If you’ve decided to homeschool for pre-k, you might feel overwhelmed with options and information.
From one camp, you hear that early education is key to academic success, and how high-quality pre-k programs help to narrow the achievement gap.
And from the other side, you’re told not to worry about academics — just let them play and read books. Too much emphasis on academics will make them hate learning!
There IS a middle ground, I promise — something in between a traditional pre-k and the vast emptiness of an unstructured day at home with your pre-k child.
Because no matter what, we all want the same thing — to know that our kids are happy, and that they are learning what they need to learn to continue to be successful and happy.
This post will help you focus on the most important parts of homeschooling in the early years. I will walk you through the exact steps that I used to set up our pre-k homeschool year so that you can be successful (and have a lot of fun, too).
#1: Plan ahead
So I actually did this step on my own, muddling my way through it, and then I later discovered Pam Barnhill’s “Put Your Year on AutoPilot” class where she walks you through the same process that I stumbled across on my own, but she does it in a really streamlined way. I re-invented the wheel, trying to make the planning work out, but you don’t have to.
Here’s what I did:
First, print out an annual calendar so you can see all the months on one page, and start asking yourself the following questions:
- How many days do I want to “do school” this year? For pre-k, start with somewhere between 160-180 days. Note that some states have minimum requirements, but this usually doesn’t apply to pre-k
- When do we want time off? Mark off holidays, birthdays, vacations, and any other special events. Do you want to school only four days a week so you have open days for co-op, nature hikes, or field trips? Maybe you need a dedicated “holy crap” day each week, where you expect things to just fall apart unexpectedly. Cross off the fixed dates, and build in a few floating days off to give yourself flexibility.
- Review your calendar to check if you have any particularly long stretches without a break. Add in a long weekend (or more!) to keep yourself from getting burned out.
- In the end, go back through and count up the number of days of school you plan on doing. Are you happy with this number?
#2: Write down your goals
I highly, highly recommend that you spend some time creating a list of goals for your homeschool.
- What is your vision for your homeschool?
- Why are you choosing to homeschool?
- What would your ideal day look like?
- What are your top priorities?
- Do you have an educational manifesto?
Before you starting buying resources or sign up for a fancy boxed curriculum, make sure you’re really clear about why you’re doing this.
#3: Develop Your Subject List
After you’ve decided on the big picture vision for your homeschool, break it down by subject. List out everything you want to make sure you cover in your pre-k year.
Here’s our pre-k subject list to get you started:
- Nature study and outdoor play
- Phonics and reading skills
- Music & music appreciation
- Arts & Crafts
- Art appreciation
- Life skills (Cooking, Hygiene, Chores)
- Social & Emotional Skills
#4: Assess Your Priorities
Remember: you don’t have to cover everything this year! Be realistic, and focus on what’s most important. Rank-order your list so you have a guide when things get crazy.
Figure out the cornerstones of your day and write those down. What exactly would you like to make sure happens every day, no matter what?
For us, I want to make sure we:
- read books every day
- play outside
That’s it. The rest is just cake.
#5: Define Your Learning Objectives (optional!)
If you’re like me, you want to make sure you have specific learning outcomes in mind.
There are many resources out there for pre-k and kindergarten learning objectives. Check these out and make your own list of desired outcomes. Edit to suit your own child. If you need help, see my post about creating your own custom pre-k learning objectives.
This is totally optional — your kids are going to be learning whether or not you take the time to complete this step. But it can be useful if you have naysayers that you want to shut down, or if you need to submit a formal portfolio to meet state requirements.
If this is going to stress you out, or if you will freak out at the end of the year if one of these goals aren’t meant, then don’t worry about it. It’s a guide only.
I think part of coming to love homeschooling (or anything in life, really) is coming to accept that all the classes and books and guides and checklists out there are just TOOLS. Resources to help you. If they aren’t helping, then *shrug* move on.
#6: Find Your Resources
Go down your list of subjects, and find a resource for each item. There are so many options, and it’s totally fine to pick one single resource that covers multiple subjects. Some of my favorites for this age are Torchlight, Blossom & Root, and Mother Goose Time.
Review the scope and sequence of each resource and match it to the learning objectives you developed in Step #5. Are they a good match? Do you need to supplement?
Don’t forget that toys, field trips, puzzles, and games also count! For example, I know that my daughter needs to build her spatial reasoning skills, so I made sure to purchase a few new puzzles that matched our core curriculum themes.
You can see the full list of resources we used for this year here.
#7: Prep Your Resources
I like to plan out six weeks in advance. This is enough planning so that I know what I’m doing, but not so far that I lose flexibility in case we want to go on a last-minute vacation or if someone gets sick for a week.
Let’s take math for example. I review my math learning objectives, and then I check the table of contents of my math book and figure out which units we need to study to meet those yearly objectives.
Then I divide the number of lessons by the number of days we plan to do school. I determine that we need to study math 3-4 days a week to complete all the lessons related to my learning objectives. Divide that again and I know how many lessons to cover in the first six weeks.
Next, I quickly skim the lessons that we’ll cover in our first six weeks. I purchase any additional materials we need to complete the lessons, and I print out the worksheets we’ll be completing. The worksheets are put into a folder on my homeschool shelf, and the math materials go into the math basket.
Now, each day that we plan to study math, I just grab our math basket and the folder of worksheets, and open up our math book to that day’s lesson.
If we get behind because my daughter is struggling, or because something comes up (spontaneous trip to the beach!), I just put a bookmark in the lesson and come back to it when we can. I’ve only planned out six weeks, and I have a built-in break to re-assess and adjust my plan as needed before moving on to the next six-week block.
#8: Put the planner DOWN!
For me, sheduling and planning are a coping skill for when I’m feeling anxious about something — as if I can just do enough research to figure out the RIGHT curriculum, or the BEST phonics program, or the PERFECT planner.
It doesn’t exist.
Seriously, even if you hired a graphic designer and educational specialist and personal tutor — it wouldn’t be perfect.
And what works this week might not work next week.
What works when the weather is good might not work when winter sets in (or rainy season for us down in Guatemala, where we don’t have traditional winter but instead daily deluges for half the year).
At a certain point, you just have to jump in and start homeschooling. It’s the only true way to get a feel for the resources and for what works for your child.
Be creative and flexible — the ability to change things up and adjust on the fly are one of the best parts of homeschooling.
#9: Focus on the core subjects
When we’re having one of those days, I focus on our core subjects — making sure we’re reading together and going outside.
If everyone is crying, then I pile them (still crying) into the stroller and go to the park. We run around until we’re all in a better mood.
If we’re having day with meltdown after meltdown, I drop whatever we’re doing and pull out a stack of books and a snack (emergency M&Ms, anyone?).
Usually one or the other strategy is enough to re-set our day, and we can move forward.
And if we never get to the math book? At least we read books and moved our bodies and got fresh air. That’s a good day in my book.
#10: When in doubt, go back to the basics
If the magic has started to go out of homeschooling, it’s time for a change.
It’s a hard concept to internalize for many people coming out of a traditional school system themselves, but there is no reason that learning and school have to be drudgery. White-knuckling through the math book won’t make your kid learn it any better — white-knuckling doesn’t work for diets, it doesn’t work for a bad relationship, and it doesn’t work for school.
(Oh, it might work for a little while. But it’s never sustainable, and very rarely is it good for you in the long-term.)
If things aren’t working week after week, ease up. Remember your reasons for homeschooling.
Focus on the things that are working for you right now. Are your reading lessons going miserably, but read-alouds in bed feel good? Do more read-alouds, and drop the phonics! It doesn’t have to be for forever, but taking a few weeks off to take the pressure off will save you heartache in the long run. I promise.
Is your child fighting you tooth and nail over every single lesson? Maybe it’s time to drop the books and spend a few weeks doing nature study outdoor every day. Sure, pack a few books in case inspiration strikes, but don’t make it the emphasis.
Is it too cold to go out, and you can’t bear to do another art project? (If glitter spills over my kitchen floor one more time…) Try a week of cooking lessons — make something delicious and then enjoy picnics and books on the dining room floor.
Go back to the list you made at the very beginning — what is your vision? How do you want your homeschool to feel? What are your non-negotiables?
This is a really hard concept to internalize. Many of us have been taught that school is boring, and if learning is too much fun, we must be doing it wrong.
It really can be all fun and games.