Learning time at our house is something that has definitely grown over the years. I remember talking to one of my very best friends when Brayden was two. She was a school teacher before becoming a mom (a very good one), and we have been friends since elementary, so she knows me well. We were talking about what Brayden knew and didn't and I expressed that he couldn't do something all the way yet, and she laughed and said it was a 3 year old skill and not to worry about it. She commented that he would of course be fine because of all that I did with him. I told her I didn't do anything beyond normal stuff you do with children. She then listed off all of these things I did with him daily that helped him learn--things I had never thought of as teaching him, just things you did with kids. One example is reading with him each day.
Two days ago, my sister-in-law was asking me how I structure learning time and she commented that she should have started long ago with her oldest (who is two). I assured her she was fine. I didn't start formal learning time with Brayden until I was pregnant with McKenna, so he was 3.
I share that with you to impress upon you that learning time does not need to be formal and I also don't want this post to cause you stress about not having done something with your child yet. This is how I do learning time right now, but not how I did it 5 years ago. Don't underestimate the power of playing with, reading to, and working beside your child. If you want to add more formal setting for your child, this can be a great structured playtime slot in your day. Here is how I do it.
Organize Your Stuff
An important step to having successful learning time with your child is to organize your actual stuff. You'll have paints, crayons, paper, sequins, string, saved paper towel rolls...lots of stuff. You need somewehre to put it. There are tons and tons of different ways to do this. Some people can have an actual room that is used for learning activities in their home. In it, they can have drawers, closets, shelves, etc. full of their items.
Other people (like me) do not have a room dedicated to a toy room and/or learning room. We do our crafty stuff in the kitchen for the most part. I have our items organized into totes. I then have these totes primarily in the office closet, which is close to the kitchen. I used to keep the items all downstairs in a nice big closet. Space-wise, it worked great. But proximity wise, it was annoying to me. I didn't like going all the way downstairs each day for our learning stuff (I know, my life is so hard--sense sarcastic tone). But it was annoying enough that I would put off doing learning activities. So I recommend you keep your items as close to where you will do your activities as possible. Here is the section of my closet in my office for the learning items:
I also recently dedicated a drawer in my kitchen to learning items. We have all of our crayons, pencils, pens, markers, etc. in it. My children all love to color, so I can grab a paper and hand them crayons to keep them occupied at the bar while I make dinner.
I keep all of my laminated items for my learning poster I describe below (letters, numbers, shapes, calendar items, etc.) in envelopes:
And I keep those envelopes in an accordion file organizer:
I also keep anything that can fit in there that has to do with learning stuff :)
Here are some more organization ideas:
- Learning Boxes
- Storage Magnetic Letters
- Face-out Book Shelves Tutorial
- Storing Kids' Crafts
- Work Boxes
Think of Learning Ideas
Another important step to doing learning activities is to think of ideas to do :) This is such an easy step in our modern world. There are fun books out that give you ideas (The Toddler's Busy Book, Preschooler's Busy Book, and The Siblings' Busy Book). There is also an untold number of blogs in the Internet that give you ideas (I will of course plug the one I write with a few other moms: Children's Learning Activities). As you do these regularly, you will find that you start to come up with your own fun ideas of things to do!
Plan Your Week
I think you will get the most from your time spent if you plan out your week ahead of time. I really like to do a theme each week. I got into this habit in following the curriculum on this blog: http://www.ourpreschoolhomeschool.blogspot.com/.
I loved the set-up and we have continued this way while creating our own themes and ideas. Each week, I pick a theme, vocabulary word, nursery rhyme, letter, shape, color, number, and scripture to focus on. Then I plan my activities around those ideas. In addition to activities that teach those items, I try to do sensory, gross motor, fine motor, sorting and matching, and science. We also read books that are related to our theme. This might sound super over-whelming, but a lot of these can be combined with each other. If it all seems like too much, just start small and work your way up.
I use one of two different documents I have made for planning. This one is detailed and has one week per page. This one is my quick planning sheet. I use this one most of the time. It has two weeks per page on it.
Once I have the week's activities planned, I make a list of things to do to prep for our activities. For example, we recently did a week on Thanksgiving. One project we did was a Mayflower shape picture. To prepare for this, I created the shapes to use in the picture.
I then make a list of things I need to buy to do any of our activities.
Prepare for Activities
Now that you have everything planned, you need to prepare. I find this is easiest to do all ahead of time. I take a couple of hours (ideally the Friday or Saturday before the next week starts, but sometimes I am doing it on Monday of the week we are doing the theme) to prep everything. I print my learning poster items, make sure the calendar is ready, and prep activities.
I also need to go shopping sometimes to get some things to do activities.
I also prepare my Face-out Book Shelves. I put the books that go with our theme on the shelves. If I have extra space on my shelves, I put other books I want to encourage the children to read at the time.
Do the Activities
Now is the execution. We used to always do this in the morning hours, but right now I do not have a consistent or ideal time to do it. My problem is I want Kaitlyn involved in it all, but that is rather silly becaus she is at preschool three days a week. So yesterday I decided I need to have a set time and on certain days, she just wont be around. But there are some activities I know the older kids (Brayden and Kaitlyn) will just love so we do it after Brayden gets home from school.
Here is our process.
- We start with our Learning Poster. See this post for more on it. We discuss our theme and the vocabulary word. We then recite the nursery rhyme. We then talk about the letter, the sound it makes, and words that start with that letter. We then do the color and shape. We finish up the poster with our number of the week. We count to that number. I have printed (and laminated) a picture of each. On Monday, we put each item in place as we go along.
- We then do our Calendar. See this post for more information about our calendar. We say the day (Friday), the month (December), and the date (second), with the year (2011). We put the number for the day on the calendar. We then talk about the weather outside and put up the appropriate picture. We then read and recite our scripture.
- We read a story. We pick a story that coincides with our theme for the week and read it.
- We do our activity(s). Sometimes, we move right into this. Other times, we wait until after lunch or after Brayden is home from school.
One thing I recommend is that you take a picture of the creation right away. That way, you can either save the best and you have a photo before it is smashed OR you can throw it away after you have displayed it for a while. You can't save everything.
I always hang my children's latest up on our refrigerator. They love to see it up there. So find somewhere in your home you can display your children's artwork. I have more ideas in my head for this...hopefully it will come to pass so I can share.
If you want to do a learning time each day but this all seems overwhelming, it is okay to start small. We we first started, we just did the learning poster side of things without an extra activity. Make this work for your family.
I would love to hear how you do it! How do you organize? How do you plan and prepare? How do you execute?