Whether you’re planning to homeschool or just want to give your little one a boost before attending Kindergarten, here a few practical tips for teaching preschool at home:
1. Choose a Curriculum… or Not.
If you’ve got the time and the creativity to plan educational activities for your preschooler, you go, Momma! An abundance of free preschool resources can be found on the Web or at your local library. You can pick a simple theme (like a letter a week) and build around it. Alternatively, you can purchase a curriculum that does the planning for you. We love Heart of Dakota’s Little Hands to Heaven curriculum. It is a sweet, simple unit study that is easily adaptable for multiple ages. My tired, mommy-of-four brain was so thankful to have a book that told me what and how to teach each day.
One note of caution: keep it simple, always remembering that preschoolers learn best through play. In most cases, this is not the time to introduce workbooks.
2. Establish a Routine
I’m sure you’ve noticed, but little people are happiest when they have a routine to follow. Knowing the order of their day allows preschoolers to anticipate how they should function in the world around them. I realize each family has their own dynamics, and I’m not advocating that you become a slave to the clock. I simply mean that you should be as consistent as possible with your routine. Your preschooler will feel secure and ready to be introduced to new things when you can consistently say, “Today is Monday! We eat breakfast, then we get dressed, then you can play with your toys while Mommy cleans the kitchen. Do you know what happens next? We get to have school! Mondays are great days!”
I keep the order of our school activities very consistent. I’ve found that if a preschooler can predict a sequence of events, they are far less likely to whine about doing a specific activity next.
3. Have Realistic Expectations
It’s essential to consider the physical development of your preschooler. Large muscles develop before small muscles, starting at the core of the body. Muscles in legs and arms develop before those in the fingers and hands. Children learn how to perform gross motor skills (like walking) before they learn to perform fine motor skills (like drawing). If your preschooler cannot manipulate a pencil, don’t stress! New muscle skills build on previous ones, so take a step back and encourage the use of large muscles.
Researchers generally agree that children ages 2-3 have an attention span of 3-4 minutes. This increases to 5-10 minutes around 4 years of age. Bottom line: you only have a small window of time to communicate your lesson. Don’t force your little one to focus on an activity for longer than they are capable, or they will be unhappy and you will be frustrated.
You can get more mileage out your child’s attention span by changing your physical location for each preschool activity. Example:
- We sit on the couch for reading
- We move to a blanket on the floor for finger plays and songs
- We work at the craft table for activities that use fine motor skills
- We have snacks at the kitchen table
- We go outside or utilize the foyer for activities that use large motor skills
Changing your location with each activity is a simple way to gain attention and your preschooler will be more likely to re-engage. Locations also create a visual reminder of behavioral expectations. (Example: When we’re on the couch and mommy is reading, we sit still and use our ears. When we’re on the blanket on the floor, we move around and can use our voices.) This leads me to my next tip:
4. Set Clear, Consistent Standards for Behavior
During the first week of school, I am a strict schoolmarm. For a few days I constantly instruct my children on their behavior during school: “It’s hard to listen when we’re laying down and not looking at the book. Sit on your bottom next to me and look at the pictures.” “Oops! We all must do the hand motions. Let’s start again. Ready?” “That’s great dancing! Make sure you don’t go off the blanket while we sing.”
Is it super important that my children stay on a blanket while we’re singing? No. I really just want them to stay in the general vicinity of me and participate. A blanket on the floor gives a preschooler a visual boundary, something that can be used temporarily until the necessary self-control becomes a habit. Because we use different locations for each activity, it only takes a few days of micro-managing until my preschoolers know what is expected of them during school.
5. Have FUN!
Preschool should be enjoyable for you and your child. If a particular activity or format is not working, stop doing it. You want to be modeling and cultivating a love for learning. At this point in your child’s life, enthusiasm for education is of higher importance than mastery of a particular skill.