And on to the next adventure.

Mon Cœur has officially graduated from preschool, and so now we embark on a new adventure, school at home. Why?

Curiosity.

MC is soooo curious. If there is anything I’ve learned this year as a preschool teacher with a class of only 11 kids, kids are curious! And observant! And smart cookies!

Unfortunately, I can not address each little person’s questions and also teach what I have planned. So I can only imagine MC asking all of these great questions to her teachers, and not getting every answer due to time constraints.

I want to encourage her curiosity and observations. I don’t want that squelched. I don’t want her to stop asking questions.

It is so difficult and yet so refreshing to take the time to observe and question with her. This requires some unplugging, some reprioritizing, and some slowing down. And golly, it’s worth it every time to do that. When I take the time to listen to her, I always learn something new about her.

Time.

This is a pretty general reason, but we can cover what we need to in less time with just us.

We can have the flexibility to vacation, to go on field trips, or to have a family day on a random Tuesday.

Time is a precious gift, and family is my top priority.

Because I can.

I started to say language and prattle on about how I’d be able to focus more on French…but let’s just simply leave it at… I can. I can do this. I’m qualified, and I believe in myself. That’s a pretty good feeling to have and an essential mindset if I want to be successful. I do. And I can.

Celebrating little successes

In a previous post, I shared six activities to build letter knowledge. We have been working with Mon Cœur’s name regularly for over six months now.

We’ve used name strips, environmental print (fancy for letters found all around – in magazines, on signs, on billboards, in books, etc), and songs to learn the spelling of her name. She’s used magnetic letters, tiles, stamps, and stickers to build her name.

Recently, very recently, MC has shown interest in writing, and I actually caught her making a pretty well formed E on various papers and “notes.” The other day, while I worked on the computer, she wanted to sit next to me and “work” too, writing her name.

To most, these marks may seem like nothing. Some scribbly letters and all out of order, different sizes, and overlapping. When I saw MC doing this, I couldn’t help but feeling pride for her and her efforts. This is an amazing step towards writing and literacy.

Sometimes it seems like I am repeating an activity over and over and over, with no immediate results to show… That can be discouraging, I know because I have felt this, too. The more I do activities and the more I repeat activities or themes, the more it builds the connections in their brains, the confidence in the information they are learning, and the relationships with those who are working with them. Autumn Vandiver shares the importance of repetition in a child’s world with Happy Tot Shelf.

I continue to encourage and organize activities that revisit the same information with MC, and I love when I get little glimpses into her understanding and application of that information.


Other little successes have been hearing MC selectively and spontaneously use French when speaking to me, counting, or pointing out features in a picture.

We will begin an activity in English, and MC will begin counting in French. The other day we had been working in shapes, and I continued the theme with an activity from one of her maternelle workbooks. As she was looking for les ronds (circles) and when I asked her in French where she saw circles, she circled the tree and said “l’arbre.” She continues to sprinkle her French words here and there, and I take each one as a little victory.

What successes do you celebrate with your child?

Six helpful workbooks for teaching French to preschoolers

In a previous post, I mentioned one of the workbooks that I had found on our recent trip to France. People travel to France to source fashionable finery, redolent perfume, exceptional art, or any number of other things…Montessori inspired pre-school books? This might be a first…

I went a little crazy buying workbooks for Mon Cœur (MC) while we were there – partly knowing I was going to continue to be at home with her and I wanted support for teaching her en français (in French), and partly out of a crazy dream I have to one day open a Maternelle bilingue (bilingual preschool).  I do miss having a classroom and working with students, so…perhaps one day…

I mainly purchased ones I could use right now with her – the 2-4 age range.  It will give us a good reason to return to France, and we simply didn’t have the room in my luggage for anything else!

Workbooks we’re using and like:

I noticed that the majority of the books were rooted in Montessori values, and stickers were used extensively to make an activity interactive, to provide a manipulative. The stickers are added motivation and MC loves them. Bonus: her little fingers working to peel each sticker are building fine motor skills.

Below are descriptions and a review of each book:

Toute ma maternelle Petite Section (Hachette)

Age range: 3-4 years old

Activities: Eighty-eight activities cover language, writing, math, and discovery of one’s world.  

Sounds, initials, introducing oneself, tracing rounds, straight lines, shapes, giving one’s age, directional prepositions (up/down, behind/in front of), shapes, and counting 1-6 are just some of the activities to be completed.

Personal review: I really like that for each activity, the educational goal is given: Draw rounds, differentiate sizes, memorize a short song and its gestures, find and associate identical images, recognize a three letter word, reproduce a repetitive pattern.  I also love how each activity has a short question to jump start the activity – what’s the weather like today?  Today, it is [x day of week], What time of day is it?  We are in [x season].  Each of these questions is accompanied by pictorial answers for the child to circle.  These questions are repeated throughout the book, so that by the time we finish, these questions will have helped build an understanding of days of the week, seasons, times of day, and weather.

Extras: This book comes with a “whiteboard” page with numbers 1-10 as well as a poster with the alphabet on one side and a picture of a house (and an accompanying story) on the other.

J’apprends à lire et à écrire (Hachette)

Age range: 3-6 years old

Activities: Fifty-five activities start out with simple one letter- one sound correspondences, and two letters-one sound, and then complex phonemes.  Letters are presented in a progressive order of difficulty, script (cursive) writing is introduced, and pictures are used to practice with words containing the focus letter.  As the book progresses the student goes from reading and writing single letters to syllables, to simple words and even phrases.

Personal review: I am not sure if I bought this book more for MC or me!  I am always looking for ways to improve my pronunciation, and this book presents letter combination and sound correspondences that will help me to (correctly, hopefully) teach MC the proper pronunciation to help with reading, speaking, and writing.

Extras: The book comes with lettres rugueuses, rough letters for little fingers to peel, place, and trace.

J’apprends à compter jusqu’à 100 et à calculer (Hachette)

Fun fact: in France, they begin counting with their thumb, instead of index finger.

Age range: 3-6 years old

Activities: This book presents 85 lessons for counting and the four operations in a Montessori-style manner, with raised numbers, and images depicting math used in everyday life.  There are lots of visuals to help introduce numbers, counting (one to one and counting on fingers), and writing numbers.

Personal review: Each lesson begins with a picture to make an observation. I love this starting point to begin a lesson, where MC and I can have a conversation about what we see and then relate that to the lesson. For math, at least through the number ten there is a focus on the numerical symbol, the number on the face of a die, the number as represented by fingers on the hand, as well as counting physical objects.

Extras: Stickers to use for activities as well as chiffres rugueux, rough numbers for little fingers to peel, stick, and trace.

Mon cahier Montessori des lettres (Nathan)

Age range: 3-6 years old

Activities: The alphabet is presented, letter by letter, not in alphabetical order, rather in order of difficulty.    This is more of a scrapbook where MC can collect pictures of friends, pictures from magazines, and stickers from the book for each letter of the alphabet.

Personal review: I think a notebook of letters could just as easily be made from scratch, using a composition notebook and pictures. It is handy though to have the stickers, and have a book with a researched order to present letters. I appreciate the guidance given to parents at the beginning of the book regarding letter order, and how to introduce the letters. This is a great ready-made book to allow us to survey the world around us (and to use the sticker inventory at the back of the book) to find and categorize people and things that begin with each letter of the alphabet.

Extras: Stickers

Ma Maternelle avec Montessori (Larousse)

Age range: 3-4 years old

Activities: This book presents a mix of activities, 85 total, that teach the letters of the alphabet, counting, arranging, and categorizing, and discovery and games.  The letters are arranged in alphabetical order here, with math and observational activities alternating between each letter.

Personal review: We have only just started this book, although MC loves it. For the letter pages, instead of having her practice writing a letter across a whole line, I have her practice tracing the large letter. MC is three and a half, so the thought of making her sit with a pencil and make a line of A’s is not appealing to either of us. She enjoys finding the letters in her environment and in print, and we make letters with play dough and tracing with our fingers. Leaving this part of the book blank for later, it will let us go back to review the letters and then practice writing.

In order to give consistency and repetitive practice of letters, we’ll be following the alphabet order in the book reviewed just above, Mon Cahier Montessori des lettres.

Extras: Sticker alphabet and cut out manipulatives for geometric shapes (for sizing and categorizing activities).

à la maternelle Je découvre et j’apprends en images! (Magnard)

Age range: From 2 years old

Activities: The 19 activities in this book are fairly short, designed to go with a toddler’s attention span.  Each theme has one large picture to talk about, with a question, a short fact, and then 2-3 activities incorporating simple graphics (making dots, coloring, tracing a route), math concepts (recognizing smallest and largest objects, recognizing shapes, coloring pictures that have a certain number of objects), discovery (recognizing fish from a set of other animals,  animals with horns, teeth, etc, ), language (matching objects that belong with certain characters, finding the object that does not belong, circling named objects), and reading (letters).

Personal review: I’ve used this book the most so far, as it is simple to use, I can skip around, and its focus is mainly on themes for discovering the world around MC.   Some themes include in the kitchen, the Three Little Pigs, the beach, at the market, pirates, the bath, flowers, etc.  

This book has been great because we can complete an activity in one sitting of about ten minutes, it introduces vocabulary to MC, and she loves talking about the large picture.  If we are starting a themed unit that is also presented in here, or reading a book that incorporates one of the themes, I love to use this book in tandem to reinforce concepts.

Extras: Stickers for certain activities. One sticker per page with one of two characters disguised to fit in with the activity’s theme.


What questions do you have about how MC is learning French or the workbooks we have chosen?


Read more about our France trip in the posts below:

Or, visit my Instagram for more pictures from the trip. 

Six name activities to build letter knowledge

Over the past six-ish months, Mon Cœur has been doing different activities that focus on the letters of her name. I wanted to start teaching her letter knowledge, one of six pre-literacy skills. According to the Noyes Library Foundation, the six pre-literacy skills to build with children are: print motivation, print awareness, letter knowledge, vocabulary, phonological awareness, and narrative skills.

Today’s focus: letter knowledge, specifically letters in children’s names.

When we began working on letter knowledge, I chose to work first with the five letters in her name, instead of working with the alphabet in order.  I have loved watching her learn these letters.  It started with understanding the letters in isolation and then combining, in specific order, those letters to spell her name. She surprised me one day when she pointed out letters on a sign and claimed them as her letters!

Why start with letters of her name instead of A, B, C?

Her name is important to her.  She has a concrete and strong connection to it.  So it makes sense to start with these letters for these words that she uses so frequently. The ownership and pride attached to the letters that form one’s name make it a natural place to begin.

Activities for encouraging learning letters of the name

The following activities are listed in the order that we did them, so that skills are built on each other.

Play dough name puzzle

We love to play with play dough, and one activity we can do with names and play dough is rolling the dough out, and then pressing MC’s name into the play dough using magnetic or wooden letters.  Then placing the letters on the side, MC has to match the letter to the indented letter in the dough.

Color/stamp your name

We’ve done many variations using the do-a-dot markers, paint and q-tips, sticker dots, and stamps to fill in the letters of her name.

Letter hunts & name building 

We worked extensively with building her name using lots of different materials

-matching individual letters on post its to names on white paper

-finding letters in a muffin tin (they were hidden under painters tape and MC had to cut/tear the tape to find the letters and then build her name)

-matching large pieces of paper with letters to brown paper bags labeled with the same letter, then placing the letters in order

-At Easter time, a fun spin is filling plastic eggs with letters. MC would “crack” the eggs to find letters, and then match the letters to her written name on paper.

Songs – remix versions

MC’s first name has five letters, just like B-I-N-G-O, so I revamped the lyrics to go along with her name: “There was a momma had a daughter and ___ was her name-o….” We used this along with building her name, she had scrabble-like letters and there was a letter or two missing from each name.

Laminated name strips

I made name strips on cardstock by drawing 1 x 1 inch squares for each letter in each name we wrote.  I “laminated” them by using packing tape.  I used MC’s name as well as family members names to make name strips.  We have done so many activities with these name strips from finding her name to comparing lengths of names (which one is shortest? longest? how many letters are in your name?) and even find and circle “x” letter. This was an activity that I presented once, and she consistently went back to the material wanting to do again and again.

Find your name (highlighter/paper activity)

This was a fun activity once MC had been exposed many times to her written name.  I wrote her name, Mommy, Daddy, and her siblings’ names and gave her a highlighter.  She had to take the highlighter and circle all of her names.  She “read” her name each time she circled it, and after she was done, I went back and read all of the names and asked for help every time we came across her name.

Which activity will you try with your toddler or preschooler?

Falling for all things Fall: Apples, Leaves, and Pumpkins!

I really feel this year (especially) that fall is a new beginning for us.  I am super grateful for the cooler weather and the extra time spent outdoors.   

Last week we went apple picking at our local orchard, Carter’s Mountain.  While it was a different experience with “the Virus” this year: “Mommy, where’s the tractor for the [hay] ride?”  “Sorry Love, because of the Virus, they won’t be doing hay rides.” – it was still a fun and enriching experience for the whole family.

We picked three different types of apple: Jonagold, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious.  The Jonagold we learned should be more red than green and are good as is (so don’t bake with them!). The other two are great for cooking and our family loves a good crisp.  In fact, I believe a good crisp is a suitable meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and snack time in between.  But…that’s just me.

Apple books we read and enjoyed:

Curious George: Apple Harvest

Mon Cœur (MC) loves Curious George, so naturally, we read Curious George: Apple Harvest adapted by Lynne Polvino.  We’ve read other Curious George books and I really enjoy the playful, childlike aspect George brings to a theme and how he discovers different ways that the world works.  

In this particular book, he helps to harvest and sort the apples, and also discovers how a cider machine works.  I appreciate how there’s more than just a main picture to explain information.  For example, with the cider machine, there are three different mini-pictures that sequentially explain the process of making cider. It makes for vocabulary building with sequence words as well as conversation and curious questioning throughout the book.

Applesauce Season

Applesauce Season written by Eden Ross Lipson and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein is a wonderful book exploring different apple varieties and recounting the story of three generations of a family who come together each year to make applesauce.  It is beautifully illustrated, and reads like an interactive, family souvenir recipe narrated by the grandson.  

At the end is a sweet surprise of a recipe for the applesauce made in the book.  I love how this book shows where applesauce comes from (not just a can in the store), and the different variations of taste that applesauce can have (depending on the varieties in season and used).  

After reading this book, it’s easy to see what “eating in season” is all about, and I love how the book begins:

“My grandmother says there’s no reason to start eating apples when peaches are perfect.  So we don’t eat the ones ready in August.”

Applesauce Season

The family lives in the city, so although the book doesn’t include a trip to the apple orchard, MC saw illustrations of a farmer’s market, and added that concept to her concept bank.

Seed by Seed 

What apple themed reading selection would be complete without a book about Johnny Appleseed?  Seed by Seed, written by Esmé Raji Codell and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins takes the reader back in time, away from the hustle bustle of the city to simpler, slower times.  

Although much of what we may have heard about Johnny Appleseed is legend, Codell focuses on five lessons we could learn from him:

  1. Use what you have.
  2. Share what you have.
  3. Respect nature.
  4. Try to make peace where there is war.
  5. You can reach your destination by taking small steps.

This was a fabulous non-fiction read to introduce MC to Appleseed and how he led by example. I love that these five lessons are simply taught for little readers and serve as a reminder for adults, too.

Apple Activities:

As we read these books, we completed various activities involving apples, including:

  • A visit to an apple orchard.  We try to visit the orchard each year, and especially this year, we wanted to get out and enjoy the fresh air and get some apples.  I was impressed that MC remembered the orchard – when we arrived she asked, “Is this the orchard we visit last year with O?” and “Where is the tractor? I want to ride!”

It was a great experience to get out as a family, pick apples, and see how they grow.  

  •  Apple washing:  Yes.  This sounds silly, but those apples needed to get washed before they were eaten or cooked.  I could have done it by myself, but that would have taken less time, made less mess, and been less fun and educational! So I cleaned the sink and MC pulled up a chair to stand on. For the next fifteen minutes, she enjoyed splashing around and using a rag to wash the apples.
  • Apple sorting:  We bought three different kinds (all fairly easy to distinguish – red, green and golden varieties), so I decided MC could complete a breakfast invitation where she sorted the apples by kind and counted.  I counted to see what was the largest quantity of apple we had, then I created a graph that went as high as that quantity.  In the morning, MC took each apple out of the bag and began sorting it into the graph.  Afterwards we counted each kind to practice one to one counting.
  • Apple cake and apple crisp:  MC loves to bake, so naturally we had to make some fall treats to eat. A friend shared her family’s apple cake recipe (delicious!) and an apple crisp is a Fall tradition in our house- one sweet treat that all of us enjoy!

RELATED:  Apple craft: Last year, we ended up with some apples that weren’t quite ready….what to do? We cut them up and did some apple stamping.

RELATED: What’s a breakfast invitation?  Read this related post about our new morning activities we do that are either created or inspired by Days with Grey.

Fall books we read and enjoyed:

Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall

Written by Anne Sibley O’Brien and illustrated by Susan Gal, this was a fun little book to get in the mood for Fall.  MC loved the “magic words” Alakazam, Abracadabra, Shazam, among others, as well as the fold out pages.  We loved reading and relating to all the fall fun festivities – back to school, milkweed seeds floating away, changing and falling leaves, apple picking, and pumpkin patches.  The rhyming and spellbinding words kept MC tapping her hand and smiling as I read. it was a great book to remind us of all the enchanting changes happening as one season ends and another makes its dramatic entrance.

My Leaf Book

This was the perfect book for providing general leaf and tree identification information.  Written and illustrated by Monica Wellington, it provides just enough information about trees to spark a kid’s curiosity and interest in identification. The simple shapes and illustrations together with a “think aloud” show readers how easy it is to identify trees.  Many of the various trees mentioned in the book- sweet gum, honey locust, oak, cherry, sassafras- are trees that we have at our house, so it gave us a springboard for scavenger hunting.

Scattered on each page is a quick, fun fact about each different tree, and at the back there are many different suggestions for leaf projects involving leaf rubbings and prints.

J is for Jack-O’-Lantern, A Halloween Alphabet written by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Illustrated by Donald Wu

This was a great book for us to continue talking about letters and the alphabet in general.  It touches on many different Halloween topics – jack-o’-lanterns, witches, pumpkin patches, skeletons, and scarecrows.  

Although what I read to MC was just a four-line poem for each letter, in the margin of each page, the book included background information or an idea for a craft or a recipe for each Halloween word. Bobbing for donuts, ideas for unusual costumes, deviled egg eyeballs, popular symbols for Halloween were just a few of the margin notes that I found interesting.

Pumpkins

This summer we had good luck with our citrouille (pumpkin) harvest, a French heirloom variety Rouge Vif d’Etamps, also commonly referred to as Cinderella’s pumpkin.

We planted them a little later, around the Fourth of July, and that ended up being perfect timing for harvesting early October.  We have enjoyed watching the vines sprawl across the yard, claiming ten, 15, 20 feet of land.  We’ve watched the blooms open, the fruit begin growing, and then change to a vibrant red-orange color.

Mon Cœur (MC) loves the pumpkin patch, and anything pumpkin…except jack-o-lanterns…There is something about a face on a pumpkin that she does not like…No, it’s not natural, but it’s classic Halloween…So we chose a couple of pumpkins to save and carve, hoping that will take any mystery out of jack-o-lanterns and making them a little less intimidating. The others we processed into a purée and canned for bread, pie, and soup.

Pumpkin books we read and enjoyed:

How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow? 

Pumpkins as boats? Giant pumpkin balloons?  Seriously?  Yes!  Author Wendell Minor wrote the book, How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow? around the theme of giant pumpkins and monumental American sites.  We learned that in Vermont, people actually carve out giant pumpkins to make boats for Regattas and festivals.  In Wisconsin, they hold giant pumpkin contests each year, where pumpkins weigh in around one ton each!  In New Mexico they host a hot air balloon festival where there are many amusing and non-traditional balloons in shapes of animals or insects, in Fall shaped themes, and even a Jack-O-Lantern balloon.

This was a fun, silly book to introduce the idea of giant pumpkins and to show them superimposed with scenic views across the United States, such as Mount Rushmore, Kennedy Space Center, the US Capitol, a Paul Bunyan statue, and the Grand Canyon.

I like how in the very back of the book, each place is labeled with the location (State) and a little history.  I really didn’t believe people made boats out of pumpkins until I saw the back of the book.  It was fun to discover these places, events, and facts with MC.

Pumpkins 

From a gardener’s perspective, I really enjoyed Pumpkins, written by Ken Robbins.  Beautiful photography accompanies the story of a pumpkin’s lifecycle from seed to farm stand or pumpkin patch.

Even though we had our own pumpkin patch to observe, it was nice to have a book that illustrated and narrated the growing cycle of the pumpkin.  

And at the end of the book, there is a quick jack-o-lantern how to. The different carvings allowed us to talk about the faces we liked the most and the faces we liked the least and why.

Pumpkin activities:

As we read these books, we completed various activities involving pumpkins, including:

  • Pumpkin faces:  We have been bouncing back and forth between fall and all about me themed activities.  One morning for her breakfast invitation, I cut out simple orange circles and some eyes and a mouth.  Before I could even get out of bed, she already had the top off of the glue stick and was making faces. Love!

RELATED: What’s a breakfast invitation?  Read this related post about our new morning activities we do that are either created or inspired by Days with Grey.

  • Pumpkin-themed oobleck:  Susie at Busy Toddler frequently posts pictures of oobleck on her Instagram.  I really loved her Halloween-themed oobleck, although our stash of holiday themed knick knacks was lacking…we used what we had on hand: pumpkin seeds, ping pong balls, orange dice, and googly eyes.

Oobleck is a “non-Newtonian” substance, meaning it’s neither solid nor liquid, and yet exhibits properties of both.  It is made by mixing two parts cornstarch to one part water.  You can use food coloring to dye the water and make your oobleck any color you want.  We made ours orange!

It took some getting used to at first- MC didn’t like the texture or the mess. I sat there scratching my fingers through it, picking it up, letting it ooze and drip from between my fingers…I was astounded…It eventually grew on MC, and we were able to save and reuse the oobleck for a few days before having to trash it. She experimented moving it around with a scoop, a ladle, and a funnel. It was so fascinating to see how differently the oobleck reacted to a scoop (it was more solid, and crumbled) versus moving through a funnel (it acted more like a liquid, dribbling out of the funnel).

  • Pumpkin baking:

It was a family effort to process two pumpkins, and we were able to purée and can 12 fifteen-ounce jars of pumpkin. That’s a pretty impressive quantity for us, and we’ve been sharing with friends and trying new recipes. We’ve tried a pumpkin bread and muffin recipe so far, and have pie and soup on the list to try next. The pumpkin muffin recipe came from Smitten Kitchen, and made me completely forget about the pumpkin bread we made the week before. It was perfect for a tray of 6 large muffins, and made a great breakfast treat for us…I found them to be so amazing that I ended up eating two this morning! The cinnamon sugar is a perfect topping for the muffins and gives it a satisfying crunch. I love that these can be frozen – I am going to try to make some and stash them for later, when I won’t have time to make them.


What is your favorite fall read or activity?