How we homeschool preschool

May 24, 2016

Little children learn so much through play and through everyday routines and events, homeschooling in the preschool years grows very naturally from the experience of caring for a toddler. In today’s post I’m sharing the basics of how I’ve built preschool learning into my three-year-old’s daily life at home.

how we homeschool preschool

What preschool children need

When I took the decision to keep R at home at the age many children start preschool, I did a lot of research into what preschools do and the different approaches they take. I learned about school readiness skills, Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio, preschool curriculums, unschooling… But the idea I kept coming back to is that what preschool children need is very simple. In no particular order, they need:

  • Time for free play
  • Time to play outside every day
  • Chances to make and meet friends
  • Loving care from familiar adults
  • A predictable routine
  • Lots of stories and books shared with them
  • Art, songs and music
  • People who talk individually with them a lot, every day
  • Healthy food and plenty of sleep

These basic needs are at the heart of our ‘homeschool preschool’. A while back I shared my two-year-old’s daily routine. It’s almost the same as my three-year-old’s routine, and helps us to ensure the boys get everything they need to flourish. Most of our days follow this routine:

Morning free play, breakfast.

9am: Tot school

10am: Outside play or outings (If we’re at home we do some movement play and free imaginative play)

Midday: Lunch, reading, nap

3pm: Social outings or Tot school 2

5pm: Singing and stories

Dinner, Bath, Bed

For some more detail on our routine, check out the original post. If you’re figuring out how to homeschool preschool, I recommend starting with a comfortable routine, with regular mealtimes, a nap, a bedtime ritual, and some time for free play and playing outside daily. This comes before all the other stuff!

Key skills

Three-year-olds are developing important skills in everything they do, including:

  • Gross motor skills (big movements like running and jumping)
  • Fine motor skills (small movements like writing)
  • Language skills
  • Cognitive skills (Math, problem solving, logic and reasoning)
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Social skills

For our home preschool I try to ensure that each of these skill groups are included in the activities we do every day. This isn’t as complicated as it might sound! After all, living with a younger brother practices social skills in itself, making conversation together and reading stories practices language skills, while most play activities will develop motor skills and logic!

Activity ideas

Here are the core activities we do to develop each of the basic skills listed above:

Gross motor skills

Playground * Outside play * Racing and chasing * Obstacle courses * Ball play * Bubbles * Simon Says * Animal actions * Action songs * Dancing * Ride-on toys * Toddler gym * Swimming pool

 Fine motor skills

 Art (scribbling, painting, chalk, clay, collage, cutting, sticking, folding, craft) * Blocks * Small world play * Play dough * Puzzles * Sensory container play * Stickers

 Language skills

 All play targets language skills so long as you talk at the same time!

Plus:

Reading books * Story bags and book-based activities * Storytelling play * Singing

 Cognitive skills

 All play can develop cognitive skills, but here are a few favorites:

Board games * Memory and Lotto games * Roll & Play * Blocks * Puzzles * Shape pattern play * Counting and sorting games

Creativity and imagination

Pretend play: Dolls, animals and puppets * Dens, forts, tents * Role play: doctor, café, rescue team, dress up, kitchen, picnic, shops, rockets, pirates * Small worlds: cars, trains, planes, floor mat towns, farm

Art activities * Singing, dance and music * Story-based activities * Storytelling

Social skills

Daily life will naturally develop social skills, like taking turns in a conversation, or practicing patience. Special opportunities include play dates, playgrounds and group activities like a library story-time or a toddler music class.

We build academic learning, like ABCs and numbers, into these activities. For example, by using a play dough mat with a counting activity, or choosing an alphabet puzzle.

Flexibility and a personal approach

The great thing about being together at home is I get to choose activities perfectly suited to my kids’ abilities and interests. They go through phases of wanting to do lots and lots of certain activities, which I think corresponds to their developmental needs. E has been hungry for lots of sensory play lately. They both go through periods of wanting to do puzzles everyday, with R happily putting together 50-piece puzzles one day, then not interested the next.

In planning our activities I think about my sons’ personalities and strengths, and shape what we do according to those. For example, R is intensely imaginative. From the time he could talk he’s been weaving fantasies, so I try to make sure we do lots of pretend play together, and play based on the stories we share.

I specifically helped him with skills that were more challenging for him. An example of this is the gym we go to twice a week. He was very cautious at first and for months did very little at all when we went, but we kept going. Slowly, slowly, he gained confidence, and now climbs, swings and jumps like a little Spiderman.

Our letter craft door (now abandoned!)

Our letter craft door (now abandoned!)

Being at home means we get to be flexible. Before R turned three I deliberately did not teach him the alphabet, preferring to focus on building his vocabulary and love of words. My plan was to do a letter of the week curriculum once he hit three. We even started off doing letter of the week crafts, as you can see from our (now neglected) letters door. (That’s a caterpillar, apple, treasure, numbers, octopus, seahorse and rain, in case it isn’t clear!)

When it came to teaching the alphabet we hit the ground running: I brought out some ABC puzzles, and showed him LeapFrog Letter Factory a few times. In two weeks he knew the whole alphabet, names and main sounds. I was taken aback and rather bewildered. So what should we do next, I wondered? We threw out the idea of a letter of the week curriculum, and started experimenting with other literacy activities. I’m going to do a separate post on the literacy work we do soon.

Planning our preschool

I tried out different approaches to planning our time together, and settled on two methods that work for us: having a kind of timetable that works as an ideas pool that I can refer to each week, and putting together a daily box for our tot school times. These approaches are personal: they suit me, but that’s probably because I have a really weird personality mix of enjoying order but actually being extremely scatty, so I need a system to stay on track!

Just after R turned 3 I listed all the activities we enjoyed together, and I stuck those activities into the timetable, all at different times of the day, and on different days of the week. The idea is that I can look at the timetable at any time for an idea that will be relatively fresh and also quick to prepare. It is NOT a schedule for how we spend every day – we’d be frantic!

Home preschool schedule

Here’s a link to the PDF: Our Home Preschool Schedule.

All preschool activities get put aside for holidays and illnesses, and when more interesting events come along, like playdates, visitors, trips out, sunny days in the garden, rainy days with fresh puddles… I put together this collection of activities because it helped me to stay inspired and intentional. I’m sharing it here as a resource for you to dip into, rather than as an over-ambitious action-plan!

Now summer has arrived in Germany I probably won’t be using this schedule any more, especially as most of the activities have now become very familiar to my boys. We’ll be making the most of the good weather (hopefully) and trying out lots of fresh ideas over the next few weeks. When September rolls around I’ll probably make a new one.

Our daily activity boxes for the week

Our daily activity boxes for the week

The other way I organise our week is by making boxes for our tot school work. Every Sunday I put together an activity box for each day of the week, using the schedule for inspiration, and adding in any new ideas I want to try out that I might have dreamt up or seen online. I bring down the box at the start of our day, and we use the activities in our ‘tot school time’ and during shared playtimes. I’m thinking of starting a new series on this blog summarizing our week’s activities, including details of what goes in the boxes! I hope this will be useful for other ‘tot schoolers’, plus it’ll be a way for me to keep track of what we do and what we’ve enjoyed most.

Wow, you read this far! I hope this post has given you some inspiration for playing and learning with your little ones. It might look overwhelming, but if you do feel insecure please just look back at the first list and remember how simple our children’s needs really are. We all know how our children benefit from our warm, loving attention. With that, they’re off to a flying start!


If you’d like ideas for hundreds of simple playtime activities, check out my book: Word Boosting: A practical guide to encouraging your toddler’s language skills, with 365+ easy playtime activities. The book includes suggestions and strategies for supporting language learning as you play. There’s also a section about planning and organising activities.


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This post is shared at Practical Mondays and Hip Homeschool Hop.

4 Comments

  1. Debbie
    September 2, 2016

    I would love some ideas on putting the daily boxes together! I have an in home daycare & this year starting age 3 preschool with several of them. Thank you

    Reply
    • Kathleen
      September 5, 2016

      Hi – thanks for your comment. I usually put about 5-8 activities into the daily boxes, covering a range of the different basic skills. This usually means a game of some kind (such as a board game, memory or a game with actions), an art activity (such as paints, cutting, sticking or dough), a literacy activity (such as a puzzle or a rhyming game), a math activity (such as our mini dinosaur counters or a puzzle), something for pretend play, and a couple of books we’ve not read for a while. Often we don’t use everything, especially if the weather is good and we spend the day outside. I hope this helps! I have been taking a break from the blog this summer but will be returning soon with new posts, and will write more about the boxes. I’ll link back here when I do! Good luck with your preschool 🙂

      Reply
  2. Chelsea
    September 24, 2016

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post! I found it on pinterest and feel so inspired. I can’t wait to get started. As a Stay-at-home Mom I feel like summer is simple (outside all day) but fall is when the works begins so I needed some help to jump start me. Again thank you!

    Reply
    • Kathleen
      September 24, 2016

      Thank you for your kind comment! I’m very happy that this gave some inspiration 🙂

      Reply

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