Our Preschool Curriculum
In May 2017 we started our preschool at home with The Peaceful Preschool plus additional activities based on my children’s interests and seasonal changes in the natural world. I have mainly been “doing school” with my now-4 1/2-year-old and including my youngest (just now 3) to the degree that she is interested. It’s actually amazing what she has been able to pick up without direct schooling efforts on my part, just by participating and watching her older brother!
Looking ahead, I plan to finish the curriculum through Letter Z, and then start over again with The Peaceful Preschool Letter A with both of my kids (adding a few additional reading and writing lessons for my son as he continues to show signs of readiness). My son (4 1/2) checks off all the boxes on the lists of “Kindergarten Readiness” but I do not wish to start a kindergarten curriculum just yet with him. Why?? Because of Charlotte Mason…
A Quiet Growing Time
“In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it for the most part out in the fresh air.” (Charlotte Mason)
Charlotte Mason believed no formal schooling should be done until a child reached the age of 6. Now, I’m obviously not in that exact same frame of mind but I do love and appreciate the heart behind that.
Recently I wrote down my ideal focuses for my children’s days right now:
- Read Alouds
- Outdoor Play & Exploration
- Knowledge of God
- Habits & Character
- Gentle Preschool Academics
- Appreciation of Beauty
—Since my children have been tiny tots Read Alouds and Outdoor Play & Exploration have been the easiest and most natural for me to include in our days. Even on the rough days where I feel like I’m running on empty, we still do these two things. At the heart, these things inspire our deepest connections and incite my fondest memories.
—Knowledge of God includes: Bible stories, memory verses, and prayer.
—Habits & Character includes: daily and weekly chores, manners, self-care, and then the top three habits for Charlotte Mason in the early years are attention, obedience, and truthfulness.
—Appreciation of Beauty includes: poetry, art, music, and handcrafts.
—Gentle Preschool Academics can be a harder thing to “nail down.” I will admit over the last year not all of my preschool activities for my kids have fit in to the “gentle” category. Over the last year I have done a lot of add-on letter-of-the-week activities as we moved through each letter of the alphabet. I plan to still do some of these things, but definitely will be doing a lot less extra the second time through.
I have come to realize through my own efforts and by comparing curriculums, that The Peaceful Preschool absolutely fits the bill when it comes to a gentle academic guide in the early years, in line with Charlotte Mason’s “quiet growing time.” I plan to stick to The Peaceful Preschool moving forward.
Additional Charlotte Mason Resources on The Early Years
The Importance of Rhythm: A Platform for Growth
I highly recommend reading Simplicity Parenting for inspiration as to why having a daily rhythm matters!! Overall this book is so inspiring, but there is one particular chapter devoted especially to rhythm that I revisit every couple of months.
“Children depend on the rhythmic structure of the day–on its predictability, its regularity, its pulse…. By surrounding a young child with a sense of rhythm and ritual, you can help them order their physical, emotional, and intellectual view of the world. As little ones come to understand, with regularity, that ‘this is what we do,’ they feel solid earth under their feet, a platform for growth. Such a stable foundation can facilitate their mapmaking: the connectedness that they are charting in their brains, in relation to other people, and in their emerging worldview.” (Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne)
Our Daily Rhythm: At A Glance
Below is a scan of our Daily Rhythm sheet I hand illustrated for my kids, and we keep it hung on our fridge.
This is for those of you who are super busy and do not have time to read this entire blog post. I see you. I hear you. Here is the condensed version of this post:
Our Daily Rhythm: In Detail
7:00 – 8:00 AM | Breakfast and Self Care
We have one hour between when my kids wake up and when my husband goes to work.
Most days my husband and I are awake for an hour or more before the kids. I like to read or paint or workout before the craze of the day begins.
All four of us eat breakfast together and then get ready for the day. Sometimes there is a decent chance for the the kids to get some just-dad-time in before he goes to work: lately they have been having him read books to them or play a short game.
7:00 – 8:00 AM | Chores OR Physical Play
“As has been well said, ‘Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.’ And a great function of the educator is to secure that acts shall be so regularly, purposefully, and methodically sown that the child shall reap the habits of the good life, in thinking and doing, with the minimum of conscious effort.” (Charlotte Mason)
I used the chore cards from The Peaceful Press as a guide to create our personalized weekly chore plan you see above. There are daily chores listed at the bottom just as a little visual reminder of what we are already doing on a daily basis (e.g. dishes or toy clean-up) but do not need to happen at a designated “chore time.”
Each day I have 3 things listed and there’s at least one thing the kids can do mostly independent of me (except for Sunday: those tasks are for me). Usually I am able to give them a choice on which task they want to do. I expect their participation and I make it fun: lately we have been playing some Mary Poppins songs while we work.
We mark off the chore with an “X” when completed. “We entertain the idea which gives birth to the act and the act repeated again and again becomes the habit” (Charlotte Mason). I do not do stickers or rewards — chores are for responsibility, not reward: when the task is complete, the kids feel capable for completing the work and responsible for taking care of the home they live in.
With chores there is obviously some flexibility: we can decide something can be done a later time, or maybe we need to do a little extra on a given day if we have guests coming over.
Physical work AND play
My kids wake up with a lot of energy so I like to let them get some of it out before requesting that they sit down at a table for 30 minutes for morning time or preschool activities. Luckily, doing chores is a GREAT way to get the blood circulating and do some physical work. If there aren’t many chores to do we may also have some physical play, a living room dance party, or do their yoga workout DVD, or a song & movement game from Games Children Sing & Play.
8:30 – 9:30 AM | Morning Time OR Preschool OR Unstructured Play
I see three different options for our time together in the morning:
- Morning Time
- Unstructured Play
Remember my kids are 4 1/2 and 3 so there is not an intensive amount of academics to get done in the course of a week!
I separated out “Morning Time” from “Preschool Activities” below and hopefully it will make sense why after I describe the differences below:
(1) Morning Time
“But let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures, their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due proportion.” (Charlotte Mason)
If we have a “morning time” this will include some but not all of the following in one day:
- I have printed and laminated a few simple morning prayers to read
- Bible story (typically corresponds to our Letter of the Week)
- A reading from The Ology
- I condense these down to make them age-appropriate
- A reading from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing
- Scripture memorization
- Habits / Character Lesson
I will not have a morning time like this every day of the week. More than likely this will be once a week. The important part for me is that I plan for it. I must plan for my children to have contact with God’s Truth–if I leave it to chance, it won’t happen.
As for the habits / character lesson — in Laying Down the Rails For Children they really suggest ONLY once for a habits lesson per week. And, they suggest spending 6-8 weeks on just one habit! We will first go through Charlotte Mason’s three core habits for the early years: attention, obedience, and truthfulness. Added bonus: many of these require habit-training for parents, not just the kids! For us — fun, age-appropriate games are involved: for example, for our Obedience lesson last week we played “Simon Says.”
An important point to add, in keeping with a “gentle” structure to our days: I will not do a morning time like this AND do a bunch preschool activities on the same day! Quality over quantity is my goal, and Charlotte Mason even advocated for short lessons to develop the habit of attention. When we move towards Kindergarten, I should be able to extend our morning time to include Bible time AND school.
That said, if we do Preschool as detailed below, we will still do a prayer and brief review of our memory verse…
For days in which we do preschool, we will continue to follow The Peaceful Preschool through Letter Z, and then we will begin again with Letter A. The aspects of The Peaceful Preschool we will do are:
- Read Alouds (Here’s my blog post detailing how I select books for Preschool)
- Phonics & Letter Formation (for my oldest I have begun to include some more advanced reading and writing activities (Montessori-based) and my daughter will follow the curriculum as-is)
- Counting Skills
- Fine Motor Skills
I often skip the Large Motor Skills from The Peaceful Preschool because I feel that our outdoor play & exploration time covers this pretty well. For more on that topic, I highly recommend reading Balanced and Barefoot!
I often will save the following activities from The Peaceful Preschool for later on in the day:
- Practical Life Skills (baking / cooking project)
- Art Skills (unless it directly relates to the Read Aloud)
(3) Unstructured Play
There currently are and will continue to be days where I have zero things pre-planned for my kids in terms of lessons. We play a lot. And: I leave plenty space for my children to be bored and figure out what to do with their time on their own.
Again, I recommend reading Simplicity Parenting if you are looking for ideas on how to create an inviting play environment at home with a minimalist approach: having fewer, high quality open-ended toys actually enhances children’s ability to have longer stretches of imaginative play.
During this time, even if I have no pre-planned learning activities, we often read stories too. See this post for book lists I reference to find read alouds!
Also, I want to point out: so much learning in the preschool years can happen naturally through play! In fact, often the best “teaching moments” happen with prompting from the kids through their play, not through something I pre-planned.
9:30 – 11:00 AM | Outdoor Time OR Errands OR Fun Outings
<INSERT SNACK BREAK>
The transition from the above time to going outside is made by having a snack break. If we are going outside we may just bring some snacks in the yard or on our walk with us. If we run errands or go out of the house, we may bring a snack in the car. The bottom line: morning snack is essential for my children’s happiness.
(1) Outdoor Time
“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without” (Charlotte Mason).
Often in the mornings, our outdoor time involves movement: we are walking or hiking or off exploring. We live on a camp property so there are lots of options of places for us to explore. After a walk we stay outside and play in the yard until lunch.
I also LOVE using the outdoors as our natural learning environment because it requires zero pre-planning on my part. We use all of our senses. We pay attention to seasonal changes. We observe, we collect, we treasure. We nature journal. We share stories of our experiences.
Additional Resources on Outdoor Time:
I am a morning errand-runner because I feel that it avoids crowds and traffic. I try to keep errand I do with the kids to once per week.
(3) Fun Outings
A children’s museum, playground, nature walk with friends, the zoo, the library are some options for us. We typically have something like about once a week.
11:30 AM | Lunch
After lunch my kids clean up the common space: all toys and books and art supplies go away other than what my son wants to keep out in the kids’ room for his quiet time.
12:30 – 2:30 PM | Quiet Time
The kids typically get 30 minutes of screen time after lunch. I like having a set expected time that the screen time happens, because then they aren’t requesting (or demanding) it all throughout the day. Weekends we may watch an extra show in the evening or a movie as a family.
My daughter naps in our bed (since the kids share a room). I always read her a book first.
My son has his quiet time in the kids’ room. I read him a book and he either looks at books or plays with toys and puzzles.
The time they are actually in their separate rooms & the time I get in solitude to myself usually is about 1 hour 20 minutes. I usually read or do something creative or catch up on computer stuff.
2:30 – 3:00 PM | Tea Time OR Additional Preschool Activities
Generally speaking the focus during our afternoon together time will be beauty and togetherness: sharing tea, poetry, stories, art, music, baking, etc. I really enjoy this time because we all come together at the table for some arts and culture (and sweet treats) after our separate quiet times.
(1) Tea Time
“Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers…Poetry supplies us with tools for the modeling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at ourselves” (Charlotte Mason).
For tea time, we make either cinnamon or peppermint tea (because the kids actually drink it), and either:
(a) Read a few poems. As of now we do not work on memorizing any poems, but on Charlotte Mason’s Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six she has listed “to recite, beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns,” so I would like to start doing this.
Here are our favorite poetry books:
(b) Read short stories that aren’t poetry but we enjoy reading during this tea time:
(c) Read from chapter books. I find that this afternoon tea time is a great time to read chapter books which do not hold my 3 year old’s attention as well at other points in the day. If she’s sitting at the table with us and has a snack, she’ll stay and listen.
Lately we have been enjoying Beatrix Potter and Thornton Burgess Animal Stories.
(2) Additional Preschool Activities
At this time we might do any ONE of the following additional fun Preschool Activities. I never feel like these following things have to happen; but, our afternoon time at the kitchen table where we come together after our quiet times has proven to be a nice time to explore some poetry or art or culture together. This is an example of our natural daily rhythm existing before adding in activities. These activities are built in to our natural daily rhythm, and not some academic agenda or checklist:
- A baking project from The Peaceful Preschool
- An art project from The Peaceful Preschool
- A Picture Study from the Ambleside Online schedule (to incorporate art into our days in an informal way, as opposed to doing a true academic Picture Study the Charlotte Mason way (for a child greater than 6))
- A Music Study from Ambleside Online schedule (again, keeping this more informal, I plan to select one classical composition at a time to listen to, naming the composer for my kids — we are not doing a detailed academic study of a composer as you would with older children but I thought it would be fun to coincide with the Ambleside schedule)
- An Arts & Culture study from The Habitat Schoolhouse
- This may involve looking at art, learning about artists, musicians, or other countries and cultures (likely using our MAPS book)
- An Animal & Plant study from The Habitat Schoolhouse
Note: I would never do several of these at once! And, further: I will not hit all of these categories in a given week. I see this not a checklist, but more of an opportunity.
3:00 – 5:30 PM | Outside Time
“We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things” (Charlotte Mason).
This may include unstructured play, a hike or walk, maybe a specific nature study, or maybe even a trip to a close playground.
There may be some outdoor play and learning activities that I have for us to do as well.
A Note About Nature Study:
For our “nature studies” — to me this mostly means that we are present to the natural world around us, taking everything in with all of our senses. We observe, we discuss, sometimes the kids add to their nature journals.
I do not do anything super extensive by way of academics here. I like to keep it fun and playful, but mostly just keeping in step with the season we are in and knowing fully the place in which we live.
I have looked through Exploring Nature With Children and this curriculum is an absolutely wonderful resource! Right now I do not plan to use this week-by-week, but I may reference it as-needed if there’s some aspect of the natural world my kids seem to want to explore further.
Additional Resources on Outdoor Time:
5:30 PM | Dinner
We eat food. Together. Light candles. Pray for the meal. Share about our days.
A Note About Dinner Prep:
Often I prep dinner once my husband gets home shortly after 5 PM. He can play with the kids outside or inside and I can do dinner. Often, though, we have leftovers or do really simple meals that I can even prep during the day. If I do pre-prep I likely do that during lunch time since we are all in the kitchen anyway.
6:00 – 7:30 PM | Family Together Time
Outdoor adventures, board games, books, puzzles, animal shows, random trips out for ice cream, coloring, playing with Dad-as-a-jungle-gym, etc.
7:30 PM | Bedtime Routine
Bath, PJs and brush teeth, and then either my husband or I read to the kids for about 30 minutes before lights out.
Bedtime stories has always been a favorite time of day for me. We read for a long time! We read books we own, but I also keep a shelf of library books that I pull from a variety of sources. These are often seasonally appropriate or related to our preschool curriculum in some way.
8:00 PM | Bedtime
Phew. We made it!! Likely not without some messes and failures and fights and tears.
A Sample Week: Letter V
Putting ALL of this together I decided to share a sample week of what I planned out for our Letter V week (click here for the PDF version of what is below). Mostly I think it’s important to see how many categories are left blank on any given day. I’m not trying to check off ALL the boxes on every day. And the truth is: this week was a fuller than an average week in terms of my planning because we just did not have any scheduled outings. Normally one of these days would be left totally empty in terms of my planning.
Just for a frame of reference, each day this week the morning block of activities where we sit together and read and do some preschool actives took maybe 20-35 minutes, except for Tuesday when we spent a lot of time learning a variety of orchestra instruments and did extra learning with videos and music and supplemental materials–that was probably more like a hour. Afternoon tea time & projects range from 20-40 minutes before we head outside.
And OF COURSE…
Obviously there are days where NONE of what I just mentioned is happening. We’re sick. We’re off our groove. We’re traveling. I just want to have a “break day” for no particular reason. Please do not read this and think I’m a perfect human and totally nailing it every day. There are good reasons and not-so-good reasons why our days sometimes are not fully perfect and flowing nicely. The truth is, though, I am glad it’s that way because it means we are normal.
Another thing I want to be clear about: I have 2 children, but in a way school right now is like schooling only 1 child. We have 1 curriculum, and basically my 2 kids are doing the same things with the exception of my son doing some more advanced language arts. This will change. Our daily rhythm will change. I am happy to shift things around when it is appropriate to do so!
EVERY SINGLE FAMILY is unique and different and what works for me will not work for you in the same way. It’s just a fact. But — I know that when I first started out this homeschool journey it was so so helpful for me to read other mom’s daily rhythms just to have somewhere to start! I understand it can feel overwhelming to start.
If I have any advice it’s this: dive in, and expect to fail. Sometimes the only way you’ll find your “groove” is to find out what doesn’t work through failure. When I started out Letter A with The Peaceful Preschool in May 2017 I did an INSANE amount of activities in a 2 week period! I cringe a little. But, here’s the thing — I don’t regret it. I had to know what was “too much” in order to know what was “just right.” And I had to learn that checking off all of the boxes on my to-do list did not inherently make our day a good day. And then I had to go back and re-read Teaching From Rest because clearly it didn’t sink in enough the first time!
Additional Resources on Rhythm
This ebook is an EXCELLENT starting point for homeschooling with themes from Charlotte Mason. There is a whole section in here on rhythms. Rachael Alsbury & Kate Heinemeyer share their daily rhythms as well as so many more additional resources.
The introduction pages of this curriculum have SO MUCH guidance and wisdom for creating a Family Vision and ideas for establishing a daily rhythm. Included is a sample daily schedule. If you buy this curriculum do not skip these pages! For those following The Peaceful Preschool, I also recommend reading Kaitlyn from Simply Learning‘s daily rhythm here as well as Lyndsey from Treehouse Schoolhouse‘s daily rhythm here.
I mentioned this book already above but the chapter on rhythm in particular of this book is so good, aimed at simplifying our home environment and lifestyle.
This is not directly about “rhythm” per se but this serves as an excellent invitation to approach the daily grind with a peaceful heart. Sarah Mackenzie beautifully encourages us how to have reasonable expectations for our homeschooling days and how to simplify our goals to get at what really matters to us. Daily rhythms are always evolving and we, the homeschooler, set the tone. We are the atmosphere. The biggest take-home for me after reading this book was the fact that how we interact with our children matters more than getting through the curriculum material.
This blog post was so lovely and encouraging to me last year before I began our homeschooling adventure. I re-read it whenever I am feeling crazy.
Sally Clarkson has a lot of wonderful books on homeschooling and mothering, but this one in particular considers the rhythms of the home, and gives month-by-month ideas for creating a rich home environment full of intention. Charlotte Mason said that “education is an atmosphere” and our daily rhythms can be enhanced by cultivating a meaningful home atmosphere full of beauty, life, and order.