Tuesday, August 19, 2014

25 Things to Do Instead of Preschool (Part 2)

Please be sure to read my first post (Part 1) on homeschool "preschool" so you can be certain to get "where I'm coming from."  Thanks :)  

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In my last post, I enthusiastically reminded myself and encouraged newbie homeschoolers not to worry about preschool.  Numerous books, personal experience, and conversations with many parents who have considerably more experience than I,  have assured me that I'm right about this.  If you choose to keep a child home from traditional preschool, but sit him down each day to practice letters and counting and the importance of community helpers, you might have missed the point.  I think this is especially true for families whose oldest children are the three and four year olds.  (Families that are homeschooling older children may have to take a slightly different approach with their preschoolers, and I will write about our experience with that next time.)  

Don't worry about letters and numbers.  Take advantage of the things that preschoolers have in spades - sense of wonder, curiosity, keen observation skills, and enthusiasm - because they are so very valuable to tap into and kids won't always have them in such abundant supply as they grow older.   Use these to your advantage.  Parent your preschoolers in order to nurture these invaluable gifts.  Don't tramp on a child's natural curiosity and enthusiasm for learning by choosing alphabet coloring pages, counting bear activities, and learning to cut along a straight line at the expense of forming a formidable little human who delights in the world around him and in time spent with his family.  

So what can we do to "educate" preschoolers to be awesome individuals who experience awe, investigate stuff around them, and are excited to uncover what's next to "know?"   

Give them lots of free time for play.  Play, play, play.
Read a variety of good books.  Read, read, read.
Converse with them.  
Ask questions.  
Allow them to help you with household tasks.
Don't talk down at them by using simplified vocabulary.  
Act enthusiastic, even if you're not :)  (I have to remind myself about that one regularly, like when we're checking out cicadas shedding their shells on trees.  I think it's so disgusting, but my four-year-old doesn't know that.  She thinks it's fascinating because I've managed to feign enthusiasm!)  

And mostly importantly, Model for them how to be a "learner": Explore and learn together.  Enter, this list.  

I've put a lot of effort into compiling this list of things to do instead of doing "preschool" at home.  These were the things I did with my two oldest boys when they were 3 and 4, and now try to do with my girls who are 2 and 4.
25 Things to Do Instead of a Preschool Curriculum at Home

1) Start a collection.  We had a "nature tray" for years that we would add to any time we found something interesting - feathers, the aforementioned cicada shells, cicada wings, pieces of bee hives, various pine cones, leaves, chestnuts, acorns, tree bark, pieces of wood we found that had been gnawed by a beaver!, abandoned bird nests, etc... sheep's wool we collected from the sheering table at the county fair :)  

2) Start traditions.  I've really enjoyed starting new traditions with my children in addition to keeping some of the ones I loved from my own childhood.  Annual traditions help define our family.  Some of our favorites are baking a "Welcome, Spring" cake on the first day of Spring, making chocolate nests when we find the first robin egg of spring, having a special treat to celebrate the first snowfall (like our First Snow Cake), going to the county fair on opening day (b/c it only costs $2 to get it!!)  (hmmm... we have a lot of traditions that involve dessert...)

3) Keep a "book of firsts."  Take walks and practice observing all that's going on in your neighborhood.  Use a day planner or notebook to write down when you spy the first crocuses of spring, the first day lilies that bloom, the first ladybugs, hear the first cicadas of summer (sorry I always mention that particular insect...), see the first leaves changing color in fall, first icicles, etc...

4) Find a pen pal.  Even if she can't write yet, your preschooler can send drawings, stickers, picture postcards, etc... to a friend in a different part of the country (or world!). I'm sure I don't have to tell you about the uber-excitement of getting something in reply in the mail!!  And don't underestimate the thrill of walking to the mailbox and dropping your own letter inside!

5) Speaking of mail, Get to know your mail carrier.  Our kids are always on the lookout for our carrier and chat with him about the letters we have going out, the packages of books we're expecting for school, about where the newest nest of neighborhood bunnies is, and where he last spotted the Hawk About Town.

6) Get to know your garbage collection crew.  Garbage day is an all-time favorite thing around here.  They garbage guys have loved answering the kids' questions about where the trash goes, how many times a day they have to unload it, and what was the weirdest thing they ever put in the truck.  The guys know our family pretty well now, and sometimes let my kids throw stuff into the back of the truck or climb into the cab to honk the horn.  Once we made blueberry muffins for them as a way of begging forgiveness for our garbage dumpster always smelling like dirty diapers.  

7) Look for scheduled building demolitions and construction sites in your area.  Construction-related stuff has always been a big attraction for us.  For Aaron's fourth birthday we packed sack lunches and drove to eat them at a demolition site.  We sat in the back of the van and waved to the workers who found it pretty humorous to be our meal-time entertainment. 

8) Go pick some food.  U pick farms abound nowadays.  We can't all live on a farm, so it's important to get to one when you can so kids get a sense of what's behind the food we eat. We pick strawberries, blueberries, and apples every year.  Around here, strawberry and apple season occur during the months when regular school is in session, so there are days when you can go and practically have the whole field or orchard to yourself :)

9) Ride public transportation.  Lots of lessons to be had there - purchasing tickets, map reading, planning your stop, how transfers work, what makes a subway go, etc...

10) Take nature walks.  Lots of them.  Visit the same park or beach or nature preserve in Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall and chat about what made your visit different from the last time.  That same place can look/feel/sound very different depending on the season.  Don't be afraid of snakes and frogs and toads.  Take pictures of the cool things you spot - turtles, chipmunks, hawks.  If you're really ambitious, bring a field guide and learn the names of some trees and wildflowers.

11) Explore your local libraries.  Where we live, the various branches of the library have very different children's sections to explore.  Some have reading nooks with bean bag chairs, some have quiet puzzle centers, one even has a little puppet theater.

12) Find a Mommy and Me story time.  We've gone to these at libraries, but also at book stores like Barnes and Noble, and even one at Pottery Barn Kids where we earned "points" for attending and eventually got one of our all-time favorite board books, Secret Seahorse - for free! 

13) Choose a recipe to make and go to the grocery for only those ingredients.  It makes the shopping trip a little more like an adventure than a chore and the cooking/baking more fun when your little one knows he helped make sure you had everything you needed.

14) Make your own playthings like play dough or puppets or pom-pom catapults :)

15) Perfect one household skill or chore a week.  Spend a week teaching your preschooler how to set the table, or dust bust the stairs, or sort the clean laundry.  

16) Encourage conversation with other adults.  Many kids these days, including my own sometimes, struggle with carrying on meaningful conversations with adults.  Intentionally model how one speaks pleasantly to others - asking thoughtful questions and listening attentively to answers.  I recall a time when we were at a local creek wading around looking for crayfish and we ended up chatting with some wildlife rangers who were checking the creek for lamprey eels.  The kids asked a lot of questions, and it was pretty interesting to check out their special water suits and gear (and such a relief to hear that they discovered no indication of lampreys in our waters because oh. my. gosh. the Google images are nightmare-worthy.  Don't Google them.  Just don't.) 

17) Get creative with field trips.  Trips to the zoo and museum are awesome and we make those regularly.  But one of the coolest field trips I can remember was an extended visit at the sushi counter at our grocer store.  The kids love sushi rolls and had asked me how they make them but I didn't know, so we went and asked the professionals.  Now we say hi to our "sushi friends" when we pass by on our grocery trips.

18) Stop by the local fire station when you see the doors open.  We used to live within walking distance of a medium-sized fire station and learned quite a lot from all the times we walked by and asked if we could peek inside and talk with the fire fighters.

19) Help your neighbors rake, shovel, take their empty garbage bins back from the curb.  Three and four year-olds may not always do a very thorough job, but it's the practice of neighborly helpfulness that's most important.  

20) Find a schedule of free concerts or other performances in your area.  For us, these often happen at libraries or local parks.  

21) Read three or four new books a week.  If you're home most of the day, you're probably already doing a lot of reading.  Keep it interesting by mixing old favorites with new finds.  Check out books during library visits or take advantage of free loans on your Kindle or other e-reader.  When my boys were younger we read a lot of seasonally appropriate books and always learned a lot (about pumpkins, snow, how to make maple syrup, rain, worms...)  These are a few posts I've written with age-appropriate book lists:  Here.  Here.  Here.

22) Listen to stories together.  If you're a regular reader here, you already know how much we enjoy audio books.  One of the benefits of audio books, especially for little ones, is they're great for passing time in the car or for background entertainment during coloring/stickers time and matchbox car play.  Some great audio options for pre-schoolers are the tales of Beatrix Potter, Winnie the Pooh, Jim Weiss' Greathall recordings for ages 3 and up, or fairy tale collections.  Here are two posts on audio books and stories that we particularly like.  

23) Make something from scratch that you normally buy.  A few years ago a friend bought us a great amount of lemons at a discount food market.  So of course we made *real* lemonade, something we had never done before.  This was a bright spot during a dark period where I was trying to teach the boys a letter a week.  It was L week.  No one remembers about the tissue paper mosaic L's we made or the L-word pictures we cut out of magazines (and how much they didn't want to do those things in the first place), but they do remember how to make homemade lemonade.  (Incidentally, this is the example I give when encouraging preschool parents to not focus on "book learning" stuff but instead to focus on opportunities for hands-on creativity and learning.)

24) Get to know your local wildlife.  We spent two months one autumn collecting chestnuts and luring squirrels closer and closer to our screen door for observation.  That was such an enjoyable bit of nature study that we all remember very fondly!  We've also done things like make hummingbird feeders for our deck and trap insects to inspect under a magnifying glass.  Simple.   

25) Grow something.  Flowers, indoor herbs, or the simple little bean sprout "experiment" they probably would do at some point in traditional pre-school.  Kids like to watch stuff grow for a reason - it's such a miracle!  Winter paperwhites are my favorite choice because they grow quickly and kids love to see the dramatic changes every day.

It's your turn!  What are your best ideas for encouraging curiosity and wonder, and providing wholesome learning opportunities for your kiddos at home?  

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In my next post I'll discuss how the preschool years look a little different for my girls, who aren't my oldests and want to do their own "schoolish" stuff while the older boys are doing their more formal school lessons.  


  1. This is such a fantastic list!! Pinning it for inspiration for the coming year. Our kids go to a Montessori preschool that we love, but I like to be intentional about our time together at home. Love the idea of starting a collection and a book of firsts!

    1. Thank you! So happy you can take some ideas from it! Thanks for stopping by and commenting :)

  2. Have you guys ever thought of composting? Have I asked this before? Its the only thing I can think u don't already do!

    1. I say we don't compost due to a fear of rats... but if you look around our deck and yard there is so much stray food and fruit peels and corn cobs and who knows what from my laziness and inattention to mealtime cleanup, the rats are probably already phoning their out of town friends to come for the party. (I just have to pretend like it's not happening so that I can still enjoy being in our backyard :) )

  3. Thank you for taking the time to put this list together - I has encouraged me to try to do these sorts of activities more with the kids. Some of these are ideas I hadn't thought of!

  4. I love this list! It makes me think of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood (that is a compliment ;) I LOVE Mr. Rogers!)

    I am going to start doing more of these things - even with the "big kids." Great reminders.

  5. Comprehensive list! Was going to add baking but see 'making from scratch'.
    Another idea I've never done but have thought about after reading 'Big, big, sea" by Martin Waddell is to take the kids on a walk at night (preferably a night with a moon) to see the world in a different way.
    Somtimes we go outside and look at the stars and moon.
    Preschool years is about looking with wonder at the world around us, seeing with their eyes.
    and thanks for the inspiration, my preschoolers often get the 'short end of the stick' these days


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