Join me every week as I show you how me and my 4-year-old Certain Little Someone do simple preschool at home.
No curriculum, no pressure, but lots of learning!
Having come from a very traditional schooling background with an emphasis on classical education and a splash of Montessori thrown in, “unschooling” really isn’t on my radar as an educational alternative for my children. However, I think there is great value in being intentional about discovering what interests and intrigues them, and then developing those interests in an educational setting.
That’s why, after Bible, Phonics, Reading, Handwriting, and Math, we have a subject I like to call “Other”. It’s very purposefully left vague so that we have the freedom to explore different topics of interest throughout the year without being restricted by a topic like “Science” or “Social Studies”. Preschool is the perfect age to explore a variety of subjects because children are like curious little sponges, always desirous of soaking up knowledge about the things that catch their eye.
The possibilities are literally endless, and depend entirely on your child’s interests and what is going on in your life at any given time. Here are some ideas of topics we’ve pursued and/or intend to pursue soon.
You can incorporate holidays into the other subjects by choosing worksheets, games, and reading materials that reflect the holiday in question. But you can also choose to focus on the holiday a little more specifically, and learn about its history and the way it’s celebrated today. For example, Thanksgiving is coming up in the next couple weeks, so we’re going to spend some time learning about the Pilgrims and Native Americans and the First Thanksgiving. We’ll read some books, do some crafts, and focus on the quality of Thankfulness over the next week and a half.
Preschoolers are so curious about their world, and it’s a great time to take advantage of that curiosity and explore it in depth. Any number of scientific subjects can be taught at their level with field trips, books, movies, crafts, experiments, and more.
- Animals – Kids LOVE animals. You can group animals by their habitat (farm, jungle, desert, etc.), or by their classification (mammal, bird, reptile, etc.). Or you can just start with whatever animal in particular your child loves and go from there. Your child will love to learn about things like life cycles (for example, egg-larva-caterpillar-pupa-butterfly), habitats, diets, and other aspects of the animal kingdom.
- Weather & Seasons – We actually just wrapped up a “unit” (if you want to call it that!) about the weather and seasons, and My Certain Little Someone found it all very interesting. We learned about how the sun affects the seasons and weather, and about the water cycle. We learned about the four different seasons we experience in our hemisphere, and what kinds of weather to expect in those seasons. Since we were learning about autumn right when the season changed to autumn, we spent a good deal of time learning about why and how leaves change color, as well as some very basic scientific information about pumpkins and apples and how they grow. We also took the time to read a rather lengthy – but very interesting – book about Johnny Appleseed, which we both enjoyed very much.
- Plants – So much can be taught and experimented with regarding the growth process of plants, especially flowering plants and those that produce fruits and vegetables. Hands-on opportunities abound with this subject, so much so that you could probably spend an entire school year focusing on this topic alone. Even if you’re not a green thumb (Hey, I understand!), you can still experiment with growing beans in a jar or planting seeds in eggshells. And if all else fails, plan a field trip to a local farm and learn about how food is grown!
- Transportation – I don’t know about little girls, but both my boys are fascinated by any kind of transportation! Race cars, trains, plains, boats, motorcycles, trucks… you name it, they love it. We read books endlessly about them, but one of these days, I’m going to take some time to learn about some of the basic scientific aspects of how vehicles move. Like, for example, the fact that wheels are round. Or that planes have wings (and helicopters have blades). Or maybe why boats don’t sink (most of the time).
By “community”, I mean the people and institutions that make our modern world go around: firemen and fire engines, the postal service (my Certain Little Someone went through a stage where he was VERY inquisitive about how mail got from one place to the other), farmers, police officers, traffic lights, etc. Most of our education about these matters has taken place outside the context of our school time, but we’ve intentionally taken advantage of opportunities like visiting a local firehouse at their open house, and taking a ride on a train in a nearby city, or visiting local farms during special events. And, of course, we read lots of books from the library about things like garbage collectors, and construction workers, and police officers. Lots and lots. Those are pretty hot topics for little guys, apparently!
Some of my friends took the time during this past election season to teach their little ones the very basics of the American system of government and elections. Of course, there’s not a great deal a child this age can understand, but at this point, it’s mostly about introducing a subject to open the door to later learning. Other major events could include:
- The Olympics – History, science, math. geography, and physical education can all come into play here. My Certain Little Someone was SO fascinated by the Olympics this past summer; he even developed an interest in Michael Phelps!
- Natural Disasters – Hurricane Sandy, anyone? This is a great time to learn about extreme weather, as well as the importance of community and service to one another. Depending on where the disaster occurs, you can also teach some geography!
- Local Events – Perhaps there’s a bicycle race in town one weekend, and it piques your child’s interest. Or maybe an Irish festival, or the county fair. Each such event is a great opportunity to expand your child’s knowledge about his world, if you just take the time to explore it in depth a little more.
By “geography”, I mostly mean getting a taste of different cultures, and creating an awareness that there is a great big world out there outside the limited experience of your child. Preschoolers are only just beginning to understand that whole concept, and maps and globes will mean very little to them. However, they will be fascinated by the dress, food, language, and customs of different countries, and it’s fun to teach, too!
Arts, Crafts & Music
Little kids love to get crafty! And learning to use scissors, tape, glue sticks, paint brushes, markers and crayons are all important fine motor skills that need to be developed. And the crafts do NOT have to be extravagant. You’d be amazed by the simplicity that delights a child!
Music likewise does not have to be anymore complicated than listening to music or singing children’s songs. Learning about different types of instruments would be very interesting to most little learners. Hey, you can even experiment with making your own instruments!
Art can also be explored at this age. Don’t be afraid to take your child to an art museum (just don’t expect their interest to hold for TOO long!), and point out some different types of art, like sculpture versus painting for example. Children have so much fun learning about primary and secondary colors, and experimenting with mixing them in different mediums. Read a children’s book like “Katie Meets the Impressionists” or watch the short movie “Linnea in Monet’s Garden“.
It’s not as stuffy as it sounds. Truly, the English language is blessed with a bounty of beautiful children’s literature that delights, fascinates and educates. Fairy tales, folk tales, tales of imagination and fancy, rhymes and poems… the possibilities are endless. In fact, I would say that it’s impossible for any child to experience the depth of English literature available to them. A few categories or genres stick out to me as excellent ones to explore during the preschool years:
- Mother Goose – Rhyming is an important element of pre-reading development, and will aid in better reading, writing and spelling later on. Plus, you can have a lot of fun with these (frankly, rather odd) little ditties.
- Jan Brett – Jan Brett is my favorite current children’s author because she intentionally reaches out to her audience and engages with them. She’s got all kinds of activities on her website that you can incorporate into your schooling. Plus, her books are so full of amazingly detailed drawings and whimsical characters that it’s hard not to be drawn into the stories whether you’re a child or an adult. (Although, I will say that my DH is not fond of her books. He says they have no point. And he has a point. But I still love them!)
- Winnie the Pooh – I am going to be very firm with you here: NOT the Disney variety. Please. I beg you. The original is superior in every way: language, art, whimsy, and even humor. Winnie the Pooh has got to be one of my favorite classics of children’s literature, and I absolutely love A.A. Milne’s writing style. It might be a bit much for 3-year-olds, but my Certain Little Someone (who is 4 now) is capable of enjoying the real thing now, which makes me very happy.
- Beatrix Potter – As I mentioned already, kids love animals, and Beatrix Potter’s stories are replete with adorable animal characters who are very relatable to small children.
The only question remaining is, how do you go about teaching these subjects? Thankfully, that’s pretty easy. Don’t waste your time planning out lengthy lessons that will only bore your small child. Instead, choose one of the following activities to participate in each day on any given topic until you’ve exhausted your resources… or your child is exhausted!
- Books – The library is where it’s at! The librarians at the children’s desk are always more than happy to help you find books on any given topic at your child’s level of understanding. Thankfully, these days, there is a picture book for just about any subject you might ever consider researching!
- Crafts – A quick google (or Swagbucks) search will likely yield tons of craft ideas for any topic you desire. If all else fails, you are sure to find an appropriate coloring page somewhere!
- Printable Worksheets – Likewise, workbooks, activity books and online printable worksheets abound on various topics, especially more popular ones like animals and plants. Scholastic is a great place to start.
- Hands-On Activities and Experiments – For some subjects, this will be easier than others, but for the vast majority, you can probably come up with simple activities yourself. For example, when we were learning about fall, I cooked up a pumpkin, then cut it in half and we looked at the cross-section of the pumpkin and talked about the different parts inside the pumpkin. And of course, we ate some yummy pumpkin stuff! Remember, it doesn’t need to be complicated.
- Field Trips – If at all possible, go to where the real action is. Experiencing something is the best way to learn about it!
I could go on and on about ways to enhance your child’s learning by taking advantage of his or her natural curiosity… but I think you get the general idea!
Other posts in this series: