I have been doing preschool at home with my twin daughters for over two months now. It’s been quite the learning experience for both them and myself, and what the future of homeschooling will look like for our family.
I bought the God’s Little Explorer Preschool Curriculum. And I still think it’s a great curriculum. I just don’t think it’s necessarily right for us, or rather for me.
A large reason being that I don’t like doing crafts (or spending money on crafting supplies), and my children also need something more advanced, as they already know colors, shapes, letters, numbers 1-10, sounds of letters, and so on. They need to start learning how to read and write and that’s not part of this curriculum.However, the main thing I’ve followed in the curriculum is the letter of the week and the Bible story. I love sharing these awesome stories from the Bible with them!
Every day we do preschool, I like to summarize the story again, elaborate on the details, share background information, and tell what happened afterward. I have been trying to read the stories directly out of the Bible, although some a little long-winded that way (like the whole story of Moses, but she broke it down into two weeks, as well as David).
I have personally enjoyed rereading these stories, because they are incredible, and god’s presence and his love is so real in them, and these people often so inspiring (yet, still so human). I love sharing about miracles with my daughters.
I was going to memorize a new scripture every week with my girls, but I haven’t always loved the scripture featured in the curriculum (maybe, because I don’t already know them? Totally dumb, I know), and just need a better system for memorizing them (which, I really should reread the fabulous guest post from Lindsey on my site where she talked about 5 ways of memorizing scripture with kids).
I also have slacked with teaching them a new song or hymn every week, mostly because I don’t know the ones in the lessons, and my church’s children’s hymn book doesn’t have a lot of songs about Old Testament prophets or events; really, it is just the “Follow the Prophet” song. I need to just teach them a different children’s song or regular hymn (or at least introduce it) each week. I really want a piano/keyboard for Christmas to make this whole music easier and more exciting.
And then, actually holding preschool four days a week, just hasn’t happened the majority of the time. This is really because we don’t have a set time for it. Ideally it is in the morning after breakfast, but, some mornings, one of my daughters sleeps in, or I sleep in and dad gets the kids going.
Recently I’ve been hauling the kids to the gym first thing in the morning (two or three times a week) so that I can get back in time for Michael’s first morning nap (he’s still a 2x a day napper at 19 months). But, then after the gym I am beat, hungry, and stinky, so I need to shower, and feed people, and take a moment to myself. This means I sometimes waste too much of that morning nap on myself, instead of on teaching my daughters.
I don’t love having the toddler around during preschool a lot, because he’ll mess with dry erase markers, our papers, crafting supplies (think scissors) and books. Once my son is up from that nap it is lunch time, and we usually some other errand, chore, or activity, because then it is second nap time for him and for one of my preschoolers.
So, now that you all think I am a huge slacker, let me tell you what we have been doing for preschool:
1. Focusing on Chores and Routines
I have been trying to run a fairly regular household cleaning schedule in my home. Mondays are my heavy cleaning day, because I don’t clean on Sundays, and Saturdays tend to be super busy. But, no matter what day it is, I am having my preschoolers involved in the household duties.
They help me load and unload the dishwasher every time. They clean off their plates, and wipe off the table. They wipe off counters, fold and sort laundry with me, and help hang it up and put it away. They get the mail with me, grocery shop with me, and help pick up their toys. They are learning how to sweep and mop appropriately and effectively, and they help me take out the trash and recycling.
Personally, I feel like I am setting a solid foundation for going forward in our homeschool environment by doing this during the preschool years. Chores are a part of home life, and since they will be home with me as we homeschool, they need to be doing their share. And honestly, they do a great job of helping.
Chores have become more regimented than “preschool” time, often because I don’t let them do “fun” things until the chores are done. And they also have their own personal chores each day too, namely, getting dressed, and making their bed. I will probably add in other things to these morning routines as time goes forward, like brushing their teeth (oops, yeah, they are totally only evening brushers right now – we can do better at this huh?) and brushing their hair.
One of my daughters has recently clipped her own fingernails (twice now!) and it is heavenly! Her sister has just started biting hers (darn it!) so she doesn’t really need hers trimmed anymore, or not as often. But, learning some life skills, like personal hygiene, is also something great to learn during the preschool years, and really get down pat. I’m really looking forward to them regularly wiping and flushing the toilet, as for whatever reason, it seems to be difficult for them to remember or what to do.
2. Learning to Read and Write
When we do sit down at the kitchen table for our set preschool time, I always go over the letter for the week, showing them how to draw it, especially the lower-case version (uppercase are all mastered), having them tell me the sound it makes, and then have them draw it on these little dry erase boards we have.
I then introduce one or more sight words (or simple words) that start with that letter or include that letter. I have them sound out each of the letters in the word I wrote, and then ask them what it says, and I am always delighted when they get it! I usually ask them to write (just) one of the words I introduced themselves. Alison is especially good at sounding them out, whereas Lisa excels at writing them.
Next, I put one or more of these new words in a sentence, almost always with words they know really well like their names, Mom, Dad, up, and go. I also try to incorporate words we had previously discussed in prior weeks.
One day we even played the “Fly Swatter Game” with the sight words written on 3×5 cards and taped to the wall. They did pretty well. I will be playing it again in the future with them, as I think it’s good for retaining these words.
Honestly, I don’t know if this system of trying to teach them to read is the “right” way. I am not an early childhood education major or an English major. But, I think it’s working. While this part of our preschool day is very structured and very formal, and I demand quite a bit out of them for the 15 or so minutes we spend doing these exercises, they are learning to read, bit by bit!
I also think putting the words into context of sentences gives a better “whole language” approach, rather than just focusing on the individual sounds and words too much. Words are only as important as their usage makes them. Context matters.
I do feel like my daughters are much more aware of the separation of words in a text, are more excited about books, letters, and reading. We try to go to the library for story time once a week and pick up some new books. However, I haven’t been great about reading these books to them. My goal is to better prioritize reading to them, shooting for 30 minutes a day. I just need to decide the best time to do it, and then make it happen.
Also, to help with reading, we recently downloaded the FarFaria App to our iPad Mini (though, it’s also available on Google Play). FarFaria is an app which provides access to more than 800 children’s stories – with five new ones added every week – which can be read automatically aloud, highlighting each word as it reads, or independently, letting a child turn the pages themselves. The app is designed for kids aged two years old to nine years old, and has reading levels to help you find good reads for your kid.
The app offers offline access to read your favorite stories, a genre, title or keyword search feature, a book club, no advertising, and no hidden fees. The app is free to download and use, but to receive unlimited access to all the titles, as opposed to just the one free book every day otherwise, is $4.99 a month.
My daughters have enjoyed the app a lot, and definitely read more than one book in a sitting, especially as some books are really easy and short. I often let my daughter who doesn’t nap, Lisa, play on the iPad during naptime/quiet time, and she’ll sit there and be read several stories, which seems like a pretty cool use of quiet time (because nap time is my work time).
The stories are varied, diverse, and include some interesting folklore and other weird stories. Some are historical and other classic fairy tales. I generally let my daughters pick out their own stories. I think more time in books, whether virtual or physical ones that we get from the library, is a great way to help preschoolers get ready to read.
3. Art (and yes, some crafts!)
Every single day my daughters are coloring, drawing or painting. I often get in on the action, drawing them pictures to color, or coloring/painting with them. We’ve done finger painting, watercolor painting, acrylic painting, pencils, colored pencils, markers, pens, and crayons (most of them washable).
The girls have giant coloring books, stacks of construction paper, and a giant sketch pad; plus, they draw on just about any piece of paper they find. Lisa is much more in love with art than her sister, but Alison still spends a good amount of time doing it with her sister, and often they even collaborate on a single page or project. I also occasionally bust out the Play-Doh.
Creating art is a great preschool activity, especially as I, myself, am an artist. I want to foster this love of art, drawing, and creativity in my children.
And yes, we’ve done some little crafts. We made a creation book the second week of preschool. We made binoculars the first week with some empty toilet paper rolls and some string and Washi Tape, only to have them take them outside and drop them in a puddle and ruin them less than 5 hours later. We’ve made toilet paper tube bats, and paper bats to hang on our window for Halloween (and the only decorations we put up for that holiday), as well as paper crowns.
We also did some apple stamping, and started doing some of the other crafts mentioned in God’s Little Explorer’s Preschool Curriculum, but when one of my daughters didn’t want her foot to be painted for it, I had to stop and think about why I was making her do it, if she didn’t want to do it, and when I knew the craft would eventually be thrown out?
It was then that I (mostly) decided to stop doing the crafts. I don’t enjoy them because they most stress me out, especially if my toddler is hanging out with us. There are scissors, and bits of paper, glue, and kids not listening to instructions. The clean up usually ends up falling on me, and can sometimes take a while. It just doesn’t seem worth it for the majority of it.
Since my kids still do art and continue to develop those fine motor skills and creativity in that way, I just don’t care about making these throw-away crafts that cost money and time. I still occasionally do a craft with them, or give them a scissors, some paper, and some glue and tell them to go at it, but it’s much less than the curriculum suggests. Some people enjoy crafting. I am just not one of them, so until one of my daughters expresses a deep interest in creating in such manner, I think we’ll pass and do something else.
4. Games, Play, and Activity
I have introduced some new games to my preschoolers, games like Tic-Tac-Toe and Rock, Paper, Scissors. We have also, as a family, played Freeze Tag, a new family favorite. We also have played several rounds of Jenga, Don’t Break the Ice, and Chutes and Ladders. We have also done various puzzles and built with blocks.
We also get outside of our house often and play outside. We go to our complex’s playground, or a park, or just on our porch. We imagine, and run, and scream, and have a great time together. I still need to get my preschoolers swinging themselves on the swings, but I hope by the end of the school year they’ll have it down (though, tips appreciated!). They also play with neighbor children and friends from church, or just other random “new” friends they meet at the park (especially Alison).
We try to be active and go on family walks to get the mail (it’s at the end of our long apartment street), to church, and just for fun.
But, the majority of the time, my kids just happily play pretend in our house, dressing up, fighting monsters, and imagining. At four years old, this free, unstructured play, is very good for them!
I will jump into their pretend world (sometimes) and we’ll chase either other around the house, wrestle, and have tickle fights. I love this time I have to bond, snuggle, and love on my children. It’s really very special and sweet. And overhearing their pretend play is an extra special treat (and a good insight into my own parenting at times too).
So, homeschool preschool isn’t going as I originally intended it go. I am still loosely following the curriculum, but also focusing on different things and not doing preschool four times a week (and honestly, even when following the curriculum a lot more in the beginning, the lessons only took about 20-30 minutes, so I often just combine ideas from multiple days into one or two lessons, picking and choosing more what I want/need to focus on).
But, I like to think we’re still doing okay. My kids are bright, happy, and learning more responsibility, manners, life skills, play, and creativity than they were before. I am learning more about my personal shortcomings, and the best methods of teaching my children. I know I can do much, much better at engaging them and making the whole school experience more exciting. Thank goodness for grace and time.
Tell me, how has your homeschool year been going so far? Right on track, or adjusting and learning as you go along?