If you have decided to homeschool and you have a young child, you might be wondering how to homeschool preschool. You might be feeling a sense of overwhelm and confusion as you look for options and information. Preschool doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need a full curriculum to be successful – just have fun with your kids.
At the very basic core, a good preschool experience includes the following: reading lots of books together, spending time outside in nature, playing with other kids, having access to art supplies, helping with housework chores and cooking, and trying new things. It’s all about play. Hopefully, this post will help give you some confidence and ideas of how to learn with your little one in these early years.
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How to Homeschool Preschool: Play is the Key
Learning through play is the single most important thing in an early childhood education. Formal learning isn’t really needed for a child who is 3 or 4. (I’m tempted to say even higher than that, actually. Like… until they are 7+. And even then…. but I digress.) Creating opportunities for your child to learn through play is really a vital key to their development. But what does this look like? How can play be learning and how can you implement it in your home?
Play-based learning is just that. Watch your little one for a single day as they putter around, exploring their world, and interacting with things or people. Every moment is a learning experience or opportunity. When they build towers with blocks, they are discovering attributes of shapes (rectangles have long sides so you can stack things on top of them, but if you put a cylinder on its side, it rolls away). When they build it too high, they learn that things fall over because they get too unstable. When they play on the playground, they learn that slides are hard to climb but stairs make it easy to get up. When they talk to other kids, they have to learn how to communicate effectively, how to share, how to take turns, etc. When they play with magnet letters, they are learning to recognize the alphabet and the difference between upper and lower case.
As a parent, you just need to offer them the tools to play and the space to explore. This doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be as simple as a magnifying glass and a bin of leaves. Or a stick, sand, and water. But it can also be a bin of LEGO pieces, a simple game like memory, or a collection of musical instruments.
Play-based learning can be intentional too. You can create simple resources or opportunities to learn. One of my personal favourites for the little guys is something we call “noodle math.” You give your child a pile of noodles and on a piece of paper, draw some circles. Write a number in each circle and ask your child to put the right amount of noodles in each circle. It’s a game they love to play. You can create file folder games or busy bags which allow kids to explore a single skill on their own. You can write letters on index cards and lay them out all over the floor and hop around on them, yelling the letters as they land on a card.
The thought here is to create play-centred activities that allow your child to learn something, whether intentionally or incidentally. When learning is fun, kids retain more, understand more, and want to know more.
Don’t Focus on Academics
These early years aren’t about forcing your child to learn how to read or they will be behind. It’s about creating a foundation of learning.
If you sit your 3 or 4-year-old down with a workbook and expect them to finish a page of math, you run the risk of creating an association between school and boredom or frustration. That’s not going to encourage them to want to do school at any point. Once you’ve killed their natural interest in learning, it can be incredibly hard to get it back.
Does this mean that you should never allow your child a workbook or intentional academics? No. For your little ones, having some simple workbooks available can be fun – especially if they have older siblings that they want to copy. You can encourage them to try it out, or let them tell you they want to use them. But don’t FORCE them to do it. Make it casual, fun, and interesting. Let them decide when they are done or even what pages they want to work on.
Keep any academic-based activities short and without negative feedback. These are the years where little ones can easily start struggles with feelings of inadequecy and perfection. We want to encourage them to succeed in a safe way.
Use Unit Themes As a Base
If you search for “preschool curriculum” you will probably notice a trend. Many preschool programs are run based on themes. Sometimes they are based on seasons or holidays, sometimes topics of interest, other times by picture book or story, or even by letters or numbers. Having a theme makes early learning easy. Picking a single topic and connecting all the outside pieces to it means that you get kind of immersed in that subject until you move onto the next. (This is actually what the unit study homeschooling methodology is like – picking a topic and connecting all the other subjects to it. )
For example, let’s say your theme is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Here are some ways to connect your learning to that story.
- Create a food station with cut out pictures of different foods to sort into basic food groups. (health)
- Have a food tasting day where you try foods that the caterpillar ate. (science)
- Learn about the metamorphosis life cycle of a butterfly with a simple craft like this one. (science)
- Make fingerprint caterpillars with different number of body segments for math. (math)
- Get a butterfly kit and grow a caterpillar into a butterfly. (science)
- Hunt for caterpillars and butterflies outside. (nature & science)
- Make a caterpillar out of egg cartons. (art)
- Move your body like a caterpillar, curl up like a cocoon, fly like a butterfly, etc. (physical education)
- Make cards with all the foods that the caterpillar ate and get kids to make matching groups and count. (math)
Preschoolers are like sponges. They absorb so much information and learning through every day life. It can be tempting to use this time to fill up your day with workbooks and seatwork – but don’t forget to enjoy these early days by following the wisdom of the Magic School Bus’ teacher – Ms. Frizzle. Here are some tips for successfully teaching preschoolers: 5 Tips To Teaching Preschoolers
How to Plan Preschool Themes
How long to study each unit?
The first step is to decide how often you want to change themes. There are common options like weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly There are things to consider with each option.
- Monthly themes allow you to explore one topic in-depth. You only really need to come up with 12 themes with a monthly plan, but the challenge is that your child (or you!) might get bored of studying that one topic for a whole month – or you might not be able to come up with enough ideas to fill your days within that theme.
- Bi-weekly themes shorten the exploration time in half, meaning the chances of boredom are still possible, but definitely less likely than a month-long study. It gives plenty of time to dive into the theme and enjoy the curious rabbit trails that kids often have questions about. If you do this plan, you will need to plan our 27 different themes.
- Weekly allows you to come up with a new theme each week to keep it fresh and exciting, however it will require a lot more planning and prep on a regular basis. It can also feel like you don’t really get enough time to really get into the topic before you need to move onto the next. There are 52 weeks in a year.
Decide what you think you would like to do from the above options. It will depend on you and your understanding of your child. What are their interests and what do you think will work best for your homeschool? Of course, you can also mix and match! For example, maybe you want to focus on a specific holiday for a week but not a month – but your child is super passionate about dinosaurs so you’d like to study dinosaurs for a whole month. There aren’t any hard and fast rules about how long a theme has to last!
What to study?
The idea of theme-based learning is to pick broad topics and then build activities around that theme. Aim for topics that are tangible – that you can see, hear, smell, touch, etc. There are massive lists of ideas available online, if you need ideas. But, here are some suggestions on how to pick topics for your homeschool preschool.
- Start by filling in your calendar with topics based on seasons – like apples in September, flowers in May, and trees in October.
- Consider any special holidays or events your family or community participate in, such as Christmas, a Maple Syrup Festival, or a fall fair.
- Think of topics your child is always interested in. Lots of preschoolers love dinosaurs, for example. What else do they love?
- What things do you love to learn about? Your passion will rub off on your kids!
- Fill in any blanks with a week long set of activities based on popular preschool picture books.
Make the learning web
Now, you need to fill in the plan with activities that are related to the theme you plan to study. Let’s use apples as our example.
- Are there any extended topics that work with the main theme? For example, apples naturally fit with the colour red, the shape of a circle, and the letter A. You can use that to build out a longer set of activities throughout your study.
- Make a list of books related to your topic. Which fiction stories match the theme? What is the call number for this topic in the library so you can find non-fiction books about it? What about the book Ten Apples on Top?
- Are there any field trips you can take for this theme? An apple farm would fit great for this!
- Can you make any crafts? Maybe apple stamping – one apple cut in half vertically, and another horizontally so you can see how the core looks differently. We could paint an apple tree or use a paper plate to create a “parts of an apple” craft.
- What kinds of math activities could we tie in? How about counting the number of seeds in an apple? Or making a graph that shows how many red, yellow, and green apples we picked at the farm? Set up a store with a cash register and have your child buy/sell apples.
- Sensory activities in the early years are almost a must. If we filled up a bin with oats plus some green and red pompoms sprinkled with cinnamon, add some measuring spoons and a pie plate – lots of fun can happen! Don’t forget to make some deep red playdough (with or without cinnamon!)
- Think about snacks too. You can bake a pie or some applesauce, slather apple slices in peanut butter or yogurt, or even dry some apple pieces for a chewy treat. This is a great time to give little ones kid-safe cutters so they can chomp up apples.
- Science fun can be to taste test different kinds of apples. Is it sweet or sour? Which kind do you like best? Dissect an apple and see what it looks like inside.
- What about music or famous pieces of art? There’s a few apple still life artworks that would match our topic. We could look at the art and then try to draw/paint our own version.
- Other things could be action games, board games, shows and movies, computer games, creating costumes, etc. For apples, we could start curled up on the ground as small seeds, then grow, grow, grow with our arms to the ceiling as big trees. Sway in the wind. Then stretch to pick apples and then eat them.
See how many of these connect together? Now your job is to pick out what activity to do when. Put it on the plans and there you go – a full theme study! Repeat for however many topics you are hoping to cover this year.
Want to create more unit studies? Check out my planner and guide to creating unit studies.
Keep in Mind Two Things
- Don’t pack your days. Make sure that you give your child lots of free space and time in their day. Don’t schedule every minute with things to do.
- Be flexible. You might not get through everything. You might need to change your plans. You might end up loving a unit so much that you decide to take it longer than planned or your child may get bored with a topic and you decide to change to a new one sooner than you thought. The idea is to inspire and encourage natural exploration and curiosity. Keep the love of learning alive.
Some Fun Learning Resources You Can Use For Homeschool Preschool
Learning Apps & Websites:
Kids love computers and games. Use that to your advantage and provide some learning opportunities through the digital medium.
- Starfall – This website (and app) has both a free and a membership section. The free section includes some really quality language resources – starting with letters and sounds and moving to more difficult skills like putting sounds together to make words and eventually even stories. There are also some interactive activities (like building a gingerbread man, adding faces to pumpkins, etc) and games. Membership content is more in depth, adding in math and higher level learning resources. The animations on this site are fun and little kids really enjoy the bright colours combined with silliness. This site is a great way to teach mouse skills as well, because whenever something needs to be clicked, it sparkles. There are also printables you can download and books you can buy.
- ABCmouse.com – This site includes games, puzzles, online books, and more for math, language, art, and science through 10 levels that cover preschool to 2nd grade. Your child has a classroom to explore and throughout the program earn tickets they can use to buy new things to decorate their room. It’s available on a website and as an app as well. Printables you can use offline are available. It is a very comprehensive program with lots of activities and fun.
- Teach Your Monster To Read – This program is from the Usborne Foundation (the people who publish Usborne Books). Your child has their own monster and you have to do these mini-games to earn prizes and gear and such. These games focus on phonics and words, progressively getting more challenging the farther along you get. It’s available as a website and also as an app.
- ABCya.com – This site has games for kids from Pre-K right through Grade 5, all carefully sectioned by level and by subject. There are lots of options of games to play.
- Reading Eggs / MathSeeds – This site has two sections: one for reading and one for math. On both sections, your child has a character that they use to navigate through a map. Each stop on the map involves a series of games and activities to develop their math or number skills. There are many maps and levels, allowing your child to continue to work through the game until they are much older. They get to buy things for their character with rewards that they earn for completing activities.
Originator Apps – This is a series of fantastic apps. Our favourite are the language ones – like Endless ABC where you drag the letters around the screen to put them in place and they make their phonetic sound while you move them. It’s really fun and entertaining (while being educational at the same time!)
How To Homeschool Preschool with Curriculum
Sometimes, using a program that is already made so you can just follow the plan is helpful. Remember that this isn’t mandatory for your child’s success, but I know how encouraging it can be to have *something* intentional to do with your young learner. If you choose to homeschool preschool with curriculum, remember that it might not match where your child is developmentally. Don’t get frustrated if it’s too advanced or too easy for your preschooler.
- Five in a Row / Come Sit By Me – These programs both use children’s picture books as their theme. Basically, for a week, you read a central book and do activities that connect with it. These are two different resources that share a common theme. Come Sit By Me is Canadian and focuses on Canadian picture books, where Five in a Row uses all sorts of stories.
- Letter of the Week – This website creates a foundation of reading skills, starting with letters and moving to sounds and stories as your child gets older. It includes a recommended weekly schedule with activities that re-enforce the letter or sound of the week.
- Easy Peasy Homeschool – This program focuses on letters and early reading skills for the preschool level.
- God’s Little Explorers – Using Bible stories that tie into letters of the week, this 28-week curriculum pulls in activities like cooking, crafts, life skills, busy bags, books, language, and more. There is a free and a paid version available.
Get Out & Connect
Use the resources and community around you to provide learning experiences and chances to interact with others. Kids need to learn how to connect with not only peers, but a wide age range of people – from babies to elders. Here are some easy ways to do that:
- Go to the Library. Not only can you get access to a plethora of interesting and fun reading materials, but libraries typically also offer programs for all ages – look for what kinds of activities they run. I’ve seen preschool story time, LEGO club, Make & Take craft days, and even Science exploring.
- Go to the Playground. Any playground. Then let them run wild. Kids will more often than not gravitate to other kids to share their most important details like “I’m 4.” instead of their names. Then they play like they are best friends until parents drag them away. This is free, fun, and full of exercise while offering plenty of opportunities to connect with kids of all ages.
- Go to a Senior’s Care Centre. Elderly people love little kids. It can be a total bright spot in an otherwise quiet day. See if there is a nursing home or community centre near you that offer times for visitors with children to come and hang out.
- Find Free / Cheap Activities in the Community. Did you know that Home Depot offers a kids’ workshop one Saturday morning a month where your child can make a woodworking kit project for free? Some art galleries have free family art days where you can go and art you heart out. Check the community listings – sometimes cities have events like history days, concerts, or fairs that you can take your kids too. There are farmers’ markets that you can visit too.
- Look for homeschool groups near you. Lots of times homeschoolers have community groups that you can join in for field trips, playdates, and other activities. It’s worth connecting with other homeschooling families so you can grow together and create a network of fun and friends.
The Most Important Thing?
This is not a race.
While yes, there are some little learners who pick up reading faster than other kids or are excellent in math or other areas of academics – this isn’t a race. Your goal isn’t to get your preschooler in first place. It’s to enjoy the time together and to help nurture a life of curious and passionate learning. It’s about appreciating the wonder of childhood innocence while you can. They don’t have to be reading by the time they are 6 – you won’t be setting them up for failure.
Read. Connect. Play. Live. Create.
That’s all that you REALLY need to do to homeschool preschool.