Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Preschool At Home

Today begins our first year of homeschooling, for preschool. For the last year I've struggled with the decision of when to start kindergarten with Tommy, who will be turning 5 at the end of October. He seems really interested in learning how to read and write, so it seemed to me a good indication that we should start kindergarten material sooner. Over this past year, I've closely observed him to decide whether he would be ready to start K this fall. I watched how he played, how well he sat still, how well he listened to me and how he related with his peers. While he is very smart and is eager to learn to read and write, he just doesn't have a lot of the maturity that comes with learning K material. I also asked lots of different people (moms with young and older school-age children, older moms who are done home-schooling their children, and everyone in between) about their opinions of when a boy should start K. Ultimately we decided it would be best for Tommy to do preschool this year and kindergarten next fall.

So here we are. My preschool plan is based on my (currently rather loose) understanding of the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling, which emphasizes lots of play, reading aloud, outdoor exploration, more play, and not very much sitting still and doing table work. Sounds great to me and exactly what Tommy needs right now.

The major elements of my preschool plan include:

A daily routine. This is basically the same routine we've had for about two years. I just put it down on paper so that I can stay accountable to it. Sometimes the routine goes out the window, like if we're visiting friends for most of the day. But it's always there for me to follow when I need to know what to do with my time.

Sixty minutes of read aloud per day. When I was first told that my kids should be getting sixty minutes of reading aloud per day for their ages, I was floored. At the time, I was barely getting in thirty minutes and couldn't imagine squeezing any more minutes of reading into the day. Finally I figured out that the best way I can fit in all that reading aloud is to break it up into smaller chunks throughout the day. Mealtimes are a great time to read aloud because I usually finish my food long before the kids do. Instead of leaving the table and doing dishes, I'll stay and read them a book. In just a few months we read through both Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner in this way and we're currently two-thirds through the Beatrix Potter series. I'm working off several 'recommended reading lists' for children, including reading non-fiction books, poetry, chapter books, and picture books. For more information on why reading aloud is extremely important, check out The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.

Bible time. Continue working through the catechism. Memorize scripture. Read directly from the Bible, as well as children's Bible stories. No matter what we have going on during the day, Bible time is always first, directly after breakfast and morning habits, and is non-negotiable.

Outdoor time. My kids are always playing outside within the confines of our yard, which is great. But they need lots more time out in nature, to play with sticks, ponder bugs, throw stones in a creek, and discover new types of flowers. One morning of our week is dedicated to being outdoors in a natural environment. Some places I plan to go with the boys is Uvas Canyon, Anderson Lake County Park, Henry Coe Park, tide pools, and the like. I have a feeling a once per week outing might be too much, but we can always scale back as we go.

Arts/Crafts. One morning a week is set aside for an art/craft project. I have a few books that have given me good ideas for art/craft projects for kids, such as Preschool Art by MaryAnn Kohl, Kids Create! by Laurie Carlson, and Cut-Paper-Play! by Sandi Henry. I also have a stockpile of open-ended craft supplies like construction paper, scissors, glue sticks, clay, watercolor paints, etc. While I'm grateful for all the art/craft ideas, quite honestly my favorite thing to do is simply to give the kids some basic supplies (like a huge piece of paper and some paint) and see what they come up with on their own. But I also realize that the directions-led art/craft projects give them ideas that they can use later on when they decide to do a craft on their own.

Personal habits. Something we've been working on for the past few months is training the boys to get ready for the day and get ready for bed on their own. They have a simple four-step chart that shows them each task they need to complete. They've gotten quite good at doing the whole process by themselves, but sometimes they do miss a step and need to be reminded (like brushing their teeth). I have to say that it's really awesome to just say, "Go do your four things!" and they go do it, instead of me having to stand over them saying, "Okay, now brush your teeth. Now wash your face. Now go get dressed."

Responsibilities (chores). I've already started training the boys in chores around the house. I recently read in a book that boys should be expected to do any job that they are physically strong enough, or smart enough, to do. It gives them a sense that they are doing "real work" and are important and needed in the family. Right now they're great at putting the dishes from the dishwasher away. (We bought unbreakable dish-ware and rearranged our dishes to the bottom cabinets. Whatever the boys can't reach to put away, they just leave on the counter.) They empty all the trash from the house on trash day and roll the cans out to the street. They're currently learning to clean their bathroom (Yay!) and folding laundry. Admittedly they sometimes complain about having to do chores around the house ("Mommy why do I have to do all this wooork?") But usually they are visibly proud of being able to do things they see as grown-up work. I praise them for being strong and helpful and make sure to tell them how great it is to have someone to help with the work of the home.

Food prep. One of my goals is to graduate boys from my house who know how to cook. They've already been helping me with food prep since they were old enough to stand on a stool. But I'm not always good about having a patient mindset with them when I'm rushing trying to get dinner ready, so I've built in to the day some time for them to help me with dinner. Lately I've been consciously giving them more responsibility in the kitchen, like allowing Tommy to cook eggs on the stove or letting Ben cut fruit with a butter-knife. As I see their knowledge and abilities grow, I plan to expand what I allow them to do in the kitchen. Having the kids help with food prep is also a great time to talk about things, particularly food. We talk about where it comes from, how it grows, and what is and is not healthy food for our bodies.

Free play. Last, but not least, there is lots of time for free play built in to each day. This is probably the most important part of their day, since it's the time where they incorporate everything they've learned into the activity they choose during their free time. They ride bikes in the backyard, visit chickens, play in the sandbox, and get into spats with their siblings (and learn to work it out).

You may also notice that there isn't any TV time built in to our day. For the last six months we've managed to live almost completely TV-free. Exceptions include an occasional Saturday morning when we parents aren't ready for kids bounding with energy at 7:00 am, or days when the kids are so sick they physically don't have the strength to play. The kids used to whine and beg to watch TV whenever they were bored. Now that we've been TV-free, they don't even think about it anymore and always find something else to do with their time, even if it's rolling around on the floor wrestling with each other. 

I plan to do some reading and writing activities with Tommy this year, which will most likely be in the afternoon after his quiet time and while Ben is still sleeping. This is usually a nice time we have together when I don't have anything to do around the house and he's mellow enough to sit still for ten to fifteen minutes. This is just long enough for some writing practice, reading aloud, or working on a puzzle together.

My plan isn't rigid and there is plenty of room for flexibility. I made it mostly for my own peace of mind so that I would have a plan of what I wanted to do with Tommy in this last year before he officially starts homeschooling. I owe a lot of thanks to a seasoned homeschooling mom who told me over and over that at four and five years old, kids just need to play. They don't need curriculums, workbooks, or desk work. So if all my boys do is play outside, take some nature walks, get their hands dirty with some paint, learn some chores around the house, and listen to me read a ton of books, I think we'll have quite a successful school year.


  1. Autumn,
    I love what you are doing- playing and boys simply go together. Looking back my time with our kids at home was one of the greatest joys of our lives-

    Keep up the good work

    In His grip,
    angie kastle

  2. Looks awesome, Autumn. Almost all the boys in Anna's K classroom are closer to 6. I like your focus on responsibilities and time outside!