The ABCs of How to Home Preschool
Or, more precisely, the ABCs of How WE Home Preschool, as there is no definitive guide that can tell you what will work in YOUR home and with YOUR child. This is just what we do and what works for us. Hopefully you can use parts of it, or at least gain some inspiration from it. If you want to home preschool, you can!
There is no way to cover all the ins and outs of our daily lives as home preschoolers, but I’ll do my best to show you through these ABCs a good glimpse into our day-to-day. Feel free to ask questions.
If there’s enough interest, perhaps I’ll write an eBook on the topic because in my brainstorming for this series, I easily came up with 10 times what I’m able to share here…
My Personal Philosophies
I don’t write lesson plans. I seldom make firm schedules. We rarely do anything that resembles a worksheet. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things — and some kids thrive on a schedule, but you don’t HAVE to do any of them and you can still do a good job — perhaps even a better job than if you did those things!
We do play a lot. We do read mountains of books. We do talk to each other all the time about everything. We do snuggle. We do work learning into every crevice of our lives.
There is no start time to our home preschool day. There is no end time. There is just life, and we try to use it to its fullest.
When to Start?
There is no set age for starting home preschool. I started more focused activities when my oldest was close to 2-1/2 years old, with my youngest who is 18 months behind, participating as she was able and we’ve continued from there to where we are now; Luke will be 5 next month and Lilah is 3. As Luke is getting closer to kindergarten, I do plan to gradually increase our focused “work” time a bit just so the transition will be easier for him.
It’s Okay to Think Outside the Box
Sitting down at a table to do some work with your child certainly has its place in a home preschool, but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s what you have to do or that’s all it is. That is actually a very, very small part of our home preschool.
I really think home preschool to me is more of a mindset. Yes, I’m my children’s parent, but I’m also their first teacher, and I am mindful of those little teachable moments throughout the day — those things that can’t be planned but just pop up here and there. It’s those moments when my children learn the most. I do my best to help create those moments — especially by attempting to facilitate learning through play — but also take advantage of the learning moments that come up as they happen.
Here are my A-E of How WE Home Preschool
A is for ABCs. Ironic, eh?
What would home preschool be without the ABCs? We do A LOT with the alphabet. We sing the alphabet song to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and to the tune of Three Blind Mice. The latter tune makes L-M-N-O-P much more clear and less of a combined phrase. Practice it a few times yourself first. It is hard to break away from the traditional version!
I hung a big alphabet poster in the hallway outside my kids’ rooms when my oldest was about 2 years old. Occasionally we’d stop there on the way to their bedroom and point to each letter as we said it or as we sang the song. For a little extra fun, sometimes I’d let them use a pointer to point to each letter. Often I’d catch them there naming the pictures or the letters, or singing and pointing all by themselves.
At restaurants while we wait for our food, I’ll often take a strawful of water from the kids’ cups and puddle it on the table. Then we’ll take turns drawing and guessing letters that we finger paint in the water.
I point out big and noticeable letters on signs and buildings as we drive in the car. Here’s a whole list of 26 things to talk about in the car with kids!
We listen to silly alphabet songs, like “E Eats Everything” by They Might Be Giants. My oldest thinks it’s hilarious and asks for it on repeat in his room at night.
My oldest learned his ABCs very easily just by the methods mentioned above. My youngest has a completely different learning style which is much more hands on. She has benefited a ton from All About Reading’s Prereading program. It’s basically a letter of the day style program, but it’s all done for you. I don’t even look at the lesson prior to “teaching” it. You can see what it looks like here and what a day with all about reading looks like here. As a reading teacher and a parent, I have to say I absolutely LOVE it and highly recommend it, though I don’t think everyone *needs* it. If you are looking for something like this though, I personally think it’s great. My oldest does the lessons along with my youngest because it’s a great review for him. It’s also neat because I can partner them up for sections of it, helping to teach them cooperation, but also giving them a chance to learn from each other.
B is for book marathons.
Book marathons is a term I made up to describe a reading activity that we do once or twice a day. It’s simple really, but probably the most important thing we do in our home preschool! We gather up a big stack of books. Sometimes the kids pick them, sometimes I pick them, and sometimes we pick them together. Sometimes the books have a common theme, but more often they’re a mix. Picture books, chapter books, fiction, and nonfiction. I have carefully selected tons of quality books for our personal home library, but you can utilize your local library as well! Look at some different book lists and pick some great books! (As a general rule, I steer clear from books based on tv or movies and most books containing popular characters as they tend to not be well written. Choosing mostly quality books makes the experience better for you and your child!)
Once we have our stack of books, we go to a comfy place — usually the couch — and we snuggle together and read. We take turns picking the next book and then I read it aloud. Sometimes we only read for 20 minutes; sometimes it’s over an hour. We talk about our favorite part of the books. We make predictions. We laugh out loud. We wonder what’s going to happen when we turn the page. We act out vocabulary words like sneezed, or yawned, or winked. We read until someone needs a break, or we have other things to do, or we run out of books, but normally when we stop, the kids are still begging for more, and that’s a good thing.
Start reading to your child from birth! It exposes them to so much more rich language than is used in everyday conversation and helps to build vocabulary.
If your child is not a book lover YET, here’s a list of 25 ideas to get your little one to love reading! If a child doesn’t love books, they just haven’t found the right ones yet in my opinion!
C is for counting.
We do not do a lot of “sit down” style math learning in our home. Most of the math we do is hands on and during “life” so to speak. I’ve always taught the kids how many fingers to hold up to show how old they are, including helping them fold their fingers down the right way until they could do it on their own. When we have snacks, I let the kids count out 5 pretzels from the jar or ask them how many blueberries are in their cup. If they want to be done with their dinner, I might say they can be if they eat 3 more bites of broccoli. If they’ve built a Lego tower, I’ll ooh and ahh over it and then ask them how tall it is so that they count the bricks they used to make it. We use numbered sticker charts and when they’ve earned a new sticker, I tell them which number to put their sticker on instead of just showing them on the chart so they actually have to find the number I said aloud, matching the visual number with the oral one. Then I ask them how many more they need before they earn a prize so that they count the blank spaces left. ”Yay! Only 5 more stickers needed!” Sometimes we count the steps it takes to walk up the stairs to the 2nd floor.
You might be surprised, but having kids set the table is huge for help with counting. Once my kids were tall enough to reach the silverware drawer, they became in charge of utensils. They have to match up one spoon and one fork for each person at the table. They quickly learn how to count to the number of people in your family! Here’s a list of 25 Life Skills to Teach at an Early Age, including setting the table.
On trips where we’ve driven for awhile and are finally close to where we’re going, I often say, we’re only 3 minutes away. If we count to 60 three times, we’ll be there! Then I count aloud and let them count along with me. Here’s a list of 26 Things to Talk about in the Car.
My favorite math tool to use for counting is the abacus. I love it because it’s all one piece and not 100 loose pieces that can mysteriously end up all over the place if you know what I mean. Typically once a day or a couple of times a week, we grab our abacus and count by 1s to 100 on it. Sometimes I move the beads, sometimes one kid or the other does it, or sometimes they alternate sliding the beads as we say the numbers. It has made a HUGE difference in their counting and understanding of numbers. Recently, we’ve started skip counting using it, too. We’ll slide 5 or 10 beads at a time and count by 5s or 10s. Here’s an abacus on Amazon.
Once counting is mastered, you can work on addition and subtraction in much the same “life” ways as you did with counting. You have 3 grapes already. If I give you two more, how many will you have? You have 8 strawberries. Eat one. Now how many do you have left. Repeat. Obviously you can tell we do a lot of mealtime math!
I have always done this kind of “math talk” with my two. My youngest is very good at counting, and my oldest has gotten so good at the addition and subtraction parts that I have started asking him things like “what’s 2 + 2?” to help prepare him for more abstract mathematical thinking. Sadly, he quit responding to me when I would ask him questions. One day not long ago, I asked him what 5+2 was while waiting in the car for his dad to run into a store. Once again I was met with silence. Then he said rather thoughtfully, “How about this one? If I had 5 pieces of candy and then got 2 more but then I ate one, I’d have 6.”
I was floored. But it just goes to show this method can work for kids! Yes, I’d most definitely say so. My 4 year old made up his own multi-step math problem in his head. No wonder he quit answering my mundane questions though, right? Note to self: ask him to make up the problems from now on. His are way more interesting!
D is for daily art.
Every day of the week we strive to do some art, usually excluding weekends. Sometimes I buy a kit for us, sometimes I research a cool project to try via Pinterest, and sometimes we go all out with our own artistic inventions like the pumpkin roller, but more often than not I just present some art materials for the kids to explore on their own.
(By the way, if you need some cool projects, follow me because I have TONS of good stuff on my Pinterest boards!! Shameless plug, I know!)
Now, when I say art, I don’t necessarily mean crafts. Crafts are good and have their place, too, but I’m talking about process art. Where you aren’t worried so much about what the end product will be, but more about enjoying and experimenting with the process. We’ve tried salad spinner art, marble art, painting with pumpkins, and several variations of pour painting to name just a few examples of process art. Finger painting is another. You can still make fabulous products with process art, but the product isn’t the goal of the child when making the art.
Process art is basically letting kids explore with creative materials. Crayons and coloring books are good, but don’t get in the rut of doing that every day. Try to make each day a different experience. Repeat the ones they love. Car painting is my kids’ biggest request. They would probably do it every day if I’d let them.
I don’t usually plan out our art project for the day ahead of time, but I do keep an art cabinet well stocked so we can do just about anything at any time. We have all kinds of paint and paint brushes, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, various kinds of glue, glitter, glitter glue, beads, pom poms, foam and rubber stamps, ink pads, all kinds and colors of paper, and more. I didn’t do one massive trip to the store; we’ve just added to our stock over time, and when something can be reused, it goes back in the cabinet. We also save and use a lot of otherwise “trash” materials.
E is for Explain Everything.
Remember when I said we talk a lot about everything? Well, I think that’s another biggie. From the time they were born, I have always talked to my children, telling them things, explaining things, drawing their attention to things. I bet you might have walked your newborn baby through your house telling him or her all about their new home when you brought them home from the hospital. This is just an extension of that same idea. Every day your child is seeing stuff they’ve never seen before. Take the time to draw attention to those things. Pique their curiosity. Explain how stuff works. Answer their questions. It’s great for vocabulary and listening comprehension, and opens the doors of communication between you!
I explain things that happen around us all day that my kids may not have seen before or may not understand or things about which they ask questions. ”Oh, look at how those gray clouds are covering the whole sky today, and now the wind is starting to blow. See how it’s moving the branches of that tree over there. I’ll bet it’s going to rain soon.” ”Did you see that big group of birds fly over? A big group of birds is called a flock. I bet that flock was headed south for the winter because some birds can’t live in places where it’s cold so they fly south to where it’s warmer.” ”Do you hear that sound? I wonder what it is! I bet it’s our neighbor mowing his yard because it kind of sounds like his lawn mower.” Talk about everything: explain how your grill works, how the stove works, why they should be quiet when you are on the phone, where the stuff goes when they flush, why babies cry, how to decide if they need a coat before they leave the house, why it’s getting dark so much earlier now, why the moon changes shapes, how to hold a pencil, why not to color on the table, why people have jobs, what the weekend is. The list could go on and on. You don’t have to force anything; just start paying attention to the things around you, and as you notice stuff, explain it!
What if your child asks a question you can’t answer? Don’t panic. It happens to me all the time. Just be honest. My reply is usually, “Wow, that’s a great question. Let’s Google it!” And then we research the answer and talk about it. It shows the child their questions are important and keeps that curiosity alive. It also shows them that we don’t always know the answers, but that there are methods to use to find things out. The latest question I got that threw me for a loop was asked as we drove by a pond that had some geese swimming in it. I pointed them out. Then my son asked, “Mom, why don’t geese have ears. Can they hear? Ducks don’t have ears either! Can they not hear, too? Why don’t they have ears like we do?” Well, I could tell him that geese and ducks can definitely hear, but I couldn’t answer the rest. So we researched it. Another of his famous questions — “Why are my ears waxy?” Trust me, nothing is too mundane for little ones thirst for knowledge, so explain everything!
Continue reading this series with Part Three:
More helpful moms share their ABCs of…Arts & Crafts:
- Art History for Kids from B-Inspired Mama
- Cardboard Box Creations from Here Come The Girls
- Children’s Music With Art from Rainbows within Reach
- Crafts and Art from Red Ted Art
- Crafting on a budget from Housing a Forest
- Creativity from Little Artists
- Paper Plates from Domestic Goddessque
- Toddler Crafts from Rainy Day Mum
- Upcycled and Recycled Crafts from Craft to Art
- Valentine Crafts and Recipes from Local Fun For Kids
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