Worksheets and Special Needs Preschoolers

After doing some research, I decided to go against worksheets, at least for a few more years. There was really no beneficial aspect to it, other then a child regurgitating matter they just learned. Or so I thought. On a whim while out of town with the kiddos and time to kill, we got a small workbook from the local dollar store. There was drawing and stickers and figured, why not, it’ll keep her entertained. Boy oh boy did she show me that day!

We started with the stickers, and things she loved doing. Tracing, drawing, doing lines. And then she pointed to 2 of the same objects, and looked at us with a smile. To my delight, she was showing us she could find the same things. I then asked her if she could show me the blue bird, which she did, and pointed to all of them in the pictures, mimicking counting sounds!

As some of you may know, our eldest is still non-verbal. She has a very limited vocabulary which is often jumbled and unusable. A sound has multiple meanings and only those who spend a great amount of time with her can decode it. Most of her communication is concentrated to sharing her wants or meeting a need. Imagine my delight when she decided to share information, just for the sake of socializing and showing her skills! And even better yet, she was showing us she understood the work, in a way she never could have before! While she doesn’t understand the verbalization of words to describe an object, she still understood what blue was, and for the first time in her life, was able to share with us! But it didn’t stop there.

Matching the letters found in a workbook.

We turned to a page introducing the letter A. She took off, and I thought I lost her. Oh well, we had a good run. But no, she came back running with a handful of her magnetic letters from the fridge. She spread them out beside the book and pointed out to the A. She grabbed the letter and put it on top of the A in the book. The pride in her eyes as she showed me her find was contagious. She kept pointing, and wanted to match more. Eventually I started laying out multiple letters and just asking her which letter was the A, and at that moment, she could point it out without looking at the page. She was showing me she was retaining some information!

We have since started using worksheets daily, not to work on schoolwork, but to progress in our communication skills. She has developed her social skills immensely since starting this method and will now babble to random strangers, with no intent in her communication other then wanting to share with the person. We now play matching games, memory games, and create worksheets as her interest changes. We also let her explore concepts through arts. Although it may not look like much, her drawing over letters still exposes her to them. Most often she will draw directly over them, or join them together.

Big T drawing over different versions of the letter A

I agree that worksheets are not a necessity to education in itself. They can be boring, repetitive and stressful to some kids, but with others, they may be a great tool. And there’s no need to follow the written instructions to use them. Take out some play dough and use it as a mat, use multicolored crayons and draw a crocodile purple, or maybe use nothing more then your fingers to trace! They can truly become open ended, just follow your child’s lead and have fun with them.

How To Stay Organized While Homeschooling

Some would say I have a pretty type A personality. If you asked my parents or teachers growing up to describe me in a few words, perfectionist would typically come out. Organization and uncluttered spaces keep me happy and relaxed. Because I love doing lists, I created a lists of the lists I follow… see what I did there? If you’re like me and want tips to have smoother days, read on!

I follow a daily routine that works for your family

               I have always thrived on routine, and it was obvious Big T did too shortly after she was born. We have loosely followed the same daily routine ever since, and it’s working great for our family.

I meal plan

              Depending on the season, we meal plan weekly, biweekly or monthly. In the wintertime it is easier to plan 7 meals per month and rotate, since we do lots of stews and soups in big batches. These can be frozen easily and reheated, cutting down on prep time, grocery runs, food waster and electricity use. Most of our garden vegetables are frozen and there isn’t a lot of diversity. During the summer months as the garden produces plentiful options, we plan according to ripeness, with weekly menus. We grow most of our food therefore don’t depend on the store as much.

We enjoy making our own bread as well!

I follow a weekly cleaning routine

              This is my anchor. I need to follow this schedule or my house quickly becomes a disaster. I have severe dust allergies, and it keeps my family healthy. I spend a small amount of time each day cleaning a particular room in the house. No more than 15 minutes is lost on the chore, and the house remains dust free. We also spot clean busy areas like the dining room, and our robot vacuum goes daily.

My agenda is my life

              Quite literally, my life is written out in my binder. I have my agenda which follows me everywhere, keeping track of my work shifts, family appointments, outside activities, family gatherings, etc. I also have a weekly planner for activities and child-led lessons. This is my guide while I provide childcare as activities can be set up the day before to keep a flow through the day and concentrate on individualized time with the kids. I follow a monthly blog planner as well, lightly predisposing topics through my month and post releasing dates to try and stay on a rhythm.

We are minimalists

              We don’t have a lot of clothes, toys, and gadgets. Frankly, this is the route to take to remain uncluttered and stress free. We chose to go this route out of necessity and for a love of the environment. Instead of following the consumerism train, we ask family members to gift experiences with the girls, which they cherish much more than a toy. In turn, less packaging and plastic ends in our landfills. We also have a smaller house, meaning we simply don’t have the space for a lot of stuff. Since the Kondo method took over, more people are now following that route and a few of my friends have mentioned how nice it is to have the free space. Less things around the house means less things to pick up and find a spot for. For the kids, instead of buying multiple activities, we use our local book and toy library, allowing a rotation of interests and less clutter. Less clothes also means less laundry and 2 people can share a closet. For the kids, I organize their clothes by outfits on a hanger, allowing them the independence to pick their clothes for the day and get dressed on their own. There is multiple benefits to buying less. The kids have a greater imagination and more durable toys, and parents have more free time to play with them or follow their interests.

Here is our amazing local gym, which Big T has access too thanks to a family member!
Big T agrees, Best Gift Ever!

Finally, I accepted the lifestyle that comes with littles

If you’re type A like me, you are always trying to find new ways to organize your life and stay on top. I hope these new ideas may have sparked a little passion and ease. But one thing I learned over the years, is that it’s also fine and healthy to not have control over everything. My kids have taught me ever since I got pregnant that a little surprise and unknown can be fun! You have to let some things go to truly enjoy the moment. And as new situation emerges, chaos normally follows. Just remember, the transition between chaos and routine is only for a moment. So take a deep breath, and remember that you got this!

My 5 Biggest Homeschooling Mistakes

You are considering homeschooling and that’s great! But there is so much information available, and it is so hard to find a starting point, that it becomes overwhelming. So instead of telling you what to do, I’ll talk about my beginners mistakes. After 6 months of homeschooling my toddler, here’s what I learned and changed.

The 5 mistakes I made in the beginning of our homeschooling journey

1. Falling down the Pinterest hole

I started by submerging myself in pinterest crafts. It didn’t take long to feel like I was drowning in glitter. The crafts were all over the place, they didn’t have a flow, and let’s be honest here, with a 2 years old, I was doing most of them. And Big T being a bit more special, she wasn’t on par with the activities offered for her age.

While she was supposed to sort the found objects by color, she still enjoyed using her fine motor skills to dig through the bin.

2. Planning too far in advance

After scouring the depth of pinterest, and moving past the crafts, I had a plan on how and what I wanted to teach her. I followed the experts in the field and seasoned homeschoolers. I created themes, planned crafts months and advanced, and lost whole weekends! Within 2 weeks it was obvious the intensity was too high. What had worked for others, wasn’t working for my child. She wasn’t able to follow the activities intended for her age. So I did the same, read up on special needs curriculum, activities intended for younger children, created a new curriculum, spent hours on end, only to not find her interest in the more laid back activities. See where this is going?

3. Buying a curriculum

That’s when I took the liberating decision to buy a curriculum. It came highly recommended by other homeschoolers with toddlers. I finally felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. It is play based curriculum, one of the best forms of teaching toddlers and preschoolers. The activities looked fun, hit all subjects, and gradually increased in difficulty as the child learned new skills, switching themes every 2 weeks. They showed ways to accommodate the lessons to fit all learning style and offered some flexibility in timing. I felt as though it was the answer. With everything pre-planned and built to gradually increase in difficulty, I wouldn’t lose precious time researching lessons and money wasted on unused supplies. Only, we quickly had to change all lessons to the bare minimum. We had to skip over the discussions, limiting the language development opportunity, and after a month and a half, we were still on the first subject. I was bored, she was bored, so I gave up and moved to the next subject. 4 months later and she hadn’t learned the new skills we should have observed, according to the curriculum. So we scrapped it for the moment, and I promised myself I’d revisit it when she’s much older and able to communicate.

4. Asking social media for guidance

That’s when I turned to social media, only to be caught in a hurricane of advice and information. I was comparing my daughter to kids her age, younger, always feeling bad about our progress. I doubted myself, felt I was doing her wrong. She wasn’t counting, naming letters. I sensed as though I was failing and started considering preschool. I was told to look into Montessori, Charlotte Mason, and Waldorf. I was spiraling in information and my daughter was losing interest in homeschooling all together, something she used to love so much. That’s when I stepped back from it all. We continued doing educational activities but with no intent. We gave ourselves a break.

5. Not following my instinct/doubting myself

This was by far my biggest mistake, which came to light during our break. I realized she learned the most when we were just having fun, before I had even considered homeschooling. We were playing, and she started to catch on some things. Some very unusual things, but still learning! She was able to show me where animals could find moss in the wintertime during our hikes even while snow covered. I finally came to realize that she doesn’t absorb the same information in the same way. She needs sensorial input, movement, and interest to take in something new. My gut told me to keep going with it, and I finally listened to it. She made leaps and bounds in all aspects of her development after. She started putting the few words and ASL she knew together to create two words sentences, her play enhanced in quality, amongst other things. Her therapists were amazed with all the new skills she learned in such a short period. She can’t be compared to other toddlers, since her neurological markup isn’t the same, but what child should be? They all have their own interests they want to explore. I just needed a little push to catch on.

I hope this helps anyone starting homeschooling little ones. As per learning, teaching has its own journey entirely and yours will lead you a different path then ours. Some aspects like a curriculum can definitely work with some families, and social media is a fountain of amazing information and advice. You just need to take the time and find the right balance.

Moon Activities – Totschool

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown has been Big T’s favorite bed time book since she was a year old. Over the last few weeks, something clicked. It may have been the way the full moon was shinning in her room, or all the talk about the lunar eclipse, but she looked outside excitedly and shouted ‘Mooo’ while pointing at the moon. For our non verbal child to be excited about verbalizing and sharing an interest was an immense gift for us, and we chose to explore it with her.

Here’s what our activities for the week looked like.

Day 1: Crater Jump

Lunar Hopscotch

Supplies needed: colorful tape and washable marker.

This activity holds endless gross motor fun! After watching The Cat in the Hat – Jumping on the Moon, Big T wanted to see how high she could jump. I created a moon with craters on the floor with tape and let her jump from crater to crater. She hoped, she leaped, she crawled! Her imagination and gross motor skills were fully displayed. With added children music (our favorite is the cbc kids streaming app), she giggled as she moon danced. I ensured the craters were wide enough to add in numbers and letters, to be able to alternate the game and add in number and letter recognition. Either it’s naming them in order as she jumps through them, playing lunar hopscotch, or calling one out for her to jump in, the possibilities were endless.

Day 2: Moon Dough

Making Craters with ‘Asteroids’

Supplies needed: 1 cup of baking soda per ~ 1 tbsp of colored water, sparkles of choice

For the purpose of recreating the surface of the moon, we added blue and purple food coloring to the water, as well as silver, blue and purple sparkles. Big T had a ball mixing all the dry ingredients while I gently added the water as to not dissolve the baking soda. The results were spectacular! Gritty, clumpy, and damp, yet dry and soft! It was a beautiful blueish tinge, the same as we see on a full moon. We looked at pictures of the moon and outlined the craters, and i voiced how they were created. Asteroids, big rocks, crashed on the moon, leaving giant holes behind. I then added marbles to the moon dough and dropped them from different heights to create an ere of craters. This activity provided sensory stimuli and fine motor skills, a little dip in science, as well as mathematical exploration from creating the dough.

Moon Rocks

We quadrupled the batch to make moon rocks for future activities. To do so, we just packed the dough in handfuls, and added water to the surface with a dropper to create a crust. We let them air dry for a day.

Day 3: Moon Rocks

Future Astronaut

This activity was my favorite. It occupied Big T for an hour of independent play, but I was as captivated by the beauty of the experiment. Using the moon rocks we created the day before, Big T became an astronaut in training. She collected, observed, and dissembled the rocks. She found different colors, textures, sizes, and counted the rocks she could find, and in how many pieces she could hammer them. Fine motor skills were engaged as she used the small hammer to break the rocks open. To finish we used a dropper to add vinegar to the rocks. The magic of the bubbles and sparkles captivated her, and myself, in it’s chemical reaction.

Vinegar Reacting with Baking Soda

As Big T loved this unit, we will continue next week with more lunar activities

How to Teach Young Toddlers

Exploring our World

We are often asked, what do you teach your toddler while so young? The answer is to keep it simple. Our kids are born eager to learn about what surrounds them, and we help them along. We make fun games or draw pictures, communicate, but most importantly, we allow them to explore the world that surrounds them. Their curiosity will naturally guide them, you just have to tag along.

We feed this hunger by bringing our kids on regular outings with no structured schedule. We may think of ideas to guide them in an interest by planning an activity that follows a theme, but we leave the exploration to them. Last summer, Big T loved exploring her senses and how they interacted with her environment. She wanted to touch, look and smell at everything around her. Therefore, we planned activities that would include a multitude of sensory inputs and let her show us her findings.

These outings allowed her to understand her environment better. She recognized natural sounds, and instinctively takes a deep breath while in nature. It is giving her tools for self-direction and to trust herself. It also showed us what kind of learner she was. She learns best when her sense of touch is activated. She loves to grasp, squeeze, feel and poke objects, and retains more information by doing so. By knowing this, we can now plan later lessons around dexterity and manipulation of the objects.

After half a year, we have learned that the importance isn’t in what you teach them, but in how you do so. Buy cuing into your child’s learning style and encouraging it’s development, you are allowing them to become comfortable in using their skills to assimilate more information. They will start retaining more information with minimal effort and won’t see education as a choir. We have already seen a immense development in Big T’s skills requiring dexterity and manipulation, while tasks we pushed using different teaching styles did not evolve.

Picture of a cat drawn by Big T as 2.5 years old

By 2.5, Big T was able to draw shapes and faces, could form animals out of clay, and would communicate by signs. She could perform elaborate dances and find moss under thick layers of snow by recognizing stump forms. She knew that ice was ‘cold’ water and that it was slippery after making ice catchers. This was encouraging to us, and made us drill deeper in finding new ways to exploit the physical matter of elements she needed help in learning, like expressive communication.

There it is, the answer to teaching your littles. Slow it down, get on their level. And enjoy the adventure!