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Homeschooling 3 and 4 year old preschool

I've received several emails and Facebook comments lately regarding homeschooling preschool. I wrote a post called "Homeschooling 5-year old preschool." I feel 5-year old preschool was different from his previous years of preschool because he was technically old enough to be a kindergartner, but we decided against doing kindergarten that year. Instead we did another year of preschool with him, just with a more focused direction; he is a child that loves order, structure, and routine.

When considering preschool, there are many different schools of thought. Some really focus on early learning and some focus on play based learning and some on "unschooling." I don't like labels, so I will just describe our thinking when it comes to preschool. I think preschool should be fun. I think it should be play based learning. I think that preschool should focus on character building and how to interact with others. I think it should build a child's confidence and get them excited about learning. Preschool should incorporate the fundamentals of learning-- ABCs, 123s, shapes-- in a fun, play based environment. I referenced this article in my last post on kindergarten, Simple Homeschool's "The truth about preschool." That article entirely sums up my thoughts on preschool.

When our oldest was 4-years old we put him in a church preschool program. At that time, our twins were keeping me very busy and I felt like I needed him in something that helped him with his desire for a routine. The program was great. I was surprised, however, at how hard it was to find a preschool program that didn't have a curriculum or focus on subjects. One preschool even had math worksheets-- excessive! We eventually found a program that worked for us-- play based, focusing on character development, interacting with others, and fostering their independence. It was a great program for him and I got a lot of great ideas from it for how I want to homeschool. I really loved how the teachers merged play with learning. When we moved from North Carolina, I was sad to leave the school because I was planning on having him attend their 5-year old preschool program.

One thing that I do not miss about preschool is the preschool schedule. (Yes, I wrote a whole blog post on it, "Preschool schedule.") After we moved last year and were doing 5-year old preschool, we had a lot of hits to our daily routine and by the end of the year we didn't have too much of a daily routine. I had several things on our schedule each week, like a park playdate and storytime, but the middle of the day was often chaotic. Mealtimes slipped into snacktimes; naptimes became movie times on the coach while I napped. The joys of my husband's power school schedule and pregnancy! By the beginning of the summer I was ready to have my body back (being pregnant in the south in the summer is not ideal) and ready for a regular routine. I debated over the summer if I should try to sign the boys up for drop-off camps over the summer, but not knowing if my husband was going to start prototype early in the summer (he didn't) and the unknowns of our routine once baby #4 came prevented me from committing to any day camps. The memory of how inconvenient pick ups and drops were in our day for his 4-year old preschool year is still fresh in my mind. I've loved that homeschooling happens at our kitchen table, sometimes in pajamas and sometimes over pancakes-- no interruptions to our schedule!

So the big question: what are we doing for preschool this year? What materials are we using for preschool?

To answer the first question, we are doing what we normally do for preschool this year-- life as usual. I didn't have our oldest in a preschool program at 3-years old. I don't plan on putting our toddlers in a preschool program this year. Our big plan for preschool this year is to incorporate their learning in our daily life. I do involve them in some of our homeschool day. If you read the blog post, "Homeschooling kindergarten," I explain that I have all 3 boys say the Pledge of Allegiance, pray for our day, listen to our Bible story, read a poem together and act it out, and do the calendar each day. They are involved in that because that is what I'm doing with their older brother for kindergarten. To answer the second question, I have not bought them any special preschool materials and don't use any curriculum with them, not even the Saxon Math book that I used for 5-year old preschool and no special books.

This year with the toddlers we are really focusing on independence. If they want to wear socks, they must put them on. I will help them if they are truly stuck, but they must try first. We problem solve. "If your sock isn't going when you pull it on that way, why not try a different way?" We focus on cleaning up the mess they make. "That was really fun to play with the cars and trucks. Now we get to put them away! How about you start on the cars and then do the trucks?" I help them break down the mess in their mind so they are able to tackle it-- clean up the cars, then clean up the trucks. Once the big toys are put away, they are able to pick up all the smaller action figures quite easily. I involve them in making lunch and baked goods. We work on taking our time and doing things right, "Can you carefully pour the sugar in the mixing bowl?" We work on them following directions, even when it is hard, "Before you go outside, let's get the family room tidied up, please." A big one that has been challenging for all 3 of them is assisting others, which teaches sympathy. "Your brother is sad. Why don't you go ask him what is bothering him and see if you can help?" "I think your brother is having a hard time cleaning up his mess. Why don't you go see what you do can to help him?" Most of the time I hear, "But I didn't make that mess!" I'm really surprised at how they have responded to this last one. I'm hearing them more and more slow down to help each other out, "What's wrong, brother?" and I love their sense of pride and camaraderie once the job is done, "I helped him put away his blocks! We were a team!" "He helped me! Thank you, brother!" We put a lot of emphasis on waiting your turn. "Excuse me, your brother wasn't done telling his story. Let's let him finish and then I would love to hear what you have to say." I love Emma Jenner's book, Keep Calm and Parent On, for setting expectations on our kids.

The other things we are learning through our everyday life-- shapes, ABCs, and 123s. We read about them in our stories before nap and before bed. We talk about them as we do art, make cookies, go to the park. We talk about colors. We do puzzles. We do all this stuff for fun. We just play and I bring in the learning, drawing their attention to something they are naturally connecting. "My blanket is the same color as a fire truck." Well, what color is the fire truck?

I mentioned in my blog post "Homeschooling kindergarten" that later this year I will have them start memorizing memory verses. This is something that we have been doing with our oldest since he was 3-years old. We used the verses he was learning at AWANAS, which we have not been able to fit into our schedule last year or this year, and discussed them throughout the day. I love memorizing Bible verses with the kids because I feel that it teaches lots of things. We write the verse down and will point to it as we say it-- it teaches words have meaning. When they see the memory verse card, they often start recognizing letters, "That's an A, Momma!" They see the letters outside of their alphabet books and puzzles and start looking for them everywhere, "Momma, I see another A!" I also love that it helps them learn to retain things I teach them. The other thing about memory verses is that choosing key verses helps teach them things about their own behavior and God's character. We learn to forgive because God forgives. We learn to examine our own actions, was I being fair to my brother? We learn to say I'm sorry without prompting from a parent. Right now we talk about their older brother's memory verses and we use various phrases when dealing with conflict with each other, "Was that a kind thing to do to your brother? Do you think that made him feel happy or sad?" "How do you think we could show your dad we love him when he comes home?"

Next year our toddlers will do another year of preschool. They will be 4-years old at the beginning of the year and turn 5-years old during the year. I will probably start some of the methods that I used doing 5-year old preschool with their older brother. We will do letters of the week or colors of the week. Preschoolers love show and tell. During Red Week, I'll have them show and tell us about something red. During "A" week, I'll have them show and tell us about something that starts with an A. I'll probably use our Saxon Math K book again. I've liked Saxon Math because the scripts are there to help explain something if you want them. I also like that it completely explains a certain activity, like introducing them to money or manipulating linking cubes or using counting bears. I like the Math K book because it was a great resource for me to find ideas for an activity if I needed help coming up with some sort of lesson for the day. I could open up Saxon Math K, read a lesson that involved counting bears, pull out the counting bears and say, "Okay, let's play with these for awhile." Then I could guide the play in a way that taught the lesson. That is how I most often used the book-- getting ideas, reading the scripts, and then applying it in a way that fit our preschool technique.

I really like unit studies for preschool. One unit study we did last year was on water. We just talked a lot about water. What happens if we get water really hot? What happens if we get water really cold? What letters are in the word water? What makes letter makes a "whu-" sound? Where do we find water? What animals live in water? Let's read books that have water in them. What movies have water in it? What do we call water that comes from the sky? What is water good for? On and on and on... So many fun experiments and lessons you can do in a unit study. Library trips. Movies. Books. Unit studies are great too because it really lets the preschooler's imagination run wild and lets them ask questions and find answers. (Unit studies are also a great way to include kids of different ages!)

How do you keep preschool fun?


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