The ABCs of How to Home Preschool
Today I’m sharing with you Day Four of the ABCs of How to Home Preschool series!
Before I get started today, I just want to remind you this is really 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.
K is for keep focus.
This one is for you, the parent – teacher. Set short term and long term goals for your child and keep focus on those goals. When we get to letter “W” I’ll be sharing with you a curriculum guide for preschool. In other words, a list of all the things your child should know by the end of preschool. It’s a good start for knowing what to work on and should provide you with some good direction!
I mentioned on the first day that I don’t write lesson plans and I don’t often make firm schedules, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a focus, a plan, or a routine because I do…I just track most of it mentally. Once you’ve done this long enough, you’ll probably find you just “know” what to do…but there’s no harm in writing it down or planning it out if it helps you, especially if you’re just starting out!!
The way I plan is to choose one of the things I want my children to learn, either from the curriculum guide, from their interests, or something I simply want them to know. Then I think about all the ways we could go about learning it. I don’t spend time planning out 2 weeks of materials we could use to cover the objectives because what if they learn it in a day? Then I’ve wasted a lot of my time on work that’s not going to be done, or if it is, it’s simply busywork because they’ve already mastered the skill.
So my way of doing planning is to come up with a new plan for each day of what I want to cover based off of what I observed the day before. As the kids and I work, I decide if they need more practice or if they are ready to move on, and I note any new areas on which we should start to focus. If I had 30 kids in my class, I’d need to write it down to remember, but I only have 2 and they are so close in age, they can usually do much of the same stuff so it’s easy to keep up. Doing this daily evaluation and planning means we are constantly building on what they can do. (Visualize a block tower. I start by building a foundation of learning and once it’s solid, I add a block on top of that. Then another and another….) During the process, I am also constantly making mental notes of the kids’ weaknesses to improve upon so we can address those on future days.
Another suggestion is to keep your focus somewhat narrow. Preschoolers learn best in 10-15 minute snippets of time, possibly longer if they’re really interested in what you’re doing. Don’t plan to teach them all their shapes, colors, or letters in a single sitting. Instead, choose one or two new things to introduce each day while also reviewing past things. Keep it fun and hands-on as much as possible. It’s better to have several short sessions throughout the day, than to try to force them to sit still for an hour when they aren’t ready for that. At our house, we typically do a 10-30 minute “work” period followed by what my kids happily call a “play break.” (Remember, play is learning, too. See letter L!)
One last tip is to keep focus on the child. If you choose to use a curriculum with your child, remember your goal isn’t to finish the book or the workbook or the entire curriculum package. Your goal is for your child to learn the objectives you’re trying to teach. Finishing the book is an accomplishment certainly, but if you child isn’t getting it, or alternately, if they got it months ago, what have you really accomplished? Keep focus!
L is for learning through play.
I love it! It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s letting your children learn while playing. There are lots of “toys” out there to encourage learning through play — marble runs, Leapfrog Fridge Phonics, and blocks for building just to name a few.
(And one of my biggest suggestions to you is to limit electronic toys and go for more wooden, building, puzzles, and imaginative toys. We own almost no toys that require batteries, and I think that’s part of the reason my children can play pretend for literally hours on end. Battery-less toys are GREAT for the imagination!)
Children can also do a lot of learning through play just by being outside. Even as little as 15 minutes a day can have benefits!
There are so many ways you can set up play for your child, too. We’ve done a bunch of bath and shower posts about setting up invitations to play. My favorite was a bath time that let the kids play in Antarctica, complete with snow, ice, and penguins.
You can set up your house to encourage learning through play, also. Put toys into bins on shelves so that it’s easy to retrieve a whole set of toys that goes together. Rotating toys daily, weekly, or even monthly also helps to give fresh life to old toys. You might even set up some “self-choice” activities the child can choose to do when they want. We have a play dough basket where play dough, cookie cutters, utensils, and go-along materials are rotated pretty often. We have sensory bins and a water table where we set up play and rotate activities often. All the kids’ building toys are sorted and always accessible. Puzzles are mostly stored in plastic bags in a bin. Scrap paper is kept in a basket and the kids’ art table is stocked with crayons, colored pencils, markers, etc. Sometimes I have Montessori-style trays set out with activities for the kids. All of this is available to the kids to use at any time independently. It takes time and teaching at the beginning to show them how to use everything properly, but it has worked great for us!
For more examples of learning through play:
Homemade Sensory Bin 101
DIY Cooking Sensory Bin
No Water Table? No Worries!
Water Table Fishing
A Fizzing Good Tea Party: Color and Chemistry Experiments Disguised as Play!
Antarctica: Learning Through Small World Play with Penguins in the Bath!
Math in the Bath
Wash & Learn: Letter Building Bath
Pete the Cat Sensory Walk
**See also the links at the end of this post!
M is for Montessori.
Even though my background is in teaching, I had no real knowledge of Montessori until I had quit working and was staying at home with my own children. My sister-in-law asked me a question about Montessori schools, assuming I’d know, but I had no advice to give her. Being the lifelong learner and reader that I am, it sparked me to borrow every book from the library that had Montessori in the title and proceed to take notes. I honestly fell in love with what I read. I love how Montessori sees the huge potential in children and teaches them systematically how to do things that many other philosophies say children can’t do at this age.
Montessori now shapes our daily lives a lot. It is because of the methods I found in Montessori that I taught my children to drink from open glass cups, that they dress themselves and put on their own shoes and coats independently, and that we own and use a lot of the traditional Montessori works like the pink tower, sandpaper letters, and red rods. There is a lot more to Montessori than what I can tell you here, so if it’s something that sounds interesting to you, definitely read up on it. While I will never say we are a Montessori home school – we are much too eclectic for that — I will say that we are very Montessori-inspired!!
You don’t have to follow any program to a “T” to gain some good inspiration and have it work for you in your particular situation. To explain, here‘s the opener for a new Montessori series I’m working on — Relaxed Montessori: The Home Preschool Way. I hope to kick off the series which got put on hold through the holidays later this month. I plan to share how you can use Montessori-inspired ideas with your children at home, in ways that may not necessarily be Montessori-approved, but have been inspired by Montessori and have worked for us.
For recommendations of Montessori books to read, see my Preschool Curriculum Round-Up and scroll down to the Montessori section!
N is for names.
The simplest way to start teaching your child about letters is to start with their name! Kids’ names are usually the most interesting word they know and so they WANT to learn about it. I started this way with both of my children. Many kindergarten teachers use this approach as well.
Here are some ways to practice:
- Write their name on all their work — coloring pages, craft projects, etc. Say each letter aloud as you write it, and then say the whole name at the end. ”L-U-K-E Luke!” The child can finger trace the letters or go over them with a crayon for practice.
- Their name is probably the first word they’ll learn to write, too. Have them write it on everything. To start with, it’s probably helpful to make them a card with their name written on it neatly so they have a model to copy from when needed.
- Write the child’s name on a piece of paper and hang it up on something magnetic (like a fridge). Give your child magnetic letters for their name and let them match them on top of the written letters.
- If you have more than one child, label their things with their names. Instead of calling out who an item belongs to, hold it up and let them practice recognizing their name by sight.
- Print or write the child’s name in a dotted font. Slide the page into a plastic page protector and let your child practice tracing the letters with a dry-erase marker.
- Give your child a bin of letters and have them find ones that are in their name. Put them in order to spell the child’s name.
- Sing songs that spell your child’s name. We sing “There was a dog who had a boy and Luke was his Name-O. L-U-K-E, L-U-K-E, L-U-K-E, and Luke was his Name-O.”
- Play “Name Hopscotch“
- Use alphabet blocks to build name towers.
- Make Secret message name art.
After your child has learned his own name, branch out with siblings’ names, Mom, Dad, friends’ names, etc. Use the names to teach the letters!
O is for organization.
Organization is so important in a home preschool, and it really helps to think of it in terms of how you can make your whole house function better. I am constantly organizing and reorganizing things to best meet our needs. Almost everything we do is activity based, so we use a lot of materials and if they aren’t organized well, it’s hard to find things we want to use, things don’t get put back in their proper places, and “stuff” starts to overtake our house. I’m sure you can imagine, so organization is a biggie!
Our “school” area has changed at least 4-5 times in the last 2 years as I continue to tweak it and figure out what’s working and what’s not. Plus, what you do in home preschool when they’re 2 is different than when they’re 4, so I’ve adjusted it as they’ve grown. Just remember, if it’s not working, it’s okay to change it!
You will decide what works best in your home, but the more organized you are, the better because the kids will always be there. Teach them the organization system, too. They can learn to put things away where they belong and they’ll be learning important skills while they do it, like sorting, categorizing, and maintaining order.
For us, the kids have some toys in their rooms, while most of the toys for play are in the bonus room upstairs. Again, almost none of our toys have batteries — we’re talking dress-up clothes, a play kitchen, cars and a garage, Lego blocks, dolls and dollhouses, and so on… We also have a huge reading area upstairs, as well as a CD player for the kids to use for audio books. The kids have bookshelves along their loft beds for easy access to books.
Downstairs, where we spend most of our day, I try to limit the number of “toys,” in exchange for what I would call learning materials….though my kids still think they’re toys. We have a kids table with free access to art materials, play dough, moon dough, coloring books, and more…most of which is in separate bins on a shelf. Luke and Lilah each have a Tag Reader basket with books and pen for “independent” reading. We have several plastic shoe boxes of building toys on shelves. Our coffee table is a train table with 2 large drawers underneath; in them are wooden building blocks and Lego Duplo blocks, which get used every day! We have a big cabinet with doors that holds all the art supplies that aren’t out for free use, and I actually keep it pretty neat so I can reach in and grab whatever we need without having to search. We have several big baskets that hold books; I change them out pretty often. Markers, crayons, pencils, colored pencils, glue, etc. are each in individual little metal buckets and hung on a peg board mounted to the wall behind the kids’ table. All our puzzles and most games are downstairs for easy access.
As we are strongly leaning towards homeschooling our oldest for kindergarten this coming year with the potential for more, we changed over our downstairs guest room to a “school” room just over the recent holidays. This is something that’s definitely not needed for a home preschool unless you happen to have the extra space and want to use it for that!! We are just taking it a year at a time right now, so we don’t have any long term homeschool plans but we had the space, I needed a usable office for myself as well, and we figured we’d use the room with the kids even if they do attend regular school for homework, and projects, and stuff of our own. I also occasionally take on a tutoring job and this will be the perfect space for it.
Our new school room has my desk and all my craft supplies. It also has a kids’ table and chairs, whiteboard, felt board, and lots of shelving for holding puzzles, books, Montessori materials, and more. You likely won’t have all the junk supplies that I have unless you were a teacher-hoarder in a past life like myself, but you honestly don’t need much! I think you could do it all on books and blocks personally.
My best advice for organization is just to figure out the space you will be using most often for your home preschool and try to make sure it is organized well for what you’ll be doing there. You want most things to be grab and go because that helps to cut down on planning time and clean up. If you’ll have lots of papers, figure out how best to store them. Then start thinking in terms of the rest of your house and how you can organize it best to keep your household running smoothly while also benefiting your child(ren) the most!
Here are some items we use for organizing our home preschool:
- baskets or bins for organizing toys
- shelving for holding baskets/bins
- train table with drawers
- kids’ work and art table and chairs with pegboard for organizing supplies
- small magnetic whiteboard
- dedicated areas for books
Continue reading this series with Part Five:
- Baking with Kids from Life at the Zoo
- Bath Activities for Kids from Bath Activities for Kids
- Discovery Bottles from Teach Preschool
- Farming for Children from Glittering Muffins
- Fitness for Kids from 3 Dinosaurs
- Imaginative Play from Train up a Child
- Kids Activities from Growing a Jeweled Rose
- Learning Through Play from Love Play & Learn
- Learning Toys & Manipulatives from This Reading Mama
- Movement Activities for Young Kids from AngeliqueFelix.com
- Play Dough from The Imagination Tree
- Playing with Light from Graham and Parker
- Preschool Play from Its Our Long Story
- Sensory Bins from Royal Baloo
- Sensory Play from Creative Play House
- Toddler Activities from Toddler Approved
- Winter Outdoor Play from Pleasantest Thing
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