School Before Age 3

We started “formally” homeschooling a few months before my son hit his third birthday! I heard some criticism about starting him too young. Of course, no one would criticize starting preschool at that age.

If you were to ask when I started teaching the Champ, I would reply “at birth.” Children are always learning. And, while worksheets and textbooks are not necessary at a young age, you can teach your child a lot through play.

So, how do you “School” before the age of three?

Count Everything

When I changed the Champ’s diapers as a newborn, I counted the buttons on his pajama’s. Count everyday objects such as toys, place settings at the dinner table, or ducks at the park. When the Coach would swing the Champ on our porch, he would hold the swing and count “1, 2, 3…” before letting the swing go. The Champ was proudly imitating him within weeks.

Read Everything

It is never too early to read to your child. You can introduce books to your baby from the moment he arrives, and babies love to hear their parent’s voices. As your child gets older, you can point out words on buildings, signs, and brochures.

Sing and Dance

Gross motor skills are important to learn. Dancing is a great way for your child to learn how to control his body. Children’s songs are another way to introduce vocabulary and language skills.

Create a Literature Rich Environment

Make sure there are letters and words everywhere around your child. Have children’s books readily available. Hang up letter activities they created in the hallway or their room. Hang up an alphabet chart, calendar, or number chart next to the dinner table so they can ask questions while you are eating.

Go to Activities

Mommy and me classes are great if you can afford them. Many of these classes work on gross motor skills and social skills. If there are none in your area, or you don’t want to pay for them, start a mom’s group or set up play dates.  Story time at the library is a great opportunity for your child to work on social behaviors and be introduced to new books. Some libraries even offer puppet shows and craft time.

Creative Play

Playing dress up, toy cookware, toy tools, and other pretend toys are great ways for your child to learn about the world around them. Creative art such as drawing, coloring, painting, and playing with play dough is great for working on fine motor development. Sensory boxes can also help your child work on fine motor skills.

Cook and Clean Together

Assist your child as they work on skills such as pouring and mixing when you are working in the kitchen. Let them help you put clothes in the dryer and fold washcloths when you are folding towels. You can also let them think they are helping. Give them a miniature dust pan and broom while you are cleaning or fill the sink with water and let them “wash” a few dishes. They will slow you down, and they will make a mess. But they are learning and will actually be helping you one day.

Create Independence Learning Opportunities

As soon as your child can dump out a box of toys, you can begin to work on independence skills. Chores such as cleaning up toys, taking clothes to the laundry basket, cleaning up water spills with a towel, and taking dishes to the sink can all be introduced to two year olds. Other skills such as getting dressed, washing hands, and taking off shoes can also be introduced. Do not expect these skills to be mastered, but simply allow your child to have the opportunity to work on them.

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World Ocean’s Day!

Today is World Oceans Day!

Play with an ocean themed sensory box, make ocean themed crafts, and watch the movie Oceans.

Fake Aquarium

A craft we made a few years ago that has been a huge hit was our fake aquarium!

We found a fishbowl jar (different candies and other items that are sold in these or pick up a cheap one in the fish aisle of a pet store).

We cut out a piece of paper in the shape of one flat side of the fishbowl and glued it to the back side of the bowl.

You can use decorative stones or shells from the floral department or decorative gravel from the pet store to fill the bottom of the bowl.

Then we placed cardboard strips of “sea grass” in the decorative stones at the bottom. (See further down for a free template download).

We punched out holes in the lid of the bowl and ran string through the holes. We attached our pet fish to the other end of the string.

Two years later, we still have our pet fish that we never have to feed!

Octopus Handprint

Cover your child’s hand with finger paint. Then have them press their hand down on a piece of construction paper. Flip the paper over and glue on google eyes and decorate the “ocean” around your octopus.

Paper Bowl Turtle

Color or paint a paper bowl green. Tear up pieces of green and brown construction paper and glue to the bowl. Then cut out four turtle feet, a tail and head. Glue these pieces to the inside lip of the bowl. Attach google eyes to your turtle’s head.

Download Free World Ocean Day Craft Templates for the Fake Aquarium and Paper Bowl Turtle.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day to remember the more than one million men and women who lost their lives while serving the United States.

This holiday may be difficult for younger children who do not understand the concept of death or for children that are sensitive to the topic. Be sure to celebrate on your child’s emotional level.

If you have any ancestors or family members who died in service, today is a great day to tell your children about them.

Paint Poppies

Traditionally, red poppies were worn on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving their nation.

Paint green stems on a piece of paper. Clamp two clothespins over two pompoms. Dip one pompom in red paint and then paint dots at the top of your stem. Dip the second pompom in black paint and use it to paint a single black dot at the center of each poppy.

Flag Etiquette

Until noon on Memorial Day, the American flag is displayed at half-mast in memory of the men and women who lost their lives. At noon, the flag is then raised to full-staff. This symbolizes that the living will continue to fight for liberty and justice for all.

If you have a flag, make sure to follow proper flag etiquette and explain the symbolism to your children. If you do not have a flag, find pictures of the flag at half-mast and full-staff to explain Memorial Day flag etiquette.

Moment of Remembrance

At 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, a National Moment of Remembrance is observed. Everyone is asked to take a moment of silence or listen to Taps. While your younger children will probably not understand the concept of a moment of silence, you can take the opportunity to say a short prayer for the lives lost and/or play Taps for your children to listen to.

Rainy Day T.V. Alternatives

It is a rainy day and you just don’t feel like leaving the house. You don’t want to put on ANOTHER television episode and you keep hearing choruses of “Mommy! Play with me! I’m Bored!”

Here is a list of eleven types of activities to entertain your toddler (and most are so minimal effort on your part that you can do them when you are sick, tired, or pregnant)!

Sensory Boxes

I admit that I have minimized the use of sensory boxes with the Champ because he loves to make a mess, but these are great for indoor learning. Add a “base” such as rice, pasta, oats, flour, beans, sand, or cotton. Then add small toys and objects to match your box “theme” (ex. Toy animals for a farm theme, toy bugs for a bug theme, shells for a beach theme , toy dinosaurs and rocks for an archaeologist theme). Spoons, small shovels, small measuring cups, and tongs are great for kids to use to play with the box.

Busy Bags

Busy bags are activities that are stored in a bag for ready to go learning and fun. They are more portable than sensory boxes, and are usually less messy. Most of the Free Printables that I offer on Tuesdays are perfect to put in a Ziploc bag and offer as a busy bag. You can also search “Busy Bag Ideas” on Pinterest.

Board Games

Kids love playing games with their parents. Some of our favorite games for young kids are Don’t Spill the Beans, Cootie, Zingo, and Candy Land.

Arts and Crafts

Painting, coloring, playing with play dough, stringing beads, or tearing up paper and gluing it into shapes are all great free form art activities. Craft projects are also great for rainy days.

Flashcard Relay

Grab any set of flashcards and create your own active game. For word cards, I will ask the Champ to identify the object on the flashcard. If he gets it right, he can race a lap around the room. For our color concept cards, he has to find something in the room that matches the color on the card. With number concept cards, I will ask him to clap or hop the number of times shown on the card.

Indoor Bowling

Grab a ball and any set of objects that can serve as bowling pins. You can use blocks, pvc pipes, toy animals, etc. Or buy a plastic indoor bowling set. I love this game because I can sit in one spot with the Rookie while the Champ sets up the pins. The Rookie can even “bowl” with his big brother.

Blocks and Other Creative Toys

Mega Blocks, Duplo Blocks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, or Kindergarten blocks are all great for building. You can also play with other creative toys, such as toy tool sets, kitchen sets, trains, or dress up sets.

Books

Rainy days are a great time to cuddle up on the couch with a great book. To make reading even more fun for your child, build a fort out of sheets and read in your secret hide away.

The Number Game

We love playing the Number Game to get our wiggles out. I call out a number and an action (e.g. Flap your arms 8 times). The Champ then performs the task. Other action examples include: run a lap around the room, hop like a frog, spin around, pat your back, give mom a kiss/hug, clap, pat your head, touch your toes, etc.

Create a Story

Make up your own story. We take turns saying a sentence until we are giggling over our silly creation. Bonus points if you dress up and act out a play.

Dance Party

When all else fails, turn on some tunes and have a dance party!

Distracted Parenting

If you have been to the playground, you know “that kid.” He is the one running around wild and crazy while his parent is on the cell phone or talking to the mommy group completely oblivious. Or, perhaps at times, you have been “that parent.”

I know there have been times that I get lost in conversation with a friend, only to find out that my son decided stick fighting with a baby would be a good idea. Even at home, I hear shouts of “play with me” or “look at me, Mommy.”

Unintentional childhood injuries are up 10% from 2007 to 2012 according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Most likely, this increase is due to the increased disengagement of parents due to cell phone usage.

However, distracted parenting has been around long before the days of media. We can get engrossed in even seemingly good things, such as reading books, crocheting a blanket, talking to a friend, filling out paperwork at the doctor’s office, or playing with another child.

It is important to note that we cannot always give our children our full attention. But, we do need to be intentional with our time with our kids. Here are a few strategies to employ with your use of media.

Be a Role Model

Kids learn from us. Model the media behavior that you would like to see in your child. Choose high-quality content and set limits on your use of media. By having these boundaries in place, you will be more engaged with your child and both of you will have less “screen time.”

Use Media Together

Engage in media usage with your kids. Pick out a good family film and discuss the central themes and characters afterwards. Play a game with your child and discuss the strategy behind it. Check out the “Families can talk about…” section on Common Sense Media for conversation ideas.

Put Down the Phone

Play with your kids without a screen! Go outside and kick or throw a ball around. Throw on some music and have a dance party. Pull out a board game. Read a book to your child. The most important thing you can do for your kids is to spend some quality time with them every day.

Let Them Talk and LISTEN

Give each of your children a few special minutes each day to talk one-on-one with you. This can be over breakfast, before bedtime, or any other moment during the day. I like to lay with the Champ on the floor and talk about his day while looking up at the ceiling. Most of the time, our talks are about “nothing much,” but they are important to his self-confidence.

Apps For Young Children

Choosing high quality entertainment media is difficult. Just because something is called educational does not mean that it is high-quality. Look for apps and games that are not passive in nature. You can make the experience more meaningful by playing with your child and engaging them in conversation before, during, and after. I love Common Sense Media reviews. Check out the “Families can talk about…” sections that give suggestions to make the most of media time.

Here are a few places to start when looking for good apps for your younger children.

Bible for Kids

Bible for Kids is a fun and interactive storybook Bible for children. The app allows you to download over 40 Bible stories for free. The app reads the story out loud to your child and then allows them to interact with illustrations, search for hidden objects, and answer questions about the story. Available on iTunesAmazon, and Google Play Store.

Starfall.com

Starfall.com is a free site dedicated to young students that are both learning how to use the computer and learning to read. The site has poor graphics; however, it is very interactive. Starfall also offers a free app called Starfall ABCs. Available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play Store.

My PlayHome

My PlayHome is an interactive roleplaying game that allows your child to create a dollhouse family and interact with them. As your child plays the game, talk to him as he explores the dollhouse. Make connections between situations in the game and real world scenarios. Available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play Store.

This is My Story
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This is My Story allows children to use simple sight words to fill in the blanks and create basic stories such as “The cat played with the kite.” The app then reads finished stories out loud. After you get the hang of playing the app, teach your child to make up their own silly stories in real life! Available on iTunes.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Friends- First Words
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We love Eric Carle at our house and The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Friends-First Words contains many of his illustrations. The app introduces common words in five different languages. Available on iTunes.

Dr. Panda’s Toy Cars

Dr. Panda’s Toy Cars is set up like a car play mat. Kids can play different cars and act out different community helper roles as they play in the town. Play the game with your child and talk to him about different vehicles and jobs in your community. Available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play Store.

Drive About: Number Neighborhood
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Drive About: Number Neighborhood is a set of nine games that feature math skills for preschool students. After playing the game, talk to your children about numbers and shapes in the real world. Available on iTunes.

International Sports Day

According to my calendar, today is International Sport Day!

I have no idea what that really means. But, in a house full of boys, any reason to celebrate sports is taken advantage of.

So, we are making it the “Day of Sportsing.”

Our first sport is PVC Bowling. The rules are simple. Set pieces of leftover PVC pipe up like bowling pins and toss a ball at them. Squeals will ensue each time a pipe falls down.

Sport two is indoor soccer. The Champ and I will attempt to get a balloon past one another to score a point. At some point, the Champ will start using his hands and this will turn into more of a weird version of volleyball, until the balloon touches the popcorn ceiling and pops, scaring the dogs and ending our game.

Sport three is football. We take turns holding the foam football with our finger while the other one kicks it. At some point, the Champ will remove the football right before I kick, a la Lucy from Charlie Brown.

Sport four is baseball. We will take turns hitting a ball off of a tee. Mommy cannot catch, so she will miss every hit. Ethan will end up getting distracted by an interesting weed, ending the game entirely. Thus concludes the “Day of Sportsing.”

Comment on your favorite “Toddler Friendly Sports.”