Hi friends! I am so very excited to share my first post on the beginning of our homeschool journey! I was homeschooled, all the way until I attended college, and I want to give the BIGGEST shoutout to my mama. She truly did an incredible job teaching my sisters and I, and I am grateful to her every day with all my heart. We were well prepared for college, socialized, (small stab there against the “all homeschoolers are not socially adjusted” stigma) and received a truly well rounded and comprehensive education. Being homeschooled was such a powerful and positive factor in shaping my life that I knew from the beginning I wanted to homeschool my children one day. And, to my heart’s delight, that day has come! Harry and Arabella will be three this November (sorry be right back I have to go sob!) and while we haven’t been having “formal” sessions we’ve been utilizing play based learning, well, since they were born! And, I want to talk a minute about play based learning and why I believe in it so firmly.
Why play based learning?
Young children are literally hard wired to learn through play. If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading this research article by Stuart Lester and Wendy Russell. One statement that stands out to me is that play contributes to ‘flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life’ (Lester & Russell, 2008, p. 9). The term “play” is flexible and there are different types of play, free play, guided play, etc. I personally believe all types are important and contribute to the learning and development process, and I am careful to choose our activities accordingly. I will be sharing different ways I incorporate these types of play in my homeschool posts, often utilizing the same type of activity for several different purposes. I believe it is important for them to learn in both structured and unstructured circumstances. It is important for them to run wild and free in the yard and learn to sit and focus. At this age especially, play based learning is their best friend in practicing and growing their ability to focus. I personally like to start with the structured play (when we are doing structured as part of our day, which we don’t do every day right now) and then let them explore their own creativity freely. I often see them practicing concepts we just learned all on their own, but in their own amazing and creative ways! There is truly nothing like the mind of a child.
As you can tell, I am pretty passionate about play based learning. 😉 I am excited to talk more as our journey goes, but for now I will share a few play based learning activities we’ve been enjoying lately!
Color, Counting and Sorting Practice with Homemade Play Dough/Unstructured Creative Art Time
I LOVE homemade play dough! It takes moments to make, is insanely cheap, and it doesn’t matter if your little ones decide it’s a great snack halfway through! 😉 Let me first share my recipe and then I will share a couple ways we use it!
Homemade Play Dough
1 cup flour (I recommend white for clarity of colors)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (helps prevent drying too fast and improves consistency)
1/4 cup water, extra as needed for malleable consistency
Various colors natural food dye (such as Watkins Assorted Food Coloring, No Artificial Dyes, Red/Yellow/Green/Blue, 1.2 Ounce)
Mix thoroughly, kneading by hand until smooth and pliable. Use natural food coloring a few drops at a time for desired colors.
To use for color practice: I like to make 3-5 colors at a time, and form into little balls (multiple balls per color). We review colors first, and then sort them together (I got a set of little plastic bowls at the grocery that work beautifully. Red balls into the red bowl, etc. This is also a great opportunity to practice counting. After the first sorting session, repeat and count as the balls go into the bowls.
Unstructured art time: For play time after the activity, hand over the colored balls, bowls, and assorted random things you have in your kitchen, and let them have at it. You won’t have lovely clear colors anymore but it doesn’t matter because it’s super cheap and easy to remake next time! (and depending on your colors for the day, might even make unicorn play dough! Voila!) I keep a bag for this ready full of plastic cutlery (kiddo cutlery is great, safe and sturdy) random small plastic animals (dollar section at Target or dollar store!) plastic cookie cutters, tiny plastic trees, anything you can throw in a bowl of soap and hot water and clean off easily. Mine have spent hours playing with an old mushroom box and broth carton lids! Get creative, anything goes!
My favorite thing to do with play dough is to keep a baggie of it and the bag of play dough toys ready and just dump it on the table whenever we need a quick activity (ie, when I’m doing dinner prep/chopping jalapenos/etc) and yes, they help with dinner but that’s for another post. 😉 My littles love sparkles, and since I’m not a huge fan of turning the toilet into a tinkerbell crime scene due to them eating the regular glitter, I highly recommend edible glitter. Super cheap on amazon and you don’t have to worry about them consuming the dangerous sparklies. I love this one: Wilton Edible Glitter, Gold Stars, 0.04 Ounce. It’s about $5 too so it won’t break the bank, and it’s biodegradable (which also means…it melts and disappears! You’re welcome).
Outdoor Treasure Hunt and Painting/Pretend Role Play Activity/Unstructured Pretend Play
All you need for this activity is a basket or bucket, some paint and paintbrushes, (washable is my fav!) and an old shoe box or other smallish box.
We spend a ton of time outdoors doing completely unstructured free play and it’s one of my absolute favorite things (we’ve gone through quite a bit of sand this past summer from them moving it all over the yard and filling the sandbox with water!) but sometimes I like to utilize the wonderful outdoor resources for a structured activity like this one. We grab our baskets or buckets, and go searching to make a rock family. I tell them to choose a mama, a daddy, a sister/brother/baby and put them in the basket. We usually end up with a pretty large family. 😉 (Arabella usually wants hers to be animals). Then we take our boxes and find sticks/leaves/random things to make a house with. I don’t guide this part very much right now, maybe suggest a bed or table. Then we head to the front yard and paint our rock family and transform the boxes into houses. They pretty much take over at this point, and go crazy with the rocks talking and going to bed and eating and all sorts of things that rock people must do.
And no, the houses don’t turn out looking like actual houses and the rocks are not actually people or animals, but that is irrelevant. To them, they are. And that is the whole point right now. And no, the rock picking isn’t always very focused and we get distracted and explore the bushes where the deer live and that is partly the point. Play learning doesn’t need to follow exact steps, as the entire goal is that they learn through growing their play and imagination skills.
By the way, I use washable paint. It means the rocks don’t last but then neither do the houses made of sticks and leaves, so it doesn’t matter. And, I personally love activities we can repeat that don’t end up with a million precious pieces that consequently end up in a million precious piles all over the house. 😉
Cheap plastic toys (I scored and found a collection of Thomas the Tank Engine on Facebook marketplace), a big bucket and some water. Wash cloths and old toothbrushes are a bonus! Let them get their toys dirty in the yard and then clean up. This is always a win with mine! Towels to dry are always fun too!
Music and Dancing
Having been a music teacher for the greater part of my life, I have always been quite passionate about the positive effect music (and dance!) has on the developing brain, and so will often include something music related in these homeschool posts. We incorporate music and movement into many parts of our daily routine, but here are a couple easy favorites. 🙂
I think every mama does this! A few of our favorites right now are The Wheels on the Bus, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, . Currently on Netflix you can find the Mother Goose Club series which has some very fun, colorful episodes, and episodes/audio tracks can be found on Apple music and Amazon prime in several forms, such as Kids Songs from Mother Goose Club. No the singing isn’t straight from an opera house but the costumes are bright and fun, and my little girl could currently sing the Dinosaur Stomp song 50 times a day and not get tired of it.
My kiddos also really enjoy the Music for Little People Toddler Favorites: Special Combo Pak [CD/DVD Combo]. (You can stream these on YouTube!)
My kiddos love their gymnastic classes, and at some point I will also enroll them in dance but for now we’ve been having a lot of fun with a dance along ballet DVD, Petite Feet: Ballet Adventures with Liz. I really can’t say enough good things about Liz and her series for young dancers. It’s fun, imaginitive, creative, easy to follow. Bonus points: she’s not obnoxious, and I love that it is helping prepare them for dance classes in the future.
I hope some of these ideas will be fun for you and your littles, I would love to hear what you thought and any ideas you would be willing to share too! 🙂
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