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learning time

I've been trying to keep our summer schedule pretty loose, it is summer after all. We've had a few family reunions and a few weeks of swimming lessons, but other than that we're free to spend the day as we see fit (which usually includes the beach or the pool, or both).

I do think we need a little bit of structure, so we've been having a specific time set aside as solo "learning time" each day. C, who is five, plays with his alphabet puppets or practices his letters (I bought this large writing pad when it was on sale at Pottery Barn Kids, it's the perfect size for his big handwriting). Bee, my three year old, plays with matching games or animal flashcards. I get to catch up on email for a few minutes. It's really a win all the way around. I have found that the kids will sit still a bit more easily if learning time is accompanied by a snack of some sort, cookies and milk work nicely. I'm hoping this practice will get them ready for the days I see coming when we're all gathered around the dining room table working on three hours of homework! (When does that start nowadays? second grade?)

As I prepare to send C into the public school system in a few weeks, I've been reading up on what I can do to get him ready for kindergarten. It seems the most important thing is to incorporate learning moments whenever we can throughout our day: at the grocery store, sitting at the beach, driving in the car, etc. Every outing can be a chance to learn.

So how are you getting your kids ready for school? Any important tips I should know before I send my little boy off to kindergarten?

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we are sending our little franny off to K as well. maybe I should have made her practice her letters more, or numbers but ultimately I think she will be fine. my son loved K and was like a fish to water. I'm sure you'll find the same. just be in touch with his teacher to check in on friend status, shyness, work progress etc. GOOD luck!

08.13.2009 | Unregistered Commenterkathryn

It sounds to me that you are doing the perfect things, involving your kids in creative life, making art with them, reading them books and making learning fun and interesting. My boys got obsessed with spelling when they were little and we made them little stapled books where they wrote a word and then drew a picture, like a dictionary.
The only thing I can think of to suggest is some counting stuff so they get a headstart with maths as well, and maybe practice at using scissors, teachers obsess about that stuff!

08.13.2009 | Unregistered Commenterflowerpress

How funny that you should have this post just when I am home from a meeting about the first year of schooling and ideas for it. I am a homeschooler, but these ideas would be wonderful for any little learner.
My friend, Alicia, gets credit for these great ideas. She is amazing. I wish she had a blog. Anyway, she uses personification to help her girls learn their letters. They have all different sorts of letters, blocks, magnets, wooden ones, for them to actually hold and manipulate. They are also upper and lowercase. They learn to match them up when they see that the big letters are the mommies and the little letters are the babies. It makes an instant connection for them. Or, to help learn vowel sounds, they lined up the vowel scrabble tiles on their little holder, pretended it was a roller coaster and each vowel made it's own sound when it went down the coaster. "EEEEE!" "OOOOO!" Isn't that so clever?
Have fun with your little learner. It is so amazing and beautiful to see their minds soaking up learning at this stage.

08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreta

From getting my own little ones ready for school the most important thing seemed to be to get them used to sitting still and focussed. And, importantly, on an activity that is not necessarily of their choosing. When I was a child my mother got us used to sitting round the table doing a 'quiet' activity while she cooked supper so that the homework hour was a natural transition. And doing homework together, the whole shared endeavour and companionship with my 3 sisters was something I now look back on as an adult with real fondness. So, I would say you are doing all the right things.

08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterLucy

i used to student teach in both kindergarten & first grade. from a curriculum point of view, the students who quickly went on to become successful readers (which in turn, makes everything easier to pick up on) had the advantage of recognizing letters & being able to associate them with the sound they make.

my 3 year old daughter was able to identify both by the time she was 2 years old after watching "the letter factory" (http://www.amazon.com/Leap-Frog-Letter-Factory/dp/B0000INU6S) a couple of times. i typically purchase this video for our 2-year old friends for their birthday, along with others from this series. it is amazing how much little minds can soak in when it is presented to them.

i have also tried to surround her with letters since the time she was born...words are spelled out throughout our house, letter magnets are on the side of the refrigerator, wooden blocks with letters are in her playroom, as well as a big bowl full of wooden letters that sits on her table. she is now able to sound out small words (cat, dog, jump, etc.) and finds the letter to form the words...either on paper or using her wooden letters. :)

08.14.2009 | Unregistered Commenteramber

Mariah at playfullearning.com has some really nice ideas for creative learning-based activities. And Jennifer at thewritestart.typepad.com has some very sweet letter + writing activities, too.

08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

i think the biggest thing to do is to get their schedules ready: when my oldest started k last year, she was beyond exhausted. its such a busy day to jump into and she was falling asleep in her plate at lunch :-) we start school in two weeks, so i'm starting to get them to bed earlier and up on time.
our school had two informal playdates at the k playground for kids to come and play with their future classmates - i thought that was a great idea for helping her feel more comfortable on the first day.

A quick comment about what you can do to get *yourself* ready.

I have a daughter going into 3rd grade and a daughter going into K, and what I've learned is that if the teacher welcomes it, help out in the classroom regularly if you can. (I work full time in an office, but I take time here and there to help in the class). It helps you get to know their classmates, and it helps to understand what they're doing in class all day, and it just makes you feel better knowing how your kids are spending their days.

It also helps you recognize those teaching moments, when you know what your kids are learning about in school.

08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

What an exciting time for your family!

I taught preschool for a number of years. It is a big help if a child can take care of simple bodily needs, such as washing their hands, and getting dressed and undressed. It sounds obvious, but it can make a difference in a child's day if he or she has to wait for a teacher's aide to unbutton their overalls or pull on winter boots. It is hard to pay attention to a teacher if you're physically uncomfortable.

08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel B

I agree with the earlier post. I'm a first grade teacher and the children who really succeed in K and 1st are the children who can match letters to their sounds. They need to know their short and long vowels as well. If it's incorporated into their every day life they will learn it quickly and easily. You should also try showing them some easy sight words. Words such as: to, the, at, an, on. They can then practice these new words in a series of books called Brand New Readers. The Brand New Readers books are incredible. They have basic sight words, are short, concise, and have funny endings. They are excellent for really beginning readers. They are available at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Those are my biggest secret for children who are just starting out reading. If your child can read, school will be so much easier and less frustrating for them.

08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJillian

It's really simple: sleep. Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Their brains grow when they sleep, they absorb and process everything they've learned thus far, and you don't want to cheat them. A tired kid is a cranky kid is a disruptive classmate. Sleep. Can't recommend it enough.

My kids struggled with writting early on. Our K teachers suggested letting them pinch clothes pins, pick up small marbles and poker chips, and really have a go with Play-Doh to work their fine motor skills. Big rubber pencil grips from the Teacher's Supply stores are great, too. We even bought teacher-type posters to hang up for inspiration and encouragement. Learning isn't just done in school, right?

Let your young student know that you and his teacher want the same thing: a solid education. You many not always agree with the teacher or their methods, but a teacher who knows you stand by them and support them will be a better teacher for your child. Oh, and if you get that "hinky" feeling when you meet a teacher? Request a classroom reassignment. There is nothing in the world that can take the place of a hellish school year with a teacher beyond contempt. Good luck on this journey!

08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterLizAnderson

Oh such an exciting time for your family! My daughter started public school last year as a kindergartner and just had a wonderful year. I think the biggest and best thing I did was to let her go and have her very own experience.

I rarely visited the classroom, I marveled at what she brought home and basically followed her lead in what she was interested in. She took the school bus everyday, so I basically picked her up from school once a week but wasn't really at the school otherwise.

One day early on she got lost at school - and while it was a bit scary for her, she definitely learned that her school is a safe place to be and that people will take care of her. We're lucky to live in a town where this is the case ~ regardless, she's becoming very confident and sweet and assured, which is all I really want for my big girl. And I think my hands-off approach has been helpful in making this come to fruition.

Granted - it's not for every family or every kid - but it's so easy for me to want be there every second so my challenge is to be able to let her go on her sweet way.

Enjoy this first year - it's such a gift in so many ways!

08.14.2009 | Unregistered Commenterp-mama

Read, read, read. Read out loud. Let them "read" to you, where they make up stories to go with the pictures. Read short, fun books. Read longer chapter books. Read poems. Read serious books. Read funny books. Read classic books with good vocabulary. Develop a love for reading, and you will develop a love for learning.

Have fun, and carry tissues on the first day of kindergarten. You may need them!

08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

My daughter is headed to first grade this year- kindergarten was a huge success and so much fun for us all! I agree with everything posted above but I have a couple other tips.

1. lunch time at school is short! Give you child a good breakfast and an uncomplicated (make sure they can access everything themselves) lunch. At my daughters school they ate in a cafeteria full of kids and many kids struggled with opening tupperware, juiceboxes, string cheese packages etc...also, it's hard for kids to get the hang of eating with a lot of stuff going on- I found keeping lunch simple (sandwich and piece of fruit) was the key.

2. have a snack ready when you pick them up and realize they will probably need some time to process the day. My daughter would get really crabby if I picked her up and started asking questions about school right away. If I gave her an hour or so to relax and then asked her she was much more apt to give me the details of her day.

08.14.2009 | Unregistered CommenterSeattleMommy

can i just say, i loved this post and reading the comments. i particularly liked that last post about easy, accessible lunches and snacks ready right after school. it makes since. i am a teacher "on hold" now since our second was born over a year ago. i remember seeing so many lunches thrown in the garbage, for whatever reason, when i picked my children up from the lunchroom--an awful site!

our oldest is preschool age this year, and i look forward to having fun learning time at home preparing for what's ahead. i loved hearing lucy's comment about quiet activities around the table during dinner prep. it sounds like it would take a miracle in our home right now, but what a great goal to work toward! i so enjoy your blog!=)

08.14.2009 | Unregistered Commenteramy

I agree with Liz. SLEEP is so important. My now 2nd grader and my new K'er are in bed by 7:30 on school nights. Always. I am often shocked to hear about young ones who stay up until 8:30, 9:00 or later.

The other tip is to always serve a hot breakfast. My husband and I both have very busy careers but we find the time to do it: eggs, pancakes and waffles (make ahead), turkey bacon, veggie sausages, grits... along with fruit, toast, juice.

And finally... don't stop reading to them! My 2nd grader is reading 2 and 3 grade levels above her grade, but we still read to her every night.

Kindergarten is a wonderful adventure. Enjoy every second of it!

08.14.2009 | Unregistered Commenternancy

My #1 started kindy this year (Australia) and the biggest thing is sleep!! She is one of the youngest in the grade, but one of the brightest. We have always made our own books, with the kids drawing the pictures and me writing what they tell me, you would be surprised how quick they pick up "sight' words this way. The next thing, make everyday learning FUN, sing silly songs about anything and everything. If the kids love school, the learning comes very quickly, but I am still wondering where my little baby girl has gone, when I look at this strong, very opinionated, little girl... ENJOY

08.15.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJess

Hi there, it is Tara Johnston, now Thatcher. I found your blog through Abby's blog and it is fun to catch up on your life, but who are you kidding kids don't do homework anymore :).

08.15.2009 | Unregistered CommenterTara

The question of how we prepare our kids for school is a great one. One big tip, and this applies for kids iof all ages, is turn off the technology. Instead of talking into cell phone as you ferry kids about (I see this so often!) TALK to your kids. Talk to them at dinner, during bath. Take a walk. So much comes up, questions, learning. Make life real, tactile, not virtual. I recently read that the typical kid spends 3 hours in front of a tv a day and 5 1/2 in front of technology (tv, computer, games, etc.) That's a huge amount of time that they could be exploring, reading, cooking, growing a flower, taking a photo, firing the synapses in their brains.

08.16.2009 | Unregistered Commenterhasley

GREAT post and GREAT comments! I especially like the pairing of cookies with the focused work. Brilliant. It makes it something to look forward to -- I know I look forward to having a cup of tea when I do my work. I will definately be trying the snack idea.
As for the getting ready for kindergarten, I am also getting ready to send my Jack in September <sniffle>. In addition to writing, one thing I am trying to encourage during the seated time is drawing. In kindergartem, simple representational drawings (figures, a house, a rocket ship, the beach) are often the jumping off point for writing. For little kids, the illustrations become stories (instead of vice versa). If they can turn an idea into a picture, often they can "see" it well enough to start to write about it. (Drawing also helps work on the motor skills -- bonus!)

08.17.2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

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