Friday, June 28, 2013

Alpha-Phonics review

I recently received an Alpha Phonics program to review.  I had never heard of Alpha Phonics and as I have a 5 year old that is eager to learn to read and a 3 year old that will not be far behind her this was a great time for me to review this product.

I've gone through the process of teaching 4 (going on 5) kids to read so far.  One thing I've found is that just as all of these children are different in so many ways, their learning styles are also.  I've yet to find anything that will be just the right fit for all of them.  I doubt this will be the ultimate, perfect for everyone program.  But it does look good.

The first thing I did was read over the Teacher's manual introduction.  I liked that they took the time to explain the history writing, the development of alphabetic systems and our alphabet.  The lessons and materials are all quite simple.  I like simple, quick and easy; so do my kids.  I don't want to spend a bunch of time preparing for reading lessons, and little ones have short attention spans.

Pros to Alpha-phonics
-It starts out simple.  If your child does not yet recognize the letters of the alphabet, you start there.  If they do then you start with lesson 1.
-Even in lesson 1 your child will read simple words.  This is very encouraging to your child (and you).
-It is laid out in a very orderly manner moving your child right along.
-The teacher's manual tells you what to say, and what information to give the child in each lesson.
-The lessons not only teach reading, but grammar as well.  Example; in lesson 2 kids learn that names of people need to be capitalized.  Lesson 3 includes the explanation that sentences start with a capital letter (name or not) and end with a period.
-It offers simple writing exercise suggestions with many lessons.
-No silly pictures and foolish stories.  (though the Little Companion Readers you can get to go along with Alpha-Phonics do have pictures and cute stories)

-The first thing I noticed when I received the Alpha-phonics books was that it had a bit of a low quality production look, and had an outdated look.
-No pictures may be boring for children, though I find that pictures can be distracting.
-The program intends that both the student(s) and teacher have their own books.  I had only one and did not want to purchase a second.  The problem... The teacher's manual is in the back making it hard to give instructions while the child is using the book (I need the instructions in front of me; that's just how I function best).  I worked around this by removing the teacher's manual from the back of the book and using it separately; easy enough to fix, but worth noting.

I'm enjoying using this book with my daughter and she is excited to sit down to her lesson everyday.  It is working well for us so far.  Would I recommend it to a friend?  I would happily list it among the effective products I've used over the years when talking over reading lesson options with a friend.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Homeschool planning for pre-school/kindergarten/1st grade

A friend recently asked me about getting started with homeschooling.  Since I'm in the midst of our school planing this is a great time for me to post on how I go about planning and teaching these levels. Hopefully this will be helpful to her, other moms, and me (later when its time to plan again and I've forgotten this stuff).

These early years should really be focused on training in obedience, character development, contributing to household chores and just enjoying time reading and doing activities with mom.  There is no need to stress about these years.  I love this post a friend recently wrote.  *I group all of my younger kids together in this category.  This year I'll have the 2, 3/4, and 5/6 year olds doing all of this, we will be joined to a very small extent by the new baby (she will generally be in my arms, in the room/area, or in the arms of an older sibling).  Next year she will be an active participant in all of this. 

First off I want to point out that there are many wonderful complete curriculums out there.  For our first year I chose to use My Father's World, and we all really enjoyed it while we were using it (the kindergartener as well as the pre-schooler and toddler that joined us for some of it).  I've also liked what I've seen at Timberdoodle.  However....

I choose not to use a set like this.  I found that life was presenting us with so many learning opportunities and things we wanted to study as a family.  I was getting stressed about enjoying and learning in those times and finishing the curriculum I had purchased.  I wanted to study the Pilgrims in November, Christmas around the world and Jesus' birth in December.  I wanted to be free to study Texas and enjoy our trip there without worrying about making up the time "lost."  I could go on and on, but you get the point.  My husband and I now plan unit studies based on things we know will be coming up in our lives, or things that we just know the kids should be learning.  Our younger kids are included in these studies (this is a great way to go about schooling with just younger kids too!).

Some unit studies for this year
All about me (This will include a study on life in the womb, and anatomy with the older kids)
Harvest time (alongside the older kids learning about the Reformation)
Thanksgiving (this started as a Pilgrim study every year, but also includes expanded Reformation now)
France (Older kids are studying the French revolution)
South America and Cuba (my husband's work involves these areas right now)
Arizona (where we live)
Colorado (where we are moving)

Schooling these young ages should not take very long.  I'll break down how our day looks and some of what we cover (and where/how).  This is just to give you some ideas, everyone's home, family, and needs are different so you're days will look different too.  Our day starts out with family Bible reading and prayer, afterwards everyone goes to get dressed/make beds/clean rooms while I make breakfast.  After breakfast we do the dishes and do a few chores, then it is time to gather and start our school day together with Circle Time.

Circle Time
Circle time allows us to start our  schooldays together as a family, all on the same page (it helps the little ones know they are important in this process, the big kids see that the little ones are learning similar subjects.  We are a family, in this together).  This is where we will tend to focus on our current unit study.  While this has changed a bit over the years, the basics have stayed the same.  This is what our Circle Time tends to look like (we gather in the living room on couches).
Verses- My husband and I pick verses relevant to our studies or that we just want the kids to work on.  In the past we have used AWANA verses/books for this time as well as the My ABC Verses, Big Truths for little kids, and Discovering Jesus in Genesis books by Susan Hunt.  We still pull those books out from time to time for the little ones.
Reading- During this time I pick the books.  These are our Unit study books.  We take time to discuss what we've read.

After circle time I get the little ones focused on a quiet play activity; usually as blanket time or room time.  Then I do a reading lesson with the early readers and often math as well.  As with everything else in the homeschooling world there are many options out there for reading and math.  I've used 100 Easy Lessons, LeapFrog DVD's, and Bob books for this.  Simple work books for early reading and math skills can be great too.  Then I gather all of the little ones together again for table time (though if you've got an extra active child you may want to let him/her run around outside for a bit to blow off some steam).

Table Time
snack- the kids and I usually need a snack to keep us going at this point.
Activity- This can be a simple thing, or a great time to get creative (I like to mix the two).  When possible I'll include concepts from our Unit Study.  Here are some ideas...
Play dough- I like to make kool-aid playdough and have seasonal colors available for the kids
finger painting- I like making this Finger Fudge
Pre-school toys- (puzzles, pegs, math manipulatives (commonly bears or bugs), jumbo tweezers (transfer/sorting activities, this is great for fine motor skills)
Cutting/gluing activities- cutting pages (I make my own drawing lines on paper appripriate for the skill level), colages, tissue paper glued to coloring page. (in January we will make snowflakes from coffee filters one day)
Crafts- This would tend to be relevant to our Unit study (in the All about me study we will be doing body tracings on wide butcher paper, self portrait (using a face coloring page, yarn, fabric and markers), fill out an All about me worksheet, Family get the idea)
preschool activities in a bag- look here for how I've done them, this site shows some fun examples too.
Games- Bingo (we have a color/shapes set, and an alphabet set), candy land, memory....
I can do it!-  Teach a new skill like making salad, mixing up muffins, folding napkins, make place mats marking how a place setting should look so kids can set the table....the possibilities are endless!
*this is just to get you thinking, there are so many options and possibilities!
**I plan out both circle time and table time so I don't have to think on my toes.  I make sure to mix it up enough that the kids don't get board.

This is about all you really need to do for these ages.  The rest of the day should be a bit more free, while still directed.  Our day would tend to look a bit like this....

Outside if possible (if not; give kids some play time, but limit their options to one or two sets of toys)
Lunch (have them help you put it together and clean it up regularly; if not all the time)
Quiet time- I start this time reading to the kids, then we break up for naps or individual quiet times (reading/looking at books, quiet play(legos, puzzles, dolls, train set etc), DVD (once or twice a week), older kids have projects or finish school work.
Snack time- Kids need another snack to hold them over until dinner time.
Outside- if possible or just let them have some free time inside
Clean-up- get the kids involved in getting the house ready for Daddy coming home.  Clean up toys.  Help fold and put away laundry.  Get all of the odds and ends that have been left out.
Dinner prep- Kids can help with preparations from setting the table, to making a salad and getting out condiments.  They need to feel needed and important in the family, they also need to understand that it is hard work putting a meal together and learn to be thankful and help out!
Sit time!- The kids tend to get a bit crazy while mom is putting the finishing touches on dinner.  I declare "sit time" regularly during this time.  During this time the kids are required to sit still and quietly looking at books, they may not get up or talk. You will need to do some training to get them used to this.  Start with 5 minutes and work your way up.  Practice earlier in the day when everyone is in good moods and you can focus on training instead of dinner (better yet, start working on it this summer while you are NOT doing school!). ;)  Occasionally I'll let the kids watch a DVD during this time, but I'd rather not have that on when my husband arrives.

And that takes you to the end of your day!

*I have one day set aside for running errands, that way we really are home most of the week and homeschooling.  Try to make appointments for that day if possible.  Schedule any outside lessons for this time as well if you can.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Potty training

I'm about to embark on my 7th go round with Potty training!  I've spent almost all of the last (nearly) 13 years with at least 1 child in diapers, often 2, and even 3 and one point!  I had one 3 month break nearly 6 years ago, and I'm shooting for another one this summer.  I've found a system that seems to work for us, so I thought I'd pass on what I've learned over the years (knowing that I'm sure there is still plenty I can learn and that I should expect a curve ball at any time).

How do you know your toddler is ready for potty training?

-Watch for signs such as increased interest in the toilet itself (wanting to flush, and, checking out/playing with the TP).  These are small signs though and not ones that should prompt you to jump into potty training.

-Going to a private place (or standing by you) when dirtying diaper shows awareness of what is going on and that it should be done somewhere specific.

-Asking to be changed right away after wetting or dirtying the diaper.

-Keeping dry for an hour or more at a time is a big one.

-Biggest sign of all?  Letting you know BEFORE hand that business needs to be done.

-If we have major life changes happening in the next month or so I put off potty training even if the child is VERY ready.  Regression often happens when changes occur like a new baby or a move.  This is frustrating and discouraging to everyone and is best to avoid if possible.  If an unforeseen situation comes up after potty training be aware that this is something that can normally happen and work through it as positively as you can.  *I once put off potty training for two months even though the child was actually doing the "potty dance" and letting us know she needed to go.  My big pregnant belly was going to make training quite awkward and the transition of a new baby could have caused regression issues.  When we decided to train this little girl took less than a week!

*My current toddler is just under 2 years.  He is showing signs of being ready.  My last two were under 2 when they were ready as well.  The biggest influence on them being so young and being ready?  Cloth diapers!  Cloth allows them to better feel when they are wet/messy, helping them associate the sensations with the results.  They also feel more uncomfortable if not changed right away, they want to be changed or just not go in their diaper earlier on.  In my opinion disposable diapers are part of the reason children are potty training so much later now.

-Summer is a great time for potty training.  It is much more comfortable to wear next to nothing, decreasing the loads of laundry you will need to do during this time.  If you think your child may be ready and summer is close it could be a good idea to put it off a month or two.  If you are unsure, and it IS summer you may want to go ahead and give it a go.

Now that you think its time to start, how do you go about it?
First off approach this as something FUN!  Get the whole family involved and make it exciting.

-Start to prepare your toddler months in advance when you first start seeing early signs of being ready.  Start talking about where potty and poo poo belong (in the toilet, not the diaper).  Point out adults, siblings, friends etc that all wear underwear and use the toilet.  Get potty training shows for the child to watch.  Set out the potty chair for him/her to get used to.

-The week or so ahead of time really talk it up.  "Soon you will be done with diapers!"  "Next week you are going to try using the potty!"  "You are getting to be such a big boy/girl, its time to start wearing big boy/girl underwear!" etc.

-Don't expect much in the first day/week.  Expect that in this time there will be lots of accidents as they figure out the sensations, and what to do about them.  Don't expect any success in that time, there is learning happening in this process even if you don't feel like it is happening very fast.

What should I have on hand?

-We fill this time with treats, but they all have a purpose.
The salty snacks encourage the toddler to drink extra fluids.

Since juice is a special treat in our house, my children are extra willing to drink up.  Extra fluids = extra chances a trying to go!

Rewards should be given for not only successfully going in the potty, but also for keeping the underwear dry.  Especially in the first days; one small candy cold be given up to every 5 minutes for keeping the underwear dry or even for just sitting on the potty chair.  After you are getting some regular success scale back the rewards to only when going in the potty.  We give larger rewards for poo since kids seem to have a harder time with that (and it is just nastier to clean up). Rewards for success are extended to siblings in the earliest part of training.  This encourages extra enthusiasm from them.

-Have plenty of CLOTH training pants on hand.  They tend to come in packs of 3 or 4, I'd plan on having 6-8 (minimum, more would be a good idea).  The old fashioned ones are the best in my book, but I do have a couple of other options on hand.

These semi-water proof ones are useful once you're getting some success but want a bit of protection.  They are not nearly as absorbent as a cloth diaper, but will contain small leaks.  I reserve these for nap times and when we are out and about (once we have had a fair bit of success at home).

-A potty chair or seat for the regular toilet are nice but not necessary.

-Potty training shows; again these are nice but not necessary.  They help with the excitement a bit and can provide an opportunity for learning to sit on the potty chair by having the child watch the show while sitting on it.

-Disposable trainers do have their place, but not generally in the potty training process.  They have the same feel as disposable diapers and will not give the "wet" sensation that you want.  Stay away from using them in the early stages (the exception would be nap/night time if you want your child totally away from diapers, but need that protection).  We use them for night time and long trips (when an accident would be a minor disaster).

Potty training day (or 1/2 day as I like to start with)

-Stay Home!  Potty training does not go well if you are out and about.  Plan on (mostly) staying home for at least a week or two.  Try not to have any appointments or errands that you need to run so that you can have a longer period of time to consistently be working on this. Skip the play dates and outings, or save them for the afternoons.

-Start the day right away with training pants.  Every 5, 10, or 15 minutes ask if the child is still dry.  If so praise him/her and give a SMALL reward.

-Every 15 minutes or so encourage a sit down on the potty.  Give a reward just for sitting (I let my guy watch his favorite show while he is sitting.  It gets turned off as soon as he gets up), especially if he/she is not excited about doing so.  Don't be discouraged if he/she does not go on the potty or even gets right up and goes in the underwear.  Just say something like "Oh, you had an accident.  Lets clean it up together. Next time try to get it in the potty"  all of this with a smile on your face (even if its the 10th time this morning).

-Involve your child in the clean up.  Have them use a rag and even have a child friendly cleaner to use.  This helps them realize the work involved in the accidents.  Cheerfully clean up together saying things like.  "Pee belongs in the potty"  "After an accident we must clean up!"  "this is a big job, learning to go in the potty.  you will will have accidents, but you are going to learn and be a big boy/girl!"

-Work on hand washing too!

-Keep the child confined to non-carpeted area and non-upholstered furniture if possible.  This will both save on clean up and help keep you from getting discouraged and frustrated.  If such space is not easily available then use of waterproof pads may be advisable.  Make it fun though.  Bring special toys and activities to the child.

Take breaks

-I've found that sticking to the potty training in the morning for the first days sometimes helps.  It keeps us from getting worn out and discouraged.  In the next week or so it will slowly feel natural to extend that time farther into the day.

-I have a good supply of training pants on hand; if we run out I take it as a sign that it is time to be done for the day.  I get some laundry going and enjoy the rest of our day.

-If it really is not working well just stop.  Your child may not be ready yet.  Don't force this.  Children's bodies mature at different rates, don't push something that they just are not ready for.

Any other experienced Mamas want to chime in with some of their tricks or advice on potty training?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tips for visiting the Creation museum (with a large family or little ones)

We enjoyed a great visit to the Creation Museum this spring.  The whole family enjoyed it from Mom and Dad right down to the (nearly) 2 year old.  See our trip Part 1 and Part 2

The museum offers a few discounts, while the AAA or HSLDA ones were ones we qualified for we decided to use our military discount (all are nice discounts).  Once totaled up we realized we were just $20 shy of reaching the cost of a membership.  We considered that....

*Though one planetarium show was included in the ticket price, there were two shows going.  We wanted to see both, so that would cost extra.  With a membership those tickets are "free."

*We knew we would be purchasing some things from their store.  The 10% discount for members would be nice.

*We would also be having lunch in their cafe, 10% off there would add up quickly too.

We decided to go ahead and purchase the 1 year membership,  it made sense for our family.  Be thinking about this before you head there too.

The gardens and petting zoo are great parts of the museum experience, make sure you take the opportunity to enjoy them when you can.  For your safety they must close these areas during poor weather conditions.  A good thunder shower in the spring (like when we were there) will quickly close this option for you.  This wasn't a major issue for us, but one to keep in mind so you do not end up disappointed.

The Creation Museum is a very family friendly place.  I expected that to some extent, but there were a few things I wish I had known before heading in that would have made taking our crew in just a bit easier.

*I had been expecting the museum to be like many others where you can easily jump around to different exhibits.  While some of that is possible, the main body of it is a bit of a guided walk through.  It needs to be that way to truly absorb the message and get the most out of it.  The only problem(s)?  No access to (purchase) food and the next bathroom is about 2/3 of the way through.  These are easy to deal with and really are only an issue for those of us with littles that like to wait until the last minute to announce the need.  Make sure everyone uses the bathrooms just before entering this area and bring snacks.  Which brings me to the next point....

*I was unsure about bringing food and drinks into the museum, most don't like that.  I was pleased to find that food and drinks were just fine in every part of the museum (except the theaters).  I had brought  snacks and drinks for our little ones the first day, the second day I brought much more.  We also found the meal and snack options at the museum to be good....

*I guess I should not have been surprised to find a coffee shop in the museum, right next to the ice cream!  The cafe's prices were reasonable especially considering we were in a museum and there was no easy access to food outside the museum (this was their chance to gouge us, and they didn't!).  We appreciated that, and made use of the cafe both days.  Along with the pizza, burgers and sandwiches they also had soup and salad options.

*The museum is stroller friendly inside in every area.  I had very little problems navigating with our double stroller, I suppose it has to be so that it can be wheelchair accessible .  While you could do the outside with a stroller I would not (and did not).  Some of the paths would be harder (or impossible) to navigate limiting your access.  Our littlest one wanted to be up and about outside anyways so this was not an issue, but you may want to consider bringing your Ergo or other baby carrier with you for that portion.  I liked having the stroller with me inside since that gave us room for snacks, drinks and books we purchased.

Every single member of the staff as well as the volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful.  This was like a breath of fresh air after being in stifling humidity.  Its like going to Chick-fil-a when you are used to McDonalds. ;)  We enjoyed the cheerful faces, kind greetings, helpful tips, sweet chats, and even a quick rescue (in the way of a flashlight, opened door, and then chair in back) when the toddler desperately needed his sippy cup in the middle of one of the shows.  The wonderful atmosphere helps get the message across!

If you get the chance to visit the museum I hope these little tips help you better prepare for the logistics of the visit, and enjoy your time there!  If you get the chance GO!  It is worth it!