4 Year Old Birthday Gift Ideas

Lillian will be four years old soon!  I normally think about what gifts to buy for birthdays or the holidays for months in advance.  I love to give gifts and I want to be sure my kids will not only love the gift but that it will inspire their creative play and be worth the space the present will take up in our tiny apartment!

I chose these gifts because we already have a Terra Barn from Target and lots of Schleich farm animals.  It is the most played with toy in our house.  Not only do I know she will love these horse sets to go along with the farm, we already have a designated spot in our house for the farm setup.  We don’t need to find a new storage/ organization system.  I love adding on to things I know the kids already enjoy.  I also love the brand Schleich.  The items are high quality and very lifelike!

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She is also getting two books, because I just can’t give my kids a gift that doesn’t include at least one book.  I chose the Wildflowers book because Lillian LOVES flowers and I chose the Story Orchestra book even though we already have one copy because my kids love this book SO much and have such a hard time sharing it!  Problem solved.

Here are the gifts we purchased for her.  I can’t wait for her to open them!

*all links are Amazon affiliate links*

Schleich Horse Club Mobile Vet – this is on sale right now on Amazon!

Schleich Foal with Blanket Playset

A Little Guide to Wildflowers by Charlotte Voak

The Story Orchestra:  Four Seasons in One Day by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

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Friday Finds

I was happy to find this post from Nicole at the Kavanaugh Report with ideas for Montessori materials and activities for a four year old.  Lillian is so close to turning 4!

Thinking even further ahead to the fall, I am considering these Autumn Guides from Whole Family Rhythms.  “The Guides are designed to help you plan, create and animate a gentle, balanced and holistic rhythm in your home, flowing between structured, adult-led activities and child-led, imaginative free play.”

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Check out this amazing new place for kids called The Muse Gowns that just opened in Brooklyn!  How fun!  Trapeze classes?  Sign me up, please!

 

 

 

What We are Reading Wednesday: Books about Land and Water

*all links are Amazon affiliate links*

I recently purchased this book, Water Land:  Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale, after seeing it on Instagram.  It’s a beautiful, simple book which very creatively makes comparisons between water and landforms.  It was an instant hit with Ethan who is 5.5.

Ethan is very interested in maps, different landforms and any kind of water so I thought this book would be a jumping off point for a more in-depth study.  I purchased the following books to help our study along:

The Pond by Jim LaMarche

The Raft by Jim LaMarche (I have yet to be able to read this beautiful book without crying.  What a great story!)

The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown

As we move forward I plan to add kinetic sand and water with blue food coloring to our sensory table for him to explore.

I’ve also downloaded these 3 part cards from The Helpful Garden to help us learn the land and water form vocabulary.  There were many great 3 part cards available for free download on the site.

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If you follow us on Instagram, I plan to share more of our land and water study there.

 

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“How do you teach both of your children at the same time?”

Right after I get the socialization question, this is ALWAYS people’s next question.  Usually they ask with a kind of horrified look on their face as they silently motion to my three year old.  My short answer is, Ummm…easily.  That’s never enough though.  Here’s a closer look at what learning looks like in our home with two kids of different ages (5 and 3.5) 

I think before you can begin to picture this you first have to acknowledge and accept that homeschooling looks NOTHING like school.  As a former teacher, this was difficult for me!  I don’t think many homeschoolers are sitting down at the table for 6 hours a day breaking only for lunch and recess.  Also, what took me say, a month, to teach a room full of 1st graders often takes about 5 minutes to teach my one son.

Almost everything happening at home counts as “school.”  We don’t have to wait for math time to “do” math.  We measure and count while making breakfast, lunch or dinner.  We can leave a note on the fridge for dad and learn a new phonogram while we do so.  We can read a new recipe.  We can write a shopping list.  We can count the dirty socks as we throw them in the laundry.  I could go on and on.  But in short, learning is all around us, happening all the time.

Most things we do in our homeschool we do together.  I’ve posted before about our morning basket.  My kids go to forest school and our Wild + Free playgroup together.  Any “field trips” we take, we take together.  I read aloud to them together, except for bedtime.  

I do present lessons to my kids individually.  We use a Montessori approach in our “school work” so I present new materials or teach new concepts to each of my kids.  I do this when the other child is either engaged in independent work or play.  These lessons and presentations are very short but we have also talked a lot about not interrupting and respecting each others work.  They often will watch each other have a lesson but know not to interrupt.  Since the lessons are short, this is not hard even for a very young child. Lillian has surprised me many times by showing me that she has already learned something that I previously presented to Ethan.

Maria Montessori also refers to the prepared environment as the third teacher.  Our home is carefully prepared to support our kid’s states of development.  Our kitchen is completely accessible for the kids to prepare their own snack or cook a meal independently (I obviously supervise them when using a stove, oven, etc).  

Their clothing storage and toy storage is also set up for them to access and take care of independently.  Their learning materials are carefully organized, rotated and presented on shelves in our playroom.  Learning is really seamless this way. They can work independently and uninterrupted by me; free to try, struggle and succeed.

Also, it’s important to note that since Ethan is older, he is a natural teacher for Lillian.  She learns so much just from watching him.  And she is always, always watching.  Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn who has studied the value of mixed age learning and play wrote:

“If we want to capitalize on children’s and adolescents’ natural, playful ways of learning, we must find ways to break down the barriers we have erected to keep young people of different ages apart. Age segregation deprives them not only of fun, but also of the opportunity to use fully their most powerful natural tools for learning.”

Lillian just naturally knows that Ethan is older and that he is a valuable source of information for her.  She knows it’s important for her to pay attention to what he’s doing without me ever having told her to do so.  This is a natural borne drive.  

In short, teaching kids at home of different ages is not only possible, it’s awesome!  They learn independently through their own work and play and also from individual direct lessons from me.

They learn from each other by playing together, watching each other play or work, listening to the same books read aloud by me or Audible or working on a shared project together.

We all learn together when we take field trips together or choose to learn about the same topic (something that happens often).  They are both currently loving learning about rocks and soil.

To the shock and surprise of this former teacher, teaching different aged kids is very natural and organic.

 

 

My Favorite Podcasts about Homeschooling

I love podcasts!  It is rare that I can listen to one straight through, so most days I listen in bits as I do the dishes.  If I’m going out alone, I always bring my headphones and listen.  Sometimes if my husband and I are in the car together, I’ll play one that I think he might like to hear too.  

I’ve learned so much about homeschooling from listening to podcasts.  Here are some of my favorites…

Wild + Free

Baan Dek Montessori

Simple Families (technically not a homeschool podcast but definitely pertinent – Denaye, the host, is one of my favorite moms out there)

Read Aloud Revival

I’ve actually found that listening to podcasts while doing the dishes is a form of self care.  10 minutes at a time but it still counts!  On days when I forget to listen while I wash, I am noticeably crankier.  

What are your favorites?  Do you have any recommendations?

What We are Reading this Wednesday

Ethan reading a bird book

Since my son was 2, we have spent the month of April studying birds.  Now that he is 5, we still enjoy when we see and hear the birds come back to our neighborhood in the spring.  

Below you’ll find a list of bird books we have enjoyed reading together.  I thought about separating the list for the 0-2 year old set and the 3-6 year old set but I decided to list them all together.  My daughter has enjoyed listening to and looking at all of these books from a very young age even though I may have purchased some of them with my older son in mind.  And both children still enjoy looking at the bird board books we own that are intended for younger children.

I’ve also included this booklist in the Booklist section of the blog if anyone would like to print it to bring to the library or bookstore.  I hope you find this feature helpful.  

the links below are Amazon Affiliate Links

Busy Birdies by John Schindel

Birds by National Geographic Kids Look & Learn

Backyard Birds (Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists) by Jonathan P. Latimer and Karen Stray Nolting

National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America

Birds, Nests and Eggs by Mel Boring

About Birds A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill

Urban Roosts by Barbara Bash   ** our favorite! **

Falcons in the City by Chris Earley ** on a great sale right now! **

Peregrine Falcons: Birds of Prey by Melissa Hill

National Geographic Kids Penguins! By Anne Shreiber

Mama Built a Little Nest by Beach Lane Books

We do not own this book but if my kids were younger I would definitely purchase it…

Baby’s First Book of Birds & Colors by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes

Have you read about birds with your children?  I’d love to hear any book recommendations you have in the comments!  

 

Choosing a Homeschool Philosophy

Classical, Waldorf, Montessori, Unschooling, how does a family choose?  Today I want to share about how we chose a homeschooling philosophy.  Or better yet, how we blended several together to design our own.  

My very first glimpse into the homeschool world was a blog I stumbled across while teaching called, Chasing Cheerios.  Does anyone else remember that one?  I remember being enamored with the sweet toddler activities she did with her daughters and followed along as that blossomed into full-blown homeschooling.  Even then I had a thought I still wrestle with now, “Isn’t that great for them?  It looks so lovely.  I’d like to do that too but instead I’ll just read this blog.”  This is a thought that often plagues me!  I’m tackling that kind of thinking head on by starting this blog!  

Anyway, back to choosing a homeschool philosophy… 

Once I jumped the hurdle to decide we were actually going to homeschool, it was time to decide how.  With our homeschool mission in mind, I began doing my philosophy research.  

Our homeschool mission is to raise children capable of and comfortable with independent thinking, who develop a deep appreciation for and a love of life and who eagerly celebrate their successes and failures as they chase their dreams.

My first reading centered on Maria Montessori and her pedagogy.  I pretty much instantly fell in love.  Check the booklist section of the blog for a list of some Montessori books I read that were inspirational.  In short, the Montessori philosophy is about following the child. Montessori herself did not believe that she created the “Montessori Method” but instead that she closely observed children and merely gave back to them what they showed her they needed.  

Montessori valued the whole child and viewed him or her as an independent person, deserving of the utmost respect. Parents or teachers (called guides) closely observe their children to see when they are ready for certain lessons or activities.  Children move through predictable “planes of development” and lessons are introduced accordingly.  Children are free to chose their own “work” within limits and are engaged in, what is called, a three hour work cycle.  Work is self-selected from the curriculum areas of practical life, sensorial, language, math and culture.  

Children receive lessons on how to use new materials, are expected to use them appropriately and when ready, clean up after themselves.  The materials are very hands-on and the learning concepts are very concrete. By observing the child at work, and without breaking their concentration, the homeschooling mom or teacher can decide if that child has mastered a concept, needs a new lesson or may in fact not be ready for that type of work.  

Often, when people see #montessori, they see what looks like children doing chores.  Maria Montessori believed that children were very much interested in learning about their environment and fully participating within it.  In the Montessori home or classroom, children happily work on practical life skills, like cooking, cleaning and sewing, using tools specifically made for people their size.  This not only helps the child feel they are a valuable, participating member of their family or classroom, but lays the foundation for fine motor, gross motor and even future reading, writing and math skills.  

As we’ve continued on our journey I’ve learned about other methods which I knew I wanted to incorporate in some way into our homeschool.  

From the Waldorf method we have adapted the concept of rhythms in the home.  Rather than a strict schedule, Waldorf families have rhythm or a gentle flow to the day making plenty of time for family connection and time spent outdoors.  

I previously mentioned our commitment to Forest School in my last post.  Please check it out for more information as I believe it’s one of the most important parts of our homeschool at the moment.

Forest School - Ethan

From my very limited reading about Charlotte Mason, we have adopted the concept of a morning basket or morning time.  This is one of our most cherished parts of the day.  Very simply, I keep a basket of high quality poems, children’s books, phonics and math activities next to our table.  I also keep a playlist of songs we are learning or enjoying listening to on my phone, using Spotify.  We work our way through the morning basket while we eat breakfast.   

Additionally, we have taken the concept of nature journaling from the Charlotte Mason method.  Keeping a nature journal is another cherished part of our week.  We enjoy collecting nature items from outside and bringing them home to study and sketch.  We have also sketched and painted animals we have decided to learn about (for example reindeers during the month of December). 

From the Classical style of education we highly value the 3 R’s – reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.  We currently work on these subjects the Montessori way, but they are definitely an important aspect to our homeschool.  In our quest to raise independent thinkers, I believe reading the great books will be an important part of our homeschool as our kids get older.

When I first heard of Unschooling I was immediately turned off by the term.  That’s not for “us”, I thought.  However as I learn more about it, I realize it both resonates with me and I want to experiment more with it.  I believe free time for children is important so they can focus on what interests them and develop their individual passions.  

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The kids spent a large part of December acting out the Nutcracker

After reading Peter Gray’s, Free to Learn, I came across the concept of Self-Directed Learning.  I also had the privilege to hear him speak at an alternative education conference (AERO) here in New York last summer.  He was very inspiring and I now ensure my children have the opportunity for lots of self-directed learning at home.  They are free to follow their interests and I try to guide them along the way or find a way to supply materials to meet their needs.  This is most evident in my son’s love of sharks and the many, many, many projects he’s undertaken to learn more about his favorite animal. 

I’ve found that many of these method overlap and intertwine in so many ways.  Here are some quotes from the creators of these philosophies which I think illustrate their interconnectedness and highlight our homeschool emphasis of the importance of play for young children, time spent outdoors and self-directed learning within limits.  

“To aid life, leaving it free, however, that is the basic task of the educator.”  Maria Montessori

“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and when the grass of the meadows is wet with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath it’s shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning.”  Maria Montessori

“There is no education but self-education.”  Charlotte Mason

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.”  Charlotte Mason

“We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration, and so, more and more, deprive them of the freedom to learn, subjecting them instead to the tedious and painfully slow learning methods devised by those who run the schools.”  Peter Gray, Free to Learn

Through careful research, we’ve been able to pick and choose what works for us.  In a future post I’ll share more specifically about how our days, weeks and months look.  

I hope you can see that all homeschools are quite unique, from pre-existing philosophies, to a blended approach like ours, to an “open and go” boxed curriculum which maps out a daily homeschool schedule and lessons for you. 

How about you?  What type of homeschool do you have?  Are you a purist – with only one philosophy?  Have you blended like us?  Do you use a boxed curriculum? 

Did you choose a philosophy before you began homeschooling or develop one along the way?

I’d love to hear about your homeschool in the comments!