Pre-reading Fun

Fiona has asked me to help her learn to read and since she’ll be turning 5 in the fall, I know that it will all start clicking for her in the next year or so.  We don’t use a formal reading curriculum to teach the kids to read.  With all of the older four, we just did lots of reading readiness in the form of reading together, playing letter games, having fun with phonics, doing early writing, and so on.

I found a fish puppet in the broom closet the other day as I was trying to reorganize.  Of course, there was a fish puppet in our broom closet!  🙂  I had also picked up a bag of assorted decks of kids’ games at a thrift store that week, and there happened to be a deck of letter cards in there.  Voila!  A pre-reading game came together!

I posted a pic online and on the Magical Homeschool page, if you want to peek.

Today's reading practice. Fiona has asked me to do more all day. I just made a game of feeding letter cards to a fish puppet I found to help him spell words. We also are spelling words with the cards and she wanted to write the words.

Today’s reading practice. Fiona has asked me to do more all day. I just made a game of feeding letter cards to a fish puppet I found to help him spell words. We also are spelling words with the cards and she wanted to write the words.

I explained:

Here’s how we play games to help learn reading. This particular one involved a puppet I happened to find in a closet as I was cleaning. I had some letter flash cards so I made a game with Fiona where the fish puppet would ask in a silly voice for her to feed him things that started with each letter. She’d have to find the letter and then he’d gobble it. Then we moved on to spelling words for him, such as HI. She ran and got her colored pencils and paper and wanted to copy the words, so she wrote simple words such as HI, MOON and CAT that we “fed” to the fish. We also used the cards to change words, such as changing MOON to SOON by moving one letter.

I was going to post more, but my noisy crowd (well, those who aren’t off at the ocean) just got back from pageant rehearsal and mayhem has once again ensued.

I have promised Fiona that we will continue to do some sort of reading fun together just about every day.  I’ll keep updating here with a peek at what we do.




Snow Days


We’ve been snowed in for two days with a winter blizzard that’s led to closed highways and canceled plans.  While I’ll be awfully tired of this business in a month or two, I kind of like this part of Minnesota winters for now.

We’re forced to slow down, stay home and do cozy things like read, play games and bake.  I take long baths and browse seed catalogs to plan my spring and summer gardens.  I use up apples, pears, berries and pumpkin puree that we put up last summer and fall in homemade muffins and gluten free mix and match snack cakes.  We watch silly British math shows.  The kids have tickle fights and show each other funny videos.

We picked up this geography game for 99 cents at a thrift store and finally got around to playing it yesterday. It was quite old and exceptionally well made, and luckily every piece was still there. It led to quite a lot of great learning about geography and history for Jack,  Victoria and even me.


This morning, I set the little ones up with a giant bin of snow and ice cube trays of colored water.  They had so much fun mixing colors and experimenting with making tunnels with water.


Later, Victoria did marshmallow homeschool with Jack, Fiona and Alex while they warmed up with hot cocoa after shoveling the driveway.  She asked them questions related to math, social studies and spelling for them to earn marshmallows (examples for Jack: What’s the difference between a slave and an indentured servant?  If 4x + 4 = 20, what is x?).  She googled questions for various grades in order to come up with good questions.  My kids always love doing marshmallow or chocolate chip homeschool.  Afterwards, Jack asked me to do more algebra with him (no treats involved).


Hopefully, we’ll be able to dig our way out in the next day or so.  If not, I can live with a longer break from the outside world.  We have plenty of groceries, a warm house and a nearly endless supply of games, books, shows, Pinterest crafts and other goodies that I’ve been meaning to get to for far too long now (which led to last February’s Use it Up challenge).  🙂

Stay warm!

Beanie Baby Biology Class

Beany Baby Science

Here’s a fun way to learn about animals in all kinds of ways.

We’ve started a collection of animal beanie babies for the younger kids and it’s turned into such a fun and educational collection.

We get them at thrift stores for about .50 each on average. They make just about every species you can think of.

We have a robin, moose, fox, beetle, rhino, loon, starfish, zebra, aardvark, dragonfly, squirrel, goldfish, seal, lobster, elephant, butterfly, gecko, snake, blue jay, flamingo, giraffe, poodle, ladybug, fox, wolf, black bear, raccoon, koala , octopus and lots more.

We keep them in a large basket in the living room and just about every day we find a new way to make an educational game out of them.

For instance, I’ve asked the little ones if they can sort by whether they live on land or water, the ones who lay eggs from the ones who give birth, by birds and bugs and mammals and so on.

Or sort by how many legs they have, whether they have scales or fur or feathers, whether they hibernate, whether they’re carnivores or omnivores or herbivores, or whether they can be found in our part of the world……

There are so many ways to use them.  I’m thinking we could even work language arts and such in (sort by syllables in their names or whether they start with vowels) and social studies (sort by continents).  You get the idea!

Fiona (four) loves to line them up and make up her own games with them too. And since they are pretty small, they don’t take up much room.

They also work for bean bag games and are fun to toss back into the basket to clean up.  🙂

All five of the kids now look at every thrift store we visit to see if there are any new ones to add to our collection.  Even I have fun looking for fun new species to add!


Felt Foods!

While we were in Nebraska a few weeks ago, Toria happened upon a stash of felt that Tiffany wasn’t using.  With Tiffany’s blessing, she used some to make a little felt waffle for Fiona, dents and all.  And then a little felt strawberry, and then a felt orange wedge, and then a felt strawberry (complete with little embroidered seeds!) and then felt salad ingredients and felt pizza ingredients and on and on.

felt3Fiona ended up with an entire set of darling felt food, and Toria made a set for Tiffany’s two year-old daughter, Millie, too.

She made so much that we had to run out and buy her more felt.

It was a darling project and both girls loved their new play foods.

feltfelt4(No, she doesn’t need glasses, she just likes to swipe my reading glasses!)

I’ll have her share some tips when she’s back from Oregon, and I’ll post better pictures then.  Fun stuff!


Another Nebraska Getaway


We were lucky enough to get to spend another week at the fabulous Baker house in Nebraska last week, and it was a wonderful break.

The original plan was for me to go down with just Fiona and Anna since Daryl and the boys have pageant practice, but Alex missed me so badly that Daryl brought him and Jack down to join us a couple of days later.

Tiffany is doing day care out of her home now, and it was fun getting to help out.  Most of her day care kids are around toddler and preschool age, so they were great fun for Fiona to play with.

There was lots of painting, lots of messes and lots of chaos (though still less than there generally is in my house with just my kids!).  🙂

The big kids even joined in the day care fun on some days!


The theme for the week was dinos, and we did all sorts of dino-related fun such as……

  • Drawing the length of an apatosaurus on the sidewalk and marking its stride, and then seeing how long the kids’ stride was in comparison.
  • Having dino snacks (carrot sticks carved like dino teeth, hard boiled eggs, etc.).
  • Reading dino books.
  • Singing a dino song each day about herbivores, carnivores and omnivores (we considered it a great success when Kennedy was overheard singing “carni, carni, carnivore….” on Friday).
  • Cutting out life-sized T-rex feet and putting them on the dining room wall at the proper spacing for how far apart their footsteps were (it took up the whole wall!).
  • And so on!

I’ll try to post some examples after I download the pics from my camera.

I’m inspired to do some themes around here each week now, even for the bigger kids.  Some of the ideas I have are seeds, space, fire, continents, oceans, mammals, fish, birds, invertebrates, amphibians, weather, the periodic table, colors and senses.  I am thinking of having a different general theme each week, and maybe doing lots of science themes too — magnets, electricity, evolution, etc.

As always, Tiffany’s house has inspired me to try even harder to get organized too.  Hope springs eternal.  😉

A Quick Little Learning-to-Read Game

read Here’s an example of how we play with words to help our kids learn to read.

This is a game Alex and I played yesterday.  I’ve done something similar with all of the kids and it always works well and is fun.

I wrote and illustrated 15 sets of words (drawings on blue, words on yellow) and then I just spread them all out and have him look for pairs.

Our words (short and easy to draw) were hand, sun, moon, egg, ball, flag, fish, owl, boot, door, cup, car, leaf, bug, hat and tree.

Owl ended up being a fail. My owl looked like a buddha.  😉

Later on, the game can be played concentration style (flipped over, try to remember where matches are) but when kids are newly learning to read, just spread them out facing up.

Have the child look for matches.  Try not to help much, other than when asked for help remembering how to sound out letters.

Alex (5) was able to figure them all out with occasional reminders about letter sounds.

He can read MUCH easier in this sort of way than just sitting and sounding words out. As a matter of fact, when I just flipped through the cards afterwards, he got very frustrated trying to read the same words he had just matched up.

The pictures give just the right amount of help to let kids see themselves as successful readers.

He really enjoyed it and was very proud of his stack of accomplished words.

When our kids learned to read:

Victoria sounded her first word out (boo) at three and was reading fluently at four. 

Anna was nearly six when it really clicked. 

Jack was five. 

Alex is five now and I think he will be six before it really clicks.

We did not use a phonics curriculum, How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Bob books or any of that.

We read to our kids a lot, we played phonics games, we talked about letter sounds and we let it happen naturally.  (See the articles below for more examples.)

It’s important to note that all of our older kids are voracious readers now (at 9, 13 and 14).

Remember that when a child learns to read has no bearing on how well the child will eventually read. Children walk, talk, read and learn to use the potty at their own paces.

If you do “walking lessons” with a baby who is not ready to walk, I sure hope you make it fun.  It will not help the baby walk much sooner and is completely unnecessary.

Reading lessons are the same.  If you’re going to use phonics curricula and reading lessons with a young child, do be sure to make it fantastically fun.  🙂





10 Fun Ways We've Learned and Played Lately

What a summer it’s been so far!  I’ve never been this pregnant in the summer and I have to say I planned it well the other four times!  🙂  Since we don’t have central air, it gets very hot in our two story house (especially on the second floor where my computer is) and I can’t believe how much the heat affects me.  My gardens, house, cooking, homeschooling and writing are all taking hits!

Nonetheless, we did do some fun things homeschool-wise lately.  Here’s some…

1.  We went strawberry picking and froze many bags of prepped strawberries, plus canned lots of strawberry jam.  I also started to pass out at the weigh station (me and that heat again!), which was a little unnerving!

2.  We saw our little girl (and the chambers of her heart, her brain and other organs) on the ultrasound.  🙂

3.  We went to a local art gallery and got inspiration, posed by our favorite pieces, etc.  I also wrote up lots of fun ways to use art galleries in your homeschool here (the creative writing assignment is next up for us).

4.  Anna got to ride on the float for our heritage museum in the city parade.  She’s also helped Daryl a lot at the museum during open hours and with prep work.

5.  We made ice treasures and used sticks, salt, spray bottles and more to get the treasures from them.  For more on that project, click here.

6.  The kids have been doing lots of swimming (note that they’re jumping off the lifeguard bench that’s usually high up on the beach on the sand!).

7.  Victoria and Anna have been doing lots of photography, as usual.  This one is by Victoria and I love it!

8.  We’ve been doing lots of canning, cooking and using fresh produce.  Here’s pickled radishes and rhubarb-lemon juice (in recycled wine bottles).

9.  Alex and I are alone most nights while Daryl and the bigger kids are off at rehearsal, so I’ve been arranging lots of busy activities for him.  One hit was giving him a muffin tin half filled with baking soda and half filled with colored vinegar.  He got to experiment with reactions and also color mixing!

10. Reading a billion books!

I also wrote up Summer homeschooling — Fun ways to mix things up in the summer time and hope to do some more interesting things soon.  If only it would cool down a couple of dozen degrees!  😉