Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Flowering Baby (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)


Flowering Baby Vol 3I do not believe that two year olds really need a formal curriculum.  However, "Here is a crayon, go ahead and color," is not impressing Damien, and letting him wander about while Jude was working is quickly becoming a recipe for more housework.  By September, Jude will reach "mandatory school age," so I have been focused on getting a good foundation laid for him so that we do not have trouble meeting the state's expectations this fall rather than keeping Damien entertained.   I was interested in having a program that would help find activities to keep Damien occupied but did not require me to do an excessive amount of prep work or actual teaching.  I was very excited to try Flowering Baby, LLC's program, because it claimed to be a fun, developmentally appropriate, and low-prep early learning system.  One very appealing part was that it appeared the program's only prep requirement was "gather materials listed and follow the activity manual."  I received a copy of the entire curriculum (CD-ROM, $132), and set my focus on the syllabus for the Two to Three year old program (available as an individual CD for $30).

Note on pricing: The author has offered review readers a 10% discount when purchasing directly through her website  Please use the promotional code Blog10.

Each month is divided into 20 lesson days (4 five-day weeks of "classes").  There are usually eight activities planned for each day. At least two are passive from the child's perspective:  reading and listening to classical music (each month has an musician-of-the-month as suggested listening). If you have a child who likes music at nap or bed time, this would be a perfect opportunity; a rest time story would also complete the "read this book" activity.  Others are a hybrid of daily activities (snack and meal time) where you use the object to demonstrate concepts (ie, 10 yellow goldfish for snack; 10 red strawberries are used for a smoothie).  Other activities, such as fine motor skill practice (cutting, coloring) and gross motor movement (jumping, running, walking) are combined into fun activities (creating a craft, walking through the woods).

Three Tenors with Mehta CD
Damien was 29 months old when we started this program, and the suggested listening was The Three Tenors.  My father is a huge fan of them, and I have memories of watching the PBS capital campaign concerts of the Tenors with him.  When I was a young child, he would often play vinyl records of the individual men, and later compact discs of the singers as a group. To this day, one of my favorite songs is a duet with Pl├ícido Domingo and John Denver (you can guess how old I am!), and it does not feel like Christmas until I have heard Luciano Pavarotti's "O Holy Night" on the radio.  I excitedly downloaded the recording of the Three Tenors in Concert with Rubin Mehta, one of Dad's favorites, to share these wonderful singers with Damien.  Most days, we played the music in the background as we worked.   It worked well as a transitional device; I would tell him that we were nearly finished, and when the song was over, we were done. He easily  and it was not me saying, "You're done whether you want to be or not." Out of music, out of time!  The Three Tenors are the only specified recording artists; the rest of the months' lessons focus on composers (Mozart, Bach, Hadyn, Schubert, etc.) with the performing artists left to the parent.  Musical exposure was something I really liked about the program; I also appreciated that it was more "background listening" than a formal lesson.

As much as I love the concepts of the program, and the music study in particular, there were three big problems for us.

First, while samples of plans are offered on the program's website, it is difficult to discern the skills needed to be successful over the course of the entire year.  Because Damien is 2 1/2 years old, we were able to refer back to some of the "young 2 year old" activities for ideas to help with those skills he is weak in.  However,  if he were closer to his second birthday, we would be at a loss because we wouldn't know where to look for holes in the foundation.   I think there is potential for an advanced/older child to be bored, and he might benefit from starting the three year old program early.  Knowing what skills are expected for the start and specifics goals for the end of the year would help a parent determine precisely which level is most appropriate the child, rather than basing the purchase decision on a child's age.

Our second problem was starting with it mid-chronological-year, and in winter.  The introduction page of the Flowering Baby site states that you can start the program at any time, but our experience says this is not quite the whole truth.  Even if you start at the beginning of the month of age, concepts taught sometimes span two months and you may find yourself starting mid-course. Despite Damien actually being chronologically 29 1/2 mos old when he began, we started at the beginning of the month because it was very confusing to just "drop in" on day 11.  Even going back to the beginning of the month, there were still parts that seemed awkward.  For some activities, it may not matter where you begin - for example, counting from 1 to 10 is from 1 to 10, no matter if you start it on the first day it's introduced, or the 20th.  However, one of the language skills presented in the third year is learning the alphabet.   It can be confusing to start singing an alphabet song yet practice writing with a mid-alphabet letter (as happened to us).   I think it might make more sense to say that "The program allows you to generally begin at any point, but you may need to adjust some activities to a more natural starting point."  Or, the program could be adjusted so that a "cycle" of something runs through the course of one month, so that a family beginning at the start of a month will not feel like they missed something.  In addition, the activities are meant to complement the developmental year, not necessarily the calendar year, yet may be weather dependent.  Clearly, sometimes weather doesn't cooperate and you can swap activities, but there's not much you can do outdoors when the temperatures are in the single digits for almost two weeks running. 

Damien's Tubey Monkey, Mr. Mookey.
Mr. Mookey says,
"Please do not feed me, I have food allergies."
However, the biggest issue for our family is how much the program relies on food.   Now, I admit, Damien is more restricted than most preschoolers; he has multiple food allergies, Eosinophilic eosphagitis (EoE), and feeding issues.  Many regular preschools/day cares often plan food-based projects that may need adjusting to be made safe for a food-allergic child.  As the parent of multiple food allergic children, I am used to that.  In reviewing the sample lesson, I saw that there were food related activities, so I expected to have to tweak a little here and there. After printing and reading, my initial reaction was "Wow,  this program is VERY food heavy.Then, I started counting.  Food Allergy Mamas: be prepared to do lots of substituting.  Nearly every day of months 25 through 29 includes at least one food activity.  There also many food-product-source activities, such as sensory bins (dry rice or beans is suggested for filling the bins) or play-doh (a problem for some wheat-allergic children). Some days, there are three food-containing activities planned for the day.   For months 30 to 36, the program progresses more into a "themed unit" plan.  While there is still a lot of food in the program, it is a little more manageable with food activities "only" on "most" days (instead of every day).  However, by month 35, the focus is back to food -- in fact, the main theme of that month is to explore new foods.  For a child with a few allergies, it could be a good place to teach/stress safe foods -- ie, "We use coconut milk for you, cow milk will make you very, very sick," or  "Yes, we can back cookies but we have to use a special recipe."  In our case, it means the only guaranteed viable activities for us are reading and listening to Mozart (that month's suggested composer).   Month 35 is definitely not for the very-restricted-diet child!

preschool manipulatives
Some non-food manipulatives we used.
Now it is not completely impossible to work around food allergies. For example, if you have a dairy allergy,  the activities that suggest using cheddar Goldfish crackers as orange counters are going to need adjusting; another orange food, such as orange wedges or chunks of cantaloupe or sweet potato could be substituted. There are activities that recommend peanut butter; families with nut allergies could substitute sunflower seed, soy, or pea butters.  These substitutes do not markedly change the tone of the program. However, if you have multiple allergies, this program will become little more than an idea list.  Due to Damien's allergies, we had to adapt anything that used food-based supplies. One claimed benefit of the program is the family is not supposed to need to acquire a lot of new supplies, because you are using things already in the home.  This would be true if we were using Damien's snack for counting, or we didn't need expensive flours to make our own playdough, etc.  At first, I thought we really could adapt with what we had.  We already had some puzzles, and a bucket of 3-D geometric shapes for Jude, so Damien shared them at first.  After several days, I went to our local teacher supply store and picked up a bin of geometric stringing beads, because it became difficult for Jude to complete his lessons if Damien had all of the manipulatives.   Additionally, while the program does use "common" preschool toys such as puzzles and games, they are rotated among other activities, so a few go a long way. When used almost daily, we needed more variety to be able to hold Damien's interest.  I was expecting to need to make some purchases to adjust any program, but I didn't anticipate needing to make so many.   (I think my husband is starting to dread the sentence, "I got a Lakeshore coupon!")  The Kids with Food Allergies Foundation also has a very good downloadable PDF substitution list that helped us find ideas/recipes for safe replacements for play-doh and paints.  Adapting does add to the "tablework" time of the program, too.  However, it does make our experience different from the more relaxed, unschooled approach to learning that this program is meant to have.
Below are examples of some activities, along with how we adapted.
Month 29, Day 2
Math concepts: Count from 1 to 10, skip count by 2’s. It is even more reinforcement if you do the skip counting with some sort of manipulative. You can use small crackers, Cheerios, or really any finger food.

Color of the day: Blue. Play “I spy” something blue today.

Shape of the day: Circle. Gather various items around the house that are round. You might find
a ball, a plate, a plastic lid and then try to roll each item in turn. Ask your child “Which items is
the largest?”; “Which items roll?”; “Why do you think some don‟t roll as well?”

We sorted out ten blue figures and played with them for a little while.  
Blue spheres roll away if you're not careful! 

We started playing with them on the bucket lid to keep them corralled.

We first counted the pieces one-by-one, then stacked them in groups of two.
We then were able to skip-count by twos with a visual of how many "ten by twos" is.

Damien learned that sometimes you can balance a sphere on top of a cube,
but often it rolls off no matter how carefully you place it.

Damien picked all the balls out of the bin, and played with them on the lid.

 Some days, rather than focusing on one shape or color, we pulled out a matching game for something new to do.  Damien would tell me the shape and color on the small card, and then match it to his lap board.  Jude sometimes would want to play along with us, thinking we were playing a Bingo-type game.

An activity from Month 30, day 2, with the focus on diamond shape as a shape, and learning how two adjacent triangles can create a diamond.

Blue diamonds...match two green triangles made into a diamond.

 Staying with the diamond theme for manipulatives, counting with ten brown diamonds.

There was one developmental activity that I strongly feel needs expansion.  From Month 30, Day 10:
Language: Observe your child to determine if he is using intelligible words at least sixty five percent of the time.  If he mispronounces words you should repeat them in the correct pronunciation. You might be able to understand everything he says so this task is often best determined by watching him talk to strangers and evaluating if they understand most of what he says.

Again, we are in a slightly uncommon position where Damien is seen on a weekly basis by a speech-language pathologist for feeding therapy.  I was unconcerned with the outcome of this particular activity -- we already are well aware that he has language delays, hypotonic oral muscles, etc.  However,  I feel the activity should have included suggestions for what to do if a parent does not believe that their child is developmentally on par for expressive speech skills.  Recommendations listed could include contact your child's pediatrician, a pediatric audiologist/otolaryngologist, your state/county's Early Intervention Program, etc. to have him further evaluated.  Yes, repeating mispronounced words correctly (and encouraging good speech patterns) is very important, but some children may need therapeutic intervention; usually the sooner it is implemented, the better and more rapid the results.  If the program is going recommend you evaluate your child to get a rough idea of where he is developmentally, suggestions on how to follow up if you feel he is not on par should be included with the section.


Because the Age Three to Four program ($38) is more unit-based,  I was hopeful that maybe we could just set aside the Two-to-Three program and try to do some activities from there. Unfortunately, I do not think that program will suit us, either.  Again, the program depends on both average skill development and lots of food, so it will not be something useable for us in its published form.  It would take a lot of effort to transform it into something Damien can do; honestly, I think I'd rather spend the time looking at other programs.  

I do believe that the program's spiral presentation is good for mastery.  Damien definitely has learned and solidified many concepts.  He now can reliably count backward from 10 and forward to thirteen, and often attempts the rest of the "teens." (Usually in the wrong order, and with a few extra numbers for good measure -- "Zeroteen" anyone?)  He can also identify a combined fourteen  2- and 3-dimensional shapes and eight colors. I'm not certain if this is developmentally appropriate for a two and a half year old or not, since none of his siblings have reached milestones "on time" (all five children have had developmental delays), but I'm his mom, so I get to think he's a genius, right?  I have noticed that while his pre-writing skills are still abysmal, his occupational and feeding therapists have remarked that his grip a crayon and a spoon have started to become more refined.  He still often holds the implements in his entire fist, but a more mature tripod grasp is beginning to emerge. 

Time is valuable; I know when Jude first started homeschooling I spent up to two hours each week putting together developmentally appropriate preschool lessons.  Even accounting for any basic supplies (crayons, paints, puzzles, a few recommended CD's), the program's cost is very modest for a year (or five) of daily lesson plans.  I had hoped the  Two-to-Three program would be of use to us; the Three-to-Four program would have been a nice transition to a more formal PreK-4 curriculum.  Unfortunately, with the way the program is arranged, I still had to set aside several hours revamping the program to fit our needs.  While we both enjoy the one-on-one school time, it doesn't keep Damien occupied busy while I help Jude.   As much as I wanted to like the Flowering Baby program, it just wasn't right for us. 

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the Five-Year Curriculum as a member of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation.  In exchange, I agreed to give an honest review of how this program worked for our family.

There are lots of other newly minted preschoolers this winter.  
Click the banner to see what their parents thought of the Flowering Baby lesson plans!

1 comment:

  1. Meg,

    Thanks for a very thorough review. Perhaps it may help the vendor come up with alternative suggestions for different situations. You spent a lot of time on this - thank you very much!



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