At-Home Preschool



As of this fall, my 4-year-old will begin preschool at home. Having taught the two older brothers who have gone before him, I now have more than seven years of practice under my belt. One of the things I’ve learned in that time is that teaching preschool isn’t hard. In fact, I’d argue it’s one of the greatest joys of parenting young children.

Maybe you would like to homeschool your preschooler but you don’t know where to start or you feel overwhelmed by all the information you’ve received. Let me encourage you with this simple truth: As a mom or dad, you already have been unofficially teaching preschool within the home. To parent is to teach. Every time you remind your child to say please or thank you, show him how to tie his shoes or read a beloved picture book for the countless time, you’re teaching him manners, life skills and a love for the written word. Integrating a gentle preschool program into your day is merely an extension of that parenting.

Preschool is also not a time for high academia. It’s a time of wonder and discovery. A time to learn through play, singing, simple chores and interaction with others. Preschool then should whet a child’s appetite for learning and excite him about what’s to come later on within formal schooling.

Many parents feel like they may fall short in instructing preschool because they think they need to have a bunch of expensive educational resources, a designated room or even a specialized degree. But the truth is preschool can be done anywhere on any budget (not to mention you have credentials that no one else can boast as the premier expert on your child). Truly, the world is your classroom! Not limited to a designated classroom, preschool can take place cuddled up on the couch reading Caldecott Award-winning classics, in the kitchen baking cookies, in the backyard building mud pies or in the bedroom constructing a fort.

When I began preschool with my firstborn, I was chomping at the bit to buy everything I could get my hands on that would benefit his learning experience. Sections of our house really did look more like a school than a home environment. Over time, I invoked a less-is-more approach, whittled down our mounting collection of toys and manipulatives and ditched all the schoolroom wall art. From there, I assessed what was working and what was not, took note of tried-and-true favorite activities and toys and got rid of everything else that stood in the way. It turned out simplicity really was best.

Within our home, I have four main objectives for preschool: character formation, life skills, basic academics and social interaction. Some of the activities we do focus specifically on one goal, while many integrate all of the objectives together. One morning we may break out a game of Memory, where players try to find matching pairs of cards. By afternoon, the same skills will be put to the test through real life application, be it sorting dirty laundry by colors, folding socks or unloading the clean utensils from the dishwasher. Add siblings to the mix and a preschooler is learning the art of teamwork (social skills), diligence and hard work (character), as well as comparing and contrasting items so they can be placed accordingly (life skills and basic skills).

There are times when it’s obvious a child is lacking in something. If a child is struggling by way of character, this is not a disruption to preschool; it is a time to make preschool work for that child’s shortcoming. Read books about virtuous and heroic people of old, discuss virtues and vices (particularly focusing on the virtue that’s missing) and look for opportunities to grow those “character muscles” within the home and out.

Children need a sense of structure and order to their days. Building in designated times to eat, sleep, do chores, school and play gives a child predictability to his days and helps him to anticipate the next thing. This doesn’t mean you need to be a slave to a rigid schedule so much as there is a constancy to your daily happenings. Over time, the rhythm and flow of your days will become the building blocks to family rituals that foster closeness. Of course, if there is anyone who knows a thing or two about unanticipated situations, it’s a homeschooling mom. Make sure your schedule reflects that, building in adequate margin for the hiccups that come along the way.

Having a baby underfoot can be one of the biggest challenges for trying to begin preschool with an older sibling. In those seasons, your schedule may seem to be at the mercy of the baby (because, well, it is!). Utilize the baby’s naptime or times when he is eating contentedly in the high chair nearby as one-on-one time with your preschooler. On the flip side, homeschooling offered a sweet perk to my babies: They never had to be awakened from a nap so we could pick up or drop off an older sibling at preschool.

Resources for preschool abound. My favorites usually revolve around the library. Story time hours, free music classes, helpful children's librarians and online holds (not to mention drive-thru pickup options at select libraries within our system) all made it a top resource. The Six by Six program available within the Johnson County library system—thoughtfully crafted bags full of board books, hardback books, CDs and DVDs centered on unit studies perfectly designed for children under 6—were just the cherry on top!

 

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Here’s an Idea!

With 52 weeks in a year and 26 letters in the alphabet, a letter of the week program (or a letter for every two weeks, rather) is a great introduction to phonetic awareness and pre-reading skills.

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Lauren Greenlee is a homeschooling mother of three and an avid fan of teaching the preschool years. She and her young family reside in Olathe.

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