Hannah and I recently picked a couple of pre-writing exercise books from Rainbow Resource Center, because Hannah wants her pre-K daughter Hazel to concentrate on stroke development before she starts in on proper letter formation, and we thought my three-year-old could tag along with that work. We were delighted to discover Let's Write: Prewriting Beginner's Level. It's a slim workbook of sheets for practicing tracing a variety of dotted-line strokes; what we liked about it is that each sheet has a nursery rhyme theme (see the sample sheet), like "Rain, rain, go away" or "Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub." We immediately saw that we could use the sheets both for pre-writing stroke development and for memory work, kind of a proto-poetry memorization. So on a given afternoon we've been memorizing a nursery-rhyme verse with the girls, and then "doing the sheet." Also, each day we have practiced the ones they've already learned.
We've had to resort to some Googling to find the words for some of these nursery rhymes. I had never heard the one that starts, "Cock-a-doodle-doo/My dame has lost her shoe." Hannah thought she remembered it going on, "Give her another/to match the other/and then she'll walk on two." We Googled it and discovered that its most common form appears to be a riff on erectile dysfunction.
My dame has lost her shoe.
My master's lost his fiddling-stick,
And don't know what to do.
There's more, in which the dame goes to bed and scratches her head, but for the girls we went with what Hannah remembered.
Mary Jane and Hazel have sort of been running feral while we concentrated on the four school-aged boys. But the co-schooling has been going so smoothly that we decided to add in a little more discipline -- self-discipline that is -- to work with these two younger ones.
In some subjects, we think Hazel will eventually converge to be a work partner with my 6yo Milo, but Milo is busy working hard on learning to read, at the same level as Hannah's 7yo Silas. There's not much they can do besides that.
What Mary Jane does, exactly, doesn't matter all that much. She's three years old, for pete's sake. But she wants to be doing something she can call "schoolwork," and she needs one-on-one time with the adults. So it seems pretty natural to let her tag along with Hazel, the next youngest, and let Hannah set the pace at the proper pre-K level for Hazel. Hazel does other things on other days of the week, of course, so we had room to start "easy and simple."
First we added a dedicated reading/narration time just for the two little girls, first thing in the morning after everyone has a chance to settle in. That only has to be about fifteen minutes, the length of one or two good picture books, with time to ask the girls questions about what they are seeing and reading. No planning necessary -- one of us just pulls a promising storybook out of the library basket or off the shelf, cuddles up with the girls on the sofa, and we're off.
In the afternoon we can do the aforementioned nursery rhyme work and prewriting practice. If we have time, we have the girls draw illustrations for brief stories from a children's Bible. So far the favorite story seems to be "The Story of the Real Princess Who Saved The Baby And Is Possibly Also A Ballerina," a story which you may know better as "Moses in the Bulrushes." We have also given them their own five-minute session to look at and talk about an art print, much like we're doing (in greater detail) with the middle boys.
It's only a total of about 30 minutes out of the day, but already we are seeing a little extra peace in the day just from taking these two brief times to concentrate just on these youngest two children. Later we can work on "serious" things like phonics or math, and we've already bought some materials to use with them when they're ready; but for now, just starting small and simple.