Monday, July 16, 2012

Simple & Effective Daily Preschool At Home

With fall just around the corner and back-to-school coming up soon, now is a great time to start planning and preparing for at-home preschool time with your kiddo(s)!  Taking a look at our simple and effective daily preschool routine is a great way to get started if you're new to doing preschool activities with your kids.  And if doing preschool at home is old hat now, then you'll probably enjoy seeing our approach.  I always learn so much when I hear about how others do preschool time at home with their kids.  It's fun to hear about what others do.  It's so motivating and it always gives me a host of great ideas.  I hope this post will be helpful to you in that way too!

Doing "preschool" at home can mean a variety of different things to different people.  To some, it may mean getting together with friends to do little crafts or activities together.  (We've done that!)  To others it may mean following a curriculum and working toward mastering specific skills or learning certain things.  Or maybe for you, doing preschool at home just means making a conscious effort to do educational activities with your child.  I definitely don't think there's a right or wrong answer when it comes to what works best because that depends on you and your child (or children).  

Some Halloween preschool activities we did last year--see HERE for details
In the past we've done "preschool" a few days a week with friends, with each mom taking a turn.  Olivia had a blast doing that and it worked really well at the time, but seasons change and that kind of preschool is kind of over for us (at least for now).  

When that round of preschool ended, I thought maybe Olivia and I would be ready to take a break from a schedule and sit-down time and just enjoy a few months in the sun.  Not that I wouldn't help her learn along the way, but I just thought she'd enjoy a learn-on-the-go approach.  I know that a lot of kids thrive on learning about things as they play outside and I thought Olivia would enjoy it.

Olivia coloring some of our Valentine's Day Cards -- Get the free printable HERE
Well, she does enjoy that, but it does not fill her educational bucket.  When preschool with friends ended, Olivia kept asking to do preschool every. single. day.  We were gone on trips a lot, so I did my best to quiet her requests while we were gone, but once we were home for good I knew it was time to revamp our routine and get back into the habit of doing some kind of preschool time every day.

So far what we've been doing for the past few weeks has been a roaring success, so I thought I'd take a moment to share the details of our current preschool routine today.  I'll also try and touch on some of my method to this program (if you can even call it a program--it's not a program so much as a routine) and why I chose to focus on the things in our daily preschool schedule.

Obviously our preschool routine is not the best thing out there or perfect for every family.  But right now it's perfect for Olivia and it's a good fit for my attention span for the activities she loves most.  So hopefully hearing about our approach to at-home preschool will be helpful to you as you make your own plans for at-home toddler education.

Alright, let's go!  It's time for preschool!  :)

Okay, but first, a few quick disclaimers/things you should know...

  • Our entire preschool routine takes about 15-20 minutes to do each day.
  • Olivia is almost 3 years old and is an only child.
  • She is very into educational/school activities.  Always has been, probably always will be.  So it's really her reminding me to do preschool time every day, not the other way around.  If she were less enthusiastic or not as self-motivated when it comes to learning activities, our preschool routine would probably be significantly shorter.
  • She already knows all of the letters in the alphabet and what sounds they make, so we haven't been doing many alphabet activities lately.  Instead, we do one-on-one reading lessons with her (more on that below) later on during the day. UPDATE: Read the post on our reading lessons HERE.
  • I took all of the pictures for this post on my iPod, so they are not super great quality.  Hopefully you can see past the lame pictures and enjoy/benefit from the post anyway.
  • This post ended up being really long--way longer than I had planned when I sat down to write it--but there's a lot of information that I hope will be helpful to you.  Everything from why I do what I do with Olivia for each aspect of our preschool schedule to where you can get some of the supplies we use.
  • I used to teach preschool.  And while I definitely don't believe that you need any kind of formal training in order to be a great teacher for your children, I just say this so those of you who might look at what we do and get discouraged or feel like it's really involved or beyond what you currently do will know that I've had some extra practice.  I'm definitely a lot more comfortable teaching preschool (even just in a home setting) than I was before I had some experience under my belt.  So if you're feeling lost or behind, don't be discouraged!  Your child will love the focused time with you, even if every activity doesn't go perfectly.  Just keep at it and you'll get the hang of things and know what works best for you and your child before you know it.  :)
  • I claim in the title of this post that our current approach to at-home preschool is "effective" because Olivia and I both enjoy it and because I have been able to see marked growth and development in the areas we focus on each day.  To me, that means what I'm doing is working, both for me and for Olivia.

Okay, now let's get started!  

I'm going to cover:

  • each main aspect of our daily preschool routine
  • the "why" of each aspect
  • and the details for each part of our routine (when applicable).  

Ready?  Then come on in!  It's time for preschool at the Lewis house!

The Chart

Every day we follow the same simple schedule you can see on our little chart here.  Calendar, reading, math, writing, activity, and play.  Some of these things are a little different each day, some of them are pretty much the same every day.  I'll talk about each part of our preschool day as we go along.

The why of the chart
Obviously this little chart is really simple, but having our schedule right there for us to follow helps both me and Olivia.  For my sake, it helps me remember what things we do each day and not skip certain parts just because I get tired of them.  For Olivia's part, it helps her know what to expect and gives her the satisfaction and security of a routine she can count on.

Also, moving the little Lala (the girl next to the calendar--more on that below) helps Olivia understand when we've finished one activity and we're ready to move on to the next thing.  This way she doesn't ask to keep doing one thing or whine to skip something else.  She knows we do each part of the schedule every day and she knows what order we do them in.  I think getting to move the Lala down after each activity also really makes Olivia feel like she's an active participant in our preschool time and helps her feel like she's a big girl who can do that all by herself.

Details on the chart

  • I picked up the red pocket chart in the dollar section at Target last year.  During the back to school season, Target has a lot of great educational items in the dollar section.
  • I did the formatting for the words and pictures on the computer (obviously, I guess).  I'd share it as a free printable, but I honestly don't know where the file is anymore and, if I remember right, it wasn't very user friendly.  But it's a pretty basic idea: just a word and a picture for each part of the schedule. The pictures are especially great right now because they let Olivia "read" it on her own without having to wait for help from me.
  • The little stick figure girl is a little "Lala" that Bryan made for Olivia.  She's just a little drawing on cardstock.  Olivia moves "the Lala" down each time we finish one activity and move on to the next.  It's a simple little thing, but it helps keep us on track.  And Olivia loves moving it down.  It's the little things, right?
  • All those random drawings at the bottom are little notes and pictures that Bryan and I have written to Olivia and left in her play mailbox.  It was her idea to line them all up there.  It's a little messy for my taste, but, ya know, pretty cute.  And, anyway, I want her to be comfortable in our preschool space and make it her own.


The first thing we do each day for preschool is the calendar.  Each day Olivia turns over the number (date) for that day and counts all of the days/numbers using the little star pointer.  Then I help her point to the right parts of the calendar while we say the day's date.  "Today is Friday," (point to "Friday"), "July" (point to "July), "thirteenth" (point to 13), "2012" (point to 2012).

Then we say what the day's weather is.  If the weather is the same as the day before, then we just point to it, "Today is sunny!"  If the weather is different, we change the picture and word.

That's the end of our calendar routine.

The why of the calendar
We've been incorporating a daily calendar routine into our preschool routine for a couple years now and it's always been one of Olivia's favorite things.  She loves pointing to the days (now with a special star pointer!--also from the Target dollar section, by the way) and talking about the weather.

I love several things about doing the calendar each day.  Here are a few of my reasons:

It's good for practicing...

  • reading a calendar
  • number recognition
  • number order and counting
  • hand-eye coordination (pointing to the numbers, etc.)
  • one-to-one counting (counting while pointing to the numbers)
  • weather terms and how they relate to our real life every day

Details on the calendar

  • The calendar itself is a bulletin board that I covered with brown packing paper (just stapled it to the board because the board had weird sticky spots).  I made the numbers, letters, and days of the week by hand.  The circles were made using a 2" circle punch and a regular hole punch.  They hang on straight pins that I just pushed into the bulletin board.  It's the same method as this board.

  • All of the pictures and words for our weather are from my Weather Matching Game printable which is available in the shop.  You can buy it on its own or in the variety pack with all of the other flashcards and educational printables.


Move the Lala down...

It's time for reading!

Olivia chooses a book (any book, but sometimes if she chooses the same one over and over again I ask her to pick another one).

Today she chose this random Christmas book.  (Also from the Target dollar section, interestingly enough.  I swear this isn't a sponsored post.)

Then we sit together and I read her the book.  If it's something that she knows pretty well, sometimes we read it together.

The why of reading
Reading is great!  We read books all the time throughout the day, but I still like to include it in our preschool routine.  We're doing daily reading lessons from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons* with Olivia each day and part of the reason I've included reading in our preschool routine now is so that, when she starts to read on her own more, this will be a great time to get in an extra book or two for practice.  For now, though, it's just a nice time to snuggle up and read a book.

*I've started writing a post on why we chose to use this book and how it's going, but I'm not ready to publish that post yet.  For now, I'll just say that it was recommended to us by several friends who have used it and loved it, I really like it, we're not very far into it yet, Olivia is somewhat advanced as far as reading readiness for her age (which is why we're starting it so soon), and I've had to chop the lessons up a lot to cater to her younger attention span.

UPDATE: Read the post on how we do our reading lessons HERE.

And, as a side note, we've been putting these little free printable reading charts I made a while ago to good use for keeping track of the reading Olivia does throughout the day.  She gets to color in a star for each book she reads (i.e. each book we read to her), and then when all the stars are full she gets a doughnut.  She really likes that.


Next up is math!

Math is one of those things that is different every day.  Some days I choose what we'll do for math time, other days I let Olivia choose from some familiar options.  On this particular day she chose the Clothespin Number Game that I had made just a couple days before.

When I posted the tutorial on this game, Olivia was totally up for matching all the numbers.  On this particular day, her attention span was a little shorter.  We generally keep preschool fun and happy, so when I can tell she's ready to be done with something, I'm okay if we don't finish it all the way*.  So on this day she only matched up a few of the numbers, but it was definitely still a good use of our math time!

*This does not mean that I let Olivia quit every time she says she's done with an activity.  While we generally maintain a happy, fun preschool environment, I definitely still tell her she needs to do some things even when she doesn't want to and often encourage her to do more when I know she can.

Some other fun math activities we've enjoyed recently include...

...using the Number Flashcards (available in my shop on its own and in the variety pack) to play a wide variety of games.  Lately we've been playing games where I'll show Olivia a number and ask her what it is.  If she doesn't know she can count the dots to find out.  We've also been using the mini versions of the flashcards in some sorting games too.

...counting out little items on our 1-100 chart.  We really like counting the cute little eraser packs--stars, whales, hearts, etc. from the Target dollar section and the dollar store because they fit just right on the little circles on this chart.

...and sorting number-related items (similar to our fabric sorting).  I'll definitely be sharing more little sorting tutorials in the future and I'll be sure to include some of the math sorting we've been doing.

We usually just choose one activity like the ones I've mentioned above for preschool time each day.  Changing activities keeps things fun and exciting and help Olivia practice important math skills that are at her level.

The why of math
Math skills are so important throughout life and I'm a believer in helping kids get as early a start on them as possible.  Unfortunately, most counting books and preschool math activities only ever cover the numbers 1-10, which I think is both an insult and an injury to toddlers.  Of course there's no need to go over their heads too early on, but most little kids are ready to get past the number 10 much sooner than you maybe think.  Don't be afraid to count to higher numbers with your kids!

Here are some skills I try to focus on in the math activities I do with Olivia:

  • number recognition
  • number sequence
  • comprehension of relative amounts
  • comprehension of number values
  • counting
  • one-to-one counting

Not every math activity fits all of those qualifications, but they all hit on some.  All the more reason for variety in our approach to math.


Next up... writing!

Usually before we actually start our writing, Olivia gets distracted with her mailbox and goes to check it.

Each night Bryan and/or I try and remember to write a little note to Olivia or draw her a picture.  We put it in a little envelope and leave it for her to find in her mailbox.  She loves her mailbox and gets so excited to find little surprises inside it, even if it's just a piece of scratch paper with a doodle from Mom or Dad.

I'm perfectly fine to have this be part of our writing routine because I think it's great that she gets to personally experience that the reason we write is to communicate!  Almost every day she'll draw pictures or request to write notes back to us to put in the mailbox, which is awesome for writing practice too.

These little envelopes are reusable so we don't have to waste money or paper on new ones everyday.  I help her untie the string and then she can open the rest herself.

On this day she opened up her envelope to find a picture Bryan drew for her.  He's started telling her stories every night and this is a picture of a story he told her about Olivia playing outside with her purple ball, complete with some birdies way up high in the cherry tree (part of a lullaby Bryan sings to her a lot).

Anyway, now on to the "real" part of our writing.

Olivia gets her writing tablet from its place on the shelf.

She holds her pencil and I hold my hand over her hand while we write the date together.  I say the sounds of the words I'm writing as we write them.

Then I ask her what she wants to write that day.  On this day she said she wanted to write about going to the fountains and getting sunburned.  We wrote, "Yesterday I played in the fountains and I got a sunburn."

Sometimes she likes to color a picture or add some stickers to the page to go along with what she wrote.  Other times she's not interested in coloring and she just wants to move on to the next thing.  I let her choose.

Then she puts her writing tablet back in its place on the shelf.

The why of writing
I admit that sometimes I feel a little silly having her "write" every day when it really just means that I'm the one doing the writing, just with her little hand inside mine while I do it.  But I still feel like it's a worthwhile part of our preschool routine for several reasons.

  • It gives her some good beginning muscle memory for writing.
  • It shows her that there's a specific way we write.
  • It helps her connect the idea that the letters we write say sounds and those sounds work together to form words.
  • It helps her recognize that we write to communicate.
  • It helps her understand that she can think of her own ideas and share them with others through writing.

Details on writing

  • The writing tablet is from the Dollar Tree in with their educational supplies.
  • The mailbox is a thrift store find, but you can often find them in stores around Valentine's Day.
  • We usually write our notes to each other on pieces of scratch paper.


Now it's time for activity!

In my mind, activity time is for art projects and focused, hands-on activities like play dough or puzzles.  And this is another area that changes every day.  Sometimes I let Olivia choose from some guided options and sometimes I choose the activities.

Almost every time I let her choose, she chooses play dough.  This time was no exception.  :)

To be completely honest, I hate play dough.  I hate the texture, the way it gets up in my nails, the salty feeling it leaves on my hands after I've touched it, and the way there always seem to be tiny little hardened pieces of it in random places later.  But Olivia has a deep love for play dough, so I finally caved and bough some for her a couple weeks ago.

And you know what?  I'm glad I did.  It's great for practicing fine motor skills.  And there's so much opportunity for changing things up (letter cookie cutters!) and practicing real life skills (rolling things like when we're baking!).  So even though I still don't love when I have to touch the play dough, I think it's a great activity for Olivia.

I let her play with it for as long as she wants (usually) and then she cleans it up, pushes in her chair*,

...and puts it back in its place on the shelf.

*As someone who used to teach preschool and who has just plain spent time in classrooms, I'm a big advocate for teaching kids to push in their chairs.  I feel it's a skill that's becoming seriously undervalued.  Seriously, please teach your kids to push in their chairs.  Okay, end of rant.

Another "activity" we did for preschool last week was playing with this puzzle map of the United States.  Olivia and I took all of the pieces out together and then placed them back on the map, one by one.  Each time Olivia chose a piece we'd practice saying the name of the state and name anybody she knows who lives there.

This was one of those spur-of-the-moment activities I chose one day (because I was tired of play dough) and it turned out to be a really fun activity and a good intro to geography.  We'll definitely be doing it again in the future.

The why of activity
While our "play" time during preschool (the last thing on our schedule) is more of a time for gross motor skills, activity is a time for arts and crafts or activities that what I'd call focused play or learning-centered play.  Obviously it's a fairly open-ended part of our schedule, but I want it to be that way.  This is a time when she can work on puzzles or play dough by herself or when we can do bigger projects (like the USA map) together.  It's obviously not really structured time, but it's still focused.

Details of activity

  • The letter cookie cutters and mini rolling pin are thrift store finds.
  • The USA map is from a yard sale.
  • The smaller puzzles (you can see them next to her table ) are from thrift stores and the dollar store.
Side note: I only keep a few puzzles out at a time.  I find it helps me maintain sanity and prevent lost puzzle pieces.  The rest get stored in our back room and I cycle through them from time to time.


That's it for the structured stuff.  Now it's time to play!

I generally let Olivia choose what she wants to do for play.

This time she chose one of her favorite activities: sitting on the ground with our legs wide apart and our feet touching while we roll her ball back and forth.

This is one of those simple activities that she absolutely loves, but that I get really bored doing.  So, to be honest, the play part of our preschool schedule is really just there to remind me to get down on the floor and play with my funny little girl doing the things that she likes to do for a least a few minutes.

She loves it!

The why of play
It's fun to roll the ball back and forth (and throw it over her shoulder like she inevitably does), but I think she especially enjoys this time to play with Mommy and have my undivided attention.  It helps fill her little bucket with important one-on-one time with Mommy and gives us a chance to just relax and have fun together.

Overview of Our Preschool Routine and Space

This daily preschool routine of ours usually takes about 15-20 minutes, sometimes longer if she's in the mood to play with play dough forever.  :)

Keeping it short like this not only makes it entirely doable as a part of our daily life, but it also makes the task of "doing preschool" a lot less overwhelming for me.  So far, Olivia and I both love doing our daily preschool time this way.

(Actually, Olivia asks to do it about five times a day.  We sometimes re-visit preschool activities later on during the day, but we only do the whole routine once a day.)

This is the shelf where we keep all of the preschool things that we use throughout preschool time.  Each shelf only has one item/game/activity on it.  Keeping it organized like this makes it so Olivia can retrieve and put away the supplies for each of these things independently.  It makes her feel so proud of herself to be in charge of getting things out and putting them away, especially when she knows just where they go.

Also, keeping less items on the shelves means less mess and less distraction (something that's important when we're trying to do focused activities).  

When I'm ready to switch things up, I just trade out the activities on the shelf for new activities.  Everything not currently in use gets stored in our back storage room.

This is Olivia's little table.  When we're not doing preschool time she uses it for coloring and other activities.  During preschool we use it for writing, doing puzzles (sometimes), playing with play dough, writing notes, and coloring pictures.

The End!

And that's it!  Once we're done with preschool we move on to the other parts of our daily life--playing outside with friends, eating lunch, or getting baby ready for a ride in the stroller.

I hope this overview of our current preschool routine has been helpful for you!  If you have any questions or helpful ideas to share, please feel free to leave them in the comments!


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!   


Emily said...

I absolutely love this! I love how you have it organized and all the great components. Olivia is well on her way to being kindergarten ready! You are such a wonderful mom with so many great ideas. Im going to start using some of your ideas in my classroom! I love having the little Lala mark your place and the mailbox! Genius!

Krista S. said...

Thank you for taking the time to blog about this. These are all wonderful ideas and I can wait to use them with my very eager to learn 2 years old. A trip to Target is in order this week :)

Elizabeth said...

Thanks Katie! I've been trying to decide just how to do a little preschool at our house and this was very helpful! I have the same pocket chart, so I'm totally using that idea!

Kristie said...

Thank you for sharing this. You make it seem completely doable, something I haven't thought I could do with my girls. But this is something we could all do together.
Looks like I will be revisiting some of your tutorials to start with some simple activities, and finding some simple supplies.
Thank you!

Jennifer said...

You have a very nice set up! I like seeing how others work preschool in a home setting. A tip from my teaching days, when you are doing the writing part of your day write in a highlighter (she can pick the color!) then she can use a pencil to write over your letters. She won't be even close at first but soon she will get it.

Amanda said...

Thanks for sharing how you do preschool with Olivia! I taught Kindergarten before C was born and in my mind I needed lesson plans, weekly themes, manipulatives, a school room, etc to do preschool at home. Thanks for showing me that it can be simple and still meaningful. I hadn't started anything at all because I was making it too complicated. Thanks for taking me out of my teacher mindset! We are going to start some preschool time this fall for sure. We both need some routine to our day!

Julie Rosenhan said...

Thanks for posting this, Katie. I'm starting to think about what to do for preschool for Karl. All of your preschool posts are amazing and you have so many good ideas. Thanks for sharing all of them and for the numerous free printables as well. You've given me all sorts of ideas on where to start teaching Karl.

Jen, Josh, Lilyana, and Levi said...

I agree with Julie! I love all your ideas and really want to start doing some of them with Lily. You are a fantastic mom!

Sarah said...

Great post, Katie! I really like this idea, even just as a form of intentional interaction together with mother and child. Thanks for sharing!

Sew Much Ado said...

Thanks so much for this, Katie! Wyatt is five in September, so has another whole year before kindergarten, and I've been wanting to start a home preschool something with him. I pinned this and will definitely be using your ideas!

Danielle Bartran said...

Thanks for sharing this...your school routine inspired me to start one with my son. It's been really successful so far, he really seems to be enjoying it, and I do to! I wrote about it on my blog if you'd like to check it out:

Veronica said...

Katie, Thank you for this. None of the moms up here want to or have time for pre-school and I wasn't sure how to do one with just Joseph and I. This has given me lots of ideas and has made some of my more nebulous ones be able to take shape. You are awesome!

Lauren said...

This is so helpful! Thanks! I seriously need people to literally spell things out for me and most people aren't specific enough when they describe their 'preschool'.

Unknown said...

Simply brilliant! You are doing a great job teaching essential skills to your child whilst making it fun.. Also for sharing this with us moms who want to try and do the same!
Thank you so much for the ideas.. I love the personal notes that you write for her, the collection will one day be treasured!

Rebecca & Jeff said...

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this!! Thank you so much for sharing. This will be perfect for my kids! And so easy! Thank you!

Midnight Mommy said...

Thank you for the details of how you homeschool your preschooler. I love it! I went out the next day to Target (even though it wasn't a sponsored post they totally got some business) and right now they have a lot of the back to school stuff on clearance for 70% off their $1 items and I was able to pick up several of these hanging charts for only .30 each! I got a bunch to bring home (we live about an hour from the nearest Target) to share with the homeschooling group I am in since they all loved your post as well! Thanks again for sharing, it was super educational and we will be using a similar program for our 2 year old. :)

Megan said...

Katie, this is wonderful! I've been wanting to start doing more structured learning activities at home, but was feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start. You've given me hope! And a lot of wonderful ideas! Here's to hoping my crazy two-year-old will sit still long enough to do any of this! :)

Unknown said...

I love the chart with the little Lala, and the mini mailbox!

Kathryn said...

Thanks for the suggestions! I am looking for an education activity for the summer for my 5 and 3 year old and found some great ideas on your site!

Shon said...

Love love love love love this. Its simple, effective and fun! My son, soon to be 4, is going to really enjoy this. Thank you so much for posting this. I think this routine will work really well for me, going to make the chart right now!

Priya said...

Marvelous ideas for the schedule..
Small things like moving the photo to the next one are so cute and makes things interesting..
Thanks a lot for sharing...