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Alphabet Cards: A Preschool Project

Did anyone else hoard stickers from their childhood? I got stickers in stockings and birthday cards and then always just wanted to save them for a special time.  Well, turns out it’s a good thing I did, because that special time turned out to be 25 or 30 years later.  I have now amassed- what with childhood, my teaching career, and now with children (and my grandma sending me her hoard of stickers she’s accumulated in her 90 years)-quite a collection of stickers. Just in time for it to be very helpful in the education of my children.

My sticker collection

My sticker collection

Preschool is a simple affair around here.  Lots of free play.  Plenty of time outside.  Nature walks. Good books. Puzzles. Free form arts & crafts.

We also do a little bit of alphabet learning.  Leapfrog videos on Netflix are a wonderful resource.  We read alphabet books sometimes (Doodling Dragons from Logic of English is one of our favorites). We create alphabet books. One project we started last year and finished this year was Alphabet Cards. It was a simple and easy project which was very important for the goal of ever finishing it.

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It was Z-urchin’s project (and Shortstop will do it next year), so anytime that he asked, “Can we do the next letter?” I would respond, “Yes!” Then I would pull out an index card and a marker and write the next letter on the card. We’d pull out the big box of stickers and look through them to find stickers of things that started with the letter on the card. Simple and fun. That’s my kind of preschool project!

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Alphabet Card Wall

Alphabet Card Wall

 

 

 

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Our Curriculum This Year

The students at Terrace Hill Academy are crazy!

The students at Terrace Hill Academy are crazy!

School has been in session in our household for almost 3 months now.  We are tending to start a little later in the morning than I would generally like due to my early morning fatigue (thank you, pregnancy).  However, we are learning a lot and having lots of great discussions, and I am really enjoying seeing the academic growth of my children.  The difference between this year at this time and last year at this time is vast.

This year, Terrace Hill Academy has 2 students enrolled:  one in 2nd, one in 3rd.  There are also 2 preschoolers present in the household, making things fun and a bit crazy. One is 3 and is full of life and passion and energy.  The other recently turned 5 and the day he did so, he developped a sudden and avid interest in school.  This child is a fascinating combination of easy-going and totally persistent.  He’ll say, “I’m hungry mommy, can I have a treat?”  I will reply, “No, it is not time for a treat.”  He’ll say, “Ok, mommy.”  A few minutes pass.  He’ll say, “I’m hungry, mommy.  Can I have crackers?”  I’ll answer, “No, honey, it is not time for crackers.”  He’ll reply, “Ok, mommy.”  A few minutes pass.  He’ll say, “I’m hungry mommy.  Can I have a cheese stick?”  Then, unless dinner is minutes away, I finally offer him an apple or a carrot.

So he has been doing this with school.  “I want to do school, mommy.  Is it time for my school yet?” (Repeat this according to his pattern, as described above.)  I can’t resist him for two reasons:  1.  He’s interested!  Let’s not let all that great enthusiasm go to waste!  2.  He will drive me completely mad if I don’t do something to get him to STOP ASKING.

So, these are curriculum choices and academic plans for a 3rd grader, 2nd grader, and a “Transitional Kindergartner” (whose occasional school buddy is the 3 year old preschooler).

Elementary School (2nd & 3rd grades):

Bible– We are reading through the New Testament and will learn 10-12 new hymns  (Transitional Kindergartners and Preschoolers are required to be present at this time)

Phonics and MathLanguage Arts includes phonics, copywork, reading, and literature

      Phonics– We complete one lesson per week in Logic of English D, spending 5-10 minutes to complete one section of the lesson each day  (We finished Logic of English C a few weeks ago).

      Copywork– My 2nd grader and my 3rd grader each select a sentence or passage from our literature, history, or science book, a verse from a poem or hymn, or a passage from the Bible. They may not repeat the genre in the same week, so they are exposed to a variety of different types of works and sentences.  I plan to find some proverbs, quotes, and wise sayings to include in their options.

       Reading– My 2nd and 3rd graders each have an Independent Reading Notebook where they keep a log of the books they read.  We also chart the types of genres they are reading, keep  track of their reading goals and have a place for recording their responses to their reading.  I assign only a very few books for them to read themselves (at this time), and for the most part let them choose what they will read.  We visit our local library weekly and I try to assist or guide their choices a little bit, hoping to whet their appetite for good, living books that are at their reading level.

Reading Notebook

       Literature– I read aloud living chapter books that either correspond to the history we are studying currently or that I think my children would love.

History– We are finishing The Story of the Romans and then will move on after Christmas to The Story of the Middle Ages.  Both of these books are from Nothing New Press and are very interesting and enjoyable to read.  We also supplement with a number of living history biographies and books about specific topics in history.

Science– We finished Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Astronomy and have just begun Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Botany.  We will take many (hopefully weekly) nature walks to observe and explore creation firsthand and take special note of the plants that are all around us.  We will also read Seed Babies and Little Wanderers as they correspond with my Boatany lessons.

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Math– My 2nd grader is working her way through Singapore Math 2A and will begin 2B this year.  My 3rd grader completed 2B a couple of weeks ago and is now working his way through 3A.  Playing AnimaLogic is a fun math class reward or enrichment and both my 2nd and 3rd graders enjoy the logic puzzles this game provides.  We are also participating in a monthly Math Group with other homeschoolers in our area who use Singapore Math.  It is a great opportunity for my kids to work with other kids to solve problems and gives them plenty of concrete, hands-on practice with mathematical concepts appropriate for their level since the mom who leads it has SO MANY awesome math manipulatives.

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Extras– The plan is to do Art Study, Composer Study, Poetry, Geography, and Nature Study each weekly.  We are also working our way through Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and François and watching our Whistlefritz Spanish videos.  We also try to spend some time drawing and doing handicrafts.  I’m sporadic at best at arts and craftiness, but I am trying to get better.

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Transitional Kindergarten & Preschool

Letter of the Week– We are focusing on a letter each week, reading quality picture books that highlight that letter and completing a page for a personal alphabet book.  Both Z-urchin (5 year old) and Shortstop (3 year old) participate in this and LOVE it!

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Number Sense– We will be working on understanding number bonds in the numbers to 10 by focusing on a different number each week or two and spending a good amount of time on number bonds of 10.

They are also creating number cards

They are also creating number cards

Extras– Our kids have a blast during our weekly visit to the local children’s museum where we have a membership.  I purchased three games/resources to use with my Transitional Kindergartner: Penguins on Ice, Logik Streetand Miniluk.  Z-urchin absolutely loves these activities- in fact, we all find them fun and intriguing.  I highly recommend these resources!  I am hoping to do some fun sensory and science experiments and activities with my preschool boys this year.  They also watch Leap Frog and Reading Rainbow with our Netflix Streaming subscription.  I love these programs for they are engaging and educational and give me a solid- peaceful- half hour to focus on schooling my older two.

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Teaching Among Tornadoes: The Preschool Hour

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When people find out that I am a homeschooling mother of four children, they usually say, “Wow!  You are a busy mom!”

My grinning response… every time?  “Yes, I am!”

There is always a lot going on at my house.  A lot of running, a lot of noise.  A lot of mess, a lot of toys.  (It rhymes AND it’s true.)  My two younger children, a two-year-old tornado and a four-year-old hurricane, create a great deal of chaos, making doing any school whatsoever quite a challenge.

Last year, I figured out some great srategies for Teaching Among Tornadoes and explored 10 different “Tricks,” including Watercoloring, Stamping, New Toy, School Supplies, Leap Frog Videos, Pipe Cleaner Sculptures, Seashells, Sticky Sticks, Magnets, and Dry Erase Cards.

Preschool Hour

And wouldn’t you know it, what worked so well last year just hasn’t been working so well this year.  They don’t want to be shuffled off to the other table for an activity.  They want to be with Mommy and the big, cool kids.  Even when I was faithfully spending “Preschool Time” with them first thing in the morning, it just wasn’t enough.

One morning, my nerves ended up completely fraying because Shortstop spent at least an hour crying nonstop while I was trying to accomplish school with the older kids.  He asked for a green marker, I gave it to him and he cried for a blue marker.  When I gave him that, he cried for crayons.  No matter what I gave him to play with, it wasn’t what he wanted.

I realized after (because I can’t think straight during a lengthy crying episode) that what he really wanted was my attention.  My attention and time.  And I thought, What am I doing?  They will only be this young for a short season.  We obviously need to do this differently.

So I scrapped last year’s schedule  and came up with a new plan.  Which was ok, because I actually love, love, love coming up with new plans!  (I explained how my new plan works in my post, A Day in the Life.)

The Preschool Hour, a midmorning slot in my routine,  was my answer to the (literal) cry of my baby.  During this hour, we do fun things all together.

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During the first half, we either do an art project of some sort or a board game or a puzzle.  Sometimes it fits in with our phonogram from our phonics lesson earlier, like the day we played The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel game when we focused on the IR phonogram.  Sometimes it happens to correspond to our literature selection, like the day we painted and Princess K decided to paint a scene from Charlotte’s Web.

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Other ideas for this time include:  fine motor skill activities such as playdough, sorting buttons or pompoms, beading, stickers; arts and crafts activities such as stamping, painting, weaving, coloring, drawing; playing with building toys such as blocks, legos, or the train set; mathematical or logical activities like puzzles or patterning with legos or pompoms or stickers or paint or stamps;and dramatic play activities such as acting out a story we read or creating puppets and a puppet show or playing store or restaurant.

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During the second half of our Preschool Hour, we do some sort of movement or gross motor activity.  We might dance to the Kids in Motion CD, play Just Dance Kids on the Wii, follow along with Billy Blanks in Tae Bo Kicks (for kids) on YouTube, or jump on our trampoline.  I have (vague) plans to set up an obstacle course one day or run some relay races.  We might ride our bikes or scooters around the block or lead each other in exercises.

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A couple of times a week, we take the whole hour and go on a nature walk or on an outing to the park or to the Children’s Discovery Museum that is nearby our home.

This preschool hour has become an important part of our day.  It is good for us all to play together.  And the creativity, fun, and physical activity is healthy and educational for my preschoolers and elementary kids alike.

 

A Day in the Life

Now that we are in our 11th week of school this year, I finally feel like I’m getting into a rhythm.  I’d like to invite you to walk with us today and see how a day goes at Terrace Hill Academy.

Kids on a fence

 

About 7:15-  Breakfast & Bible.  We reviewed Awana verses and since we took a little extra time with this, we didn’t get to singing the hymn we are currently learning: Victory in Jesus.  Then we read our Bible story about God providing manna to the Israelites in the desert.  We had a great conversation about how manna, God’s heavenly bread, was a picture of Jesus, the Bread of Life from Heaven.

About 7:50- The kids did their morning lists (make bed, get dressed, put away clothes, brush hair and teeth).

About 8:20- Phonics.  We started a new word wall and read Rain and What Makes a Rainbow.  It was such a timely phonics lesson, since it rained this very morning.  One might even think it was deliberate based on the weather forecast.

Manna from Heaven with Betty Luken's flannelgraph; Our new word board

Manna from Heaven with Betty Luken’s flannelgraph; Our new word board

About 8:50- Turned on a LeapFrog for the younger boys (thank you, Netflix streaming!) while I did history and handwriting with the older two.  I read the chapters in our book, Story of the Ancient World, about the death Joshua and the first few Judges.  X-man and Princess K illustrated what I read to them and they narrated the stories back to me.  In handwriting, they learned the cursive g and had to give me 6 perfect g’s.

Narrations done on notebooking pages (thank you Notebookingpages.com!)

Narrations done on notebooking pages (thank you Notebookingpages.com!)

About 9:45- We took a post-rain puddle-splashing nature walk.  It was great fun!  They jumped in puddles, explored what the world looks like after rain (we don’t get to see that much in California these days), found sticks and stems to make instruments for a band, gave me an impromptu performance, and enjoyed the smell of rain that hung heavily in the air.

Puddle Splashing

Puddle Splashing

Exploring

Exploring

X-man found a branch with leaves that he felt should be held over a marching queen or princess.  Princess K happily played the part of the princess and even handed him her purse to carry as he shaded her from the (non-existant) sun.  He walked behind her carefully and respectfully until she accidently got a stick in the eye and the princess decided she’d had enough shade.  He then used the branch as a broom and swept the leaves off the ground ahead of us.  We appreciated his efforts.

I am always amazed at how many things the kids can think to do with such simple items from nature.

Princess K with her servant X-man

Princess K with her servant X-man

About 10:45- We came home and decided to have a late snack of hot chocolate and English muffins.  With snack, we first practiced our Spanish series (from Cherrydale Press’s Speaking Spanish curriculum) and then read the next chapter in Charlotte’s Web.  We were especially excited about this book today because we found a web on our walk this morning, covered with raindrops and looking amazing.

Spider web covered with raindrops

Spider web covered with raindrops

About 11:15- Math time.  I do 15-20 minutes of math with one student while the other plays with the younger boys and then the older two swap places.  This system has been working out very well for us this year so far.

Today we had a real breakthrough day with the princess that left us both smiling huge and then the lesson for X-man was a game to practice skip-counting.  He liked the game so much that when I took it away so as to keep it nice (and not lose all the cards), he acquired some index cards and a pen and made his own version.  This turned out to be great practice and reinforcement and since it was his own idea, it was that much more meaningful and motivating.

Math time

Math time

About 11:45- The kids had some free time while I did some chores and made lunch.  We had a later lunch today, since we had a later snack.

About 1:00- Lunch & science reading.  We are doing Apologia’s Flying Creatures book this semester, and today we started reading about migration.  We discussed the chapter afterwards and talked about the time when Daddy had found a couple of birds in our house and had to chase them out.

About 1:30- School is done for the day!

The kids went outside while I worked on some things I needed to get done.  They dug in the rocks and found all sorts of things, including a little centipede.  They were so excited and a bit creeped out by it.  Princess K wanted to know its name (soil centipede) and Z-urchin had observed it closely enough to explain it very fully to his father at dinner time.

Silly & Sweet kids

Silly & Sweet kids

I didn’t do any dishes today, but I talked with my kids about Jesus and I walked with my kids and found a spider web filled with raindrops, a few totally awesome things about this day.  I’m thankful.

My intended schedule goes like this:

7:00 Kids do their morning list

7:15 Breakfast & Bible

7:45 Morning Chores

8:15 Phonics

8:45 Leapfrog/History & Handwriting

9:20 Quick break while I prepare snack

9:30 Snack & Read-aloud

9:45 Preschool Hour

11:00 Math

11:30 Break

12:30 Lunch & Science

1:30 Reading (a picture book for my younger ones, practice easy-readers 10 minutes each with my older ones)

2:00 One last project or book for school/Naptime for Shortstop

2:30 Free time

That’s the goal, but it hardly ever goes that way.  I’d like to start using a timer to help me make sure I’m keeping to my intentions to have short lessons.

Though really, so often I’m interrupted by the loud toddler, the really good questions that I have to take the time to discuss, or the sounds coming from the other room that mean my almost four-year old might be destroying something.  Again.

But these interruptions are what the homeschooling life is all about.  Love. Family. Curiosity. Deep discussions about God. Learning to let go of my own agenda and follow God’s leading.

It helps that this little weapon of mass destruction is so cute.

It helps that this little weapon of mass destruction is so cute.

So there it is.  A day in the life of me.  Me and my four little learners.

Our School Room: Where Learning Happens and So Does Mess

When we moved into this house two months ago, we made a lot of changes.  One of those changes was our schoolroom.  My husband’s step-dad decided to build us a schoolroom in the garage and I was so thankful and so excited.  He took the wood from the deck we tore out to help build the floor so that the floor would be level with the kitchen, instead of a few steps down.  It also means that our schoolroom floor is nice, rather than a concrete floor and he gave us storage underneath the schoolroom!  He also gave us a window and it is a very nice little room where we can do all of our learning and then shut the door on the mess.

Not that the rest of the house is free of mess at this time.  Or any time.

Anyway, I would like to give you a little tour of our schoolroom.  We also do school at the kitchen table (I like to read while the kids are eating and are therefore more quiet than at other times) and we do some reading cozied up on the couch.

1 Circle Area

This is where we do our “Circle Time.”  Circle time includes practicing our verse or passage (right now it is Psalm 100), practicing our Spanish series (from Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francios) or poem, and then an activity from our daily focus.  On Monday, we focus on geography (right now we are learning the continents and the oceans of the world), on Tuesday, we focus on music (right now we are learning about Vivaldi), Wednesday is poetry day, Thursday is art day (Renoir is our current artist, as you can see), and on Friday, we read a chapter from Wisdom and the Millers.  We finish Circle Time with reviewing our phonograms and playing phonics games.

Underneath the easel, I store GeoSafari stuff, clothespins for pinning cards to our clothesline timeline, and dry erase boards and activities.

2 School Supplies and Kits

Here is where I store our art kits and some of our school supplies.  In the baskets we have a loom, door plaque kit, a flower box kit, perler beads, pony beads, a bracelet kit, pastels and special art supplies, an aquadoodle mat and magnet letters.  In the plastic drawers, I have all the normal office/school supplies: dry erase markers, pencils, pens, highlighters, tape, printer ink, label stickers, notepads, a labeler and things like that.

The basket on the top has our phonics cards and things I use for Circle Time.  And we love having an electric pencil sharpener easily accessible for all to use!

3 Teacher Desk

I sit here (right now, as I type this) often to plan, prepare, print, and pray.  Underneath the desk is a lot of stuff that is only barely organized.  I know where everything is, but it is not efficiently organized like I would like it to be.  I just have not had the time to devote to that yet.  Right now, I am keeping a huge box of stickers ,drawers with pens, pencils, and markers, a file box for school records, my laminator, a box of stationary and my three-hole punch.

 

4 Student work area

Here are where my students sit.  Each of my older two students have a set of drawers and a basket for their school supplies and books.  The whiteboard is magnetic and the perfect size for our needs.  The table was made especially for me by my sister-in-law’s ver skilled brother.

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In this corner, we have our main craft supply cabinet. Way up at the top, we keep paper bags (for puppets), paint sponges, a wood working kit, and our math balance.  The next shelf contains books, special markers, and a ship-in-a-bottle kit.  The next shelf down contains our math manipulatives and supplies (for RightStart Math).  The middle shelf contains a spice rack of little art supplies (including pompoms, googly eyes, sequins, brads, and glitter) and paper of all kinds.  In the lower shelves, we keep paint, do-a-dot markers, big pompoms, craft sticks, stencils, pipe cleaners, and a puppet making kit.

5 Preschool WallI would really like our world map up here, instead of our USA map, since we are doing ancient world history this year.  However, due to several moves happening between my last use of the world map and now, I cannot find it.  Yet.

We also have a chore chart up here.  I haven’t started using it yet, but it is up in hopes that I will be reminded to start that soon.

The pocket chart holds our preschool project.  Z-urchin and I are going through the alphabet and putting stickers (from my big sticker box that is under my desk) on the cards for each letter.  Z-urchin loves this activity and it is sweet time with him.

6 Shelves

Finally, this is our wall of shelves.  We have our nature shelf and nature board, ready to fill with nature things.  We are focusing on learning about birds (through Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures), so we have some bird guides and pictures up, with our other science books and nature tools.  Then all of our current curriculum and some art books are on the other shelf so I have easy access to them.

We also keep our Child Training Bible and Virtue Training Bible on this shelf.  These are resources we love, designed by a dear friend from college.  Her system reminds me very much of how she liked to study and our study sessions together!

We are now in our fourth week of school, using our new little schoolroom and it is great!

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First Day of School Pictures, 2014

The new school year here at Terrace Hill Academy has begun!  We have a 2nd grader, a 1st grader, a 3 1/2 year old preschooler and a 2 year old preschooler.

First Day of School 2014

 

We are still trying to settle into our new home (and if you think that sounds familiar, you are right.  We moved this summer- for the third time in three years), but we have started school all the same.  Because I like chaos.  I thrive in it.  Or survive in it, anyway.

I have some wonderfully crazy students who make my life interesting, bright, fun, and full of laughter and joy (and who bring frustration and tears too).

Crazy kids on the first day of school

 

My second grader:  7 year old X-man.  He loves math, thinking, legos, and video games and doesn’t really like to read (to himself… he does like stories read to him).  I hope to change that last item this year.

X-man, 2nd grade

 

My first grader: 6 year old Princess K.  She loves handwriting and drawing and stories about little girls and their sisters who lived long ago.  She also doesn’t love to read to herself and I hope to change that as well.  And on the first day of first grade she lost her first tooth (so it may have technically been the 2nd day, but we hadn’t actually started school yet that morning and it sounds so much better to say that she lost it on the first day).

Princess K, 1st grade

 

My almost-four-year-old preschooler: Z-urchin.  He is full of life, exuberance, charm, determination, and mischief.  I plan to continue to have preschool time where we snuggle up and read books or put together puzzles or play a game and continue to shepherd his heart toward the Lord and toward obedience.

 

Z-urchin, Pre-K

 

My two-year-old preschooler: Shortstop.  He is sweet and full of love.  He loves being tickled and he loves to draw and he loves for mommy to read books to him.  So I plan to read plenty of books with him and give him lots of paper (so that he doesn’t draw all over my floors, furniture, and walls again this year like he did last year).

Shortstop, 2 years old

 

On our first day of school, I wrote them letters in their little personal mailboxes (they received from their Auntie Lindsay one Valentine’s Day) and they loved them.  We also decorated the cover of our binders, did a little notebooking, read a few great books, started the science curriculum I’ve been looking forward to starting for 8 years, and put together an alphabet train puzzle during preschool time.

 

Getting their letters from mommy on the first day of school

Getting their letters from mommy on the first day of school

 

First Day Activities

 

So other than the thankfully brief episode of vomiting visited upon my 3 1/2 year old and the cold plaguing my 2 year old (that he passed onto me the next day- what a good sharer), it was a great first day of school.

 

Teaching Among Tornadoes: Trick #10 Dry Erase Handwriting Cards

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Homeschooling is a whole lot noisier than I thought it would be before I actually embarked upon the adventure.  With toddlers and preschoolers screaming, crying, yelling, even screeching with delight and joy, it is hard to get my voice heard to anyone about anything, especially anything school related.  Some days, I feel like my preschoolers are on a specific mission to sabotage any educational attempts I make.  My attempts to counteract these agents of destruction are only occasionally met with temporary and minor success.

I’ve been recording some of these attempts here:

1. Watercolors

2. Stamping

3. New Toy (i.e. Hot Dots and Sorting Pie)

4. School Supplies (i.e. safety scissors & construction paper, dry erase board & marker)

5. Leap Frog videos

6. Pipe Cleaner Sculpture

7. Seashells

8. Sticky Sticks

9. Magnets

My most recent trick was actually initiated by my 3 1/2 year old son.  I was handing out dry erase handwriting cards to my older two for a change of pace in our copywork (handwriting) lessons.  Z-urchin decided he really wanted to join in on the fun.  So I handed him and Shortstop each a card and a dry erase marker and let them at it.

I thought that they would just draw on the card- or on the blank back of the card.  Shortstop indeed did just scribble.  But Z-urchin surprised me.  He actually tried to trace the letters accurately and he did a pretty good job, for a 3 year old boy.

One thing I did learn pretty quickly that Shortstop (who is almost 2) needed to be strapped into the high chair for this activity unless I was in dire need of dry erase marks all over every surface of the kitchen.  Which I wasn’t.

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Conclusion:  This is actually a fantastic activity for every day use.  Every day I pull out a card for the older two, Z-urchin wants to do it too.  It doesn’t last very long (5-10 minutes) but it gives me a few minutes to make sure the older two are writing their letters correctly and then gives me a little bit of peace while I prepare their snack.