Early Childhood Development

Early Childhood Development
Our Curriculum

"Early Childhood Development" is curriculum-code for "learn by teaching your little brother."  Teaching someone else is a fantastic way to solidify knowledge and skills.  When you teach, you learn the topic in more depth, you learn more about your own weaknesses and strengths, you learn that people are different and incredible, and you learn how to help and encourage others.  

That would be the idealistic reason I assign my 7 and 5 year-olds periods of time throughout the day to teach my 2-year-old.  The pragmatic reason is that I needed to find a way to keep him busy so I can work individually with the others.  

We don't do this because he needs the academic instruction--he's only two!  We do it because without it, he would be on top of us.  

( ... or he would be getting into mischief, leaving tracks behind him.)

The first two years of homeschooling with him were like this:

(Tummy time during a Saxon Math lesson involving pennies and place-value).

Eventually, he got more difficult (proportionally, I would guess, to the time saved with fewer feedings and fewer diaper changes), but usually our school manipulatives were interesting enough to entertain him. 

(A pattern-block math lesson is trickier with a six-month-old.  I guess this is my equivalent to a timed-test.)

By the time he turned two, it had gotten really hard for me to hold him off long enough to get through a lesson.  So I made a list of age-appropriate school activities (think pre-preschool) and prepared as much as I could so they were easy to implement on the spot.   

The activities divide easily into four categories, based on their location in my schoolroom: "Gross Motor," "Sensory Bins," "Activity Drawers," and "Activity Boxes."  Gross Motor activities are suggestions, such as balancing or jumping games, that I typed up onto slips of paper for the kids to choose. 

(Quick logistical note: I should use a big jar instead of ziplocks)

For our sensory bins, I simply found some buckets, and wandered around the house (and one craft store) finding interesting things to put in them. 

 The color-coded days of the week labels are to help me rotate the boxes evenly, but aren't really necessary.

(This was the day sensory bins were born at our house.  I handed him some wooden cubes to keep him busy and added the empty bucket.  Bingo!  20 free minutes.)

We tried making our own cloud dough (moon sand), and the kids had a blast.  By the way, if you ever want to make a swimming pool of moon sand, all you need is one 50 lb. bag of flour, and 8-11 20 oz. bottles of baby oil.  You know, in case you ever need a kiddie pool worth of moon sand.  You might.  

The problem with homemade moon sand is that it's still messy enough you probably want to do it outside.  So I bought a little bit of kinetic sand for inside.  It cleans up so nicely they can dump it all over the carpet, collect it again, and not even need to wash their hands afterward.  It feels amazing.  My kids love hunting for pennies in it.  

Marbles have been great for sensory activities.  We also use pom poms, beans, a toy catapult, dried noodles, fake worms, kitchen utensils, jingle bells, fish nets, hulled millet, poker chips, Legos, and playdough in our sensory bins.  I skipped over the ideas for wet sensory bins, since I am not supervising these activities while they are happening inside during a cold winter.  They are meant to be self-directed.  

Sensory bins are [G.]'s favorite development activities.

My older kids also do "Activity Drawers" with [G.], named such because he has his own seat at the desk with a set of drawers, and that's where I keep these supplies.  

One activity goes in each drawer (things like a coloring book, a puzzle, a pair of scissors with scratch paper, stickers, a gluing crafts, and geoboards), and he is encouraged to open one a day.  Sitting at the desk makes him feel like he's doing school along with the rest of us.  

(These are geoboards, usually used for geometry lessons, but also useful for fine motor practice.  He's concentrating really hard.  Grownups forget that when kids play, they think of it as work, although it is always completely voluntary.  I ought to be more like them.)

Finally, the kids do "Activity Boxes" with [G.].  I may have gone overboard with the number of toddler activities ... can you tell I was really nervous about doing school with a 2 year old?

Scrapbooking boxes are a wonderful size for this sort of thing.  I used what I had already, with an emphasis on fine motor skills.  Here's what I have in my boxes:

1. Sensory blocks 
2. My well-loved picture file (laminated pictures of animals and volcanoes and waterfalls and such to encourage verbal skills and storytelling)
3. Sign language flashcards
4. Toy cars, dice, and the parking lot game.  This has been a family favorite.
5. Do-a-dot markers, and paper
6. Lacing bead toys and lacing cards
7. Pipe cleaners, and odds and ends
8. A felt quiet book (thanks, Rochelle and Grandma!)
9. A felt story
10.  A maze puzzle

My 2-year-old really does enjoy this buddy system.  I'm proud of the other kids too, for stepping up to the plate and learning to teach creatively.  I help them transition in and out of the activity, but otherwise I am hands-off, helping the other older student. 

This, along with a little music time with me, a little storytime me, lots of English development, and helping the rest of us with projects comprises my PreK2's schooling this year.  

I need to disclaim that while our routine schedules as many as four childhood development activities a day, if he doesn't want to, or if he is otherwise occupied, we skip it.  

Sometimes I have a huge mess to clean up when we're done, but that just might be a necessary evil.  Besides, he would have made a huge mess anyway, because he's two.

I was happily surprised by how much my older kids got out of these activities.  It turns out that after 45 minutes of math, even a 3rd-grader might need to sift sand through her fingers for awhile, or smash playdough with a mallet.  It gives them a mental break and reconnects them to the physical world.  It obliterates their own pent-up performance expectations, and places them in a context where they are good at the answers, experts even, and no one is asking them questions, in fact, it's not about them at all, it's about helping someone else.  When the task is not to build the puzzle themselves, but to help [G.] build it, they become gentler, more patient, more compassionate.


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