Monday, August 19, 2013

Occupying Younger Kids During School Time - Busy Boxes!

One of our biggest challenges as Homeschoolers is staying focused.  Now, there is only so much I can do about the girls' ADHD of course, and turning off all the screens helps, but there remains the younger children.  We have been fortunate to have Dean go to a special ed preschool last year - and he'll attend again this year, but that is only a few hours a week.  

Keeping my energetic, curious, fearless, and rambunctious preschooler occupied while we get our studies done has always been a chore.  He was easy to entertain and care for as an infant (just like Baby Bruce is now), and I have an arsenal of ideas for the toddler years as well.  Once he turned 3 (he's 4 now) and could open the baby gate himself, the game changed.  

There is so much more he can play with safely now however it must keep him fully engaged for a couple hours each day, not get bored of easily, not be loud, not too messy, safe to play with on the floor next to the baby, and it can't require much assistance from me so I am free to teach.  

At Target this week these storage containers were on sale (Sterilite 18 gallon) - I also had a mobile coupon for $5 off storage items and Cartwheel savings of 10% off all Sterilite purchases. I picked up 5 bins:

Dean helped me label each bin with the days of the week; I told him which letter was needed and he made the color patterns himself.  

Alright, so we had to get a little creative with some of the letters/patterns after the first couple boxes. My "D" on Friday is really an "O" I trimmed up a bit. LOL

 Dean put number stickers on the front of the bins (in rainbow color order, because that was really important to him for some reason) so we can tell which bin goes to which day from either angle. I pulled out a huge stack of stickers and let him decorate the bins with them.  One has Disney Cars, another has Thomas, another is dinosaurs, etc. I debated duct tape or glitter glue but honestly, the stickers were just the least messy and most independent option for this tired mama!

What I put in the bins was very important - it had to meet all the standards mentioned earlier and fit in these boxes.  The trick is he can only play with whatever is in each bin one day a week - the day listed on the outside.  And ONLY during school time, while his sisters are doing schoolwork.  I can't put in any of his favorite toys that he uses daily but it must be exciting enough to entice him to sit somewhat quietly nearby us - without begging for the TV to be on. 

Update 11/12/13: These boxes are so good at containing messes that I plumped them up a bit, adding a few more items, and he can play with one the whole day, even if school is over. He can also choose whichever box he wants to play with on Saturday.  Instead of 4 puzzles out, pieces all mixed together, he has 1 puzzle per box, making it more difficult to mix up the pieces with another puzzle. 

This way he can play with Play-doh still, but not have 100 pieces strewn across the floor.  Since he cannot reach the boxes on the bookshelf I can monitor the mess.  One mess must be cleaned up before another box can be taken out. This system has been working really well to minimize mess and stress. :)

Monday: Dry Erase books and boards (blank ones AND some educational ones to work on letters and words with him) - see post on homemade dry-erase books, dry erase crayons, markers, and erasers.  A Cars puzzle and a Thomas memory match game.  Stickers for learning games (see post on letter recognition). I found bingo markers at the dollar store so I picked up one of each color so he can paint with dots.  He loves to write his name or other letters and shapes with the dot paint.  I added some items for Baby Bruce as well - pipe cleaners and a colander, craft sticks and straws plus a wipes tub to put them in.

Tuesday: 2 Coloring books and 2 learning workbooks, washable markers and jumbo crayons.  The tall clear bins with red lids are "counting blocks" - rubber vehicles such as trains and buses.  He will spend all day playing with these - sorting by color or type, making rainbow stacks in the bins, driving them around, lining them up in patterns, etc. Bruce loves these as well but I had to remove all the helicopters, too small.

The pencil case that has Thomas trains in it is one of Dean's favorite toys.  They are these books (you can find them at Target) that have character figures and a playmat in the back.  He would lose the pieces and ruin the books so I put them in this box.  Also, 2 books to read.  For Bruce I put in a few "bracelets" made with our colored pasta and pipe cleaners.  He can safely chew on these. Also, a homemade ziploc bag baby book and glitter bottle.

Wednesday: A couple Color Wonder coloring books and markers to go with.  A big bin of counting bears and a dump truck.  We made a batch of home made Kool Aid play-dough and tossed that in there with some play-doh scissors and cookie cutters.  He loves to stick the bears in the playdough and make patterns with them.  He drives the truck over the dough as well to make tracks in it.

A few board books (so Bruce doesn't destroy them), a homemade dry-erase book of mazes and tracing. A puzzle and one of the graphing chart and dice shown at the very bottom of this post.

Thursday: I'm breaking my "messy" rule a little bit here.  If we mostly stick with the watercolors and the paint-with-water books it won't be too bad.  And you have to let them get a little messy, right?! I've got brushes, watercolors, finger paints, a paint cup, sponges, scrap paper, and an art smock in here.  Dean has recently gotten into Q-tip painting, so there are a bunch of those in there.

I also threw in a foam pegboard and pegs, another dry erase graph with paper di and dry erase marker, and a magnetic truck book with vehicle magnets.  A set of Cars themed Dominos keeps both boys happy.  Just large enough for Bruce not to choke on, they stack them, dump them, and Dean plays with Domino math sheets I printed out and laminated.

Friday: Lacing cards and beads, string, pipe cleaners, frog beads, and large wooden shape beads. The first photo shows how I was able to organize the mess (2nd photo) - Dean does a decent job of getting the items back into their proper containers.

It's not in the picture but I put his talking/interactive Leap Frog storybook in as well. ! I also included his sight word flash cards, binder, and magazine letters (see post).  He has a Cars 2 lunchbox filled with mini cars - and we made a foam racetrack and Radiator Springs town. I'll add a photo soon.  He had a hard time parting with this go-everywhere toy, but it is nice because Fridays are the day he's not away at preschool at all.

I found some very fun graphing activities online (I love free printables - check out Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers).  His favorite is the angry birds set - so I couldn't get him to give it up for a photo.  These are paper dice with patterns and I laminated the graphs to be dry-erase.  I've got one in each bin and I love to talk with him after he fills out a chart - making predictions, tallying totals, who had the most, etc.?

We stuck the filled bins under the desks in the schoolroom.  Confession: I have this teensy little bedroom next to my living room that is not really good for a bedroom. There's a closet and door on one wall (with a huge furnace thingy from the downstairs fireplace taking up all the closet space), a window on another wall, and a sliding door on the other.  A bed and dresser barely fit.  So it became our office/schoolroom.  I'm not rich, my house is not big.  Do NOT think you need a huge house to homeschool.  When I talk about our school room is really is just a couple desks, bookshelves, a printer table, and a filing cabinet. But it sure is nice to have a place to stick these bins!!

What other ideas do you have for filling these "busy boxes?"  I'd love to know to swap out midway through the school year to keep things fresh and exciting!