Preschool. A seemingly harmless word, but it can send even the most zen parent into a panic attack. I’ve been an early childhood educator for 10 years, teaching Pre-K through first grade, but I didn’t truly realize how stressful and consuming it is to make the “right” choices for your child’s education until I became a parent.
And there are so many choices we have to make. When should my child start day-care or preschool and where should they go? Public versus private school? What the heck are all these different philosophies and what do they mean? What’s the best way to ensure my child is ready for kindergarten? And then when you finally DO make a choice, you’re faced with competition, wait lists, and school-zoning roadblocks.
Before you get ready to pack up your family and move to the side of a mountain, grow your own food, and home school your child forever (don’t get me wrong, not a bad choice and one we have definitely considered!) take a deep breath. There are lots of great options out there, and if you don’t get into the preschool of your dreams or decide to hold off on preschool entirely there are lots of ways to incorporate the “nuts and bolts” of preschool into your days at home. And the good news is they’re (mostly) free, and you’re already probably doing a lot of them! If you’re ready to add some “DIY preschool” into your child’s days, it can totally be done with a little commitment and planning.
It can be pretty overwhelming to know where to start (have you done a Pinterest search for preschool activities!? So. Many. Pins.) so I’m here to help!
This first post will be an overview into those “nuts and bolts” that you’ll want to schedule into your child’s day on a regular basis, and we’ll dive a little deeper into them over the next few months. But I promise to keep it light, fun, and most importantly, EASY.
The following are things that any good preschool teacher will make sure are included in a typical day to help support a child’s development. And if your child isn’t quite preschool age yet you can still use a version of them, “DIY preschool” is regularly in session for my 17-month-old (child of a teacher!).
This is absolutely number one. If you do NOTHING else, read to your child, read to your child, and then read to them some more. As a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher I can not tell you what a difference this will make in your child’s ability to learn to read themselves. We will dive much deeper into making the most out of reading to and with your child, but make it a part of your day, and not just at bedtime! Mealtimes, cuddle times, in the car, at a restaurant, read a book to your kiddo! And give them LOTS of time to explore books on their own, too.
Ah, this is a hard one. As parents we can be hesitant to give our kids materials we know will be messy, but daily sensory activities are wonderful learning tools. Through exploring materials (like sand, rice, paint, water) with a few simple tools kids are perfecting their scientific thinking and math skills. Who knew splashing in water was such a profound learning experience? But it totally is.
Sneak in Math
Guess what? Your day is packed with opportunities to sneak in a quick math lesson or two! Snack time? Count out goldfish crackers as you put them on your little one’s plate. Cleaning up? Sort toys by color or shape. Making counting, sorting and patterning a part of your daily routine helps your child have a strong foundation for school.
A huge part of preschool is learning to be a responsible member of a community. It’s never too early to empower your child to help with simple chores and tasks, and take pride in caring for their space. Yes, it’s always faster to just clean up yourself (and that’s just fine sometimes too!) but taking the time to encourage your child to help will prepare them for school, where they will be asked to clean up. And your house will be a little more tidy. Win win!
I debated even adding this one, but it is so essential for development! It’s the easiest one to plan and include, and no doubt you’re already doing it! Independent unstructured play is always a huge part of the preschool day, with materials available for children to use their imagination through pretend play and time to build with blocks, explore, and create with art materials.
Get Out and About
Taking a class or two can go a long way in preparing your little one for school. A music or yoga class, story-time or swim class are all great ways to expose your child to the basics of participating in a group setting. Providing fun outings can also fuel your child’s learning, a trip to the zoo could be the starting point for lots of fun at home, from tigers in your sensory bin to new books at read and enjoy. And extending those fun outings at home helps your child make some great connections and discoveries.
Stay tuned for more ideas for creating an awesome preschool experience right at home in the coming months!