Wednesday, September 03, 2014

What's in those Work Boxes? 8 types of activities to fill the drawers and the day.

I blogged our 5 things that keep me sane recently and had a lot of people raise the question-- what's in the work boxes, and what do you use to teach the kids during the day?  Here's post #1 with a really basic overview.  Of course, some time on Pinterest would likely yield you more results in one tap than this will, because we've purchased materials over the last 5 years of having preschoolers (and buying educational items for birthdays, Christmas, and from relatives for those also!) so our cabinets are well stocked with educational supplies that were purchased.  Many of these things can be replicated from home to do the same function!

Here it is... what's inside... what the kids are working on!

What it looks like:

I won't even pretend that it looks that amazingly organized all the time.  But in general, I have drawers for 'flat' activities, I have bins galore that stay in their bins, and I have magazine organizers and small plastic document bins for other projects when I run out of drawers! :)

1. Workbooks, copy sheets, and dry erase pages...

Right now, Brianna is working on Spectrum 1st grade math and we're starting off with review of Kindergarten Hooked on Phonics, and her books are all in dry erase pages, then in a binder and dropped in one of the BIGGER drawers which will hold the binder at a bit of an angle.  She's also working on writing her name, which as you can see, my erasing is starting to take the permanent marker off with it! She's also working through a basic printing handwriting book, which I've set up for her to write in since it's easy enough to replace for $1. :)

Lynae is working through A Beka Kindergarten, so many of her drawers have numbers, letters, Bible, Science, Think and Learn, and printing practice from that curriculum.  I have her "monster page corners" on books so she can find where to start each day without flipping through the book for a long time.  These are just a folded strip of paper with eyes and teeth added that she and I made together.  They have helped her a lot with independence and she thinks it's great to have them!

2. Bible Verse activities:

The girls are both in AWANA at church, and this is our first experience with that.  Each week they have a phrase they are supposed to learn such as "S is for Savior" along with a scripture memory verse.  I took each of these and printed them on a sheet of paper, then also blew them up and cut them in strips so the girls are physically working on putting them in order, while we are working on learning the verses.  To keep me organized, the date of each memory verse is written in the corner of the page as well as on the back of each strip.

3. Fun activities for ALL the kids:

I put Snacks in one bin, the computers have 'tags' on them for time on there, the art easel also has a scheduled time, and so does the board book area.  We also try to get everyone outside (barefoot and all!) at some point in the day.  Sometimes these activities can hold a more structured 'value' (such as painting or making a specific project at the easel, or having an organized outdoor activity or educational computer game) but for right now I'm using those as reward time since I'm not that organized yet this year! :) 

4. The "preschool play time" that every kid needs:

There are times when we treat our children what their ages say they are, and there are times where their developmental levels are really more important.  Socially acceptable but developmentally appropriate is a hard thing to figure out.  Well, my kids from 2-almost 12 enjoy these same activities if they're working on a toddler/preschool developmental level, and social appropriateness goes out the window when we're working on 'skills' ... including HOW TO PLAY, which is an underdeveloped skill in many kids from orphanages, such as 3 of mine!

In the 'grouped' picture is a mailbox with letters and a package, Noah's ark and animals,  a cash register that names off numbers and has some sounds, a handful of Ninja Turtles, and a Fisher Price Farm.  The next picture is a Fisher Price doll house with all the farm animals arranged however Lynae saw fit this afternoon, and then a coin sorting cash register with coins that fit in SIDEWAYS (flat), which is a different skill than most coin tasks.

We throw in baby dolls and strollers, magna doodles, and other 'fun' items that hold little educational value other than teaching while they play, (some of these are pictured later).  Bead mazes are a favorite of a couple of my children, so we incorporate those too!

5. Manipulatives with a mission:

These items are fun but serve a purpose.  Puzzles are good matching and fine motor as well as spatial awareness.  Counting bears can be sorted by color, these have 3 sizes so can be sorted by size, and can be used as manipulatives for math problems as well.  Blocks are great for stacking, but also for lining up, for completing visual puzzles of "create this shape" (trace around a group of blocks to make a picture on a piece of paper that the child has to replicate).  These bean bags each have either a letter on them or are cut to a specific shape, and they can be used for teaching those specifics, for identifying colors, or for several gross motor tasks like throwing them to a target, standing on one leg or an uneven surface, etc, and bending and standing back up to pick them up.  The "pie" is filled with fruits which can be picked up with the included 'tongs', or can be sorted by color or by type (there are two type of fruits per color!). Lacing beads, colored blocks, and counting bears can all be used to replicate patterns shown on a piece of paper.  Lacing beads are also a great OT activity in general, both the large ones (pictured below) and small ones.  Smaller ones often have letters on them and can be used for spelling words or Bible verse memory as well.  Use your imagination... MANY things can be used as manipulatives that double for learning!  Snap beads (pictured later) for making jewelry are a great play-and-learn skill for OT!

6. Learning toys with specific purposes:

Seen above in the item with lots of baggies is a tin of muffins which are a shape sorter, the icing and bottom separate and each muffin has a different shape.  The shape is also in the bottom of the muffin tin, so it is a two-fold activity.  There is also a 'balance scale' and this is great for use with blocks, weights, beads, etc to figure out how many make it balance and understanding the concept of weight as a measurement versus size alone.  Also pictured above in the top bin over the blocks is a bin of cans, which each contain a different number of a fruit or vegetable.  It replicates 'canned' foods, but is used for sorting, counting, and learning what each item is.  Lastly, pictured above with the puzzles is a set of 'crayon shaped' containers which contain a variety of items that are all different sizes and are all different shades of the color that crayon is representing.  This teaches color recognition, but also teaches diversity within the shades of the color spectrum. 

Now for some other things... Another 'cans' game, because Brianna LOVES the sorting cans above, this one has the entire alphabet and includes heavy cardboard cutouts of items starting with that letter.  On the back of the cards are the word (which helps me cheat!).   Also below are flash cards galore, which we use sparingly, but mostly to test knowledge rather than to teach.  Vocabulary photo cards are a little different, though, and we do use those to teach and build up a vocabulary with things that establishes words some of our kids haven't heard, especially those who missed out on the first 5-8 years of learning time.   In the bins below, the top is manipulatives and fine motor task items, but the bottom are puzzle cards for spelling words, doing math problems, etc.  The child puts the puzzle together to solve the 'things that go together' or to write a word (each letter of a 3-5 letter word is a puzzle piece. 

7. Artsy, Craftsy, easy stuff:

I may take a peek on Pinterest every 4 months or so, but I'm seriously not a Pinterest follower.  So, our arts and crafts go along with our projects, and we do a lot of crayons, color wonder markers, stencils, and, the bin in the photo below with plastic baggies in it?  Those are a bunch of pre-made Oriental Trading activities to do with the letters of the alphabet (and around them is the rest of the Hooked on Phonics curriculum).  We also have the art easel for drawing/tracing and coloring, and I have great plans of getting the kids painting (we picked up paint brushes and no spill containers for a certain boy's 8th birthday coming up...!)  

8. The digital age:

We have a Plex server set up at our house which runs off of one of the kids' computers.  It has a category called 'educational videos'.  It is the warehouse for all of our DVD's so that they don't have to be ruined by tiny fingers... but more specifically, it has the entire collection of Magic School Bus shows, Signing Time series 1 and 2, and many Leap Frog and other such videos which teach through video.  We've found some for math, reading, and even teaching about the weather.

We also have 2 iPads which the kids can use (with major military grade cases on them!) and through the Guided Access function, we can lock the iPads in to an activity and they cannot unlock it.  There are several apps like "Special words" created for children with special needs, or (called Learning Academy on the iPad, I believe), which are great for the kids to 'lock in on' and enjoy some digital time without the 'easy access' of the computer which, at any time, may just HAPPEN to click over to MineCraft rather than my chosen activity for them!

Michael took some old cassette tapes with stories on them and made them into MP3's which the kids can access along with the digital versions of the books right on the ipad.  Don't ask me how he did it... he just did. I believe they are in the educational section of the Plex server as well!

There's also and which provide FREE educational games and activities which are a nice down time activity or something you can really look in to and schedule in to match up with whatever you're teaching.  It's great for seasonal learning, too. :)

More and more...:

Of course there's more we do and specific different activities we have done or will do again in the future, tongs and ice cube trays and erasers and gooey lizards fill some of those bins, but to be specific would take way more time than I have right now, so... there's the basics of what we work with! :)  What do you use to create environments for learning with your kids?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Five helps for keeping my sanity while homeschooling 9 kids developmentally under 7 (and a 5th grader!)


I'm often asked how we are able to make it work to homeschool our ten children (9 of ours and a child we are providing respite for).  Seven of the kids have special needs and 6 of those kids are under 4 developmentally so it becomes our very own preschool class with 7 kids, plus kindergarten/1st grade with another 2, and then there's my 10 yr old son who is on 5th/6th grade curriculum.  Quite the spread!

Here's five little things that make it work!  But first, let me dispel any thoughts of super-hero qualities which allow me to do something that you (as a homeschooling parent) feel is impossible to accomplish in a day.  Let me assure you first that WE DO NOT HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER ALL THE TIME!!!  And second, that YOU CAN DO IT WITH YOUR FAMILY TOO!  Sure, some of the time we have it all together.  And sometimes we really don't.  Sometimes everyone does a full day of "school".  Sometimes my 'academic' kids get all their school in and the others get a whole lot of educational TV.  Or coloring and floor play.  Or we have activities that take us out of the house and we call it a field trip and learn in different ways than what we can learn within the walls of our home.  

Regardless, here they are... the top 5 things that help homeschooling go smoothly for us:

1. "That's MY DOT" 

The kids each have a 'family color' and we found these fun shapes which have 6 each of the 10 family colors... so we bought two sets and those whose colors aren't included know they have to adjust and whatever other one we assign to them instead will be theirs.  Now you're thinking that this lets the kids know where to be.  Well, yes... sometimes it is for that reason, like when we're all sitting in a group and I want the kids spread out or not next to a particular child, etc.

But truthfully.... I often use them during the day so *I* know what activity I last sat a child at, and when I find that they've taken off and are in a different room, I know where they were supposed to be!! :) See... we don't always have it together. :)

The kids tend to use them creatively as well, for instance when I'm not using them, or not all of them... then they may be turned into a piece of the kids' work...

2.  Make a schedule, and be ok changing it

These are our daily homeschool sheets.  Each number gets an activity assigned-- for ME to know what they're supposed to be doing. I use one of the cards on the left and stick it on the velcro dot on this page, and that is their assigned character for the day.  Then the cards get placed on other activities, following that schedule, so the kids can work semi-independently through their day.  There are soft velcro dots on things all over my house for these cards to go on!


You'll notice there's only two characters in all of these pictures, and that's because at the moment I'm only using the characters for Lynae and Brianna.  They are the two working through work books and boxes at their own paces.  I also choose to use ONE child's schedule to designate some 'family activities'.  So whenever Brianna's said snack today, I brought all the kids together for snack.  I just write 'all' to the side of her assignment sheet.  I did the same for play dough time.  I also skipped snack initially, because Brianna worked through her boxes pretty quickly this morning and I just wasn't ready!  We put it 2 numbers later, and it didn't disrupt anything.  She worked through a couple more assignments and then we had snack.  I do NOT assign times to activities, though I do assign LENGTHS to some (like stencils, computer time, outside play, art easel, and books).  I also assign time frames to each subject for Kristopher, and he moves to the next subject at that time.  Timers are AWESOME for him, and for us all! 

3. Trays give work space boundaries

These are simple restaurant trays from a fast food restaurant that are slightly larger than a sheet of paper.  They keep crayons close by (and not rolling off the table!) and they give the kids a work space that is defined, and keeps everything together, like blocks and other project pieces.

4. Dry erase workbooks= being able to use a workbook page 10,000 times without having anything to throw away

Sure, you can scan workbooks, photocopy and use copies, etc.  But this is a simple way to be able to use it over and over again! 
Not only that, but I've taken the work books apart and put 8 different workbooks that all teach colors, shapes, numbers, addition, etc with slightly different ways... and I put ALL the shapes, ALL the addition, ALL the coins, etc... into each section.  That way I'm not hunting through workbooks to get a different way to teach an activity either, and instead I can choose 3 math pages from the addition section, or 2 workbook pages on shapes.  When she's done with a page, she shows it to me then we erase and go on!  Many of my little ones need quite a bit of repetition to 'get' a concept, and refreshers to remember how to do it.  Plus, like the picture above, it's great for a little work that is independent and successful when getting ready to begin a new subject that will challenge them. :)

5. School isn't all about academics

School time, as you can see from the pictures above, can be a combination of all sorts of things!  We work on colors and sorting and shapes and numbers, and fine motor and gross motor and... and ... and...  Computer time and art time are built into the day, and of course time to play outside! Snack, and lunch, and we have a built in time of day when we have 'quiet time'.  That means each of the kids either finds a quiet activity to do on their own (or finishes their school work...) or they sit quietly in the family room where we put on a movie and turn the lights down.  The two littlest take naps in their beds during this time.  Below are some of the 'organization' that we have, so the toys on and under the table can be used for play time and school, and the activities in the (locked) cabinets can be taken out individually for specific activities.  

Care to share?

What are your helps that get you through your homeschooling days with a tad bit of sanity intact? I'd love to glean from your tips too!