Preschooling at Home: Our Vision

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I promised to follow-up our “why” we’re homeschooling post with a “how we plan to do it” post. And I thought I’d start out by addressing a great question from a reader who asked, “Why bother “pre school homeschool” anyways?…I might have a stricter idea of preschool homeschooling in my mind though, I really see formal preschool as something that could get in the way of natural play and development at that age.” I completely agree that “natural play” is what we should be going for. Children are natural learners and I aspire to encourage our preschooler’s natural desire to learn and grow through our “homeschooling.” Here’s how I feel about early homeschooling:

We’ve been “homeschooling” since Benjamin was born. We would read aloud to our fussy, colicky newborn during those loooooooooong sleepless nights: Peter Pan, The Iliad, and The Silmarillion. We read board books ad nauseum. We talked to our infant son, pointed out animals and plants, and explained what they were. And we’ve been answering those “What is that?” “Why does it do that?” “How does that work?” questions til we’re blue in the face. This is all part of our son’s education. The only reason we’re calling it “homeschooling” now is because he’s starting to be school age (3.5) and seems to be needing a little bit more structure to his days to prevent boredom. Basically, we want to offer him the resources to satisfy his seemingly insatiable desire to learn about the world around him.

We began by making some goals with Benjamin. We asked him: What do you want to learn about? We wanted to see where his interests currently lie. He told us that he wanted to learn about two things: “Space and Dinosaurs!” So, we ordered bunches of books from the library and are having a blast. (Our Space preschooling curriculum coming soon!)

Daniel and I also have some goals in mind for the year. We want him to do a little bit of pre-reading. He already knows all the uppercase ABCs and some of the lowercase but we want to spend more time getting familiar with the lowercase letters, reinforce what sounds each letter makes, and practice writing them. Benjamin is very interested in learning to read and will “read” aloud to himself books that he has memorized. So we want to offer him some resources to progress toward reading. However, if he doesn’t seem interested in the pre-reading activities we have in mind we will take a break and wait until he gains interest again.

We also will begin to do some learning together about our Catholic faith that follows the Christian Year. A friend gave me a great resource that is a curriculum for Home Catechesis for 3-6 year olds that looks perfect for Benjamin. It’s by Moira Farrell and is in the Montesorri tradition. I couldn’t find it on Amazon but you can find it here. Our first “lesson” will be setting up our family altar. We would also like to memorize more prayers with him. He has known the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be since before he turned two and he recently mastered the Bless Us, O Lord for mealtimes. But I think the Memorare, the Hail, Holy Queen, and the Prayer to St. Michael would be good ones to work on this year.

During read aloud time (which isn’t a set time at our house, just whenever Lucy is occupied or sleeping and I’m having one-on-one time with Benjamin) he asks to read our new library books about Space or ABCs. When he asks to be read something else, I obviously don’t say “no, we’re doing school now and that storybook isn’t on our syllabus!” I just try to use the library resources when the right moment strikes. If he doesn’t seem interested for a whole day (or a whole week), no big deal.

It’s also important to me to incorporate the visual arts and music into our learning (more on that when I explain our “lesson plans” for our unit on space.)

So, in our minds, “preschooling at home” is simply providing Benjamin with the resources to learn about what interests him, to spark his imagination, and to encourage him to develop skills that will help him learn to read when he’s ready. There will be a whole lot of the same activities we did last year: reading together, going to museums, going to the IMAX, playing outside, cooking inside, going to the park with friends, etc.

Do you have little ones learning at home? What is your vision for preschooling?

p.s. Thank you for your concern, love, and prayers for our little Benjamin! Your comments and emails are so appreciated. He is doing MUCH better. Breathing treatments are keeping his asthma under control and his terrible cough seems to be more from the little virus he’s been fighting off than because he’s struggling to breathe. His temperature is down and he’s back to his old tricks 🙂 So glad to have my sneaky, wild, always hungry boy back after a couple days of no appetite and lethargy!

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  1. says

    I think the preschool age is one of the best times because they soak up so much information and haven’t yet learned that school isn’t supposed to be fun. I love what you said you’re doing with Benjamin! How did you teach prayers to your son at such a young age?

    • Haley says

      Yes! That is so true! They haven’t figured out that school isn’t supposed to be fun and I want it to feel like “play” for as long as possible. I always think of the movie version of “Matilda” by Roald Dahl. There’s a banner in the classroom that says, “If you are having fun, you are NOT learning!” I desperately want to avoid that mindset. It should be fun, right?!

      As for the prayers, I should start out by saying that I birthed a super verbal kid. I can already tell that Lucy isn’t as verbal. B just had A LOT TO SAY and started saying it very early. We always made the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be part of his bedtime routine. When he started talking we would say the first part of the line (AKA Our Father, who art in…) and he would finish it (Heaven.) When he mastered that, he wanted to say it all by himself. He also really liked praying the sung version and I think that also made it easier to memorize. He knows those three prayers by heart but still gets distracted sometimes 🙂 He surprised us the other day when my mother-in-law told us that he said the whole Bless Us, O Lord at their dinner table. He hadn’t done that at our house, yet! I guess it’s more fun to impress Grandma.

  2. says

    Yay! So glad to see this post!! I have been looking for Catechesis materials and haven’t been able to find them 🙂 thanks. Do you need a lot of supplies to execute the manual or do you pretty much have what you need? Just curious if I want to invest in it at this time. Thanks Haley!!

    • Haley says

      I haven’t looked at the supplies for all the lessons yet. I know there are some things I need to order for the first section we’ll do before Advent. But it’s stuff I would need for a family altar anyway like a crucifix that stands up, etc. Lemme take another look at it and I’ll email you. If you don’t hear from me, shoot me an email to remind me!

  3. says

    I am so glad Benjamin is feeling better. I wonder, do you get accustomed to it? I’m not a general alarmist, but I find myself being ashamed (of myself) when I worry about even a small fever. It must be so hard to go through that, for you.

    We’re using the Christopherus Waldorf kinder curriculum for Laith and Bela this year, mixed in with Alpha-Phonics (classical phonics resource), and a lot of Texas field guides, nature notebooks, naturalist resources, etc.

    The Waldorf kinder idea really just structures home life a bit more. I hope for Laith, especially, to end the year with some more “common-sense” skills: putting away all clothes after he folds (he can do part 1), cleaning the kitchen alone after helping chop veggies (he can chop very well!), and even scrambling his own eggs, little tasks like that. Of course, there’s a lot of art with Waldorf, seasonal activites, festivals, etc. Laith and Bela will also learn to knit this year, and have their own small raised beds. We’re also really enjoying our read-alouds – Peter Pan, The Pippi Longstocking books, Bambi, Incredible Journey (again), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and more. We do a weekly hike in a state park near us, and that’s it. It’s not a lot, but it sure feels like it while running a household.

    I’m a pretty big fan of John Holt, the unschooling guru. I’m sure I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but I think his questions and some of his answers are important to the modern “schooling” dialogue. (And for the record, I’m not a Waldorf diehard, but I love their home resources and a lot of their educational ideals.)

    Your preschool sounds so fun for Benjamin. I smiled when you mentioned reading to him when he was an infant. For some reason, that is my favorite memory of Laith’s infancy. I didn’t really do it with the others (I wonder why not?), but to him, I read The Maine Woods, Herbs and the Earth, The Outermost House, and I’m sure, a few more. While he was in utero, I read The Awakening, Country of the Pointed Firs. It was so important to me, then. And our house was so quiet. 🙂

    • says

      I, too, have an affinity for Waldorf :).

      We love chopping veggies over here and try to make veggie soup for dinner every Thursday. Makes it easier to abstain on Friday with a big pot of soup around.

      Haley, if you want your son quiet for at least 20 minutes, buy this knife:

      I seriously give him this, a cutting board, a couple zuchhini, carrots, and mushrooms and he is in heaven. Helps me out and lets me get dinner accomplished!

      • Haley says

        Melissa, I am buying that tonight! He always wants to cut up veggies but you obviously can’t with a butter knife and I’m not ready to hand over the sharp ones, yet. This looks perfect. Ah! Love!

    • Haley says

      Amy, I’m getting more accustomed to it. I am very skilled at jumping to the absolute worst conclusion so the minute I hear him wheezing or coughing I feel just physically ill and imagine the worst possible scenario. Daniel isn’t a worrier and balances out my anxiety. It has become a little bit more just part of life and I actually sleep at night instead of staying up worried that Benjamin’s not breathing. When he’s having a bad attack, Daniel will sometimes sleep in his room, partly to help Benjamin settle back to sleep when he wakes up coughing, but mostly to reassure me so that I can sleep which is just saintly of him. So, yes it’s more normal now, but I am totally an alarmist. Not being ruled by my fear for the safety of my babies really is a struggle for me.

      I am drooling over your plans for the boys this year. Please tell me how you like Alpha-Phonics once you get into it. Using phonics to help kids learn to read simply makes more sense to me than any other method. I’m glad you mentioned field guides and naturalist stuff. Daniel sometimes takes Benjamin on hikes and they both love botany and wildlife. D has wanted to start a kind of naturalist notebook for B when he’s ready for it and we’ve been trying to figure out the best way to start that. Probably just drawing pictures since he’s not reading and writing yet. How do you do that sort of thing with the boys?

      And I love your “common-sense” goals for the year. That’s a great idea. I want to chat with D about what goals he thinks would be good ones to aspire to this year. I rearranged B’s drawers so that it’s easier for him to dress himself. And I want to start letting him do more in the kitchen. Today I gave him a sponge and asked him to wipe off the table and you’d have thought I handed him the moon, haha.

      And I’m not sure if your “why not” question about reading to babies 2 and 3 was sarcastic or not, but if it was a genuine question I can tell you the answer! Because you already had Laith and he was wanting you to read books to him, haha. I read Lucy a little bit of Peter Pan during those long nights at the beginning but since then she’s just heard lots of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Amelia Bedelia.

  4. says

    Very well put, I can see me doing this in a few years – though Henry’s already proving to be quite the reader (he spent almost an hour yesterday sitting in one place flipping thru four “new” books I brought home). We’re definitely Montessori Fans here ( I loved my time in a Montessori school and “follow the child” just seems so natural), but I want to check out the Christopherus mentioned above…. Sadly, my experience with “Waldorf” while I was in Oregon gave me the bent that it was all about painting watercolors and playing “fairies”, I know that’s wrong, but that’s the image in conjures up/

  5. says

    Haley – how kind of Daniel! (to sleep with Benjamin…)

    Yes, I was kind of being sarcastic. I just remember, with one, I could think of all of my favorite books and how I would read them aloud to him while nursing or bathing, and then with Bela, I was just trying to juggle it.

    We started Alpha Phonics a few years ago with Laith when he was 4. I think it was a bit too early for him, but I LOVE it. This year (he is 6), and I can tell he is much less wild and when I do not provide structure for him he provides it for himself. (meticulously building things out of wood and nails and tape and matchsticks and whatever else he can find, that really look like submarines and things!) That was a big clue for me, this summer, that he would be ready for more academic structure this fall. He will also wake himself up very early and head straight to the garage or shop, without waking me, to finish his projects. He is growing up. 🙂

    And sometimes he says, “I’m sad that I can’t read.” And then I say, “We’ll do it! You’ll learn!”

    Alpha Phonics is also used for adults who cannot read or write, so in that sense it is quite simple, not gimmicky at all, and very straightforward. I really love it. You should definitely check it out. When I say I love, I mean it! (Small digestible lessons, go at your own pace, very sound advice for teachers, etc.)

    Molly, yes, Waldorf can definitely be about fairies! But nor for us, here at home. I love the painting, the modeling, the handcrafts that you -as a parent- don’t want to trash immediately, the music, and the outdoor/seasonal focus. The benefit of doing it at home is that I can pick and choose. For instance, we aren’t using their reading/writing method because it was a little too crafty and silly for me. I’m just not that crafty and I wanted a classical phonics curriculum for that. I am keeping my 6 year old in “kindergarten”, which is a Waldorf idea but not only or originally a Waldorf idea. I probably wouldn’t have him in a Waldorf school, but I love so many of the ideas for us at home. The people at Christopherus are doing a really good job, as well. A huge theme of Waldorf education is home life, and that a school away from home should mirror home life in many ways, by allowing children to help prepare meals, by being slow-paced, by having a school garden, etc. We’ll see how it goes in older grades, but for the first few, I’m satisfied.

    Off to walk the dog!

    • says

      I’m glad to hear it! =) I really like the idea that home and “school” should mirror each other.

      I think the faerie thing is stuck in my mind because I ran into a few families that had difficulty letting go of the pretend and starting to develop the additional knowledge that should follow. Yes, it’s fun to believe that fairies or tomtens make it snow or help the plants grow, but by a certain time, IMHO, a child should be learning what really goes on in nature, etc. even if they still want to play make believe.

      We also lived in an area that catered to adults who didn’t really want to grow up either, so I didn’t get the best introduction to real Waldorf education – too many folks who thought if they bought pretty faerie toys and taught knitting that the rest of the learning would just magically happen.

      Though we actually had our resident barefoot “wood nymph” (complete with wings, flowy green dress and feathers in her hair) who played the pan flute down town while hiding in the shrubbery…. she was approx. in her 30’s or 40’s.

  6. Sarah says

    Haley, I just stumbled upon your blog and I love it! I am doing very flexible homeschool preschool with my 3 year old, and also doing a once a week mom-taught class for 3-4 year olds with friends. We will finish our lessons by December, and are looking for something for the spring. How was your experience with the Home Catechesis Manual for 3-5 year olds? Did you enjoy it? I am very interested in using it for my little ones, and possibly using portions for our group class as well. I would love any insights you have after using it last year. And how did it work with 2 other little ones around (which is my exact same situation).

    • Haley says

      Well, my plan to do the whole thing last year failed horribly when I was so ill with morning sickness for so many months. But we’re back at it now and I really like it. One qualm is that you really need to have a children’s Mass kit and they can be pricey, although I saw a post last week about how to make one cheaply that was really great. And if Gwen is in the exersaucer or the Ergo, Lucy will try to do what Benjamin’s doing and it’s gone pretty smoothly (each lesson only takes a few minutes and we just do one a week).

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