I’ve planned to homeschool my kids since before I knew I would even have kids. My mother is a homeschool consultant, I was partially homeschooled growing up, and my siblings and cousins were primarily homeschooled, so it is very familiar territory to me. Paul and I were reading homeschooling books together before we were even engaged. And even though our parish community, that we moved here to be a part of, is blessed with an excellent Orthodox, classical school where many of our friends’ kids go it is still our conviction that, until and unless there is a serious life change that says otherwise, we intend to immerse our children in a community and lifestyle of learning that is based here at home.
I consider this upcoming year to be our first “official” homeschooling year (and with Sophia’s arrival, we don’t plan to start until the end of September or so). We had a bit of a practice run last year, where I planned out some circle time activities and we learned about a letter a week. I didn’t take it very seriously and didn’t do enough planning ahead for it to really work out, so it fizzled out after a while, but we did have fun and I learned a lot in the process. But now I am planning our upcoming year in earnest. I have been trying to figure out the logistics of planning, the goals and priorities of our preschool, what kinds of materials we need to acquire, and how the rhythm of our day will flow.
James is only four. I believe strongly in letting children have a real childhood full of play, and not killing their curiosity and love of learning by imposing a strict schedule of skill acquisition that they have neither the ability nor the inclination for. I do not intend for preschool to be some sort of “jump start” to make him brilliant and accomplished. I don’t even think preschool is necessary. But I am a naturally lazy mom in many ways, and think James needs more from me – more routine, more creativity, more good books read on a regular basis, more attention, more access and opportunity to learn. So “preschool” is a way to facilitate that and keep me accountable, as well as a way to start bringing a rhythm of learning into our home that we hope to continue for all the years our children are at home with us.
As I completely overwhelm myself with homeschool books, Pinterest boards, blog posts, and reading lists, it has occurred to me that I should begin with the basics – what are some overarching goals and priorities of our preschool?
The Priority in the Preschool Years is Play
In my planning of our days, I need to remember not to overschedule, but continue to leave lots of time for unstructured play. Play is the work of childhood. Part of why we homeschool is to allow our children lots of time. Time for relationships, time outside, time to read what interests them, eventually time to pursue their unique talents and interests. In the preschool years, we will allow plenty of time to just play, without direction or meddling by us. Benign neglect has already made our children excellent at entertaining themselves, and I definitely don’t want to squelch that!
Confidence in Creativity
I am not an artistic person. “Doing art” with my children is not one of my strengths. But I do want my children to feel confident in their creativity, and I want to give them the time and the tools to explore this. So art will have a central place in our homeschool. Much of it will be self-directed – I will supply the time, the supplies and the encouragement and let them create. Some will be parent-directed as I help them learn new skills and materials. I hope to use this time to learn some new skills myself! I have found The Artful Parent to be an invaluable resource for bringing art into our home.
Learning to Love Great Literature
Eventually, we plan for our “formal” schooling to be a mix of Charlotte Mason philosophy and Classical education (for preschool, we’re a little bit Waldorf, a little bit Montessori, a little bit Charlotte Mason and a lot whatever-I-come-up-with). I’m sure I will talk more about that in the future. One of the many things these two methodologies have in common is that the bulk of learning comes from books. Good stories by good writers. Not textbooks or workbooks. And especially in these early years, I want them to be constantly exposed to good stories, good language, imaginative writing, and classic folklore. So good books, read aloud, is at the core of our preschool (and the rest of our future schooling).
Rhythm of Prayer and Church Life
This already comes naturally to my children, much more so than to me. They thrive on the rhythms of the liturgical year and soak up anything we bring to them. The part of our preschool last year that was most effortless was our daily opening time of morning prayers, morning Gospel, a short catechism (literally one sentence), and saint or feast of the day. They love learning hymns, and love learning about the saints. We have many resources for bringing this wealth to our children, and I plan to continue to offer it to them daily. We are using the Children’s Garden of the Theotokos, a Waldorf-inspired Orthodox curriculum that we used in part last year, as well as the Children’s Bible Reader and stacks of books on saints and feasts.
Becoming Familiar with the Shape and Meaning of Letters and Numbers
The alphabet is how we organize our year. A letter a week, with literature, nature study, saints, and home projects relating to that letter as much as possible. I’m not too concerned with him learning to “use” the letters at this point, but we will spend the year just getting acquainted with them, how they look and act and feel. He may be ready to start “using” them near the end of the year – if so, on we will go! And we’ll do plenty of fun things with numbers, learning what numbers mean, how to recognize them, and how to have fun with them!
Appreciating the Natural World
Nature study and exposure will be another core of our homeschool. Scientific learning begins with the observable world around us, and I want to raise children that appreciate and wonder at God’s creation. The primary way we will study nature will be through weekly nature walks, which is a central part of a Charlotte Mason education. From there we will take a lesson from our unschooling friends and explore whatever catches our fancy – maybe learn to identify trees, or learn about birds, or learn about the ocean during our trip to the beach.
Learning Responsibility and Independence
This isn’t really about “preschool” as any mother helps her children learn these things, but it helps me to write it in the preschool plan. We’ve already started teaching James to be responsible for certain chores around the house by making him a little chart, so he’s been making his bed, wiping the table, putting away clothes, washing the porch door and dusting. We’ll switch out the chores every so often and also work on home skills and independence, like washing his own dish, helping me prep meals, or being responsible for plants, for example. When planning for these things, I’ll also think of character traits we could work on more intensively – for instance, right now “obedience” is on his chart, and he knows that means things like answering us when we ask him to do something, and doing it “right away, all the way.”
Whew, that was a lot of writing. I hope to come back here and follow up with how I decided to deal with the logistics of scheduling out the year, as well as more about what resources I plan to use. It’s helpful for me to have it all written out!