Setting up a tent outdoors isn’t just for camping! Every spring, we set up a tent in our backyard to use as a sanctuary and a holding tank, and it has been a very beloved location, especially when we have little babies.
In Michigan, we get REALLY excited when spring arrives! The problem is that even though the snow thaws, it’s still pretty chilly (and windy) until June. Having this permanent tent set up ensures that we always have a warm place to play that will allow us to enjoy the fresh outdoor air while staying protected from the elements.
Tent – We usually just go to the nearest box store and pick up whatever is cheapest. (We learned the hard way this year, however, that it’s very important to make sure the tent has a window so you can get a cross breeze.) We’ve been setting up outdoor tents for the past 4 years and have never had a tent that lasts more than one year. By the time snow falls, the walls of the tent are so worn, they just rip apart. Because of this, we usually go with a cheap tent like this. This tent would be a a bit more luxurious and if you’re looking for a really permanent tent, you can go with one of these canvas tents.
Waterproof Cover – There is always a bit of water getting into the tent for one reason or another, so it’s a good idea to cover your foam padding with something like this.
Sheet – I like to put a fitted king size sheet over the waterproof cover.
Blankets – I don’t think we can ever have enough blankets in this household, so I am always on the lookout for good blankets like this at garage sales and thrift stores. I put one blanket down under the pillows and baskets of books and another blanket loosely on top. This second blanket can easily be taken out and shaken if it gets covered in sand and debris. This is also the blanket I’ll use if I want to have a blanket on the grass.
Pillows – Having about 3-4 pillows makes it really nice to stretch out for a little snooze.
Books – I love having a wide assortment of books, but I don’t keep my best out here in case of water or other damage.
Coloring Supplies – This is the first time I’ve included coloring supplies like coloring books, workbooks, blank notebooks, pencil boxes with pencils and crayons, and the bigger kids really enjoy it!
Toys – Because I have kids ranging from newborn to elementary school age, I have a variety of different toys that everyone can enjoy.
Little Chair – The kids especially love this little chair when I put it out on a blanket in the grass. Reading is always more fun when you’re in a little chair!
Diapers and Wipes – Because our tent is a little ways from the house, it’s nice to be able to change a diaper without having to go inside.
Outdoor Tent in Use
Find a good location. It’s nice to have something that can be in shade or partial shade so it doesn’t get too hot in the summer. It’s also nice to have the opening of the tent facing an area of high activity so that you can see what’s going on when you’re in the tent and vice versa.
Set up the tent. We keep our tent in the same spot every year, so after the grass died and it was all dirt, we leveled it with a rake to make it flat.
Put some sheets of wood in front of the tent. You could also use a big rug or Astro turf, but basically you want something to keep grass and dirt out of the tent.
Fill it with fun stuff. Based on the ages of your children, location of the tent, and the purpose of the tent, you will want to fill the tent with things to suit your needs. I like filling my tent with books, coloring supplies, toys, and pillows and blankets.
Play inside the tent. I like to keep the tent closed if it’s going to rain, but as soon as we head out to play I like to open it up and let the kids come and go as they please.
Use the tent as a holding tank. If we want to hang out outside with babies, I like taking a blanket out of the tent and putting toys, books, and the little chair on it.
Keep it clean. When our tent gets full of sand, dirt, grass, and leaves, I am so happy that I keep my extra blanket nestled lightly on top so that I can easily shake it out. If it gets really dirty, I’ll take everything out and either sweep or use the leaf blower.
We enjoy setting up our tent as soon as the snow is gone and leave it up until snow threatens to fall again. We have enjoyed having a tent every year for the past four years and will probably continue to enjoy one for many years to come.
*Update: We had a big windstorm that ripped our tent to shreds, so we opted for a bigger more expensive tent, and boy am I glad we did! My husband recently spent the night out here with our two older children, and they all loved it!
Our New and Improved Tent
http://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/play-tent-sanctuary.png400810Stacey Maaserhttp://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/EmbracingMotherhood_Color-281x300.pngStacey Maaser2017-05-03 20:03:042017-06-25 06:17:59Setting Up an Outdoor Play Tent Sanctuary
I love setting up an environment where my young preschool aged children (and older children as well) can be engaged in play based learning. I do this by setting up lots of little centers in every room that encourage creative and imaginative play with a little bit of skill based learning thrown in there as well. This is basically a Montessori approach to learning where children are given a lot of choice in a resource rich learning environment that incorporates plenty of opportunities for guided instruction.
While being a stay at home mom and raising our four children (after being an elementary school teacher for 7 years and getting my Master’s degree in Linguistics), these are the learning centers that have worked for me and have helped all of our children learn how to read at a young age, develop curious and imaginative minds, and get ready for school.
Before I dive into the learning centers, I wanted to set the scene with a few tips and tricks that have helped my learning centers to be successful.
Tips and Tricks
Little Learning Centers: Set up small tables, little chairs, small couches, and other areas that are easy to access for little ones.
Organization: I love using baskets, bins, cardboard boxes (with the flaps cut off), and tubs to sort and organize my toys and supplies. I like to label things when I can as well.
Children’s Choice: Introduce children to new learning centers, but after introductions are made, let them choose what they want to do. Follow them and provide guidance and support wherever they choose to be.
The Way to Start Your Day: Start the day with the most learning intensive projects first. You’ve got maybe an hour or two after they wake up for optimal attention, so use your time wisely!
When to Pack it Up: If I have a center set up (like a Play-doh or a water table center) that’s really messy, but doesn’t sustain their attention for very long, I will pack it up. I’m usually okay with cleaning up a big mess as long as it was really and truly worth it. *With a new baby on the way, I’m starting to pack away all centers that make a big mess, just to help me manage things a little better. 🙂
Rotation: If a center isn’t getting used, I’ll pack it away. Then, when I take it out again later, it’s like a brand new toy all over again! (If they still don’t use it, I’ll just get rid of it.)
Routines and Procedures: Having a good behavior management system in place will make the day run much more smoothly. I have found both as a teacher and now a parent, that most behaviors can be managed with consistent routines, procedures, and expectations.
Whether you are setting up an atmosphere for homeschool or just looking to create a stimulating learning environment for your little one(s), these learning centers are sure to engage, stimulate, and provide hours and hours of play based learning opportunities for your child(ren). Also, keep in mind that we have four children ranging in age from 21 months to 7 years, and they ALL enjoy using all of these centers to varying degrees. 🙂
Here is a little video of me showing most of the learning centers we have set up in our home.
1. ABC Magnet Letters
Learning the ABCs isn’t just about singing a song, it’s about learning BOTH the letter names AND letter sounds really really well. Doing so will lay a strong foundation for reading.
ABC Magnet Letters
This ABC magnet letter center is a perfect way for little ones to explore what they are learning about letters in a fun and hands on way. *Watch a video of Ophelia using ABC magnet letters here.
Using the ABC Magnet Center
Magnet Letters: I like these foam ones the best (120 pieces, capitals and lowercase letters), but they are currently only available from third party sellers on Amazon. These would be pretty good too if you don’t mind the pastel colors. I do like the Melissa and Doug wooden letters (52 pieces, one capital and one lowercase for each letter), but the magnets separate from the wood after time. This set of 240 lowercase letters (blue consonants and red vowels) from Lakeshore Learning is also a really great teaching tool, but the letters just aren’t as fun for kids to use. I like using it more for a teaching tool or to set up a lot of words at once. If you look at my letter set up, you’ll notice that I like setting the magnet letters in a shallow box so that little fingers can easily dig through them. Don’t worry about sorting the letters out, they’ll just get mixed up again! 🙂 I also like having these Leapfrog ABC letters for the refrigerator.
Muffin Pans: I like using this 2 x 3 pan for learning three letter words, this 12 muffin pan for either three or four letter words, and this mini muffin pan for longer words (and counting practice).
Small Table: You don’t really have to have a table (the floor would be just fine), but it does make it more fun! I made this mini table (pictured above) using scraps of wood we had lying around, and I measured it specifically to fit this funny little place in our “homeschool room”. When I was a teacher, I liked taking the lower parts of the table legs off from my rectangular tables to make a lower work surface for kids, and they loved it!
Here is a video of 21 month old Ophelia using a variety of different ABC magnet letters.
Learning how to count lays the foundation for math like learning the letter names and sounds lays the foundation for reading. It can take young children a very long time to learn one-to-one-correspondence (meaning that each object represents one thing, so it is definitely a good idea to encourage children to count often.
In the picture below, you’ll see that I have a mason jar numbered and labeled. I used to have 20 or so different counting jars with different things in them from beans to legos to small cars, but these counting bears were always the favorite, so that’s all I use now. 🙂 *The Investigations math curriculum is great for teaching math concepts in a fun and exploratory way.
Counting Bears Center
I like using anything that encourages counting like the game Connect 4. Not only is this good for counting, but it’s good fine motor skill practice for little hands too.
Muffin Tin: I like using this mini muffin tin to practice counting and for my ABC Magnet Center too.
Connect 4: This Connect 4 game is a great way to practice counting (we usually go to 20).
I really like having one table in the house set up just for drawing. This table is in our homeschool room, and I always have coloring books, workbooks, how to draw books, printouts of favorite things to draw, stencils, paper, crayons, markers, other office supplies like scissors and tape, and a little box for finished drawings laying out and ready to use.
Not pictured to the right is a tall bookshelf that I keep stocked with a variety of coloring and work books, mini books we have made, blank mini books ready to be filled, extra markers, and more supplies.
The pencils here in the picture below belong to our 7 year old daughter Ruby. She LOVES drawing and can be found doing one project or another here at this table every single day.
Coloring Books: I like collecting coloring books and workbooks from garage sales, thrift stores, and trips to the grocery store based on whatever our children are interested in.
Yes, painting is messy, but soooooooooooo much fun for kids! Having a bunch of painting supplies on hand and ready to go makes for a really fun project.
My Painting Supplies
I like letting kids draw whatever they want when we paint, but sometimes I’ll paint with them and we’ll talk about different things to paint like the sky, flowers, trees, cats, or whatever! If I’m feeling really artsy, maybe we’ll look up some famous artists someday and try to mimic their work.
I love collecting things from garage sales, thrift stores, or the crafting aisles at Walmart to fill my craft box. (*I must also thank local artist Kelly Allen for giving me a bunch of crafty things when Wisemaker shut down.) I like to put most things in plastic bags and label them. It’s really fun to just take out the whole box, and get crafty!
My Craft Box
Craft Box Items: Pom poms, little googly eyes, artificial flowers, buttons, sequins, glitter, pine cones, headbands, cotton balls, shells, pipe cleaners, paper scraps, yarn, and ribbons are some of the things I have in my craft box. Or you can just buy a random assortment of things here or here for example.
Glue: Glue sticks are nice for paper things, but you’ll want Elmer’s glue for bigger things, and maybe even a glue gun if you want things to be really permanent.
Paper: Sometimes it’s nice to make things on paper, so I like to have an assortment of large and small blank paper as well as construction paper.
Cutting is a really hard skill for little hands to master, and so any opportunities for young children to cut and glue will help prepare them for kindergarten. Sometimes it’s fun to just cut shapes out of colored paper and glue them onto large pieces of white paper. Other times, it’s fun to just cut and cut and cut! 🙂 One thing I’ve noticed though is that if a child isn’t ready to cut, don’t push it.
Glue: I LOVE having tons of large glue sticks around, as well as several bottles of Elmer’s Glue. I find that I can get the best price for glue sticks on Amazon, but I always shop the back to school sales for my Elmer’s glue and stock up!
7. Stickers and Stamps
Stickers and stamps are a really fun way for kids to be creative, work on vocabulary and language skills, and develop their fine motor skills. I like to let the kids have complete freedom and do whatever they want with stickers and stamps, but sometimes they need a little help getting started. When this happens, I just get out my own piece of paper and think aloud as I choose what stamps to use and how to arrange my stickers. For extra vocabulary practice, I like to write descriptive words underneath the stickers or add word bubbles to the characters.
Write on/wipe off boards are such a novel thing that it makes writing really different and fun. It’s a good way to give your child guided practice as they start to learn how to make lines, shapes, letters, numbers, and more.
I usually save my water play centers for the dead of winter when we really need something to liven things up. It can get very messy, but kids LOVE it, and hey, it’s just water. When my water centers are in motion, I pretty much constantly have a load of towels in the dryer. 🙂
Water Pouring Center
Ruby and Ophelia Pouring Water
A less messy option is to just do water play in the sink, or better yet, in the bathtub! There have been many long winter days where we take a bath in the afternoon just for fun!
Elliot Doing Water Play in the Sink
Cups and Saucers: There are many different types of tea sets that are really fun to pour with, but sometimes larger cups are fun too.
Tubs and Buckets: It’s nice to have a tub or bucket for collecting the water and another for pouring into. I like these rectangular dishpans a lot.
Water Table: I did buy this water table last winter, and it was a lot of fun, but not really as fun as the tables with cups and saucers. In the summer we keep it outside, and that has been fun, although a bit of work to keep clean.
Towels: I like keeping a stash of old towels hanging near the water centers.
10. Cars and Trains
Our youngest son Julian (21 months) is absolutely OBSESSED with anything that has wheels. All day long he loves pushing his cars and trucks. At the end of the day, there are little areas of cars and trucks everywhere. It’s adorable!
Julian Loves Pushing His Big Truck Throughout the House
Even though we have an official “Car Center”, there are cars and trucks stashed in just about every room in the house!
Cars and Trucks: Like with just about everything else in our home, I like finding cars and trucks at thrift stores and garage sales for $0.25 – $0.50/piece. This 20-pack Matchbox set would be a nice way to get started though, and these bulldozers and trucks would make a nice addition. I try to stay away from things that require batteries and make noise because a) they can be really annoying and b) I think that they stifle the imagination. We like using a large truck like this to store all of our cars in.
Ramps: We have this ramp, and it’s amazing, but apparently, they’re not making it anymore. Bummer. Something like this or this would be really fun too.
Road Rug: The kids love our road rugs and play many imagination games using them. You can get a small one like this, or a large one like this. We got our large rug from a thrift store, but you can find some great ones on Amazon like this.
11. Building Toys
Toys that require building are my absolute favorite. They engage the children for extended periods of time, and they really help to get their creative juices flowing. When they’re first learning about how to use the building tools, my husband and I spend a lot of time building with them to model the possibilities. But once they get going, they really start learning from each other, and it’s incredible.
Many Different Kinds of Blocks
Big Legos, K’nex, and Unifix Cubes
I love having this table set up just for Legos. The big kids play here as a part of their nightly bedtime routine every night while we put the little ones to bed first. We enjoy buying and making Lego kits from time to time, but mostly they just enjoy building whatever they’d like.
Ophelia and Ruby Building with K’nex
Big Legos: I like using two bags of these big legos at once. I have a large cardboard box that I cut the flaps off from, cut the front down so that little hands can reach in, and reinforced it with duct tape.
Small Legos: We inherited my husband’s old lego set from when he was a kid, but you can buy some basic legos like these. We have also enjoyed making many kits together, but when we’re done, the pieces just get thrown into the collection. I love using large shallow Amazon boxes with the flaps cut off, or a storage tub like this to store the legos in so that kids can find the pieces they’re looking for more easily.
Mathlink Cubes:These cubes are great for learning about patterns, counting, or just using to make swords and towers.
K’nex: There are so many different ways kids can play with these K’nex building toys. While there may be many different kits available, we have never tried any out.
Lincolon Logs – We do have these, and they are fun, but kind of hard to get creative with.
12. Reading Nooks
I like having little reading spaces all over the house. By making the books easy to see and easy to reach, children are more likely to become engaged with them.
Little Chair and Boxes with Books
I like rotating my books based on who is reading them and where. The older children are able to go to the bookshelves to select books, and they each have huge assortments of books in their rooms, so I kind of like to keep my baskets of books and little chairs geared for the little ones.
Little Reading Chairs with a Basket of Books Inbetween
Little Furniture: We bought our mini chairs at our local Walmart, but if I were to buy some online, these mini bean bag chairs look great and have great reviews, and this sturdy wooden framed chair would be the dream! I highly recommend getting something that has a removable cover that can be washed! We inherited a mini couch like this from my parents who bought it for my twin sisters (who are now grown). I think it really pays to buy quality when it’s an item that will get used a lot, but this foam mini couch would be really fun too.
Book Baskets: I started collecting wicker baskets like these when Ruby was born to hold diapers and such, and the size and shape is just perfect for storing books! I think this lined wicker basket would be even better, but it’s twice as much. I think it’s really important to fan the books out so that as many can be seen as possible (so big ones in the back), and so they are really easy to grab.
*Read more of my blogs about teaching reading here.
13. Favorite Things Books
I believe in giving children a foundation of learning by helping them master the basic skills, but after that, I like to let them choose to engage in whatever they are interested in. These favorite things books are a great way for me to encourage each child to follow his or her own learning path. Basically, I just do Google image searches and print out pictures of their favorite things.
Ruby’s Favorite Things book is filled with her favorite Miyazaki films, My Little Pony characters, Digimon characters, and pictures of special memories that we printed out. Elliot is really into monsters, superheroes, Godzilla, octopuses, and anything gross. Ophelia loves learning about the ABCs, counting, Dora, seasons, weather, maps, and more, so her book is more educationally themed.
Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot’s Favorite Things Books
Inside Ophelia, Ruby, and Elliot’s Favorite Things Books
Ophelia Reading Her Favorite Things Book
Paper: I like using laminated covers and card stock like this for the pages. Sometimes I just print the images right on the page, and sometimes I cut and glue them. This paper cutter has been very handy.
Printer: Finding a good printer is tough, and I am not too happy with the printer choices we have made in the past. But my dad owns a small business where he does a lot of printing and highly recommends the Epson WorkForce ET-4550. He says it prints great and the replacement ink is VERY affordable because it uses liquid refills. Once we’re out of ink for our current printer, we will be purchasing this one!
Laminator:This is the laminator I have. It is really basic, has a good price, and works great! This one is about the same price and has even better reviews though.
Binder: I have tried the comb binding (with binding spines) and it is affordable and easy to use, but not super durable (yet simple enough to fix). I have also tried the cinch binding (with binding wires) that is much more durable but the binding wires are quite expensive.
14. Little Figures and Houses
Creative and imaginative play is one of THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of childhood. When I was a third grade teacher, I was always amazed when kids had no idea what to do with themselves during recess. When I was growing up, my brother and I always played intricate imagination games that would take us to other worlds and keep us engaged for hours.
Playing with little figures and houses is an excellent way for young children to use play to make sense of the world around them. Sometimes their play is about real things (going to bed, taking a bath, getting dressed) and sometimes it’s a completely made up fantasy.
Little House and Mini Figures
When Ruby and Elliot were first starting to show interest in little house and mini figures, we would get on the floor and play with them as we modeled different scenarios with heroes and villains as well as other story lines that they could play along with. Now, Ophelia and Julian are learning from their older siblings how to do the same thing.
Doll House with Toy Baskets
We have little houses and figures in just about every room in the house, and they always keep our children engaged in imaginative play for extended periods of time.
Ruby and Elliot Playing with Little Houses and Figures
Little Houses: Just like with everything else, we look for all sorts of houses, castles, barns, tree house, and any other structures at garage sales and thrift stores. These things are so expensive to buy new, but just look on Craigslist or find a way to buy them used. Otherwise, Fisher Price Little People houses like this small one or this larger one are great too.
Figures: We are always buying these My Busy Books at the grocery store, not so much for the book and play mat, but for the mini figures inside. I am always on the lookout for small figures like these superheroes and these Peanuts characters. I try to stay away from Barbies and anything else that objectifies women.
Baskets: I like using wide shallow baskets like this because children only like to play with what they can see. This toy rack has also been very nice for organizing toys (although I just dump anything anywhere, it at least looks organized).
15. Dress Up
Playing dress up is another really great way for children to use their imaginations. By getting dressed up, they can become a different person with new characteristics. This imaginative play is a very important aspect of their development and actually a key piece of the highly successful Tools of the Mind Preschool Curriculum.
Dress Up Clothes and Hats
Sometimes when children get dressed up, they don’t know what to do. I like to provide scenarios and props to help spin them into action (usually some kind of problem and solution involving a hero and villain works well). Being able to engage in extended imaginative play (without adult interaction) is a very important skill for little ones to develop. It teaches them how to sustain their attention on something for an extended period of time and fosters all sorts of creativity that is a much more important aspect of an optimal learning environment than some would think.
Dress Up Dresses
Ophelia is a Cowgirl!
I like looking for dress up clothes at garages year round, but my favorite thing to do is to hit up thrift stores right before Halloween to pick up more outfits, hats, and props to add to my collection.
Hangers and Hooks: If you put everything in a box or leave it in a pile on the floor, it won’t get used as much. By hanging things on little hangers (I really like this drop down hanger organizer and these children’s hangers) and using hooks to spread things across a wall, children can easily see their options. You can also find some pretty cool little coat racks that would work well too, and of course this little dress up station would be the dream!
My husband is very musical, and so we have him to thank for filling our house with such wonderful instruments. He is talented at playing just about everything and has a very good ear for music. The kids love sitting on his lap while he plays the drums and we all enjoy making family music together.
Drums, Keyboard, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, and Amp
I have placed colored stickers on the keyboard with letters on them to teach kids the names of the keys. We like printing out simple song sheets (look for ones that have the notes and letters for each note) and color coding them so that the children can learn how to read music.
Guitars: We have a nice electric and bass guitar with one cheap amp and one really nice amp, plus an acoustic guitar, and although our kids do enjoy strumming them haphazardly, they are way too big for them. This kid’s guitar and this toy guitar would be better suited.
Extras: It’s really fun to have a bunch of extra noise makers that are easy to play like maracas and tambourines. This little set has everything you will need!
Puzzles are an excellent way for children to practice their dexterity while also learning about the vocabulary and content of the puzzle. Yes, there are times when I have to hide my puzzles when the little ones want to just dump all of the pieces out in one big jumble, but when they’re ready to actually sit down and attend to one (or maybe two) puzzles at a time, then I leave them out!
There are many different pocket charts that you can get for a variety of purposes. I like having my pocket chart as an interactive wall center. Sometimes I use pre-made cards, sometimes I use my own flashcards, and sometimes I use flashcards that the kids have colored. There are so many different options for pocket charts and the best thing is that they don’t take up any floor space!
Flashcards: Take a look at my Embracing Motherhood Store to see flashcards that I have made, but any flashcards you fancy should be fine. 🙂
My ABC Flashcards
Flashcard Making Supplies: To make your own flashcards, just cut some card stock into fourths and use a sharpie marker to write your words. You can also use these cool sentence strips. *You can also print out my ABC flashcards for FREE here.
Play-Doh is a fun moldable adventure for children. Little fingers love squishing and squashing it, and there are so many different options for creativity.
Ophelia and Elliot Playing with Play-Doh
I like keeping my Play-Doh supplies stored in cardboard boxes (from Amazon) with the flaps cut off and labeled with mailing labels. It’s nice to have a table or space on the floor to play with the Play-Doh so that it doesn’t get ground into the carpet. Right now, my Ophelia is obsessed with this
Puppets are a wonderful way to teach children new things or entertain them using funny voices and silly dialogue. I enjoy using puppets to talk to my children or read them books and we all like putting on puppet shows.
Puppet Stand: I made this puppet stand using spare scraps of wood we had lying around. It’s a good thing it’s covered up with fabric, because it’s a very crude job! I even had to screw it into the wall just so it would stay standing. 🙂 If you don’t feel like making your own, you could certainly just buy one like this.
I love, love, LOVE these big cupboards with shelves that we inherited when we bought our house, and I have one entire cupboard where we keep most of our board games. Many games I have found at garage sales and thrift stores, and many others have been on wish lists for Christmas and Birthdays. The frustrating thing about the popular games these days is that they seem to be made cheaper and cheaper with each generation. I like finding older versions of classic games like Connect 4 and Guess Who that are of obviously superior quality.
Our Board Game Cupboard
When little ones are first learning about board games, I find that it is very important to let them play however they want. When they are ready, they’ll want to play by the rules, so in the meantime, don’t make everyone frustrated by forcing it.
We try to make it common practice to just take out one game at a time, and we try to not make TOO big of a mess. Also, I’m sure there are a ton more great games (especially educational ones) out there, but we usually look for ours second hand, so we just get what we can find! 🙂
When I think of teaching little ones science, I think about teaching them how to see the world up close and giving them opportunities to explore it. I want them to get magnifying glasses and look at bugs…how they move, where they’re going, they’re characteristics, I want them to catch frogs and learn how to gently handle them, I want them to observe the colors of the sky and to see the patterns in the clouds, I want them to get messy as they compare the texture of dirt to mud, and most of all, I want them to play, explore, wonder, question, and see…really see the world.
Ruby and Elliot in the Garden
Ruby and Elliot Doing a Vinegar and Baking Soda Experiment
Backyard Fun: We like doing a lot of our “science” outside just exploring nature and getting messy. I love having a sandbox, mud pit, and garden in our fenced in backyard to help facilitate their curiosities.
Scientifics Direct: This is an online portal to everything you could ever want or need in every area of science for every age level. I highly recommend shopping here for Christmas and birthday presents!
23. Social Studies
Learning about where we are in place in time should be a gradual infiltration of knowledge instead of a sudden mind dump. As a third grade teacher introducing concepts such as “we live in a city that is part of a state that is part of a country that is part of a continent” and “before we lived here other people lived here with fewer advancements in technology” are all really big ideas that can be hard to grasp when introduced too quickly.
The more children can be exposed to these concepts at a young age, the more receptive they will be to learn about them more in depth at a later age.
Place Mats: I love using placements (like this) taped down on small tables so that they are easy to point out and talk about at a moment’s notice. They are very sturdy and if not taped down, can be taken anywhere.
Traveling: As we’re driving, I always talk about streets we’re driving on, the direction we’re headed, what city we’re in, where we’re going, how many miles it is, and so on.
24. My Favorite Workbooks
During the summer (and weekends, holidays, etc.), I have a pretty nice routine that involves all of us adopting a homeschool framework that helps all of us to be productive and accountable. First thing in the morning, I like to have my older ones do about 2-4 pages from any workbook of their choosing. Sometimes the little ones like to do workbooks too, sometimes they just color, and sometimes they’re playing elsewhere. 🙂
My Favorite Workbooks
Some kids really really like sitting down and doing workbooks, and some just don’t. I think you have to find what works for your child. Try to expose them to some pencil paper activities where you can and let their interests lead the way.
Brain Quest: I love everything Brain Quest makes! Their workbooks are high quality with full color, simple graphics, age appropriate content, and fun for kids. You might like starting with the Pre-K or K workbook for your little one.
Investigations Math:This curriculum does an amazing job of making learning math fun! There are lots of different games that help to build math concepts. You can buy individual student books by grade level on Amazon like this K workbook. If you go to the Investigations ordering page, you’ll see that it’s not super easy to order from them unless you’re buying the whole kit and kaboodle.
Grocery Store Books: If you go to the book section at any grocery store or Walmart, there’s always a selection of different workbooks. I have enjoyed using these as well. If you live near any teacher stores, I highly recommend going there and just looking through the resources in person.
We have always enjoyed using technology as a teaching tool with our little ones. Read more about why we don’t ban screen time for our little ones under two here, and also read more about how we set limits with technology here. If you are the type of parent who has trouble setting limits, leaves the TV on all day even if no one is watching it, or is struggling with young ones who want to spend all day in front of a screen, then you might want to skip this section. But if you’re okay with using technology in a structured and supervised way, then you might love the following blogs:
By setting up a stimulating environment filled with many different learning centers, your little ones will not only be engaged, they will be growing and developing so fast that you might find it hard to keep up, and that is definitely not something to complain about!
You don’t have to be a teacher in order to provide your child with a stimulating learning environment, and you don’t need to wait until you send them off to school before you can expect them to learn anything. Babies and young children crave stimulation and learning. and you’re not going to find all that you need in workbooks and paper/pencil activities. Kids need opportunities to learn through play, and play based learning centers are a great way to get started!
For Further Reading
Zone of Proximal Development: Children of all ages, babies included, love to be challenged. By providing learning opportunities that are at the right level for your child and by scaffolding them to new learning, they will be engaged, happy, and continuously making advancements.
Learning Goals: Now, I’m not talking about state standards, lesson plan books, and goal sheets, I’m talking about knowing where your children are developmentally and thinking about where they could go next based on their ages, abilities, personalities, etc. Knowing this will help you to design your learning environment with each child’s needs in mine. See examples of the learning goals I set for my children here.
How Children Learn: When you look at brain development and see that the neurons in a child’s brain peak at about 2-3 years of age, you will understand why I believe that this is the most crucial window of opportunity there is.
Oral Language Development: Learning how to speak is what represents the background knowledge that children will bring to every new learning experience that they encounter.
http://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/setting-up-a-preschool-learning-environment-1.png400810Stacey Maaserhttp://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/EmbracingMotherhood_Color-281x300.pngStacey Maaser2016-10-05 16:37:572017-06-24 22:05:1226 Learning Centers for a Homeschool Preschool Curriculum
So, when our children DO watch TV, the are the educational programs our little ones have been entertained by, learned from, and wanted to watch over and over again.
1. Preschool Prep
These videos have played a fundamental role in teaching our children their letter names, letter sounds, digraphs, consonant blends, sight words, shapes, colors, and numbers. We show them to our little babies to introduce them to the concepts, again as toddlers when they are fully engaged, and again during the preschool years for good review.
These videos have a story line that makes them more engaging for an older child learning his or her alphabet, but I still love them for reinforcing letter sounds and other great concepts such as numbers, shapes, opposite words, and more. The characters are cute and engaging, and all of our children really like these programs in addition to the corresponding educational toys.
I stumbled across what were originally called “Your Baby Can Read” videos before our first daughter was born and started watching them with her when she was 6 months old. By watching these videos, teaching her the ABCs, and reading lots and lots of books, she was reading by the age of two. I am very sad that they went out of business because some people were mad about the idea of having children under two watch TV, but they are rebranding themselves and coming out with new and wonderful videos that your little ones will love and learn a lot from.
Your Baby Can Learn
You can buy the entire learning kit online ($150) that includes videos, flashcards, and teaching tips that will make learning how to read very fun and possible for children at a very young age. Or, you can check out their YouTube Channel to see free videos. I love how they are now making learning videos for all languages. My three year old daughter Ophelia LOVES language, is an amazing reader, and is really excited to learn other languages too. You can also just type in “your baby can read” into Youtube and find some of their original videos that I simply love!
Your Baby Can Learn Deluxe Kit
These videos have inspired me to create my own system to teach young children how to read. You can see what I have so far at my Embracing Motherhood store and stay tuned for more!
4. Bada Namu
This is a cute little show that my kids actually found through YouTube Kids. It’s really great at teaching vocabulary and has lots of cute songs. I love how the lyrics are displayed at the bottom of the screen so that children can read along as they listen to the songs.
You can go to their YouTube Channel to see all of their videos and check out their pre-made playlists. If you go to their website, they have an entire curriculum to teach your little ones everything they need to know. The resources look really awesome!
This show is particularly engaging for babies and toddlers, but the older ones don’t mind it too much either. This show focuses on simple concepts like bedtime and birthday which is great for teaching little ones about their world. I especially like watching this show so that my little ones will get engaged with the Maisy books like this 16 book collection (for $53.99).
This show was modeled after Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and even approved by Ms. Roger’s herself. It teaches children a lot about how to handle their emotions and about really basic concepts that they may deal with on a daily basis like trying new foods and making new friends. We pretty much love all PBS programming, and this is no exception.
Growing up as a child, I always loved reading Harold and the Purple Crayon. The simplicity and creative imagination it evoked seemed to open up a world of possibilities in my mind. We stumbled across this show, narrated by Sharon Stone, and were mesmerized by the melodic tone of the show. It’s a great show to watch during rest time or before bed because of the calm music and gentle stories that put you in a sort of dreamland with the feeling of being read a story.
This show is simple, predictable, engaging, and has fun cute characters that are very entertaining for young children. I love the concept of solving a mystery and how real children are incorporated into the show.
This show is extremely simple and engaging for toddlers in a way that feels like someone is reading them a story. I also like how it connects to real children trying out experiments that relate to the concepts in the show.
I grew up loving Sesame Street as a child, and to this day, sometimes I just prefer watching the older episodes. 🙂 But Sesame Street has continued to change with the times while still maintaining their recognizable and lovable characters.
You can go to the PBS website to watch full episodes, play games, and do art activities, but I’m most impressed with their comprehensive YouTube Channel. You can watch videos here sorted by your child’s favorite character, watch different playlist compilations, or just explore all of their videos.
11. Peppa Pig
This is a fun little show that we recently stumbled upon. Our kids of all ages (1-7) love watching it. Maybe it’s the narrator’s accent that they love most of all, but at any rate, the simple story line and message of the show is really cute and engaging.
You can watch full episodes for free on YouTube just by typing “peppa pig full episodes” into the search bar. You could also buy some DVD sets on Amazon along with some cute books and toys.
This is a great show for modeling the use of imagination. I love how all of the characters come together in their backyards and then enter these creative worlds that they design in their minds.
Even though this is really designed for more of a preschooler to school aged child, our toddler has still really enjoyed it. It does a wonderful job of teaching the basic concepts of reading using characters and problems that children can relate to. I also like the Super Why books and learning games available.
This is a great program for teaching children about animals. I love how it switches from the cartoon characters to real life characters and animals. There is also a nice set of corresponding Wild Kratts books.
You can buy DVDs, like this Wildest Animals Adventures 5 disc compilation for $23.69, watch seasons 1, 2, and 3 on Netflix (if you have a subscription), or watch a select amount of videos on PBS for free.
15. Little Einsteins
I love how each program incorporates famous artists and composers and uses them throughout the program as part of the storyline. The show is very engaging, moves at a nice pace, and provides a balanced amount of learning and entertainment. There are also many Little Einstein books to enjoy.
Both of our girls (and the boys somewhat too) have LOVED this program as toddlers! I love the way the show teaches sequencing with the beginning, middle, end concept of a story while teaching Spanish at the same time. I especially love how watching the show has made our girls LOVE reading Dora books.
This show really appeals to more of preschool to school age children and does a wonderful job of teaching scientific concepts in a fun and engaging storyline with the unpredictable Ms. Frizzle! There are also tons of Magic School Bus books (like this one about the solar system, this one about the human body, and this one about the dinosaurs), and that connect to the TV programs.
This program is great for younger children and does an amazing job teaching basic scientific concepts such as why we need to brush our teeth, how we grow, and simple machines. The simplicity and predictability of the program are engaging, and I love how it shows clips of real kids and gives you ideas of things you can do at home. We really like the Sid’s Science Fair app too.
This is definitely for the older preschool child (up to an adult), and may not be engaging for all, but our son Elliot started watching this when he was 4 year old. He LOVES the cute little characters with word bubbles and he LOVES learning about the science of biology, so this has been perfect! I really like it too because it helps me to learn as well!
Go to their YouTube channel here. You can watch all of the videos in order on their playlist, and I highly recommend subscribing so that you can stay up to date with any new videos.
I love having some simple shows for the kids to watch when I need them to be entertained and know that they are going to be learning and benefiting in some way. I know that some people feel that banning all technology and TV and screen time is a good idea, but that’s just not something that works in our family. By setting reasonable limits with screen time using routines, I feel like we have a very good balance in our household.
http://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/embracing-motherhood.com_.png400810Stacey Maaserhttp://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/EmbracingMotherhood_Color-281x300.pngStacey Maaser2016-10-05 08:11:562017-06-22 22:28:5919 Educational Programs for Young Children to Watch
With these apps, these YouTube playlists, some simple flashcards, and a library card, you can teach your little ones to read, write, do basic math, and basically know everything they need to know for kindergarten. Children’s brains are primed and ready for learning at a young age…much earlier than we would think. They crave stimulation, they love learning, and they need to be challenged in their zone of proximal development. Our youngest daughter is full on reading at the ripe old age of two, and these apps definitely played a role in that (among other things).
In my opinion, most of the good apps out there are designed specifically for iOS devices, and I have made a note for each app that can only be used on an iOS device. I know the price tag on Android devices can be tempting, but if you want to have access to the most and the best apps, I highly recommend getting an ipad (like this ipad 4 for $345 or an ipad mini 1 for $235) over any other tablet.
It can be somewhat challenging to teach a youngster how to use a touch screen at first. If your child is struggling with the concept of a touch screen, one of the things I have done is opened up the Starfall site on a computer and had the children touch the screen (pretending that it was a touch screen) while I controlled things with my mouse (hidden away of course). The best thing to do though, is to just sit down and play the games together. I recommend doing this anyways with all new games until they are familiar enough with them to play them on their own.
So without further adieu, these are the apps that I have used to teach my children the fundamentals of reading, math, and more.
If you only get one app, get this one! It covers all of the letters of the alphabet (names and sounds) in one fell swoop. (Unlike ABC mouse that focuses too much on one letter at a time in isolation.) When you click on a letter, it shows both the upper and lowercase versions while saying their names. When you click on the letters, they say their letter sound, and then you click the green arrow to progress through a series of examples showing things that start with that letter along with simple and engaging animations.
Starfall ABC App
The simplicity of the app is absolutely beautiful, and I love the way kids have to click various things to progress things along. Unlike a YouTube video (which can be great too), this gets kids engaged every step of the way. I love how there are little sparkles around where the child needs to touch (or click on a computer). It’s a very good way to teach children how to use touch screens.
Other Starfall Apps:
Starfall (Free): This is basically an app giving you access to the entire Starfall website. If you have a membership ($35/year and something I highly recommend), then you’ll have access to everything on the website (including the content of every app). But even without a membership, you can get limited access which will give you a pretty good idea of what’s on the site. I personally prefer using the entire site on the computer and paying for the apps.
Starfall Numbers ($4.99): The layout of this app is very similar to the ABC app. There are numbers 1-20 (plus 25, 50, and 100) plus 7 interactive learning activities that have to do with counting, weight, money, and addition. When you click on a number, it says the number, and shows its quantity. Then you press the green arrow to see a series of examples showing that number. This app does an amazing job of teaching number names and quantities which are the foundations of math just as the ABCs are for reading.
Starfall Numbers App
Starfall All About Me ($1.99): Children get to design their character to look like them and then select categories such as, “Where do I sleep? What will I wear? Who am I? What is my pet? and Which is my toy?” My kids LOVE playing this game because they are very connected to the personalized content. I love the sentences where you have to fill in the blank with a single word that is personified by a corresponding image. It is a great pre-reading strategy!
Starfall All About Me App
Starfall Learn to Read ($1.99): This is basically a collection of mini books sorted by vowel patterns. Each book starts with a little clip of how to pronounce the focused letter sound, and then you select the green arrow to progress through the pages. There’s a little ear you can press that will read the text out loud. For each page, you can tap the screen to facilitate some sort of movement. There are also eight “mini-lessons” on the bottom that teach additional reading skills.
Starfall Learn to Read App
Starfall I’m Reading ($1.99): This app has tons of books sorted by genre with plenty of interesting titles. Unlike the website version, this app automatically reads the text while highlighting what is being read in red.
This app (and the other Endless apps) are designed for a bit of an older child than the Starfall apps, but I love introducing my children to higher level content with some guidance. This app does a wonderful job of teaching not only letter sounds, but how letters come together to form words, and what those words mean.
Endless Alphabet App
When you open this app, you’ll find a variety of vocabulary words sorted alphabetically. After you select one, you first have to spell it by dragging the letters to their shadow (each letter is personified and makes its sound as you move it), then the meaning of the word is acted out by cute little characters that look they have been hand drawn on lined paper. This is very entertaining app, and all of our children have loved it!
Other Endless Apps:
Endless Reader (Free with in-app purchases): All words are sorted alphabetically, and just like in Endless Alphabet, you drag the letters to make a word. Then you put the word (and sometimes other words) into a sentence, and the cute little characters act out the sentence. This is a fabulous app and teaching tool to help children learn how to read. I love it! It comes with six free words, and then it costs $5.99 to buy the Reader Pack 1 which has 20 words, $11.99 to buy each additional Reader Pack of 1-4, 5-8, or 9-12, or you can pay $29.99 to buy all of the packs.
Endless Reader App
Endless Wordplay (Free with in-app purchases): This game really focuses on spelling because (unlike the other Endless apps) you have to spell the words in order. Each spelling lesson focuses on a certain pattern and the words you spell come to life with a cute little animation. You progress through each lesson on a large board that makes progression fun. It comes with 9 free words, then it costs $6.99 to buy the starter pack of 90 words, $11.99 to buy the remaining words, or $14.99 to buy all of the words. *This app is only available for iOS devices.
Endless Wordplay App
Endless Numbers (Free with in-app purchase): When you click on a number, you first have to drag the number to its shadow (as you drag each number, it comes to life and says its name), then there’s a simple addition problem, and a cute little animation that shows the number. It comes with five free numbers, then it costs $6.99 for a starter pack of numbers 1-25, $11.99 for the remaining numbers, and $14.99 to buy all 100 numbers.
Endless Numbers App
Endless Spanish (Free with in-app purchase): This app is set up like Endless Reader where you select a word from an alphabetical list, drag the letters to spell the word, and then put the word (and other words) into a sentence that comes to life as cute little characters act out the sentence. It comes with six free words, then it costs $5.99 for a starter pack and $11.99 for all words. I love introducing young children to other languages when their brains are super open to it. *This app is only available for iOS devices.
Just like learning to speak, learning to read, and learning how to do math, there is a logical progression to learning music. This app teaches notes, pitch, rhythm, and melody using beautiful landscapes and peaceful sounds. In one section, you can practice these music skills and in another you can make and record your own musical ensembles.
Other Edoki Academy Games:
Montessori 1st Operations ($3.99) – Using simple graphics and easy to maneuver interactive features, this app teaches basic addition, subtraction, and doubles and halves. There are three different methods of practice in each category that are very good at teaching the core concepts. Every problem you get right gives you a point and you use your points to build a monster.
Montessori 1st Operations
Zen Studio (Free, $1.99 to unlock all templates): Using a grid divided into triangles, you swipe your finger across either a boundless canvas or guided templates using a variety of colors to make different pictures. Relaxing music accompanies each stroke of the finger.
Crazy Gears ($2.99) – A puzzle game that allows you to manipulate colorful gears, chains, rods, and pulleys to pull yourself through each level. Each reasoning challenge was carefully designed to lay the foundation for careers in things like mathematician, computer scientist, and programmer.
The Sight Word Adventure ($1.99) – Using 320 sight words (based on Dolch and Fry lists) spread across five levels in 10 different mini games (that focus specifically on hide-and-seek),this app is great for giving repeated exposure to sight words.
The Sight Word Adventure
Busy Shapes ($2.99) – This is really designed for a toddler and does an excellent job of teaching shapes, their relation to other objects, colors, and is a good intro for learning how to use a touch screen.
This game is GREAT for teaching phonics! You can choose from one of 44 sound clusters (i.e. short a, long e, oo sound, etc.) or from the other four word series of increasing phonetic difficulty (simple words with three sounds, words with consonant blends, words with digraphs, or words of any complexity).
Montessori Crosswords App
When you choose a category, a picture pops up next to the number of boxes needed to spell the word. The word is spoken and the alphabet is listed below (all of the vowels are blue and the rest of the letters are red). The letters needed to spell the word are highlighted, and the other letters are faded. You drag the letters to spell the word and it is sounded out and read out loud. As you transition to the next word, you get to tap the screen and interact with some fun animation. My kids don’t usually enjoy playing this game on their own. It is more of a teaching tool that we sit down and use together.
Other Montessori Apps:
Montessori Numbers ($2.99): This app is great for teaching the association between numbers with the quantity they represent. It also helps to teach the decimal system and place value. There is even a place to trace numbers. *This app is only available for iOS devices.
Montessori Numbers App
Word Wizard ($4.99): A talking movable alphabet in this app allows you to experiment with phonics and word building. It has three spelling activities that increase in difficulty, 184 built in word lists (about 1,800 words), and you can add your own words to create unique spelling quizzes. *This app is only available for iOS devices.
Montessori Word Wizard App
Writing Wizard ($2.99): This is a WONDERFUL letter tracing app that keeps kids engaged the whole time. As you trace uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and words a fun moving rainbow trail emerges. There are a lot of letter tracing apps out there, and this is one of my favorites!
This is a great app for teaching letter names! Every letter that you select is molded into a creature that starts with that letter. It is surprisingly mesmerizing to watch.
Talking ABCs App
When you press play, it brings you to the letter A, then you can swipe to the left to go through the whole alphabet or go back to the main menu. It also has four different games (find the letter, find the animal, spell a word, and puzzle) and an autoplay feature that will automatically progress through all of the letters. You can also get this app in Russian. *This app is only available for iOS devices.
This is an app that will not only teach the ABCs and alphabet vocabulary, but is something that will unlock a certain whimsical wonder in the mind of all users young and old alike.
The adventure begins with all of the letters on the main screen. When you select a letter, say A for example, every tap of the finger brings about another action. After several movements, the letter name is said and with each subsequent tap it moves a little more and one by one more vocabulary words are revealed such as antlers, arch, and amble. To go to the next letter, you click on the star in the top right hand corner to go to the next letter or you can click the shapes in the top left corner to go back to the main screen. Metamorphabet contains NO in-app purchases. *Available on iOS devices and PCs only.
This is basically just a collection of all of the Storybots ABC songs. Each song is about one minute long and cute little robots sing about each letter of the alphabet. In the app, you can select a letter from the main menu, or just progress through the letters alphabetically.
You can also download this app that will give you access to all of their learning videos. The only problem is that these apps were free when I downloaded them awhile ago, but now it seems that you have to pay a $4.99/mo. membership fee which I don’t think is worth it at all. In doing so, so will get access to all of their printables too though which is nice. If you don’t want to pay the membership fee, just check out these playlists on YouTube…for free! *These apps are only available on iOS devices.
If your child likes Dora, these apps will be a winner for sure! If not, you might want to skip them. 🙂
Dora’s Skywriting ABCs App
In the uppercase, lowercase, and uppercase and lowercase letter games, you use Tico’s airplane to get nuts and trace the letters. Writing letters is more of an advanced skill, so this might be better for the older preschooler. I really like the letter and picture match game the best. In this game, you have to find the pictures that start with the featured letter. *All of the Dora apps are only available on iOS devices.
Other Dora Apps:
Dora’s Rhyming Word Adventure ($2.99): In this game, you match pictures that rhyme. Besides rhyming words, there are first sounds, last sounds, and inside sounds to match in different levels.
Dora’s Rhyming Word Adventure
Dora Hops Into Phonics ($2.99): To play, you have to match pictures with words, change one letter to make a new word, and then make Dora hop across the lily pads. There are also cute little game break games to play along the way.
Dora Hops Into Phonics
Dora’s Dress Up Adventures ($2.99): In this simple app, you can change the background, dress Dora, and add a variety of props. For kids who enjoy Dora, this is really fun.
Dora’s Dress Up Adventure
Dora’s Ballet Adventures ($2.99): This is basically like a really interactive book. The words are highlighted as Dora reads them, and you get to do all sorts of actions.
Dora’s Ballet Adventure
For the remaining apps, I didn’t want to do a full on review, because I think that the six apps and their affiliates that I’ve covered above are more than you’ll ever need, but these are apps that we have downloaded and enjoyed as well.
If you use these educational apps in moderation as a teaching tool for your children, it can greatly enhance their learning experience. Teaching your child at home doesn’t have to be overwhelming and you don’t have to wait until they are in kindergarten to teach them how to read. With these apps, these YouTube playlists, a $35 Starfall membership, and a library card, you can teach your children everything they need to know…and more!
For more resources, check out my blog about tips, tricks and resources for teaching the ABCs here, or my blog about how we’ve taught our two year old to read here.
You also might like checking out some of my other favorite resources that I use to teach my children. These are affiliate links, so if you purchase any of these items, I will receive a small “finder’s fee” percentage. You, however, will pay no more than if you were to do a regular Amazon search.
http://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/best-apps-for-preschoolers.png400810Stacey Maaserhttp://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/EmbracingMotherhood_Color-281x300.pngStacey Maaser2016-01-02 14:05:162017-06-22 22:30:07Best Teaching Apps for Young Children (Ages 0-6)
Teaching letter names and letter sounds is a crucial component of reading. When children learn the alphabet at a young age, it lays a strong foundation for learning how to read. I have four children five and under, and I have been blown away by their capabilities and desire to learn. As a former elementary school teacher with a Master’s degree in Language Acquisition, I have always been fascinated with teaching and learning, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized the true potential of a child’s brain.
If I could recommend one thing for anyone with small children, it would be to focus on teaching the ABCs. In my blog, Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Teaching the ABCs, I have outlined everything that I have done that has worked for me and my children (who are all very different). My oldest daughter Ruby is five and in kindergarten; she reads fluently at a 3rd grade level. My son Elliot is four, knows all of his letter names and sounds, and is reading basic words, phrases, and repetitive text. My daughter Ophelia is 21 months old and knows all of her letter names and sounds, can read memorized words and phrases, and is starting to sound out words. For more details on how children really learn to read (hint: it’s not about starting with phonics), check out my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read.
Using Letter Magnets to Teach the ABCs
We have had these LeapFrog Letter Magnets on our fridge for just about as long as we have had children. The style has changed a bit since our original purchase, but the concept is the same. Basically, each capital letter fits into the player and when pushed with say a little chant with the letter name and letter sound(s). There is also a little music button that will either play, “The Wheels on the Bus” or “The Alphabet Song”. There is also a volume control for loud or quiet play and an off switch (for when you just need a little peace and quiet).
Here is a 3:28 video compilation of our 21 month old daughter Ophelia using letter magnets. Notice how I do very little direct teaching. I like to let my children explore and use these types of learning toys however they want, and then I find ways to gently guide them along the way.
LeapFrog Letter Magnets
There are many different ways to use these LeapFrog Letter Magnets. Sometimes I like to line all of the letters neatly up on the fridge in alphabetical order for my children to discover, but they never stay that way for long! My daughter Ophelia, who loves order and neatness, will play with each letter one at a time in a patient and intricate way. My son Elliot, on the other hand, who loves movement and chaos, will smush all of the letters together, build towers out of them, or personify them in some imaginative play.
Ophelia Plays Neatly with Magnet Letters
Each method has merit and is a reflection of the inner workings of their minds. As their mother, I love being a quiet observer as I take note of their different methods of play and think about how I can support their different learning styles. Just having educational toys available and allowing children to play with them however they choose is a huge benefit. The next step is to reinforce their learning along the way by verbalizing what they are doing and repeating what they are saying. Then the real icing on the cake is figuring out how to challenge them to just go slightly above where they are with guidance. This is known in the educational world as working within their zone of proximal development and scaffolding them as they work towards the next level.
Elliot Smushes the Magnet Letters Around in Imaginative Play
Wooden Magnet Letters and Tins
One activity I love doing with the kids involves using the magnet letters and tins. This is a great way to stretch their knowledge of letter names and letter sounds to the next level. By turning these muffin tins upside down, they make great templates for sounding out CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant) or four letter words as with Elliot’s tin on the left.
Elliot and Ophelia Play with Magnet Letters and Tins
What I do is pick a simple word like cat, sun, or dog, and then show them how to sound out each letter /c/ /a/ /t/ by touching each letter and saying the sound. Then I show how I say all of the sounds together quickly to make the word cat. They’re not ready to practice this skill independently yet, but it’s good to keep introducing things to kids that are just barely out of their reach so that they can get used to it through lots and lots and lots of repetition and as much time as they need.
Independent Learning Station
Once we have played with something like these wooden magnet letters and tins together, I like setting it up at an independent learning station. While here, the kids can practice what we’ve done together at their own pace.
Ophelia is Playing with Magnetic Letters at an Independent Learning Station
Ophelia Loves to Have Little Stations to Play At
There is No “Right” or “Wrong” Way to Play
I love it when the kids using these learning manipulatives as toys in a fun and creative way that works for them. I spend time setting up these learning stations and enjoy watching the kids use them however they like. When Ophelia takes the letters out of one box and says their names as she puts them in another box, this is an excellent way for her to practice her letter naming fluency.
Ophelia Puts Magnetic Letters in a Box
Lakeshore Learning Alphabet Letters
Lakeshore Learning Magnetic Letters
If you really want to take things to the next level, these Lakeshore Learning Magnetic Letters are a wonderful teaching tool. If you have a child with a lot of patience, you can sit down side by side and build words together on magnetic white boards. This is something I used to love doing with my oldest daughter Ruby when she was younger.
Elliot and Ophelia Play with the Lakeshore Learning Magnetic Letters
Magnetic letters can be a wonderful educational toy and teaching tool. By spending a little bit of time working on letters when your child is young, he or she will be much better prepared for preschool, kindergarten, reading, learning, and more. By making playtime fun and educational, children thrive as their brains are given permission to learn and grow at their own pace.
http://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/embracing-motherhood.com-19.png400810Stacey Maaserhttp://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/EmbracingMotherhood_Color-281x300.pngStacey Maaser2015-04-15 09:08:082017-06-22 22:35:59How to Teach the ABCs with Magnet Letters