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Dollar Store Deals for Preschool Days {and toddlers, too!}

If you read this blog often or know me personally, you probably know that I love a good bargain!  Not only do I enjoy being a good steward of the finances entrusted to us, but I also really enjoy helping others save money, too.  So, as a follow-up to Free Resources for Teaching Pre-K at Home, I thought I would share with you all of the deals we have found at the dollar store that we currently use in our homeschool preschool.

Here’s a great big list of our favorite dollar store deals, as well as  ideas on how to use them for toddlers and preschoolers, whether you are homeschooling or just want some fun early childhood learning activities to keep the kids occupied. 🙂

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~ Learning Tools ~

 

Workbooks – If you get lucky, you might find preschool and toddler workbooks in the book section of your local dollar store.  Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, use this mom’s idea of putting worksheets into protective sleeves and use dry erase markers so that they can be used multiple times – genius! 🙂

Dry-erase workbooks (Shapes & Colors and Numbers) – I love that we can use the dry-erase workbooks pictured below these over and over again. What a deal for only a dollar!

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Dry-erase writing practice board – We found one of these several years ago at a dollar store.  It looks like a sheet of handwriting practice paper but is made of dry-erase board material.

Sidewalk Chalk – You can buy a whole box of sidewalk chalk for a dollar and use it for all sorts of learning fun.  Here are some ideas to choose from:

Shape Hop which could also become number hop, alphabet hop, color hop – you get the point. 🙂

Alphabet Squirt

Foam puzzles  – Our son is more of a musical and tactile learner, from what I’ve observed so far.  So these foam puzzles for letters and numbers are a great dollar deal for him!  Our daughter really enjoys them, too, and she has learned several letters on her own just from playing with them.

Small board books – I always look for these dollar store deals.  Sometimes I give them as gifts, but often I find books that help teach early childhood concepts such as shapes, colors, letters, numbers, and so forth.  We also enjoy any books including nursery rhymes since rhyming is an important reading skill and bible stories, which seem to be easy to come by at our local dollar store.

Flash Cards – We play fun games with these alphabet flashcards and colors & shapes flashcards.  Sometimes we play Go-fish with them (you will need more than one set of alphabet).  We also play a game where they get to run to me from across the room and get the card after they recognize it (and then I ask them to recognize it again when we put them all away).  We play jump on the correct flashcard, run to the correct card, and even swat the card, a modification of this mom’s idea (which is by far our son’s favorite!).

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Fake money – This is on our list of things to buy.  Our kids love counting money, and at the same time they begin to learn the names of the coins!

Magnetic letters –  Our daughter is really catching on to phonics lately, so the magnetic letters are great for showing her how to build words!  You don’t even have to use them on the fridge -if the homeschool area in your home lacks a magnetic surface, just grab a cookie sheet. 🙂  Use for letter recognition, letter matching, and word-building.

 

 

~ Basic Craft Supplies ~

Pipe Cleaners – Aside from everyday bendy fun, they can be used for color sorting, patterning, bending into shapes, numbers, or letters, and other various craft projects.  I created some pipe cleaner letters (both uppercase and lower) for our tactile learner that we use for matching games or letter hide-n-seek, which works really well for twins.  Just make sure the hiding spot isn’t too difficult!  Your children might also enjoy these pipe cleaner activities:

Pipe Cleaner Counting Beads

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Pom-poms – We love pom-poms!  They can be used for color sorting, patterning, size sorting, counting, and many other crafts.  Try an activity like this one:

Pom Pom Counting

Colored wooden craft sticks (popsicle sticks) – If you get lucky, you might find these colored craft sticks at your dollar store.  We use ours for color sorting using these color mats, counting, patterning, creating shapes or letters, etc.

Colored card-stock/index cards – I bought some colored card-stock and a pack of index cards at the beginning of our preschool adventure, and I’ve used almost all of the index cards already.  I use them for all sorts of things, but mainly for creating my own flashcard sets like the one found here or counting cards like these. I like mounting the index cards to cardstock to add a little color around the edge and to give them more stability.

Foam Shapes – Usually you can find some sort of foam shapes in the craft or learning section of the dollar store, as well.  We found some great primary colored circles to use for sorting, counting, patterning, etc.

Small, chubby markers – I love the set we found at our dollar store because they are washable and the size fits our preschoolers’ hands much like the oversize crayons do.  The size makes it easier for toddlers and preschoolers to maintain a correct grasp.

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Miscellaneous – Large crayons, construction paper, hole punch,scissors, glue sticks, paints,dry erase markers, and more can all be found at the dollar store.  The only reason I mention them is that they often cost more at other stores than at your local dollar store (unless it is back-to-school season).

 

 

 

~ Fun Stuff ~

Small party favors – I found some tiny cars for our son and some pretty beads for our daughter, but any small objects will do (just be aware of choking hazards!).  Use them with your counting cards, mentioned above.  The next time we go to the dollar store, I hope to find some bugs and a few other small things. These dollar store deals are great for counting fun, beginning math, sorting fun, and more!

Marbles – Marbles provide sensory fun for kids of all ages, but for our home preschool we mainly use them for counting.

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Seasonal items – We’ve found lots of seasonal foam stickers such as the fall leaves pictured above.  They can be used for sorting, matching, counting, etc.  Our preschoolers also really love any learning activity that involves Easter eggs, for some reason.  Here are a few from pinterest that you might try for learning at home:

10 Easter Egg Numbers and Letters Games

Easter Egg ABC Match-up

Easter Egg Sight Words and more

Bingo Markers – We use these for do-a-dot sheets like the ones found here or for creating our own patterns.

Playdoh – Playdoh is amazing for building those fine motor skills and (bonus!) it’s just a lot of fun to play with! Use a variety of colors for homeschooling by creating letters with these playdoh mats or shapes with these playdoh mats.  Or take a step back from directed instruction to allow for some free play time.

Straws – They are so versatile for early childhood education (and beyond)!  We use ours to compares sizes (bigger than, smaller than), to form letters and shapes, to count, to create patterns, and so forth.  You can even cut them to short lengths and string them on yarn for fine-motor skill fun.

Stickers – Put them on letters, use them for matching games or counting games.

Stamp sets

Clothespins – Use them for all sorts of toddler or preschool learning fun.  Try any of these ideas from pinterest:

Clothespin Color Match

Clothespin Counting

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To be honest, most of our preschool/homeschool supplies have come from the dollar store since we are trying to homeschool as frugally as possible.  I’m thankful God has provided for us this year as we teach our twins preschoool at home.

If you have any other great dollar store finds for early childhood education or homeschooling, leave a comment and let us know!

Jen 🙂

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Top Free Resources for Teaching Pre-K at Home

Do you have toddlers or preschoolers in the home?  I’m planning to teach our two preschoolers at home this year, for reasons like teaching the faith and values that our family upholds as true and also for financial reasons.

While I’m really excited to exercise my teacher muscles by homsechooling our preschoolers, I’m also feeling a little overwhelmed since preschool is not exactly my specialty. So, lately I’ve spent a good deal of time on Pinterest and Google trying to gather up the best, free (or really, really inexpensive) preschool resources out there – from curriculum, to themed units, to printables, to hands-on activities, and more.

So, on today’s Mama Monday, I thought I would share these free preschool resources with you so that you don’t have to spend all of the time I did on collecting them! 🙂  I won’t have room to mention everything I’ve pinned while searching, so if you want even more material to consider, look at my Learning at Home board on Pinterest.

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  1. God’s Little Explorers CurriculumMotherhood on a Dime offers this FREE, faith-based preschool curriculum online for homeschoolers, and it looks to suit our family’s needs.  The free curriculum includes basic plans for daily instruction (based on a four-day school week) as well as printables.  I plan to use the free version of this curriculum as my foundation and supplement it with some of the activities and ideas listed in the categories below.   Note: the creator of this program also has a paid option format that includes better graphics and more printables.  The paid option is still very inexpensive (less than $15 )for an entire school-year’s worth of plans!
  2. Seasonal/Themed Printable Packs – I plan to use this free fall printable pack from Homeschool Creations as a supplementary material for this season along with the curriculum mentioned above.  Homeschool Creations offers many other printable packs as well.  1+1+1=1 is another amazing printable packs resource with everything from princesses and my little pony to solar systems and star wars! 🙂
  3. Writing Skills – my children are not yet coordinated enough to form actual letters (although our daughter is close), so we’ll be working on some pre-writing skills before anything else.  I picked this floral printable for my daughter  and these printables will work well for both children as well as these from 3 Dinosaurs .  I love the idea that this mom had to put the printables or workbook pages into sheet protectors in a binder so that you can use dry erase markers with them.  You could even let your preschooler decorate the front of his or her binder to personalize it.  Use them over and over again! 🙂  Once they grasp the concept, I plan to introduce alphabet letter formation.  The Measured Mom offers these writing stations as homeschool alternatives to using printables alone.  You could use the same methods with shapes and numbers, as well.
  4. Letter Recognition – I love the idea of starting out with my children’s names as well as other names in the house.  You can read about name kits at Fun-a-day.  If you’re intersted in a montessori method for introducing letters, Living Montessori Now offers excellent advice.  Hands on as we grow  has a list of 50 fun activities for learning both upper case and lower case letters.  At Crystal and Co. you can find instructions for fun letter-of-the week crafts, too, as well as other homeschool resources.
  5. Number Recognition – DLKT offers a number of counting and number worksheets here. Turtle Diary offers these printable options.  What I think will most appeal to our preschool boy and girl will be more hands-on activities like this paper tube one from Learn With Play at Home and a method using easter eggs from Reading Confetti.
  6. Shape Recognition – Although our preschoolers already know most of their shapes, we still need to do some reviewing in this area.  Hands on as we grow demonstrates how to be hands-on when learning shapes.  Shape puzzles are another great resource as children can both handle the shape itself and also learn how it fits into the board. I also like this crafty approach to shape matching from education.com.  Creative Family Fun offers 12 fun ways to learn shapes.  Also, you can find printables for shapes here at Aussie Childcare Network.
  7. Color Recognition –  Although our daughter is pretty solid on her colors, our son could use more help.  So, we’ll be continuing to practice our colors through the preschool years in our homeschool.  I’m working on a home-made version of Go Fish using colors for our preschoolers, so when it’s done I’ll be sure to share with you. 🙂 Toddler Approved provides these hands-on learning methods for colors.  Inspiration Laboratories has a great idea for creating a color rainbow that I think our preschoolers would love.  We also plan to sort buttons, pom-poms, beads, etc. by color and create patterns, as well as learn colors through reading some books we have about colors.
  8. Music/Rhymes – I plan to use youtube for much of our music, but I also like these printable nursery rhymes from Aussie Childcare Network.  DLKT offers these printables for making nursery rhyme characters to use as puppets or for a felt board.
  9. Bible Literacy – I plan to incorporate Bible lessons into our home preschool, but I’d like to save this topic for a future post as I plan to review a few options in detail.  So, check back next week for those options. 🙂
  10. Letter Formation –  Here are some great printables for the alphabet:

Other free (or nearly free) resources to consider:

Pinterest – while I already knew of some of these free online resources, much of the additional material I found on pinterest. 🙂

Library books – the best way to teach your children (aside from play) is through reading to them.  You can find books on almost any theme or subject you plan to teach.  Libraries are great resources for supplementing the books you already have at home.

Youtube  – a quick search for alphabet songs, shape songs, days of the week songs, and more reveals that the options on youtube are endless… and best of all, free! 🙂  You can also teach nursery rhymes and other preschool favorites such as “Five Little Speckled Frogs.”

PBS/Netflix – Leap Frog, Word World, and Super Why are all educational animated shows that focus on letter learning, although Leap Frog has some that focus on numbers and shapes as well.  We have a subscription to Netflix’s online streaming service, so I plan to use many of these programs through Netflix.  The advantage to using Netflix over PBS is that I don’t have to wait for an episode to air.  Instead, I can hand-pick episodes to coordinate with themes we might be exploring that week.

Online learning – the internet offers a wealth of free online resources for learning games.  Check out this article to  find out which of  our favorite educational websites will suit preschoolers.

Dollar Store Deals – I wrote a whole post on items you can find at the dollar store to use in teaching preschoolers or toddlers, complete with ideas on how to use them!

Toys – we have a few toys that I have set aside specifically for our preschool use (I do not keep these toys in their regular toy box, which makes them special since they can’t play with them whenever they want).  Any toy that says a letter’s name aloud and repeats the sound the letter makes can be a good tool to use when your preschooler just doesn’t want to sit and work with paper.  You probably already have a few of these “educational” toys laying around the house, so don’t feel the need to go out and buy new ones. 🙂

Additionally, much of the time spent during preschool should be free play, when children have time to pretend play using blocks, legos, dress-up clothes, kitchens, etc.  You can also use toys you already have at home to enhance themed lessons.  Finally, puzzles can be great resources for learning shapes, colors, letters, and numbers, etc.

I hope this helps to get you started on planning for your toddler/preschool years, whether you intend to teach formally by homeschooling or just as your children are interested.  Feel free to share with us your favorite free online sources, as well!

Jen 🙂

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Top Ten Educational Websites for Kids

Our children don’t spend a lot of time on the computer, as a rule, but when they do, I like it to be as educational as possible.  Over the years, we’ve found some children’s websites that are great and some, well…not so great.  The educational content needs to be high, but so does the entertainment value (from a child’s perspective).

We really like websites that include a variety of options, such as material to read or listen to, games to play, printables, and videos.  We absolutely loooove websites that have all of the above in the form of free content! 🙂  Since we’re doing preschool at home this year with our four-year-old twins, I thought I would gather our favorite learning websites (in no particular order) all together in one spot.

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best educational websites for kids

  1. PBS Kids – http://pbskids.org/ – we love this website for a variety of reasons: the kids love the characters, parents love the educational value, lots of options to choose from (videos, games, online books etc.), appeals to a variety of ages, etc.  It’s also easy for children to navigate. Target Range – toddler through the lower elementary grades.
  2. Highlights Kids – http://www.highlightskids.com/ – great variety on this website as well, such as animated books, both factual and fictional texts, printables, crafts and science experiments, etc.  The content is very similar to what you would see in a Highlights magazine, such as hidden picture puzzles, articles on animals, stories about children, and so on.  Target Range – elementary grades, specifically children who can read on their own.
  3. Starfall – http://www.starfall.com/ – Starfall is so full of educational information that it’s hard to even know where to begin.  Although much of the content is free, some of the content is restricted to paid members.  There are printables, songs, books for beginning readers, letter recognition, color recognition, even sign language – really too much to list here.  Just go and check it out! 🙂 This site would be especially helpful for those who homeschool.  According to starfall.com, the targeted audience is toddler/preschool through 2nd grade, including content specific to special needs!
  4. Cool Math Games – http://www.coolmath-games.com/ – this site is a recent favorite of our second-grade math whiz. 😉  Many of the games included on this site utilize mathematic and scientific principles in a fun format.  Some of the games seem to focus more on teaching the child how to use the keypad and directional arrows.  However, most also involve critical thinking skills.  When I asked our son for his favorites on this site, he mentioned Fruits, Truck Loader 4, and Home Sheep Home 2.  Despite its name, the site also includes reading/spelling games, geography games, mazes, puzzles, and more.  In order to enjoy this site, your children will need the ability to manipulate the directional arrows and the mouse or touchpad (if on a laptop), unless you want to sit and help them. For that reason, I would say the targeted age range would be for older preschoolers through the elementary grades.
  5. Seussville – http://www.seussville.com/ – we just love Dr. Seuss in this home, so I had to include this favorite, as well.  This site isn’t as extensive as some of the others I have included, but you can still find good content here.  You’ll find most of it under the Games and Activities tab, including some excellent Seuss-themed printables for coloring, reading, crafting, counting, and adding.  One neat feature is being able to search by specific books or specific characters to find the related games and activities.  The one downfall to this website is that it seems to take longer to load than most when switching between activities and tabs. Target range – Pre-K through lower elementary grades.
  6. JumpStart – http://www.jumpstart.com/jumpstartmoms/ – The free content on this site requires a little more digging than others because there is also a paid membership option (similar to Starfall).  However, JumpStart offers tons of free printables (look under the worksheets tab and the activities tab), organized by grade.  Some of the online games, both educational and just-for-fun, are also free. The best thing about this site is the wide age range it caters to: toddler/preschool through sixth grade!
  7. Caravan Friends – http://caravanfriends.org/ – I featured this faith-based website in a post about teaching Missions, but it’s also a great site just for learning about other cultures, specifically those in Asia.  Cute characters help to engage children in learning about various regions on this visually appealing site.  Here you will find lesson plans, printables, videos, and more!  The stories and activities are available in the categories of  Preschool, 1st-4th grade, and 5th-6th grade.  Our children really enjoy reading stories about other cultures online as well as watching videos of children from this area. Target range – preschool through 6th grade.
  8. Nick Jr. – http://www.nickjr.com/kids/ –  Here you can expect to find videos of your children’s favorite Nick Jr. characters and a few games themed after them.  The Create tab has some online coloring pages, as well, although I found them difficult to use for younger children.  One thing that annoys me about this site is having to watch an advertisement before playing a game or watching a video.  If you have a child who really loves Nick Jr. then watching short ads might not bother you.  I especially like the Dora the Explorer game on this site because it also teaches Spanish vocabulary by allowing children to click on objects within the game and hear the Spanish equivalent.  Target range – toddler through preschool, and possibly up to first grade.
  9. Webkinz – http://www.webkinz.com/ – we found this site when our oldest son was given a Webkinz stuffed animal as a gift.  You can buy the stuffed animals at many stores, and they come with web codes to activate an online pet.  This opens up a whole world of pet-care, including creating and decorating a home for your pet, feeding and grooming your pet, and even training your pet.  You can also visit the arcade to earn Kinzcash in order to buy more online items for your pet.  I was very pleased to learn that Webkinz now offers free content that you can access without buying a stuffed animal.  Instead, you choose a free virtual animal, create your login, and play any of the content that is not restricted to members only.  Aside from the fun and learning that comes from caring for a virtual pet, the arcade offers a variety of educational games. Our oldest son had a whole collection of webkinz and enjoyed this site for many years!  Although a child of any age could use this site with parental help, it’s easier for children who can read to navigate on their own. Target range – all elementary ages and even pre-K with parental help.
  10. National Geographic Kids – http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/ – this site is relatively new to us, but our older boys love to learn facts about animals, places, and so forth.  Here you can find videos featuring animals and countries, games for the brain and some just for fun, craft ideas, recipes, and more.  Kids can even print out fact cards for animals or send animal-themed e-cards to friends.  This site would appeal mostly to those who can read on their own, although the videos might still interest younger ages.  Target range – all elementary ages.

Many of these websites also have links to downloadable apps for those with mobile devices.  If you’d like ideas for board and card games your children might enjoy, be sure to read Our Big List of Favorite Games.  I hope you enjoy exploring some of these sites with your children!

What are your favorite educational websites for children?

Jen 🙂

If you have toddlers or preschoolers at home, you might also enjoy this list of free resources!

 

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