Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

In the Good Ol’ Summer Time

Little Bear has been begging to go to the park — not my favorite place to be in 100-degree weather! But as we tackled the letter Ss this week, sun, swings, slides, seesaws, sunshine, and smiles seemed to be in order. So we rolled out of bed a bit earlier than usual this Saturday morning and headed to the park for some Ss-inspired fun:

Seesaw, seesaw …

Ss is for swing …

… and smile!

Ss is for sand

Ss is for slide


And again …

Ss is for skip

We rounded out the day’s fun by crafting silly faces for Mrs. Potato Head, splashing in the pool this afternoon, and enjoying the following read-alouds before bedtime:

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Sun, Moon, Stars, and Snakes

As we continue to work the kinks out of our workbox system, I’m trying to find a system that sets a rhythm for our days, while still leaving Little Bear with plenty of freedom to choose activities that interest her. At present, I’m making the first three drawers — Bible, calendar time, and math or phonics — mandatory, then allowing her to choose among the activities in the other drawers.

The Letter Ss

Today’s Bible time consisted of reading the story of Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors from My First Hands-On Bible, recalling gifts that we had gotten from other people, and talking about how God demonstrated His love for mankind by giving us the gift of His Son Jesus. During calendar time, I pulled out a box of number flashcards and challenged Little Bear to identify numerals 0-20 in random order. Then, we tackled our academic drawer of the day — reviewing and writing the letter Ss.

Phonics often proves challenging with Little Bear. She knows her letters and sounds and has known them for a couple of years. But she struggles with writing her letters … and she’s a perfectionist. Each time we tackle a new letter of the week, I find myself searching for ways to make our studies interesting while still giving her plenty of opportunities to practice letter formation in a fun, non-threatening manner.

Today’s workbox included a copy of My “s” Sound Box by Jane Belk Moncure, a couple of beginning sound worksheets, modeling clay, and a capital S handwriting worksheet. Little Bear loves the Sound Box readers, and today’s volume was in my opinion one of the best we’ve encountered in the series. The beginning sounds worksheets primarily served as an exercise in following directions and an opportunity for Little Bear to practice her fine motor skills by drawing lines, circling objects, and coloring pictures — all tasks she finds less daunting than letter formation. The handwriting worksheet, however, I knew would be her least favorite activity. So to add some novelty to simple writing practice, I re-introduced rainbow writing. I gave Little Bear a yellow marker, a red marker, and a blue marker, then told her she only needed to do the first row of today’s worksheet, tracing the letter S three times. The challenge, I told her, was that she needed to trace all three S’s in all three colors, going from lightest (yellow) to darkest (blue). … And so she did. Happily. Quickly. And neatly. Markers may well be Mommy’s new best friend!

The modeling clay, of course, proved to be her favorite activity. As a toddler, one of Little Bear’s favorite action rhymes was as follows:

I saw a slippery, slithery snake,
Sliding through the grasses, making them shake.
He looked at me with his beady eyes.
“Go away from my pretty green garden,” said I.
“Ssssss!” said the slippery, slithery snake,
As he slid through the grasses, making them shake.

Today, Little Bear got a chance to roll out some slippery, slithery modeling clay snakes (conveniently shaped like s’s) and put them in her pretty green clay garden:

Ss is for Snake

The highlight of the day, however, came as we embarked on our Solar System theme study. We read What’s Out There?: A Book about Spaceas an introduction to our study, then dove hands first into a tub of squishy, tactile fun and discovery:

Solar system sensory tub

Little Bear spent a solid hour digging through the cold water beads and water crystals, finding astronauts and spaceships, stars and planets, meteorites and even a comet. She scooped and poured and arranged to her heart’s content. At last, she allowed that she was done, but only after asking and ensuring that she could play again “tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.”

Solar system pattern stamping

After play time, pool time, and dinner time, a slightly-bored Little Bear once more explored her “optional” workboxes and discovered a stamping activity. She entertained herself by completing the patterns and filling another page with stamps (engaging in some accidental ink mixing in the process), while Mommy and Daddy enjoyed this week’s episode of “Eureka” on demand.

We wrapped up the day with yet more solar system-themed reading in lieu of more traditional bedtime stories — Little Bear’s choice, not mine:

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Good-bye, Insects!

Over the past two weeks, Little Bear has gone full circle from shrieking and running at the sight of a bug, to squealing and running after any insect foolish enough to cross her path. We now have to rescue bugs from the pool … and the apartment … and the hot sidewalk.

Given her new-found fascination with critters who creep or crawl, moving on to another theme has proven more challenging than I anticipated. We squeezed as much bug fun as possible into the weekend, but still had a handful of untouched projects in our workboxes. We spent the morning at the library, rounding up books for our upcoming study of the solar system, then came home and shelved those books so that we could (at Little Bear’s request) spend one more day on bugs.

Little Bear practiced writing the number five and used bug stickers to make groups of five.

We made insects out of Play-Doh. We made sure that we gave each one a head, a thorax, and abdomen, and six pipe cleaner legs.

Little Bear and her ladybug car

We curled up together with a copy of Usborne’s The Big Bug Searchand hunted for bugs as long as Little Bear’s 3-year-old attention span allowed. (Mommy appreciated being able to hunt for bugs from the air-conditioned comfort of the recliner after last week’s repeated outdoor bug hunts in the sweltering Texas heat!)

Little Bear colored a ladybug, completed her wipe-off insect-themed tracing pages yet again, and completed bee and butterfly lacing cards.

We pulled out our last insect-themed craft kit (a ladybug car) and followed directions to assemble it. We stocked up on Alex Little Hands Craft Kits during Barnes & Noble’s Black Friday sale last year, and while I’ve been less than thrilled with some of the kits, Little Bear loves them — to the point that I’ll probably pick up another half dozen or so the next time they’re half price. Just look at her showing off her car. How could any mom resist that smile?… even if the glue included with the kits isn’t worth using, even if the stickers are somewhat thin, even if the projects require a little more adult assistance than this non-crafty Mommy might like!

Last but not least, we shared the following read-alouds (along with several chapters of The Bobbsey Twins and the Mystery at Snow Lodge):


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The Week Ahead: Letter Ss and the Solar System

For the first time in several weeks, I actually had time to sit down and plan activities for the week BEFORE Monday morning rolled around. We have a full week ahead of us even before adding any of these activities to the agenda, and as always, everything on this list is subject to Little Bear’s interest/approval. (I don’t believe in forcing learning on anyone, especially not a 3-year-old!) That said, here’s what I’d like to see us accomplish over the next week … or two:

The Letter Ss
Decorate the letter Ss with star stickers. Form the letter Ss with small sticks.

Bible: Read the story of Samson and discuss how Samson’s strength came from God. Memorize Matthew 6:33.

Letter Lunch: Sandwich, string cheese, squash, sunflower seeds, strawberries

Fine motor skills: Trace stencils. Use stamps. Practice using scissors.

Gross motor skills: Learn to skip. Dance with streamers.

Math: Sort objects by color, shape, and size. Review shapes. Create patterns using teaspoons and soup spoons.

Music: Learn “Seek Ye First” and “S-M-I-L-E.”

Language Arts: Play storytelling games. Use finger puppets to tell stories. Play “I Spy.” Read the following stories:

Science: Learn about the solar system. Experiment with sound and play sound bingo.

Social studies: Review basic rules of safety.

Solar System

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All work and no play …

After a painfully tedious morning yesterday (handwriting is NOT among Little Bear’s favorite activities), I wanted today to be fun and affirming. I filled our workboxes with tasks I knew she would enjoy and be able to complete successfully. Then, I gave her free reign over the day and told her that we could do as much or as little work as she liked and that she could complete tasks in any order she liked. Just as our day began, though, Daddy Bear glanced outside and noticed that the sprinklers were on. Little Bear has been begging to play in the sprinklers for the past two months, but the handful of times they’ve been turned on, we’ve either been gone or on our way out the door. Today, she got to run and play to her heart’s content:

Summer fun!

‘C’mon, Sister!’

Shared fun is the best fun!

Baby Bear wasn’t sure what to make of the intermittent, upside down “rain,” so Little Bear led her straight to the heart of the action. … And she loved it!

The girls played for about half an hour, til their clothes were soaked through and the light morning breeze made them feel chilly despite the West Texas summer heat. So, we headed inside for warm baths, dry clothes, and a second attempt at starting our school day.

Given the freedom to choose any of our workbox activities, Little Bear allowed that we needed to start with our Bible story. So we finished reading Rebekah The Mother Of Twins, which we’d begun the day before. Of all the stand-alone Bible story books we have, the Bibletime series by Carine Mackenzie are among the most accurate. They’re detailed enough, however, that we usually divide them into a couple of days and add in related activities. Yesterday, Little Bear opted to act out the story, pulling a wooden camel out of her basket of animals and pretending to draw water for it as Rebekah did for Abraham’s servant, instead of coloring the related coloring page I’d stuck in the bin. Today, she remembered the coloring page and wanted to make “rainbow camels” (along with rainbow everything else …) after we finished the book.

She pulled out the calendar time drawer next and said that we needed to add today’s number to our calendar pocket chart, but that she didn’t really want to do any other calendar time activities today. That was fine by me. After all, this was her day to pick and choose, and I’d told her I would follow her lead.

Then came the drawer I’d expected her to pull out first, a long-awaited ladybug craft from our Alex Toys Paper Plate Bugs kit.

Ladybug, ladybug

She needed a bit of assistance positioning the wings and gluing on the popsicle stick legs. Beyond that, she did most of the work alone, and her face clearly reflected the joy of a job well done.

After the craft project, Little Bear and I paused for lunch. Not one to be left out, Baby Bear opted to combine lunchtime with some fine motor skills practice of her own:

Honing those fine motor skills …

Thankfully, the blueberries had been washed before she helped herself to the container and appropriated her sister’s desk!

Workbox #4

Which one is shining brighter?

Following lunch, Little Bear selected a drawer that contained a copy of Sam and the Firefly along with a Lauri Toys Dot-2-Dot Lacing Bugs firefly card. Both girls crawled up in my lap to enjoy the story, though Baby Bear lost interest about halfway through the book. Little Bear loves this particular book and has heard it countless times over, but never seems to lose interest. Today, she helped read the text in the illustrations, although I’m not sure whether she was reading the words or simply reciting them from memory.

Next, we tackled the firefly project. Little Bear found the number 1 on the card, pointed to it, and asked me to get her started. Then, she was off with careful in-and-out action. Lacing cards have yet to become a favorite activity, but she’ll do them happily enough — and unbeknownst to her, she’s practicing the same motor skills that she needs for handwriting.

Workbox #5

Little Bear continued her fine motor work by independently completing the tasks in her fifth workbox of choice, which contained cutting, tracing, and coloring activities. After yesterday’s number writing task ended in tears, I was not at all sure that she’d want to tackle the tracing book today. To my surprise, she completed not only the activity I’d selected, but four more pages besides. Apparently, writing is a lot more pleasant when it involves dry erase crayons and brightly-colored wipe-off books!

After completing the 5th box, she took a well-deserved break and watched a couple of episodes of Team Umizoomi. Then the cubs braved the heat and heat outside for some afternoon sand play:

Never underestimate the magic of sun ‘n’ sand!

They came back in with flushed cheeks, ready to play in the cool of the living room and enjoy some random read-alouds. Then, fueled by her successes earlier in the day, Little Bear asked to do some pages in her just-for-fun Let’s Create workbook. She’s beyond the academic content of this book, but still loves completing the fun activities and choosing a “good job” sticker for each page completed. And while she may know her numbers, colors, and so forth, anything that builds her confidence and encourages her to write, draw, trace, or color is a GOOD thing.

The day ended, as usual, with a relaxing evening in the pool and another chapter in our current Bobbsey Twin read-aloud before bedtime.

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Flag Day

Baby Bear gave us all a scare yesterday, going down for an early nap and refusing to wake up for the rest of the day. At the urging of an on-call nurse, I ended up taking her into the ER about 10 p.m. last night. Much poking and prodding resulted in no real answers, but assurance that she appeared to be healthy aside from the mysterious sleepiness.

Shw finally woke up about 8:30 this morning and hit the ground running. Little Bear did likewise. Mommy Bear, who’d gotten to bed about 3 a.m., wasn’t quite so bright-eyed and alert. In fact, June 14th — Flag Day — didn’t even register on my radar until I started to dress the girls.

“There’s no red, white, or blue in these outfits,” Little Bear said indignantly.

“What?” I asked, still suffering from brain fog.

“We have to wear red, white, and blue for Flag Day,” Little Bear insisted.

We’d been counting down to Flag Day and learning about the flag all week, but on the day itself, Mommy almost forgot! One quick wardrobe adjustment and a couple of workbox switch-outs later, we were ready to celebrate:

  • We began the day by adding June 14th to our calendar and counting out the date in red, white, and blue Duplos. Little Bear then used the blocks to create an ABC pattern.
  • We reviewed the Pledge of Allegiance and took time to count the stripes and stars on our flag.
  • We looked at a timeline of U.S. flags and saw how the number of stars increased as states were added to the Union.
  • We re-read the flag-themed books we’d read earlier in the week:

Beyond that, our only academic task of the day was a math lesson, which involved writing the numeral 4. Little Bear formed the numeral with MagnaTiles, traced it on her Magna-Doodle, and fashioned it with Wikki Stix with no difficulty. But when it came time to reproduce it on paper, tears ensued. In our house, tears are a sure sign that it’s time to take a break. We finished the task at hand, then put all school-related materials away for the day.

The girls spent the afternoon playing indoors and out. We finished reading The Bobbsey Twins’ Mystery at School. Then, we ended the day with some pool time. Tomorrow, we regroup and move forward.

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Working with Workboxes

We’ve been using our new workbox system for just a few days, but it’s already improved the “flow” of our days. The day’s work can be laid out (complete with all needed materials) after the cubs go to bed at night, and Little Bear can complete at least part of the day’s work independently — great for those times when Mommy is busy with a teething Baby Bear or laundry or dishes, etc.

Here’s what we tackled today:


We began the day by reading the story of Ruth together. Little Bear then colored her coloring page while I fixed breakfast and sorted laundry.

Calendar Time

Alphabetizing letter beads

We counted up to June 12th using ordinal numbers and added the number 12 to our calendar. We reviewed the days of the week, spelled “Tuesday,” identified yesterday and tomorrow (reviewing the concepts of before and after), and sang our monthly calendar song. We used the marker to fill in our calendar companion chart.

Little Bear then counted out twelve alphabet beads, corresponding to the date, and put them in alphabetical order. We used the beads to practice ordinal numbers (“Which letter is first?” “Which letter is tenth?” etc.) and review initial/final sounds (“Which sound do you hear first in ‘walrus,’ ‘watermelon,’ and ‘wave’?” “Which sound do you hear last in ‘car’ and ‘door’?”). Last but not least, Little Bear sorted the beads by color and strung the red and yellow beads in an AB pattern.

Bug hunt

Observing ants


We’ve attempted this activity for the past three days with only limited success. Apparently, even the bugs think it’s too hot to be outside right now! (With triple digit highs, who can blame them???) Little Bear did spot a couple of ants outside an ant hill yesterday, but we’ve had better luck finding bugs in the pool lately than on the ground. Of course, as far as the girls are concerned, any excuse to get outside is a good one, no matter how hot the weather. Today’s bug hunt morphed into sandbox time with the neighbor kids, always a good thing!


We’re still painstakingly working our way through some number formation (aka handwriting) pages in math — NOT Little Bear’s favorite activity. In an effort to make the tedious writing practice more palatable, I try to include a “fun” activity with each day’s writing practice. Today, she got to use Wikki Stix to shape numbers 1-5 after completing her handwriting practice.

Motor work

After math came more fine motor work, this time of a more pleasant nature. Little Bear used a magnetic fishing pole to “catch” the bugs in her puzzle, then tried putting them back the same way. (She ultimately decided it was easier to use her hands.) Next, she completed a couple of insect-themed sticker pages.


Our final box went uncompleted today. Little Bear crawled up in my lap to read more in our current chapter book read-aloud, The Bobbsey Twins’ Mystery at School, while Baby Bear napped. We ended up reading until Baby Bear woke up. (It’s hard to find a good stopping place in a mystery!) By then, the girls were ready for snacks, play time, and pool time. One more thing I love about the workbox system: Anything we don’t finish one day will still be sitting there, ready for us to tackle the next day.

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All in a Day’s Work

In an effort to organize our (usually) happy chaos, I set up a workbox system this past week while Little Bear was at Vacation Bible School. VBS ended yesterday, so today was the first test of the new system. All in all, I’d say it went pretty well. The girls were scheduled for photographs this morning, and by the time we left that appointment, Baby Bear was in sore need of a nap. Despite not starting on the day’s work until after lunch, Little Bear still …

  • reviewed months, days, before/after, and ordinal numbers during calendar time. We also counted out eight Magna-Tiles (since today was the eighth), divided the stack in half, used the tiles to find various number combinations that equaled eight, and created an AB pattern with the tiles.
  • completed coloring, cutting, pasting, and paper-folding activities.
  • reviewed the letter Rr. We read Rosey Rabbit’s Radish, the Alpha Tales letter Rr story, and hunted for /r/ words throughout the book. Little Bear completed a visual discrimination worksheet, coloring all the spaces that contained R or r, and a beginning sounds worksheet, cutting and pasting pictures that began with /r/. She also practiced writing both uppercase and lowercase Rr on her Magna-Doodle.
  • used a magnetic fishing pole to “catch” the bugs on her Melissa & Doug Deluxe Magnetic Bug Catching Game — more fine motor practice! She identified each of the bugs as well.
  • reviewed the characteristics of an insect, examined a roly-poly, and discovered that roly-polys are not insects.
  • shared in the following read-alouds in our ongoing bug study:

We had a “relatively” cool day, with highs only in the low 90s. Next week’s forecast calls for triple digit weather, so we also spent as much time outside today as possible. Little Bear enjoyed an hour of sand play and fun with the neighbor kids while Baby Bear napped. We headed out again after lunch for another half an hour of fun with the girls’ ride-on toys. Last but not least, we hit the pool this evening for one more hour of fresh air and active play before dinner and bedtime routine.

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Growing Up

Little Bear has been attending Vacation Bible School this week with one of her friends. She gets nervous about going in her regular Sunday School class at our church when there are, in her words, “too many kids,” so I was not at all sure how she would handle the chaos of VBS at an unfamiliar church where she knew only one other child. She wanted to go, though, so we decided to give it a try. … She not only made it through the week, but thoroughly enjoyed it. She came home each day, eager to tell us about her morning and sing the songs she was learning.

Coincidentally, the church was raising money to buy mosquito nets to help protect children in a developing nation from malaria. Along with being a great project, this activity meshed beautifully with our insect theme. As Little Bear has grown more interested in insects, she’s asked the obvious questions of “So, why are people scared of insects?” and “Why do people hurt insects?” It’s one thing to tell her that bees sting, locusts destroy, and mosquitoes carry diseases. It’s altogether different for her to truly catch a glimpse of the harm that such tiny creatures can do.

For now, we’re spending some time distinguishing between helpful and harmful insects. Moving beyond this week’s theme, though, I think we’ll be pulling A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World off the shelf in coming weeks and once again reflecting on how greatly blessed we are.

On a lighter note, we did find time for a bit of schoolwork after Little Bear got home from VBS today. Today’s activities included …

  • tracing a bee’s path to its hive, cutting along the path of a firefly, and completing coloring, pasting, and paper-folding activities.
  • reading about racoons in our Christian Liberty Nature Reader, re-reading The Kissing Hand for the umpteenth time, practicing uppercase R formation, and coloring a picture of a raccoon.
  • playing a quick game of Funny Bugs Dominoes.
  • learning about tropical insects and completing two insect-themed spreads in our Jungle World sticker book.
  • sharing the following read-alouds:
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Bugs, Slugs, and Summer Fun

Little Bear has recently developed a fear of all things that creep, crawl, buzz, and fly. After spending about a week listening to screams of “Bee!” every time something buzzed, crawled, or floated past her, I decided that it was time for some insect education. I wasn’t too sure, though, how Little Bear would react to the subject I’d selected for our next theme study. So I pulled a stack of bright, colorful bug-themed books off the shelf, set them next to our reading chair, then busied myself in the kitchen.

… She took the bait.

No sooner had I started chopping onions than a small face popped around the corner: “Mommy, what are all these books?”

“Oh, they’re just some I was looking at,” I replied.

“For us to read together?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not sure you’d be interested in them.”

“I am interested in them!” she insisted.

“But they’re about bugs,” I maintained, “and you don’t like bugs.”

“Well, I would like learning about bugs,” Little Bear declared.

… We’ve now read a couple of dozen bug-themed books, some of them multiple times. Her favorite has been Bugs and Slugs, a lift-the-flap book published by Usborne. This particular title doesn’t go into great detail about any type of bug, but gives brief descriptions of bees and wasps, spiders, worms, butterflies, flies, ladybugs, ants, slugs, snails, beetles, and centipedes and millipedes. Add colorful illustrations, hidden creatures, and fun trivia, and you’ve got a book that will keep a preschooler’s attention again and again and again. (We’ve read it through at least four times so far!) She’s also thoroughly enjoyed the Backyard Books series by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries. In each beautifully-illustrated volume in this series, readers “become” the creature as they learn about its birth, its unique physical characteristics, its role in the ecosystem, and the dangers it faces. Her only complaint about the books in this series, in fact, was “Why aren’t there more of them?”

Other resources we’ve enjoyed during this study include …

Along with reading about bugs, we’ve been taking times to observe different types of bugs while we’re outside. This morning, Little Bear even got to see a cicada exoskeleton up close. We’ve been counting bugs, adding groups of bugs, and comparing groups of bugs. We also pulled eeBoo Funny Bugs Dominoes out of the closet during Baby Bear’s nap time and enjoyed some insect-themed game time. (Dare I admit that my not-quite-4-year-old won three out of the four games we played?)

I’m not sure how much of all we’ve read Little Bear will actually retain, but becoming more familiar with our buzzing, flying, wriggling, crawling Earth mates does seem to have made her more comfortable around them. As a black-and-yellow stinging something buzzed over us in the pool today, Little Bear looked up and said, “Look, Mommy! It’s a bee! Or is it a wasp?”

My response of “I’m not sure” was deemed unacceptable. “Well, why don’t you look and see?” she asked.

“Um, no,” I replied. “It’s black and yellow. It buzzes. It stings. That’s all I need to know. I am *not* going to get close enough to see whether it’s hairy or bald.”

“Mommy, are you scared of bugs?” she asked.

Sigh. Guess it runs in the family.

Creepy crawlies not withstanding, we did have fun in the pool.

Baby Bear is beginning to swim alone!

Little Bear ... or little fish?

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