Thursday, September 1, 2011

Preschool: Beginnings

I just had a friend e-mail me with some questions about preschool and I thought I'd go ahead and just write about it for all of you here while I'm at it.

Part 1: My short-lived career as a preschool teacher

I used to teach preschool.  At BYU I majored in Home and Family Living (the name has since changed to something else), but before I made that final jump I was a declared Family and Consumer Science Education major with a minor in English Teaching.  And while I was a Family and Consumer Science Education major I was required to take some preschool teaching type classes.  This requirement was based on the notion that Home Ec teachers often get put in charge of the little preschools that sometimes exist in a high school setting.  So first I took a child development class.  And then I took a curriculum class.  And then they plopped me into the Child and Family Studies Lab (i.e. preschool) at BYU as a teacher's aide.

When I started there as an aide, it was for class credit.  But then they didn't have enough students to fill all the aide positions during the following semester, so they offered a few of us the opportunity to keep doing what we had already been doing, but for pay.  I loved the BYU preschool, so I jumped on that opportunity and kept my job there until I graduated.  While there, I worked as an aide in the preschool classrooms and in the kindergarten classroom.

After graduation, I worked at a Montessori school in the next town over.  I worked first as an aide while I was being trained in the Montessori method and then I took over one of the toddler classrooms as the head teacher.

I guess I'm telling you all this as a way of saying that, while I'm certainly no expert, I do have some legitimate preschool experience.

Part 2: The best advice I ever gave my sister

My older sister Polly is incredibly smart.  And so is her PHD-in-chemistry husband.  So I was appropriately flattered a couple of days ago when she and I were chatting about my plans for at-home preschool for Olivia and she was reminding me of something I had told her a year or two before and remarked, "That's the best advice anyone ever gave me on doing preschool."

It would have been a year or two ago.  I was teaching preschool at the time.  So, even though I didn't have any children of my own yet, Polly called me up one day asking for advice about how to do preschool activities with her kids.  Out of muscle memory from my classes at BYU, what I told her to do was basically this:

Just pick a book and then choose an activity to go along with it.

Of course you can always make it more complex, but it really can be as simple as that.  Kids are really good at soaking up knowledge.  And in my short experience, I think it's a lot harder as a mom to sit down and decide to start "doing preschool" (in whatever sense you want that to mean) and then actually start doing it, than it is for kids to learn things.  In other words, kids will learn what we want them to learn if we'll just start teaching it to them.  And choosing a book and then doing an activity that goes along with it is a really simple and straightforward way to teach.

For me, the idea stemmed from the work I did at the BYU preschool.  The head teachers there did a lot more extensive planning, but as aides we'd take turns just choosing a book and then planning some songs and activities to go along with it.  One time I read The Quilt Story and then we helped the kids "sew" by lacing a piece of yarn through card stock that had holes punched around the edges.  Another teacher chose Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and then had the kids glue cut out magazine letters to a paper tree.  You can find countless examples of little lessons like this online.  In fact, this past March Polly hosted a Read-Along event on her blog where other bloggers shared their book-and-activity lessons.  You can browse those archives HERE.

Flashcards available HERE

Part 3: Focus on the fundamentals

Doing preschool at home is different from doing preschool at school.  At school, there's a curriculum to follow.  There's a set amount of time to cover a set amount of skills and knowledge.  At home, you can start anywhere.  You can spend as much time as you want on any one thing.  And, on the outset, it sounds great. But the moment you sit down to actually try and plan something, you'll realize--as I have--that it's incredibly daunting.  Where do you start?  And how much time do you spend on this or that?

My first and best answer is this: pay attention to your kid.  Each child is different.  They get interested in different things.  They progress at different rates.  Their temperaments are different.  But once you start somewhere, you'll soon recognize what your child needs.  "Oh," you'll think to yourself, "I really need to focus on letters with her."  And if you think back very far, you may begin to wonder where a realization like that could come from.  Two days ago you didn't even know where to start!  But now you know you need to focus on letters?  That's what happens when you pay attention to your child.  Just like you know when he's hungry, you'll know when he's ready to move on to something new.

My second answer is this: you cannot spend too much time on fundamentals.  Alphabet and number practice are so good for little kids.  They need recognition.  They need to know what sound(s) that letter makes or how many that number means.  They need to know the process of combination.  If they can start kindergarten being able to recognize and sound out letters and count and recognize numbers, they will have a huge advantage.

Well, Olivia woke up from her nap, so I'll stop here today.  But I think I feel a new series coming on.  We'll talk about this more again soon.  :)


Find more fun and easy preschool ideas on the Preschool page.  You can also find them by clicking on the Preschool button in the header.  Enjoy!   


Jenn Girl said...

I do at home preschool as well. Glad to know I'm not alone in this "hurry and sign my kids up for preschool as soon they are 3" world.
My kids have done really well here at home and have tested extremely high when it came time for Kindergarten. Great post! Thanks!

Kathy Haynie said...

I second that good advice.

Lacey said...

Thanks for the advice Katie. Maybe when Shailey is a little bigger, we can do a Joyschool type of group. It might be fun. Either way, thanks for the advice since, unlike you, I have absolutely no idea where to start :)

Lisa Lou said...

I loved this. It's makes me excited for the next 3 to 4 years. Also, this is random, I was trying to find your posts about cloth diapering, but didn't see any "labels" on the right hand list. Do you have those somewhere? Thanks!