The Beginning of Formal Learning Time

Learning Time is something that is promoted in the Toddlerwise and Preschoolwise books (I’m sure it’s in Childwise, too, but I haven’t gotten that far!). The authors make a valid point that it is part of our job to raise children who are able to focus, sit still, and be curious to learn, even if you’re planning to homeschool. However, I have been very hesitant to start any kind of formal learning time with my Hula Girl because I know that my propensity would be to overdo it and to get quite frustrated if she’s unable to sit long enough, do it the “right way”, or have any kind of fun. I feared that she might not enjoy learning time at all, and that she might be better off just playing her day away. I figured we could wait until she was at least three to start any kind of curriculum.

I still kind of agree with myself. But. My kid is so bright. I am not saying that to brag or to be all up-in-everyone’s-faces about how great she is. She just truly is a bright child who has a natural propensity for memorization (I think all toddlers do, to an extent), who enjoys spending one-on-one time with me, and who is able to apply things she’s learned to new situations quite frequently. I began to feel as if our daily chore time, free play time, and other scheduled activities were not really enough to keep her mind engaged. We were seeing quite a few disciplinary issues… and I realized it’s likely because she’s, well, bored.

I also noticed that we’ve finally hit a rhythm in our days that is more or less predictable. I can tell, within 5-10 minutes, what we will be doing at any point during the day, and so it is easy for me to determine when we will have large blocks of time sans Lil’ Bro.

So I decided it will be in our best interest to capitalize on her curiosity and energy. I haven’t quite put together a great “curriculum” but I am working on it. We started with something pretty simple, purely because I thought up our activities in the 30 minutes I had between nursing Gelato and getting Hula Girl out of bed. I do feel very fortunate that I have been a teacher before, so coming up with activities like this on the fly is not too difficult for me. Thank you, Dr. Cruso! (Anyone else miss her like crazy!? I loved her.)

We began on Thursday, and in an attempt to find a unifying theme, I decided we’d focus on the letter G. Lower-case g to be exact. (I am of the mind that she will need to be able to read lower-case letters more frequently than upper-case letters… and since she can already identify all twenty-six letters in either case anyway, I chose lower-case.) Anyway, I chose g because Thursday was Grammy’s birthday and today is Groundhog day. Score! Two very exciting things that have nothing to do with each other aside from proximity in the calendar and matching initial letters! And they are close enough together to warrant a theme! Yahoo! (This is not to imply that my mom reminds me of a groundhog. Or vice-versa.)

Okay, so my as-of-yet-very-scattered plans for now include:

1. Focus on skills over content. I am working with Hula Girl on sitting still, proper grip (pencils, crayons, scissors), proper technique (glue, cutting, holding the paper with the other hand while coloring and “writing”), keeping self-control by folding hands, etc.

2. Basics. Letters, numerals, colors, shapes, days, months, holidays, seasons. You know.

3. Variety of subjects. Science, math, language, history, etc.

 Our activities this week included a focus in these areas:

Skills: proper grip, gluing, guiding hand for coloring

Basics: letter g, birthdays, Groundhog Day, calendar

Subjects: science (shadows), history (Groundhog Day), language (shared writing)

Without further ado, here are our finished products:

"g" Pages for our Alphabet Book

“g” Pages for our Alphabet Book

I definitely helped a lot on these. We worked on proper gluing technique (you don’t need to COVER the back of the picture with glue!), phonemic awareness (we sang the song, “G says /g/, G says /g/, every letter makes a sound and G says /g/!”), and sound-symbol relationships (every time we said /g/, we wrote a g). I made sure to help with placement on the pages- we will be referencing her Alphabet Book several times over the next few years, and I want the pages to be clear and easy to access when she is older. We used these pages as a springboard for our next activity, our shared writing:

Shared Writing- "g" Sentences

Shared Writing- “g” Sentences

I asked Hula Girl to look at her alphabet pages and tell me a “story” which I wrote down. It is important for children to begin to understand that writing is actual communication- what they say can be saved for later! These are the sentences she said. I did have to guide her to make sure she included all the pictures, and I helped with the grammar a bit. (For instance, she said, “Gooses glue green paper.”) After we got all the sentences written (it took maybe 2 minutes, tops), I made a “window” out of two other pieces of paper so we were only looking at one line at a time. I asked her to find all the “g”s and I highlighted the ones she pointed out. You’ll notice she found the “g” in the middle of the word light. We said the word light over and over and tried to hear the /g/ but we couldn’t find it. (I mentioned that the “g” in light is part of “i-three-letter-i”, which she will learn about in a couple of years when we begin our formal language curriculum.)

Then we practiced writing the letter g at the bottom of the page. The focus here was not on the formation of the letter itself (that will come when we begin our curriculum), but rather on proper grip. I guided her hand on the g on the left and she did the g on the right by herself. We also focused on grip with the next project:

Groundhog Day- "g" for Groundhog!

Groundhog Day- “g” for Groundhog!

This is actually the second groundhog she colored. On the first one we focused on coloring neatly (just the ears, just the feet, etc.). On this one I let her color wherever she wanted, but made sure she maintained the proper grip and used her other hand to hold the paper. You’ll notice the heavier dark pink lines near the groundhog’s neck and arms- that’s where she changed her grip and tried to force the crayon through the table to China. 🙂

We connected this activity to science and history by discussing Groundhog Day, what it is, what it means, etc. We talked about shadows a lot and used the Socratic method (I asked her lots of questions to guide her reasoning) to discover that shadows are caused when light hits an object. We went outside and made all kinds of shapes with our own shadows, and this morning (I am typing this on Groundhog Day) she and Daddy took her groundhog outside to see if it saw its shadow. (It did. We are in for six more weeks of winter. Darn.)

I should also mention that we have started each morning with a review of our changeable calendar. We go over all the days of the week and the names of the months. Then we go through the whole “Today is…” rigamarole. I am going to be making her a pointer that she can use to help “read” the calendar each day. I’m thinking something with an interchangeable tip that can be switched out for the seasons, holidays, and such. I like details. 🙂

Something else we do to finish up our daily learning time is read a story, poem, or other article from her High Five Magazine (thank you, Ama and Papa, for the subscription! GREAT Christmas gift- or birthday, whatever- for any child under the age of 6!!!).

Coming Up Next Week:

We will be working with the letters D and V. First we will focus on letter D because next Sunday is Chinese New Year and we will want to make a dragon. Yes! V, of course, will be tied with Valentine’s Day. I’ll share some activities, products, and ideas after we’re done!

I also plan to start implementing a memory verse every week. She is awesome at memorizing poems, songs, and simple stories. So I figure it’s a great time to start planting the Word firmly in her heart and mind.

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