Friday, September 26, 2014

Homework for Preschoolers

Dependable & Flexible
They say that children thrive when they have clear boundaries, a dependable yet flexible schedule, rules by which to live. As parents we all find our own ways of doing this for our children but I recently discovered the value of a "dependable yet flexible schedule" for me!

A Little Direction Goes a Long Way
In those hours between the end of dinner and bath time I was losing my mind. I wanted to just put my feet up and let the kids run free. But at the end of the day they are both too tired and too squirrelly to be left to their own devices. Or rather, the things they think to do are too messy, too crazy, and induce too much crying from them and too much redirection/discipline from me. So I redesigned our evenings and the results have been good in more ways than one.

Undirected Mayhem for All
Our evenings used to be like this:
  • 5ish - dinner
  • after dinner - undirected and unfocused mayhem for all
  • 7:30 - bedtime routine (bath, put on jammies, read, snuggle, sleep)
Rhythm & Routine
The evenings now go like this:
  • 5ish - dinner
  • after dinner - clean up dining room and kitchen
  • after clean up - outside play
  • 7PM - homework
  • 7:15 - bedtime routine (bath, put on jammies, read, snuggle, sleep)
Kinda Sorta Homework
You might be thinking "homework for preschoolers?!" Well, yes, kind of. And homework time is the single most drastic addition to our evening routine and the one that seems to have helped the most!

We all sit at the table together. The kids have their choice of fine motor work. For example, they can color, work in sticker books, sculpt with play dough, do puzzles, or string beads. If they had the mental power for Legos or other building then that would be OK but we have found that simpler work is better at this time of day.

They do end homework time at a logical place - when the picture is completely colored, the page is completely emptied of stickers that have been transplanted onto something else, or the string is filled up with beads. But it isn't so much about completing a project (and certainly not a worksheet). It is about coming together as a family (papa is not necessarily for dinner but he's always home for homework), and doing quiet creative work.

Building Good Habits for Now and Then
I have one more year before Mikey is in kindergarten. Some of his friends have already begun and I hear stories of battles over homework. When to sit a kindergartener down to do it? How much will they have to do? Will they have enough time to play and just be a kid? All of these are valid concerns and I am curious about next year and what homework will look like for us. I hope that having dedicated homework time already in our routine will help us make a smooth transition between self-directed homework and school-directed homework.

Most importantly, our new schedule helps me know what to do now. Having that routine helps me to not have to think when I am at my most tired and when I have my hands full cooking and cleaning. It helps my children know that I am only going to clean the dining room and kitchen (not all the other rooms), and they can usually figure out how long they will have to wait for my attention. It helps them know that they will have an opportunity to get their squiggly wiggles out after we eat and that we will all be together one more time before bedtime.

Anna's Sticker Work - Dolly Sticker Dress-up
Mikey's Sticker Work - Lego Ninjago

The Real Work of Being Home = Coming Together

We all depend on that coming-together before bedtime. Sometimes homework is very inventive, sometimes it is repetitive, but it always done in good company.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

LEGO Crazy Contraptions

The Bottom Shelf...
The bonus of shopping with preschoolers is that they find things in stores that I would otherwise not see. After I looked up in search of a gift for a friend, I spied Mikey crouched down and looking at something with the Lego icon in the corner. It looked pretty neat but we weren't there looking for toys for us. Before I had two children melting down because they found things for themselves (in addition to things for their friends), I made a bee-line to the exit and made a mental note to look into that Lego book at home. What I discovered was something too cool not to share with you!

...It Isn't about Bottom Quality...
"Crazy Action Contraptions" is just like the Vintage Legos I wrote about last month, just on a smaller scale. The book comes with the classic picture instructions for building a variety of mechanically interesting contraptions including a claw, a spinning top "launcher" and a vehicle with spring-loaded propulsion. It has cranks and gears and belts and stuff.

...It is about Treasures for Young People
With help, young children can have fun building a bunch of different things. And, without help, the ambitious preschooler can learn to follow instructions, work on fine motor development, and accomplish small projects.

Michaels coupons are not eligible for this toy but Fat Brain Toys gives a discount off MSRP. So, go get it at there! Click the link below and search "Klutz Lego." Order and wait impatiently for your new toy to arrive!

[Disclosure Statement: This post contains affiliate links. If you click and purchase, I receive a small referral fee at no cost to you. To see how I spend the money see my "Philanthropy" page. ]

Monday, September 8, 2014

Desert Island Toys

We have had a busy month because my husband got a new job that moved us from one state to another. So my posts have been few and far between but I'm getting back in the game with this story about taking a road trip with Preschool Engineers and their "Desert Island Toys."

A Box of His (or Her) Own
In preparing for our move, I set aside one box for each child. They could put whatever they wanted into the box and it would be kept off the moving truck. It would travel at their feet in our car while we drove across the country, it would come in the hotels with us, it would serve as their toy box in our new empty house until the rest of our stuff arrived. My goal for these boxes was two-fold: for the kids to feel control over some aspect of their lives during an otherwise hectic time, and to give them some responsibility (relieving me) for knowing what is important to them.

Books and Scissors and Ribbon, Oh My!
The contents were interesting. Most of the stuff was from around the house - books, crayons, sticker/coloring books, magnifying glasses, tape. Some of the stuff was new - I allowed them to request some things (Pez dispensers) and I suggested some things (a roll of gift ribbon and scissors). Over the course of the 2.5 days of the car trip, all the items were used. And, as I suspected, the ribbon and scissors were used the most. My preschool engineers tied, cut, taped, and created. Admittedly, messes were created (just like at home) but cleaning up was easy (scooping up small pieces of ribbon and dumping in the trash can at a gas station).

A Secret Stash
All in all, it has been a successful trip. We will be moving into our empty house soon, finding the local library, and generally exploring our new home town. And when we need a break from the new, I have the box of Magna-Tiles stashed in the trunk....because we can ALWAYS use Magna-Tiles.