Category: Homeschooling Support & Encouragement

Our Decision to Homeschool: Kindergarten

Our Decision to Homeschool: Kindergarten

We were outside the library a few days ago, waiting for them to open before heading out of town for vacation. Since I knew we were about to spend 5 hours together in the car, we started playing a short game of “catch the stuffie.”

I would toss the bear to Addie (9) and say the name of a state. She would catch the bear, say the capital city, and then toss the bear to her sister. Katie (5) named a state while tossing the bear to me, I said the capital, and so our cycle continued. After a few rounds, the library staff opened the front door, and we got in line behind the other patrons waiting to enter.

“Do you homeschool?” asked the lady in front of me.

“We do,” I replied with a smile.

The fact is, I probably would have come up with some nerdy way to spend our waiting time regardless of where my kids do school. It’s who I am.    

It’s the time of year when families are considering all their educational options, and I am well aware that we represent “homeschooling” to every person we meet.

And so I ask myself:

  • Are my kids presentable?
  • Did I brush their hair?
  • Are they being “sociable” enough?
  • Are they acting too “weird”?

Playing states and capitals while waiting for the library to open probably qualifies as weird, right? Oops, sorry kids!

Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten? 4 Factors to Consider | Kindergarten readiness, parenting, milestones, learning through play, child development, developmentally-appropriate practice

When I graduated from college at the age of 22 with a degree in elementary education, I had no idea I would be a homeschooling mom. I taught 3rd and 4th grades in a public school for two years before moving. I found a teaching job for 1st and 2nd grades at a small private school in my new town. I’ve also taught in preschools, church programs, and “mommy and me” type classes.

I firmly believe there is no perfect school that will meet every child’s needs. For our girls, homeschooling is the right choice at this time. (We reconsider all of our options for each of our kids each year.)

Here’s how we made the decision to homeschool our kids for Kindergarten:

  • Actual Age

  • Academic Readiness

  • Physical Readiness

  • Emotional Readiness

Actual Age:
Both of our girls are YOUNG.

Addie was born in the middle of June, but was actually 14 weeks early. If she had been born on her due date at the end of September, she would have had to wait a year to start school.

Katie was born the first week of September, which put her at the very end of eligibility for Kindergarten. (We live in Iowa, where the cut-off date is 9/15.) She would have either been the very youngest in her class or one of the very oldest in her grade.

Academic Readiness:
Both of our girls are early readers.

When Addie started reading between her 3rd and 4th birthday, I thought it was a fluke. And then her sister started recognizing words when SHE was 3. Even though Kindergarten has become more academic over the years, I knew both girls were more than ready to handle the curriculum at the age of 5.

Physical Readiness:
Both of our girls napped until their 5th birthday.

I knew that our girls would not be ready for a full-day Kindergarten program at our local public school. They each needed extra time to build stamina for 7 hours of instruction and group activities (especially my introverted child).

Emotional Readiness

Ultimately, we knew pretty early on that we had two choices with our girls:

  • either wait a year to put them in public school (when they were a young 6) OR
  • homeschool them for Kinder and see if they “caught up” with their peers.*

We knew it would be easier to retain (hold back) one or both of them–if they ever needed it–then to move them ahead a year if we chose wrong. Do public schools even “skip grades” anymore?

(*Some towns have transitional Kindergarten classes or private, half-day programs that might have worked in a similar situation.)

Homeschooling for Kindergarten meant we could give our girls more time to mature emotionally and physically while still giving them what they needed academically.

And along the way, we discovered that homeschooling is a GREAT fit for our family’s lifestyle and schedule.

Is your child getting ready for Kindergarten? What school options are you considering?

Grab your FREE Learning at Home Checklist! | child development, family relationships, homeschooling advice, homeschooling for beginners, tot school

Grab your FREE Learning at Home Checklist–10 questions to get you thinking about
tot school, preschool at home, or homeschooling for Kindergarten!

7 Must-Have Math Toys for Every Family

7 Must-Have Math Toys for Every Family

In all my years teaching in a classroom, it’s taken me exactly one year of homeschooling both of my children to realize one very important thing:

Everyone learns differently!

This past year, with one child in 3rd grade and another in Kindergarten, I have seen how much easier (and more fun!) learning can be when I factor in each of my girls’ learning styles and personalities to our lessons–especially with math.

One of my girls is extremely math-minded. She seems to grasp new concepts intuitively, often from across the room (or house) while I’m teaching her sister’s lesson. She is an auditory learner and often says she has a number line in her head.

My other girl is extremely competent when it comes to math, but she seems to lack confidence. Math can cause her to freeze up, so it’s important that we stay consistent with our facts review, practice good breathing and positive self-talk (you’d be amazed at how much this helps!), and use strategies like pictures to walk through our problem-solving.

Each girl also loves using toys (teachers call them “manipulatives”) in our math lessons, so I want to share each of our favorites!

Just a reminder: we use affiliate links on our blog, which means I may receive a small commission if you choose to purchase any of the items that I recommend. Rest assured, I only suggest items that our family loves and uses regularly. 

7 Must-Have Math Toys for Every Family | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

Here are our seven must-have math toys for every family!

Unifix Cubes

We love Unifix Cubes for math play! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

Unifix Cubes are great for building patterns and counting! Young children love to build with them, and they build fine motor skills, too.

Pattern Blocks

Pattern blocks are a great toy that grows from toddlerhood to elementary school! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

Pattern Blocks are a terrific open-ended activity for toddlers and preschoolers. Our girls loved to copy the pictures on the boards in this set from Melissa & Doug when they were younger, and now they like to create their own designs during their free time. As our girls have gotten older, they are great for teaching fractions and practicing geometry.

Lacing Buttons

Lacing buttons also make a great activity to talk about same and different! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

At first glance, you might not think these lacing buttons are a math toy, but they are! So much of early math is recognizing how objects are the same or different, and this set allows you to discuss size, shape, number of holes, and color. My girls love to play “What’s Missing” and remove one item at a time (or more!) from a similar matrix. Bonus: they are great for lacing and building fine motor skills!

Clock Puzzle

Learning to tell time is more fun with this hands-on activity! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

My girls show me every day that learning through play is the best way! I bought this Hape wooden clock puzzle when it was on sale a few years ago, and both kids have learned how to tell time with minimal instruction. I added the H for hour hand and M for minute hand, and that seemed to solve most of the confusion between the two. (We have a lot of analog clocks in our house, too–so our girls get a lot of clock practice.)


Play money is a must-have for every family! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

Having a play set of money around is great for when the kids want to play store! We also like to do a coin sort every once in a while using a container with multiple sections OR grabbing a handful of coins and counting them together. We bought our set from The Dollar Spot several years ago, but this set is inexpensive and has great reviews, too.

UNO Cards

UNO has so many learning through play opportunities! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

We have a set of UNO cards that my younger daughter loves to play with! (It helps that her older cousins bring out their UNO cards every time our family gets together. Nothing like positive peer pressure from the teenagers!) When she was just a toddler, I pulled out all the “extra” cards and left her with only the numbers. She loved to sort them by color, put them in numerical order, and now that she’s older, add them up by the handful.

Bucket Balance

Both of our girls love to experiment with our bucket balance! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

I first bought a balance for my classroom when I was teaching preK, and it quickly became a favorite toy for both girls. The version we have is not highly scientific–I will probably upgrade in another year or so–but it’s great for toddlers and preschoolers to experiment with. (And you’ll see in the top picture that my Kinder girl immediately started playing with it while I was taking pictures for this post.)

Want to learn more about doing math at home?

If you are:

  • the parent of a child ages 2-7
  • passionate about your child’s education
  • committed to making learning at home as FUN as possible, and
  • interested in child development…

then our Making Math Fun workshop is for YOU.

I will teach you TEN important math concepts that every child should learn by the end of Kindergarten *and* demonstrate simple learning activities for each concept.

You will walk away with:

  • lifetime access to the replay (AVAILABLE NOW!)
  • a PDF download of the workshop notes
  • weeklong access to our Q & A session
  • several “red, white, and blue”-themed activities that you can do all month long with your child

Make Math Fun for Your Kids and get them ready for Kindergarten! | child development, learning through play, preschool math, toddler math, educational toys, preschool toys

10 Ways to Keep Hands and Minds Busy During Read-Aloud

10 Ways to Keep Hands and Minds Busy During Read-Aloud

Welcome to Week 2 of our Read-Aloud series!

Here’s what you can expect–links will be added as posts are published:

Our oldest daughter is a snuggle bug. Her two love languages are physical touch and quality time, so needless to say, she’s always loved curling up on the couch for a good read-aloud session.

On the other hand, our younger daughter is a tactile/kinesthetic learner. Her body is constantly in motion, and she resists sitting still for a story. She slides down off the couch and plays with anything she can find within reach.

I used to let it bother me. I used to correct her: force her to sit next to me and look at the pictures as I read aloud.

But that’s not who she is–she’s an auditory learner, and she hears every word I say–whether I think she’s paying attention or not. I often find her later, sitting on the couch alone, rereading the book and looking at the pictures at the pace that suits her.

10 Ways to Keep Hands and Minds Busy During Read-Aloud | quiet activities for kids

I’ve learned to be okay with our differences. Now we dance for 10-15 minutes every morning before read-aloud time, and I don’t mind at all if she chooses to play quietly during the story.

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you.)

Most of the time she brings out her favorite bristle blocks, school bus, and wooden people. When I’m done reading, I hear her acting out the story I just read with her little characters.

As parents, it’s important for us to determine if our children are deliberately disobeying us or if they simply cannot do what we are asking of them.

We also should ask, “Does this really matter to me?” After thinking about it, I realized that I would rather have a quiet, happy child listening to the story than have her grow up despising our read-aloud times because I made her sit on the couch with me.

If you decide to provide your child with quiet activities during read-aloud times, keep in mind that there is no “magic” product or activity. I’ll share some of our favorite ideas, but honestly — the BEST activity is the one that works for you and your child.

10 Ways to Keep Hands and Minds Busy During Read-Aloud:

  1. Bristle blocks (we have these)
  2. Puzzle
  3. Wooden people (we have these, in addition to the set with the school bus found here)
  4. Foam blocks (look at the dollar store)
  5. Pipe cleaners
  6. Water beads (we have these)
  7. Modeling clay
  8. Geoboard (we have these)
  9. Paper and crayons
  10. Quiet sensory items, like pom poms, cut straw pieces, etc. Children love to sort, count, fill, and dump little items —celebrate their contentment and read a chapter or two!  

If you have any additional suggestions, I would love for you to leave them in the comments!

10 Ways to Keep Hands and Minds Busy During Read-Aloud | quiet activities for kids