Pinterest Challenge: Preschool Busy Binder

preschool activity binder

It’s that time again! I can’t believe this is my third time joining in with Young House Love & Bower Power‘s Pinterest Challenge. My previous projects were a homemade kindle case and a magnetic message board. This time around, I Pinterest Challenge’d myself to make a dry-erase busy binder filled with fun, educational, and reusable preschool activities.

We love activity bags and this preschool busy binder seemed like a nice addition to our collection of work that Beach Girl (who’s almost 3 1/2) can do independently so she can learn and have fun, even when I’m trying to get something else done. A busy binder also seems great for waiting at a restaurant, for car trips, or for during church.

Since she’s shown a lot of interest in learning to write letters lately, I mostly chose activities that let her practice drawing lines, curves, shapes, and even letters. Each page offers some other educational (and fun) value too – like learning about animals, drawing silly faces, or discerning different sizes. But my main goal was to let her practice her fine motor skills and develop her hand muscles to get her ready for writing letters. It must be working because yesterday as she tried it out, she told me: “Man! My hand is getting tired!”

preschool activity binder

For this project, I was inspired by:

Like Family, Home, & Life recommends, I used sheet protectors to hold all of the worksheets so that I can swap them out over time (Bonus: Those are cheaper & less frustrating than laminating pages!). Here’s a pack of 25 for $5.88. I also laminated a few smaller parts, but the page protector idea saved me lots of money & frustration.

One of my friends recommended dry erase crayons because they don’t smear or stain as easily as dry erase markers. Writing with them feels just like writing with a crayon, but they erase off the page protectors/laminated sheets easily enough that Beach Girl can do it herself. My friend has tried a few brands and said these LeapFrog ones are her favorite, so I got those. We’ve been happy with them so far!

I also found some other websites that have great printables. There are so many wonderful, free printables, it seems like we could do preschool for 10 years and still not run out! I had fun searching for my favorites (it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the awesomeness though!). In case you’re interested in making a similar binder, here are the ones I chose:

  • I Spy With My Little Eye page – the page is from here, but I got the idea to print two and cut one up & laminate the little pieces here. I wish I’d written the words on each like she did. (I made this one first, so we’ve already spent a couple hours on this activity alone and Beach Girl loves it!)

preschool activity binder

  • A couple connect-the-dot pages from this this Crayola Count & Connect activity book. (I got mine at Target for $1. Keep an eye out around back-to-school time for some great activity books!)
  • Shape Detective from Super Mom Moments – Find shapes that match in each row.
  • More or Less from TLSbooks.com – “Look at the sea creatures in each box. Color the group that has more.”
  • What Do Animals Eat? from TLSbooks.com – Match each animal to the food it eats.
  • Missing Shoes from TLSbooks.com – Match each person (ballerina, fireman, etc.) with their shoes.
  • A Perfect Picnic from TLSbooks.com – Find 10 things that are different between two nearly identical pictures.
  • Can You Draw These? from Crayola – Draw a square, circle, and triangle like the ones pictured.
  • Letter Matching from Paging Supermom! – Match the uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Back and Forth Lines from Crayola – draw lines that look like the ones pictured (short & wide or long & narrow, zig zag, wavy, or wiggly)
  • Crazy, Silly, Happy Faces from Paging Supermom – Draw faces on the heads (There’s also space for writing adjectives to describe each, but we’re not ready for that yet!). This was such a cute activity! Check out “happy” and “cranky”:

preschool activity binder

  • Bear Tracing Activity from TLSbooks.com – Complete the picture of the bear.
  • All Kinds of Weather from TLSbooks.com – Match the children to the appropriate weather for what they’re wearing/doing.
  • Day and Night from TLSbooks.com – draw lines to match up the pictures of what the children are doing to whether the activities happen at day or night
  • Shape tracing – I outlined an oval, heart, star, square, rectangle, triangle, and diamond on a couple pages and labeled them
  • Count and Circle from TLSbooks.com – “Circle the correct number of objects in each row.”
  • Counting Crustaceans – “Count each group of crustaceans. Circle the number that tells how many.”
  • Marine Life Shadow Match – Match each marine animal to its shadow.
  • Draw a line to connect the matching cats (although it says they’re rabbits haha)
  • Writing skills cards (I also found this from All Our Days) – I cut these up and laminated them separately and then stuck all the sheets in a page protector in the binder.

preschool activity binder

  • Same size worksheets (vegetables, fruits, toys, & animals) – Color the items in each row that are the same size.
  • Mazes from Raising Our Kids  – I liked these because there are two on one page, but I think one bigger, simpler maze would be better for a first maze. Beach Girl keeps drawing lines through the “walls” and saying “Look! Jonah got out!” haha
  • Map of the United States from MrPrintables.com – This map is so fun. If you have a color printer, I especially like the look of the color version, but we’ve had fun drawing different road trip routes on the black & white map & coloring places we’ve lived or traveled.
  • Personalized handwriting practice page – This is the part of the book I’m most excited about (idea also from All Our Days). On this website, you can create and print a personalized handwriting sheet with your child’s name, address, etc.

These are pretty quick activities, but the page protectors let us do them over and over again (and I can easily swap them out or add more as she gets older). I’m hoping this busy binder will even last through multiple children!

If you’re visiting my blog, I’d love for you to follow me on Pinterest or to subscribe.

Please make sure to check out more posts from the Pinterest Challenge at: Young House Love, Bower Power, Decor and the Dog, and The Remodeled Life. And, if you’re interested in other activities for preschoolers, here are some of my most popular posts about preschool:

Thanks for stopping by!

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Counting Frogs

teaching how to count

Thank goodness this post isn’t about counting real frogs. There are a ton of frogs outside our house and I’d like to keep them outside! So far, our Frogs-Inside-the-House Count is at one. Let’s keep it there.  Instead, here’s an easy and fun way to teach/reinforce the correspondence between written numerals and the number of items they represent.

What you’ll need:

  • 10+ plastic frogs or other fun counters – I found my frogs at the Dollar Tree in sets of 6.
  • Marker
  • 11 Notecards/pieces of cardstock – To make the cards, I used 11 pieces of extra large notecards that I had on hand. You could also just cut them out of cardstock. Mine measure about 5″x8″.  Just make sure they’re big enough to fit all 10 counters on one piece of paper at once.
  • Small stickers
  • Gallon-sized zip-top bag (or on my last activity bag post, a couple commenters suggested sewing your own bags!)

teaching how to countOn one side of each piece of paper, write a number from 0 – 10.

teaching how to countOn the opposite side, stick the corresponding number of chart stickers, making sure to leave enough space between them for the frogs to fit.

To do this activity, show your children how to do the following and then let them expriment on their own: 

  • Place a card numeral side up.
  • Count out the correct number of frogs.
  • Turn the card over and match up the frogs to stickers to check that you’ve counted out the right number.

This is a great self-checking activity, because if the frogs and the stickers don’t match up, they’ll know to try again.

I made this activity for Beach Girl over a year ago, but just got around to trying it last week. I can’t remember where I found the idea originally, but I’ve seen a few similar activities.  When I made this activity bag, she wasn’t quite old enough for it and I stuck it in my bin of activity bags, intending to try it sooner than now.

teaching how to count

When we finally did the activity last week, I intended to only introduce numbers 0-3, but those were pretty easy for her so we ended up going all the way up to 10. I thought I’d waited too long for it to be a challenge, but as we got into higher numbers, it was harder for her to keep track of the one-to-one correspondence and to not count each frog multiple times. So, I’m planning to do this quite a bit more to help her reinforce the association between written numbers and counters.  This will also be a great way to introduce basic addition.

(You can check out more activity bags we’ve loved here.)

Anybody else have other good counting activities to share? Beach Girl is really excited about numbers right now, so I’d love to give them a try!

I’ve linked up to: Hey Mommy Chocolate Milk, No Time for Flashcards, & Five Days Five Ways.

Homemade Activity Bags… and a sneak peek!

With 3 months left until Christmas, it might sound pretty crazy to start thinking about Christmas presents already. But, especially with my family’s low gift-giving budget and high number of gifts to give, I like to start planning for Christmas as early as possible.

With that in mind, I’m excited to announce a series I’ll be starting at stayatbeachmom.com at the beginning of October — Give Great Gifts on a Barebones Budget. Check back next week or subscribe to find out more details, but if you’re looking to give the people you love meaningful and useful gifts without breaking the bank, then this series is for you.

For now, I’m going to share one of my favorite homemade gift ideas for children — activity bags.

activity bags

If you’re not familiar with activity bags, the idea is that each bag provides everything you need for a child to complete a certain activity. Depending on the ages of children and contents of the bags, these “busy bags” can be great ways to entertain (and educate) children when mom is sick, driving, or busy teaching other children.

I made my first activity bags with my MOPS group a couple years ago and Beach Girl has had hours and hours of fun with her assorted bags. We’ve also had fun making activity bags together for her to give her friends or cousins as birthday and Christmas gifts.

When I make these activity bags, I use Ziplock bags with the zipper closure (so younger children can open and close them easily) and usually stick a piece of cardstock in the bag to help give it some structure. Before filling the bag, I write the name and any instructions on the outside of the bag. As I’m sure you’re aware, you shouldn’t leave your children alone with these bags because they’re a suffocation hazard and some of the contents are chokable.

These are 5 of our favorite activity bags that would make great gifts, all of them using supplies you probably have on hand or can buy at the Dollar Tree:

Paperclips and Straws:

activity bags

  •  about 15 paperclips, opened up so they have two separate loops, as pictured above.
  •  about 25 straws

To link the paperclips and straws together, insert one loop of a paperclip into one end of a straw. Link them up to form various shapes.

Yarn and Sandpaper:

activity bags

  • Sheets of sandpaper
  • Yarn, cut to various lengths

Use the yarn to make shapes and designs on the sandpaper. The sandpaper holds the yarn in place, making this a great activity for the car or a restaurant!

Paper and Clips:

activity bags

  • 6 differently colored pieces of paper, cut into small rectangles.
  • 36 paperclips – 6 of each color to match the paper rectangles.

Laminate the pieces of colored paper if possible (you can use clear contact paper or DIY laminating sheets for this). To do the activity, lay out the colored rectangles and sort the paperclips according to color. Clip the paperclips onto the rectangles. (Honestly, when we made this one at MOPS, it sounded pretty boring to me, but this has been one of Beach Girl’s favorites. She loves getting to clip on the paper clips!)

Foam Stickers:

activity bags

  • Half sheets of paper
  • Foam stickers

Something about foam stickers makes sticker time even more fun! I found foam shapes with sticky backs at the Dollar Tree, but if you can’t find that, just include regular foam shapes and a glue stick.

Tissue Collage:

activity bags

  • Tissue paper in assorted colors, cut into approximately 2-inch squares
  • Construction paper
  • Wax paper
  • Glue stick

Glue the tissue paper onto construction paper or wax paper to make a colorful collage. The wax paper collages look cool hanging in a window.

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I hope y’all have fun making these bags! Do you have any ideas for activity bags or other homemade gift ideas for children?

This post is linked up to Simple Kids, Hip Homeschool, A Round Tuit, Life as Mom, The Shabby NestNo Time for Flashcards, & I Heart Naptime.

Make sure to subscribe or check back next week so you don’t miss out on how to Give Great Gifts on A Bare-Bones Budget!

Update: You can check out my series here – Give Great Gifts on a Bare-Bones Budget.

Our Favorite Musical Instruments for Kids

For Beach Girl’s first Christmas nearly 3 years ago, Beach Dad and I were excited to give her her first musical instrument.  We bought a Little TIkes xylophone, opened the package, and Beach Dad started to sound out a tune.  It sounded awful! The notes were completely out of tune and we were sorely disappointed. After that, we tried out other kids’ musical instruments including another (supposedly better) xylophone and the Parents’ Bee Bop band set and each time, we felt like we were hurting our kids’ musical education more than helping it.

Finally, we found a few musical instruments that we absolutely love. Each of these has been a great value for the price and has stood up to many jam sessions with a baby and preschooler. My favorite thing about them is that they actually sound pleasant… even when they are played by “beginners”. Of course, we do love our kitchen percussion, but if you’re looking to expand your musical instrument collection, here are our favorites:

Woodstock Percussion Mini Chimalong:

musical instruments list

Hohner Kids Rainmaker:

Meinl Plastic Egg Shaker (4 pc Assortment):

Hohner 4 Piece Baby Band (apparently this one is especially well-loved… I can only find 2 pieces of the 4 right now!):

musical instruments list

Trophy 4 Bell Wristlet:

Sonor – Glockenspiel (Xylophone) with Songbookmusical instruments list

Just so you know, if you buy any of these musical instruments from these links, you’ll be helping to support stayatbeachmom.com.  As always, I only vouch for products I truly love.

Why Montessori at Home?

Recently, I shared with you why I love the Montessori method and why we’ve decided to give our children a Montessori preschool education.  Today, I’ll share with you why we’ve decided to do Montessori preschool at home, specifically. Every family is unique and has different situations, so I’m not prescribing what we’ve chosen for anyone. But, I thought it might be helpful to share where we are if you’re also starting to think about the possibility of Montessori education, especially at home.

Throughout high school and college, I tutored and student-taught in a number of mainstream elementary school classrooms and in each of them, I saw opportunities for the Montessori method to help children grasp difficult concepts and to deepen their understandings of and love for their subjects.  I wished that I better understood the method to teach it and I dreamed that one day, I might become a Montessori-trained teacher working at a non-Montessori school.  I hoped to integrate the Montessori concepts that I love into mainstream education.

I first considered potentially fulfilling that desire in how I instruct my own children when I was pregnant with Beach Girl and heard of the Montessori at Home movement.  Thanks to this movement, Montessori curriculum, materials, and general information are available for parents who want to pursue Montessori education at home.  Doing it myself seemed like it could be possible.

When a MOPS talk sparked my interest in Montessori education again almost two years ago, I began to read up on the method, hoping to integrate some basic Montessori principles into our home life as I taught Beach Girl things like how to get herself dressed or to help in the kitchen.

The more I read, the more I realized that my parenting already was very “Montessori”.  Thanks to my own Montessori education and my family’s heavy Montessori influences (my siblings and I went to a combined 24 years of Montessori schools!), my natural parenting style is deeply influenced by Montessori principles.   Montessori preschool seemed like the next logical step for our family.

When Beach Dad and I started to explore options for preschool, we learned that 6 years of preschool at our local Montessori school (3 years for each of our 2 daughters) would cost over $40,000!  As much as I love the Montessori method, that’s definitely not in our budget, so we began to think through other options.

It seemed like homeschooling Montessori preschool could be the best fit, but in spite of how I excited I was at the idea of it, I felt nervous about signing up for that.  For awhile now, I’ve felt like I need to build a parenting break into my week and signing up to homeschool preschool (instead of signing up for another preschool) honestly felt like more than I could handle.

Finally, we decided that we would homeschool using the Montessori method for their primary schooling, but that we would find a way to give me a break in the week as well.

We found a local preschool where both girls will go one morning a week and I will have a break at home.  They’ll have the added benefits of being taught by someone else and of playing with their peers, and I’ll have a few hours a week when I will be able to take a break from parenting.  I’m excited at the time I’ll have to recharge while they’re away so I can be a better parent (and teacher) the rest of the week.  And, the prospect of teaching preschool at home feels a lot less daunting knowing I’ll also have that break in my week.

So, I’m really excited about our setup for this school year, and I still feel pretty overwhelmed.  Someday, I’ll tell you more about my thoughts on homeschooling and my journey to accepting it for my family, but for now, suffice to say, I never planned to homeschool my own children.  I still don’t know that we will long-term, but both Beach Dad and I are more open to it than before and, for now, actually feel a strong calling to do so – for preschool, at least.

There are many days when things are getting tough and, as I just want to retreat into my introverted shell, I ask myself, “Should I really be homeschooling?  Wouldn’t we all be better off if I sent them to school every day next year?”  But, even in those strung-out, doubting moments, I feel a sense of assurance that this is what we should be doing at this point.

Since this is only preschool (and many children don’t even go to preschool), I feel a freedom to experiment and find what works for our family — and even to see if homeschooling itself is a good option for our family or not.

Meanwhile, I’m working out details of how we want to do this – at least to start.  I’m learning how to set up a Montessori “classroom” at home and strategizing about how to give Beach Girl space to work without Beach Baby interrupting.  I’m planning our days to find a balance that allows for full child development.  I’m hoping for plenty of intentional, instructional time and run-around-be-a-kid time.  And, amidst the logistics, I’m getting more and more excited about all the things we’ll get to explore and discover together this year.

I’ve loved the chance to learn alongside Beach Girl and Beach Baby already and I think more intentional time to teach and learn with Beach Girl (and Beach Baby) in preschool this year is going to be valuable and fun for all of us!

I plan to share our activities and what I’m learning here at this blog, so I hope you’ll join me.  Even if you’re not planning to pursue Montessori education or to homeschool, I hope that – as always – you’ll find activities and ideas that are not only fun and educational for your children, but also doable for you as a busy mom.

Why Montessori Preschool?

I first realized that Montessori education is unique and of value when I was in 3rd grade.  My family had just moved from Missouri to Virginia and, for the first time, I had begun attending a standard, non-Montessori school.  In Math class, I felt at ease, able to understand the whys and hows behind each new concept and truly enjoyed learning them.  A few of the kids sitting next to me were really struggling and I thought, “if only they could use the Montessori Checkerboard, they’d understand how this all works.”  That was the first time I ever really gave thought to one teaching style’s benefits over another’s and I’ve been interested in differences ever since.  Years later, I’ve learned about and heard of many other ways of teaching math – and all the other subjects! – that are valuable as well, but I still have an affinity for the Montessori method.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Montessori method, you might be wondering what sets it apart.  The Montessori method is named for Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator who spent years working with and studying children and who developed an educational method based off of her observations in child development. There’s a lot to the method and I feel like I could study it for years before learning all I’d like to know about Maria Montessori’s view of children and method for educating them.  In what I’ve learned so far and from my personal experience, here are the three biggest principles of the Montessori method that have led me and Beach Dad to the decision to make it the foundation for how we educate our children:

[All quotes are from The Absorbent Mind by Dr. Montessori]

1. The Union of Child Development and Child Experience

“The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age six; for that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed… Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be.”

Many psychologists agree that the first 6 years of a child’s life are the most important.  During this time, children learn essentials like how to move independently, to eat food, to understand language, and then to speak, read and even write it.  The brain development that happens during the first 6 years of life is unparalleled.

Maria Montessori found that children have sensitive periods –  times when their brains and physical abilities are most primed to acquire certain knowledge or abilities.  Modern research has supported her idea in finding that we will be most successful in teaching our children skills if we can match their experiences to their stage of development.  While children do have shorter sensitive periods (also known as critical periods) for more specific tasks, Montessori experts often say that ages 3-6 are like one big, long sensitive period.  Children’s brains are primed to learn in a way that is unique to these 3 years of life.  Consequently, the Montessori method has children learning things like the scientific names for parts of a frog and the names and capitals of each country in the world, all before age 6.

2. The Value of Both Abstract and Concrete

“The child’s mind between three and six can not only see by intelligence the relationships between things, but it has the higher power still of mentally imagining those things that are not directly visible.  Imagination has always been given a predominant place in the psychology of childhood, and all over the world people tell their children fairy stories, which are enjoyed immensely as if the children wanted to exercise this great gift, as imagination undoubtedly is.  Yet, when all are agreed that the child loves to imagine, why do we give him only fairy tales and toys on which to practice this gift? If a child can imagine a fairy and fairyland, it will not be difficult for him to imagine America.”

At this stage, children’s imaginations are thriving and, therefore, they are ready to learn abstract concepts that some forms of education wait to teach until children are older.  The Montessori method says that not only should we teach these abstract concepts, but as we introduce them and more concrete facts, we should make sure that children’s “vocabulary keeps pace with their experiences.”  Montessori believed that if children were able to experience something, we – as parents and educators – should be equipping them to talk about their experiences intelligently.  One of the primary goals in doing this is so that children can feel more secure in their environments.  While the world can be overwhelming and huge to children, we can help them to feel more secure in it by giving them the ability to classify and describe what they see and experience.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing glimpses of this with Beach Girl recently.  A few months ago, we went to see Angel Oak, a huge, ancient oak tree near Charleston.  Since then, Beach Girl talks about oak trees often, pointing them out whenever we see them (which, around here, is often!).  Every time we drive to Kiawah Island, we pass hundreds of oak trees and Beach Girl marvels, “Wow! Look at all these oak trees! I love oak trees.  They’re my favorite.”

Oak trees are also the only tree (besides palm trees) that Beach Girl can identify… but, it’s almost as if she feels like she has been let in on a secret.  Instead of just looking at a vast expanse of trees and not understanding how they grow or what makes them different from one another, she can look at one type of tree and confidently say: “That’s an oak tree. I love it.”

3. The Internal, Intangible Benefits

“And so we discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.  It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment.  The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child.”

The Montessori method embraces young children’s ability to imagine and learn things in order to start teaching things like how to classify trees or imagine the concept of “America” early on.  However, those elements are not the most important part of a Montessori education.

Rather, the information and skills that children learn are secondary in importance to the unseen benefits that Montessori education strives to provide. Though all children (barring a disability or hardship of some sort, of course) will eventually learn their alphabet, their numbers, and much, much more, they won’t necessarily develop certain intangibles that will help them succeed throughout their lives.

A Montessori teacher seeks to answer a child’s (unspoken) request to “help me do it alone”.  The teacher (actually called a director/directress in a Montessori classroom) doesn’t teach in a standard desk and chalkboard classroom setting, but instead offers more individualized, hands-on instruction and then steps aside to let the child try. As children explore on their own to complete meaningful tasks and learn important information, their confidence, self-image, and love of learning grow in amazing ways!

By pursuing Montessori education, we are hoping to provide our kids with those intangibles: confidence, a positive self-image, and a love of learning.  Montessori believed, and I agree, that if you can get children excited about what they’re learning, they’ll become focused.  They’ll follow their natural inclination to explore and to experiment.  They’ll crave more knowledge and proudly delight in their acquired skills.  And, that is when education truly happens – not from learning facts and skills themselves, but from developing the ability to learn facts and skills.

Those are the skills that I hope my girls will learn and carry with them throughout their lives.  I hope that they will end up self-motivated, desiring to explore God’s world, to soak up all the knowledge that they can (even years after they have graduated from school) and to take initiative to creatively solve problems. There are many, many educational methods available to get there – to prepare my kids for confident, excited, and self-motivated learning – and I’m excited to follow the path that Maria Montessori has laid out ahead of us.

If you’re interested in learning more, keep an eye out for an upcoming post, where I’ll outline some of what Montessori preschool will look like for our family. And, if you have any questions you’d like me to answer or want to share your own experiences with Montessori, give me a shout out in the comments.

Update: I’ve posted more about what Montessori preschool will look like for our family and would love for you to check it out!