a Haydn Trumpet Concerto.  (No, I am not making this up.) She has probably watched it several dozen times over the recent months. That is saying something considering the picture quality is not all that great. But she loves the music on the trumpet.

This is the more recent favorite. She heard Celtic Women Christmas Celebration at my parents’ house a few months ago and absolutely fell in love with their version of Ding Dong Merrily On High. We found the video online and she loves it. When she hears it on CD, whatever she is doing immediately stops and she starts dancing around the room.

I’m sure there are other things that will come to mind, but this is a bit about where we are right now. I am guessing maybe this winter we will get into a little more structure.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I know there is no way she would be ready for preschool right now.  We’ll just continue to do things here as they seem appropriate and have fun in the process.

Photo credit

Posted in Caroline, DVDs, Home Education/Homeschooling, Parenting, Planning, Preschoolers, Thinking Hard, Toddlers | 7 Comments

Easy, creative fun with do-a-dot paints and books

This summer I introduced Do-A-Dot Rainbow Art Set Paints to Caroline. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but she LOVED them.  She’s used them regularly ever since.

I purchased a few of the books such as Do-A-Dot Discovering My World Activity Book and have been making copies of the pages that interest her. (That way the books last a lot longer and I’m within the copyright permissions in the book.) I also give her plain paper at times so she can be creative and do her own designs.

I like that they allow her to be creative without creating a huge mess.  Bonus for everyone!  :D

Posted in Art, Crafts and Creative, Early Elementary, Home Education/Homeschooling, Kindergarten, Play, Preschoolers, Product Reviews, Toddlers | 1 Comment