Resources for Preschool at Home

I was so intimidated by preschool at home when we first started homeschooling. I worried about how I’d know if our kids were “behind,” how to choose the “right” curriculum, socialization, and so much more. That cutie pie first preschooler is 11 now, and I’m more confident than ever that any parent who is determined can give their children a great education at home… starting with preschool!

And you don’t need to be an educational expert to do so. You just need to be the expert on your kid!

Four preschool children later, I can honestly say that choosing to do preschool at home can lead to some of the sweetest early learning memories for you and your child.

While homeschooling 4 children through preschool, I researched and tried several different curriculums and resources. In this post, I’ll share my favorite resources for preschool at home as well as a few super popular items I thought weren’t really worth it!

Side note – our first two kids went to a play based preschool two mornings a week even though I was doing some homeschool preschool stuff at home as well. And that was great for them. Our 3rd child didn’t like it (he felt like he was missing out on family life when we all dropped him off), and then the school closed for covid lockdowns. The fourth never even asked to go. I’m not sure he knows what happens at preschools. 😂😂

Overview of Preschool at Home

My basic approach for kids ages 0-4 has been to focus on play (alone & with others), developing daily routines, instilling good habits, playing outside, reading a lot, and keeping childhood simple and free of busyness.

Personally, we chose to do very few organized adult-run activities for our young kids. It kept our evenings free at home! Now, the kids are in some more things and that’s fine too! They didn’t miss out from not starting those types of things until age 6+ but it’s such a personal decision.

Once a child expresses interest in learning to read (here is how you’d know if they were ready), I work on a few foundational reading & math skills and keep some items accessible for them to play/ practice whenever they want.

If a child wants “lessons with mom” like their older siblings, then I set aside 10-20 minutes per day to do reading or math activities 1-on-1. For all of our kids, this desire happened sometime around 3-5 years old. 

We generally take a learn-in-every-day-life approach to preschool.

With each child, we’ve used less workbooks or fancy curriculum designed for preschoolers, because I just find that so much of that is really for parents to feel like they are doing school. I don’t mean that in a bad way! In fact, with your first child especially, it can be very helpful to follow a scripted guide. You start to see things click for your child and you realize – “We’re doing it! We’re homeschooling and thriving!”

But, the sooner you can chart your own path for your kids’ learning, the better. Use those types of guides for inspiration and ideas (Peaceful Press & Brighter Day Press have great, inexpensive options….) but also, read and research and learn for yourself.

Over the years, you’ll become more bold and confident. Trust your ability to teach your own individual children. Sometimes those guides end up to be disappointing, not because they’re bad products, but because they’re just not right for your family.

That’s okay! You’re not failing!

Most of the guides are just pre-planned lists of books, poems, songs, hymns… all stuff you could totally find on your own with a few google searches and a library card. Nothing has to coordinate perfectly or line up with the calendar! Feel free to just follow your own interests and start reading through the wonderful books on a free booklist. See where it takes you.

Preschool Curriculum for Pre-Reading & Early Math

Over the years, I’ve figured out what works for actually laying a great foundation in early learning and so with our young children, when they want to do 1 on 1 lessons, I really try to focus that time on what I know is beneficial.

  • phonograms (5-10 minutes of practice and games at least a few days a week)
  • playing this blending game
  • practice counting 1 to 1 objects up to 5, 10, 20.
  • informally teach subitizing
  • help the child learn to identify the printed numbers (first 1-3, then 1-5, then 6-10)
  • having a variety handwriting materials available for when the child is interested in writing (linked below)

Our preschoolers learn everything else through unstructured play, conversation, books, songs, and daily life. 

This article will continue with my recommended resources for handwriting, math, reading, and everyday-life learning IF you & your child are eager to get going.

You can also literally just be humans who live at home and have healthy daily rhythms centered around meals, play, and exploring outdoors in nature & in your community. All the academic stuff can wait until age 6… or even later. (Or you could low key do schoolish things randomly a couple days a week.)

Say it with me now!! There is so much freedom in homeschooling!!

Fine Motor Skills for Handwriting

My number one suggestion for handwriting practice at this age is to make sure the child’s fine motor skills are well-developed. If the child cannot hold a writing utensil the correct way, it’s better to spend time on fine motor skills activities than formal handwriting.

This is because the pincher grasp that develops from strengthening fine motor skills is the key to correct pencil grip.

Correct pencil grip/ pincher grasp pictured; the dry erase book is from Lakeshore Learning. My kids never loved it, even though I thought it was great. Haha so I have other recs below.

If your child doesn’t hold a pencil like the picture, here are some basic fine motor things to incorporate in your day:

  • Anything with toothpicks – holding a toothpick requires pinching your fingers! Younger children enjoy putting toothpicks into an old spice container with small holes; older children could use them to create designs and patterns, poke holes in the shapes of letters, or poke them into apples. Build structures with toothpicks & mini marshmallows.
  • Water pouring – allow the child to use small cups and pouring strengthens the pincher grasp.
  • Play-dough – Manipulating clay and dough strengthens hands.
  • Kinetic Sand – Same thing as play-dough
  • Sorting small objects – put some nuts, bolts, buttons, etc. in a plastic bin. Have as many small bowls or containers as there are types of objects. Picking out one object at a time requires pinching
  • Noodle or Rice Bins – allow for lots of measuring/ pouring/ scooping/ tweezeers/ tongs, which all build fine motor skills
  • Dot to dot, drawing, tracing activity books – Use a special pencil grip training pencil or marker (these are my kids’ favorite!!) Dot to dot and drawing build exactly the same skills as tracing/ copying ABCs… but kids think they’re more fun! I just buy a new activity book every so often and keep pencil-grip friendly utensils easily accessible.

Here is a giant list of fine motor activities for preschoolers.

In general, I find it best to just keep one activity out at a time. Leave it out in a tray or dish for your child to “discover,” then causally pop over to show them how to do it if they don’t know how. They may go back and forth between playing it and playing other things over a few days.

You can rotate fine motor activities or have a set time of day such as right before or after a meal where the child works on the activities.

More School-Ish Handwriting Things That Aren’t a Waste of $$

Again, you don’t even need any of this. But if you want to add a few supplies to your handwriting toolbox, over time, here are my kids’ personal favorites that I think are actually legitimately useful. (So much stuff marketed at homeschool is not worth your money!!)

I got these from HWT, but we didn’t need the rest of the program. You can probably find similar items at a craft store or dollar store. Just cut up a sponge and break up the chalk!

handwriting without tears materials

You don’t need the teacher’s guides or even the workbooks. I tried them with my first and they were fine, but also unnecessary.

We just randomly used the chalkboard to practice letters that cooordinated with sounds they were learning from my phonogram flashcards. They loved the “wet dry try” process, which you can learn in 30 seconds with this youtube video.

We also use a sand tray sometimes:

These are my favorite write & wipe dry erase books. Blue maze book on left; red book

I save most handwriting workbooks that have repeated letter formation for Kindergarten age.

If you reeeeallllly want handwriting workbooks at this age, go with The Good and the Beautiful. Theirs are very cute and run easy in terms of grade level, I think. So an eager 4 year old could do the preschool ones and the kindergarten one. My 5 year old did the 1st grade one by his own choice.

Preschool Math 

My favorite resource for preschool math is Kate Snow’s Preschool Math at Home. It’s been a huge help in showing me how to help young kids build a good number sense.

From her book, I learned about math concepts that I try to incorporate in everyday life. Her book is designed for 10-minute-a-day math lessons, but we don’t usually use that format unless the child is interested in having “lesson time with mom.”

Rather, I just teach the concepts throughout daily life as the opportunities arise!

We also use skip counting songs that all our kids have learned to sing by age 5 or 6. The 2s song is my preschooler’s favorite, haha!

These are all in our brand new Musical Memory App, which is VERY fun!! I highly recommend listening to memory songs for preschoolers. They love listening to the same things over and over again, so you could try the cycle based playlists. Plus, the songs will sink in deep and your kids will know this stuff for life. In a couple years, they’ll have the lyrics down pat and start asking deep, thoughtful questions like, “Why can’t anything get out of a black hole? Which layer of the atmosphere is the blue sky in? Is that why my Bible storybook says Jesus died for my sins?” (We have songs for English Grammar, Latin, Math, Science, and Bible Memory!)

The two’s skip counting is free on the app, along with several other songs. You can try a free month too.

Download on Google Play

Preschool Tips for Reading Readiness

There are 2 parts to reading: 

  1. Reading comprehension
  2. Learning the mechanics of how to actually read words – best learned through phonics. (Don’t believe me? Listen to the podcast mini series Sold a Story.)

Reading Comprehension

The best way to improve reading comprehension is really simple- read aloud to your kids.

A lot. Every day. (Or as many days a week as you can.)

If you read aloud regularly and discuss good books, you will never need to complete a reading comprehension workbook or worksheet. Ever. (And your kids will thank you for that!) 

I highly recommend reading some books on your own about the academic benefits of reading (listed below), and choosing books for read-alouds that seem above your child’s level. Kids understand a LOT! We do read a lot of picture books (of a variety of levels) aloud together, but we also read a lot of chapter books. During the school year I wrote this post, our 4 year old sat through:

  • most of the Narnia series (7 books)
  • Winn Dixie
  • Edward Tulane
  • Desperaux
  • E.B. White books
  • Roald Dahl books
  • Our Island Story (a book written in 1920 about the history of England for children)

… and several others. And based on his questions and retelling of parts of the stories, he understood way more than I realized in any given reading.

PRO TIP- Start small. Choose 1 picture book, 3 pages of a chapter book, and then as many more picture books as your child wants to listen to. The next day, do 4 pages of the chapter book and so forth. This process will gradually build up everyone’s stamina.

Suggested resources for read-aloud lists:

The first 2 books are inspiring and informative for parents about the infinite benefits of reading aloud, plus they both have phenomenal reading lists to work your way through! 

Give Your Child the World is about broadening your kids’ experiences of the world via travel through books. Owning and referencing a globe when reading about other places plants seeds of global awareness too! Our kids love talking about places around the world.

Phonics & Learning to Read

Phonogram based reading instruction is hands-down the BEST way to learn to read. The process is:

  1. Learn the first 26 phonograms (letter sounds)
  2. Start learning how to blend the first 26 together to form words while continuing to learn the rest of the phonograms. 

This is explained in more detail in this short-but-very-in-depth 1 hour workshop that will help you learn how to teach your child to read. You can use the resources I include in the workshop or you can use your newfound knowledge to pair along with a phonics based curriculum of your choice. (My top recommendation is always Logic of English Foundations, but All About Reading is also very good.)

how to teach your child to read workshop

Phonics Works!

Many traditional schools use a method called “blended reading” that claims to include phonics, but doesn’t really comprehensively teach phonograms-based reading. (Here is a good summary of that issue.) With blended reading, some kids figure out reading and move on.

Many kids struggle, though, and never really get the hang of it. (Perhaps this is why on the national standardized tests, only 35% 4th graders in the United States score proficient or above in reading… despite spending an average of 2 hours per school day on reading & language arts.)

Orton & Gillingham were researchers who developed a simple phonograms-based, multi-sensory approach to teaching reading, and it works with astonishingly high success rates. There are many Orton & Gillingham based curriculums for homeschoolers. My favorite is the Logic of English. For young children, you’d start with the Foundations A kit. They have a little mini placement test on their site to help you determine if you can “start with level B.”

The starter kit is around $175-190 but it’s all reusable except a $15 workbook to be used with subsequent children. (You could tear the workbook apart and put it in page protectors in a binder if you want to be able to reuse it.) A huge benefit of the Logic of English program is that you will learn how to teach reading & be able to introduce your subsequent children to the process more casually over time.

Phonograms

For preschoolers, I wait until a child seems ready to read. (My early childhood reading guide will help you figure out if your kid is ready to read!) 

Once they’re indicating reading-readiness signs, I begin teaching phonograms 1-3 at a time using these printable cards.

My beginning reading workshop outlines a process that will work for you with tons of recommended resources!!

I also play “say it slow, say it fast,” which you could start today even 🙂

100 Easy Lessons

I’ve also used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It’s not comprehensive enough, but it’ll get you going. I used it 100% as written with our oldest child. But there were tears.

After teaching 3 more kids to read and observing tons of kids learn in our homeschool community, I now typically recommend Logic of English or All About Reading. Both have a slower start, but are more thorough and will yield confident readers & spellers in the long term.

A main premise of 100 Easy Lessons is that parents can teach their kids to read – I 100% agree with them! You  don’t need a certificate to do this. I promise! Look at the free samples online and get whatever makes sense to you. Any of these programs will help your child learn to read if you stick with them.

teach your child to read

Pros of teaching a child to read early & also it doesn’t matter

In one sense, there’s no hurry! Kids who read early do NOT become ‘better’ readers down the road.

BUT, if the child is ready, learning to read unlocks a magical world for him!! It’s one of my all time favorite parenting things to watch a kiddo figure out this seemingly mysterious code that all the grownups know, and then start reading everything everywhere we go. Signs, instructions, announcements… kids LOVE IT! 

Just keep it really simple. And if they’re very young and occasionally lose interest, don’t worry about it. Set it aside for a while.

If the only things you do for preschool (ages 4-6 ish), are teach phonograms and read lots of books together for fun, your kid will be ready to take off with reading once it all “clicks.”

Knowing how to decode our written language makes the rest of school much, much easier.

Everything Else

Play play play!!! Erica Christakis has researched the benefits of a play-based childhood, and many experts agree with her that the trend towards academic-based early childhood education is NOT good for kids.

If you and your child are eager, by all means, do 20 minutes of “school” each day at home to get your fix!

But worksheets, workbooks, desks, etc… none of that is necessary for preschoolers to learn. I occasionally print something like that out for the preschooler in our home if he’s eager to do “work” like his big sisters.

But I don’t do any unit-based worksheets or daily binders or anything else with our littles like I did for my oldest.

Kids learn through play! Play is truly the work of childhood.

My general approach is not to “set up” very much play (unless they ask me to set something specific up), but rather to give our kids tons of unstructured, relatively unsupervised playtime.

I’m often keeping an eye and ear out from a distance.

Play based learning ideas

  • Go explore a nearby state park
  • Go to the zoo
  • Set up a bucket or bin full of water with some measuring cups on the porch
  • Let your kid help bake or wash dishes.
  • Read together
  • Play with friends.
  • Let your children have free range of the house & yard unsupervised so they can learn to play & experiment & get lost in their own imaginations.
  • Dump rice in a bin and let your kid go to town with kitchen utensils
  • Duplos or toy animals in the bath. (Supervise your kids in water!)
  • Sprinklers & kiddie pools
  • Forts
  • Balance bikes & 3 wheel scooters for little riders
  • Implement the quarter chore system. My favorite chores for 4 year olds are cleaning up their rooms, doing their own laundry & tidying the mudroom or bringing all the backyard toys back to the deck. They earn a quarter for each chore immediately after they’re done. The first thing I’ve taken my kids to buy is their own pack of gum once they have $1.25.

rice bin play for 1 year old learning

You don’t need expensive toys or themed units for your preschooler to thrive! 

  • They can learn about the weather when they start asking, “Is it hot out? Can I wear flip flops?” or “Is it going to rain? Why is the sky dark?”
  • They can learn the calendar through conversation: “What day are we going to Grandma’s house?”
  • Search Spotify or Youtube for days of the week/ months of the year songs. Pick one of each to play a few times a week. Then, sing it as you count on your fingers to answer questions such as, “How many months till my birthday?” “How many days till we leave for the lake?”
  • They can learn about sorting by cleaning up toys into a few different baskets, organizing a shelf of blocks by type, or sorting out their halloween candy haha! (Kids naturally tend to sort items anyway.)
  • They can learn to count and pair up equal amounts by setting the table. (Bonus – that teaches place settings too.)
  • If you want to teach your child classical music, grab a Beethoven’s Wig CD and allow them to have a small CD player in their room for quiet time. (This is the one we have.) Books on CD from the library are great for quiet time too, once they know how to operate it independently.
  • Keep an accessible basket with a few craft items that get rotated out. (Here are our favorites.) Set up a blank piece of paper on the table with some good water colors and leave it out all day for the kid to come and go as they want. (Modify that setup if you have a toddler around – ha!)

You can do preschool at home!

You’ve been teaching your children since birth, and you care about them more than anyone else. Get a few simple activities and materials in place, observe your child, follow your instincts, and learn as you go!

You can do it!

Oh! And check out our learning songs app – Musical Memory Player on Android; Musical Memory Homeschool on Apple!

Preschoolers LOVE these songs. We’ve started all of our kids young on songs and it’s yielded amazing results as they’ve gotten older. Here’s why I recommend starting memory songs with young children.

ANNNND – one last thing. Here is my ultimate list of must have supplies for homeschooling. You don’t need to purchase them all for your first year. But you might want to look through this list before you go crazy on what Instagram influencers are recommending you need. (Ahem: most of the stuff I see on Instagram I would never use!)

Happy homeschooling!!!

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