The Christmas Guide by The Peaceful Press

If you have been following me for any amount of time, you know that I am a huge fan of anything the The Peaceful Press produces. We have been through their preschool curriculum twice and loved every bit of it both times through. You can read my more thorough review of The Peaceful Preschool here.

We have been on a homeschool hiatus ever since my third child was born in late August. I had plans to start things back up after the holidays, but when I saw this Christmas Guide released I couldn’t help but entertain the idea of starting back a little earlier than planned. When I looked through the preview I just knew it would be the perfect transition from our break to starting fresh in January with a new curriculum and more structure.

Everything The Peaceful Press publishes is exactly that: peaceful. Home education should be life-giving and that is the best way I can describe what the authors of this Christmas Guide must’ve had as their primary goal.

Typically you would read a review of a curriculum after the person has used it, but this is actually a preview because I haven’t used it yet. We will begin December 3rd and finish up the last week of December. I wanted to share it with you all before we started so that if you are looking for something to guide you and your preschool children through the holidays with purpose and peace, you will look no further than this 4-week Christmas Guide.

What I love about it so far:

Christmas-Themed Picture Book List – The Peaceful Press’ book lists are GOLD. They do the dirty work of weeding through the flaky flashy stories and find the treasures of rich living literature that are perfectly age appropriate. I ordered some of the books from thriftbooks.com to begin to build our holiday picture book home library. I reserved others at our local library.

Art Projects – This guide offers simple yet meaningful art projects for you to create with your child such as a hand-sewn felt stocking, a mason jar snow globe, and a popsicle stick snowflake ornament. I can’t wait to see how these all turn out!

Christmas in the Kitchen – The curriculum includes recipes to make with your children throughout the month of December like homemade marshmallows, Christmas stovetop potpourri, and Christmas granola bars.

Poetry and Songs – I love that this curriculum includes traditional Christmas songs to sing with your children as well as themed poetry to recite.

Curriculum Organization – Everything is laid out for you so neatly and ready to go. There are daily grids for what activities to complete as well as supply lists for the week. It truly is an easy, peaceful guide to follow.

Gentle Overview of Concepts – Children will review letters, counting, and exercise their fine motor skills with gentle, child-led activities like making a paper chain, counting jingle bells, and practicing words that rhyme with ‘snow’. The activities are all playful and inviting to young children.

I cannot wait to begin The Peaceful Press’ Christmas Guide on December 3rd! I would love it if you would follow along with us on Instagram. You can purchase the guide here for 20% off using the code ‘cohesivehome’ until December 10th.

5 Tips to Boost Your Toddler's Language

OUR BACKGROUND

When my first child was born, he failed his newborn hearing screening. The test administrator acted very nonchalant about the results and said that failing is very common in babies born cesarean because the fluid doesn’t get naturally squeezed out through the birth canal. We brought our son home, and everything seemed normal in regards to his hearing. Titus woke up to loud noises, turned his head to sound, and was comforted by my voice. He loved being sang to and got startled if something was too loud. The follow-up hearing screening a few weeks later was a huge ordeal. The baby had to be completely still for two hours during the test, and if there was too much movement, then the entire test would be considered a fail.Titus failed that screening as well, but once again they said it was likely due to the fluid from birth or because he moved too much. The doctors suggested that we take him to an ENT. Month after month, appointment after appointment, back and forth from the audiologist to the ENT, we got no clear answers. We ended up dropping it because Titus was responding to sound and we were tired of the dead-end appointments.

Fast forward to when Titus was 18 months old. He babbled and responded to noise like every other child his age, but we started noticing that he would hold toys that made noise up to one ear. We wondered if there was fluid in just one ear or an ear infection, so we went back to the ENT. Another four months of appointments back and forth, we finally got answers when Titus was 22 months old. He was diagnosed with sensorineural moderate bilateral hearing loss. In a nutshell, this means that there is a disconnect between the sound that comes into his ears and his brain. I was shocked. The reason he responded to sound is because he does not have complete hearing loss. Without amplification (hearing aids) he is unable to hear all the pitches of all the speech sounds, and in turn not given the ability to speak correctly.

When Titus was 18 months old and we were going to all these appointments, I had also just delivered my second baby, Josie Mae. She also failed her newborn hearing screening. We were told the same thing as we did with Titus at the hospital, but this time around we were much more aggressive. I was recovering from a second cesarean, managing a newborn and a toddler, and dragging my children to weekly appointments to figure out what was going on; it was the craziest season of my life. Thankfully, Josie had no signs of fluid and was a better sleeper than Titus during the retest. As a result, we were able to get her diagnosis early on. She was diagnosed with a slightly more mild loss than Titus. When we got her diagnosis I was shocked once again. Neither my husband nor I have any history of hearing loss in our family, nor did I personally know one person with hearing aids. Now I was being told that both of my babies needed hearing aids and that it was very likely that any future children we planned on having would have hearing loss too.

Since Titus didn’t get his hearing aids until he was just over two years old, and up until that point he was unable to hear all of the speech sounds, he had zero words until the week he got his hearing aids. In that first week he said three words! We couldn’t believe it. Since then he has caught up a lot, but he is still behind his peers in both receptive and expressive language. Along with going to an auditory-verbal therapist weekly, we work very hard to encourage his language at home, which is a huge focus of our homeschooling. I have learned so much sitting under some of the best therapists, devouring blogs and books, and learning from experience with my son. These tips are great to boost any toddler’s language, but especially for those struggling with speech delay.

1. SLOW DOWN

In our culture, we are so used to living, thinking, and talking fast-paced. If we have a desire for something, we want it met instantly. Even though the toys, entertainment, and calendars in our culture are go-go-go, that doesn’t mean that our children’s brains have the ability to be. So slow down. Talk slowly to your child about everything you or they are doing and seeing. It’s ok that they don’t understand yet, just keep talking. Get down on their level and look at their face. Encourage them to look at yours. Bring the item you are talking about up to your face when you say what it is. This encourages them to look at your mouth pronouncing the word. Pause and wait for them to respond, in whatever way they know how, instead of speaking for them and rushing to the next thing.

2. PLAY

This seems obvious, but sadly, unless we are intentional, we can look back on a day or a week and realize we didn’t play WITH our children. Sure, they were kept busy, but we didn’t actually get down on the floor and make the cow say “moo” as we walked it into the barn or the train go “choo-choo” around the tracks. How else will they learn? Assign speech sounds to toys and consistently play with your child using them. For example, we said “ahhhh” for airplanes in our house so Titus could work on that sound. He just thought we’re playing, but there was a method behind it. Tell your child over and over what they’re doing as they do it. It seems unnatural, but that is how they will be introduced to new vocabulary. Model something with a word attached to it and encourage your child to follow suite. For example, when playing with blocks, go sit beside your child and say “I see you stacking the blocks up high. Up, up, up go the blocks” Say the word “up” every time you put a new block on the tower, then hand one to your child and say “up” as he stacks it on. See if he will continue the pattern.

3. SING, SING, SING

Start with simple songs about things that interest your child. Sing them everyday, multiple times a day and do hand motions if they have some. If they don’t, make some up. Some of our favorites when they were really little were “The Wheels on the Bus”, “Five Little Monkeys”, and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. Once you can tell your child recognizes the song when you sing it, pause at different points of the song and look at your child, encouraging them to fill in the blank. Make up songs about things they do everyday, like getting into their highchair, washing their hands, or waking up in the morning. We have a song about eating mac-and-cheese and it was during that song that Titus mastered the “ch” sound for the first time.

4. CLEAR OUT DISTRACTIONS

Our homes can be so noisy – the random toy going off in the bedroom, the dishwasher running, and the tv on in the other room. Hearing and speaking go hand-in-hand, so help your child by clearing out the noise. They need to hear you clearly to understand you and to develop their speech properly. Go more natural with open-ended toys or at the least, take all the batteries out of their toys to encourage them to be the ones making the noises. You want to hear your child’s voice making the firetruck siren, not the plastic toy making it for them. Here is my list of must-have open ended toys.

5. READ, AND THEN READ SOME MORE.

You knew I couldn’t write a post on this topic without including reading. Find books on topics your child is interested in. Make good use of your local library. Go to weekly storytime and come home with loads of books. Keep books available in every room of the house for your child to easily access. Say yes to one more story! We have a designated reading chair that can fit one adult and both kids. I try to be mindful to read to them, fully focused and in a quiet environment, multiple times a day, every single day. Pause when you read to allow for questions and discussion if your child is speaking. Even if they aren’t, ask questions and discuss aloud thoughts about the story to your child. It is amazing to see the language structures and vocabulary that kids pick up on just by being read to.

All of the tips shared have one thing in common: a parent’s presence. I have seen so much growth just by slowing down, quieting our space, and intentionally engaging our children. I would love to hear what other strategies you have used in your homes for language development.

Curriculum Review: The Peaceful Preschool

We have been using The Peaceful Preschool curriculum now for about 4 months, so I thought I would pause here and give an honest review so far for those considering it or who may be starting it this Fall. If you’re not familiar, The Peaceful Preschool is a simple to follow and beautifully laid out preschool curriculum that brings you through the alphabet, with a weekly plan for each letter in addition to a book list. The curriculum also includes activities for fine motor skills, counting skills, practical life skills, large motor skills, and art skills.

I personally wanted to stretch the curriculum to a year, so I extend each letter unit to two weeks instead of one. For the first week of each letter, I follow The Peaceful Preschool’s themes, suggested books, and most of the activities. For the second week, I choose another theme and books that correlate with the letter that were not covered in the first week. I develop these lessons almost purely from Pinterest. You can follow my Pinterest account here.

So far, I have been very impressed with The Peaceful Preschool. Here are my favorite things about the curriculum:

The lesson prep is simple. Besides gathering library books, a few supplies, and looking over the lesson for the day, the prep is minimal. This is perfect for those who have older children or lead busy lives. It also sets you up to add more to it if you wanted to without killing yourself on the planning side.

The materials are basic. The activities often require minimal to no supplies that you wouldn’t already have around the house. And if an activity requires something you don’t have, there are so many options that it’s not a big deal to skip an activity.

It sets you up to incorporate schooling into everyday life.I love that so many of the lesson activities are things like “bake a pie together” or “practice climbing a tree”. Facilitating connection and a love for learning in daily activities is vitally important at this early age.

The booklist is excellent. Tried and true book suggestions for each letter of the alphabet from mamas who have gone ahead of me in homeschooling is invaluable. They have chosen books that are creative, beautifully illustrated, and full of life. There is also a good range of comprehension levels in the list, which I have found useful in schooling a younger and older preschooler at the same time.

You gain a community support group. There is a private Facebook group for anyone who has purchased The Peaceful Preschool or their kindergarten curriculum, The Playful Pioneers. I refer to this group often, as people ask many helpful questions or give supplemental ideas to complement the curriculum. The author of the curriculum, Jennifer Pepito, is often on there as well, sharing insight and answering questions.

It’s a great foundation.It is certainly enough to stand alone, don’t get me wrong, but if you are like me and want to add in more lessons specific to what your children are interested in or need extra help on, it is a great beginning point in all subject areas.

It’s affordable. I wasn’t sure how my kids would take to the curriculum and if I personally would enjoy it enough to use it all the way through to Z (I know now that I will!). I was amazed at how much was included for the price that it is. It was well worth the investment.

If I had to think of something I wish there was more of in the curriculum, it would be Bible-related lessons. There are some, but I am on a hunt to find a supplemental preschool Bible curriculum to make it a larger part of what we are learning in these early years. I plan to continue onto The Playful Pioneers once my son is ready for kindergarten. I have seen photos of lessons and heard incredible things about it in the private group.

If you want to try it out, you can download the first week of The Peaceful Preschool or The Playful Pioneers for free.

Now through July 30th, Treehouse Schoolhouse readers can get 20% off your purchase of The Peaceful Preschool curriculum using the code: SUMMER at checkout.

Letter Recognition & Formation Strategies

In our homeschool preschool rhythm, my children and I spend two weeks learning each letter of the alphabet. As we move through the alphabet, we also review previously learned letters. Each week, we repeat these 8 solid strategies to expose new letters and practice their formation. I find that familiarity with the activities allows my children to focus on learning the letters, rather than how to master a new activity. At this point in their schooling, my goal is simply to expose them to the letters and their sounds and give them the invitation to practice forming them.

We usually do 2-3 of these activities each day that we have structured school time. For us, that is typically four days a week. I expose them to both the uppercase and the lowercase letters the first week, but when it comes to formation activities we do uppercase the first week and add in lowercase the second week.

1. Sandpaper Letter Tracing – I show them these cards for each letter we are learning, and then I model how to form the letter using my index finger and then an unsharpened pencil. My children then repeat what I just demonstrated.

2. Sensory Writing Tray – I often use salt for this, but sometimes I use similar items instead to go with the theme we are learning. I recently did birdseed when we studied birds and sugar mixed with sprinkles when we were reading books about cupcakes. First, I pour the sensory item onto a cookie sheet and provide a half sheet of cardstock with the letter printed on it for them to look at as they play. I model how to form the letters with my index finger on the tray. After writing a letter they lightly shake the tray to have a “clean slate” to write again. Oftentimes they will use the cardstock letter and bury it and then uncover it with their fingers.

3. White Erase Tracing – These dry erase pockets are one of my favorite supplies we have! I print an outline of the letter and slip it into the pocket. I model to the children how to form the letter using a dry erase marker and then give them a chance to try. Sometimes, my four year old does it correctly and sometimes they both just color the letter in with markers. Either way, they are watching me write it and say it and getting exposure to it. The curriculum I use comes with letter outlines, but here are some I found if you are not using the same curriculum.

4. Clay Forming – Using the same dry erase pockets with letter outline inserts and clay or playdough, I encourage my children to pinch pieces off and roll it into long strips. They then form the letter on top of the pocket. Sometimes I offer small items for them to press into the clay or playdough that start with the letter we are learning. We did coins for C. They pressed them in all around the clay letter and then pick them out over and over again.

5. Stamp It, Poke It, Write It – I get these printables from Simply Learning. She offers them for free with each letter unit. We have these capital letter stamps and these lowercase ones. My kids love stamping the correlating letters for the Stamp It section. Then, they use large push pins to poke the small circles in the Poke It section. I place the printable on a piece of foam board and tape down the corners of the paper for this. We have been using the same piece of foam for over a year. They aren’t ready for the Write It! Section yet, so I just point out what the word says.

6. 3-Part Cards – Nomenclature cards, or 3-Part Cards, are simply images with corresponding labels. They really help my children learn the letter sounds and have been one of the major factors in my son beginning to read. I wrote a blog post about how we use them in our schooling here. I currently make these cards to correlate with the letters we are working on. You can download these free printable 3-Part Cards here.

7. Handwriting Without Tears Letter Blocks – I discovered these materials when I was teaching a special needs child how to form letters. He went from absolutely hating writing to writing full stories in just a few months. They are certainly an investment, but I knew I would use them for years with multiple children. I have seen how incredibly they work, so it is worth it to me. We currently use the Capital Letter Wooden Blocks and the Capital Letter Cards. I lay the wood pieces out and give my children the cards. Then I ask them to choose which pieces they think they need and they build the letter on top of the card. Then we flip the card over and work through it together.

8. Chalkboard Write and Wipe – This is also a Handwriting Without Tears method that I learned while teaching. I model the entire process, then they repeat. First, I write the letter on a small slate. Then I dip a little square sponge into water and squeeze the excess water out. Finally, I erase the letter in the same way that it is written. My kids love it, the repetition is gold, and the pincer grasp gets a lot of work.

What letter formation activities do you use at home? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

How-to Use 3-Part Cards

I first discovered 3-Part Cards when researching the Montessori method of schooling. The official name for these cards are “Nomenclature Cards”, coming from the Latin word nomenclatura, which means “assigning of names”. They are basically an image with a corresponding label. They come in a whole form and in a split form. The whole cards include the word and image together on one card. The split cards separate the word from the image. This provides endless opportunities for matching and word recognition. 3-Part Cards can be used in every subject area, and the main purpose is for vocabulary building and reading.

We first began using 3-Part Cards when I discovered Kaitlyn from Simply Learning. She provides them with her free literature units, which is what we were using before The Peaceful Preschool. I saw my 3-year-old begin to put meaning to words, and I was amazed at how quickly he caught on to them. I truly believe that 3-Part Cards were a huge contributor to his early reading.

Kaitlyn now uses The Peaceful Preschool as well, and is a great resource for supplemental ideas and free printables, including 3-Part Cards for each letter of the alphabet. I love using them so much in our schooling that I began to create Real-Life 3-Part Cards to correlate with her illustrated ones. I wanted to introduce my children to the real animals and items, unlike they see in most picture books, which aligns with Montessori teaching. For each letter of the alphabet, I will be creating Real-Life 3-Part Cards to correlate. So far, you can find A-L here.

I prefer to print our 3-Part Cards on cardstock and laminate them. I plan to use these cards for years with multiple children, so they really benefit from durability. I love this color printer and use this inexpensive laminator with these laminating pouches. Scissors will do for cutting out laminated cards, but having a paper cutter for this task makes prep so much faster.

There are multiple ways you can use these cards, depending on the ability and interest of your child. It is also fun, but not necessary to have small items for your child to use for matching as well. Here are four main ways we use them.

1. Basic matching of any combination. Item to picture, item to word, picture to picture, word to picture, and word to word. I often leave them out on our Tot Tray shelf for the children to explore on their own throughout the day.

2. Movement matching. I also use movement games when we are matching, such as having them pick a word, complete a short obstacle course, and match the word to the picture at the end.

3. Memory matching. Flip all of the cards face down and take turns flipping them two at a time to try to make a match. I suggest using the whole cards for this, so that they are constantly seeing the word as well. If you have a reader, you could do the same game but match the split picture to the word.

4. Hide and Seek matching. During sensory play, hide the split pictures in rice or lentils and keep the words on the table. For my younger daughter I will hide one form of the pictures and the other form of the pictures will go on the table. They will dig to find a picture and then find the correlating word on the table to match.

There are endless ways to use these simple cards and I know over time I will just continue to find new ways to use them to engage my little ones. How do you use them? I would love to hear!

Tot Trays, Simplified

I adore Tot Trays. If you have never set them up for your children, they may seem like a lot of work from the outside. They could be, but they can also be incredibly simple. You can usually find a mix of super low-prep and moderate-prep trays on my shelf at any given time. Here are the two main reasons I love having Tot Trays as part of our schooling.

They encourage independent learning.

I typically introduce each tray to my children by sitting with them to complete it until I can tell that they understand. Typically after one or two demonstrations, I don’t use the trays in a scheduled teaching time. From them on, they are available at my children’s level to take off the shelf and interact with on their own. Sometimes they ask me to to work with them and other times my two preschoolers work together with each other. I do not push them to explore any one tray. However, our homeschool shelf which holds all of our trays is in the living room where we spend most of our day. Throughout the day I frequently see them each go over to the shelf and pull something off to explore.

They require one-time prep for lots of repeat learning experiences.

Have you ever spent forever preparing a preschool activity to have your child reluctantly half-complete it and then toss it to the side? A few experiences like that is enough to make you want to stop home educating all together. I love Tot Trays because what my child might have zero interest in on Monday, they may love by Friday. Usually, I rotate our trays out every weekend, but some stick around longer if they are getting a lot of use.

There are endless amounts of ideas online for setting up tot trays. I use light-weight trays, baskets, and small bowls. Sometimes, even a cookie sheet. Whatever you have that your child can pick up and carry. We have an open shelf in our living room that my husband built specifically for this purpose, but any shelf at your child’s level will do. When preparing to set mine up I look for a few key things. I want them to be realistic in prep time, not require constant supervision (not messy or dangerous), and the activity should reach the perfect balance of my child’s abilities and a challenge. My shelf usually has at least one sensory tray such as beans with small bowls and Helping Hands tools. I also always have a tray with our current letter’s 3-part cards, which I offer as a free printable. The rest of the trays are usually activities to practice counting, matching, and fine motor skills. Sometimes they correlate with a book we are reading or a theme we are studying.

Here are some examples of recent trays I have set up:

Supplies used:

Cookie tray | Mini broom & dustpan | Little bowls | Black beans

Supplies used:

Tweezers | Pom-poms | Trays | Construction paper

Supplies used:

Basket | Preschool scissors | Construction paper

Supplies used:

Tray | Small bowls | Sticks | Toilet paper roll | About Birds

Supplies used:

Tray | Construction paper | Single hole punch

Supplies used:

Basket | Small bowls | Illustrated 3-part cards | Real Life 3-part cards

My favorite Tot Tray Supplies not pictured:

Curriculum

One of the first questions you may ask when you decide to school at home is “What do I look for in curriculum?” I strongly believe that the answer to this question does not come in a neat and tidy package. There are many teaching styles, and it is important that you choose a plan that is sustainable and life-giving to you as the teacher, as well as your children. I think we often neglect this side of the equation. Each child in your family has a unique learning style and distinct needs. It is our job to study them and create a plan around how they learn best to discover what makes them fall in love with learning.

For our homeschool preschool, I have been using a beautiful curriculum as my foundation, and I build off of it based on my children’s interests and needs. The curriculum I am using is The Peaceful Preschool, developed by the seasoned homeschool moms of The Peaceful Press. It is simple to follow and beautifully laid out. It comes with a weekly plan for each letter of the alphabet along with a book list. The curriculum also includes activities for fine motor skills, counting skills, practical life skills, large motor skills, and art skills. I have taken their 26-week curriculum and am turning it into a year-long curriculum. I extend each letter unit to two weeks instead of one. For the first week of each letter, I loosely follow The Peaceful Preschool’s themes, suggested books, and most of the activities. I say loosely because I change, remove, or add things based on the skill levels of my children as we go. For the second week, I choose another theme and books that correlate with the letter that were not covered in the first week. For example, for the letter “A”, The Peaceful Preschool focused on apples during Week 1. For Week 2 of the letter A, our family planned activities around the themes of alligators and airplanes. I typically choose what themes and books we will be using a couple weeks ahead of time, based on what I think my children will find interesting.

We add in a lot of extra sensory play, life skills, and fine motor skill practice because these are areas that my son needs extra work in right now. Our family reads a lot, so if there is a book that my kids are really interested in, even if it does not correlate with the current theme, I will run with it and use that as a launching ground for activities and things to study.