Homeschooling: Miss Rhonda’s Readers

I’ve shared a few resources here before that helped get the Scout Kid on the path to reading. Native Reading was one– and I was excited to see the technique backed up in Thirty Million Words, which I just finished reading on my Kindle and plan to review soon. Leap Frog’s magical Letter Factory was another, and I cannot recommend it more highly to anyone who want their child to effortlessly learn basic letter sounds.

So the Scout Kid has been reading for a good few months now, but I found it hard to find him good books to practice on. I wanted books difficult enough to stretch his abilities, but it’s easy for him to get discouraged if there are a lot of nonstandard words, and because of this difficulty finding good books, neither of us were as enthused about him practicing his newfound skills as we should of been.

That’s why I was delighted to stumble across Miss Rhonda’s Readers. Written by a Montessori teacher, they are simple, sweet little stories that are designed to be delightful instead of dull or frustrating. At $0.99 apiece on the Kindle, we’ve been buying a new one every few days for the Scout Kid to work his way through. (He may or may not have learned how to buy them himself today and bought four while I wasn’t paying attention, but hey. There are worse things to accidentally buy four of.)

It is such a joy to see my boy reading– as a word-lover myself, I’m so thrilled about the worlds that are opening up before him now that he can read, worlds of imagination, learning, and depth. I deeply believe that helping kids learn to read early is better not because it’s a race or because academic success is in itself an important goal for a four year old, but because of that. Because now he can start to dig into his own interests at his leisure and liberty, read a dozen books about dinosaurs in a row if that’s what he wants. Because of the connections with characters and the wonderful worlds that fiction hold. Because he won’t be at anyone’s mercy in decoding the world around him; he can forge his own way. Because reading is a door, not a destination. </sentimental monologue>

Anyways, check  out the readers; they’re great and the price is definitely right! You can by physical copies on her website, or grab them for Kindle from Amazon.

(Right now the Scout Kid’s biggest struggle is sounding out longer, unfamiliar words without immediately defaulting to trying to guess based on the picture and the word’s first letter. I’m mulling over how to make a game to practice that.)



Homeschooling: Science: gofindit Sensory Game

GoFindIt! At the State Park

Gofindit At the State Park

From the UK-based Sensory Trust, this little scavenger-hunt card game has been a happy little buy for our family. Basically, it’s a deck of cards featuring all different adjectives- wet, curvy, huge, crunch!, red, etc. With older kids, you could play by the rules: hand each kid five cards and race to find an item that matches each card. For the boys, though, we don’t make it a contest. It’s just a great way to engage with our surroundings, observe, and discover. They even love playing it indoors!

It doesn’t seem to be available in Canada, but for US-based readers, you can grab it through my Amazon Affiliate link here: It’s not particularly cheap given the dismal exchange rate, but it’s open-ended and friendly to all ages, so I’m definitely not worried about getting our money’s worth out of it!

Advent Activites 2015: December 3rd, Christmas Playdough

We kept things simple yesterday because Scout Kid was sick and laying on the couch all day yesterday. We read a Christmas book, but he didn’t even really have the energy for that; curled up pitifully and closed his eyes as I read. Thankfully, he’s back to his usual spunky self today, so we’re back at it.

Today, after dropping off a load of packed Christmas goody boxes for Christmas in King, we pulled out the red and green playdough, along with all my Christmas cooky cutters. Feral Kid, especially, was thrilled– he had never played playdough before, and mostly used his newfound cutting skills to reduce his playdough to tiny shreds. Scout kid went more on-theme and decorated some gingerbread people and Christmas trees before settling down to cutting playdough into fishing bait. All in all, a good time was had by all, including Mama who did dishes in peace while listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas and occasionally helping out with the rolling pin.


Advent Activities 2015: December 1st, Paper Snowflakes

Along with the Lego Advent calendar my mum got the boys, and the Jesus Storybook Bible Advent reading plan, I’ve planned a special Christmas activity to do with the boys (or sometimes just Scout Kid) every day until Christmas Day. I’m looking forward to making this time special for them, and also really hoping I don’t fall off the hat, like, a week in!

Today’s activity was paper snowflakes, which a) is about the upper limit of my tolerance for crafts, and b) makes for the loveliest winter windows. I wasn’t sure how this would go over; last year Scout Kid got really frustrated at his inability to make snowflakes as good as mine, and as for Feral Kid, his only experience with scissors thus far has been the rare occasions when he’s managed to get his hands on a pair and then instantly had them snatched back by whatever parent was handy.

But they loved it! Scout Kid has the motor control now to approximate the shapes he’s going for, and Feral Kid was just in love with using scissors. As I handed him his paper and he began making his first clumsy cuts, he kept exclaiming in glee, “I’m doing it! I’m doing it!”

Day One, success!


Homeschooling: Science: Healthy Body Book: Lungs


I was super-stoked to find Teachers Pay Teachers the other day. Basically, it’s a bunch of teachers sharing their classroom resources for all ages and grades, and you can buy or download PDFs of activities and lessons for every subject. My wishlist is already as long as my arm, but I started with this Health and Nutrition for Little Kids book. There’s no particular order it has to be done in, so we just jumped in. Today we learned about lungs. Here’s what we did.

-Watched this great little TED-Ed video about the basic workings of the lungs. Because it’s not geared to three-year-olds, I paused it quite often the first time through as we breathed in and out slowly, held our breath, and answered any questions Scout Kid had. He watched it through again while he coloured the worksheet.
-Coloured in the lungs worksheet from the Health and Nutrition Book. Scout Kid’s colouring is is a little half-hearted, like, “oh, here, I coloured two little spots, I think that should do it!”but he was enjoying it so whatever.

-Made the accompanying craft: fit two straws into two plastic baggies, secure the tops with elastics, and voila! Lung demo. It’s dead simple but Scout Kid loved seeing them in action. We taped them loosely onto the sheet so they’re handy next time he wants to demo his respiratory system.

Eight Reasons I Love Screen Time

Watching this TEDTalk this afternoon was the catalyst for this post about screen time. (One of the things I appreciated about this TEDTalk is that it distinguishes between the effects of entertainment screen time vs. educational screen time. I wish there was also more research on the effect of interactive (iPhone/iPad) screen time vs passive screen time (TV). Mostly it seems to focus on TV.) Anyways, I know this isn’t the usual kind of post you see about screen time, but I wanted to talk about the ways in which I think screen time is awesome. For me, it’s all about quality and balance. We have a few basic boundaries (something along the lines of ‘You need to stop playing iPhone now because Mummy wants to check Facebook…’ and ‘I WILL NOT listen to the Paw Patrol theme one more time today.’) but mostly, it’s not about time limits or guilt, but about a rich and varied experience. So without further ado, eight things I love about screen time:

1) Screen time is unjudgemental learning.

I’m sure not every child is this way, but I have a kid who is very reluctant to try and fail in front of people. He doesn’t like guessing, he likes knowing; he resists situations where he feels he might not be able to perform or answer like he thinks he’s should. And while we’re working on this, both on addressing his fear of failing, and addressing the way we approach tasks to reduce the pressure on him, one of the great beauties of the screen is that he can learn without performing for anyone.

With a good educational app or TV show, there is no fear of judgement. Nobody’s watching over your shoulder. Getting it wrong is ok. So when Scout Kid is using a educational app, he’s not afraid to try, because he’s not afraid to fail. He’s much more willing to experiment, try, and test.

2) Screen time exposes kids to subjects and experiences they can’t learn in real life.

Whether it’s inside the human body, halfway round the world, in outer space, the distant past, or the microscopic world, screen time takes my kids to places they can’t go on their own. We love watching How It’s Made or BBC Planet Earth over lunch, and most of Scout Kid’s favourite shows work in great exposure to the kind of things he doesn’t meet in the everyday, from the wide range of STEM subjects in Curious George, to the prehistoric world of the dinosaurs, to the wild variety in the animal kingdom, to awesome heavy machinery and vehicles. We also love YouTube videos, especially for homeschooling– it’s a lot easier to get a handle on cloud formation, or light refraction, or what a ship in a bottle is, when you see it in action, versus just seeing a picture or hearing a description.

This exposure lets my kids make more connections and understand their world better; one of the things I love about when kids learn something early is that they’re ready to learn the next level that much more quickly.

3) Screen time exposes kids to people they wouldn’t meet in real life.

In the same way that screen time exposes kids to subjects they wouldn’t get to experience otherwise, it gives them the opportunity to experience a broader, richer range of cultures, ideas, and personal experiences. Research has show that this can contribute to more empathy and positivity, and less fear and prejudice, towards those different from your family. Living and going to a church in the country, my kids aren’t exposed to the kind of cultural variety they might get in the city– although our town is growing more diverse by leaps and bounds; when I was a kid, the town was basically a 50-50 split of Dutch and Portuguese people, and the Dutch crowd hung out with the Dutch crowd, you know? I make an effort to buy race- and gender-diverse books, to speak inclusively, etc., but I know it’s easy to fall into white/male default even when you’re trying not to. TV shows (carefully chosen to avoid shallow or stereotypical portrayals) and YouTube videos can help normalise other perspectives and points of view, and I think that’s grand.

Instagram’s another great one for this. I make a point of following POC, and women doing non-stereotypical stuff, like welding and skateboarding, so that the boys are just used to seeing those images as part of the morning post-breastfeeding Instagram browse. (If you’re looking for some account suggestions, or have some, hit me up in the comments!)

4) Screen time gives kids the power to connect on their own terms.

This is mainly a phone thing, I guess, although computers too, but I love seeing my kids text and Facetime family members. Scout Kid uses voice-to-text to send (admittedly garbled) messages to faraway grandparents or sends his favourite emojis to Daddy at work. Feral Kid loves to send videos of himself to people and get a video response. He talks to the video responses like they’re Facetime, which is adorable. Scout Kid even knows how to find people’s names in Contacts and phone them up, although I try to discourage that. One of the common criticisms of a screen-based culture is that it makes kids less social, but I think it can help as much as hurt. Through the above-mentioned channels, my kids learn phone manners, initiate social interactions, and enjoy jokes, express love, and connect across distances without needing me to prompt or manage them.

5) Screen time lets kids experiment with art.

Two things I’m thinking of specifically here, is the art of capturing and enjoying images, and of music. Scout Kid, like many toddlers, is a master selfie-taker, but he also enjoys photographing increasingly-less-blurry images of our house, his family, and weird close-up still lifes. He likes editing and filtering them, and favours black-and-white shots. Both boys love Instagram, which a Facebook friend once described as “a picture book created by the whole world that never ends.” Like, heck yeah they like that, and it’s a whole other ball-game than a frenetic, keep-that-kid-quiet TV show, so why lump them in together?

Scout Kid is also growing into a fine DJ, and has definite tastes. His current favourites are all what he describes as ‘beating songs’, a genre which encompasses hip-hop, dubstep, and good solid rock songs. I love hearing him sing beautiful, complex lyrics, instead of just typical nursery-rhyme toddler fare, and I love the questions he asks about the meanings of songs, and I love his little air drums when a favourite tunes comes up on shuffle. I’d actually love to make a mix-tape of his favourites some time; everyone wants to have Eye of the Tiger, Shut Up And Dance, Needtobreathe’s Brother, Trepak from the Nutcracker, Showbread’s Pachycephalosaurus, and Test Flight from How to Train Your Dragon on the same mix-tape, right?

6) Screen time powers imagination.

Narrative is where we experiment with dreams, examine values, and forge cultural values. As a writer, I love this and embrace it wherever I see it. In our culture, our myths and legends are on the big screen, not a story around a fire. Although there’s beauty in stories around the fire that I don’t want to diminish, I don’t want to let a ‘things were better in the good old days’ attitude poison our experience of the truly great, hilarious, beautiful, or challenging narratives that nowadays come mostly from movies.

Visual imagination employed in reading is awesome, and we love to read here at the Parsonage. But the whole other immersive, visual world of movies, for my kids at least, seems to fire imaginations just as much. The boys have spent solid hours pretending to fly around the room to the How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack, their dreams caught on the spark of beautiful freedom in shots of soaring and sweeping dragons. Scout Kid plays Survivorman in deep, involved ways, using all his toys and books and blankets to build elaborate shelters and animal traps, hunting and building fires and collecting the rainwater from moss with concentration and fervour. It’s no fun to clean up after, but that’s not really the point. The point is, if you’re choosing good quality narratives, whether they’re on a screen or a printed page or a verbal story, they’re going to power imaginations, and as long as you’re keeping the variety and balance between the different types, movies can be just as powerful and play-inspiring as books.

(I also give the boys room time every day, because I think involved, alone play is a skill to be cultivated, and I think that helps…)

7) Screen time provides concrete manipulatives and chances to build on or problem solve.

Montessori math manipulatives are awesome. And so expensive. You know what I like? Apps that have Montessori math manipulatives for $3. Apps that teach patterning and give instant feedback, allowing Scout Kid to shift and experiment with arrangements. Movies that use music, visual feedback, and story to teach all the phonics sounds in two days, instead of weeks and weeks of phonics flashcards. Apps that teach coding through play. The chance to get hands-on with abstract concepts that are hard to make concrete in the real world.

8) Screen time saves parental sanity.

Look, I get the fear and guilt. It’s easy to lean on screen time when you don’t have the energy or the patience, and that’s not always healthy. Sometimes we need to develop our own patience and our kids’ patience. Sometimes we need to invest more in face-to-face time instead of easy solutions. Sometimes we need to let kids be bored so they get creative about keeping busy.

But sometimes screen time is a great compromise. Sometimes your three-year-old stayed up late every night of the weekend, but it’s four o’clock and you can’t put him to bed yet so you use a movie to give him downtime and keep him away from situations where his immature emotions plus exhaustion are just going to keep creating friction. Sometimes you and your partner need to invest in each other and Curious George makes a good babysitter for an hour on Sunday morning. Sometimes convenience is good, if there’s other things that you also need to invest in– other people, yourself, your partner, one kid who’s particularly needy right now, your relationship with God. If my three-year-old watches a movie sometimes and sees me reading the Bible or helping a friend or putting energy into a special project, than I’m happy.

Balance. You know?

Homeschooling: Science: Cloud Types

Trying to get back into the swing of doing regular homeschooling activities now that the school year is started again. We do have a few regular things: weekly piano lessons with my sister + practices, weekly art lessons with my mama, daily Bible reading/memorization, reading, and practice counting (I’ll post about our hundreds chart another time,) and we enjoy those, but Scout Kid really gets most excited about the special activities I plan.

So for this activity, we first spent some time learning about clouds. We read our Field Guide to Weather and watched a few videos on Youtube about weather and clouds, which kind of went in the extreme storm direction instead of the fluffy cloud direction, but hey, guided by his interest and all…

I needed some time to get cotton balls, so we did the rest of the activity a week later; in the intervening time we kept our eyes open for cloud types as we drove or played outside. Scout Kid is a big fan of the cumulonimbus.

Once my cotton balls arrived, we painted a poster (Scout Kid added a moon and some stars up top there) and decorated it with all the 10 main types of clouds (there are a lot more subspecies and special types.) Scout Kid added the rain to the nimbostratus and cumulonimbus clouds, and I labelled everything. There’s lots more to learn, so we’re excited to keep talking about it– clouds are more interesting than I was previously aware.


Toddler Tuesdays: Leapfrog Letter Factory

As we started working our way through School Sparks, I realized that before we could do the letters section, Scout Kid needed some serious phonics help. He knows his letters backwards, uppercase and lowercase, can write them all with minimal help, and has a few sight words, but he really only knew a handful of the phonics sounds despite, I thought, me being pretty regular about talking about them.
I got this movie on the recommendation of a friend— she used it for her kids in the past and apparently it works like magic for teaching kids phonics sounds. Since I am all about education in the form of magic, I bought it and, yep! It’s magic! Scout Kid went from basically not knowing more than a few letter sounds to knowing them all in two days! The video doesn’t cover long vowels, alternate sounds (such as for c, g), or digraphs, but it’s a good start and Scout Kid found it effortless and engaging.
Find it on Amazon for $15: Leapfrog: Letter Factory (link through my Amazon Affiliates account).

Toddler Tuesdays: School Sparks Preschool Worksheets

Hi guys! Sorry for the radio silence. Life and stuff, you know the drill. So! I’m currently in the backcountry of Georgia for work, and we don’t have much in the way of school or craft supplies. Scout Kid was getting a lot of mileage out of colouring the Shake N’ Steak hats we got, but I thought maybe something a little more challenging was in order. Did some browsing on Amazon and came up with this lovely workbook, School Sparks. It’s got 450 tear-out pages of worksheets in fine motor control, numeracy and early math, letter recognition, writing, visual discrimination, all the good stuff.

Scout Kid has been eating it up, doing a few pages in each ‘subject’, if you will, every morning while Feral Kid naps. It’s interesting to see where, as a newly-minted three year old, the sheets are too easy (visual discrimination is totally unchallenging for him) and where they are too hard (mazes are still tough, can’t really do initial phonics sounds or rhyming words at all. He outright tells me he has no idea what I’m talking about when I try to explain the concept of initial sounds.) It gives me an idea of where to focus our work going forward– on which note, anybody have a good phonics app/game/workbook to recommend?

School Sparks also has a website with printable worksheets. FYI, the link is currently listing the book for $300 used, but I paid $18 used here in the States, so maybe this is not a good time to buy through my Amazon Affiliates link?

Science: Simple Machines

Back at it for the New Year! Here’s what we did today:
-Looked at a picture of the six types of simple machines: wedge, pulley, wheels and axle, lever, inclined plane, and screw.
-Talked about how simple machines make work easier for us. I briefly summed up what each machine does in simple terms.
-Hunted around the house for things we could use to build some examples of simple machines, built them, and tested them out.
-Watched this video of a Rube Goldberg machine using all the simple machines. Scout Kid was fascinated; we watched it over and over and he attempted to replicate it with our machines.
I was glad we got to this topic as Scout Kid has a growing obessession with making pulleys, and this will only expand his scope. I’d like to revisit this topic, and maybe build our own simple-machines Rube Goldberg machine.