Happy Labor Day! Can You Imagine Your 4-Year-Old Working to Help Pay the Bills?

It’s Labor Day and there are so many reasons to be thankful that our family lives here in this country and at this time!  This is a post I wrote a couple of years ago and I thought it was worth sharing again.

After the Civil War, the availability of natural resources, new inventions, and a receptive market combined to fuel an industrial boom. The demand for labor grew, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries many children were drawn into the labor force. Factory wages were so low that children often had to work to help support their families. The number of children under the age of 15 who worked in industrial jobs for wages climbed from 1.5 million in 1890 to 2 million in 1910. Businesses liked to hire children because they worked in unskilled jobs for lower wages than adults, and their small hands made them more adept at handling small parts and tools. [Quoted from the National Archives]

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics this is how American adults spend their time:

And according to the statistics, most American high school students spend very little time working (in employment):

Times were quite different when Labor Day was first established.  Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 to honor the contributions of the American worker.

Between 1860 and 1900 the population of the US more than doubled from 31 million to 76 million. Between 1866 and 1914 more than 25 million immigrants came to the United States with as many as 80% of these immigrants settled in the Northern cities.  As a result, industrial leaders had a virtually unlimited supply of laborers. Workers were at the mercy of employers.  Working conditions were often dirty and dangerous.

This miner boy, Frank, was about 14 years old and had worked in the mine helping his father pick and load for three years. He was in the hospital for one year because one of his legs had been crushed by a coal car.

Wages were low and hours were often long. Entire families including the children had to work just to make ends meet.

In the photo below, this New York City family and their neighbors worked until late at night sewing garters. The youngest worked until 9pm; the others worked until 11pm.  On the right are the children Sarah-7, her sister-11, her brother-13. On the left are their neighbors who came regularly to work:  Mary-7, Sam-10 and next to the mother is a 12 year old boy. ”It’s better than running the streets” the father said. He was a grocery clerk but had been out of work for some months and worked at home on the garters.

Urban conditions were appalling. There was overcrowding and sanitation problems. Many people lived in slums. Fire protection, street cleaning, sewage systems, garbage collection and water treatment barely existed.

In 1910, almost 25% of all American children were employed full time in the nation’s factories. Local labor laws were often ignored. In many cases laws regulating working conditions and limiting/forbidding child labor did not apply to immigrants.

Between 1908 and 1912, the photographer and investigator, Lewis Hine, took his camera across America to photograph workers.  He showed children as young as three working for long hours, often under dangerous conditions.

Let’s meet the Padgett Family of South Weldon, North Carolina:

The entire Padgett family including the mother was illiterate. No one could read or write.  The mother worked in the cotton mill. Alice, 17 years old, had a steady job and made between $5 and $6 a week.  Alfred too, 13 years old, had a steady job at the mill. He started working at this mill at the age of 12 and worked in other mills before that.  Alfred made $4 a week.  Alfred (pictured at the right) became crippled getting his hand caught in the cogs of a spinning machine.  Richard was 11 and had been working in the mill since he was 10 years old. He made $2.40 a week. William, 6 years old, was nearly blind. Lizzie was 5 years old. When the investigator came the house was filthy and bare and the mother had been gone for about an hour.  She left the two older children 5 and 6 in charge of the 3 month old baby, who was sleeping in a cradle before the open fire. When she returned she fed the kids cheap candy.

The next photograph is Edgar Kitchen, age 13:

Edgar lived near Bowling Green, Kentucky. He earned $3.25 a week working for the Bingham Brothers Dairy. He drove the dairy wagon from 7am to noon. Then he worked in the afternoon on a farm. Often he worked 10 hours a day, a half-day on Saturday.  He thought he’d ‘work steady’ this year and wouldn’t go to school.

The next photo is a 7-year old oyster shucker.  She spoke no English. Her parents earned about $15 a week.  This little one and her 6-year old brother worked steady.  Location: Bluffton, South Carolina:

Lewis Hine took this picture of a little spinner in Mollahan Mills in Newberry, South Carolina in 1908.  She was tending her work like a veteran, but after he took the photo the overseer came up and said in apologetic tone that, “She just happened in.”  Hine wrote, “the mills appear to be full of youngsters that ‘just happened in’ or ‘are helping sister’.”

These days we have a lot to be thankful for.  In 1938 Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, better known as the Federal Wage and Hour Act:

  • It set the work week of 40 hours.
  • It set minimum wage of 40 cents an hour. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and some states and cities have raised their minimum wage even higher than that.
  • It prohibited child labor under 16.
  • It set a minimum age of 18 for work in industries classified as hazardous.
*Let’s remember the hard work, social and economic achievements and contributions of all American workers. Happy Labor Day!
Photo Credits: Library of Congress, National Child Labor Committee Collection by Lewis Hine. In 1954 the Library received the records of the National Child Labor Committee, including approximately 5,000 photographs and 350 negatives by Lewis Hine. In giving the collection to the Library, the NCLC stipulated that “There will be no restrictions of any kind on your use of the Hine photographic material.”
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How to Teach Handwriting

This is a post I wrote when ED had just turned 5. This week while I’m sharing lots of posts for preschoolers, I thought it was the perfect time to share this again.

ED really enjoys writing…  Here’s a picture of ED writing in her journal from last January (age 4). The kids and I made a special trip to Staples for them to pick out their own journals. I offered to write whatever they wanted for them, so they could record things about their day. While I wrote heaps for DD and LD, much to my surprise, ED insisted on writing in her journal herself (I told her which letters to write)!! As you can see… there were some things about handwriting ED still had to learn!

The first thing you’ll notice is that she was (and still is) obsessed with McKenna, an American Girl Doll! Every single sentence in her journal starts with McKenna!  You’ll also notice that she had a strange pencil grip and that ED only used capital letters.

There is a wonderful resource here at Parents for helping teach your preschooler and kindergartner handwriting.  Lauren Stern, a pediatric occupational therapist and handwriting specialist put together an entire series of handwriting videos. They are so helpful!!  If you want to learn more about teaching your child to write, you will find the entire series here: Parents Handwriting Videos.

For example, Laurent explains how to teach kids to hold their pencils correctly: Teaching the Proper Grip


The video shows that there are two types of pencil grasps. ED’s was a little funky and she’s been working on holding it in a tripod grasp.

This semester it was time for ED to tackle those lower case letters. Lauren explains that lower case letters are more challenging than upper case letters because of the size variation and frequent change in direction. She recommends waiting until your child is in kindergarten before attempting to introduce them. ED turned 5 this semester. Lauren follows the same program that we’ve been using, Handwriting Without Tears, which uses just two lines for writing.

I purchased “Letters and Numbers for Me” by Handwriting Without Tears (it is $8.95) and started ED on that a few months ago.

Here are ED’s first shaky attempts to make that “magic c” back in January:

Lauren explains how to do some of these lowercase letters in her series. Here’s a sample video…

Handwriting Video: Learning Lower Case Letters


ED worked her way through the book tackling the letters that were in the middle (c, a, e, s) and moving on to those that are above the line (l, t, d, h, k, etc) and those that fall below the line (g, p, etc.)

Handwriting: Lower Case Letters a through e


I really like Handwriting Without Tears and ED will move on to the next in the series, though lately I’ve just had her working on specific letters using some homemade handwriting pages. She keeps keeps her Handwriting Without Tears book open in front of her. I’ll hear her saying to herself… up like a helicopter, bump and down!

 Download a blank handwriting page.

Once again, you’ll find the entire series of Parents Handwriting Videos here. These seventeen videos include the pencil grip, lower and upper case letter, and other helpful hints.

Oh– and just so you know, I’m not affiliated with Handwriting Without Tears. I heard about the program when LD was a preschooler and liked it so much that the kids have all used this program and the cursive handwriting program they offer as well. And if you’re interested, here’s a post I did about the two HWT cursive handwriting books we’ve used here at the Homeschool Den.

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Alphabet Activities for 2-4 year olds (Free Alphabet Mats)

I thought it might be useful to pull a lot of our letter-activities together into one post, although we didn’t ever focus exclusively on letters. We generally had a theme or unit (astronomy, birds, volcanoes, bears, pirates, princesses and whatever else the kids were interested in at the time…)  and we added in these types of activities to supplement whatever else was going on.  So, just keep in mind that I pulled these activities out of context.

When my kids were little, we added in a lot of games to learn to recognize the letters, learn the letter sounds and learn the shapes and how to form the various letters.  Here’s a glimpse at the kinds of activities we did to keep it fresh and fun!

File Folder Games:

We played lots of matching file folder games. The spider web matching came from a paid website I belonged to called Kidssoup, but the hearts capital-lower case matching came from File Folder Fun.Child Care Land also has lots of free file folder games and other early learning activities.

Sandpaper Letters:

I purchased a set of sandpaper letters and the kids used them a lot when they were 2-3 years old. It’s a Montessori activity that we did regularly. We got ours from didax.com or you can get them from Montessori stores such as Kidadvance:

Here ED then matched some foam letter stickers to an index card.  We usually only focused on a few letters at at time:

Jump on Letters: We did this activity with everything from contact paper in the kitchen to letters written in chalk on the driveway. This active game was a huge hit with all my kids. “Find the “R.”  ”Go jump on the “K.”   You get the idea!

Cereal Box Matching:

ED had to put letters in the correct slot in the cereal box. You can find the alphabet printed out in various themes and I used to do this a lot using websites such as Communication 4 All (look in theliteracy area)

Scavenger Hunts:

I always tried to make learning fun and interactive. Here the girls went on a scavenger hunt to find their letters and then they had to mail them as they told me what letter/letter sound they made:

Drawing Letters in Sand:

For those of you who don’t know much about the Montessori method, I actually sat down with ED and “presented” the activity below to her.  I show her each and every step…

  • take out the blanket and spread it on the ground
  • take the tray with two hands and lift it down and place it on the blanket
  • lift up the lid
  • sketch the letter in the sand
  • mail the letter
  • take the sand tray with two hands and shake it back and forth
  • repeat until done
  • put the tray away
  • fold up the blanket
  • put the blanket away

I think arming ED with EACH step has really made a big difference to how successful she is at doing the various activities and then repeating them on her own.

We did this in combination with a scavenger hunt and a “mail box” with a slot to mail the letter. We just had a tray of sand and ED had to write the letter before mailing off her letter!  I never wound up making more “letters” for her to mail, but if you’re interested in   A, B, C, E, L, M, N, O, R or S you can download them free here.

Hands on Activities:

We often fit the letter activities into whatever unit/holiday we were working on/celebrating such as the bird unit or the Shamrock fishing activities below:

An activity after reading Green Eggs and Ham!

Using foam letters and contact paper to create a matching game:

Q-tip painting: As the kids were learning their letters, I tried to change things up for them.  Sometimes I brought out Q-tips which they could dip into paint to practice “writing” their letters. Here are some alphabet mats I made that you can download as you need them:

Alphabet Mats: A to Z

(font licence purchased from Kimberly Geswein Fonts)

Clothes Pin Matching:

Using Clothes Pins to match the letters. These letter matching cards are from Honey at Sunflower Schoolhouse (the link I had doesn’t seem to be working anymore), though it would be easy enough to make with a marker and an index card.

This is something similar from Making Learning Fun – Upper – Lower Case Letter Matching

Here is another cute letter matching activity from Making Learning Fun:


My kids loved doing the do-a-dot activities (with bingo markers). The ones pictured below are by Erica at Confessions of a Homeschooler. Erica developed an entire curriculum around the letters of the alphabet. Here’s an example of her Letter A activities or Letter F Activities. Awesome, right?!  We just used a few of these activities and fit them into our units  (More about that in another post!!). You can also find do-a-dot letters at Making Learning Fun.

Letter Factory: All three of my kids loved the Letter Factory movies. The tune is catchy and it helped the kids learned the sounds of the letter.

I hope you found a few ideas you can use with your kids!  If you found anything useful or have other ideas to share, I’d love to hear from you at our Homeschool Den Facebook page.

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Fine Motor Skill Activities for 2-4 Year Olds

I frequently get questions from parents who wonder just what to do and where to start with their preschoolers.  Many of the things we did are things most parents do naturally in their home: free play with toys, time exploring and playing outside, dancing to music, reading books aloud to the kids.  But as a Mom who stayed at home, I was always looking for different activities and approaches to spice up and add variety to our day.

This week I thought I would share some activities we did to help the kids with their fine motor skills:

Tongs and Tweezers:

Using tongs and tweezers helps develop the muscles in kids hands. It requires the kids to concentrate and strengthen the muscles in their hands.

In the picture below, I set out some wooden marbles and a bathroom suction decor with the cups facing up.

For the tweezer activity, i placed a sticker of different colors around the plate. My daughter had to sort the pom-pom into different sections.

Cutting and Gluing:

Depending on the age of my kids, sometimes I had this out all the time and sometimes I just brought it out under supervision. (Yes, I had the daughter who cut part of her hair VERY VERY short when she was three! Keep that in mind!) Anyway, when the kids were tots, I put colored strips of construction paper and scissors out.  I often had a glue stick and paper for them to glue afterwards if there was any interest. As the kids go older, I made the cutting a bit more challenging like the “snake” you see below.  If you go online you can find lots of print-outs with zig-zags or wavy lines to cut along. I always just took a marker and made my own on colorful construction paper.

Here’s another take on the cutting unit. When we did a bird unit, I set out these paper feathers and had the kids make fine cuts to make it look like individual strands of the feather. You could do the same for making “grass” as the bottom of a simple picture:

Poking activity:

This activity is easy to set up. Just put dots in different shapes, letters, or numbers on construction paper.  Give the child something to poke with — either a skewer with a rubber band as I did or with an over-sized push-pin.

“Putting Things In…” Hand-Eye Coordination:

There are so many variations on this activity. Anything where the little ones have carefully put something into something else is great for eye-hand coordination.  In this particular post, the girls spent time putting craft matchsticks into styrofoam. I had an old spice jar that was full of craftsticks in the homeschool area for years!  If your child is a little too young for this, you can use clothes pins into a soda bottle.


For this activity I had a huge embroidery needle and embroidery thread on hand with these plastic canvas shapes.  This is another great activity for hand-eye coordination.  This is an activity that I had to do with the kids until they were at least 5 because it was pretty difficult to get the hang of putting the needle through the top and then up through the bottom and so forth.

You can find plastic canvas shapes like these at craft stores like Jo-Anne for less than $2.00.

Many of these activities are inspired by the Montessori method. You may want to visit Deb’s wonderful website, Living Montessori Now, which inspire you with hundreds of activities to keep your toddler and preschooler engaged!

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Preschool Science Activity: Animals Above and Below Ground (Free Printable)

In ED’s preschool science we are still talking about plants and animals. On this day we talked about animals and plant parts that live above or below the ground.

We talked about how some animals like the grub or the cicada live part of their life under the ground, then live another stage above the ground. Some animals shelter under the ground when it is cold (like frogs and turtles). Some animals have their young underground for shelter and protection like groundhogs, rabbits and prairie dogs.

ED did a cutting and pasting project, sorting out where various animals lived.

If you are interested you can download the pictures I used. I created a pdf and uploaded it for anyone who might be interested:

Click here to download: Where Do Animals Live? Above or Below Ground

The girls also colored an animal habitat project that we got on sale from Teacher Express (for $1.00) It has picture of the creatures and plants above and below the ground. They didn’t finish the projects but here’s a quick glimpse at what they worked on:

Are you interested in doing more science with your preschooler?  Check out this post: Preschool Science at Home which has links to dozens of other activities we’ve done here at the Homeschool Den.


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