“How do we homeschool preschool?” One of the most common questions I see in the online homeschooling space comes from excited mamas eager to find the best curriculum for homeschooling their preschoolers. I remember well that eager feeling as a new mom. It’s so thrilling to see all the books and possibilities out there!
But what if your best tool for homeschooling preschool is changing your perspective, not buying a curriculum? What if the best homeschool preschool curriculum doesn’t come in a box or a textbook? What if you don’t have to plan dozens of projects? What if there is a natural, peaceful, and productive way to pursue preschool at home?
I’ve done preschool at home with all five of my children, who have exhibited a range of academic giftedness, emotional intelligence, motivation, and personality. But, with a few modifications, I have used the same approach to preschool with all of them, and I have never bought a pre-made preschool curriculum!
Let’s start by looking at the big picture goals for the preschool years, then dive into the details of learning math, reading, and more!
I. Primary Goals for the Preschool Years
It may help to ask what our goals are for the preschool years. Set aside all the Chicken Little drama and early-academic pressure you may have heard. When your precious little one transitions to the more official school years, what do you think will have prepared them best?
When I ask myself that question, here are some things that come to mind. Your goals may be a little different, and I encourage you to prayerfully think through them and discuss them with your spouse.
- Fostering a nurturing, loving bond with our young children
- Encouraging growth in empathy and emotional intelligence as they relate to their family and friends
- Sharing stories
- Building memories
- Praying with and for my children daily
- Giving them a thorough introduction to the stories of the Bible and the overarching story of the Gospel
- Facilitating their memorization of Scripture through Bible songs and daily recitation with the family
- Catechizing them
- Faithfully taking them to worship each week and encouraging their participation as much as is reasonable for their maturity
- Modeling repentance to them when I sin and helping them learn to ask for forgiveness when they sin against others
- Pointing them to Jesus in every way I can
- Teaching my children boundaries and helping them learn to submit to authority
- Assisting them as they practice self-control and learn self-discipline
- Giving them opportunities to work and serve with the family through simple chores
- Encouraging curiosity and imagination
- Developing a love of learning
- Facilitating natural, organic acquisition of knowledge
- Helping my children see the glory of God in all areas of study
- Giving my children the tools they will use to continue building their own education as the years progress
What other goals might you have for the homeschool preschool years? That was certainly not an exhaustive or authoritative list. How may we be allowing the fears and priorities of outside forces to shape our approach to early childhood education? How might we focus on our family’s culture and goals instead? What kind of human do we want to be raising, ultimately, and how do we begin nurturing that even in these young years?
II. Plans for the Most Important Subjects
Now that we have set those big picture goals above, we will move on to the areas more traditionally associated with academics. As you read through suggestions that follow, remember that all of them flow from my overarching goals.
Fostering a Love of Books and Language
There’s no need to push early reading skills in a formal way. Instead, the most important thing you can do with your preschooler is to expose them to beautiful language.
Don’t underestimate the power of your daily conversation with your little ones, even when you think the three-year-old can’t understand the vocabulary you’re using. Describe and narrate the world around you.
For example, imagine you’re in the grocery store choosing vegetables. You might say something like, “What a vibrant shade of green! These peppers look so crisp and delicious. Unfortunately, this pepper has a squishy portion, so we will choose a different one. Let’s put three peppers in the bag: 1, 2, 3!” You’ve now combined vivid descriptive words, comparison/contrast, and counting all in one simple interchange, no curriculum required.
It’s also a delight to transcribe the stories your little ones imaginatively weave for you. I have an early memory of dictating the adventures of a penny to my mom, who carefully wrote my words on pages for me to illustrate. This activity lays a lovely foundation for future writing and communication skills and shows that you respect their thoughts and imagination.
Meaningful conversation is one of the easiest ways to foster a child’s vocabulary, phraseology, and ability to communicate with words. But beyond this purposeful verbal interaction, we want to expose our children to the beauty of the written word.
No need to break out the alphabet or sight word flashcards! Instead, read aloud beautiful stories with your preschooler snuggled on your lap. I’m pretty sure both of you will be less bored and more excited about what you’re doing.
Sharing stories with our children is also one of the best ways to develop our relationship with them. If you want to be reminded of the impact this simple practice can have in your family read The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie or The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.
Encouraging Letter Recognition and Pre-Reading Skills
But what about letter recognition? There is currently so much pressure to read early that we see formal reading instruction happening earlier and earlier! The range for normal is so varied, however. For example, in my own family, I’ve had children begin reading independently anywhere from age three to seven!
The most effective way to teach pre-reading skills that I have found is to incorporate letter recognition and discussion naturally into our daily lives. Ordinary life is my favorite means of homeschooling preschool. For example, as we go on walks or errands, I might point out some of the letters we see: “Oh, we’re at the corner! See the big red sign? Look at those large letters. I see an S, T, O, P—ssss…tttt…oooo….pppp—it must say STOP!”
I have always considered that if a small child can learn that a cow says “moo” and a dog says “woof,” they may also be able to learn that a B says, well, “b”! Most preschool children won’t be able to visually identify the letter and its sound, but they may be able to connect the letter’s name with its sound.
I encourage you to discuss letter sounds with your children in the same delightful way you teach them to recreate and recognize animal sounds. You’re not showing them flashcards to teach them that a cat meows. You see your neighbor’s cat in the window and say, “See the kitty? What do cats say? They say, ‘meow’!” In the same way, imagine you’re leaving a store, and there is a sign saying “EXIT.” You might point out the short E sound by saying, “Look! E-X-I-T. E-e-e-exit!”
Sometimes I make up silly stories. For example, did you know that S and H are rather rowdy friends? Whenever they get together, they are so very loud that their parents have to tell them, “SHHHH!”
I hope you’re not drilling your three-year-old with color flashcards. Rather, you point to the tomato you’re cutting up for the salad and mention that it is red, you ask them if they’d like the red or blue cup, and you hand them a red crayon when they color the fire engine. Similarly way, you do not have to drill letters/diphthongs/etc. When homeschooling your preschooler, you can draw attention to letters and sounds as they occur naturally in your day.
If you begin to think purposefully, you’ll be amazed how many letters you can gently point out during your ordinary life. This is not meant to turn everything into a lesson; the whole point is that these aren’t lessons! By weaving letter names and sounds naturally into your daily life, you’re encouraging your preschooler to view words and reading as delightful, not something for school.
Encouraging Improvement of Motor Skills, Primarily through Free Play
Gross motor skills include things like running, climbing, hanging, sliding, crawling, jumping, and kicking. Make sure your children have access to places to explore and climb and run and kick balls and throw pinecones. Don’t direct every moment of their play; allow them to tumble and fall and explore and plan and imagine on their own as much as possible. They’re actually making neural connections as they play, even though it doesn’t look like academics. Even if your yard isn’t conducive to this level of activity, most of us don’t have to drive very far to find at least a small green space, soccer field, or playground.
To build your preschooler’s fine motor skills (important for things like holding a pencil), stick to fun activities like playdough, finger painting, sidewalk chalk, digging in sand, stringing beads, stacking blocks, using kid scissors and stickers, painting with water, and playing in the mud.
Laying a Stress-Free Math Foundation
Math is simply another form of language. It uses numbers to express truths about the world we see around us. A positive approach to mathematical concepts in early childhood will lay a solid foundation for abstract thinking later on.
We are constantly counting, adding, subtracting, comparing, analyzing, and more throughout the day. Often, for adults, it happens without conscious thought. Consider all the ways you could express your daily activities with your preschooler in mathematical form. Here are a few practical examples.
Using Cardinal Numbers (1, 2, 3, 4…)
- Climbing up and down stairs
- Setting the table and counting utensils
- Putting away books, toys, or stuffed animals
Using Ordinal Numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd…)
- Play cars/trains and discuss which one is 1st, 2nd, 3rd, last, etc
- Waiting in the grocery checkout line: “That lady is first, then that gentleman is second, then we are third.”
- “First, we will go to the library, next—second, to the gas station, and last—third, to the grocery store.”
Using Other Counting Skills
- Anytime you would normally count by ones, try counting by 2s, 5s or 10s! Walking down the steps? “2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 stairs!”
- Try counting backward whenever possible. Are you about to shut off the bathtub faucet? “Let’s count down from 10; on blast-off, we’ll turn off the water!”
Dealing with Inequalities
- Any parent knows children have an uncanny instinct for when things are uneven. Susie got more cookies than I did; that cup has more juice than mine; Joey’s slice of pizza is bigger. As you go through your day, find impersonal and non-tantrum-producing opportunities to point out things that are bigger/smaller, greater-than/less-than, heavier/lighter, etc.
- I love to tell the story of Greater-Than-Gator who always eats the bigger pile. You can introduce the inequality symbols, too—add teeth to turn the symbols into an alligator, or use your hand as a puppet-mouth to eat whatever is bigger. Greater-Than-Gator has sometimes has been drawn with sidewalk chalk at our house while we’re collecting piles of rocks outside on the driveway
- While setting the table: “There are five people in our family, but we have only two napkins on the table. How many more do we need? Can you bring me three more napkins?”
- While serving chicken nuggets: “There were eight nuggets in the box, and it looks like you’ve already eaten four. There are still four left in your box!”
- While building with blocks: “We’ve already stacked up five blocks! Do you think we can add five more so the tower is ten blocks tall?”
- While choosing bedtime books: “I said I’d read two stories, but you brought me four books. Can you please choose two to put back on the shelf?”
- While on a walk: “I see two birds on that branch, one bird on the ground, and another bird on the fence. Wow, we can see four birds in that one yard!”
- Putting on shoes: “Look, you have two shoes. Mommy has two shoes. Daddy has two shoes. We have three groups of two shoes: two, four, six…that’s six shoes.”
III. Adjusting Your Perspective
The ideas listed above are not meant to be exhaustive. I haven’t even discussed the pleasures of music/rhythm experimentation, library story time, nature exploration, poetry memory, arts and crafts, or Scripture memory. Embrace your own personality and your family’s culture, and bring your precious preschooler into the things you love. Your enthusiasm will be contagious!
None of the ideas I’ve suggested require you to have school time or to purchase an extensive formal preschool curriculum.
I want to encourage you to resist the pressure to add more things to your day. Instead, shift your perspective and your mindset. You’ll be amazed at how many hidden (and not so hidden) ways there are to organically and gently encourage growth in your preschooler’s body, mind, and soul preschooler throughout the day.