I recently recorded a Facebook live video about our trials & errors of preschool at home as well as my favorite resources for preschool at home!
Our basic approach for ages 0-4 has been to focus on play (alone & with others), developing daily routines, good habits, getting outside, reading a ton, and keeping childhood simple and free of busyness.
Once our child expresses interest, we 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” because the older kids have it, then I set aside 10-20 minutes per day to do reading & math activities 1-on-1. For all of our kids, this happened sometime around 4-5 years old.
We take a learn-in-every-day-life approach to preschool. But it’s extremely intentional also.
I teach phonograms (less than 5 minutes per day), play this blending game, practice counting 1 to 1, informally teach subitizing, help the child learn to identify numbers, and having handwriting materials available for when the child is interested.
Our preschoolers learn everything else through unstructured play, conversation, and daily life.
Here are my recommended resources for handwriting, math, reading, and everyday-life learning IF you & your child are eager to get going.
Handwriting Practice – Preschool & Kindergarten
I ordered this mini chalkboard, a pack of mini chalk, a pack of mini sponges & a kindergarten workbook for my kiddos age 4-5. They also have a preschool workbook if your young child wants to have one like the big kids. (Totally unnecessary & just for fun though.) These materials are cheap & the packs of chalk & sponges come with a TON of pieces.
You don’t need the teacher’s guides.
We have also used this super simple handwriting book from Simply Charlotte Mason. It’s great for continued practice after using HWT to teach letter formation.
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 have formed a mental list of 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” because the other kids get it.
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.
There are 2 parts to reading:
- Reading comprehension
- Learning the mechanics of how to actually read words (best learned through phonics)
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 about the academic benefits of reading (listed below), and choosing books for read-alouds that feel WAY above your child’s reading level. We do read a lot of picture books (of a variety of levels) aloud together, but we also read a lot of chapter books. This year, our 4 year old sat through:
- most of the Narnia series (7 books)
- Winn Dixie
- Edward Tulane
- 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 a lot of them.
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 Read Aloud Handbook – the 7th edition was the last one written by the original author, so that’s my recommendation.
- The Read Aloud Family
- Give Your Child the World
- MENSA K-3 reading list (free & printable online)
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:
- Learn the first 26 phonograms (letter sounds)
- 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 below.
Many traditional schools use a method called “blended reading” that claims to include phonics, but doesn’t really comprehensively teach phongrams-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.
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.
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.
Learning to Read
Around age 4-5, you can try to start working your way through Logic of English Foundations A.
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 designed with our oldest child. But after teaching 3 more kids to read and observing tons of kids learn in our homeschool co-ops, I recommend Logic of English now. It’s a slower start, but more thorough and will yield better spelling & reading results 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!!
All About Reading has a great pre-reading program too. BUT, they teach reading and spelling separately. This made sense in theory to me with our first child, and I tried parts of their program.
After 3 kids though, I tend towards teaching them together like Logic of English does. Like I said, it’s yielded better results long-term.
Pros of teaching a child to read early
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 the code that all the grownups know, and then start reading everything everywhere we go. Signs, instructions, announcements… kids LOVE IT!
Teach them young & keep it simple. If the only things you do for preschool (ages 4-6 ish), are teach phonograms and work your way through a phonics based reading instructional book, your kid will be ready to thrive in school!
Knowing how to decode our written language makes the rest of school much, much easier.
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 anymore!
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
- 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.
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 free skip counting songs – preschoolers LOVE these.