My five-year-old started Kindergarten at the local two-room schoolhouse this week. Eleven kids in his class - which covers kinder, first and second grade! Not quite home schooling, but in some ways the best of both worlds. I still miss home schooling sometimes, though – especially at this time of year, when parents are coming in to the library where I work, happily discussing there plans for the year and selecting materials for their first big projects.
Fortunately, I have a 5yo excited about school, and a precocious 18mo who is already counting and naming colors (the wrong ones, usually, but they are color words), so I can continue the fun at home without having to worry about burn-out.
Kinder at the moment is all about letter sounds, with the class spending 2-3 days on each one. That lends itself so well to a million different activities that I had to rein my thoughts in a bit. My goal was to reinforce the letter sounds as well as letter recognition, and to keep things personal and fun. We (meaning I) decided to make a ‘book’ for each letter – just printed pages put in a 3-ring folder – and then incorporate the letter into our regular activities as much as possible. Here is a bit of my son’s “B” book:
big boy reading a book
blonde-haired, blue-eyed beast with bruises, bumps and blood (nice of her to help us out this way, wasn’t it?)
brains and beauty
For our first book, I did a lot of coaching while we walked around the house looking for “B” items. As we go through the year, I’ll expect him to come up with all the examples himself. For right now I want to give him the general idea and make it fun, not work. He did come up with the blood for his sister, and I suggested the rest of the caption. I couldn’t resist!
Of course, it needs to become as much his work as possible, as soon as possible. He wrote the title on the cover (simply, “My B Book”), and circled all the b’s on each page. Last night, when we did the letter “C”, I also had him pick one word to copy. Eventually I will just print the pictures and have him write the words himself.
The book completed, we sat down to supper:
BBQ beef on burger buns with baked beans
That night at the fair at the fair, then, we looked for things that started with the letter "B" (bunnies, babies, boats, and our friend's black bull), had the letter "B" on them, or were brown, black, or blue.
I have to warn you, this can easily get stuck in your head. Daddy and I kept stopping suddenly to point and exclaim to each other, "Backpack! Big ball!", or to tell our teen, "Bad boys are banned!" (She was less than amused. Or should I say, she finds our babbling boorish.)
Some other simple letter activities:
- Cut out or draw a large version of the letter, and see what you can turn it into with a little artistry. For example, the open part of the capital "A" can become the mouth of an alligator. There are lots of websites such as enchantedlearning.com with templates to steal.
- Make a separate shopping list of items that start with that letter, and put your little learner in charge of finding those in the store.
- Take a letter walk – as we did at the fair, look for things that might start with that letter. Bring a camera and take pictures to add to your book. Adjectives can be helpful here!
- Go through an old magazine and cut out all the “B”’s. Glue them on a paper at random, or into an outline of the letter.
- Write the letter in shaving cream foam, sand, the dust on the back of the car, wherever.
- Glue beans, macaroni, whatever, to an outline to create a tactile letter.
- Blow bubbles for the letter “b”. Make a marble maze for “m”. Try to find one surprise game or activity like this for each letter – maybe end with it, and keep them guessing as to what it will be each time (their guesses may give you inspiration if you are stuck!)
- Check out starfall.com – fantastic free web site that starts with the alphabet and moves up to reading stories, with activities included. Easy to use for those just learning to maneuver the mouse.
- Play with your food! In addition to eating things like alphabet soup or Scrabble Cheeze-Its (love those!), you can push your corn into an “L” shape, or bite your sandwich into a “C”.
Don’t try to do all of these with every letter, though, or your learner will burn out. Find one activity you do with each letter at the start (like the book), then throw in different other things each time to keep it new. Don’t feel like you have to go in order through the alphabet, either – consonants with only one sound (b, d, m, etc.) are of course easier to learn. If you are sounding words out, you won’t want to wait two months to get to the letter “t”! You also don’t have to teach every sound of a letter – short vowel sounds are fine to start with, as well as the ‘hard’ sounds of “c” and “g”.
Speaking of burnout, I’m always looking for more ideas, so I’m hoping to see some good ones in the comments. Let’s brainstorm together!