Preschool Record Keeping

I’ve been getting into the Core Knowledge curriculum more lately as September approaches. We have the free pdf of the Preschool Sequence available from their website, but I also found a book version of the Preschool Sequence at my local library which included a monthly planning guide near the end of the book. The monthly guides were exactly what I needed in getting started. We’ll start Level 2 (4-5yrs) in September (the guides are a Sept-May schedule), and I made a list– mostly the cultural references and isolated skills (like answering the telephone)– from Level 1 (3-4yrs) that I wasn’t certain my daughter had been exposed to already that we can cover now in August. If we don’t get through all the Rhymes, Stories and childhood games, I noticed she’s well versed in some of the cultural references that appear in Level 2, so we could certainly substitute as we go.

My husband wants to keep a school record. At first I felt like, “Really? It’s just preschool.” We don’t even have to report to the school district of our intent to homeschool yet. Luckily, I ran into another, more experience homeschooling mom while out running errands and I complained to her a bit about the idea of adding another burden to my to-do list while just getting started. Her perspective was that it’s actually a great idea to start now because it will get us into the habit, and it will probably take us awhile to find a system that works for us anyway. She also reminded me that when we do report our intent to the district, we’re technically supposed to spend a minimum number of hours in session. So her record-keeping is a spreadsheet that tracks their hours in case anyone ever wanted proof they are meeting those hours, as well for their own reflection of where their time is being spent. It was a totally serendipitous meeting (I had just spent some time staring at the school-sale student planners with my heart feeling heavier and less enthused the longer I compared their merits), and I came away with renewed enthusiasm, and the ideas I had in my head solidified into better clarity of how I wanted to try to track our progress.

While my husband would rather a digital record (easy to back-up and searchable), I know deep down I can’t maintain a digital record. Not only is my time on the computer already very precious and mostly relegated to work-time, but my daughter is much happier the less I am on it as it is. Imagining us side by side at the table–her coloring or whathaveyou– and I record-keeping… she will perceive me as emotionally available if I’m analog but ignoring her if I’m on my computer or a tablet/phone.

Six months later: my time on the computer is very precious, indeed. I saved the above thoughts as a draft and never “finished” it! So… I did finish taking notes on the month-by-month 2-year guide. And I did make a digital version to print out for analog record-keeping. I’ve attached Level 2 September and October as a pdf here; pretty much a straight copy of the recommended schedule. If something was signified as a skill to be worked on all year, then I included it each month following, but at 50% grey. My idea was a chart/table, with the left side signifying the knowledge area, the middle laying out the specific skills/concepts for those spheres, and the right side is a blank column for notating dates we addressed each item. Then I’d have a regular old notebook/loose-leaf to use as a dated journal to make more in-depth notes about what we did, time spent, and other thoughts. I designed my version of the monthly guide with facing pages (2-sided printing) and enough gutter for 3-hole punching.

But, I have to admit we haven’t been really record keeping in practice. Partly because I haven’t found a good location to put my 3-ring binder so it can stay open and ready to jot notes as we go (we go with the flow around here, so it really does need to be always-ready for it to work out, I think), and partly because I have a million other things that feel more pressing than transcribing our day. Every couple of months I look back at my print outs, and instead of dates it’s more a like “hmm, recognize numerals 1-6 and match them with appropriate quantities? check. this? check. that?” Checking in with the guide has had the effect of greater confidence we are doing okay with this homeschooling thing. We may be behind on the specific cultural references, but we are reading books, and she does seem to be keeping pace more or less with their benchmarks with very minimal explicit instruction. And that’s where I’m at with preschool record-keeping (or the lack thereof) in February. I should say I am keeping samples or taking pictures of her work with idea of a portfolio-style record of sorts. What with the new baby and all, I’m just happy we are actually juggling everything as well as we are!

Preschool Calendar for Learning

I started looking closer at the CoreKnowledge Preschool Sequence Month-by-Month outline, and have decided to condense select elements from the Level 1 activities/concepts into the rest of the summer, and start Level 2 in September. One of my first parent-generated orders of business is creating a calendar and an illustrated schedule of our daily activities.

I considered creating an illustrated velcro-dot + laminated card stock type of reusable monthly calendar + daily schedule. Pocket organizers also seem popular, because (of course) I googled for what other people were doing. While at the local office supply store, I decided on a magnetic dry erase calendar. I have some old ink jet magnet sheets lying around, and plan to use those to generate the numbers, months & holidays we can use month-to-month, year-to-year. For now I just used the dry erase marker, but I think magnets will allow my daughter to participate more fully as well as a cleaner appearance. With the dry erase we can get started immediately, and it’ll give us a good stand-in when I don’t happen to have an appropriate magnet for a special day.

L is for Line

eye-dropper watered-down tempura painting

We began our “school at home” yesterday, as my daughter proudly announced to the circulation librarian (as we checked out so many picture books that I had to take the step of opening a card in my daughter’s name to accommodate their 40-book limit).Continue Reading

Beginning Homeschool

My eldest daughter (I’m currently pregnant with our second) was previously attending a local preschool for children with and without special needs. Because she was significantly premature, she was at risk of having developmental delays and learning issues. Her very low birth weight categorically qualified her for early intervention services in our state, which meant a special needs public health nurse visited our home and tracked her development until she was 3 years old. She needed physical therapy from birth until she could walk; gross motor skills were her main issue. When she started half-day preschool at 2.5 years, her gross motors skills were merely borderline delayed and she was considered a typical kiddo. We appreciated the quality of care and experiences she had there. It was a good fit for her and us, and I concentrated my working hours while she was in school.

Unfortunately, the nonprofit private school is– like so many schools– facing financial difficulties, and they made a decision to cut the afternoon-only session for the 2013-2014 school year as most families prefer mornings or all-day sessions. Having enrolled our daughter in the summer session last year (with morning-only for half-day options), we quickly realized morning start times conflicted with our family circadian rhythms. We kept thinking we’d eventually get used to it, but the summer dragged on and we struggled through. Our collective productivity plummeted and– being my husband and I are both self-employed– it felt like a total disaster of a summer. This is when we realized a traditional school schedule was going to be an issue once she started her K-12 education. Even if we could go straight back to bed after dutifully taking her to school, she couldn’t. We had been looking at the school options in our area for a few years and included homeschooling in our pondering, but it wasn’t until we were faced with considering other preschools that still had afternoon sessions (to buy us another year of not making a K-12 decision) that homeschooling became the most attractive and seriously-considered option for us.

And here we are. Before school let out I joined a local, nonreligious homeschooling group that has nearly 100 members and a wide range of family homeschooling styles. Even before joining the group, we had decided to start with CoreKnowledge as our baseline, because we like that it appears to be a sound framework– some direction but room to teach as we see fit. I don’t think I could live with teaching from a textbook or predetermined scripts (our souls need creative freedom), yet starting with something thoughtfully developed is considerably less overwhelming than starting from scratch. The preschool sequence reads very much like a developmental checklist– language familiar to us given the years of intervention screenings.

And here it is July. Our daughter’s last day of preschool was in May. The last month+ has been a shift and struggle to balance childcare, work, and home. This is expected and understandable, but still difficult nonetheless. I originally planned to “start” in August, but I am writing this and beginning my blog here with the thought we need to start as soon as possible. Summer vacation (or going forward, radical—or not-so-radical—unschooling) is not sustainable for us. I work from home, and without some sort of conscious “schooling” (and conscious parenting), there’s a risk for neglecting our daughter instead of nurturing her. Work has it’s way of running over everything else, as any freelancer can probably understand. Fortunately I like what I do, because my work is also absolutely necessary to our budget and I cannot cut back anymore than I have since our daughter was born. We operate very close to the line these days, so the “making this work” aspect feels high stakes and high stress. In an attempt to manage the stress, I am currently developing our school/work/home game plan and will be posting our progress.