I wrote a fairly extensive post on homeschooling for preschool back in 2009. An even more extensive comment that was made on my post a couple months ago brought it back to my attention. It was interesting to re-read my post six years later and see how my approach to homeschooling for preschool has evolved.
My overall approach to literacy education is very similar. I still swear by Diane McGuinness’ book Why Our Children Can’t Read And What We Can Do About It. I am still using The Phonics Handbook by Sue Lloyd. This time around, I am photocopying the page for each letter and having Simon color it, since he doesn’t mind coloring (Peter really disliked it). We’re doing slightly different practice activities, such as tracing Montessori sandpaper letters and playing Go Fish and memory/matching games with index cards that I wrote the letters on. One thing I am doing differently this time is teaching uppercase and lowercase letters together; with Peter, I focused on lowercase letters, but then when he started reading he had to go through a period of learning which uppercase letters corresponded with which lowercase letters. I’m taking it slow on introducing letters/sounds, going at a pace of one a week, in the order that they are presented in the Jolly Phonics program. This gives us time to do the Jolly Phonics story/action/coloring page and two art projects per letter, and it’s not an overwhelming pace for Simon, who was 3 1/2 when we started. Because we took several weeks off here and there, we’re about halfway done with the alphabet (I know there are more sounds than letters, but I’m focusing on the most common sound associated with each letter for now, and we’ll get to digraphs and alternate pronunciations later). We practice segmenting and blending orally a couple times a week; Simon can identify the first sound in a word pretty reliably, but has trouble with the last (or any other) sound, and he doesn’t have the hang of blending yet. It will come.
I have added the book Alphabet Art by Judy Press. Even though I don’t do the rhymes and fingerplays in the book because they focus on letter names instead of sounds, this book has still been a great resource. Every letter has an art project to make the capital and lowercase letter out of cut and decorated paper plates; for example, M has macaroni glued on and S is “silver” (wrapped in aluminum foil). Each letter also has an art project to make an animal that starts with that letter. I have been impressed that all of the projects have been relatively simple and use inexpensive materials that I mostly already have around the house, like yarn, paper bags, aluminum foil, paper muffin cups, and pipe cleaners. Simon is getting good fine motor skills practice cutting the letters out of paper plates and doing the gluing, etc. It’s good exposure to the letter shapes, and he enjoys playing with the various animals that we’ve made. For me, it’s been motivating to have appropriately-scaled art projects all planned out; I always felt like I should be doing more creative stuff but didn’t have the energy to plan it.
I chuckled when I read that I had written, “I’ve had a hard time finding decent simple phonics readers at a reasonable price.” I really struggled to find appropriate very-beginning phonics books; most “phonics” books use too many irregular/more advanced words, and most have very little text and rather dull stories. I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found Little Stories for Little Folks. For less than $1 per story booklet, the forty-five stories in this program progress from extremely simple (only two short vowel sounds are used in the first story) to what is easily second-grade-level text. They are broken up into four levels; when Peter went through them, we had a family celebration with ice cream every time he finished a level. They don’t dovetail perfectly with Jolly Phonics; that’s why I’m skipping digraphs like “ch” and just teaching Simon the most common sound for each letter. Little Stories for Little Folks develops basic reading fluency before introducing digraphs and other more complicated phonics. I found them a great value, and they helped Peter become a very strong reader (at the beginning of this school year, in 5th grade, he tested at a high school reading level). Note that Little Stories for Little Folks is an unapologetically Catholic program. If you’re not Christian, then you might not be comfortable with the content. If you’re a non-Catholic Christian, you might be okay with using it, knowing that you would have to explain a few Catholic vocabulary words and/or concepts (such as the rosary and the fact that priests are called “Father”). As an aside, the person who commented on my previous post made me aware of these free phonics readers based on the Jolly Phonics program. They look like a wonderful resource. I don’t plan to use them for Simon, however, because I want him to learn to read from paper, not from a screen (I know they can be printed, but that would be an extra expense). I already have Little Stories for Little Folks and I like it, so I will use it again.
Math is the area that I’m doing completely differently with Simon than I did with Peter. I started Peter in Saxon Math K, then we did some Singapore Earlybird math, and then I came across an incredible program called RightStart Math. This program is hands-on, very visual, and focuses on building mathematical concepts; I wish I had learned math this way. Because Peter had already done two years of kindergarten math before I found RightStart, I started him in RightStart level B. With Simon, I’m skipping the other programs and starting him in RightStart level A. Level A is technically a kindergarten program, and we started when Simon was 3 1/2, but I am taking it very slowly for now and he is keeping up (Peter did Saxon Math K full-speed starting at age 3 1/2, but I also think Saxon Math K was less intellectually challenging). We have been doing one lesson a week, repeating so that we’re doing the same lesson two weeks in a row. Simon’s 4th birthday is next month and after his birthday, I’m going to bump up to one lesson a week without repeating (the timing is not just because of his birthday but also relates to finishing the introductory sequence of lessons; I wanted to make sure he developed a solid understanding of them).
Read-aloud is still a big part of homeschool preschool. We’ve mostly been reading picture books from the library, but we have recently started on some of the books from Sonlight’s pre-kindergarten list. Simon was enchanted by the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories and is now enjoying the Uncle Wiggly stories. I love how older children’s books have sweet, innocent stories and rich vocabulary; they are so different from modern books written for children.
When I was homeschooling Peter for preschool, I was actually afterschooling him. I was working full-time and Peter attended a center-based preschool part-time while my husband was in school. This time around, Simon is home with me full-time. I am making an effort to do things with him (like crafts) that I didn’t do with Peter because I figured that the preschool Peter went to would pick up the slack. Every month I print out a blank calendar and put it on the fridge. Every day, Simon and I color the day’s square following a pattern (this month, it’s orange-orange-blue-blue). We have our Montessori room and we do Montessori activities a couple times a week. I feel like we should do Montessori more often and I would if Simon were more independent, but he always wants me in the room with him, usually wants to talk to me about what he’s doing, and often wants me to do it with him. It’s a great learning experience for him, but it means I get nothing else done for an hour or more, and I can’t always afford that. I try to incorporate some French into every day, whether it’s responding to him in French, playing a game, discussing a book, or just watching tv. In addition to our weekly grocery shopping trip on Mondays, we have been going ice skating on Wednesdays, sometimes to story/craft time at the library on Thursdays, and to gymnastics lessons on Fridays. Of course, other things pop up here and there too, like taking Peter to the dentist. I try to have at least one day a week where we don’t leave home; those are the days that I get (sort of) caught up on housework.
I’ve deliberately taken a flexible approach to scheduling this year and it has been going well. I suspect that next year will be more challenging, with the addition of a baby to the household, but if I remain flexible and focus on what’s most important, I think we can make it work.