Category Archives: Preschool

Preschool Fun with the Three Bears

The Three Bears PreschoolThis week I planned Arianna and Nico’s preschool activities around the story of “The Three Bears.”  The kids have been going crazy with the library’s summer reading program, and among the huge stack of books Arianna picked out last week I found Paul Galdone’s version of this story. I remembered how much fun Ian had with this story a few years ago, so it seemed like an easy way to keep the little ones entertained.  We did a lot of different activities this time, so if you’re looking for ideas, be sure to check out that post as well.

In addition to reading The Three Bears, Arianna and Nico did several activities throughout the week.  One day we did a number 3 art idea I got from A Spoonful of Learning.  (First the used three colors to trace the 3.  Then they used triangles to fill in the other 3.)

3 Bears 3 worksheet
Another day they colored, sorted, cut and glued pictures from smallest to largest (using one page from some coloring and sorting activity sheets I found free on Teachers Pay Teachers).  For Nico it was enough just to work on coloring and gluing (I cut his out and let him glue them any way he wanted), but Arianna did the whole thing by herself the way it was intended.

3 Bears sort 1 3 Bears sort 2

Arianna also used another page from that set, coloring the picture and cutting out the words to make a sentence, which she was very proud to read herself.

3 Bears sentence
They both enjoyed playing with the Melissa & Doug Wooden Bear Family Dress-Up Puzzle.  This is one of those toys I keep out of reach most of the time to keep it special.  We pull it out to go with books (it’s great with Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?), or other special occasions, which makes it extra fun.

3 Bears puzzle

At the end of the week, I let the watch the James Marshall version of the story on a Storybook Treasures DVD.  We also watched the first Salsa Spanish video from Georgia Public Broadcasting, which has puppets acting out the story in Spanish. (I used this series with Ian through Kindergarten and into first grade, but it was new for my little ones.)  The vocabulary in this video went along great with what all the kids have been learning in a different curriculum, so I thought we’d kill two birds with one stone by reinforcing the Spanish lesson and going along with our preschool theme.

I’m really glad I’ve started doing this preschool time with Arianna and Nico.  It has helped them to have something productive to do in the mornings, and they are both so proud to be doing their own “school work.”

proud Nico

Preschool Week With Corduroy

Corduroy ActivitiesLast year my plan to do more with my preschoolers ended up being a flop, so as we started school this week I was determined to find time each day to be intentional with Arianna (4) and Nicholas (2).  This may look a little different from week to week, but right now that means going back to Before Five in a Row.

For our first book, I chose one of their favorites, Corduroy by Don Freeman.  I had a lot of activities in my file from when I rowed this book with the older boys a few years ago, so we pulled those out. (I don’t want to repeat myself, so check out that post for more ideas!)

Both kids really enjoyed playing with buttons all week.  I have a big jar full of all kinds of buttons, and I let them play with them in egg trays.  Nico just had fun moving them around and exploring, but Arianna chose to sort them by colors.

Corduroy button play  Corduroy button sort
I thought she might like a “sewing” activity since Lisa sews on Corduroy’s button, but I wanted to keep it simple.  I threaded an embroidery needle with string and let her string buttons onto it.  She worked on this for about half and hour and was very proud when she finished.  (I forgot to take a picture and of course the string ended up breaking later.  So we’ll get to do that again another day!)

Corduroy stringing buttons 2 Corduroy stringing buttons 1
As a reminder of our fun week with Corduroy, I cut out construction paper pieces using a pattern I found on Serving Pink Lemonade.  Then Arianna and Nico made their own bears and proudly hung them in their rooms.

Corduroy paper bears
They really loved Corduroy, so we also read A Pocket for Corduroy and Corduroy Lost and Found, and we’ll finish off tomorrow by watching the live action movie of the original story on DVD from the Scholastic Storybook Treasures 2 collection. (I guess this collection is no longer sold new, but the Corduroy DVD is also part of the 20 Animal Tales collection.)

Math-U-See With Digital Pack (Crew Review)

Math-U-See Review
Over the last few years since we started homeschooling, I have heard repeated praise for Demme Learning’s Math-U-See program, but it wasn’t until we were offered a chance to review their Digital Packs that we actually tried it out for ourselves.  Arianna (4) hasn’t really had any intentional exposure to math concepts apart from what she encounters in daily life, so I decided to give her some formal instruction with the Math-U-See Primer Level.


Please pardon the laundry and baby in the background 🙂

About Math-U-See with Digital Pack

Different members of the Crew reviewed various levels from Primer through Pre-Calculus (click on the banner at the bottom to find those reviews), but because we were totally new to Math-U-See and had none of their materials, they generously provided us with the Primer Universal Set, which included everything we needed to get started:

Demme Learning Math U See Review

  • Instruction manual (hardcover, 128 pages of teacher notes for each lesson and complete solutions)
  • Instruction DVD (with a short video for each lesson introducing the concepts being taught)
  • Student workbook (softcover with 429 perforated, 3-hole punched pages)
  • Integer block set (with plastic manipulatives for numbers 1-10 and 100)
  • 12-months of access to the Primer Digital Pack, which includes the following:
    • Skip Count Songs (MP3 download–about 25 minutes long)
    • Songbook (44-page PDF with melody, lyrics, and black and white pictures)
    • online access to the instruction videos found on the DVD
    • online access to Digital Manipulatives
    • Instruction Manual (PDF)

Math-U-See also has additional resources for record-keeping and extra practice available on their website.  (For higher levels there is even an online worksheet generator.)

If you don’t need everything in the Universal Set, Digital Packs can be purchased individually, but student workbooks (and test booklets for the higher levels) are not included and will need to be purchased as well.

Our Experience

From the moment the curriculum arrived, all my kids were drawn to it.  I wan’t sure the digital manipulatives would make sense without having at least some familiarity with the physical set, so I let everyone take some time being creative with the integer blocks.

Arianna was SO excited to have her own school work, and the older boys loved helping her. The concepts in Primer are introduced very gently, so for her this was more a time of learning how to fit concepts she’s already learned (like counting and writing numbers) into a set structure.

The primer level starts about as basic as you can get, with simple counting and number recognition.  Over the weeks that we’ve had it, our lessons have also covered shapes, writing numerals, and place value.  Each lesson has lots of practice pages in the student workbook, and she often wanted to do multiple pages in a sitting.  I usually just let her go until she seemed to be losing interest and then we’d put it away.  However, she never really grew bored with it overall.  She loved taking it along with us when she thought she might need something to entertain herself.

Primer_zpsnyjgbvauEach lesson consists of a short instructional video, which can be viewed from the DVD or online as part of the Digital Pack, and a lesson in the Instruction Manual.  These were more for me as a parent than for Arianna, and I often went through them the night before as preparation so our math time was more about just having fun together.  I really liked the convenience of accessing the videos online through the Digital Pack, and usually chose to do that rather than putting on the DVD.

Another great feature of the Digital Pack is the online manipulatives.  Math-U-See’s integer blocks are a key component of the curriculum because they help students really see and understand what the numbers they’re working with mean.  Having access to the digital manipulatives makes it easy to do lessons away from home without toting along the whole set, especially in the higher levels of the curriculum.  However, I don’t think they’re quite as useful at the Primer level, where children really need the hands-on experience.  (The instruction manual even says, “Young children…need to see, touch, and build with concrete objects in order to understand.”)

Arianna really never had any opportunity to use the digital manipulatives in all the Primer lessons we did, but the boys and I spent some time exploring them.  The boys had no trouble using them on our laptops in the Chrome browser (though there is a separate app available if you want to use it on a tablet).  The blocks are easy to drag and drop onto the screen wherever you want them.

Just like with the physical integer block set, the digital set can also be used for all sorts of creative purposes.

 The skip counting song was another great bonus for all my kids to enjoy.  We often put on “school songs” to sing along to as we drive around town, and this was a great addition to our collection.  I also love that the skip counting songs aren’t just about the numbers but refer to Bible stories and other familiar tales to make them more interesting.  I just wish the songs had been available to download separately instead of as one long MP3 file.

Final Thoughts

I think the Digital Packs are a great addition to the Math-U-See program, but they’re probably more helpful in some situations than others.

  • Digital manipulatives don’t take up precious space (or get lost).
  • Online videos and manipulatives make it easy to do lessons away from home.
  • Even at home, the online videos and manipulatives are often more convenient than the DVD and physical integer block set since you can pull them up on any device with Internet access.
  • If you have multiple students using the same level but on different lessons, one can be online while the other uses the DVD.
  • Digital manipulatives don’t help with the Primer level workbook pages, which are designed for the child to use with the physical integer blocks.
  • 12-month access to Digital Packs may not be ideal for families who pass down curriculum from child to child.  I like that I’ll be able to pull out the DVD and Instruction Manual with my younger children long after my access to the Digital Pack has expired.

Arianna really enjoyed Math-U-See, and I think the Primer materials were the perfect gentle introduction to formal math for a four-year old.  We’re looking forward to the rest of the lessons, which include addition, skip counting, telling time, and beginning subtraction.  I’m not sure when I’ll be officially starting Kindergarten with her, but I would definitely consider moving up to Alpha once she completes the Primer level.

Demme Learning's Math-U-See Review
Crew Disclaimer

The Little Scarecrow Boy

This week I broke out our autumn book collection, and Arianna and I spent time having fun with The Little Scarecrow Boy by Margaret Wise Brown.

She remembered this book from last year and loved it even more this time around, so I decided to spend a little extra time with it.  She’s been really into coloring lately, so I printed out a coloring page from Kids Soup. (The site also has other fun ideas, including some cute scarecrow poems.)

We also enjoyed some of the poems from Teaching Heart, though I wasn’t up to most of the fun activities they shared.

But most of all she loved making scary faces like the Little Scarecrow Boy.

scarecrow faces
Arianna occasionally asks for school work when the boys are busy, so this week I pulled out my fall/harvest file for some pages to stick in her activity notebook.  I printed these out a few years ago (probably for Ian) and we reuse the pages every year by putting them in sheet protectors and using dry erase markers.  The kids love when I put together personalized activity books for them, changing it for seasons and holidays.  This week Arianna did most of the pages in the Fall Fun Learning Pack from Homeschool Creations, and a couple from the Scarecrow Tot Pack from 1plus1plus1equals1 (though she’ll be more ready for most of those next year).

If we weren’t squeezing in preschool between me working with the older boys, we could probably spend a whole week doing fun scarecrow activities.  Our other favorite scarecrow book is The Scarecrow’s Hat by Ken Brown.  All my children loved predicting what would happen next in this book, and they got a great kick out of the satisfying ending.

If you’re interested in putting together your own week of scarecrow fun, check out all the pages I’ve mentioned for more poems, activities, and other ideas, as well as these sites:


S is for Smiling Sunrise (Crew Book Review)

Sunrise Review
With so many alphabet books out there, how do you begin to pick which one to read with your preschooler?  S is for Smiling Sunrise by Vick Wadhwa, the first publication from WordsBright, seeks to stand out from the crowd with a unique approach to the ABCs.

About the Book

Rather than using a typical simple phonetic “A is for apple” approach, S is for Smiling Sunrise focuses on positive concepts of goodness, beauty and wonder.  Each letter has its own page in the hardcover book, complete with colorful, eye-catching illustrations and a rhyme to elaborate on the focus word.

On the WordsBright website there is a free downloadable mp3 with the words of the entire book set to music (using the tune of the “Alphabet Song”).  The website also has two free teacher’s guides available to download with tips for using the book with children in Pre-K and K to 3.  The guide for younger children is fairly short but has helpful suggestions for using the book in a way that grows with your child.  The guide for older children is much more involved, with further explanation, discussion questions, vocabulary, and activity ideas related to each letter and its concept.  (For example, on “J is for Jewelry,” there are suggestions for exploring the idea of inner beauty versus outer beauty, the difference between dreams and goals, an activity of making a necklace or bracelet, etc.)

Our Experience

We try to choose books for our family that glorify God and help our children get to know Him better, and while S is for Smiling Sunrise never mentions God or spiritual matters specifically, many of the concepts it touches on lend themselves to discussions about how God is the ultimate source of beauty and goodness.  Arianna (age 3) loved reading through the book with me and often went back to it to flip through the pages and look at the pictures on her own.  Her attention span isn’t always capable of going through each page in its entirety, but we followed the suggestion in the teacher’s guide to just read the headline words at first.  If she’s really in a cuddly mood I can usually get through the rhymes on about half the letters, but it’s helpful to have the shorter option available.

Though the book is intended to be sung to the tune of the alphabet song, rhythmic purists such as myself might find that difficult.  The rhythm of the words varies from letter to letter, so if you want to be able to sing as you read, it’s really helpful to listen to the song ahead of time so you know which words to draw out or hurry through.  (In other words, it’s not as precise as an old hymn where there’s one syllable per note and even unfamiliar verses are easy to sing because they stick with that structure.)  Of course, you can just improvise and it will work equally well.  The musical side of me found this slightly frustrating as I tried to sing through the book, but I know most people aren’t so particular, so the song could be a fun tool for them.  Since some of the rhymes were a bit of a stretch as well, I opted to just read the words as prose without attempting to fit them into any sort of rhythm and enjoyed the book much more that way.

All in all I’d say S is for Smiling Sunrise is a cute book with admirable intentions and fun, colorful pictures that capture my little ones’ attention.


Wordsbright Review
Crew Disclaimer

More Math With Cuisenaire Rods

When I was in 5th grade my mom transferred me to the school where she taught Kindergarten, so every afternoon I would spend at least an hour hanging out in her classroom waiting for her to finish prepping for the next day.  One of my favorite ways to pass the time was with a set of Cuisenaire rods.  I was fascinated by these colorful wooden rods and used them to create all sorts of designs and patterns.  I loved how they could visually represent addition, multiplication, fractions, and many other math concepts.  (Yes, I was that kind of kid.)

P1030139Years later, when I was going through my teacher credential program, my mom told me that her school was cleaning out an old supply closet and I should come by and see if there was anything I wanted to have for my own future classroom.  When I saw a set of Cuisenaire rods, I felt like I’d found buried treasure.  (They also make plastic rods, but I have found they don’t work as well in some situations because the edges are just slightly more rounded, so if you’re looking to buy you might want to consider spending a little more for wooden rods.)

In the years I spent teaching, I must admit those rods didn’t come out much since they weren’t part of the curriculum I was required to teach.  Homeschooling, however, has been a different story.  All of my children love them and use them in different ways.  (Well, Nicholas just teethes on them when he’s lucky enough to get his hands on one, but the other kids are a bit more creative.)  I shared some of the ways we’ve used them back when we first made Our Foray into Math, but since then I’ve come across a few other ways to incorporate Cuisenaire rods into our days.

Basic Math Facts

As we worked our way through Year 1 of the Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP), I found the rods to be an invaluable aid.  Math isn’t Ian’s strongest subject, and I love the way the rods ensure that he can really see what the numbers mean as we work through problems.  One of the struggles we’ve encountered this year is committing basic math facts to memory.  For a while we were using (basically online flashcard drills), but then Ian tired of that and it became a battle rather than a help.  When faced with a practice book page with a large number of problems, he’d get discouraged before he even started because it would take him so long to get through each one.  I didn’t want to just skip the problems because he does need the practice, but using counters, fingers, or a number line was taking a really long time.

Then I remembered the Cuisenaire rods and thought we’d give those a shot.  When faced with a problem like 8+5 = ?, rather than counting out all the Unifix cubes he would need (which was a great way to learn at first), it’s so quick to just grab the 8 rod and the 5 rod (easy for him because he’s used them enough to be familiar with the associated colors) and place them on our track:

P1030136It works well for subtraction too.  For example, if Ian sees 15-6=?, he takes the 6 rod, scoots it up to the 15, and then has his answer.

P1030137Being able to work through these problems quickly has totally changed his attitude, and I hope that in time the repetition will help him to memorize the facts so he won’t need to use the rods.

Education Unboxed

My latest favorite way to use the Cuisenaire rods is going through the videos at Education Unboxed.  This site has tons of homemade videos showing how one mom used the rods to teach her children, and she has shared them all for free.  I LOVE these!  I’ll get out our rods, put on a video, and then just let the kids go.  They’ll see what the girl on the screen is doing and see what the mom is explaining, and then copy or build off of that concept.


It’s especially helpful when the daughter in the video doesn’t do what the mom wants right away and she has to really work through the thought process.  My boys have both learned a lot from these videos, and Arianna is soaking it all up as well, though right now she just enjoys playing with the blocks and sorting them or making designs.P1030118

One of the great things about going through these videos is I don’t have to tell my kids who the lesson is aimed at.  Sometimes I’ll put one on with Ian in mind, sometimes with Elijah.  Both of them love watching the little girl in the lower level videos (who is absolutely adorable) and end up working through the lesson, even if I’ve told them they can just play.  (We’ve only watched the easier videos so far, but I’m looking forward to working through all of them eventually!

Cuisenaire rods are still my number one favorite tool for teaching math, and we may just have to add another set now that we have more kids wanting to play with them!


The Resurrection: Letting Go of Expectations

It seems like the main lesson I learned through this Lenten season was that things are not always going to happen the way I expect.  Lent TreeOur Lenten Tree limped to life in spurts.  Because it wasn’t connected to either our evening family Bible Time devotions nor our morning Bible reading with school, we just didn’t add to it as regularly as I hoped.  Instead we kept adding leaves in clusters.

There were two ways we brought our tree to “life.”  The leaves were made using the printable “ornaments” from Gina at Seamless Days.  She has drawn up simple pictures to represent the stories mentioned in No Ordinary Home: The Uncommon Art of Christ-Centered Homemaking by Carol Brazo.  They tell the story of God’s redemption from Creation to the Resurrection.  We also added flowers to represent some of the ideas I got from Bring Lent to Life: Activities & Reflections For Your Family by Kathleen M. Basi (e.g. people we’re praying for, things we’re thankful for).  I still like the idea of the tree, but the next time we try it I think we’ll make sure to connect it with the devotions during our family Bible Time.

Even though we didn’t add to the tree daily or as often as I would have liked, at least it did happen (sort of) and provided the visual lesson I intended.  I had other plans for Lent that never happened at all, so I went to church this morning with anticipation in my heart, hoping for a great glorious celebration tapping into two thousand years of tradition of celebrating the miraculous morning of the Resurrection, something that would wipe away the dissatisfaction of my frustration expectations.

Then my children had one of the most difficult times in church I can remember since we started keeping them in the main service with us a few years ago.  (Actually, it was probably just one child in particular having trouble, but multiple issues on that front made me hyper-sensitive and then every little thing out of the others seemed a lot worse than it was.)  I ended the service in tears.  The morning had not been the glorious experience of my dreams.

I imagine the disciples felt the same way at the beginning of that Sunday morning so long ago.  Here they were, at the culmination of three years of ministry following Jesus, expecting him to triumph over their oppressors and establish his kingdom, only to find themselves left with a body in a tomb.  They adjusted to his death and tried to figure out where to go from there.  Then the women came back from the tomb proclaiming Christ’s resurrection.  In spite of the fact that Jesus had told them he would be raised on the third day, they still had a hard time believing it until they saw him for themselves.  It wasn’t until they let go of their expectations that they were able to fully experience the awesome power of Christ’s victory over death.  What started as a gloomy morning turned into a joyous celebration.

My own morning did get better.  Our merciful God brought several good friends around me who offered comfort and encouragement, and by the time we left the church building my spirit was renewed and refreshed.  Even though the rest of our day has just been an ordinary Sunday at home, there is something different inside me.  I have spent the day reading through the story of Easter morning in all four gospels and reflecting on the beauty of the Resurrection.  While my day wasn’t quite so dramatic as that first Resurrection Sunday, it still ended up being a time of joy and marveling at the glory of God.  As I let go of my expectations I was able to embrace His mercy, His grace, and His infinite love.  And that is a wonderful way to celebrate the day God triumphed over death and gave us the incredible gift of new Life.


Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood, Isabel Oakley Naftel (1862)

It’s been a while since we spent time focusing on a fairy tale, so we took a break from Five in a Row to have fun with Little Red Riding Hood.  (See posts we’ve done on other classics.)  I love this story, maybe because it has a redeeming ending.  The little girl makes mistakes and certainly suffers the consequences, but in the end things work out and she learns important lessons, like the importance of obedience and not talking to strangers.  Hopefully our children can benefit from her mistakes!

Part of the reason I chose to do the story now is because it corresponded with our Salsa Spanish lessons. We just started the second unit, which has six videos related to “Caperucita Roja,” so we were able to learn some vocabulary words to go along with our story.  (We use the Salsamaterials from the Wyoming Department of Education to get the most out of the videos.)

We looked at several versions:

We’ve talked before about how sometimes old stories like fairy tales are told differently by different people, so I asked Ian to find differences in two versions and we listed them.


We watched a Super Why episode that features the story of Red Riding Hood (Season 1, Episode 9) and enjoyed a free Kindle Fire App. By this point Arianna was pretty familiar with the tale and had lots of fun wearing part of an old Red Hiding Hood costume I had as a child.


We had a blast going through many of the activities in the FREE Little Red Riding Hood Pack from!  I loved that there were several pages simple enough for Arianna (2), but also several pages that challenged Ian (6).  I went crazy with my laminator and then we spent a whole morning playing with all the goodies in this pack.  (I also put some of the pages in sheet protectors in the boys’ notebooks.)  So much fun learning!


Lent: Looking forward to New Life

Lent1Our family so enjoyed the sacredness of celebrating Advent that I decided I wanted to do something for Lent this year to make this season a holy celebration as well.  Usually when I think of Lent, I think “fasting,” but really the season is about so much more than that.  I’m not sure how much our children would understand the concept at their ages and whether they could really choose to give something up on their own.  I don’t want the season to be remembered for how much they resented me taking away their sweets or screen time. So instead, I’m choosing to use a “Lenten Tree” to represent God bringing us new life.

Throughout the season we will add leaves, flowers, and ornaments to transform our barren “tree” into a lush symbol of Christ’s triumph over death.  I’ll share a little more about how those things will get added as we move toward the celebration of the Resurrection.

To see how our tree came to life, check out The Resurrection: Letting Go of Expectations.

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