I’ve been meaning to write a bit about what we do for “preschool” here for some time. We are nearing the end of the second year of doing some sort of preschool activity here at home. It has been far from consistent, and we have taken weeks or months at a time off. Even when we are in a season of “doing preschool” we do not do formal, planned activities every day. I do try to make sure that each day they are read aloud to more than once a day, they do some sort of art, spend time outdoors, and do some sort of meaningful work. But that’s pretty basic, so really what I want to post about is what we do when we actually “do preschool.”
Our preschool is loosely based on Waldorf circle time. It has changed over time, but not a lot.
In both houses we have had a little “preschool spot.” In our old house, it was gathered around my cedar chest, with our little diptych of Christ and the Theotokos, a candle, and our book baskets. Here at this house, we have all the same things, but we sit it all on the raised fireplace hearth. It helps to have a focal point, and to have it low enough to see when sitting on the floor. At the old house the children gathered sofa pillows to sit on; here, we just sit in a little semicircle on the rug. Here it is when we decorated for Miriam’s birthday:
After morning prayers, breakfast, and some morning chores (and preferably after Sophia goes down for a nap, although we have done many a circle time with Sophia in a baby carrier), I call them to our circle time spot with a poem, “Come to the Garden, Children.” This poem is written by Macrina Lewis and is part of her Children’s Garden of the Theotokos curriculum, which I highly recommend. We start the poem sitting on the floor, with the kids “burrowed down in the soft little hollow, in the dark cool earth here below” (burrowed down with their heads in my lap). We “stretch and open our eyes” and then “spread our petals and swallow the sunshine and drink little cupfuls of dew!” as we stand up and the children shout “Glory to God in the highest! Peace and goodwill to men!” at the end of the poem. Then we go straight in to the Trisagion prayers (basic opening prayers, ending with the Lord’s Prayer) and sing the song for the day of the week, also from the Children’s Garden curriculum. Monday is the song for the angels, Tuesday for St. John the Baptist, Wednesday and Friday for the Cross, and Thursday for the Apostles. We also sing “Rejoice, O Virgin.”
Then we sit and read our children’s Bible. We use the Children’s Bible Reader and I recommend this Bible to anyone, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. It is a well done, respectful, beautiful children’s Bible with no dumbing-down or sentimentality. We mostly just read it straight through, although sometimes we read particular parts due to the liturgical year, such as reading from the raising of Lazarus to the Resurrection over and over again during Holy Week, or reading about St. Paul during the Apostles Fast (like we are doing now).
After our Bible reading, we read one new page of our Visual Catechism by Metropolitan Heirotheos Vlachos, and review previous pages quickly. I love this book – it is literally one short sentence, with a picture to illustrate it. The children are memorizing these effortlessly, and we discuss each page and the picture until they really understand it. We sometimes read the further commentary in the back of the book, but not always.
After the catechism, we read a story of a saint. This has little rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes we choose a saint celebrated that day, sometimes the kids ask for a particular one, sometimes we go straight through a book. Some of our favorite books for short saint books are Christina’s Favorite Saints, Christina’s True Heroes, Saints: Lives and Illuminations, and, James’ favorite, My Warrior Saints. We’ve gone through all of these so many times that we need to look for some more.
The rest of our circle time is songs and poems. Right now we are reading from The Complete Book of Flower Fairies, choosing poems about flowers that we’ve seen blooming lately. We also read from The Children’s Garden of Verses, Poems to Read to the Very Young, and When We Were Very Young. We use many songs and poems from the Children’s Garden of the Theotokos Teaching Guide and some of our own repertoire of songs, fingerplays, and poems. More recently, we’ve been learning and singing seasonal songs from Sing a Song of Seasons, which are sweet, lovely songs that the children love. We are just finishing up our spring songs now and singing “Springtime Goodbye” and will start learning the summer songs too. We love the folk songs and work songs in This is the Way We Wash-A-Day by the same woman, and if I remember to incorporate them, they really do help the children have better attitudes about their work (me too!)
We finish up with counting practice these days, counting to 100 on the abacus and practicing counting by tens. It’s the only “math” we do right now, but James is definitely interested in math and numbers, so I’m looking into adding some more math games or activities soon.
Outside of circle time, I try to make sure there is plenty of art, lots of reading aloud, occasional outings (like the museum, the nature park, etc.) and James and I do a short reading lesson during quiet time, using a basic reading curriculum and a movable alphabet.
As we look forward to the next school year, I’m thinking a lot about what kindergarten will look like, how to continue to provide learning activities that suit both a three year old and a five year old, and above all remembering about our basic goals of the priority of play and unstructured time rather than focusing on academics too much at this age. This post is long, but our actual preschool time takes less than an hour, and our reading lessons are often just 15-20 minutes. It is definitely my goal to not overschedule or overstructure my kids during this early, irreplaceable time.