Going in to Kindergarten year with my oldest (2019-2020), I used The Good & the Beautiful Language Arts program to teach my child to read. This for the most part worked, though it became clear towards the end of it that his reading level was more advanced than his spelling level. That, combined with all the extra stuff in The Good & the Beautiful Language Arts program that we constantly were skipping, I decided to search for something different. ((By “extra stuff” I mean that The Good & the Beautiful Language Arts is intentionally designed to go well beyond reading and spelling. It includes literature, poetry, memorization, and more)).
I had heard about All About Learning for several years but it can be so hard to purchase a curriculum you haven’t seen in action! It is a lot of money, and what if you don’t like it or it’s just not working with your child? I can honestly say after using this for several months I totally understand what the hype is about and I am so happy we made the switch!
Here are a few of my favorite things about All About Reading:
Lessons are clear & focused for the child.
Lessons are fun! There are lots of engaging activities utilized and the illustrations and stories are wonderful.
A multi-sensory approach is used so I know my kids will take part fully in their leaning and maintain excitement for the lessons.
It’s truly open-and-go! Lessons are easy-to-follow and require minimal prep for the educator.
I’m not left wondering if I’m forgetting something or doing it wrong!
One important note is that in both Level 1 and Level 2 I have noticed one “lesson” in the curriculum can be quite long. I strive for short lessons with my children so often it may take us more than one day to complete one “lesson” in their curriculum book. The All About Reading curriculum does suggest spending no more than 20 minutes per day on these lessons, and that’s what we aim for — a set time or a feel instead of trying to complete a whole lesson and check a box.
Which Specific Curriculum We Use in Our Homeschool
We also use the coordinating Letter Tiles App for all levels which we will use on our iPad. The app makes switching between programs super easy, plus requires less space than having physical letter magnet tiles.
I also purchased the All About Reading Review Box to store all the phonogram cards and word cards. Since I have two kids with two separate curriculums in use, this box has proven super helpful in my organization!
Note: All About Reading Level 1 is for our Kindergartener, and I approach this in a gentle and interest-led way. She has shown interest in reading but also this is a challenge! I am in no rush to get through this whole curriculum this school year or have a set completion date in mind. I want her to gain confidence and continue to learn in a way that she enjoys.
Note that we are on Lesson 10 and have been doing school this year for 12 weeks. This is to say: we spread out these lessons over more than one day. And, I often incorporate reading activities for my Kindergartener that do not utilize this curriculum.
Other Resources We Use for Teaching How to Read
The All About Learning curriculum contains everything you need to teach your child to read and continue to expand on that learning.
That said, we also have a couple things I occasionally incorporate that help build in some phonological awareness:
For handwriting at this age I keep it pretty relaxed. I do not require copywork but if my child wants to that’s fine. I do have the Level K Handwriting book from The Good & the Beautiful as well. We have also used Handwriting Without Tears.
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*Note that this book is a very basic introduction to fish with sparse text. However, the last few pages provide much more detail that will be of interest to older children.
Swimmer by Shelly Gill is a stunning and excellent narrative that includes detailed information about the life cycle of salmon, anatomy of salmon, and different salmon species on the outside illustrated frames of the core story. You can read through the narrative (and learn about indigenous culture in a beautiful way) and then revisit some of the nonfiction information provide throughout when you are done. I highly recommend this book for any Salmon lesson!
Also note — several of the books above have repeat information but I wanted to provide several options as I know books can be hard to come by either to purchase or find at your library.
If you want to add in math & literacy to your Salmon Study, there is a great free resource from 123 Homeschool 4 Me. I also have a free Salmon Count Lacing Card set in my Free Printables section. My Anatomy of a River System would also pair nicely with this (also in the Free Printable section).
Scale Print Foil Fish Craft How-To
Cut a piece of cardboard in the shape of a salmon. I printed out a coloring page first as a pattern to trace.
Have your child wrap the cardboard fish in aluminum foil.
Cut small pieces of bubble wrap (you don’t need much!) to use as your stamper.
You can either paint the bubble wrap directly or spread a small amount of paint first on a paper plate to dip the bubble wrap in.
Press the bubble wrap with paint on to your foil fish. Try not to move around, just simply stamp it. Repeat until the areas you want are covered. The bubble wrap on foil will look like fish scales.
You can view inside looks at a number of these books on this list on my YouTube Channel!
Be sure to subscribe to my Channel if you want to see more video inside looks of books like this!
About These Books
You can read my personal reviews of many of these books on Amazon. Note that I have included a range of style of nonfiction books. Some are encyclopedias used for reference, some are animal atlases, some are based on a specific feature (e.g. migration, animal bones, nocturnal animals), and some are narratives with educational information about animals inherent to the story.
**Note: all of these lists above include fiction, not just nonfiction. Also, I continue to add to all of these lists as new books are published.
Most of these animal nonfiction books are aimed at elementary-aged children; however, I think Kindergarten-aged children and younger will certainly enjoy many of these as well!
If you are interested in an actual field guides for animals, I recommend the Peterson Guides (we like the Mammals and Reptiles & Amphibians) or the Sibley Guide to Birds. For field guides, though, I generally recommend finding as localized of a guide as possible for your specific region.
I have a child in First Grade (age 6, nearing 7) and one in Kindergarten (age 5). Because these two are so close in age many of the “school” things and rhythm-based things we do naturally fit with both of them. We have had this rhythm established for awhile now. I did not just start this with this school year.
Also note that we gradually worked in to this rhythm over time. It wasn’t like one day I just established all of these things. In fact, the Quiet Time has been established since they were babies! I just gradually transformed that afternoon nap into quiet time when they were ready.
Before we get in to the details I feel it’s important to say that by sharing my daily rhythm I am not trying to come across as an expert. I am in the earliest phase of homeschooling and still learning, making mistakes. I’m constantly changing and adapting. In fact, I’m thinking about switching up one thing in particular about this rhythm as I write this.
I am happy to share what we do in detail, but please know that I do so knowing this won’t exactly fit any other family. That said, I personally find it helpful to read how other families do this and take bits and pieces and incorporate what I feel is appropriate to our family. I do sincerely hope in some way this is helpful and encouraging. Please feel free to ask any me questions.
On Daily Rhythm
I Do Not Really Care About the Clock
I purposefully use the word “rhythm” not “schedule” even though you see specific times written out. I truthfully do not care about the time markers. I am not really looking at the clock or setting a timer. I more wanted to write the times out to get a sense of how long we spend on a variety of things, versus when they happen.
My children also do not care about the clock. They respond more to rhythmic cues rather than specific times.
Rhythm vs. Schedule
I do not like the word “schedule” because I do not want to insinuate that we are trying to recreate the public school environment at home. That said: many homeschoolers choose to do this! By saying we choose not to keep a set schedule I am not saying I think keeping an exact schedule is a bad idea. In fact, my kids are still so young and I can see the value in having a little more strict set “school time” than we do now when they are older. But, who knows! I will figure it out when we get there.
Also, I think with finding a good rhythm there will always be a balance of “living in the moment” versus providing some structure. Yes, we want to leave room for our children to be children. We want to leave room for the rabbit-trails, or provide free space for those sparks to ignite in their own minds and heart. But, it is no surprise that they also respond so well to structure and gentle cues. Like I said: it’s a balance.
Education is Life
Everything we do, encounter, experience together is education. Education is not a schedule to manage, curriculum to complete, or lists to check off. So when I say to my kids, “It is time to do some school,” I also make sure to regularly show them how they are truly learning all the time and not just when we open a curriculum book at the table.
The Joy of Whatever
Okay, so let me explain what I mean by The Joy of Whatever. You’ll notice this occurs multiple times in the daily rhythm sheet I wrote out. This is for all the hours in a day we are literally doing “whatever.” There is no plan in motion. Things happen. Sometimes it is made of rainbows, sometimes it is made of weeping.
Here are some examples:
Go outside with a purpose
Go outside with no purpose
Unstructured play (mostly this)
Puzzles and games
It also could happen that during this “whatever” time I add in a random prepared educational activity. The main idea is that I keep it open-ended. I pay attention. Most days my kids play well together but on those occasional rough days I may need to enter in and mediate and help them come up with an alternative. On grumpy days, I’ve found for us cuddling up on the couch to read stories together works quite well.
Not Every Day is Exactly This!
One nice thing about having an established daily rhythm is that you can veer away from it on some days and not disrupt the bigger picture. One day where we decide to go to the playground or meet a friend or go to the zoo and skip all the morning stuff (Morning Time and Table Lessons) won’t mess things up the next day when we go back to doing those things.
We are of course flexible and don’t stress if things are not going exactly according to the set rhythm.
Also, note that we only do structured school stuff Monday through Thursday. Fridays are our nature journal and poetry tea time days so I specifically keep that day open-ended. We may catch up on curriculum if there is an easy project to get to or more books to explore, but the idea is that Fridays can be reserved for fun outings as well so I want the load to be super light.
I also found immeasurable help on this topic from the Parent Guide in A Year of Tales from a seasoned homeschooler! If you purchase this curriculum I highly encourage you to read ALL of the introductory words.
Breakdown of Daily Rhythm In Detail
Wake Up, Breakfast, and Self-Care
My kids are awake around 7 AM. My oldest sleeps longer some days but my daughter’s internal clock is incredible and she is up and ready to eat breakfast immediately. I usually wake up before the kids, as early as 5:30 AM. I work on painting peg dolls, read, workout, or other such things. My husband usually wakes up before the kids as well.
We have one hour between the time my kids wake up and when my husband leaves for work (he has basically a 0 minute commute since we live on the camp property where he works). In the hour before my husband leaves for work we eat breakfast and get ready for the day.
The Joy of Whatever
My kids typically start out playing right after breakfast, and often my husband will join them for a bit before he heads to work. During this time I usually finish getting myself ready, maybe do a quick chore (e.g. load of laundry), or do any prep I need to do for school stuff that day.
Again, by the “Joy of Whatever” I mean this time is just whatever it is! The kids are inspired into play by a variety of things. Who knows what it will be each day!
Morning Couch Time
At some point in the morning I have the kids break from play and join me on the couch for Morning Time. We have done this enough times where they expect it. A nice transitional help to move from play to attentiveness is that I have them switch out our calendar first. We use peg dolls and my Full Moon Name cards as well as the Calendar Pack from The Peaceful Press. My husband built us a little simple shelf for this and the kids love it.
I will share more detail about what we do during Morning Time later. Right now we keep it quite simple: a few spiritual transformation exercises or stories, and then several read alouds. Generally speaking the term “Morning Time” is associated with a variety of activities. The idea is to make this in to something that makes sense for your family. Try not to worry to much what others are doing. I honestly feel that last year and the year before I stressed about making Morning Time is to something I thought others’ expected. Who knows why because no one really cares what I’m doing or is grading me. This year I have felt more freedom to make this time something meaningful to me and my children. Again, I hope to share this in more detail in a separate post so this one doesn’t get too long!
After Morning Time we move to the kitchen table to do some structured curriculum. We do not have a separate school room. Our house is small so we do everything on the kitchen table. Each day (Monday-Thursday) we will do some form of Language Arts and Math. It may not always be from our curriculum. I strive for short lessons so usually this is 10-20 minutes each kid, each lesson. Sometimes I can work with each kid simultaneously, other times I work with them one at a time and the other child is free to leave the table or stay and do something on their own like coloring.
My Kindergartener has a light load — I really don’t have a ton for her as far as structure goes. But, she also begs for school and loves it so I do try to give her little bits. She is learning how to read but we are going slow to ensure she’s not overwhelmed.
The Joy of Whatever
After table lessons we typically need some movement. Often we head outside at this point. Sometimes we take walks, other times it is just hanging out in our yard. We live on a forested camp property with plenty of trails and easy access to wild spaces. We have a family “rule” that says we go outside every day. Even if it’s raining or cold or gross. We make it work. Obviously we avoid lightning storms but you get the point. I think living here makes us feel obligated to be in nature as much as we can, in a good way! We know we won’t live here forever so we soak it up while we can. If we ever move to a real neighborhood I’ll be sure to share how we do daily time in nature then!
We usually eat around noon. Lunches are simple and the kids help get their meals ready. We typically see my husband at this point. We live where he works so his office is just a jog away and it’s been a huge blessing for our kids to get so much time with him in the early years.
Lunch time is one of my favorite times of the day! We sit and talk. It’s so funny that we usually end up having our bigger conversations during this time. My kids like asking tough questions and we just chat about a variety of things. It’s a sweet time.
Clean Up and Stories
After lunch we make sure the kitchen is clean and often I will read at least one story to my kids. Typically it’s a picture book of their choosing.
Early afternoon consists of a one and a half hour quiet time. I use this time to work. I run a small business and need this time to get in some peg doll painting. If not painting, then maybe I’m catching up on email or writing blog posts like this!
My kids can do whatever they want during this time as long as it’s quiet. They also need to be separate from each other. Again, my kids do play so well together most of the day but we also value time spent alone. They can be either outside, in our living room, or in their bedroom (they share a room). They can play with toys, color, play with play dough, do puzzles, read books, listen to audiobooks, lay down and rest, whatever they want.
And yes: they interrupt me every day. It’s inevitable. Somebody needs a Band-aid or someone built a cool thing I just HAVE to see. Honestly: some days I do better with this than others in terms of keeping my Mom-cool.
Also — sometimes we skip Quiet Time or just do a short one, maybe 30 minutes. If the weather is just too ridiculously amazing we might want to all have an adventure together. Or, often on weekends we skip Quiet Time or keep it shorter.
I used to be better about doing this every day, but often I have my kids clean up their toys at the end of Quiet Time. If not all of them, at least enough so we have room to walk. Again, we have a small house so any amount of toys on the floor can feel a bit much at times. They have a knack for getting everything out during Quiet Time.
After Quiet Time we usually do some type of learning rotation: science, history, art, music, or who knows what else. Again, I have a post of all the curriculum we are using this year. This typically involves some reading and a project of some kind and often does not take a long time. The kids also usually want a snack during this time.
The Joy of Whatever
And back to that Joy of Whatever time! For the several hours before dinner, we just do whatever. Again, typically we are outside, but not always. If in the morning we had a huge outdoor adventure, I might put less of a priority of getting outside in the afternoon, for example. Sometimes they might get screen time around now, but that’s not every day. And lately we’ve been reserving screen time for the evenings to make it more of a family affair.
Before 2020 and the coronavirus reality, my husband would be home right at 5:00 PM (again, his commute is effectively 0 minutes). This year he has been able to shift his schedule some days and come home earlier. For a few days he has been able to participate in our school projects and learning: he helped build a volcano recently. Other days he may take the kids to the beach swimming (we have a lake on property) and I stay home to get work done. Or, if I’m not stressed I’ll go swim with them. Another favorite “whatever” activity lately is to go on bike rides through the woods. There is also a large camp parking lot across from our house the kids just love to ride in circles around in.
We keep meals simple. Often my husband is a part of the cooking too. Most meal prep happens at meal time unless we had a soup or something to start earlier in the day. We are at a season of life with our kids’ ages where meal prep is not really a stressful event.
Family Together Time
After dinner we do stuff all together as a family. Again, there is some flexibility here. In a year that isn’t defined by a pandemic my husband and I might trade times to be with the kids on a particular week night, and he or I might go do something with friends or something alone. But most of 2020 has been all of us together. A lot. We sometimes watch a kids show together (or a movie on a weekend). We play games, go outside again, do puzzles, and just have fun together.
Clean-up and Bedtime Routine
Often we are cleaning up at the end of the night to some sort of music, making a Mary Poppins-style party out of it. The kids sometimes do baths in the evening around this time — the other option is in the mornings after breakfast. Just depends on the day and what we did!
The kids get all ready 30 minutes before their bed time. They’ve got their little bedtime prep ritual down. And sometimes they race each other.
Stories and Snuggles
My husband and I rotate evenings who reads the kids stories. I treasure this time so much. Bedtime stories are simply the best! Most nights the kids pick books from our home library or maybe we have a stack of seasonal books from the library that appeals to them. My youngest child is still in that phase where she wants to read the same few books over an over.
Bedtime is 8 PM for the kids and usually they fall asleep within 30 minutes. We keep them active and tire them out! They have a room together since we have a 2 bedroom house, which is so sweet. They love it.
After the kids go to bed my husband and I may spend time together or do our own things. These couple hours before I go to bed are often good peg doll painting time for me but I don’t do that every night since often I’m pretty tired. I’m more of a morning person so I’d rather wake up before the kids and paint then!
Weekly and Monthly Rhythm
Monthly we have a number of rhythms we keep in line with:
Weekly we honestly do not have much going on right now because it’s 2020. Normally we would have something like soccer (evenings) or gymnastics (mornings). Even my husband and I would have some more regular stuff weekly where we might shift a day on who is home parenting solo. As it is, right now we are getting LOTS of whole-family time.
When do we do chores, errands, and meal prep?
Since this is pandemic-2020 when I write this, errands are typically done by my husband or I alone without the kids. My husband has done most of our grocery shopping this year. Last year I would typically do a grocery run with the kids in the morning maybe on a Monday.
But generally speaking I like to run errands in the mornings after we have done our table lessons for the day. It may mean a quick trip to the post office or library.
Meal prep is usually done when my husband gets home from work, sometimes I start before he gets home depending on what the meal is. This really varies on the day, too. We eat simply and I don’t feel too overwhelmed by food prep.
We don’t keep a set weekly meal plan or anything like that. Our style is to wing it. And I really don’t care if we’re all eating peanut butter toast and fresh veggies for dinner if it meant we were outside more. Elaborate home-cooked meals are just not a priority for me.
We have tried a variety of things to have the kids participate in household chores. I used to have us all do chores first thing in the morning and attempted to keep a weekly schedule. However, I soon found out this doesn’t really work for us. I prefer to do chores on-demand. Since we live in and small house and live in the woods and have a dog, I basically at minimum need to vacuum every other day. My son can help do the rugs, but mostly I just do it. I can vacuum my whole house in maybe 5 minutes. It’s not huge task. I’ve tried scheduling out “vacuum day” but in the end it never made sense to me. I prefer to just clean something when it needs cleaning.
Other chores we keep up with as-needed or do a task when it presents itself. For example, when the dog’s food bowl is empty, I ask one of my kids to get him some. When the compost needs taking outside to the bin, my son will take it. We use weekends to catch up on bigger household chores like yard work or cleaning cars or cleaning windows. My husband is honestly a better cleaner than I am and enjoys doing it so that’s nice! We kind of all four of us have our jobs that we are good at and we work together when appropriate. Kitchen clean-up usually just happens while we are in the kitchen at meals. We do not have a dishwasher so we hand wash dishes after every meal.
For the kids, we decided to give them allowance for doing chores. If in the span of one week they complete 10 tasks then then get an allowance. If they haven’t completed 10 then they get nothing and we try again next week. Most weeks they get it done, and it does usually take them a whole week to get to 10. There have definitely been weeks where they haven’t completed it. We give them ideas for chores but don’t force it. It’s their choice if they want to get the allowance or not. And we obviously talk about money with them and what to do with it in age-appropriate ways.
I keep a simple chart on the fridge that’s laminated and they give themselves X’s with a dry erase marker after completing a chore. You can see that below (I blocked out my kids’ names but that’s in the blue spot so they each have their own section). We do not give X’s for general clean-up that is expected of daily life: clean up your toys, if you spill something sweet it up, bring your dishes to the sink after a meal, etc. I do give X’s for making their beds because they don’t do this most days, and honestly I don’t care if they do or don’t. Most days they’re playing with their blankets at some point so what’s the point of making the bed?
This system suits us well for now but I could see if we ever move into a bigger house I would need more of a schedule. And as the kids get older we may increase the allowance and add more than 10 X spots on their charts.
What do we do when things go awry and we get off track?
If you’re reading this you’re likely a parent and you KNOW this deeply. Things just don’t go as planned. We all (including our children) have those days where we’re just a mess and maybe don’t even know what we need.
For example, let’s say we sit down to do our Table Lessons and I get out the Math curriculum to do with my son and he complains about writing one thing down. Do I just totally abandon the plan? Sometimes: yes. Sometimes: no. Sometimes it just takes a conversation and we’re back “on track.” Sometimes, maybe we need to push away the curriculum for the moment and come back to it later in the day. Or not at all.
I will say that the biggest “off track” thing for me in this phase of life with my kids (6-nearing-7 and 5) is maybe on a particular day they are having so much fun playing together that I choose not to interrupt them to have our Morning Time. Then, if we don’t do our Morning Time and it gets later and later in the morning, I have to make a choice: should I skip Morning Time altogether so we have time for curriculum before lunch? Or, should I just do the Morning Time and maybe swap the order of things in the day. I’ll be honest: sometimes I feel like I’m getting these little choices exactly right and sometimes it’s all wrong. I try to on those “all wrong” kind of days to take deep breaths, center myself and be present to the moment. Maybe for that day nothing “gets accomplished” and I need to be okay with that.
This is why I don’t pre-plan and write out in a planner day-by-day lessons for our homeschool. Because I will immediately get off track!
When and how do we alter the schedule?
I have kind of discussed this above but I just want to say that we alter this schedule all the time! It could be in big ways, like say we decide to go to the zoo on a Tuesday and that “throws off” the whole day. Or, it could be in small ways where maybe those morning Table Lessons are just NOT a thing I feel we need to do that day! Maybe what we need is to just spend time together. Or maybe it’s a gross-weather Thursday and I’m exhausted and I need to put a movie on at 10 AM. It happens. Of course it does!
I said this above — but the idea behind having a set rhythm like this is that it’s more than OKAY to alter things occasionally and it’s not going to totally throw the kids out of whack.
Thanks for reading this far. Feel free to ask me any questions!
The article talks about how most children’s book in nature-based landscapes feature either animals or white families. Further, many picture books that do feature black children in nature do so either in an urban landscape or in the wilderness as they escape from slavery.
There are a great many nature-based children’s books available but only a small amount feature BIPOC families. Bears have better representation in children’s books than BIPOC children! Since creating this website I have been an advocate for regular nature-based experiences for children, combating in Richard Louv’s words Nature-Deficit Disorder. And I truly believe that children seeing themselves represented in nature adventures in picture books at such a young age can attribute to that desire and practice.
I am not going to pretend to be an expert on diversity or diverse books as a whole, but I do consider myself a connoisseur of nature-based books. I receive review copies of nature-based books from a range of children’s book publishing companies (large and small) and have noticed a trend in the last year or so to include more non-white children and families in nature landscapes. That said, there still is a major lack of representation in terms of the authors and illustrators. The books I am highlighting are worthy of celebrating, but there is still a long way to go.
Today, I am sharing my list of 40+ favorite nature-based children’s picture books that represent diverse characters. The hope is for moreand more books featuring diverse protagonists, back to the original article I shared: the black Blueberries for Sal.
I will continue to add to this list as new books come in.
This coming year I have a 6-turning-7 year old and a 5 year old. My oldest will be doing his First Grade year and youngest will be doing Kindergarten. We have been homeschooling from the beginning with both children — you can read about our Preschool and Kindergarten curriculum choices and years of learning on this blog.
What I Changed This Year
This year I am changing some things up a bit and I am very excited about it! Last year (for Kindergarten) we used The Good & the Beautiful for Math AND Language Arts but this year I have chosen not to continue with The Good & the Beautiful. I honestly do not have any major complaints — they provide wonderful curriculum options at very low prices. Truthfully, the low cost was a major factor in my choice for that for Kindergarten. Plus, the Level K Language Arts program helped me teach my son to read. How cool is that?! That said, we ended up skipping a LOT of the curriculum — both in the Language Arts and the Math–more so in the Language Arts. And I had concerns about continuing with it. I will explain more in detail in those subject areas below.
What Is my Homeschool Philosophy?
Note also that I do not follow any one homeschool philosophy. If you are new to homeschooling I recommend you check out my Homeschooling Resources page for helpful articles and quizzes on a variety of philosophies as well as websites and curriculum broken down by a few of my favorite philosophies. We are an eclectic mix of all the things and I am happy to change it up at any time.
Preference for Secular Curriculum
One other factor that has guided our curriculum choices: We are cautiously Christian and prefer secular curriculum. I did not realize this last year but I do know now! We are a Christian family and faith in God and spiritual practice is important to us, but I am finding that most Christian-based homeschool curriculums are not in line with our family’s values and beliefs. I am more often than not frustrated with institutional Christianity and I guess in a way it is not surprising I find Christian-based homeschool curriculum to be frustrating as well.
When thinking about a science curriculum, I do not want it tied to the Bible. When thinking about a history curriculum, I want something that features a diverse and inclusive set of voices. When thinking about literature, I want books published today and not 75 years ago. I am not saying all Christian-based curriculums are wrong or off, but that I have a less likelihood of running into these personal-preference problems if I seek out secular curriculum.
Now — please know I’m sharing my own personal preference here and not making any kind of judgment overall about how I think everyone else should operate. I thought I would take a risk and share the truth of my journey with homeschool curriculum choices because I know many of you struggle with this kind of thing. There is no perfect curriculum so we all have to make our individual choices on what we feel is best. I am also NOT saying I will never use a Christian-based curriculum, just that I am generously skeptical about it.
For me, I have found that basing our core curriculum in a secular framework works best, and then I can add in our spiritual practices in a manner befitting our family.
Alright, so here we go!
FIRST GRADE SUBJECTS
Reading and Spelling
And a few extra things which I will explain in detail below!
Keep in mind: curriculum covers academic subjects but home education is about SO MUCH MORE than academics.
I love the literature included in this curriculum and how Blossom & Root incorporates principles of Charlotte Mason using living books and narration. The literature featured in this curriculum and others of Blossom & Root are diverse and inclusive, which I often find lacking in many Charlotte Mason booklists. Fearless Girls, Wise Women, & Beloved Sisters is an excellent example. This curriculum even integrates geography and culture as you explore the countries of origin of many of the folktales you read together. “Language arts” can include MANY different categories—in this curriculum it includes:
Oral narration and copywork are both things I am excited to incorporate more with my oldest; that said — I plan to do this gently at least at the beginning. Because we are also doing a reading/spelling curriculum (see below), it may not be that every week we are completing all of the language arts elements listed above from The Stories We Tell.
What I love about Blossom & Root is that this curriculum invites you to explore narration through play and imagination, not just in a formalized oral narration or written narration. It should be fun and natural, and in that regard both my kids are already excellent at narration–we just don’t write it down! I highly recommend reading Know and Tell by Karen Glass if you are interested in incorporating narration in to your homeschool.
I love Julie Bogart and Brave Writer! She’s such an inspiration. Highly recommend reading The Brave Learner. The Jot It Down! curriculum includes one project per month for 10 months and is geared towards ages 5-8. I will note that Brave Writer is not just a writing curriculum—it’s a lifestyle. There is much that I am excited about with this addition to our homeschool.
I mentioned in the introduction that last year for Kindergarten we used Level K Language Arts from The Good & the Beautiful and it helped me teach my son to read. However, we skipped so much of the curriculum. He was interested in the reading portion, but the curriculum incorporates spelling alongside the lessons which I felt he wasn’t ready for. Not to mention we skipped things like poetry memorization or art narration or curriculum-specific stories included in The Good & the Beautiful Language Arts. At base level I thought: if I’m skipping so much, why are we using this?
Enter: All About Learning! This curriculum separates out reading and spelling which is EXACTLY what I wanted! Here is a helpful post explaining why reading and spelling is taught separately. It’s brilliant. I really wish I had done this last year. Honestly, a big factor in my decision last year was this felt more expensive than The Good & the Beautiful, but now I totally see the value and understand why. This is an amazing put-together curriculum that’s easy on educators and incorporates a wonderful multi-sensory learning style that I know my kids will love and respond well to.
I also LOVE LOVE LOVE the coordinating Letter Tiles App which we will use on our iPad. This removes the need to have a white board and physical letter tiles for the lessons (which has been the standard use for All About Learning). We live in a small house and I am so excited there is this option to have LESS STUFF to manage for lessons. The app also makes it super easy to switch between children at different levels as well. It’s made for multiple-child families in mind. Love it!
Note: Later we will likely add in a bit more grammar lessons. This post is helpful to understand language arts sequencing as a whole.
Last year we used The Good & the Beautiful Level K for Math and as I mentioned in the intro, I felt like we just skipped a lot. The content of math subjects and flow was fine, but it felt like there was a lot of narrative and stuff I just skipped. To be honest: I also found when we got to cartoon Native American depictions in the 2nd half of the curriculum, I just could not bring myself to continue. Note — I also had *briefly* tried Math Lessons for a Living Education before we started last year and did not care for it. It is not comprehensive.
As I researched what math curriculum to switch to, this was a helpfuI post I came across:
For my First Grader we will be using Dimensions 1A and 1B. Note that pacing of these levels is entirely up to you. I have looked through 1A and think we will end up going through that pretty fast with my son because he knows most of that already.
For my Kindergartener we will be using Dimensions KB and we will go slow with that for her.
Key Notes on Dimensions from Singapore Math
Dimensions is the newest line of curriculum products from Singapore Math. It was written by American educators who have been using Singapore Math in their classrooms for years.
Dimensions has full-color Teacher’s Guides and Workbooks through all of Elementary.
The curriculum provides a wide range of activities and hands-on learning to make math hit home. You will use math manipulatives to pair with the lessons. The textbooks are fun and engaging, but that is not the core learning of this curriculum.
Currently the Teacher’s Guides are designed for classroom use. They WILL be making Home Educator’s Guides for the Dimensions line soon (Home Educator Guides are available for the other Singapore Math lines that exist). But, this means in the meantime if you have Teacher’s Guides as a homeschooler you will need to adjust and adapt (or just skip) some activity options! To me, this has been no big deal because I am not interested in doing EVERY activity anyway. I strive to keep our Math lessons short and engaging.
I think this curriculum works well for a range of types of learners!
Coordinating printable resources (flashcards, printable ten frames, etc.) are all available online and organized by chapter.
Thankfully there are a lot of different Math curriculum options out there. I am happy to have found one that so far seems to work well for both of my learners.
I love the Parent Guide in this curriculum — each lesson is guided with several options on how to explore the topic further depending on what type of family and learner you have:
The idea is that each week you aren’t doing ALL of these to learn one thing; instead, you can pick which idea best suits your situation! I love this. There are so many great ideas and depending on the week I think we will change our tactic. Maybe one week we will do an outdoor learning idea and another watch curated videos and the next do a craft.
Note : the purchase of Wonders & Earth & Sky also comes with the Blossom & Root Book Seedscurriculum which focusing on great thinkers in the STEAM world: Marie Tharp, Mary Anning, William Kamkwamba, Isatou Ceesay, Charles Darwin, and John Muir.
I do not follow a specific nature study curriculum. You can read more about how we do nature study here. The short version is: we spend time in nature every day. We let that be our curriculum. Nature is the curriculum. If a particular topic or creature becomes a notable interest point, then I go about gathering some coordinating books or printables. Though, most often we are not doing some elaborate nature study parent-guided lesson!
That said: I fully appreciate that we live in a not-average setting. We live on a woodland camp property with a lake, wetlands, creek, etc. to explore with easy access right out our front door every single day. I fully appreciate that that is not normal! If we did not live where we live now, I would possibly follow something like Exploring Nature With Children. The truth is I have tried to follow that before and became frustrated when topics did not line up with what we were actually witnessing in the natural world. So, I just gave up and we do our own thing. But in a different setting, I could see that working out well.
Note that Blossom & Root does have a coordinating Nature Study that pairs with the above-mentioned science unit. It is very open-ended and prompts are not even designated specific week numbers! You just do the prompted activities as you see fit.
This school year we will be studying the ancient world using History Questthis year! My son has been showing major interest in this part of history so I am so excited to be using this curriculum. History Quest is designed as a narrative-based history curriculum (similar in style to The Story of the World for those who are familiar, but History Quest is secular and excludes religious bias). Note that Pandia Press is committed to inclusivity and anti-racism and is currently rewriting all their older history guides.
I am excited that this ancient history goes all across the globe to different places and includes wonderful coordinating book lists where we will explore archaeology, mythology, and a variety of world religions. Because of the nature of this curriculum, this inherently includes culture & geography. Through the year I will use related fun books like See Inside World Religions or The Ancient World in 100 Words.
We will also use the coordinating Study Guide which includes curated book lists, educational videos, simple-to-implement projects, as well as journaling through narration and illustration.
Shopping for history homeschool curriculums presents a challenge if you are looking for diverse and inclusive options. Truly inclusive. I do know many people end up just creating their own “curriculum” by reading from diverse and, more importantly, own voices literature. Moving forward, after we do this ancient history curriculum, I would like to do American History. Some sites for inspiration I am currently looking at for that are here:
For art appreciation we will be using Exploring the Math in Art from Blossom & Root. This is a super simple guided art appreciation curriculum that includes a wide range of art styles, eras, and country of origin. I appreciate an art curriculum that goes beyond “the masters” which predominately means white Europeans and Americans.
For this curriculum, each week we will explore an art piece in three ways:
Simple Picture Study
Explore the Math Concept in the Art Piece
Create a Coordinating Art Project
I will find each week’s art piece online or in a book if we have it. I have the following art history related books that we may or may not use depending on the week:
We will be using the Musical Era Bundle from SQUILT this year, beginning with the Modern Era. These lessons are wonderfully curated and include important music concepts in such a fun and engaging way for kids.
We also have a SQUILT Membership BUT you do not need to have a membership to use the Musical Eras Bundle! You can also purchase the Meet the Composers cards, Meet the Instruments cards, and Elements of Music posters. I keep all of these in a “music” bin and we use them regularly through our lessons.
Rooted Childhoodis a thoughtfully created inclusive seasonal guide that includes poetry, book recommendations, songs, handcrafts, and recipes to help connect through seasonal-based experiences. We use the songs (which include tutorial videos for those who are like me and not musically-inclined) for our morning time and love them!
We include meditation and mindfulness into our spiritual transformation practices. I also seek to find Christian-based prayers, hymns, and meditations that are in line with our beliefs. Below are a few current favorite things in our Morning Basket:
As a progressive Christian who is frustrated with institutional Christianity, I struggle with finding children’s Bibles and Christian-related curriculum that are in line with our beliefs and faith practices. Most children’s Bibles feature a white-skinned Jesus, or the theological bent is too fundie. I do find it hard to know exactly how I want to pursue faith-based practices with my kids, and it is something I am constantly thinking about and discovering new things to incorporate and try. That said, I do truly do feel we encounter the Divine on a daily basis without my efforts or the need for structured curriculum!
Okay, so now that we have the Bible covered. I was excited to find this curriculum authored by Pete Enns called Telling God’s Story. I have incorporated some of these lessons already in our Kindergarten year and will continue with First Grade. The lessons are based on short Bible stories you read together and then do a few correlating activities (the options vary by each unit but usually include crafts, games, memory work, recipes, and other projects). The sequence of the curriculum runs 1st through 4th grade. We will do one unit per week on Fridays.
While you can definitely skip A Parent’s Guide to Teaching the Bible, it is useful for understanding Pete Enns’ methodology and reasoning in creating the curriculum. Like most things, there are aspects I like and agree with and aspects that I don’t jive with. I cannot decide for you if you will like this or not.
I am also interested in maybe trying out Waldorfish this year.
Poetry Tea Time
Poetry Tea Time is something we have done for awhile and I plan to continue. It’s honestly way simpler than it sounds. The idea is for it to be time together reading poetry and (sometimes) drinking tea. We don’t always make fancy snacks or anything. It is often popcorn and chocolate bars. I have a range of poetry books I use and enjoy skipping around. We will use poetry from Rooted Childhood and once a month also use the Chickie & Roo Flower of the Month Clubonce a month.
I honestly really want to continue with our Spanish learning but it happens so slowly. I treat this more as a fun thing to add on rather than a true curriculum we have to incorporate.
And I do not want to leave out the fact that just “living life” is a subject of its own that is beyond the scope of curriculum. This is such a huge benefit of homeschool: we incorporate chores and self-care and all that good stuff just as a result of all being together in the same space all day. It is simultaneously simple and maddening, right?
I also try to be mindful of health & safety on a regular basis. This stuff isn’t popular to talk about and doesn’t make for pretty social media photos but it’s so important. Do my kid’s know how to call 911? Do they know their address and phone number? What should they do if someone is choking? And we have conversations about getting lost in the woods and body autonomy and so much more. I put a “health & safety” note on my monthly planner pages just to make sure I am mindful to incorporate these topics regularly. I have the Safety Unit from The Good & the Beautiful (*religious content) which works well for some aspects but I don’t feel it is wholly necessary to have a guide like that.
FOR MY KINDERGARTENER
My Kindergartener will join along for Morning Time each day. She will listen to the stories from our language arts curriculum: Blossom & Root The Stories We Tell. She will not do the coordinating oral narration or copywork, but will certainly participate in our play-based narrations and general enjoyment of literature! I often let her choose picture books she wants to read for Morning Time as well.
I imagine my Kindergartener will want to participate in the History Quest stories and lessons but I am not requiring her to. It’s totally up to her!
For science, she gets her own Student Notebook to pair with Blossom & Root: Wonders of the Earth & Sky, but I am not requiring it of her. I suspect she will want to fully participate though. She really does not want to be left out of what her big brother is doing and loves anything labelled as “school.”
Nature study = go outside every day.
And I imagine everything else she will participate in to the degree she is interested. We really do most things together. She especially loves crafts and cooking so I plan to have some focused one-on-one time with just her during our weeks as well.
VIDEO INSIDE LOOK
HOW DOES THIS ALL COME TOGETHER?
Well … you’ll have to wait for it!
But, seriously, that was just a lot of info so I’m saving our weekly schedule & plan and how this comes together for a separate post. Stay tuned!
Note that this post contains affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase after clicking on a link I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more information see my disclosure policy.
There is a wide range of opinions in the homeschool world about whether or not to “do preschool” with our children. Charlotte Mason purists will hold to the idea that under age 6 should be a “quiet growing time” and that no formal lessons should begin until age 6. I believe that most homeschoolers are some kind of eclectic mix of philosophies and are not purists in the sense they hold fast to that as a hard rule. Many are willing to do school in some way before the age of 6.
I think sometimes there is this notion if you buy a preschool curriculum or you see others doing preschool with their children, that it creates an overly structured learning environment that is too much for kids at that age. We use phrases like “protecting childhood” which are important, but I truly do not believe if you are going through a preschool curriculum you are NOT robbing your children of childhood. Most preschool curriculums are specifically designed to NOT be overly time-consuming or burdensome. There are SO MANY hours in a day that you have to spend with your child, and a preschool curriculum might give you some intentional learning space for anywhere between 15 to 45 minutes a day.
Further, the activities in these homeschool preschool curriculums are often so gentle and naturally fit in to the flow of your day. Many activities are about focusing on the child and where they are at, figuring out their learning style as well as what works for you as the home educator. It’s supposed to be fun!
Preschool at home can appear to be overwhelming, especially if you are considering it for your first child, but it truly does not have to be!
One last point I have is that preschool for your children likely is going to look vastly different between your first child and subsequent children. It’s just a thing that happens. As your older children move up in grades they will require more planning and prep and focused time from you, so moms of multiple children will have to get creative with preschool curriculums if they are interested in incorporating these with their preschoolers. There are a number of ways to do that: only do a few of the activities each day, or take one day a week to dedicate special time with just the preschooler, or involve the older children in helping do activities with the preschooler. Lots of options for creativity and finding a fit that flows with your family!
When to Begin Preschool?
Between the ages of 2 and 6 there is such a WIDE range of interest and ability when it comes to learning. You as the parent are going to have to figure this out on your own. No one can do this for you. And you will likely falter and need to re-find your footing. There will be some things you try with your child that just do not work. Try not to take that personally. Try not to see it as failure. The fact that you are the parent at home with your child and able to see that child in love and fullness is a huge gift! You get to decide that something is not working and reimagine something new for them. They will not have to be forced in to something simply because 20 other kids their exact same age are doing that thing already.
One of the best gifts of a life of a preschooler spent at home is: freedom. This time truly should be filled with unstructured time and play and read alouds and creative exploration and lots of outdoor time. If you buy a curriculum, keep in mind your core home values and make sure to stick to those things. Feel free to skip activities or take weeks or months off of caring about the curriculum. These are invitations, not requirements. Know your child. Love your child.
Similarly, what I feel does not get said enough is that YOU matter. You as the home educator matter: what you enjoy, what you are capable of, who you are. Be attune to yourself and your needs and try not to compare yourself to what others are accomplishing with their children.
How to Choose Curriculum
I encourage you to sit down and think about your homeschool vision and priorities before you start shopping around. This does NOT mean you need to have your entire homeschool philosophy for the next 12 years perfectly articulated and solidified! I am still in the early stages with my children but, as I understand it, many homeschoolers shift and change and revise and grow as their kids grow. The vision may alter and adapt as needed, but that does not mean your initial vision was wrong! It was right for the right season.
Here are some helpful places to start thinking about your homeschool philosophy and vision:
A literature and project-based 26 week gentle curriculum that runs on on a letter-a-week theme. The Peaceful Press is predominately Charlotte Mason and Montessori inspired, though elements of other pedagogies weave their way in.
We did this curriculum all the way through, and absolutely loved it. I decided, since my son was 3.5 at the time we began, to extend the time of preschool to longer than 26 weeks and instead spread it out over longer than a year. We spent 2 weeks on each letter and did some extra on-theme activities, taking breaks here and there. This is not at all necessary! You can stick to the 26-week curriculum and not add on a single thing.
Subjects Covered in a Week
Fine Motor Skills
Large Motor Skills
Practical Life Skills
Easy to follow; the weekly grids are well-designed and supply lists are organized meaningfully
Adaptable to work with what works best for your family
Excellent book list!! The book list for this curriculum is so good! Even if you do not wish to do a full-blown preschool curriculum, any home library for little ones would be enriched by any book from this book list.
Developmentally appropriate activities, hands-on learning and beautiful projects
Considers natural rhythms and home life with multiple children
Budget-friendly activities — most activities take in supplies you likely already have around the home or at least could come up with a suitable alternative.
Access to a private Facebook group when you purchase.
Designed with some religious content (Bible stories and optional weekly Bible verses) but this can be easily adapted for the secular household
What Comes Next?
Depending on when you began, you have a couple options if you want to stick with The Peaceful Press. You could go to their Early Elementary series like The Playful Pioneers (based on The Little House on the Prairie series) OR they have monthly guides that work well for a Kindergarten year (e.g. Sky, Mountain, Desert). There are (or will soon be) 12 guides so you could do one per month! Check out The Peaceful Press for more.
A literature and hands-on approach to preschool with beauty and nature learning weaved in. This uses the Beatrix Potter tales as well as nature-based literature for a gentle year of hands-on learning and exploration. It is a full and rich curriculum and well worth reading the introduction for general homeschool inspiration.
We used the A Year of Tales elementary curriculum for our Kindergarten year for my oldest child — this blog post details what I planned for that year. Towards the end of our year when the Preschool curriculum was released I began incorporating it with my Preschooler (age 5).
Subjects Covered in a Week
Imagine and Explore
Handcrafts and Project-Based Invitations
Easy to follow with weekly grids and supply lists but also adaptable — the activities are invitations and it is up to you to decide what works for you
The nature learning is beyond excellent and age-appropriate
Hands-on approach that is also age-appropriate and full of beauty
Emphasizes character building and takes in to account the whole child, not just academics
You get a LOT of extra worksheets and printables with this curriculum to weave in if you child is interested and ready, but these are not at all necessary to do the core work of the curriculum. There are also nature study-based printables that are beautiful and would be useful for beyond the preschool years. It is shocking how much extra you get for the price.
Easy to pair with the A Year of Tales elementary curriculumif you have multiple children. You can take two approaches: pair it with A Year of Tales Elementary, or do it on its own going through the alphabet A to Z.
Incorporates a Friday Tea Time which is used for engaging in beauty and review of the week
This does incorporate Bible verses weekly but if you wanted to do this from a secular approach I believe you could
Read-Together Time & Prompts for a Literacy-Rich Environment
Environment / Experience Prompts
Math & Science (with Environment, Experiences, Engagement)
Kindness & Connectivity
The Arts (Visual Arts, Dramatic Play)
The Kitchen Classroom
Initially this might seem like a lot of categories for ages 2-4 but these are truly meant to be incorporated so easily in to your day!! Everything is experience and play-based and minimal to no prep is involved for each week.
Read-Together Time (Read-Aloud plus Activity Invitation, Poetry)
Reading / Writing Readiness
Exploring Artistic Expression
Early Math Foundations
Nature Study & Notebook
Hands-on learning requires no worksheets or printables to manage
Open-and-go and little prep is involved
In my opinion this is the best option out there for a secular household or a household that incorporates its own specific religious traditions. We fall in to this category. We are Christians but often I am shopping for secular curriculum to ensure it fits with our worldview.
Budget-friendly and designed for a busy household. Most activities are incorporated in to the flow of your day.
A beautiful and seamless incorporation of the arts (picture study, composers, etc.)
Weekly STEM-based age-appropriate learning in addition to math and nature study. I really appreciate the STEM focus!
This curriculum is mostly housed in a worksheet-style student notebook but that does not mean there are no hands-on activities! I love the inclusion of a wide range of arts & culture lessons, the science is nature-based and there is an inclusion of Montessori-based skills on a daily basis. You can read more about the preschool curriculum here.
Subjects Covered in a Week
Letters & Phonics
Shapes & Color
Arts & Culture
Plants & Animals
Fine Motor Skills
Practical Life Skills
Pretty much everything you need for this is right in front of you once it is all printed out
Low-stress for the home educator to incorporate
I think this works well for having multiple children around and wanting to not spend a ton of time gathering resources each week
Some children genuinely respond well to worksheets and the ones in this curriculum are engaging, thoughtfully-designed and beautiful. I know many parents are grateful that a program like this exists.
Globally-focused in literature, art, culture, and nature
Includes shape and color recognition activities every day
There is a private community for this program but you need to purchase a membership
I have had friends use the following curriculum for preschool and love them. I personally have never used these so I cannot speak directly, but I wanted to add them to the list here for your exploration:
Designed for ages 3-7 to have a year of wonder and discovery through hands-on activities and play. Each month has a set theme and the curriculum activities are laid out monthly instead of weekly/daily to allow flexibility. Charlotte Mason inspired and includes memory verses from the Bible. Free sample here.
Charlotte Mason-inspired with hints of Classical. Follows Charlotte Mason’s List of Formidable Attainments Before Age 6. Includes memory work from catechism and the Bible. Open-ended, literature-based. Level 1 is for ages 2-4 and Level 2 is more Kindergarten-leaning, for ages 4-6. Level 2 includes math. Note: The Teachers Guides are completely free! Seriously! You can then purchase printable bundles to pair with each level.
A 32 week full curriculum designed for ages 4-5. Not dependent on religious beliefs. Follows traditional educational standards for this age but also includes the development of emotional intelligence and humanistic values (truth, morality, etc.)
Traveling the Parksuses guided lessons with a Student Notebook as a way to pretend to travel to National Parks throughout the U.S. together, learn about the parks in an engaging way, and includes wholistic learning. The curriculum mainly uses the book America’s National Parks (Lonely Planet Kids) as a guide. Maps are provided and prompts on what to record as you learn. There are curated booklists and videos to view based on each park. The pack also includes Animal Profiles as well as fun games to play as a family!
Book Seeds Profiles in Science: John Muir is an early elementary guide (ages 6 to 12) which features the life of John Muir as well as a number of science-based learning topics. The curriculum includes four STEAM activities, three art projects, nature study prompts, three guided “invitation to play” activities, books to read together, a kitchen classroom activity, as well as thoughtfully curated links to videos and additional learning. We love John Muir and this guide was as a huge hit for the whole family. We especially enjoyed reading John Muir: My Life In Nature together.
“Daily exposure to the outdoors stimulates the brain in many ways: (1) There are no expectations. Children are forced to use their imagination in order for that stick, rock or pinecone to become a part of their world. (2) There are endless possibilities. The outdoors challenges the mind to constantly think in new ways. (3) There is no pressure. When engaging in active free play, children can play with others or not, make up their own rules or follow someone else’s, be rough-and-tumble or quiet and contemplative.” (Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom)
Books to Inspire Nature Play
See this post for all my favorites books to inspire outdoor nature play.
Note that I do not think anyone NEEDS any of these books! These types of books certainly are popular for publishers to put out in the last couple of years. And I get it. I think they can provide a fun way to flip through for ideas you might not have otherwise thought of. I certainly have appreciated having these and have learned a lot of new skills. I enjoy these types of new and fun activities with my kids, but we certainly aren’t referencing these books every week. They are there if we want to try something new.
Our Outdoor Play Supplies
Below I will be sharing a list of all our outdoor play supplies. I organized most of the smaller items in to an IKEA TROFAST storage system on our front screened-in porch. I absolutely love that the plastic bins can individually come out. The kids can handle moving them around and clean-up all on their own. PLUS, the bin itself serves as a play element.
Note that this is protected from the elements since it is housed on our porch. You could also store these types of things in a small shed or garden-tool bin.
Our mud kitchen supplies stay in a crate with that area of the yard. Other large items like tree stumps, ramps, crates, and tubs stay either in the yard or in our storage shed.
(1) Natural Loose Parts
The term “loose part” has become a bit of a fad. Basically it means something that can be played with in a very open-ended way. The opposite of a loose part is a “fixed toy”—a Mickey Mouse figurine can only ever be Mickey Mouse (and always happy because he is smiling). A pinecone or “loose part” can be currency or an ice cream cone or a mixer or a bug or a rocket ship or … even a Mickey Mouse!
Here’s what we have for loose parts play:
Tree slices (large & small)
We made ours but you can purchase these at craft stores or Amazon
Sticks (various lengths and widths)
Rocks (a variety of sizes)
Large movable tree stumps
Flat wooden boards
We also have some non-natural loose parts in the mix like old tires and rope. I’m also including a traditional wood block set made for us by my father-in-law.
We actually have a gravel driveway and the rocks there have proved to be a favorite yard toy for years.
Shells, dirt, sand, mulch, wood chips are just a few other ideas for natural loose parts.
Note that I’m including a separate list for imaginative play BUT the idea with the loose parts listed above is that they could also be used for pretend play. A pinecone can be a hand mixer in the kitchen or currency at a shop. A stick can be a horse or a wand or musical instrument. Small loose parts can be built in to small worlds like castles or bug villages.
Play Silks (be sure to see this list for the play possibilities with play silks if you are not already familiar with these)
You can also construct stick shelters or use play silks or tarps for shelters to go along with imaginative play. As mentioned earlier, I also think imaginative play can include building small worlds for wooden peg dolls or other toys–e.g. build a camp site or fairy houses.
I will also say: if you have a tent, you can always set it up in your backyard for a couple of days for your kids to just play in!
(3) Mud & Water Kitchen
Note that you won’t find a Pinterest-worthy mud kitchen in our backyard. Here’s how I put it together: I scrounged around for items we already had. I spent no money. Remember you do not need elaborate & beautiful mud kitchens: you just want something your kids will want to play with!
The hose is nearby so the kids have a water source they can manage on their own to make mud.
Again note that the natural loose parts listed above are often used as ingredients in our mud kitchen or used in water play.
(4) Nature Study, Art, & Handcrafts
I created a category for nature study and nature art because I find that we will bring back a variety of nature treasure from hikes to our yard and I wanted to have materials accessible to explore and play with those nature finds some more.
I am aware there are a wide variety of lawn games but I wanted to share what we have: my preference is for (1) traditional games with not a lot of bells & whistles and minimal plastic parts, (2) games that can be used by small children and (3) games that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, wood tree slices make for great lily pad jumps in an obstacle course and can also be used to roll down ramps.
** I love this style of outdoor tarp blanket because it is light enough to be used to make a play tent and it is really easy to clean if we spill food on it while picnicking (you do not have to put it in the laundry, you can just wipe it down or hose it down). Also, it compacts down small so it is easy to travel with.
Nature Play Ideas Checklist
I have used this list for Nature Play ideas for a few years . I find it is helpful to just glance at every once an awhile and have one or two ideas in the back of my mind that could be fun for us to do that week. I do not see this as a checklist where I feel like we have to do everything here or my kids will have a deprived childhood!
It simply is a list of ideas. Potential. Opportunities. Inspiration.