Welcome to our practical Saturday post of large family living. This is where and when we will address some of the helpful things that have helped us along the way to raising a large family, things I wish I would have known years ago, when I was struggling to adjust to a bigger family, like around child # 5.
Undoubtedly the question I get asked the most often about homeschooling, is:
What do you do with preschoolers???
We have been homeschooling for 14 years. In that time we have always had at least one preschooler tagging along with us. Since our school is life oriented, the toddlers, babies, and 4 to 5 year olds just get to do everything we are doing. We read to them, help them memorize Scripture..this is done matter-of-factly while combing their hair or tying their shoes. All capable children help with household chores.
Small children love to feel big enough to be helpful. They tag along with me doing laundry, making beds, stirring dinner, feeding animals, etc. in as much as can possibly be done. They can sit at the table and do quiet activities on their own while the bigger children are working on math or handwriting. The atmosphere is fun and loving, just letting their curiosity take them. However, when their attention span is full they are free to go play by themselves, there are no demands. This style has set the stage for a love of learning, which is our second highest goal in homeschooling.
Here are some specific things we have done with our preschoolers while schooling the older children.
I have a big basket of color books and a box of crayons for them to scribble with. Even Gabe, barely a year old, will sit and color because he sees the others doing it and he wants to do what they are doing. I think that when you involve the little ones in the family lifestyle, they are more prone to accept table time. Last year, when Gabe was 9-14 months old, he just sat in my lap a lot of the time we were working.
I also have a math manipulative box, with dominoes, dice, scrabble letters, and pattern blocks. When the little one has had enough of coloring I will get out a manipulative and let them make a mess with it, as long as they don’t throw them, they can sort them into plastic cups or a muffin tin, or just play with them. I have given little ones a container of buttons and a small ribbon or embroidery string to make a temporary necklace with, or let them sort the buttons into sizes and colors.
In my quiet basket, I have all kinds of things to occupy babies and toddlers, lacing shapes, finger puppets, wooden puzzles, and much more. Blanket time is especially helpful for babies and toddlers who are tired of being in mama's lap or at the table... or mamas who are tired of baby being in her lap.
Edible play dough has been very popular with our children. They have tons of fun patting it out, cutting it into shapes with cookie cutters and then eating them all up. We also make traditional play dough from time to time, and keep it in the fridge while it lasts. (recipes following)
A three year old can cut and paste pictures from magazines onto scrap paper, using a glue stick, sort change or 7 bean soup mix into a muffin tin, use pattern blocks, make puzzles, or play matching games by themselves during your school time. These are all things that encourage learning.
One thing that our preschool children especially like is a small drawer unit where they can keep special collections. It is amazing to me the time they can spend with a small pile of rocks or shells that they have found and keep for special, each having their own drawer. I got this idea from the book “Little Men”, which, by the way, has lots of great ideas for making your household a fun leaning environment.
During their playtime, I like them to listen to classical music. It seems to promote creativity, and often times they will dance and move to the music, but it is the style of music that does not wind them up, like the common kid music they like to listen to when school time is over.
All our preschool children lay down for at least one half hour shortly after lunch for quiet time. If they don’t fall asleep after 30 minutes, they can get up, but most children under the age of 5 will fall asleep and take a nice nap, which I believe keeps them in much better humor throughout the rest of the day.
When answering questions about what to do with preschoolers in a homeschool family, the reply that I most often receive is... “Oh, my toddler would never do that!" or "My preschooler won’t sit with us at the table.”
Here is where firm but loving reproof comes in... "Then, you have some serious training to do to get your little one in order. A baby or toddler who won’t mind will be a young child who won’t mind, then a big kid who won’t mind, and then a willful and rebellious teenager. Train them young, incorporating them into all you do, talking to them all the while like they understand everything, and you will find that they are much more willing to follow instructions, and become an enjoyable little one."
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 cup powdered milk
Mix well, keep refrigerated, if you don’t eat it all.
The Best Play-dough
1 cup white flour
½ cup salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 ½ Tbsp. oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine flour, salt and cream of tartar in saucepan. Stir in water, oil, vanilla and color. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, till it forms a ball. Knead it until smooth. Cover tightly and store in fridge.