Planning a Preschool Curriculum

It’s natural for parents to have role models, someone who is an expert in a field or who has experienced something before us and shares their experience with others. These mentors are important in helping us as we experience things in life that are new to us. During my children’s early years, Dr. Kay Kuzma was one of my role models. I loved her enthusiastic and positive outlook. Always positive, her energy and knowledge were contagious! I read all her books and listened to as many of her audio presentations as I could find.

Recently I found my copy of her book, Living with God’s Kids. As I scanned its pages again, I was immediately transported back in time, a time when my children were young and when we were starting our homeschool journey. The words of Dr. Kuzma reminded me of the role model she was to me.

When it comes to teaching preschool children, she believes that they learn best through play. Having freedom to choose the activities that they enjoy the most and being able to spend lots of time outdoors are two of her core values. She also believes that children can be guided and given activities that will help them with their development. Giving them daily home duties, lessons from nature, and reading Bible stories rounds out their early childhood days. Play, chores, nature study, and Bible stories established the core of her preschool curriculum. Knowing that Dr. Kuzma has a Ph.D. in early childhood education, yet chose to teach her own children by such a natural method, encouraged me to focus my homeschool curriculum on the core values that she felt were most important.

Here is an example of the preschool schedule that Dr. Kuzma prepared for her children.

  • She wrote down the things she wanted her children to learn during the year.
  • Then she printed each activity that would help her children learn these things on a 3 x 5 card.
  • She thought up about 10 things she wanted the children to learn about on the first day.
  • Each day after that she thought of several more things to add to the list.
  • An example of a day’s list looked like this: 1) go to the library and get 25 books; 2) clean room; 3) learn telephone number; 4) make bird feeder; 5) fold clothes; 6) make a picture book and tell stories about each picture; 7) learn A, B, and C on the piano; 8) listen to a story about honesty; 9) make granola; 10) practice roller skating.
  • Each day the children would sort through the cards and choose which activity they wanted to do that day.
  • Cards for some activities that happened daily (like cleaning their room) were left in the pile each day.
  • The activities that were a one-time deal were put in a special box after the children signed the back of the card.
  • If the children were not interested in anything on any of the cards, she would ask them what they would like to have added, and then she would write up their ideas on new cards for them to choose from.

The cards are only a jumping off point and should not limit learning. Every effort should be made throughout the day to use teachable moments as they happen. Common sense and taking advantage of things that happen in life should be utilized.

Dr. Kuzma says that she got most of her ideas for activities by listening to the children express what they wanted to do or what they wanted to learn about. Other ideas came from children’s activity books that she had in her personal library. This method of preschool learning motivates children because it is truly one that follows the interest of the children being taught.

I found it encouraging that this method of instruction allows children to learn purposefully, but without forcing them into early, structured education. Instead of workbooks and copy work, her children were allowed to grow and develop naturally, learning about daily life at their mother’s knee. Dr. Kuzma’s approach allowed her to listen to the needs of her children and to establish routines and activities that expanded her children’s world and allowed them to learn much more than if they had been confined to a workbook each day.

She ends her comments on preschool education with this sentence: “If I can do it, you can!” Now, go take on the day!

[Information from Living with God’s Kids, by Dr. Kay Kuzma, chapter 4]

Early Learning Calendar Board!

Since my oldest graduated and my next two are in middle school, I am re-entering the early learning phase with my three-year-old! Over the last 17 years of homeschooling, I have learned so much about what works for our family and for each child. It’s been a lot of trials, errors, and triumphs, but I am looking forward to starting again. This time, though, it will be more relaxed.

I am a firm believer in waiting until a child is developmentally ready for formal education. I believe young children should have lots of free play time and time to discover their interests. Our three-year-old is one who loves music and singing. She sings all over the house and remembers words to songs very well. So, what better way to introduce her to topics than through song? She asks me every day what day of the week it is, so I knew she was ready to start learning the days of the weeks, months of the year, and calendar. Pinterest is one of my favorite spots to find great ideas, and it was here that I stumbled across this adorable calendar trifold board. The credit for this idea goes to Amber from her blog From ABC’s to ACT’s!

I love laminating fun little activities, and putting them on a trifold board was a perfect condensed way to work with her, so this was right up my alley! All of the printables were free. I laminated them, cut them out, and affixed velcro to the back. I then positioned them on the board and put the opposite velcro where I wanted them to stick. The headings, days of the week, and months of the year are secured with clear packing tape. I also made pockets out of two sheet protectors. Then I bordered the whole thing with fun duct tape. All in all the project cost about $10! She really loves it and sings the songs all over the house.

Her schedule this year consists of morning time with me and her older siblings, where she plays while we do memory verses and some poetry. Then I do her calendar board with her. After that she has free play, story time, and outside time, and sometimes does a sensory craft with mama. That’s it!

Early learning doesn’t need to be stressful. Keep it simple and open ended. Let them play and explore.

Resources:

Calendar Board Printables – Free

Trifold board and velcro were purchased from Walmart.

Sharing the Pineapple

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I lean back in my chair, with my new book in my hand. It is Better Late Than Early, by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. I loved their book, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, and I want to learn more. I want to learn more about true education, delayed formal study, character building, and how to apply it. Well, my kids provide adequate training situations…

One meal we had pineapple as a side dish. My son (2 1/2 years old) really, really liked the fruit. So, when he saw an opportunity, he took all there was. And, he refused to share with his sister (four years old), who also wanted some of the pineapple.

What could have been a dilemma, ending in a fight, became an important lesson in character building.

Obviously my son needed to learn to share. Keeping everything for yourself is not the way you should act. It will result in negative feelings, I explained. He made his sister sad. He needed to protect his plate, to keep his sister from stealing some pieces of pineapple. And, he was upset when she succeeded in stealing a piece. I told him sharing the fruit with his sister will make not only her, but also him, happy. He shared happily one piece and both kids smiled. Good for them!

Then, my daughter asked for more and my son stubbornly refused again. So…the lesson continued! My son went in time-out in the hallway, where daddy talked in a calm and clear way to him, explaining he needed to share and then they both could happily enjoy the pineapple.

In the meantime, I talked with our daughter. Refusing to share is not okay, but stealing the fruit from your brother is also wrong. Learning to resist temptation is an important lesson, not only for now, but for the rest of her life. Even though she is young, she seemed to understand, and patiently waited for her brother to come back from time-out. Little brother needed a couple of minutes to think, but when he came back to the table, he happily shared the pineapple with his sister until she wanted no more.

Oh, how I love these kids and their smiling faces! I feel so incredibly blessed with the children God gave us, with everything God gave us. Since we decided homeschooling was the way we wanted to educate our children, I learned about true education, delayed formal study, and the need to focus on character building. I have to say I’m still a newbie in homeschooling and I need to learn more, much more. But, I thank God for the lessons both my family and I learn, day by day.

Sense-ational Writing for Beginners

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We learn with our whole body. The more senses we use to absorb and manipulate information, the more likely we are to remember it. My kindergartener is at the very outset of his reading/writing journey. Those typical handwriting papers full of solid and dotted lines are still novel, but I know they won’t be for long. So, I encourage myself to break loose, teach handwriting with more than just a pencil, get messy, and make it sensory.

My second son, age four, tried desperately hard at the beginning of the year to do everything big brother was doing. We began by learning our vowels and vowel sounds with pictures, poems, songs, and written letters. A few weeks in, I added sign language to our alphabet lessons, and BAM, my second son caught on instantly. As soon as he could use his hands, it clicked in his mind. He’s kinesthetic.

Is yours auditory? Linguistic? Naturalistic, responding strongly to the great outdoors? Visual? Tactile? Spacial? The truth is that, to varying degrees, we are all of them. Use them all! The following are some of my favorite ideas for learning letter formation.

I take no credit for any of these ideas. As Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and these ideas have come from friends, family, and years of wallowing online.

1. Finger paint with pudding, shaving cream, salt, or sand. Spray shaving cream or plop pudding directly onto the table. Use a cookie sheet to contain salt or sand. Let them taste a little pudding while they write. Will a tiny taste of salt make the lesson more memorable? The unique texture certainly will.

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2. Try paint in a bag. Do you prefer the mess contained? Squirt paint (or even ketchup and mustard) into a large ziplock bag, and squeeze out all the air bubbles. Tape the bag to a window and let them use their fingers to write. One thing I love about this method is that you can use a permanent marker to draw the solid and dotted handwriting lines on the outside of the bag.

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3. Use washable markers or dry erase markers directly on the window. This is fabulous for those of us who don’t own a whiteboard. You could even use your own breath. Breathe on the window, make it foggy, and write in the condensation. I feel a science lesson coming on. And, you can teach them how to properly wash a window when you’re done — good home ec credit!

4. Convert a breakfast bed tray into a dry erase lap board. Any opportunity to use a variety of colors will help a visual learner.

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5. Go outside with sidewalk chalk. Feel the sun on your shoulders and enjoy the change in scenery. If you prefer artwork-free sidewalks, give your child a paintbrush and a cup of water. It’s fun to write with the water and it evaporates in a few minutes. I’m teaching a little perfectionist, and one of my favorite elements about some of these is that it takes away the eraser. You can’t erase sidewalk chalk. It forces him to accept the line he just drew and move on, continuing his practice.

6. Use a stick in the dirt. What a simple treasure that is to the naturalist child.

7. Wax sticks, sometimes called Bendaroos or Wikki Sticks, are colorful wax-coated strings that bend and stick to paper.

8. Get out the play dough or modeling clay. Kids can form “snakes” and bend them into letters, or they can flatten “pancakes” and cut the letters out as negative space. SO much fun if you have alphabet cookie cutters!

9. Food! Nibble letters into shape with strings of licorice or pretzel sticks. You can even make fresh pretzels and form them into letters before baking.

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10. Use liquid school glue on 3×5 cards and make your own 3D flashcards. This was our favorite last year. I wrote a letter with pencil, he traced it in crayon, and then he traced over that with the bottle of school glue. Those glue skills used a lot of big muscles. The glue dried into bumpy letters, and we used them for multiple games.

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11. The Leap Frog writing pad was a nice gift from a grandparent. As you use the electronic pen to write in the book, it responds with words and sounds and tells you where to start, when to stop, if you did a good job, etc. It’s good for the auditory learner and is a nice form of independent work when the teacher is busy.

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12. Another high-tech option is the Boogie Board LCD writing tablet. I don’t promote going out and buying the latest-and-greatest, but I do recommend looking around the house and viewing toys or tools with new potential. That was the case in our house with this item. Scribble away and then press the white button on the top for a fresh, clean screen. Remember those Dollar Store Magic Slate Paper Savers? Same concept. This used to just be a quiet-time toy, but now it makes handwriting class exciting.

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The God who gave us colors and textures and tastes and sounds gave us a brain that thrives on variety. Explore!

Exploring Homeschooling Methods for the Early Learner | Montessori

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I have to admit, writing about the Montessori method has been quite intimidating to me. It is a very rich and scientific method that is very precise. For something to be truly Montessori, the teacher (at home or school) MUST be formally trained in the Montessori method and use specific Montessori supplies. However, in this day and age, many families are choosing to provide their homeschoolers with a Montessori inspired education.

Some are drawn to Montessori by the emphasis on independence, others on the child-directed approach to learning, and still others by the vast array of materials and resources provided for even the youngest of learners.

In this brief introduction, I will by no means do the full Montessori method justice, but my hope is that I can share some of the most desired aspects for those of you who are interested in taking some inspiration from the pen of Maria Montessori.

A Brief History of Montessori
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who did extensive work with special needs children. As she observed children and read various educational philosophies of her predecessors, Maria began to develop a very precise and scientific approach to education that revolved greatly around the “prepared environment” and the idea that children teach themselves. By understanding child development and examining the way children played with different textures, tools, and materials, Maria developed various prepared activities, from transferring beans from one bowl to another with a spoon to sorting cards of animals and plants. During her life, Maria set up many “children’s homes” (or schools) all over the world where her theories were put into practice and found to be very successful.

Why Montessori for the Early Years
As mentioned above, Montessori methodology begins at birth. This means there is something from every age group through middle school. Where most educational philosophies don’t offer many exercises or activities for the under-six crowd, Montessori is chalk full of them.

Key ideas in Montessori are independence and giving children space to grow and discover, as well as respecting each child as a person. In a Montessori homeschool, a child would have furniture and tools that are good quality, real, and all their own size. Typically there is a shelf with prepared activities that teach a child crucial skills. One activity may be a tray with a pitcher full of water and a glass for a child to practice pouring. The idea is that the child will naturally do this over and over again until she masters the skill. She is not forced to do the activities, but rather can choose what she would like to do and for how long. Then, after she has experimented with an activity, the teacher comes alongside the student, showing ways to expand upon the things she is already learning.

Some of the key elements of a Montessori style education are mixed ages in one classroom (great for homeschool), large uninterrupted blocks of time to play and explore, freedom to choose activities, a discovery model vs. direct instruction, use of very specific educational materials and tools created by Maria Montessori, and plenty of free space for a child to move.

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Family
Like with any homeschool, the schedule is going to look very different from family to family. Part of what will determine a schedule will be how strictly one adheres to Montessori methodology. However, two non-negotiable components of a Montessori education are outdoor play, and large blocks of uninterrupted play and learning time. Below is an idea of what a homeschooling day might look like. In this case our family has one girl, Isabella, four, and a baby brother, six months.

9:00 a.m. – Circle or “line” time. Isabella and her mom sing songs, read a few stories, and see what’s happening with the weather for the day. Today Isabella’s mom is adding  an activity about skeletons to their activity shelf. She talks about the x-ray cards with Isabella and shows her how she can make x-ray art by gluing cotton swabs to black paper. They also read a new poem about bones.

9:15 – Self-directed learning time. Isabella’s mom leaves her to explore all of the things on the shelf. She is there ready to help Isabella if she needs help, but tries to give her space. Isabella immediately grabs the new tray and begins working on her skeletons. She shows what she is doing to her mom. Then she cleans up, puts her tray back, and starts working on a puzzle that is on the shelf.

10:45 – Circle or “line” time. Mom reads a book to Isabella; they talk about the morning and get ready to go outside for a bit. They may go to the park, ride bikes, take a magnifying glass and explore nature, the sky is the limit.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch time. Because this is a Montessori homeschool, Isabella is encouraged to help as much as she can to prepare her lunch. She is able to cut her banana and prepare a sandwich all by herself alongside her mom. Special care is taken to practice manners and courtesy. Isabella sets the table and helps her mom wipe the table and clean up when the meal is over.

1:00 – Quiet time for Isabella to play, listen to books on tape, or just generally be calm and rest for a bit.

2:00 – The rest of the afternoon is open to play. Likely there will be another chance to go outside and play, and the activity shelf is always open.

Materials, Resources, and Curriculums for Montessori
Unlike other methods, there are some very specific materials typically used in a Montessori classroom. Much emphasis is placed on the activity trays, and those will need to be stocked. One of the best places to find Montessori style lesson plans and materials is from Michael Olaf’s website. The North American Montessori Institute has also put together a curriculum for homeschoolers. Many people, however, find they like to take some of the Montessori activities and ideas and rework them, rather than following the Montessori philosophy precisely.

I will provide links to some websites and books that can be helpful below, but a quick Pinterest search for “Montessori activities {insert age}” can be really helpful too.

Is Montessori Right for Me?
Montessori is an approach that really encompasses all of life, not just your typical academic subjects. It places emphasis on independence, courtesy, and child-led learning. How do you know if Montessori is right for you?

  • If you like the idea of watching for teachable moments and making suggestions, but letting your child take charge of his learning, Montessori might be a good fit.
  • If you don’t mind preparing activities and rotating them out, keeping an eye on how your child responds to new things, you might love the child-led nature of Montessori.
  • If you like the idea of giving young children more freedom to play and explore, both inside and outside, while providing structure and stability, you might have a good fit.
  • Montessori might be right for you if you like the idea of using a well researched and scientific method of education in the home.
  • If you have a really young child and you want to enrich her life by providing developmentally appropriate activities, Montessori would be a good place to start.

How About You?
Do you use any Montessori methods or activities in your homeschool? Are you strict, following it to a tee, or do you just like to pull in Montessori ideas from time to time? What are your questions and reactions? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschooler, kindergartner, first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More

  1. Teaching Montessori in the Home Pre-School Years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock: An introduction to the Montessori method and how to set up a Montessori program in your home.
  2. Teach Me to Do it Myself by Maja Pitamic: A whole host of Montessori activities for children ages three to six.
  3. Montessori At Home Guide by A.M. Sterling: An introduction to using the Montessori method at home with two- to six-year-olds.
  4. Montessori on a Budget is a great website filled with tons of resources and ideas. It proves that using the Montessori method doesn’t have to be expensive and provides materials to help you implement the Montessori method in your home.
  5. American Montessori Society: Visit their website to find out more about the Montessori method and its founder, Maria Montessori.