Another post that’s probably not that interesting unless you’re considering doing something similar.
Lily is about to turn four. I assumed that most three- and four-year-olds are in preschool, but that’s not the case, even in families with highly educated parents.
Percentage of 3- to 5-year-old children enrolled in preschool programs, by parents’ highest level of education and attendance status: October 2015. Source
We already have full-time in-home childcare for our kids (an au pair from Colombia who’s great with the kids but more interested in chilling than early childhood education). There is no low-cost preschool around us. The idea of spending an additional $250/week to put Lily in morning preschool (this is the low end) wasn’t appealing. Our city has far fewer pre-K spots than children, and we decided not to enter the lottery.
But I was also worried about her arriving in kindergarten at age 5.5 with no particular background in literacy and numeracy. We read aloud and tell stories all the time, and Lily sees other kids at the park, library, and playgroup. I thought we’d do something more like unschooling, where we could do math games and so forth during our regular play. But she hasn’t usually been interested in altering her usual play like that. So I decided to try out something more structured.
What we’ve been doing
For the last month, Lily and I have been doing “lessons” each evening. She’s really into Heidi right now, so I told her in advance we’d be doing lessons like Heidi does, and she was sold.
I probably spend about an hour a week preparing stuff. I enjoy the prep. Usually we do lessons alone in my bedroom while Jeff watches Anna, but on nights when he’s away we do a lesson with both kids (I try to set Anna up with a gluing project that will keep her busy while Lily works on more complicated stuff).
Lily’s way more into it than I expected. Something about the structured time works very differently for her than playtime, and she’s willing to try activities she wouldn’t try during normal play, I think because they feel special.
I really like the preschool activity books from Core Knowledge Foundation, despite my suspicion that this has something to do with Core Curriculum and I am supposed to be opposed to this. We rarely use the actual “What Your Preschooler Needs to Know” book because it’s mostly stories we already know.
The book is intended to last a schoolyear if you do five pages a week. We’ve gone through almost all of the first book in a month because Lily wants to do several pages a day.
For literacy, we’re using a lot of The Measured Mom and This Reading Mama, both of whom have masters in education as well as now teaching their own children, so I find they have solid knowledge of teaching literacy combined with experience tailoring it to individual kids.
I look through the library catalogue for kids’ books on a topic, request some books, and pick them up from the front desk one a week or so. We’ve done things like shapes, coral reefs while we were in Puerto Rico, and spring. If nonfiction books are held specially aside for lesson time, she’s willing to have them read to her even when she wouldn’t choose them during non-lesson time.
I like these videos.
We start by looking at the calendar, talking about any events coming up (when is the weekend? what will we do then? whose birthday is next week?) and singing a song about the day of the week.
Every couple of days, we introduce a new letter (using roughly this order). Lily decorates the letter with something. Here’s S for stars:
And then they go on the bedroom wall, conveniently covering my bad paint job over the place where the insulation was put in.
Then we do letter cups: I give her two cups each labeled with a letter she knows and a stack of pictures of things that start with those letters, and she sorts them into the cups. She doesn’t much like this, but it also seems particularly good for her learning the sounds, so we do just a couple of cards each day, which takes under a minute.
One variant she’s liked is deliberately telling me the wrong one and asking what it would sound like if lemon started with M (or whatever). I figure this is good practice at playing around with sounds, and she can now figure some of them out herself.
Then we might watch a youtube video about something sciencey (some kind of animal, how something is made, etc.)
We finish with a couple of sheets from the activity book. These have various color, shape, pattern, and math games in the first book and more stuff with letters and numbers in the second.
She’s especially excited to practice counting with things like coins and glass gems, which she normally can’t play with around Anna because she still might eat them. I try to get some mileage out of the lure of the forbidden.
Sometimes she’ll produce a skill she wants to learn, like buttoning buttons. But usually she can’t really generate these, and if she tries comes up with things like playing at putting her teddy bears to bed, which she already spends lots of time doing. So we’re both pretty happy with me coming up with almost all the things we do, and her occasionally rejecting ones she doesn’t like.
The challenge for me is getting the right amount of tasks she doesn’t much like. When a task is unpleasant or too hard, she moves into goofiness (climbing on me, jumping on the bed) as a defense. Currently my method is to go with the goofiness for a little while (enjoy the jumping and climbing), ask her to do a tiny bit more of the task, and then move on to something else.
- I expected we’d do fifteen minutes each evening maybe 5 days a week, taking breaks for things like vacation. In practice, Lily wants 30 minutes, every day. On weekends she asks for extra lessons. I think a lot of what she loves is focused one-on-one time with me, which she usually doesn’t get because Jeff is her default parent and I’m Anna’s default parent.
- She likes worksheets more than I expected. I thought of worksheets as the enemy, but apparently some kids really like them, and I’m happy that the ones are based on sound understanding of child development instead of creating cute pictures that adults will like.
- I thought we would use a very “child-led” method. Now that I know more about the difference between “child-led” and “child-centered”, I see that the latter is more what I’m going for. From my vantage point as an adult, I think Lily will really enjoy being able to read, and that it’s worth some less-fun parts to get there sooner. Rather than waiting for her to spontaneously be interested in learning letters, I’ll lead that process. But the activities are centered on her interests. E.g. her favorite letter activity is “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”, where baby (lower-case) letters fall out of a tree and the matching upper-case letters come pick them up and put them to bed. She loves rescue and care-taking play, so this works for her. (She invented the part where she literally tucks all the letter cards into my bed.)
- She hates drawing. The pre-writing stuff is going very slowly as I try to give her little successes with drawing a few dots, circles, and lines in different orientations.
We’re both enjoying this more than I thought. We’ve been able to keep it at a speed where she’s picking up new things but usually feeling accomplished rather than stressed about it. I’m excited to cover All The Things (we haven’t done dinosaurs! or the water cycle! or continents!) and I have to keep reminding myself there’s time.
It’s likely that one or both of us will get less interested in the lessons as time goes on. But even if it peters out after a few months, I’ll feel better that she knows a lot of stuff she’d normally get in a preschool.