All posts by Katie

Reflecting on our trip through the car wash

car wash

One of the ideas I hope to visit again and again through this blog is the importance of responding to children’s interests. The most successful lessons are child directed, and our trip through the car wash illustrates this well.

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As I noted in my planning post, it was clear to me that the car wash was highly engaging for B, and I made an impromptu decision to follow her lead. I was disappointed that I didn’t find more books about car washes at my local library. I worried while writing the plan post that perhaps it was too sparse. And, I knew this would be a better outing if we included Tony so we had to shift our family schedule a bit to make it happen (Confession: I’m not crazy driving through the car wash and worried B might sense my apprehension.).

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Planning: A trip through the car wash

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Although I generally try to plan a week or two ahead, a primary goal of this curriculum is to be responsive to B’s interests and to capitalize on those. This week’s tour was one that caught me by surprise… I hadn’t even considered it as an option until B started showing interest in the car wash. After our recent vacation our car was filthy – dirt roads, highway bugs, snacks in seat crevices – you know the deal. We’re condo dwellers so a hose and bucket in the driveway is not an option for us. Instead, we headed as a family to a local car wash, an errand my husband usually completes solo. We got out of the car and let the crew do their thing, watching as they vacuumed and scrubbed. Betsy was interested and asked a lot of questions. Not surprisingly, she related the car wash to her baths and showers – soap, bubbles, spraying water.

I didn’t think much of it until a few days later when we were at the library gathering books for another topic I had intended to cover this week. As I was seeking out titles I’d bookmarked, B came upon the book Car Wash by Sandra Steen. She was fascinated! She immediately started talking animatedly about our visit to the car wash and noticed from the illustrations that the kids in this book stayed IN the car during the car wash.  Despite our already-pretty-clean-car, I knew that I should plan for us to visit a drive through car wash.

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Reflecting on our trip to the Northwoods

I love family vacations! Lots and lots of uninterrupted time with people we love in a beautiful setting… what could be better?

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We made record time on our drive up to Wisconsin. We spent the drive reading books, looking out the window, jamming to the radio (ok fine, it was all children’s music and our dance moves were probably alarming people in the other cars…), and watching B’s favorite movie – Mary Poppins. 7 hours – in the car with a preschooler – flew by. A good omen, for sure.

As I reflect on this amazing week… I’m struggling with how to best share everything with you. In contrast to our typical outings, this was non-stop learning and doing for 6 full days. Sharing everything would be impossible. So, I’m going to share a few highlights and a few photos. If you have questions about something I have or haven’t covered here, please feel free to ask in the comments!

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Planning: Our Northwoods Vacation

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This week’s curriculum was dictated by our family plans… it’s time for our summer vacation!! Planning for vacation involves a LOT of work on my part. I’m sure any parents reading this know that packing up a family for a full week is a major undertaking.

So, on one hand, I want to capitalize on this adventure and use our school routine to prepare B and make sure she gains from the experience. On the other hand, it is important to me to minimize extra work – my priority is that both B and I relax and enjoy our vacation.

Our school this week will be less formal than usual. We’ll grab a few books that relate to our vacation during a trip to the library, as well as a stack of books for the whole family to read in the car and on the beach. While on vacation, I plan to simply seek out teachable moments, and to draw B’s attention to the similarities and differences in our vacation routine as compared to “real life.”

If you simply decide that vacation week is a vacation… and you won’t be doing school… no worries! This curriculum is designed to fit into the ebb and flow of normal family life. In our case, we’ve just started getting into our school routine and B has been very excited about it. I don’t want to loose momentum with a week off and I know the trip will be full of teachable moments and learning experiences I might like to capture.

If you do decide to plan curriculum around a vacation, your choice of destination will play a large roll in your decision-making. This summer, we’re meeting friends at their cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Our vacation will involve hiking, swimming, campfires, wildlife spotting, boating, fishing, and more… all bookended by a 7 hour drive to and from our destination.  The planning I’ve described below is focused on our Northwoods trip, but can certainly be adapted to other types of vacations.  Where is your family planning to vacation?  Let me know in the comments!

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Reflecting on our trip to the grocery store

This week’s outing was a great success! My husband, Tony is in charge of keeping our family fed – this includes most of the shopping and cooking. Usually Betsy joins him for a big weekly shopping trip. In fact, most everyone who works at our local Trader Joe’s greets them by name when they enter the store… and looks confused when B & I walk in sans Tony for the occasional missed item.

Prior to our visit to the store for this week’s tour, B and I sat down at the kitchen counter with a couple of pens and some paper. We each wrote a list of what we might need for pizza. B was very intentional about writing her list of items. Although the marks she made were not actual letters, they were great pre-writing strokes. She had a variety of straight and curved lines, much like those that are used in conventional writing. As she wrote, B dictated the words to me – cheese, sausage, red pepper, guacamole (more on this later…).

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Planning: Our trip to the grocery store

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Your child has, no doubt, accompanied you to the local grocery store before… on multiple occasions. Shopping together might be a part of your weekly routine, or it might be a welcome childless outing for you most of the time.

This week, your child will take an active role in the shopping. You might want to plan accordingly… this is not a shopping trip during which you should expect to stock a months worth of groceries. You might also give some consideration to the choice of grocery store – your child will navigate a smaller grocer (we love Trader Joe’s) much more easily than a mega store like Costco. A store that doesn’t feature a major toy or candy aisle will make it much easier for your student to focus on the task at hand. Finally, you might want to time your visit to avoid crowds. A weekday morning is ideal, if the weekends are your best option you might find the store less busy first thing in the morning when much of the childless world is still snoozing.

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Reflecting on our trip to the library

We started our school journey last week with a visit to the library. Before going, I talked with B about how this was a special library visit because it is the start of her preschool. She was excited… but she’s always excited to visit the library!

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In advance of our visit, I had placed holds on two of the books I recommended in the library planning post – Library Lion and Lola at the Library. When we arrived B returned our previous stack of books – a favorite job – and then we proceeded to the children’s section. She picked a variety of books and filled her bag and then asked to read. We read the two books about libraries.

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Planning: Our first trip to the library

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A trip to the library is a foundational visit for this curriculum. We’re treating this visit as our “tour” this week; however, the library will become a weekly destination moving forward. This trip is an opportunity to introduce your student to the library or to revisit it with new eyes, and to explore the resources available and systems in place.  My primary goal for this week is to introduce B to the basic structure of our school week – we’ll practice checking out books, and we’ll also try journaling for the first time this week.

I encourage you to begin by exploring the online resources available through your library. These can be invaluable in planning and saving time. We use the Chicago Public library; because Chicago has such a vast library network, resources are spread throughout the branches. Nearly any book you can imagine is available, but it can be incredibly frustrating to look for specific items in a single branch. I frequently preview options ahead of time online, and request transfers to my local branch when I see books (or other resources) that might be of interest.

There probably isn’t a lot of logistical planning needed to prepare for this outing. Chances are there is a library nearby – close enough to walk to or with ample parking. If you don’t have a library card already, you might find out ahead of time what documents are needed to get one. I also recommend bringing a special bag for books. B has a special “library bag” (much like this one) that we always bring when we head to the library and that we store library books in once home.

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So how does this work, anyway?

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3 years ago, a 30-minute conversation convinced me that I would home school my daughter though the preschool years (read more about that here).  I’ve spent countless hours since then daydreaming about what our curriculum might look like.

My husband tells me the word curriculum is jargon, and asked what exactly it means. Maybe he’s not the only non-educator reading. Or, maybe he is (hi honey!). Either way, I think it’s appropriate to clarify here what I mean by “curriculum.” When I think about curriculum, I’m thinking of a course of study – general concepts that we will address and a general structure within which we’ll address them. A curriculum gives some guidance as to the direction that will be taken, but does not necessarily define an outcome and leaves room for interpretation and flexibility in terms of the specific path taken.

3 years ago I knew – as both an educator and a parent – that I didn’t know enough yet to begin planning lessons, specific activities that would take place. I knew that the goals of our learning would be influenced by my daughter’s interests and abilities, as well as family decisions (such as budget and what type of kindergarten she might attend) that we hadn’t made yet. So… I focused my daydreaming over the past few years on a curriculum structure. How would I organize our learning in a way that was flexible, yet emphasized skills and content I believed were important for a preschool student?

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Where this all began…

The early years as a mom

When my daughter, B, was about 6 months old I met someone who changed the course of our early years. We met in a professional capacity. I quickly became interested in networking with her, but not because of the many parallel experiences on our resumes. Instead, I was completely enthralled when she talked about her 4-year-old twins. As a new mother, I was grasping for my former personal and professional identities, while feeling – gratefully – consumed by motherhood. Quite simply, I had not yet figured out how to balance my love of being B’s mom with my desire to pursue other interests. This encounter was my first, as a new mother, with someone who seemed happy and successful in both parenthood and her career and who described a balance I could envision for my own life. She had found the balance I was seeking by melding parenthood and professionalism. She had done so by homeschooling.

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