01 September 2013

Kindergarten at Home

Dear Lissy,

I consider the privilege of teaching each of you to read among the greatest experiences of my life.  Kindergarten is a precious and exciting time with your child, and one I wouldn't have outsourced for the world.  A year before I began schooling Nate, I attended a couple of home education seminar sessions that gave me a great deal of confidence heading into my first year of being a teacher-mama.  You, my little bean, were tucked away in my tummy at the time waiting to make your appearance second semester.

We used a file folder system to stay organized and begin teaching  independence.  It worked well, but the Sue Patrick Workbox system (originally designed for a child with severe autism) is a much more thorough and elegant solution that has revolutionized home education.  The first video is an Australian mum showing how the workbox system works when used almost exactly as written.  The other two videos she created on the support systems for the boxes are wonderful, too, and give you an excuse to listen to her lovely accent a little longer. 

The second video is an American mum showing her customized workbox system for a K-4 Student.  Workbox style systems were a key part of home educating for us in the lower grades.  They instill good work habits and attitudes in the student and help mom stay organized.  Don't be scared off by the expensive supplies in the videos:  the original system is very economical to set up.


In Kindergarten through third grade, most of the new material needs to be taught one-on-one.   The workbox system takes this into account by providing "work with Mom" stickers for boxes that need to be done with Mom instead of alone.  Most of us are in our late twenties or early thirties by the time we teach Kindergarten, so here are a few reminders for teaching wiggly little bodies!

Little kids are physical, and need physical prompts that school is in session.
  • You dressed in a school uniform, a white polo and khaki pants or skirt, during school hours.
  • We set up a desk and bought you supplies that could only be used for school.  That is where we had school every day.  Siblings were never allowed to use your desk, books, or supplies
  • I was dressed.  This was haaaaard once you were born and I'd only had a few hours of sleep.
  •  Boys often need to run a few laps up and down the stairs before beginning school to release extra energy.  You needed to have your love tank filled up with a long cuddle.
  • We began with the pledge and Bible class every morning, and finished by picking up our desks and snuggling together for read aloud time on the couch.
Strict physical routines free Mom to be a fun, encouraging teacher.  Sloppy routines can cause Mom to nag, give up, or be "mean".  
  • Mom decides when the school day starts.  I preferred a clock time, but many mums use a cue like baby's morning nap.
  • You sat in your desk chair facing forward with your feet on the floor and your bum in the chair while you worked.  This small discipline pays big dividends.
  • Have a routine for putting away one subject box and moving to the next.  Consider adding a fun action song or finger action routine at the top of each new workbox to manage the wiggles.
  • Mom should not use social networks or her phone during school time.  If necessary, put a cheery sign on the door to let drop in visitors know it's school time and you are unavailable.
  • Other siblings should be napping or well occupied.  If they are old enough for workboxes, they'll want their own.  I was very, very lucky to have a bathtub for you to play in right next to the classroom while I taught your brothers. 
  • Children received one chance to do their best work.  If you were deliberately sloppy or fussed, the paper went to Dad to review with him when he got home. Dad made sure that was a rare occurence.  If they simply weren't able to do the work well, Mom praised the good parts and retaught the challenging parts the next day
  • Mom doesn't need to hover during worksheet time.  Teach the concept, have them "teach" it back to you, and then let them finish the paper on their own and move to the next box when it's done.
Radiate a spirit of cheerful urgency and keep the school day fun.  
  • Move quickly enough the kids are just barely able to keep up your pace.  Down time equals behavioral problems.
  • Use vivid language from their world to explain new concepts.  The lines for writing and numeric notation should be referred to as floors and ceilings.  If a letter is crossed or connected, instruct them to give the character a belt "right at their bellybutton." 
  • Only teach one skill at a time, and use songs, jingles and rhymes whenever possible.  Don't try to teach time if they haven't mastered the numbers 1 - 12.  Teach them how to line up a ruler to a line before you teach them how to measure. Educational websites and Pinterest have dozens of ideas for every skill under the sun.
  • Use goofy cheers or silly physical antics to reward success.  I screamed at the top of my lungs for perfectly traced letters.  Matt and I elbow bumped when he counted by 10's or wrote a hard letter.  I did happy dances for all three of you to celebrate various milestones.
  • Put their best subject first and hardest second.  They should never know that one subject is harder for them than another one.
  • Invest in a good set of home education games and learn how to use them. Free printable resources are all over the web.  You were especially fond of the Dover sticker books that had a background scene to which you added stickers to make a picture.  The Bob Books series have a finger puppet stage included.  Make it and play with it as you work through the books.  I prefer real games over computer games for Kindergarten.
  • When the work is done, the day is done.  Kindergarten rarely takes over an hour a day.
  • Express your expectations in positive language.  If a child is dragging and daydreaming, a cheerful "Let's see how quickly and neatly you can get this done!" while setting a stopwatch is far more motivating than "Prunella, don't dawdle -- get back to work or we're going to be here all day."  I drew clouds around well-written letters during handwriting.  We'd then make ambulance noises (bee-boo-bee-boo) and take our pencils over to help another "broken" or "hurt" letter look all better again. Switch to a favorite colored pencil for corrections. We didn't do every letter, just one or two so I knew you knew how to make it properly.
  • Keep a digital file (Pinterest is currently a great resource) of fun ideas for teaching particular topics like holding a pencil correctly or learning diacritical marks that each of your children will have to learn.  Not all kids learn the same way, and you may have to try a few different techniques before one clicks.
Don't skip science, history, art, and music.
A classic workbox system utilizes 12 drawers.  The purpose was to encourage Mom to include some of the extra material that students love.  We all have a tendency to do just the required subjects and promise ourselves we'll get around to that trip to the pond or a messy art project later.  Later becomes never, and the student misses out on enrichment that would have created a deep love for school.
  • Take tours or watch videos to learn about civic helpers and career positions for social studies.
  • Pond studies, a class pet, gardening, star gazing, and spending time helping mommy make healthy meals are all ways to pick up science and health.  Mrs. D bought your brothers little aquariums and filled them with water and frog eggs from her pond for us.  We checked out library books about frogs and watched them go through their whole lifecycle.
  • Put a CD in the workbox along with paper and markers and have your child "draw" the song.  Pick up a game or phonics curriculum that teaches famous works of art and music. Find and use a book that ties great artist's works and methods into kid projects.  Don't get stuck cutting, coloring, and gluing everything.
Kindergarten is a time of discovery and enjoyment.  Get your kids excited about school and learning now while they're young, and it will pay off for years to come.  If you establish good habits in Kindergarten, 1st through 3rd grade routines will be a snap to keep up, too.



  1. Hmmm ... tried to post on your last post and it would not let me :(!

    HHHHHHHHHHaaaaaaaaaapppppppppppppppppppppyy BIRTHDAY!!!!! (I hope that was 42 letters in happy :))!

    Praying for Matt. We missed seeing you but understand.

    1. Thanks :-)
      Our car goes in for repairs tomorrow -- yaaaay! It's been a long two weeks. Our kids were devastated about missing out on the weekend with your family. We've promised to drive your way soon so they can see everyone. Matt is finally feeling better. Two weeks ago he couldn't walk the half mile to a friend's house, and Friday I was winded walking up with him he went so fast. Please pray that this is the final dose of antibiotics for him and that we've got all the lingering Lym-ey badness in his joints.
      Blessings to you as you prepare for your new school year!