I’ve already talked about parenting preschoolers for a classical education and more academic activities to prepare your preschooler for a classical education. Part III is about running a home preschool group!
When my children were preschool age–3 to 5–I didn’t send them to a regular preschool. I was considering homeschooling, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to start them off in a preschool. I worried that a preschool might try to push academics too young, and the local programs were usually full anyway. I did try a co-op preschool for six months, and the people were lovely, but the demands were huge (and, I felt, unnecessary and unreasonable). I ended up organizing small home-based preschool groups with friends. Every year was a little different, but here is the basic pattern:
Find 3 or 4 little friends. Many of your friends will be looking for inexpensive and simple preschool activities, and some of them will have more friends to talk with. A group of 4 or 5 little children is just right and small enough for one parent to manage. Because so much development is going on in these years, we found it easier to keep groups to about the same age level. That’s not necessary but I think it does make many activities easier; a young 3 year-old will be frustrated by many things that a 4 year-old finds fun.
Plan to meet once or twice a week, depending on everyone’s needs. Three times per week gets to be a little much, but for children 4 and up may be a great choice. Figure out how you will rotate responsibilities; you may each want to host for a whole month at a time for continuity, or prefer to rotate every two weeks, or even every week. Will the host be responsible for snacks, or should another person provide them?
There will be some costs. This will cost far less than tuition at a preschool, but you still need to get supplies, snacks, and books. Everyone should contribute to the pot for supplies, but you may prefer to just purchase snacks as your turn to provide them comes up.
Figure out a shape to the day. You will want to meet for about three morning hours (maybe only two for the younger ages). In this time, you’ll want to feature:
- A gathering activity that keeps them cheerful and focused while everyone arrives. If you let them run around, it will be hard for them to change gears and focus, so have a fairly quiet activity ready at a table. I often used special blocks or manipulatives that they didn’t see at other times and liked playing with.
- Circle time — usually features a welcome song, talk about the day, weather, upcoming lesson, and so on. A fun calendar is OK for older children; it won’t make much sense to them but they can put the number up and get used to the format.
- A lesson — whatever you choose. You may wish to buy a structured curriculum or just make them up yourself!
- An activity or two — something fun to DO during the lesson. Preschoolers are wiggly and don’t do well with a classroom setup! There are many books of art, science, and other activity ideas (see my last article on how I did it). As an example, we once had a lesson on the seasons. We made a sign for each season, put them on sticks, and had a parade around and about. The kids had to stay in order and each took a turn in front to help them remember that seasons go in an eternal round.
- Storytime — read aloud from books, do some fingerplays and songs. You can choose old favorites, seasonally appropriate selections, or anything you like. If you get really ambitious you might look into making a flannelboard and figures for favorite songs or plays.
- Snacktime — healthy snacks of course.
- Free play — consider providing sensory activities as well as just letting them run around the yard, but this is not lesson time. It’s “they decide what to play while the exhausted host takes a little break!”
Put the more demanding items at the beginning of your session. They won’t have much attention span.
Will you want to include seatwork? That depends very much on the ages of the children, their own temperaments and abilities, and whether you want to do any academics. I would say that we should be very cautious about demanding seatwork from little people. If you are teaching children who will be starting kindergarten next year, you may want to have them learn to write their names or do alphabet coloring pages or something, but keep it minimal! If a seatwork activity is frustrating or leads to tears, it is not age-appropriate.
Keep an eye open for preschooler-friendly field trips. This is a great time to take them to the fire station, a farm, or other nearby community locations. Your group will be small enough to be very manageable, but for trips abroad always take an extra adult. If there is a field trip program at your local theater, be cautious; they might be a little young to go as a group. We found that the performances might be great, but the noise and crowds involved were overwhelming.
One year, we had a very energetic mom who fixed up a Christmas program for the children to do. The families all gathered and the children sang a song and so on. It was very short, of course, but it was quite nice for other family members to participate and see what we’d been doing. It is possible, but not necessary, to have a program during the year and/or a ‘graduation’ party. If you decide to have an event like that, it need not be fancy or long. Short, simple, and sweet (with refreshments!) is best.
This is a nice way for parents to get together and share some happy times with children. The kids usually love playing together, and the small-group environment keeps things from getting too overwhelming most of the time. Naturally, there will be plenty of disasters and interesting times too–I well remember letting the children go off to play, walking to my bedroom, and finding a little guy jumping on my (unmade) bed in his cowboy boots! But I found that on the whole, running a home preschool program was not too difficult, fostered lovely friendships and learning, saved me a lot of money, and was a great experience for my children.