Monday, July 15, 2013

It's Pre-K and Preschool Prep Time: what to prep and where to stock up on a budget

I know it's only mid July and I don't want to freak you out, but, let's be real, now is the time to start thinking about prepping and stocking for school. How do I know this? Because the Target dollar section already has their school stuff out.

It may seems silly, but that really is my high sign. Have you shopped the school stuff in the Target dollar section before? Because you should. That stuff is money. And I'm not even being paid to say this. Although I should. (I'll be waiting by the phone, Target.) Now through the actual start of school is when I buy all of our crayons, paints, glue sticks, etc. for the entire year. Because why on earth would you pay $2.50 for a box of crayons when you can pay 50 cents instead? So let's talk about it.

Pre-K and preschool can include a wide range of ages and abilities (and, therefore, supplies and prep). My daughter was very verbal early on, so we started doing some "preschool" things with her even before she was a year old. (Don't judge. We're not crazy people, she just likes this stuff.) But now she's almost 4 and we're still in the preschool phase. So as you read through these suggestions, keep your own child(ren) in mind. You'll know what level they're at, what they'll be into, and what you're up for tackling together.

Up until last fall, all of my daughter's preschool experiences were here at home. You can read about what our routine was like then in this post:

click on photo to visit post

That post in and of itself is a very thorough article where I talked about what our daily preschool routine was, what supplies we used, and what kind of activities we did. I've had a lot of good feedback on that post since I put it up a year ago, so I'd say it's worth a read (or perhaps just a quick review if you already read it last year). I think this routine is perfect for at-home preschool for about ages 2-5.

Also be sure to take a look through the preschool archives here on the blog. For better or worse, it's actually one of the best-organized archives on my blog, so it should be fairly user-friendly.

A year later, we're no longer following the routine I referenced above (even though I loved it) because my daughter has started attending a formal preschool (and by formal I just mean that it's a regular preschool, rather than at our house), which has brought on a natural change in how we do preschool stuff here at home.

Starting last fall, she attended preschool at a local preschool we love for 3 1/2 hours a day, 4 days a week. This was in the morning, which means it was also during her most attentive, happy-school-work hours of the day. Some days she'd come home ready for a nap, other days she'd simply come home ready to play outside or veg for a while before dinner. 3 1/2 hours a day for 4 days a week is a lot for a little kid. So if you're supplementing a formal preschool or pre-k program with activities at home, be sure to keep these things in mind. Even though my daughter genuinely loves doing school things together, she's still a little kid and she has her limits. We just can't do as much of it at home as we did before and that's ok.

Mostly now we just do supplemental preschool things at home. These things include (ideally) doing the following things each day:

  • writing in her journal
  • doing a page or two in one of her math workbooks
  • doing a page or two in one of her reading/writing workbooks
  • working on her reading lessons*
  • reading books together
*Confession: the reading lessons totally aren't happening right now. We keep saying maybe when she's 4. We'll see... :)

For those of you debating whether your sign your child up for preschool or whether to do it at home, I'll just offer our reasons for putting our daughter in preschool. First of all, the preschool she attends is a free program, but also happens to be very well funded and run extremely well by qualified, competent teachers. After having her attend a whole school year there, I can say without hesitation that it was the right thing to do for our daughter and for our family. (Hello me-time and personal sanity.) We're expecting a baby next year, but, so far, our daughter has been an only child and having an opportunity to play with other kids and learn those away-from-mom social skills was definitely what she needed. She loved having time with friends and she blossomed socially in ways that she probably wouldn't have if she had been at home with me all day. We're all happy and excited that she gets to return to the same preschool again for the coming school year. That being said, paying for preschool is not in our grad student budget, so if we had had to pay for preschool, we would have just kept her home.

There are a lot of things big and small that can factor into whether formal preschool is going to be a good fit for your child and your family as a whole. Just don't let outside pressure from others be a factor. You'll know what's right for you. And as someone who's done both, I have only good things to say about both approaches. It's not like you're going to ruin your kid either way, ya know? :)

Once you've decided what preschool time is going to mean in your home, you'll know what to prep and, therefore, what to buy. Here's a general break-down of the kind of supplies you might need based on ages and at home vs. formal preschool.

  • Ages 2-5 -- AT HOME

In general, you're obviously going to need more supplies if you do all of your preschool activities at home. You'll need basic supplies like paper, pencils, crayons, etc. as well as more specific supplies for activities such as manipulatives, workbooks/worksheets, art supplies, etc.


If your child will be attending a formal preschool on a regular basis, but you still want to supplement at home, you generally won't need as much supplies. Now that we're mostly just supplementing with things at home, the main things I focus on stocking up on are basic supplies (crayons, pencils, paper, etc.) and then age-specific things like workbooks. We of course still use some of our manipulatives and other activity-specific supplies since we have it, but I don't think I'd go out and buy it just to supplement.*

*Okay, that's a lie. I'd buy it anyway, but only because I have an unhealthy addiction when it comes to school supplies. What I really mean is that you shouldn't feel like you need go to out and buy it. :)

A note about workbooks
We've used several different workbooks over the past year or two and I've done my fair share of looking for workbooks both online and in a variety of stores, including places like office supply stores where the workbooks can cost up around $20 a piece.

For our daughter's personality and the kind of school things she's into, workbooks are a great fit for us. And I'd be willing to spend the $20 if I found one that was really worthwhile, but so far the expensive workbooks I've found are about the same quality (content-wise) as the ones that cost $1 at Target and the Dollar Tree. So, that being said, I'd much rather buy 5 $1 workbooks and pick out the ones I like in each subject than get stuck with one $20 workbook that's ho-hum all around.

Also, when looking at workbooks, don't feel like you should necessarily stick to the age/grade level it's suggested for. Most workbooks will be marked at preschool, pre-k, kindergarten, or a number grade level, but that's not necessarily a good indication of whether or not it's at your child's level. My daughter is on the slightly advanced end, but I don't think she's way above and beyond her peers and most of the workbooks she's using right now (at not quite 4 years old) are marked as 1st grade workbooks. Keep in mind, of course, that I always sit next to her while she does her workbooks to help her read the instructions on each page and help her with different parts when she needs help.

Okay, now let's talk about where to actually purchase these things.

For the past few years, my favorite go-to places for stocking up on good/high quality school supplies have primarily been Target and the Dollar Tree dollar store. Here's a basic run-down of what I buy at each.

Look for these items during back-to-school season in the school supplies section, usually located at the back of the store:

  • Crayola crayons (Today I saw them for 77 cents/box, but usually they'll go down to 50 cents/box, so I'm holding out for that.)
  • Crayola markers
  • glue sticks
  • composition notebooks (50 cents each!)
  • kid scissors
  • pencils (boxes of 24/$1.00)
  • index cards
  • highlighters
  • watercolors
Look for these items during back-to-school season in the $1 section:
  • hanging charts (see this post for a photo & how we used it)
  • dry-erase pockets
  • lined dry-erase boards
  • flashcards
  • workbooks
Look for these items year round in the $1 section:
  • coloring books
  • packs of small erasers (great for counting)
  • other misc. supplies

The Dollar Tree
Look for these items year round in the school supplies section of the store:

  • workbooks
  • composition notebooks
  • lined paper (the kind with wide lines and the dotted line down the center for writing practice)
  • construction paper
  • puzzles
  • coloring books

All in all this post has turned out to be a really random hodgepodge of information, but I hope it's helpful to you as you start thinking about and preparing for preschool in the coming school year! If you have any questions or input about good places to buy great school supplies on the cheap please let me know!


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!   


Delia said...

Really great stuff Katie! I am going to have to get one of those hanging charts!

Kristie said...

Thank you! I always grab stuff, but never know if I am grabbing the right things, and if it is stuff my kids will really use. I mean cute stuff is fun, but is it something they will really use.
Thinking this year we might have to buy some water colors....never have before, need to be brave!