A Seattle mother herds children onto the bus to visit the children’s museum. A Redmond mother reads books about space, then helps children make “astronaut” pudding in a bag. A Kirkland mother teaches children about health as they make vegetable soup. These children are all learning preschool lessons at home.
With so many children now attending, preschool seems like an essential prekindergarten step. “Preschool socializes children and prepares them for the classroom structure,” says Elaine Bassett, who teaches at the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club. “A mom can’t socialize a kid by herself,” adds Bellevue teacher Sally Nielson, who runs her own preschool. “Kids have to learn to share and interact, take directions and express needs.” Issaquah teacher Melani Verner says that preschooled children often come to kindergarten with better social skills.
But parents can teach these skills at home. Whether they want to save money or spend time with their children, many local parents are forming cooperative home preschools. They take turns teaching, rotating the lessons from house to house. Children sing songs, do art projects, play together and practice following rules, just as they would in preschool.
To form your own home preschool group, find parents who are also interested in teaching. Groups should contain no more than six children. Decide when and where to meet, and how to rotate teaching. Choose a routine to make the time feel like preschool instead of play group, and to help children know what to expect when they meet in different homes. Decide whether to purchase a curriculum, create lessons following a theme or let individual teachers choose their own topics.
Some popular home-preschool methods
Written by Linda and Richard Eyre of Values Parenting, Joy School is a nonreligious curriculum that teaches joy and values. Each lesson is scripted with songs, books, crafts, playtime and snacks. Many parents like the format and easy preparation; others find the program didactic and overly structured. Joy School costs $70 per semester per parent, with a onetime $50 membership fee.
The Mother Goose preschool curriculum provides flexible lessons that can be prepared in minutes, with nursery rhymes, games, physical activities and art projects. Art supplies and other materials are included. A six-month subscription for six students costs $310.
King County Library’s “Books to Grow On” are perfect for home preschool. Each themed kit contains books, music and activity ideas such as finger plays, games, recipes, and science experiments. The Seattle Public Library will soon offer similar kits, titled “Begin with Books,” and Pierce County Library has five-book theme packets. Several libraries also list resources online.
Many parents create a curriculum based on the alphabet. For instance, a “B” lesson might have a bumblebee song, a bear story, a box playhouse and a banana snack.
Favorite children’s books can become their own curriculum. Children act out the stories, make puppets, cook food from the books or do related science experiments.
Any destination can become a field trip, such as the library, fire station, post office, grocery store, ice cream parlor or pizza kitchen. Preschoolers prepare by reading about the destination, creating themed art or practicing manners.
Parents order art materials in bulk and divide them into packages for specific art projects. Each parent gets a project plan with all the materials.
Lessons should incorporate a variety of skills, such as large motor, small motor, five senses, math, music, science, social studies, art, cooking and dramatic play. Playtime is especially important, since children learn so many social skills playing together.
Parents should also discuss these preliminary issues
- • Who should lead the group
- When to hold field trips and parent meetings
- What supplies to buy and how to divide them when preschool ends
- Whether to reschedule, swap or cancel lessons when a parent can’t teach
- Rules and discipline
- Snacks and allergies
- Emergency contact information and medical release forms
- Establishing clear policies, roles and commitments
Home preschool is rewarding for everyone. Children enjoy creating, playing and exploring their world. Parents appreciate saving money, learning to teach and watching their children develop. “It was hard work, but we enjoyed it,” says one parent. “I’d definitely do it again.”
Loralee Leavitt loves to write, read and spend time with her children. She has also taught home preschool.
Creative Resources for the Early Childhood Classroom by Judy Herr and Yvonne R. Libby Larson