Monday, May 19, 2008

General Early Childhood Resources

I was thinking through how to help a friend with her oldest starting out in homeschooling, when I remembered I had a document of early childhood resource recommendations. Several people in a row sent me e-mails asking what I would recommend, and I ended up creating a file that I could e-mail, instead of typing the same thing multiple time. Of course, this was before blogging was mainstream (all of, oh, five years ago or so), and that's one of the main reasons why I have this blog now, so here it is. Enjoy. :-)

Life: Unless your children are clamoring for something earlier than Kindergarten (or even, dare I say, 1st grade), you do not have to worry about doing anything other than live life with them. I promise. I have an education degree; you can trust me. Just read books to them, take them places and play with them.

Wal Mart (type) workbooks: For children who are wanting something to do (perhaps, because there is an older sibling doing school work) or for parents who really want to do something with a preschooler, often a smattering of basic workbooks from the book section at Wal Mart (or Sam’s or Target) is the easiest/best thing. I particularly like being able to pick and choose what skills the child is ready to cover in the smaller books, rather than buying a large “preschool skills” book, although some prefer these for just that reason: it takes the decision-making process out of the equation (note: I originally wrote this when only Malachi had been through this stage. Guess which type of books I purchased for Jonah and Magdalyn this last time we were in the States? The all-in-one type for their levels. I didn’t have time to decide on individual skills! :-P). Also, it is easier to ask for a larger general skills book to be brought overseas, since it would not force someone else to have to choose which individual skills to buy. The brand that we like best out of the options is School Zone, particularly their “Whimsical” series, which has very interesting, intricate illustrations. Another advantage to these type of workbooks is that they are colorful. Most of the other general resources I have listed are black and white, partially so that they can be reproducible. Update: I have found it more and more difficult to find books that are available only in English, most are Spanish/English. If you are having books brought and someone else is purchasing them, you might want to specify English-only, if you’d prefer that (nothing against Spanish, we’re just trying to limit to one extra language right now).

Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready: A birth-to-age-five book with learning activities for each week. I got this book at a pretty tumultuous point in our lives and so was too busy to use it, but I’ve heard great things about it and need to get it out and take a look at it again.

Sonlight Pre-K: A great set of authentic books (as opposed to textbooks) to read to your children and some good workbooks, as well. My opinion: you can’t go wrong with reading your child great books. It’s the best preparation for learning. Be aware: the age range for this set is 4-8 years old, so that close siblings can be combined. There are homeschooling mothers who use this as a Kindergarten and even a 1st grade curriculum (with Math and Language Arts on the students’ level).
- The link above is for their comprehensive package, but you can buy bits and pieces, if you go to and click on “go shopping.” There’s a place to “build your own” package.
(- Update: they now have an Earlier Childhood package suitable for 2-4 year olds. I'm planning to purchase what we don't have from it for ZL next spring. I know, though, that everyone up MS will enjoy the components of it, so don't hesitate to consider getting it, even it your child make be a little above the recommended age.)

Before Five in a Row: A book/curriculum designed to be used with 2-4-year-olds. The book covers lesson plans for 23 classic children’s books (which you must buy separately). The intention is for you to read one book each week, once each day (hence “five in a row”) and do an activity/activities related to that book each day. Activities will vary from language exercises to art to science, etc.
- This page contains a description of the book and pictures of the covers of the majority of the picture books used.
- And here is an Amazon list with the book itself and all 23 children’s books.
- There are several “follow-up” books that can be used through with progressively older children. See the official Five in a Row website.

Amish Preschool Workbooks: A series of four workbooks that takes a child from very basic skills, such as drawing a line from one object to another (with guidelines on either side of where they are supposed to draw) to introducing colors and numbers (but not letters). Includes a good amount of tracing practice. The recommended age for these books is 3-4, although I would think some older 2-year-olds might be ready for the first book. This is for a “workbook loving” child. I would not push these on any preschooler.

Rod and Staff Preschool Workbooks: A series of six workbooks that are progressively harder to take a child through about the kindergarten year (or even early 1st). These start with a “typical” preschool level (as opposed to the Amish books, which begin earlier than age 4, although some 3-year-olds would do well with this series) of tracing, cutting, pasting and coloring. Malachi loved these books, especially the cutting and pasting. I bought him a R&S art and music curriculum for Kindergarten just so he could continue with the same type of activities. The directions for both these and the Amish books instruct you to require more out of a young child in terms of carefulness in coloring than I would recommend, but you can ignore that part. If you buy these, be sure and get the set of seven that includes the Bible story book and not the set of six without it. We used this story book and pictures to color as the basis for our local Gathering kids’ time at one point.
- You can purchase these books from the above link or from Rainbow Resource.

Ruth Beechik’s “Three ‘R’s’”: Handbooks of sorts for teaching all subjects in the early years by one of the “mothers” of the homeschooling movement. Definitely worth reading and not expensive. Comes with a chart or charts of some sort, for phonics or math instruction, but I haven’t seen them (I bought mine used). If you’re wondering about the vagueness of this description, I just bought these and have not read them yet.
- Also available from Amazon

Learning to Write
Wal Mart workbooks: Yes, them again. Many children do fine with just some handwriting workbooks from Wal Mart (or a similar store, of course). Beginning handwriting is included in most K level basic skills workbooks and in some preschool ones. Workbooks that teach letters and their sounds usually include practice tracing then writing them (caveat: so far, this has not worked for my kids; they were ready to read long before they were ready to write).

StartWrite: A software program with which you can create your own handwriting worksheets. There are multiple “handwriting fonts” to choose from, including Getty-Dubay (traditional stick-and-ball and cursive) and D’Nealian (a more recent type of print and cursive). If you are using the Handwriting Without Tears program (see below), their font is included, as well. StartWrite also includes both color and black & white (for the child to color) images for each letter of the alphabet that can be inserted into the worksheets you create. Supposedly, you can import your own images (like your child’s picture), as well, but I have not tried this. One advantage to using this program is that you can decide what your child practices handwriting on, using his/her memory verses, for example.

Handwriting Without Tears: Touted as the first and only handwriting program written with a child’s developmental progress (as opposed to phonics learning) taken into account. It was written by a physical therapist who worked with children. Now includes a preschool “crayon-only” workbook that works on pre-writing skills. Offers such manipulatives and hands-on helps as a set of blocks with which all letters can be formed (with large and small curves and long and short lines), a Magna-Doodle with stamps (the same options as the blocks) to form the letters on, etc., and a CD with songs that help with preparation for writing. This program is particularly helpful with a child who needs help getting ready to write (struggles) and is also highly recommended for left-handed students. If in doubt, I would say this program would definitely not hurt and most likely would help.
- partially available from Sonlight (without some of the manipulatives and the CD)

Explode the Code: Teaches writing of letters, as well as phonics (see below).
- Also available from Sonlight and Amazon

Learning to Read
The following is what I've written up so far; however, I have a post coming soon (hopefully within the next couple of days) that lays out what I've used with JW and MA. It includes some of what's listed below with some dropped and some added. These are a good start, though.

Phonics Pathways: What I used to teach MS to read, so I’m most familiar with this approach. It was perfect for a no-nonsense, tell-me-what-I-need-to-know-and-let’s-move-on, memorize-it-the-first-time kind of kid, but you also repeat each lesson until it’s mastered before you move on, so it can be easily paced for any child. With just one book to buy, it would be a good place to start before moving to something that required more parent-prep and more time. If you’re in the States, this could probably be browsed at a Barnes & Noble. Note: for a child who enjoys more parent/child social interaction and/or different kinds of activities, this would not be the route to go. Look at Sonlight Language Arts K, instead.
- available from Amazon

Bob Books: Simple beginning-to-read books boxed in sets of 8-10. If your child knows his/her letter sounds or is ready to, you might could teach reading with just these books. I used them in conjunction with Phonics Pathways, and we started them after he got to the right point in the progression of lessons (ready to sound out three-letter words). When things seemed too hard, we would go back a set or two (there are five sets) and repeat. We worked all the way through all five sets, eventually, and then moved on to simple Dr. Seuss like Hop on Pop (that helps you know where these will get you to).
- available from Amazon and at book stores & teacher supply stores in the States

Leap Frog letters and words videos: Useful for impressing people with a two-year-old who knows all of her letter names and sounds. Okay, so that’s just a side benefit. These videos painlessly teach all of the letter sounds and how to put them together (and when I say painlessly, I mean that the kids request the videos). I recommended them to my sister-in-law and they took my 4.5-year-old niece from knowing most of her letter sounds to ready for Bob Books in a matter of a couple of weeks (I sound like an infomercial, but they really did do this). Both Jonah and Magdalyn learned their letter sounds from these, and Jonah began to sound out words after watching them, although he is not putting the sounds together fluently, yet. We got a set that included both DVD’s and a plush “Leap Frog” who plays a key role in the videos, which makes a nice gift option.
- If possible, get the DVD version(s), because it includes games.
- available from Amazon and at Wal Mart, Target, etc.

Explode the Code: A series of workbooks beginning with the “pre-code” books Get Ready, Get Set, and Go For the Code, also known as A, B & C (the books from there on out are numbered). Offers a variety of activities that familiarize kids with each letter’s sound first and then move on to short words and then blending. These books can be used with a student who is not ready to write by the child dictating the answers for the parent to write. We have used them this way.
(-Update: I would use the A, B, & C books simultaneously with the LeapFrog Letters DVD. WIth both JW and MA, I waited until later to use them, and they were just busy work. MA liked that, because that's her style. It didn't do much for JW, so we dropped them and went straight into the numbered ones, which start with early reading.)

Reading Reflex: Another all-in-one book that is highly recommended for teaching reading. I have not looked at it in quite a while, so I’ll just link to on-line descriptions.
- You might want to use this site ( to look up any other programs you’re deciding between.
- available from Amazon, Sonlight, and US bookstores

Sing, Spell, Read and Write: A more kinesthetic, sensory-oriented approach to teaching reading. Again, since I don’t have personal experience, I’ll defer to on-line reviews.

Sonlight Language Arts K: I will be using this program with JW, as he would seem to want “more” out of a program than Phonics Pathways. It introduces the letter sounds, one per week, but has the student reading three-letter words after only about six weeks. While the program is completely laid out for you in the Instructor’s Guide, it is very interactive between child and parent with such activities as making a “letter book” with examples of words that start with each letter using pictures they provide.
(- Update: Okay, so this program did not teach JW how to read. Bob Books and Sonlight's Fun Tales, plus another similar set did. We still did parts of LA K, but not the learning-to-read parts. With MS, I made the mistake of jumping to LA 1, because that's where his reading level was. We ended up circling back around to do parts of LA K for the grammar foundation it lays. Didn't make the same mistake with JW.)

The Writing Road to Reading: An approach to teaching reading that has been around for quite a while. It involves learning reading through writing (just in case that wasn’t apparent), so would need to be used with a child who is developmentally ready to write or it would need to be done using typing.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons: Many people really like this program and have great success with it (it’s another all-in-one book). Others hate it and find it unnecessarily confusing and complicated. I was in that latter category (if it needs to be complicated, I’ll wade through it, but…). I wanted to include it as an option for those who might fall into the former category.
- available at Amazon and US bookstores

Early Childhood Math
Cuisenaire Alphabet: I bought this originally for MS when he was learning letters and sounds. It had some limited application at that point but was a lot of work. Some kids who are more fine motor oriented might be able to do it more independently at that level. Basically, Cuisenaire rods are math manipulatives starting with a cubic centimeter cube that is a certain color with a separate color representing each value past that up to ten. I myself have not used them to learn or teach math, so I’m going through this journey with my kids. I’ve heard/read from many that it is a very valuable tool for teaching children to think mathematically/figure out mathematical challenges for themselves. In this book, the child builds a letter of the alphabet given a set of parameters (less than six, all one color, only two colors, etc.). There is also a page where he/she builds different pictures representing that letter of the alphabet. I am now using this program for MS as a pre-Miquon (see below) intro to the value of the different rods and to some basic problem solving skills using them.
- You will also need a set of Cuisenaire rods. I think I got the basic plastic set of 155 (forgive me if I don’t go count). Plastic was recommended to me over wood.
(- Update: They now have ones that link and are marked by denomination, which I think are much cooler than what we have, and now I want some. :-)

Miquon: A math program that allows children to explore mathematical thinking on their own using Cuisenaire rods (see above) and workbooks that offer parameters for different exercises. We are using this in conjunction with Singapore Math (see below). I think it would be an ideal program to supplement math in a national school, because in most places children would be getting only an education in rote math there. The first two books (orange & red) are supposed to be 1st grade level, but many parents use them as early as age 4. They can be repeated.
- carried by Sonlight and Rainbow Resource
- You need to buy the Lab Sheet Annotations to be able to guide your children through the process. This is a large book that covers all of the workbooks, which go through grade 3. The “Notes to Teachers” book is not necessary, unless you want to know more of the theory behind the program.

Singapore Earlybird: The math program used in Singapore, of course. While closer to a traditional math program in that it teaches facts and processes rather than leaving a child to discover them, Singapore also excels in producing math-thinking students (or so everyone says; we’re still in the beginning stages). If you’re wanting a more traditional program to supplement national school math, this would be good. We’re using it solely with Miquon right now. We may add a more rote program (like Rod & Staff) lightly to emphasize fact-learning at some point, since our kids aren’t in national schools.
(- Update: We're a little past the beginning stages now, and I don't know whether Singapore math is completely to credit or not, but MS is an incredible mathematical thinker and JW is developing into one. I highly recommend this program, especially in conjunction with Miquon.)

Saxon K: A large, manipulative-based package that involves using a calendar to teach counting and some time concepts. For those wanting a more traditional approach but would like something hands-on, this would be a good fit. In the later grades (starting around 3rd or 4th), Saxon is less cumbersome (just text- and workbooks) and is really good for those children who struggle with math and need extra repetition. It can be wearying for those that don’t.

Science Options
Berenstain Bears Big Book of Science and Nature: A basic overview of seasons and other simple science and nature topics done in rhyme format featuring the bears from the popular children’s books. Great for pre-K, but would be useful up through early elementary.
- As far as I can tell this book is out of print and only available through Sonlight (they have certain books reprinted just for them).
(- Update: still a very popular book with all of my kids, especially my 1st grader, so don't write it off, if your kids are older.)

Sonlight Science K: A basic introduction to the scientific principles of God’s world perfect for K up to 2nd grade (maybe some pre-K’ers, depending on their bent). One of the great things about purchasing science from Sonlight is that you can buy a science supply kit that includes all of the little things you need to do the experiments (okay, maybe you know where to buy a teaspoon of iron shavings where you live, but…). They are also now in the process of creating a series of DVD’s that show the experiments in each of their science programs. So far, K, 1st & 2nd are available. The DVD’s alone might be a good purchase.
(- Update: We have, so far, used Sonlight's K and 1 science programs, and have been very pleased with them.)

Magic School Bus: Now, having said all that great stuff about Sonlight Science K, I have to confess, we’re not doing it until JW's K year (MS’s 2nd grade, MA’s pre-K), because I really want to have more than one child benefit, if I’m going to go to all the trouble to do the experiments, etc. (others might really enjoy it). So, for now Ms. Frizzle teaches science at our house. For those that aren’t familiar with the Magic School Bus books or TV show, Ms. Frizzle is the crazy teacher always taking her class on field trips where the bus turns into, say, a frog to learn about animal habitats or a space shuttle to learn about the planets.
- There are the original books that are more complex (mid-elementary level, but enjoyable below that) and have lots of extra info in the margins (all presented interestingly), like this. There are only about 7 of these.
- Then, there are ones based on the TV show, which are simpler (read at an early elementary level, enjoyed earlier) like this. There are many, many of these.
- And then, there are the DVD’s of the TV show, which are available in a collection like this and some as individual episodes. You might ask relatives to tape them, as well. Originally, they were on PBS, but they might be on other channels now, as well.

General Thoughts
Because many people I know are in situations where it is difficult or just a pain to get school books, I recommend having bound copies made of anything reproducible, if it is fiscally possible. Where we are, this is cheap to do. Basically, we just take the workbook to a copy shop, and they comb-bind it with a clear (or colored, see-through) plastic cover and a card stock back.

If you are using a book like Phonics Pathways, Reading Reflex or 100 Easy Lessons, I recommend having a section (decide on a cut-off point) copied and bound at a time. Two reasons: 1. This gives the child a feeling of accomplishment as he/she completes each smaller section (we have a family “party” with a special dessert at our house; read: we actually have dessert :-). 2. This preserves the original book through the end of its use, either with this child or with future children.

Many of the learn-to-read options recommend (or demand) that you teach writing at the same time. From experience, I have learned that this is hogwash (that's an official educational opinion). Most, if not all, options can be modified to have the child give oral answers or just skip the written portions.

I would suggest getting a few basic homeschool catalogs to browse. Being a “Sonlight family,” that’s certainly one I would recommend. Timberdoodle is kind of a mid-level catalog that carries a broad array of products, many of them both educational and fun, and Rainbow Resource, as you can probably guess by all of the links above, is like the five-and-dime of homeschool retailers. They carry everything. If you stick to just a section or two or if you are looking for something specific, it would be useful. It would be quite overwhelming to just browse, though. And, although their catalog is available for download, even the smallest sections require a lot of paper and ink. That said, there’s something for everyone in their catalog (maps, science books, manipulatives and everything else). The print version is the size of a phone book for a major metropolitan area (really, it is).

Another very useful resource, especially for those of us not in a larger context of homeschoolers, is the Sonlight discussion forum on line. There is a forum for asking questions about which Sonlight level(s) is right for your child(ren), one for each Sonlight level for those currently teaching that level, general parenting forums, special needs forums, and even a forum for international Sonlight users. Those like the parenting and international forums don’t stick to Sonlight-only topics and the international one can cover things like, “What should we see during our layover in Thailand?” Also, those on the international board tend to be/are supposed to be careful about using “sensitive” words that might be picked up by anyone “looking over your shoulder” as you browse, although there are slip-ups.
(Update: Some of these forums are now only available to people who have paid a one-time fee or have purchased a certain amount from Sonlight. The “choosing” forum is still free to all.)

Think that’s it for now (“just” nine pages in a Word doc). Please, feel free to post any follow-up questions. I’m sure I have not exhaustively covered what everyone might need to know (although you might be exhausted by it all right now :-P).


Grateful for Grace said...

Good job!

(sshhh... don't tell anyone over there, but I may be a Tapestry of Grace gal now. Done with Sonlight. I think it's going to work much better with many kids schooling- my new season of life/hsing.)

You even gave me some things to think about for #4! thanks!

Cara said...

Your secret is safe with me. :-P

Too funny, because I have very few IRL hs friends. Guess what one of the few other one uses?

Grateful for Grace said...

oooh! Really? I'm trying to talk to as many as possible before I make the plunge and leave my first hsing love (hope that wasn't sacriligous to you!). But it's a big deal. Is said friend in your hometown or over there?

Cara said...

Actually, Option C. She lives in the town that we base out of. I can ask if I can give you her e-mail address, though.

Oh, and she is in my hometown sometimes. Her dh's dad and step-mom live there. Olympic Pool area.

Want me to see about hooking you guys up?

Grateful for Grace said...

If you don't mind, that would be great. Seeking input from as many as I can, see if they all say the same thing.

Thanks, friend!

Grateful for Grace said...

I can't seem to find your email, which is weird since I just got a note from you. Sigh.
Anyway, I am sending you a link to a blog that has... leveled me. humbled me.
You may not be able to read it. I'm not sure. You'll have to decide. This amazing woman is in the "club" that I pray to never be in. I thought of you, of course.

I hope you are well. I wanted to call you today. Even before I found this.

cyber hugs,