Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Activities for Four Year-Olds

We had a tough week last week with two kids with high fevers and the third (the four year-old) pinging off the walls. I had a cold for a day, and the weather has been gloomy the last few days. With my six year-old sick and my four year-old not, I've been doing more with him and have had a chance to think about what I want his "preschool year" to look like.

My goal for him is to keep him busy and happy. My experience is that 4 year-old behavior can be very difficult to live with – why is this not written about more? I don’t find the twos to be very terrible at all, but four – yikes!! Mine are willful and easily frustrated, take a sudden dislike to doing things for themselves that they can do perfectly well (both of mine have suddenly wanted me to put on their shoes, a skill which they were proud of half a year before). Mine has quite a temper, and often hits when he gets frustrated. He cries easily, and holds onto his hurt feelings for awhile. And he seems not to hear me asking for different behavior so that we can fix a situation that is going rapidly downhill, so suddenly a small problem becomes a big incident (obviously, this is a parenting issue also). He seems uncomfortable in his own skin sometimes – being four is hard for him, too, I think. So keeping him busy and proud of his abilities and accomplishments is an important part of improving his behavior.

I’d certainly like to play to his strengths and interests, which are different than his big brother’s. I think nature study will be a hit with him, and I’m not at all confident that it’s going to work as the science component of my six-year old’s homeschooling. He also is interested in animals, so the book lists from Sonlight, Winter Promise, and other places that focus on animals in the early years suddenly make sense for him, when they didn’t click for my oldest. I expect he’ll listen to some of the Ambleside readings I’m doing with my oldest – in fact, he might enjoy the Burgess and Herriot readings more than his big brother.

However, I have no interest in giving him busy work, even if I could persuade him to do it (which I doubt that I could). I certainly think that learning numbers and letters and beginning phonics is appropriate, but I hope to unschool them for this year at least, and have so far had some luck with that. Last week he found an old cell phone that will charge, but doesn’t have a service plan, and has been busy dialing numbers on that and working on connecting the name of the number with the shape of the numeral. We call daddy occasionally, and he has to dial lots of numbers for that (11 digits plus a three digit extension). Changing channels is another way for him to associate written numbers with their values – that is, if he can get the remote away from his big brother! I have another trick to teach number/letter recognition – I give them passwords on the computer. His is two letters right now, so I think he’ll know those fairly well, and I’ll change it in a month or so. I will look for opportunities to teach letters and letter sounds, but I am unlikely to look for formal preschool lessons in those areas. (I hesitate to say I won’t, because I recently reread some of my early thoughts on homeschooling, and I am not in 100% agreement with them now, so I want to leave wiggle room for my plans to change!)

So I’d like to strew materials around to engage him. Almost by chance we had a few good days recently with things that showed up, and things he asked for. They included:
 uncommon materials for free play: big boxes, plastic shelf liner 12' (this was a clear plastic sheet, 12’x12”
 tubes & marbles or balls (what fits & doesn't)
 painting with marbles
 cutting out shapes & patterns
But I’m looking for other twaddle-free ideas to strew or offer to him.

Here are some of my other ideas for activities this year:
 letter of the week ideas: i.e. posting one Jan Brett drawing a week
 write child's story (he tells it, I type or write it)
 preschool art (ideas from Maryanne Kohl’s book)
 talk about stories "I wonder . ..." what happens next, what a character felt, etc.
 observation & description of art, nature, life, etc.
 eric carle collage
 FIAR ideas (Five in a Row books, by Jane Claire Lambert)
 thematic reading (age appropriate books on a topic they're interested in) bugs, dinos, animals. See booklists from Paula’s homeschool site, Sonlight, Ambleside Online, Winter Promise, Five in a Row, and others
 cooking
 potholder weaving
 listen to music, classical, children’s, other
 numbers in context: how many forks do we need for the family, party, there are five of us, but two don’t want dessert
 Letters in context: today we looked at some in the car while we were waiting for Grandma – E is for Empty, F for Full, C for Cold, H for Hot.
 sewing: small change purse with fold over top, other
 lacing cards
 beading
 sorting: beads, money, buttons, etc.
 play with change: talk about 1,5,10, 25, etc
 look for & reproduce patterns
 notice shapes
 simple graphs

I’m sure that’s not all. I haven’t finished looking at the resources I have in the house, so I’m sure I’ll come up with more.

Additional ideas in comments are very welcome!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thoughts about reading

We've had good and bad days since the last post. The kids were away for the long weekend (I joined them on Sunday). Tuesday and Wednesday did not go well – lots of yelling (me and the kids, who fought with each other). Even so, we did some of our reading. I also put P in a time out for not doing his reading lesson with me. I then apologized for yelling and said that I used to do the same thing – be miserable for hours about a task that would take fifteen minutes. Something about the whole ugly incident clicked with him (maybe just that he wanted to play) and he came down and did the lesson with me in under five minutes. Later in the week I had him read a picture book to me instead of doing the Really Reading lesson, and that went well. I think he feels a lot of pride about it – I overheard him say to his brother "Now that I can read . . . ."

When I think about it, phonics lessons seem like a good way to kill any joy of reading, and really don’t fit with my philosophy of learning from living books. So *I’ll* review the phonics rules so that we can go over them when it makes sense, and reading lessons will simply be reading practice. And I’ll have to think about how to approach it for the next son. Hmm, maybe a term of Sesame Street, followed by a term of Between the Lions, followed by real books!