Category: Getting Started Homeschooling

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Getting Started Homeschooling Part 9- De-Schooling

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Deschooling is the adjustment period a child goes through when leaving school and beginning homeschooling. To really get the benefits of homeschooling, a child has to decompress and disconnect from “school” being the default and “school ways” being the standard expectation.

Full disclosure… my children have been homeschooled since the beginning. We have not personally gone through the process of deschooling. I do, however, know the benefit of such a process and will write to you out of that knowledge.

Whenever you have a shift in your family’s norm, you can expect some adjustment time. When you move to a new home, have a new baby, have a health crisis, job change… any shift… big or small… can bring the need for an adjustment.

Deschooling involves a period where you do very little formal school work in order to re-calibrate your child’s natural love of learning.

I found this chart on the Time for Learning website. I really like how it shows the difference between Learning in a Classroom and Home Education. You can see from the chart how vastly different the methods of education are and why it might take time for students and parents to adjust to the new norm! I was a classroom teacher before I had children and made the decision to homeschool. Even though we have homeschooled the entire time, I still had to go through a period of deschooling for myself. I had to realize that homeschooling is not recreating school at home. It is a lifestyle… a freedom… a joy to create a culture of learning in our home and unlock my children’s love of learning on their level and in their time.

Deschooling is essentially a break that allows for transition between public and home school. This does not mean you are on an extended vacation or a free for all time. This is an intentional time to give you and your student space to learn a new normal. This is a precious time to learn your child in a new way. You can learn who they are, what makes them tick, how they learn, and what they are interested in. You can allow space for them to take ownership of their education alongside you.

Some things you may encounter on your deschooling journey:

Grief: Depending on why you chose to homeschool, there may be a period of grief on the part of yourself or your student. Grieving your old normal, your friendships, your habits, etc. This is ok! Give yourself and your children time to process.

Adjustment: Learning a new normal takes time. Give yourself grace as you make the switch to home education. You may decide doing school at night is more effective for your children. You may decide you like online learning or nature based learning or literature based learning. You will likely feel bombarded and probably overwhelmed with all the curriculum choices and helpful homeschool friends. You don’t have to rush to make a decision. Take your time. Learn who you are as a teacher and who your child is as a student.

Deschooling gives you a chance to find your footing. How long you choose to deschool is really up to you. I have heard that you should do it one month for every year your child was in traditional/ public school. So … if you pull your 5th grader and bring them home… maybe expect 4-5 months of a cooling off period. It really is different for every family. You are creating new patterns of behavior and thought. It takes time.

What does deschooling actually look like???

  • visit museums
  • go hiking
  • watch documentaries
  • build with legos
  • visit the library
  • explore interests
  • learn a new hobby
  • play with STEM kits or Maker kits
  • homeschool with minecraft
  • learn a musical instrument
  • make jewelry
  • paint
  • do a nature study
  • have great, in depth talks
  • learn film making
  • read, read, read

Through activities like these, you are able to learn what makes your kid tick! You’ll see how they approach learning and what they are interested in. You’ll give them time to build confidence as a learner and prepare for the education that is ahead of them. This is an opportunity to build a great foundation before you tackle those subjects they need to be college ready!

Learning is happening during this period of deschooling. Valuable learning. Deschooling will look different for different families.. just like homeschooling looks different. If you are new to homeschooling. If you have brought your child home for whatever reason… breathe! You are going to be ok! Homeschooling doesn’t have to be a battle… it shouldn’t be a battle. It might be a puzzle for a while… but you will figure this out! Involve your child in the process!

One book I have found to be particularly helpful is 8 Great Smarts by Kathy Koch. This helps to understand the way our children view the world, learn, and express themselves. It has been extremely helpful for me to have patience with my youngest who is very “word smart” and my little middle who is very “body smart.” They tackle the world in front of them very differently. My wordy girl has all the words and wants to tell me all the things. We go for walks and she talks the entire time… asking questions, pointing things out, etc. My body smart girl is a mover. She is constantly fidgety, always dancing, running… moving! If I require her to sit still while she is schooling, she will not be fully successful. I learned these things about my girls through time spent with them in the unintentional learning that happens every day.

You have made the choice to home school! I don’t know what spurred that decision on, but it was an intentional choice. You’ve got this!


Other topics I’ll be covering in this “Getting Started Homeschooling Series” are:

CurriculumGetting Started Homeschoolinghighschoolhomeschool helps

Getting Started Homeschooling Part 8- High School

When my oldest was just started out and we were beginning our homeschool journey, I remember worrying and scurrying to get all the things. He needed an easel. He needed colored pencils and crayons and notebooks and workbooks and curriculum. We needed a designated school area. We needed a schedule. I needed to check boxes.

As time went on, I realized that a beautiful part of homeschooling is not having to recreate school at home. I was a classroom teacher before having kids and I thought that homeschooling meant having to set up a classroom in our home. If that’s your jam… go for it. BUT… if the idea of having to have all the things to be a successful homeschooler is stressing you out… in the words of Elsa… Let it Go!

For years I was able to adapt and adopt our delight directed approach. I gave up many preconceived notions and began to include the kids in the learning goals and material choices. It was a beautiful thing. But then… Then my oldest went into ninth grade and that familiar panic crept back in. All of the sudden I felt like I needed all the things. Like my son needed all the things or I was going to completely fail him and leave him unprepared for the world. I started entertaining the thought of buying curriculum, enrolling him in classes, putting him in school. Somehow highschool just felt scary. Like the game just got more real.

As I was in a flurry of planning and explaining to my son all the things he would have to do, he said, “Wait… I thought we were unschooling delight directed kind of people…how does that work with high school?”

He was right… why would I need to change our philosophy and vision now? How could I continue with interest led learning? How do we continue create life long learners?

Please remember that I am living in North Carolina. My homeschool experience and knowledge of the law is through the North Carolina lens. Please do your due diligence and research the homeschool laws in your own state. Some states are more regulated and some are less.

In North Carolina, there are no requirements to graduate high school. You, the parent, are the chief administrator of your school and therefore create and set the learning goals. However… if you have a college bound child… it would behoove you to look into the requirements for admission and work backwards from there. Not every student will go to college. I have told my kids that I don’t know if they are college bound, but I am not going to be the reason they don’t have the option. I will build our homeschool in such a way that they have the option to go to college when they graduate.

I heard a friend describe homeschooling highschool like this… the core subjects… like math and language arts and history and science are the scaffolding on which the school experience is built. You have to have those core subjects to build the foundation. When you have those in place, you can design your education to fit your interests and needs.

Most colleges look for students to complete 4 English courses, 3 Math courses, 3 Science (with two of those being lab sciences), 3 Social Studies, 1 Health, 1 PE, and 6 Electives. Now… HOW you complete those can be flexible and creative. Some areas of study have little wiggle room… like math. Sorry… but Algebra seems to be a non-negotiable. I told my son that if he could find a solid college within a 300 mile radius of our home with an arts program that did not require Algebra for admissions…we could totally look into dropping Algebra from our school… but until then… he just needed to do it! Not everything is pleasant or fun. Sometimes we just have to endure and work through hard things. That is life and learning endurance and resiliency is super important.

Tips for Homeschooling High School

  1. Involve Your Student. Sit down with your student and look at the scaffolding for the year. Involve them in the choices for their scaffolding and for their electives. What do they want to pursue? When you include them in the planning, it goes well for both of you!
  2. Steer Towards Independence. Let your student have control where they can. Let them be mindful of their workspace, of their schedule and managing their time. Allow room for growth and for error. Your child is not you. They may have a different way of looking at things, organizing things, accomplishing tasks. Give them the freedom to learn themselves and be successful in their way.
  3. Encourage Interests and Passions. You may notice this has been a common theme throughout my Getting Started Homeschooling Series. One of my major goals for my kids when they leave my homeschool is to be able to identify what they want to learn and have the ability to go after it. I want them to know how to learn. While under my roof, they should have the ability to experiment, fail, and succeed. If they want to be an entreprenuer- we will learn about good business practice. If they want a career in food, we will seek out opportunities to learn more. Maybe give them a specific night of each week that is theirs to create the menu, plan, and prepare dinner for the family.
  4. Be creative in your records. A trap I think we fall into as parents and educators is that we have to complete a book or course in one school year. We think that the disciplines should be separate… like chemistry and home economics are two different things. Or math and life skills do not over lap. But they do. My son took a food Chemistry class last year. He learned about cooking and his labs consisted of food related experiments (that often ended up in a delicious dinner for the rest of us!). Maybe your child doesn’t take specific computer skills course, but rather you incorporate using Google tools like Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc. into their regular rhythm of school. At the end of four years, you can look back and see the hours of training put into learning word processing, spreadsheets, etc. and you record a Computer Skills class on their transcript.
  5. Encourage Volunteer Work and Service. Teach your student to be a good human. How can they use their time and talents to give back to the community. Not only does this prepare them to be compassionate adults… it also looks good on a college application! Look for local opportunities to serve… help in a food pantry, do yard work for seniors, read books to children (or animals apparently at the local animal shelter), write letters to seniors who are trapped in retirement communities with no visitors due to COVID, organize a silent auction with proceeds going to a local charity, collect coats and blankets for the homeless, deliver meals on wheels… opportunities to serve are out there. Encourage your teen to find them and engage.

Your involvement in your teen’s high school homeschool experience can vary from teacher to tutor to guidance counselor to bus driver to cheerleader. You are preparing a young adult to launch into this world. They aren’t ready yet… they will still need you! Hold loosely to your highschooler as they grow more towards independence each day. You may be surprised with what they can do!

Last tip… know your strengths and weaknesses. You do not have to teach all the things. Goodness… high school sciences and math… whew… outside my wheelhouse! I am so thankful for online resources and classes. My oldest will be taking Spanish online through Luma Learn. He is going to do book studies through Progeny Press for his Language Arts. We are currently working on creating a small co op where he can learn with other high schoolers. Classes will include world history as seen through the arts and public speaking. Lean on your community. Realize that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Tons and tons and tons of resources are out there for you! Easy Peasy, Khan Academy, and School Yourself are just a few of the great FREE options out there!

SchoolhouseTeachers.com has put together a great option that takes the guess work out for you. They are offering virtual “Boxed” curriculum through your membership. This is really great because veteran homeschoolers have curated courses to create a wonderful and full homeschool year. And guess what!!! There is a great sale going on right now with Schoolhouse Teachers. Buy one year, get the second FREE! Two years for just $179 (and you get a free tote bag… just saying!).


Other topics I’ll be covering in this “Getting Started Homeschooling Series” are:

Getting Started Homeschoolingmiddle school

Getting Started Homeschooling Part 7- Middle School

I LOVE… I mean seriously LOVE middle school. These years are quirky and hard and fun. Your child is growing up and middle school are those in between years where one day your child is so very grown up and the next you find them on the floor surrounded by Legos or Barbies or Playmobil. It is an amazing and extraordinary time. These are not years to be feared, but to be embraced. Teaching middle school is an adventure.

I work with middle schoolers and have learned a lot about how they tick over the last few years. Sixth graders think they know everything. They are loud and overly confident (at times). They are socially awkward as they try to fit into the adult world. They linger around adult conversations and often burst in with comments that are seemingly out of place. They wiggle and have the attention span of a goldfish. Seventh graders have started to have some control over their bodies…. some control… not full. These poor seventh grade boys have bodies that are growing faster than they can keep up with. They trip over their own feet! They have realized that this thing called puberty is happening. Their bodies are changing and they are very aware of that. They can sit a little longer and hang with a deep conversation. They are forming their own opinions about the world around them. Eighth graders are moving from concrete thought to abstract thought. They are beginning to understand the world from a whole new perspective… understanding imagery, grasping abstract concepts. They are well on their way to becoming young adults… but definitely still need time and space to play.

Middle school is a really special time when they are still little, but definitely stepping out of childhood. The difference with my son from the beginning of eighth grade to the end was like night and day. The things he found funny, the energy he had, the things he occupied his time with all changed that year. He really began to come into his own and his personality started to come through in a way I had never seen.

So… how do you homeschool a middle schooler???

These are great years to challenge your child, to train your child, and to have fun with your child. In North Carolina, there are no requirements that you must teach per grade. You are the chief administrator of your school and therefore decide what your learning goals and curriculum should be. If you are not homeschooling in North Carolina, please take time to familiarize yourself with your state’s homeschool laws.

Train for Independence

For our family, I have used the middle school years to begin training my children to take responsibility for their own learning and maintaining their schedules. I begin to grade certain assignments. The first test my son took for a grade was in seventh grade. We were using Master Books, General Science. He did not do stellar on his test. I made him study and take it again. He told his dad that I gave him a D on his test. His dad replied, “Mom didn’t give you a D. You earned it. That’s on you.” He learned how to study. He learned how to take a test.

Use a Planner

I begin to teach more independence. By middle school, most students are fluent readers. They can be given an assignment and tools to complete it on their own. It takes training… just like when they were young and you were teaching them to read or to clean their room or to wash the dishes…. it all takes training. Once the training is complete, you should be able to confidently give them an assignment to complete. In seventh grade, I create an Evernotes account for my children as well as a Google account. With a Google account, they have email and access to Google tools such as Slide, Docs, Sheets, etc. Evernotes is simply a program for creating checklists, schedules, etc. Trello and Google Keep are other good options. You could also go with a good old fashion paper planner. My children learn to follow a checklist and not come to me for every little thing. I give them their entire week of assignments at the beginning of the week. The assignments are due by Friday. They learn to order their day. I have one child that budgets his time and does a little each day to make sure he completes the entire list by Friday. I have another child who tends to wait and does it all towards the end of the week. I do ask that they do math every day and not try to do that all at once. There are still times when they require instruction and involvement from me, but more often than not, they can complete an assignment without my help.

Different Learning Styles

Different children have different learning styles and ways in which they attack the world. You have some who like to follow a schedule, check boxes… those who are self motivated and those who need a little push. You have procrastinators and those who are up and at em early and done by ten! Help your child learn who they are and how they learn during these middle school years. But also remember that puberty is a beast and your middle schooler may have lost their brain temporarily and need a little extra love and attention.

Interest Led Learning

Most middle schoolers are screaming for independence. They are desperately trying to figure out how they fit into this world. Middle School is a fantastic time for interest led learning. Sit down with your middle schooler and ask them what they want to learn, do, explore, invest in… and help make that happen. Middle School years are transitional years. Do not rush to get them into high school. Use this time to teach independence, teach them how to identify what they want to learn and give them the tools to go after it! Allow space for them to grow and space for them to fail. Your homeschool should be a safe space for your middle schooler to grow.

You can still have the foundational subjects in place…. your reading, writing, and math. When you include your child in the curriculum planning, it gives them a sense of ownership. Be willing to listen to them and invite them in to the process. Help them develop or continue to develop a love of learning by showing them that school is so much more than sitting at the desk and doing math problems. Do you have a child interested in coding, check out Scratch from MIT. Do you have a Minecraft loving kid, check out Homeschool with Minecraft. Budding film maker, check out FilmSchool for Teens. Does your child want to start a business, check out Starting a MicroBusiness for Teens. Want to learn another language, learn to sew, garden, blog, build something??? The options are endless!

Not sure where to start as far as curriculum???

First, I would encourage you to figure out what homeschool philosophy appeals to you? Check out THIS POST.

Second, get your basics in place. What are your plans for math, literature/ language arts?

Third, ask your child what they want to learn and seek out materials to help you.

Here are a few of my favorite resources:

SchoolhouseTeachers.Com– This is an online program. You sign up for a membership and gain access to over 400 courses from preschool-high school. You can click on middle school and on the subject you are looking for and see all the courses they have to offer. It is self paced and from a Christian worldview. They have a new feautre called “School Boxes.” These are currated courses by grade that puts together your curriculum for you and takes out the guess work… all included in your membership.

Easy Peasy– This is an online curriculum. It is free… yep… free!

Khan Academy– This is another great, FREE option. There are tons of different homeschool helps to find through Khan- academic and elective. They start in early elementary and go through high school.

Progeny Press– I recently discovered this company through the Homeschool Review Crew. They look at secular literature through a Christian worldview. Their study guides are thorough and meaty… lots of good stuff.

Enjoy these years. They are precious. They are hard, but don’t have to be impossible. You don’t have to write off your middle schooler as a hormonal mess. Remember that you are the grown up here… lean into the chaos and love on your child. They still need you. They still want you. I remember a game night with our youth group when my second was in sixth grade. Most youth activities, she was off with her friends, not giving me a second thought. This particular night, however, a storm moved through and the thunder was very loud. As we were playing games, she found her way to me and sat in my lap until the storm passed. Neither of us made a big deal about it. It was a sweet moment. She needed me and I was available.


Other topics I’ll be covering in this “Getting Started Homeschooling Series” are:

elementary schoolGetting Started Homeschooling

Getting Started Homeschooling Part 6- Elementary School

Y’all! I have loved every stage my children have gone through. Truly… I don’t know that I have a favorite age or stage as far as parenting goes. But as far as homeschooling… elementary school is my favorite. It is just the best! There is so much room for creativity and child- led learning. It is a beautiful time to get to know your kids… to explore their interests. To try new things. You can find your homeschooling groove during these years without fear of failing.

These are the years your child will take off with reading. I liken teaching reading to a light switch. It will turn on… but the timing may be different depending on the child. Once that light turns on, it is amazing. A child who struggled and struggled to sound out words and read full sentences will suddenly be checking out chapter books from the library and reading through them … and retaining the information. It is a little bit magical. I have watched this happen with all of my children. I have one child, who through circumstances beyond her control has learning issues, gain the confidence to read and loves it now. Her light switch was more like a dimmer switch… the light would go on and off and have different levels of brightness… but eventually it clicked and she reads like a champ! Trust me… it will come. I have a friend who once said the greatest thing she could do for her child is teach them to read. Once you do that, they can take more ownership of their education and learning. It opens the world to them!

So… How in the world do you get started homeschooling elementary school??? With so many great curriculum options, programs, online courses, books… where do you start???

Two things to consider… What kind of homeschooler are you? And what kind of student is your child?

Do you want a box curriculum to tell you what to do? Do you enjoy piecing together your own curriculum? Are you a schedule person? A morning person? Do you prefer a more traditional approach to school? Is your child a tactile learner (they have to touch everything)? A kinesthetic learner (they move all day long)? An audio learner (they learn through listening and get distracted by visuals)? A visual learner (they need to see all the things)?

You need to know yourself and know your child as you move into homeschooling. The elementary years are the best time (in my opinion) to figure all this out. Let me share a little of my personal story and then I will give you some resources to help you out!

When my oldest was five, I figured it was time to get serious about homeschooling and look into curriculum choices. I went to a homeschool conference. I highly, highly recommend you find a conference in your area to attend. Unfortunately, most of the conferences this year were canceled due to COVID-19. Hopefully next year will be different. Conferences are great because you become immersed with people who are speaking the language of homeschool. You get to see and touch the curriculum and books. You can ask questions of the vendors and really gather information to make informed choices… or you can be like me and buy all the shiny, lovely things that have that new book smell… only to bring them home, put them on the shelf, and leave them there, abandoned with the lingering hopes of being used.

ANYWAY. I went to a conference. I settled on My Father’s World first grade curriculum. We loved it. For me, I was deep in the throes of young motherhood. At that time, I had a five year old, a three year old, and a one year old. The days were busy and the nights were not filled with the sleep I needed. My husband was in the midst of getting his Masters in Counseling. I needed a curriculum that was laid out for me. I needed a schedule and boxes to check off. I needed someone else to tell me what to do. My Father’s World was great. We went on to use it for the next 3 years. We used the First Grade, Adventures in U.S. History, and Exploring Countries and Cultures.

Fast forward three years from the beginning of all this. Another child has been added to the crew. My husband graduated from his Masters program and we moved to Western North Carolina. We have settled in and even completed a year with of a co op with other families. We all did Exploring Countries and Cultures together. It was awesome! One of my favorite years. We were together with three other families. We would meet once a week and do the fun stuff… the cooking and science and art. My older two remember that year fondly.

Well… I ordered the next level of My Father’s World… Creation to the Greeks. Another solidly put together curriculum. But as I sat there looking at it, I realized my heart wasn’t in it. I was not excited about using it and I knew my kids wouldn’t be either. I ended up making a bold and scary choice. I sold the curriculum. I called my older two (then 8 and 5) to the table and gave them each a piece of paper. I asked them to write down what they wanted to learn about. Now… I kept my math curriculum… because I know my strengths and weaknesses. Math is a weakness and I know that without a solid math curriculum for my kids, it could mean disaster for them.

My oldest wrote that he wanted to learn about “how things work” and the next oldest wrote that she wanted to learn about “pandas.” By the way… this is the method that I have implemented every year since and for at least three years, she wrote she wanted to learn about pandas. So… if you ever need to know about pandas… I’ ve got you covered. I took the things they wrote down and started gathering materials. I utilized Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, the library, YouTube… I gathered materials to help meet the desires of my kids. We read books and wrote reports (language arts), we made models using legos, cardboard boxes, Hot Wheels Cars (STEM- Science), we did virtual tours of zoos, watched documentaries, and learned about China (Social Studies and History), and we painted and drew pictures (Art). Once we exhausted all we could about “how things work” and “pandas,” I asked them what was next and we did it all again.

Y’all… they LOVED that year in school. I would hear them in their room in the mornings talking about how they were so excited to “do school.” It was a really fun year and I learned a lot through the experience of letting go and trusting the process.

Resources for Homeschooling Elementary School

Curriculum Options (There are so many out there. These are just a few)

My Father’s World– Christian Worldview, Literature Heavy. $$

Sonlight– Christian Worldview, Literature Heavy. $$$

Book Shark– Secular Worldview, Literature Heavy. $$$

Abeka– More Traditional, Christian Worldview- Online and Offline Options $$

Simply Charlotte Mason– Charlotte Mason Based Studies $

Moving Beyond the Page– Secular Worldview, Hands On for Creative and Gifted Learners $$$

Time 4 Learning– Secular Worldview- Online $$

Easy Peasy– Christian Worldview- Online and Offline- FREE

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Christian Hero Then and Now Biographies– We used these as the spine of our year once. We would read the books and talk about the people, places, and things.

Schoolhouse Teachers . Com- This is a great resource offering over 400 courses for Pk- 12th with TONS of Parent helps! You can read more about it HERE and HERE.

Teachers Pay Teachers– You can find a plethora of resources through this open marketplace created by Teachers and for Teachers. My shop has a variety of No-Prep Printables. Just download and go!

Drawing Notebooks– I cannot stand having thousands of pieces of paper around my house filled with my children’s most amazing artwork. So… I buy them sketch pads. The art is contained and the temptation to chuck it in the trash is decreased. Drawing notebooks can also make great Nature Journals.

Legos! Oh my word… there is so much you can do with Legos! You can have free build. You can create challenges (Check out these building challenge cards in My Teachers Pay Teachers Shop), you can learn about a city and then have your kid build it with Legos. They can play quietly with Legos while you read aloud. The open ended options are endless!!

The Young Peacemaker Book– These are great years to work on character development. This book is a great resource for teaching your children about character and how to interact with others.

Final Advice

Two things that I think are CRUCIAL for your elementary age student… PLAY and READ! Read, read, read… and read some more. You read to them. Have them read to you. Play… allow time and space for play- directed and free. Let your child be bored. Boredom leads to creativity. Play is important. Don’t buy into the lie that your child is wasting time when they are playing. They are learning. Their brains are building. At the end of the day… if they have played and spent some time in a book… it has been a good day!

As far as how your day should look when you are homeschooling an elementary age student:

  • Elementary age students can complete their daily work in an hour… maybe 1-2 hours for upper elementary. Focused academics does not need to take much time.
  • Children thrive on schedules. Make sure your student is aware of your expectations. Your day doesn’t need to be scheduled to the minute, but have consistent rhythms. Maybe have book work time in the morning, free reading after lunch, chores, screen time, etc. Maybe make Tuesdays a library day and Fridays a field day.
  • If something is frustrating to your child, take a break and step back to see where you might need to slow down or speed up.

Other topics I’ll be covering in this “Getting Started Homeschooling Series” are:

free printableGetting Started Homeschoolingpreschool

Getting Started Homeschooling Part 5- Preschool

I LOVE Preschool! Those are some of the most precious years. My degree is in Early Childhood Education and I was a 4K teacher before I had children of my own. I absolutely love that age. They are so fun and so curious and say some of the most amazing things. When I was starting out teaching, the school where I was to work had formerly been simply 4th and 5th grade. The schools in the district were divided by grade. There was one school for K-1st, one school for 2nd-3rd, and one for 4th-5th. So… not only was my school not set up for little ones, 4 year old kindergarten was a completely new concept!

When I arrived a couple of weeks before school was to begin, I was shown my new classroom. It was completely empty! The furniture had been ordered, but wouldn’t arrive until after the school year had begun. I had nothing. No rug, no cubbies, no toys, no tables, no chairs… nothing. I started scavenging. I walked up and down the halls and took from the piles of discarded items other teachers were throwing away. I had a friend give me a few boxes of materials. A friend gave me a tub of Duplo Blocks. The toy store where I had worked for the summer went through their inventory and loaded up my car with a lot of items that could not be sold… CDs that we had used to play music in the store, items that had been used for story time or puppet shows, slightly flawed toys. I collected everything I could find for those next two weeks. I recruited my husband (who at the time was just a friend) to paint tables for me.

But wait… there’s more…

The school had no curriculum or plan for me to use. I was tasked with creating the 4K program for my classroom. The program was a new idea. Most of my students were half day preschoolers. I had a morning and an afternoon class. However, I had about ten students who would stay all day. These students were considered “at risk” and it was thought that they would benefit from double exposure to all the lessons.

Y’all. They put a brand new teacher into an empty classroom with no plan! I was thrown into the deep end! But guess what? I made it. The year was so much fun. I made a kitchen center out of cardboard boxes. Those Duplo Blocks were well loved and played with daily. We danced to songs from those old CDs. I covered the walls with artwork from my students instead of cute little posters. My assistant, my co-teacher, and her assistant were all brand new. We made some amazing memories as we stumbled through that year together. It was eye opening for sure. But some of the lessons I learned in that first year of teaching carried me when it was time to school my own preschoolers at home.

When someone asks, “What do I need for my preschooler?” ” How do I choose curriculum?” ” What should they be learning?”

This is my 3 step response:

  1. Read
  2. Play
  3. Explore

Let me say this LOUD AND CLEAR…. preschoolers do not need structured academics. Preschoolers NEED TO PLAY. They learn through PLAY. Let them PLAY!

Y’all listen to Mr. Rogers! Play is serious learning. It is not an easy out to let your preschooler play all. day. long. Unless your child is really excited about workbooks and sitting at the table to “do school,” don’t make them do it. My oldest liked to sit with me and do school for about one hot minute per week. He much preferred reading books about planets and building solar system models. He loved to explore the backyard and collect sweet gum balls. He rode his tricycle, climbed trees, built forts, rescued stuffed animals in danger, played with his sister, looked at books, read books, watched Little Einsteins and Sid the Science Kid. I learned from my experiences with him to not push school on my girls. The time would come for more focused academics. Preschool is a beautiful time to learn your children and see the world through their eyes.

I know this might seem tough. Especially if your non-homeschooling friends are sending their children off to preschool and posting all their super cute crafts on social media. You may feel like your child who prefers to play in mud puddles over learning to read is going to fall behind. I promise he or she will not fall behind. I promise PLAY is the most important. I mean… Albert Einstein said it… so… you can believe it.

When I potty trained my third child, she was much younger than my first two had been. They had been closer to three years old. They had potty trained very easily. I thought by number three I was a pro.

I was not.

It was a miserable experience. I had a newborn and was trying to potty train my not-quite two and a half year old. That child peed on me on a number of occassions. She wet her clothes regularly. She wet furniture regularly. It was MISERABLE. I thought I was going to ruin my relationship with this child. We tried every reward in the book…. nothing was working. Fast forward about six months. She decided she wanted to try to sleep through the night without a pull up. She had her eye on a pair of Hello Kitty boots. I told her that if she kept her pull up dry for five nights, she could have the boots. She came out every morning with a dry pull up and watched me check off the calendar. She was over the moon excited when she got those boots. Why did it work then and not before? She simply wasn’t ready six months prior. Because she wasn’t ready, it made the training that much harder.

I have seen in my parenting career that if my children wait until they are ready for something, the success rate is so much higher. Potty training, learning to read, riding a bike, playing the piano… If you just give your child a little time, school and life will go more smoothly. If you are getting push back from your child. If they are just not seeming to grasp a concept… take a break. Take some time off and come back to it later. When they are ready, they will take off! That was my story. I was a poor reader all through early elementary school. I was put in the lowest reading group and had to stay in from recess all through third grade. But when I finally figured it out… when my brothers spent time with me helping me learn… I took off and never looked back.

If you want to maintain a culture of play and direct a little more focused education, let me suggest you utilize Busy Bags. Busy bags are simple activities stored in a bag for toddlers or preschoolers so they are always ready to go! They are engaging activities that your child can do independently. They are great for playing during quiet time at home or to keep them busy while waiting at the doctor’s office. I suggest using zipper pencil pouches to store your activities.

Toddler Busy Bag Swap

This picture is from a Toddler Busy Bag swap I did with some families in our community several years ago. First, we generated interest among our local community, then everyone picked an activity, agreed on a date and time and the swap was on! Each person picked an activity to make and made multiple sets of that one activity. We each brought our items to the park and shared about what we had made.

1. Paint chip matching

2. A Button Snake… kids lace shapes onto a long ribbon.

3. A Lacing Toy… this awesome lady cut up a plastic dish drain and provided strings and pipe cleaners for endless play time. Toddlers can pull the string through the holes. Preschoolers can practice lacing and weaving.

4. Color Matching wheel … See below for the FREE printable that goes along with this one. Kids match colored clothespins to the color wheel.

5. Color Match circles… A Big circle is laid down with a color written on it. Kids match smaller circles with pictures done in the same color. (Example… the big circle says “green”… kids place a small circle with a green smiley face on top.

6. Pom Pom Push…. we also had this one at the previous swap. It is a huge favorite at our house. You take a small plastic container at cut a hole in the lid. Kids can push the pom poms through the hole. This mama put duct tape around the hole so no little fingers get cut with jagged plastic.

Preschool Busy Bags

1. Pom Pom Pick Up. The child has a container filled with pom poms and a set of tongs. The lid of the container has a hole in it. The child can empty the pom poms and then use the tongs or their fingers to put them back through the hole in the lid. This activity also came with a straw… the child can blow the pom poms around the table!

2. Homemade Play Dough… every kid I’ve ever met loves play dough. It just has so many great learning aspects… especially development of fine motor skills.

3. Felt Pizza… with order slips!! The child can create custom pizzas with this fun activity. They have crust, sauce and a variety of toppings. The activity also has order slips to make custom order and practice counting how many of each topping goes on the pizza.

4. Color Match Puzzles.

5. Spoon Matching with Shapes and Numbers.

6. Spell Your Name Bunting. This mom made personalized busy bags for each of the families that participated.

7. Block Puzzles. The child estimates how many blocks will fit in a certain shape and then does the puzzle to find the correct answer.

8. Paint Chip Color Match. My kids LOVED using clothes pins!

9. Lacing and Shapes. Children lace the ribbon through various shapes.

A favorite activity of my kids, when they were small, was making patterns with Duplo Blocks. You can create your own patterns using the Free Printable Below.

Please don’t stress, dear friends. The preschool years are tough… they are… but they are oh so fun! Preschoolers are amazing and come up with the best games. They have amazing imaginations and are so, so curious. You can teach your preschooler to listen to the rhythms of their body. They need play. They need rest. They need activity. They need calm. Teach them self awareness. Ask them what they want to learn. Explore with them!


Other topics I’ll be covering in this “Getting Started Homeschooling Series” are: