Friday, January 11, 2013

Preschool at Home - Our Favorite Non-Fiction

We have hundreds of children's books in our home, ranging from the simplest of board books to young adult novels. There's no such thing as too many books, right?

The Children's Book of HeroesWhat's Out There?: A Book about Space (Reading Railroad)The Clock Struck One: A Time-telling Tale (Math Is Fun!)

Today I'm going to share some of the non-fiction books we enjoy and read often. These can be read just for fun, or for a more focused, educational purpose. We have several books on time, the calendar/months/seasons, the solar system, weather, animals and natural science, history, geography, biographies, cultures and civilizations, and religious topics. Most of them have been picked up at garage sales or thrift stores for around a quarter, and you can usually find a huge selection of non-fiction at your local library.

The Kingfisher First Picture AtlasScholastic Children's Dictionary: (2010 Edition)DK First Encyclopedia

These aren't the exact versions we have, but children's dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference books provide countless learning opportunities. Even though he is not reading yet, Lucas likes to flip through the biggest books on his shelf and notices something new every time. His interest has been piqued in different areas of science, geography, and history by looking through these books. They also help increase vocabulary and develop the idea of alphabetical order. We usually focus on one letter or a few pages at a time, as they aren't meant to be read from cover to cover in one sitting!

The Story of Saint Patrick's DayThe Story of Valentine's DayThe Story of Thanksgiving

We love this series of board books that explain the Christian roots of American holidays that have become secularized. There are many more including The Story of Jesus, the Ten Commandments, Christmas, Easter, America's Birthday, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. (Disclaimer: I have not read every book in the series, but we do enjoy the three pictured very much.) These are short and simple enough to be read to a 1 year old, while still providing a good explanation and possible discussion starters for your preschooler. I highly recommend bringing these out with your seasonal decorations each month!

Hickory, Dickory, Dock: And Other Favorite Nursery Rhymes (Padded Nursery Rhyme Board Books)Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: And Other Favorite Nursery Rhymes (Padded Nursery Rhyme Board Books)This Little Piggy: And Other Favorite Action Rhymes

These three padded board books published by Tiger Tales are technically fiction, but have gotten a lot of use in 3 1/2 years. Filled with common and not so common nursery rhymes, both our boys enjoy reading, singing, and playing along. I don't know if children are still required to memorize nursery rhymes in kindergarten like I was, but if they are then our boys will have no problem with it! These books help spur my own memory when I'm out of words for the day. Right now "Piggy" is Tyler's favorite book. He requests it multiple times a day and does his best to keep up with all the motions.

As a former math teacher, you know I'm not going to ignore all the fun books and other materials you can use to teach your young children early math concepts! I'm actually saving my math books for another post coming next week. Math can be daunting for many people, and I want to share with you a few easy ways to make it a part of your day.

What are your children's favorite non-fiction books? Particularly if you homeschool, what have been some of your longest lasting, most used books? (I'm not committing to homeschooling past preschool, but we love books in our house and we are always looking for recommendations!)

On our 4th birthday wish list so far:
Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Preschool at Home - What Works So Far

In my next few posts, I'll be writing about some things we're doing or will be starting in our preschool at home. These are all things you can do whether or not your child is in any preschool program, and whether or not you have any background in teaching. When I was teaching 4th and 5th grade Spanish, everyone I told had the same question: "Are you fluent?" My answer was, "No, but I know more than they do, so I can teach them something." The same is true for parents. As long as you know more than your preschooler (and you do!), you have something to teach them too.

Use flashcards in fun ways to practice letter and number recognition.
I know some people are anti-flashcards, but if you can integrate movement or make silly up silly games, I think they can be useful, effective, and fun. If you don't want to go out and buy flashcards, you can easily make your own or print some out. Here are some of the fun ways we use flashcards.

  • I scatter them on the floor and say a letter or number and he has to jump to the one I say or the next one in alphabetical or numerical order.
  • I hold up a card, and if he correctly identifies it, I "fire" it at him (frisbee style). This is his favorite game. He pretends to be dodging it, but actually he wants it to hit him. He laughs the whole time and is motivated to give the correct answers.
  • Once in a while he is willing to go through a few cards in typical flashcard style, especially if we are "playing school" and he gets a turn to be the teacher and quiz me too. He doesn't seem to mind that most of the time my answer is, "I don't remember what that one is, Teacher. Will you tell me?"
  • I hold up a letter and gave a "prize" to whoever identified the letter first (yes, Tyler is in on this too - amazing how much he learns from watching big brother). The prizes are as simple as tickles, hugs, kisses, races around the room, being tossed in the air, spun around, or danced with. At the end, when I am exhausted and hoarse, the last letter is M and we get a family prize of a few M&M's.

Use toys to practice writing and letter formation.
Using a toy is less intimidating to a beginning writer than a paper and pencil. Use a MagnaDoodle or other drawing toy to practice writing letters and numbers. They also enjoy writing with and on different mediums - think chalk, finger paint, forming letters with Play-Doh, bending pipe cleaners into letters, tracing in pebbles/sand, etc..

Gradually introduce activities that require focus.
Attention-building activities are frustrating and must be used in small doses. As soon as your child begins to get overwhelmed, stop! I try to have I Spy and Spot the Difference type books available for car rides, waiting rooms, and quiet time. He also enjoys simple mazes and puzzles. Sometimes he really enjoys them, but once he is frustrated, he does not want anything to do with it. Problem solving skills are important, and that includes how to express frustration.

Buy a few inexpensive workbooks or print out materials from free websites.
As with flashcards, some people are anti-workbook, but my son is at an age where he takes delight in having his own books to write in and completed pages to show Daddy and Grandma. These are mixed in with other books, and it is up to him when he wants to pull it out and do a page or two. Ours are all from the dollar section at Target, the Dollar Tree store, or garage sales. He also enjoys these cutting and folding books, which he got for Christmas last year.

Lastly, a fine motor skills trick I learned from friends who work with children with special needs:
Don't bother buying the jumbo crayons or pencils for your toddlers. Their hands are little, and they need little things to hold onto! It is better for them to learn how to hold a regular crayon and a golf pencil correctly than to learn how to hold onto something bigger when their hand is little and then how to hold onto something smaller when their hand is bigger. You may disagree with this or have been given conflicting advice from someone else. I'm not an expert and am just passing on what they explained to me. So far it has worked for us.

Next I'll be sharing a few of the books we are reading and how you can develop pre-reading skills with your young children.