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We decided a long time ago that we weren’t going to send our kids to preschool. It’s been a year now, and even though not everyone we knew agreed with that decision, I’m still very happy we made it.
Because the truth is, there are a lot of ways to learn at home! And preschoolers don’t necessarily need to be in a classroom setting to grow and flourish. They simply need their own inner curiosity stimulated. Children are naturally inquisitive, so it doesn’t take much to spark that sense of wonder.
However, I didn’t always know that was the case. A quick search for “homeschool preschool” on Pinterest can yield some pretty overwhelming results.
A year ago, as I watched my Pinterest feed vomit art projects and crafts and printables and carefully constructed units on farm animals and growing plants, I almost gave up before I even got started. Spending an hour putting together activities that would hold my daughter’s attention for all of–maybe–10 minutes isn’t how I enjoy spending my time, I won’t lie.
I needed a different approach to homeschool preschool, and I needed it fast. I needed to not feel tied down to a specific curriculum that spent too long on concepts my daughter had already mastered. I needed activity ideas that wouldn’t take extra time to prepare and that didn’t require supplies and materials I didn’t already have. I needed an approach that could be implemented on the fly.
In other words: minimal effort, minimal supplies, minimal cost.
You see, I know I have a tendency to dive too deep into projects before becoming paralyzed by overwhelm. If I wanted my homeschool preschool efforts to actually be successful long term, I needed to figure out how to do homeschool preschool as a minimalist mom.
So here’s what I did:
Before starting with homeschool preschool, I wasn’t a big believer in worksheets and workbooks. As a teacher back in the day, I taught at a classical school that was big on hands-on learning over worksheets. In theory, I really agree with that approach. In practice, I’ve gotten over my workbook aversion.
Because you know what? My daughter really enjoys her workbooks. At three years old, she was happy to spend sometimes more than an hour at a time sitting down doing page after page.
So I went with it!
Workbooks have been a great way to give our learning a little bit of structure. And they’re more than just a straightforward way to teach writing and math! They can be used to teach cutting and pasting skills, and I’ve even used them as the basis for science “experiments.”
If you’re looking for great workbooks for your kiddo, I love Gakken Workbooks. They’re one of the few I’ve found that make workbooks geared towards precocious learners as young as two years old. I also love that Gakken Workbooks involve more than simply filling out a worksheet: Many of their books include puzzles, art projects and paper crafts.
Another workbook brand I recommend is Kumon. Their craft book, pasting book, and cutting books are my daughter’s favorite right now. And if you’re looking for a great pre-K science workbook, this one has served us very well. You can turn each section into an entire science unit if you want!
This is one of my favorite “subject areas” of homeschooling preschool, because it literally requires zero extra work on my part. Or at least very little effort beyond what I’d normally do in a day anyway. I just let Little Bo help me around the house. Getting dressed, brushing teeth, cleaning up, “helping” me cook by pouring, stirring, and measuring. And when I cook and clean and do things around the house that she can’t quite help with, she watches, or she grabs her own broom and pretends to sweep herself. Modeling is powerful!
Learning life skills doesn’t only happen at home though. When we go out to the store, I talk to Little Bo, ask her questions, and tell her facts I happen to know. A trip to the produce section of the grocery store might sound like “What’s the name of this food here?… Do you think an apple is a fruit or a vegetable?… Which apple do you think will taste the best?… Let’s buy these two and see which one tastes sweet and which one tastes sour.”
A trip to the backyard can turn into a lesson on how plants grow, and a trip to the playground might turn into a (hopefully not very painful) lesson on gravity.
As a child, I never had a love for physical activity. My dad used to have a weight room, and when I was very little he would lift weights, but for the most part I never really saw regular exercise modeled as a kid. And I didn’t play sports, so P.E. class in school was always embarrassing.
After I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, physical activity became very important to me (although spoiler alert: Unfortunately, exercise doesn’t reverse or cure this type of diabetes). But it took time to learn how to make it fun, and it was a struggle.
That’s a big part of the reason I make sure to include Little Bo when I exercise every day. Eventually, I plan to let her try a team sport, but for now, “working out with mommy” is something she enjoys doing with me (like myself, Little Bo is a big Jillian Michaels fan). Ideally I would also have her get her energy out by playing outside, but we live in a big city, our backyard gets scorpions, and in Arizona, half the year it’s just too dang hot.
So to make indoor activity a little more appealing, we also utilize exercise cards for kids (like these) and I bought some foam letter mats to use for games of “the floor is lava” (Bonus: These are great to also introduce letters to my two year old!).
EASY ART & DRAWING
In addition to crafts and art projects in our workbooks, I also let Little Bo go nuts with paper, crayons, colored pencils, markers, water colors, and play-doh. My favorite markers are the mess-free ones, just in case Lolo–my two-year-old–gets her little hands on them, my walls and furniture are safe.
And because I hate the messes and clean-up inherent to preschool art making, I keep art projects (mostly) contained on a tray with sides, like this one (IKEA also sells plastic food trays for $2 that work just as well).
Play is an incredibly important part of learning and brain development that we too often overlook. It is especially important for young kiddos: It enhances creativity, imagination, dexterity, and brain development in general. Free play also enhances emotional growth: Kids use play to build self-confidence, reduce stress, release difficult emotions, and even work through trauma!
I am pretty picky about the toys I buy for my girls, so they have a lot of great open-ended toys–ones that can be played with in a number of different ways–that encourage imaginative play. They don’t have ipads, and I avoid most toys that require batteries.
READ MORE: Educational Gift Ideas For Preschoolers
Our living room is set up so that the girls can access and put away all of their toys by themselves, and I keep the toys limited to mainly that one room in order to keep mess to a minimum.
AND THAT’S ALL!
Now I can’t guarantee that the way we do minimalist home preschool will work for everyone, but so far it has worked really well for us. I get the flexibility I need to avoid overwhelm, our routine is adaptable to accommodate different ages, and I can turn everyday activities into learning opportunities that don’t cost too much of my money, time, or sanity.
If I can do it mama, you can too! Godspeed.