Finishing The Peaceful Preschool

We finished The Peaceful Preschool a couple of weeks ago. It is a milestone I want to document. 

This year, I had a big shift in how I structured our days. My husband and I have talked about homeschooling since before we were married (both of us were homeschooled for significant portions of our school careers).

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This year I finally realized that if we were going to homeschool, there was no “break” in sight. What I mean is that most of the moms around me put their children in preschool programs for at least two days a week and then start kindergarten not long after. So there’s a break at some point. But if we wanted to homeschool, then we were going to have to find ways to live together each day at home. This helped me see our days as not just a season to get through but rather as a season that could be preparing us for what we hope to do in the future.

When I saw The Peaceful Preschool, I was intrigued. I love that it's a joy-filled guide for all sorts of skills to cover—pre-writing, pre-math, phonics, and practical life, just to name a few. These skills are given in a fun, nurturing framework. What sold me on the program was the creator, Jennifer Pepito, and her focus on simply enjoying these years with our children. I realized she wasn’t trying to make a program full of busywork to keep kids entertained. Rather it was a guide for making memories and special time with preschool-age children. And that is exactly what it was for us. 

The Peaceful Preschool is divided into twenty-six weeks, with one letter of the alphabet designated for each week. But rather than worksheets and Pinterest-y activities, the focus is on real, meaningful, and fun activities at home. Some people take two weeks for each letter, but we generally did one week per letter.

We started in February and finished in August. When we started, my son had no real letter recognition (however, before he was eighteen months old he had been able to identify a number of letters, but somehow this disappeared over time).

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As we progressed through the ABC cards, my son naturally picked up his letters, which was such a fun development to witness. By the letter M, he knew all the letters, both uppercase and lowercase. This was not my expectation or intention in doing The Peaceful Preschool, and I’m sure a lot of it had to do with readiness. But I do think that the regular routine clicked with his brain.

The structure of progressing through the alphabet did not seem artificial (as I had expected). Rather, it was a helpful framework that gave us books, activities, and tons of ideas. My son loved to point out how things we were doing connected to that particular letter, and we had so much fun doing phonics scavenger hunts and arranging the tactile ABC cards we made. We also planned field trips so that we had fun outings most weeks that connected in some way to our preschool. 

We planted a garden and painted. We went on nature walks and had bean-bag tosses and played pretend store. We re-discovered finger-knitting and counted ALL THE THINGS and cleaned house together. It was a fun six months and gave us some guidance during  a very busy, often-challenging season.

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Here are the three biggest things I learned:

1. I need to focus on the relationship for teaching to be successful. Some of my best memories are the days we spent doing preschool (his too!). He talks often about the day we spent sniffing spices during the letter A week. I introduced sewing to him during the C unit (we sewed a button like in Corduroy), and he discovered that he loves sewing. We spent time playing hopscotch or keep the balloon in the air, not to mention the chores we continued to work on. He also has his own version of finger-knitting now. Plus I have a new appreciation for the types of chores that are age-appropriate. All in all, my son saw it as really special, and we loved including my one-year-old when we could. 

This focus on the relationship means that we never worried about the academic side of things or trying to "finish" something that felt forced.

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2. I was in need of a rhythm to guide our days. Our current morning time developed out of The Peaceful Preschool. Almost every day, we have tea time after afternoon quiet time. This guide helped me find natural rhythms in our days and weeks. It helped me be more intentional in including my children in chores around the house and find some sense of peace in the eternal mental debate of housework vs. time with my kids. 

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3. Learning happens within a framework. I didn’t want each activity—or each week—to seem random. I wanted it to provide a chance for us to learn new things and drink in all the richness and beauty of the world. This happened because we had a framework guiding us (the letters of the alphabet). The glitter alphabet cards shaped each week. We made our flash cards on the first day. At the end of the week (or the last day of that particular letter), we finished by making the giant letter and hanging it on our wall . The book selection is also really fabulous. Even if we did no activities in a particular day (as was often the case), we almost always had morning coffee on the couch with our Peaceful Preschool books.

I've loved watching my son's focus develop and also learning how much I don't know about the world we live in. We started doing nature walks and keeping nature journals (not super faithfully!). We have tried to spend more time outside and develop a curiosity for the world around us.

I'm surprised by how much these past six months helped our family. We have found such a better groove for our days and weeks.

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So what’s next?

We plan to come back to Peaceful Preschool when my youngest is old enough. For now, we’re doing A Year of Playing Skillfully with my now-four-year-old. We are also doing some beginning phonics and a nature program. We’re having a blast! 

I'll always be glad I took the time to start and finish this program with my son. It has given us all a thirst to learn more, be curious, and structure our lives in such a way that these things become second nature. 

In Defense of Home Preschool (and other effort-full endeavors)

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We started preschool at home out of necessity. I needed to structure our days and just couldn’t figure out a good routine. Each day was filled with trying to calm a fussy baby and play with a toddler who just wanted to play all day long.

I know that toddlers don’t need to have elaborate activities planned for them. I know that they don’t have to practice letter recognition and that the best way to encourage a child to become a reader is simply to read. I know that kids learn best through free, unstructured play and time outside. (And we still do plenty of reading and playing and outside time!)

But I also love our preschool time and find that it benefits both of us.

First, preschool really connects with Liam. Our preschool activities show him that I care, particularly in the aftermath of a newborn. Liam gets so excited when I have an activity to go with the book we’re reading. He asks what preschool stuff we are going to do each day and loves cutting and tracing.

Now let’s be real: he doesn’t love any of these things for too long. But when I bring out my yellow polka dot bag filled with preschool stuff, he is delighted. He asks me what school stuff we’re going to do each day, and even if it’s not super exciting, it seems to mean a lot to him that I prepare for our days.

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Second, home preschool adds a little bit of structure to our days. Since becoming a mom three years ago, I’ve struggled to find a good rhythm for our days. It’s so hard, though, and I felt guilty about it for far too long. For the first year of our boys' lives, it seems that things turn upside down every couple of weeks between sleep schedules (or lack thereof) and teething and new skills.

Preschool is something we can do most days. Liam knows that when I put Walt down for his morning nap, we’ll do a little bit of preschool stuff. When Walt wakes up, we often do yoga together (which lasts five to seven minutes for Liam). We’ve started having tea after quiet time due to our studies of South Africa, and it’s another grounding element in our days. 

Third, home preschool gives us (especially me) a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes cutting and laminating activities is so soothing. It’s a different kind of work from writing or cleaning or mothering. And home preschool has definitely meant that some of our cleaning has suffered, but for now, that's a worthy sacrifice. We love being able to show Jonathan what we've done during the day. 

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Last, home preschool helps me be intentional and gives me a framework for helping Liam learn. One of my favorite aspects of home preschool is having a theme. In educational theory, one of the signs of higher intelligence is being able to make connections. When we have a theme we’re working on (for example, our recent study of Good Night, Gorilla has included both zoos/zoo animal and the continent of Africa), it helps me choose books, point out things during our day that relate, and help Liam connect daily life to what we read about in books. I’m often surprised by the connections he is able to make as we work on a theme for two weeks. This theme also guides me in choosing videos or outings.

But there’s lots of criticism of home preschool, mainly that it’s not necessary (which is true!).

In parenting, there’s often a huge resistance to anything that requires a lot of extra effort. So we make fun of people who make their own baby food or plan elaborate activities for their kids. We make up defenses about how babies can just eat food off their mom’s plates or kids need unstructured play for healthy development.

The thing is, the defenses are true. But there’s also nothing wrong with throwing the elaborate birthday party or decorating the perfect nursery.

Rachel Jankovic uses biscuits to explain the guilt cycle we moms often go through. The mom starts with a desire to make biscuits but doesn’t feel like it right now. She continues,

“I’m such a bad mom who doesn’t make biscuits. I am not as good as all the moms who are everywhere in this stupid world making biscuits. People who talk about making biscuits are self-righteous. I hate biscuits. They make me feel guilty. Jesus loves me! Biscuits or not! Jesus doesn’t care that I didn’t make biscuits. Home free! Biscuit-free!” (from Fit to Burst)

And it’s funny because it resonates so much. I often try to make excuses for not doing things I wish I could do. I think we all go into motherhood with a picture of ourselves as moms. And then when we don’t live up to the picture (often because the picture was unrealistic!), we end up making excuses to help us deal with our defeat.

When I don’t feel like I should do something, I am fine with other people doing it. But when I feel like I should do something but am not/cannot/don’t really want to, then I judge other people and make excuses for why their work is pointless. So the first thing I ask is, “Is this something I truly should do?” If the answer is yes (for example, learning to send birthday cards to family members on time or maintaining a decent standard of cleanliness), then I work on strategies for doing it.

But home preschool is not something everyone should do. Absolutely not! So my second question is, “Is it something I want to do?” And yes, I realized that I wanted to do preschool at home with Liam. I love our days at home, and he does, too. Mornings at home have always been one of my favorite things (probably the homeschooler in me, or maybe it’s why I loved being homeschooled so much).

Are Pinterest parties or fancy breakfasts something I should do? Again, no. And in this case, I don’t want to do them. So I don’t. But if you do, that’s awesome, and I would love to see pictures of your hard work (I mean that! I’m so fascinated by well-planned parties!).

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All this to say, if you want to do home preschool (or anything else you've been wanting to try!)—if this means you are going to have to put in more work to prepare or cut down on some housework or even have take-out a little more often—then go for it! It has been so good for us, and we’ll continue it as long as it continues to benefit all of us.

So even when doing something extra for our kids is not necessary--even though it won't harm them that we don't do it--our efforts will not be wasted. Adding beauty and thoughtfulness to our lives and the lives of our kids is always worthwhile. 

Note: We've been following the Simply Learning curriculum, which you can find for free here. We love it! And I share our books and some of our activities on Instagram here. You can also read about how we started home preschool.

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Adventures in Home Preschool

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Our First Three Weeks of Preschool at Home

I remember that the time after I had Liam was one of the happiest of my life because I started to relax more. I stopped worrying about getting everything done, stopped beating myself up, and stopped being a slave to the clock (which I had been my entire life up to that point).

So I resolved to have the same mindset after Walt was born (albeit with a toddler, too!). It worked great! Though I overdid it a bit the first few days, eventually I got back into the “I need to keep these tiny humans alive and just accomplish what I can” mindset. I actually felt better than I had when I was pregnant, and I discovered how much I loved having two kids to split my time (most of the time!).

As the hazy (fussy) newborn days began to lift and Spring came, I realized that we needed something to direct our days. I follow Lindsay on Instagram and saw her post about preschool.

The last time I tried preschool at home, we did ABC Jesus Loves Me, which could work great for some kids, but it was a lot of paper for us. I couldn’t find a way to make it creative and to make it fit within our lives, so eventually I gave up.

But this time, I saw Simply Learning’s Instagram feed and realized, “We could do this!” I chose a theme (construction), visited the Simply Learning Pinterest as a jumping-off point, and began pinning away. A construction theme seemed like a great start because Liam already loves construction, and we have tons of construction toys.

We got tons of books from the library, some old and most new. On Sunday night, I put out only construction based toys (and left his cars because there’s no way he would live without his cars). I made a sensory bin with rice, sticks, rocks, and a little bit of homemade Play-doh. He was so excited that first Monday! He calls it the “special bin” and seems to appreciate it is not available to play with all the time.

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I love the idea of a theme-based weekly preschool at home. It provides the flexibility I need, while also giving me a toolkit of great activities and books to structure our lives. Liam is really good at playing with me—he’s so creative and verbal. But he also would love to play all day and gets bent out of shape when I have to take care of Walt’s diaper or feed him. Our theme-based activities give us something extra to accomplish besides just playing (though playing is great too!), so it’s a win-win. Plus he actually is learning.

Last week our theme feelings because giving him more vocabulary about emotions seems helpful. One of our biggest successes has been gross motor movement games like these flashcards for construction or playing musical monsters with these cards (when the music stops, he has to imitate the monster’s face).

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Some of the activities have not been successful,but most require little time on my part, so that’s okay. I've learned not to let it ruin my day when he refuses to do an activity (or refuses to do it my way or the right way). After all, this is just for fun!

We do the activities and read the books when we can. Jon’s schedule has been crazy lately, so some mornings we have more of a formal circle time, but most of the time, we just try to fill in our circle time calendar at some point in the morning.

I think the biggest benefit has been adding some structure to our days. Liam asks for “more fun stuff” (meaning school stuff) often, which is encouraging. Sometimes he doesn’t seem very interested in an activity until later when he’s showing Jon what we were doing. It has made a positive difference in our relationship for me to have activities ready for him. He still wants to “just play” most of the time (which I totally encourage) , but he also loves these activities.

As we've been talking about sky and space this week, he's love learning about which clouds mean storms are coming. I bought some miniature planets (which were a huge hit!). We'll continue our sky and space theme through this week and then join up with the Simply Learning Little Blue Truck unit on May 9, which I am ridiculously excited about.

I feel better knowing we are working intentionally on skills like letter and number recognition, and I love having some control over our days. These activities often pull either Liam or myself out of a funk. And I  can't overemphasize how flexible we are about this; some days we do many activities while other days we may just read themed books before bed.

As I reflect on it, I have two main goals: to open his eyes to new ideas and to make him want to know more. He probably won’t remember dropping a homemade parachute off the deck on a warm April morning or laughing as we read How Are You Peeling, but I hope that our school activities will stick in his mind by inspiring him to want to learn more. And maybe, just maybe, those planet names won’t be quite as unfamiliar when he encounters them in the future.

I've made an Instagram account to make it easier for me to document what we're doing and include some in our yearly family albums. Feel free to check it out: @tinyschooladventures.

P.S. I highly recommend starting preschooling/tot-schooling at home by looking at Kaitlyn's website, Simply Learning. It is beyond amazing and not at all overwhelming.