(Last Updated on March 11, 2023)
Question: What do the following things have in common?
- A bowl of mud
- A trip to the dentist
- Your new puppy
- A sticky candy wrapper
- A pinecone
- An empty box
- The “for sale” sign in your neighbor’s lawn
Answer: A preschooler can learn from them!
You can use literally ANYTHING to teach a preschooler! And I’m not just throwing “literally” out there like a teenage girl who just “literally saw the cutest guy in the whole world.” You really can make a teachable moment out of any object or experience your preschooler comes across!
Oh, how I wish I fully understood this when my kids were younger — it would’ve saved me oodles of time!
I was nervous when we started homeschooling and didn’t want my kids to have gaps in their learning. I worried I’d mess something up that would negatively affect them in the future. I remember stressing out about what to teach in our home preschool and how to do it. And, when I stress out… I make spreadsheets…
I made spreadsheets for our daily routines, weekly themed lessons, K-12th grade reading lists (keep in mind my oldest was 3 at this time!), weekly and monthly calendars, and pretty much anything else a Nerdy Nervous Nelly who has never homeschooled thinks she might need.
Looking back, I wish I could have a conversation with my former self. First, I’d give myself a mug of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and say kindly but firmly, “Hey, Self, RELAX!! Take a deep breath (or ten). It’s going to be ok!”
Next, I’d offer my thoughts on how to homeschool preschool without the stress and wasted effort!
After homeschooling my three kids through their preschool years, I now understand what all the veteran homeschooling moms were trying to tell me…
In preschool, the focus should be on Playing, Character Building, and Quality Time!
In this series, I’ll be sharing the lessons I’ve learned about homeschooling preschool. By focusing your efforts on the things that really matter, your homeschool experience will be more effective and more enjoyable for you and your kids!
Homeschooling Preschool – Part 1: Focus on Playing
I used to think the veteran homeschoolers were crazy when they said things like “just read books together” or “don’t worry about academics – just play!” I thought it had to be more complicated than that. But it’s really not!! Young kids are primed for learning. They ask hundreds of questions a day and everything is new and interesting to them!
My late mother-in-law was a fabulous preschool teacher and early childhood specialist. She always said that playing is a child’s work. It’s how they learn best!
This is great news for homeschooling parents – it makes our job so much easier! It’s almost too good to be true!
We don’t need to have every moment planned out. We don’t need expensive curricula and supplies. We don’t need to print out worksheets for each subject in order to “do school” correctly.
All we really need to do is provide a loving, safe environment and then make the most of the moments with our children! This will look different for every family, but here’s some ideas to encourage a gentle, play-filled approach to homeschooling preschool…
Play-filled Preschool Tips
- Model a love of reading and learning as much as you can.
- Minimize screen time.
- Maximize outside time.
- Use the concept of strewing to foster your child’s creativity in a very low-pressure, child-led way.
- Include regularly scheduled trips to the library. Make books, magazines, audiobooks, and other reading material as big a part of their daily experience as possible.
- Keep a box of clean recyclables and/or an “invention kit” filled with child-safe items they can use for their projects.
- Give them spaces they’re allowed to use for their “work” – a kitchen cabinet for their own plastic dishes, a corner of the raised garden bed for their planting, etc.
- Treat their ideas with respect and try to help them find ways to facilitate their ideas whenever possible. Say “yes” more often than “no”.
- Include them in your work, letting them work or play alongside you as much as you can.
- Talk to them throughout the day and try to answer their questions (easier said than done, especially when its 10am and they’ve already asked 237 questions… but pray for patience and remember that giving them your attention now will pay dividends later)!
- Require daily quiet time (even after they stop napping) so they learn how to find constructive ways to use their free time.
- Use local opportunities (like playgrounds, playgroups, t-ball, library storytimes, open gym, reading incentive programs, or swim lessons) to add fun and social opportunities for your kids.
Now, all this is not to say you should never use a curriculum or prepare a specific learning activity for your kids. In fact, some level of intentional, pre-planned activities can add depth to your homeschool and introduce new concepts.
If you prefer a more structured approach (like I do), or if you want to include pre-planned curricula or activities, just be sure to ask yourself the following questions to make sure the focus is on your child’s playing and learning as opposed to your unnecessary busywork…
Preschool Planning Questions
- Is this the best use of my time? If you’re spending an hour painstakingly cutting out the pieces of some intricate craft that will take your three-year-old all of thirty seconds to scribble on and throw on the floor, maybe reconsider if that’s the best use of your “free” time.
- Whose project is this really? Along the same lines as the previous point, if you’re doing 90% of the work preparing an activity, you might be getting more out of it than your child. Consider choosing easier activities and letting them do more of it.
- What is the main learning objective for this activity? Yes, kids can learn something from pretty much anything, but if you’re going through the trouble of pre-planning a lesson, it helps to have a clear purpose in mind.
- Is there a simpler way to teach this? There’s no need to create an elaborate math activity station to practice counting to five when they can count five of anything in your house with zero work on your part.
- Is there a less-contrived way to teach this? If a child learns something within the context of their daily life – the answer to a question they ask or a skill they need to learn in order to complete a task they want to do – they’ll retain it easily. When their interest is piqued, retention is much better than if they were forced to learn that same thing on a worksheet or manufactured classroom activity.
- Is this lesson/curriculum my tool or my master? Don’t let pre-prepared curricula or lesson plans become dictators to you (even if you created them)! Feel free to revise, omit, supplement, set aside, or even throw out a curriculum that isn’t working for your child.
When you keep the focus on educating through play, kids naturally enjoy learning. This is a great start to fostering the “lifelong love of learning” that so many homeschooling families are striving for.
Keep reading Part 2 of this How to Homeschool Preschool series!
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If you’re unsure about homeschooling, Think About Homeschooling: What It Is, What It Isn’t, & Why It Works, is the book you need! This guide will help you unpack all that it means to homeschool your kids. The pros, the cons, the role of homeschooling parent, the misconceptions, the true benefits… it’s all covered in depth in Think About Homeschooling to empower you to make the best decision for your family. Click here to learn more.