I love, love, love doing school activities with my children! I began working with each of my children in an intentional way several months before their third birthday. Teachable moments often occur throughout the day to day routine, but I now treat my “school time” with my children as though I were still in the classroom, using a planner and a range of resources to develop curriculum and activities. I was a classroom teacher prior to becoming a mother, and doing learning activities with my children is one of the most rewarding parts of motherhood for me…helps me stay connected to who I was before the kids, and also provides such rich interactions….awesome memories…SO many teachable moments…If you’ve never tried doing intentional, planned “school” with your children, I want to encourage you to give it a try! Check out my post on Homeschooling Preschool (which includes a copy of my downloadable and printable weekly planner!) I love teaching thematically…I believe teaching with a central theme not only provides a more memorable and engaging experience for your child, but also helps to unify the curriculum, as you can incorporate your theme into your literacy work, math activities, science experiments, etc. I always recommend choosing themes that align with your child’s interests. Right now, my kids are really into dinosaurs! So many of you have asked me to detail what a typical “school week” looks like for our family, and I thought my dinosaur unit was a great fit for the current “No Girls Allowed” event!
I will try to break down some of the activities we do each week. (Each of these categories is listed on my printable planner!)
Warm-Up: Each day, I begin our school time with a warm-up activity. I treat our warm-up time the same way I treated “circle time” when I was in the classroom. My kids (5 and 3) and I gather around our bulletin board/calendar. Each day looks relatively the same, which helps with continuity and allows younger children to settle in, as they know what to expect. Routine is key! We do a basic calendar routine (sing days of the week, put up the new calendar piece, count, talk about patterns, say the letters in the month/day, etc etc) I also do a word family each week. For dino week the word family was the IG family (since dinos are BIG!) I hang up the I and G flash cards, and then we see how many other words we can add to the family (dig,pig, big, rig, etc etc) By the end of the week, my five year old can read a whole new list of words, and my three year old knows a handful of new letters and few new words. Repetition works! We also review our weekly poem at warm-up each day.
Theme Introduction: I like to use a fun book, story, rhyme, song, etc to introduce the kids to the theme of the week. Most of the time, I will almost always introduce our poem of the week during this time, and also read a fun read-aloud. For dinosaur week, our poem was: I’m a Mean Old Dinosaur (sung to the tune of I’m a Little Teapot!) I’m not sure if they originated the idea, but I found this at Preschool Rainbow.
I’m a mean old dinosaur, big and strong.
Here is my tail, here is my claw.
When I get hungry, I just growl (GROWL!)
Watch out kids, I’m on the prowl!
This was sung to the tune of I’m a Little Teapot and of course, we did hand motions! I print out the weekly poem on a half sheet each week, and the kids do some type of illustration on the page. I keep the poems together to create a little poetry book for the kids. They LOVE saying all of their poems, and I have been amazed at how easily even my three year old is retaining the words! (Kids can remember almost anything when you set it to a rhyme or a song! Use song and rhyme to teach facts!!)
Read-Alouds: I do a read-aloud that relates to our theme each day. (Teacher soapbox…When you read a book to your kids, either have them sitting next to you so they can see the pictures at all times, or hold the book in such a way that they can see the pictures as you read. DON’T read the page, and then show the pictures! Kids glean so much information from studying the illustrations. Give them plenty of time to study the pictures as you read!) Here are some of the books we read during dinosaur week!
2. Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff
4. Dinosaur DK Eyewitness Book by David Lambert (These are VERY realistic and somewhat graphic, but have great pictures and lots of interesting facts and info! Just beware that some of the pics in this series of books may be a bit scary for younger/timid kids)
Most libraries will have a good selection of non-fiction dinosaur books for children. Look in section 567 to find them! I always try to use a good mix of fiction and non-fiction when I select my read-alouds.
Writing: We typically do two focused writing assignments each week. (Although my daughter generally writes in her journal every day…Her journal however is free-form and she may write about whatever she wants to. She can practice writing letters, numbers, words, copy words, try to write using her sounds…it is not a structured assignment..just good practice for her.) Our dinosaurs writing assignments were:
1. My Pet Dinosaur – Inspired by the story Danny and the Dinosaur, each of the kids dictated a story about what their pet dinosaur would be like! This was REALLY fun. Getting your kids in the habit of just telling stories and responding to story prompts is HUGE! In the classroom, many of my students would often say things like, “I don’t know how to think of a story,” or “I don’t have any ideas,” etc, etc. ..Teaching your children how to use their imagination, select details, develop ideas, and respond to a question or idea is a BIG skill! Don’t think that just because they aren’t writing the words themselves that they aren’t learning writing skills! (Of course, as my children get older, they will be required to do the writing on their own!)
Here is an example of one of their stories:
T-Rex is my dinosaur. He claws and eats garbage. He wants to play trains with me and cars. He wants to sleep with me. He likes to play rocks outside. He is happy and nice.
2. Dinosaur Poetry- I had my kids write a poem about dinosaurs. We read a lot of poetry books, so they know that poetry does NOT have to rhyme! It can be a collection of words and ideas that center around one topic.
Dinosaurs are big and strong. Clawing through the forest. Stomp stomp stomp. Run run away. Look out for his teeth! Dinosaurs are gone.
Chapter Book: We typically end our school time each day with me reading to the kids from a chapter book. If you’re skeptical about reading a chapter book to your younger children, TRY it! When I made the switch from second grade to kindergarten, my colleagues told me that kindergartners would never sit still for a chapter book…I was more than ready to prove everyone wrong, and I did! For 20 minutes each day, I had a SILENT classroom (which is impressive for 25 five year olds..) There is magic in chapter books…My own kids (again 5 and barely 3) sat perfectly still through 10 straight chapters of a book today…For our dinosaur unit, I wanted to read a chapter book that related back to our theme, and selected The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. If you’ve never read this story, check it out from your library…your kids will LOVE finding out what is inside the egg! (It’s no chicken!)Theme Art: I do one bigger art project each week where we focus in on the theme. This week, I let the kids do freestyle painting on a large sheet of white construction paper. Then, I let my oldest child draw the body of her dinosaur, and cut the body for my younger son. Their dinosaurs were completely creative and unique! I love letting them loose with art supplies, and enjoy the rule of “anything goes when it comes to art!”
Cooking: We do a cooking project each week. We made (well attempted) dinosaur eggs this week. I used my Easter egg Jell-O molds (I have a weird thing for Jell-o molds btw…)We filled our molds up (after using some baking spray first!) with strawberry Jell-o and a small (washed) plastic dinosaur, and waited until they firmed up. Our eggs fell apart a bit this time (I have had them come out perfectly before though!) However, my kids were not deterred by their appearance! They thought it was so much fun to eat their dino eggs!
My son LOVED this snack! (And check out the shirt he is rocking from Starfish Kidz! (One of the awesome No Girls Allowed Sponsors!)
Movie: I like to show the kids one movie that is related to our theme each week. It is fun to actually use the tv as an educational tool once in awhile! We sit and talk about what we watched, and often will journal about what we saw as well. This week, I checked out the Dinosaurs DK Eyewitness DVD from the library. Again, it was a bit graphic in spots, but my kids really liked the imagery and getting to see “real” dinosaurs. You could of course go with a classic like, “The Land Before Time” and then discuss what type of dinosaur each of the characters is, what they eat, if they would have truly gotten along, etc. etc. (We watch that movie all the time, so I wanted to change it up!) The PBS series Dinosaur Train is also a great option! (It is also streaming on Netflix!)
Several of the other dinosaur activities that I tied into our school week were….
1. Dinosaur bingo! I created dinosaur cards and boards (using google images and Word), with a handful of dinosaurs I wanted the kids to learn about. We reviewed the names of the dinosaurs each morning at Warm-up, and then played the game on Thursday and Friday during Warm-up. The kids love any type of bingo, and I am amazed now that a week or two later, they are saying things like, “That dinosaur is an apatosaurus mom.” Crazy how much kids can retain when they are having fun!
2. Dinosaur Graphing! I created a dinosaur graph for my daughter do complete. This was her first bar graph we had done in our schooling, and it was exciting to see her be so excited about it. I placed the dinosaurs we had been working with at the bottom, along with their height. On the y axis (vertical column) I had numbers moving up incrementally. Hannah had to fill in the graph appropriately, coloring in the correct number of bars for each dinosaur. Then, we were able to use ordinal words such as first, second, third, etc. and also words such as tallest, shortest, etc. This is really a two for one assignment! Dinosaur Graph
Our reading lessons are generally not theme related, as I like to move at Hannah’s pace, and use the readers and reading resources available that best fit with her learning needs. We do “Folder” work each day as well, and I found 2 or 3 dinosaur worksheets on the internet that fit well with my kids. I don’t like to use a lot of worksheets (find out why HERE), so I tend to just pick one or two that really fit our needs. I chose one that worked on scissor skills for my son as well as one that supported one to one matching and number recognition.
I will be sharing several other week’s worth of lesson plans for you over the next couple of weeks! I hope that a few of these ideas will inspire or help you as you start to work with your kids! Have fun!!