When my oldest was 4, I decided I would teach him preschool at home. As scary as it may seem to you now, you can learn how to homeschool preschool! You have what it takes to get your kids ready for kindergarten.
Although my kids were learning through play, they weren’t learning some things yet like letters and sounds. I wanted to be sure they were not behind, especially if I was considering sending them to kindergarten.
Sending both our kids to preschool was too expensive. So after a short unnecessary panic, I started researching what kids need to know before kindergarten. Then, I found resources that would help me teach them in ways that were fun!
You can do this! If you are trying to decide if homeschooling is right for your family, read about the pros and cons of homeschooling here.
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Want a preschool curriculum that’s planned for you with daily lessons? Click here to try our favorite one by Busy Toddler!
Update 2021: We used this complete homeschool preschool curriculum with my second child, called Playing Preschool by Busy Toddler. I plan to also use it with my 3rd and 4th beginning around age 4 and ending around age 6. The creator, Susie, is a former kindergarten teacher with 3 kids of her own and believes learning comes through PLAY!
My kids have LOVED the activities. They are simple to set up, hands on (no worksheets), and there’s a SHORT daily list of things to do as well as recommended library read alouds.
If you feel overwhelmed by teaching your child at home…this program will remove the doubt you feel and hold your hand each day. It takes us about 30 minutes. I now recommend it to all my friends with preschoolers!
What do kids learn at preschool?
Parents send their kids age 2-5 or so to preschool in the USA. You are probably already doing half this list without trying to “do preschool” just by spending all day with your kids.
Most of what they need to learn will come naturally through play, reading books, and answering their endless questions! The rest is just a matter of you being intentional to fill in the gaps.
I recommend finding out what your school district would like kids to know entering kindergarten. This varies by state. There is no common core curriculum for Pre-K, but most states have adopted the common core curriculum which starts in kindergarten.
Academic skills preschoolers should know before kindergarten
- Identify (in random order) and write numbers 1-10
- Counting 1-29 (once they can do this, they will be able to go all the way up to 99 due to the pattern. That is expected by the end of Kindergarten)
- Shapes & Colors
- Identify the ABC’s lowercase and uppercase (in random order)
- Sounds that letters make for lowercase and uppercase
- How to write their name
- How to hold a pencil and use scissors
- Learn to use glue and paper
- Tracing shapes and letters
- Be able to rhyme words with a new sound. For example what rhymes with ball and starts with the sound “t” (tall).
- Learn context for “today”, “yesterday”, “tomorrow”
- Days of the Week, Months of the Year, and names of Seasons
Life skills to teach your preschoolers
- Be able to follow directions
- Sit and listen without interrupting
- Take turns
- Imaginative Play
- Potty trained
- Hand washing with soap
- Waiting in line
- Tying shoes (if you plan to send them to school with ties)
- Memorizing a parent’s name, address, and phone number
- Pull up pants and be able to put on a coat
Preschool supplies we used, before we switched over to using Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool:
The rest of this post will be a detailed account of how we taught my 1st child preschool without a formal curriculum.
Like I said, I now prefer the lessons planned out for me. But, you can 100% plan your own doing what we did below!
- Art supplies for preschool craft activities, like glue sticks, Do-A-Dots, watercolors, pom-poms, and construction paper.
- This reading book to learn sounds and letter names.
- This preschool activity book that works on colors, shapes, patterns, tracing, and letter recognition.
- Kumon dry erase uppercase & lowercase flashcards to practice tracing letters we learn.
- My Circle time calendar to learn seasons, weather, days of the week, etc.
- This phone number printable I created to teach older preschoolers to dial a cell phone and say their parent’s number.
How to homeschool preschool with a 4 year old
First off, you do not have to spend a bunch of money on preschool curriculum. There are TONS of free resources out there.
You can easily find free letter of the week activities on Pinterest if you choose to structure preschool activities around that.
I chose not to do a letter of the week themed preschool with my oldest at age 4. Instead, we did lot’s of hands on play, about 15 minutes/day of reading out loud, and about 30 minutes/day (often every other day) of structured learning.
I think as mamas who want to homeschool preschool we tend to forget how most skills are learned at this age. It’s from playing and being with mom and asking questions ALL DAY.
Don’t undervalue this, because it’s so influential.
Step 1: Figure out what you NEED to teach and what you WANT to teach
I get really overwhelmed with so many great ideas out there, because I feel like I’m always missing something. I’ll see a cute preschool theme on space, or dinosaurs, or (insert hundreds of possible cool things to teach) and wonder if I’m not doing enough.
Those things are just fun ideas, not requirements!
What you need to do is figure out the most important things you have to cover before kindergarten, and then then add in other topics you have time for.
Follow whatever your preschooler is interested in, and they will be much more excited about it!
Step 2: Get supplies for preschool craft activities
The more hands on you can get, the better!
I think it’s helpful to order a few crafts and tools online to have around. You can’t really go wrong if you find tools to show them numbers, shapes, letters, and colors.
I keep a cupboard that has supplies in it including:
- Blank Paper
- Play Doh
- Colored Rice (easy to make at home, here’s how to dye rice)
- Craft items
- Acrylic paints & Do A Dot Markers
Step 3: Pick a time each day for formal school
I like the morning after breakfast. I’m fresh, we haven’t done any T.V. yet, and we can still go to the park or have a play date after.
This is my one on one time with him where I’m the teacher. These are usually activities that involve me teaching letters, sounds, and any writing/tracing.
I adjust this to my needs, because I have other kids at home and interruptions just happen.
Step 4. Pick a time each day for a hands on activity
By “time”, I mean have a general time. Like before naps or after naps. We usually do 15 minutes or as long as they are having fun. It keeps them busy and stimulated. Here’s some ideas:
- Play Doh
- Pinterest craft
- Bean scooping
- Color a picture for a pen pal
- Go to the park
- Library (we go once a week)
- Make a list of things to find outside (a treasure hunt)
- Chalk drawing/ hop scotch
- Build something
- Bake something
- Visit the science center or zoo
Our favorite preschool activity book for 3-4 year olds
We have the Big Preschool ABC book pictured below and it’s awesome! If you just want one item to start, try this. There are 300 pages inside, with tons of tracing, coloring, counting, matching, numbers, patterns, and more!
My 4 year old boy loves it, and can do 3-4 pages at a time.
Update May 2018: We LOVE the Big Preschool Book, but should have ordered 2 since my 3 year old wants to participate now (although she’s sloppier and often just colors the pages). We have just been tearing out pages for her, and they do tear out easily without ripping btw!
Below are some fun activities.
The Melissa and Doug duo below uses scissors and tape (included), and if you are looking for just cutting practice the Kumon book has 80 pages of cutting practice for beginners, ages 2+ (although most reviewers say it’s perfect around age 4).
You will have to buy a pair of safety scissors separately though with the Kumon book.
What age should kids start preschool?
We do not start preschool until age 4, or when they are eager to do what their older siblings do. I believe a 3 year old’s “school” is 100% play and discovery.
My 3 year olds tend to listen to stories, color/scribble, and do sensory activities. But their attention span is just too short for formal learning yet. It’s not necessary unless YOU want to make it happen.
When my 2nd child (a girl) turned 3.5 it became obvious she wanted to learn more. This was much sooner than my 1st (a boy).
She started trying to trace letters, notice patterns, and guess at letter sounds. She’s advanced and an early talker, so don’t worry if your 3.5 year old could care less.
If I would have tried to force formal learning on her 6 months earlier, it would have been a constant frustration for both of us! And completely unnecessary.
Each child will do preschool at a different pace
I’ve seen a huge difference in what my boy and girl have been capable of at parallel ages! Boys are usually (not always) quite behind little girls at this age, so don’t worry or compare!
When it comes to how to homeschool preschool, there are MANY good ways, and it might look different for each of your kids.
It’s also highly likely that your 2nd, 3rd, and beyond will soak up a lot you don’t formally teach them by watching their older siblings.
How much time should preschool take each day?
We spend about 30 minutes a day intentionally learning sounds/shapes/tracing/or letters/etc, and then read books!
If you want to include the unscheduled painting session we ended up doing (just an example), then you could add on 15 minutes.
Here’s a full breakdown of my opinion on how long preschool should take and why.
Should preschool at home be every day?
At this age, formal preschool doesn’t have to be every day.
I have friends who do a preschool co-op and they meet two days a week for a couple hours.
They include circle time (for songs, learning days/months of the year/ and seasons), a letter of the week activity, and a craft around that letter.
Most preschool-aged kids only go 2-3 half days a week for around 4 hours, unless their parents are paying a lot more.
And they are not “doing school” the whole time! There will be art, crafts, games, songs, free play, snack time, lunch time, potty time, wash hands time, reading out loud, and more PLAY time.
Our easy homeschool preschool schedule
School is happening ALL day because kids are always asking questions, wanting to help, to build, to climb, to bake, helping mom match socks, counting how many books we have, you get the idea.
Most people I’ve learned from recommend doing school as part of a routine. Not necessarily at a set time.
That way the kids know what’s coming next. We do 1-2 short blocks of formal learning at a similar time each day. Each block of time is 10-20 minutes depending on attention span.
Example daily preschool schedule:
- Learning activity (formal things I want to teach one on one)
- Hands on play for as long as they want. (Usually Play Doh, Duplos, drawing, stamps, etc.)
- Read out loud for about 15 min.
- Watch a show, run errands, play date, or just play at home till lunch.
- Tidy & nap time
- Afternoons we play, build, make food, go outside, or watch a show if I need to get something done.
What we do in a typical homeschool preschool day
*5 minutes of calendar time
Update: I did not do calendar time with my oldest, and I promise somehow he naturally learned days of the week, weather, and months of the year!
Kids learn a lot from parents through conversation and LIFE.
However, I created a calendar time printable to use with my second child. She LOVES it. We keep it in a binder with other print outs and worksheets since she just thrives with that stuff. Here is what it looks like laminated.
*Learn letter sounds
First breakfast, then play time while I finish my coffee, and then I’d do a reading lesson out of this reading book with my 4.5 year old while my 3 year old played and the baby was sleeping. This took us about 10-15 minutes, and was the bulk of his formal schooling.
Without this book, you would need to find another way to teach letter sounds.
The reading book may be overkill depending on age. But it taught my oldest all the letter sounds, sound combinations, and got him reading things like “An ant sat on a seed” by kindergarten!
I postponed using it with my 2nd child until kindergarten because we switched over to using Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool curriculum. It covers sounds too, but it’s not a reading program.
And honestly, there’s no rush to reading early! I think I did it with my oldest because he seemed ready and I had the time and energy. Once two kids started homeschooling and I had a baby still…rushing anything seemed just unnecessary.
Check out my post to see how you can teach your child to read, plus a video of him reading! And by the way, this is just a bonus because your child will not be learning to read like this at preschool if you send them so no pressure!
Ok, onto another part of our preschool routine…
*We watch a show
Shows are a sanity saver here! My kids have learned WAY more from shows like Zaboomafoo, Wild Kratts, Octonauts, and Magic School Bus than I ever would have taught them at this age.
Also, your sanity matters mama. Unless you see the shows you pick negatively affecting your child’s attitude, vocabulary, or willingness to play…don’t feel bad about it.
You’ll know when it’s too much. And even if it’s too much for a season of life…aka a new baby when it’s on A LOT…be kind to yourself.
*We do a few pages from the Big Preschool Workbook
Next we do a few pages from the The Big Preschool Workbook, or Dollar Store workbooks with games, matching, tracing, etc! This would be the time to try out any preschool learning activities that you find on Pinterest.
*We do an independent hands on activity
Last, we do a hands-on activity that does not require my full attention. Pinterest can be your best friend if you need ideas. But think Play Doh, build a fort, color, scooping, magnetic tiles, glue stick and paper, etc.
How to homeschool preschool at your child’s pace
Homeschooling preschool allows you to follow their interests at the right time. But when is that?
The perfect time to teach them something new is when they seem interested! For example:
- Do they point at shapes and say the name? Teach them more shapes!
- Do they guess the wrong color on a shirt? Teach them more colors!
- Does your preschooler hold coins they find and guess the name? Show the names of all the coins!
- Has your preschooler scribbled to pretend writing? Teach them to hold a pencil and how to draw a circle and a vertical line (pre-writing skills).
- Are they trying to write a letter but you can’t recognize it? Perfect time to start tracing letters.
Here are a few ways we cover the basics at our home.
How I teach numbers & counting
For number recognition, they have mostly learned these through books, and naturally throughout the days by pointing out numbers on boxes, receipts, or anything really.
They also learn them in the Big Preschool Workbook through matching games and connect the dots.
Count out loud often
For learning to count out loud we count in the car, or while jumping on couch cushions, or hopping on one leg.
I don’t worry if they get it wrong and say 5, 6, 9, 10…enough repetition and they will get it right! We go all the way up to 30.
Ask them to count items throughout the day
I also ask them how many of something there is, like cereal bowls on the table. Or buttons on a shirt. Or bananas in the bundle. Then I help them count while I touch each one.
Right now, my 3.5 year old can count to 10 and then he goes on to “eleventeen” and then skips to sixteen 🙂 So I know he’s ready for me to teach him some more numbers!
How I teach letter recognition
We used the book “Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons”, and it does not teach letters in order from A-Z. It teaches the lowercase letters (first as sounds, and later the letter names are learned).
If you don’t use this book, you’ll want to find another fun way to teach letters and the sounds they make. That is included in the preschool curriculum we switched to for my other kids by Busy Toddler.
Another great tool for teaching letters and associating them with objects are these fun water wow cards from Melissa and Doug.
My kids have loved these as early as age 2! You “paint” with the water stick and the photo starting with that letter appears. Plus they are reusable and come on a ring so you won’t have 26 cards to pick up…ever.
This is an especially great tool to take to doctor appointments, in the car, or on an airplane.
How I teach letter tracing
For beginning letter tracing, we love these dry erase flashcards. They have a letter on one side and pictures that begin with that letter on the other. Plus, arrows to show the direction to trace.
I only do this as they are interested, starting around age 4+.
Here’s more on how we taught my son to write letters of the alphabet!
How I teach letter sounds
We teach sounds using our reading book mentioned above.
Just 20 lessons in and my son could say SO many sounds! He stopped to look at the “sounds” he saw on a car that spelled out “J-E-E-P”.
We point out sounds he has learned in the book throughout the day on books, cereal boxes, and packages.
Teaching colors and shapes
We don’t use anything formal.
My kids have learned these just by talking with me, in books, and through things like picking out which colored shirt to wear.
Hands-on preschool activities
Lots of preschool moms enjoy matching a hands-on activity with the letter they are working on, or the color, shape, etc.
I don’t really plan enough yet to do that, (you crafty moms are amazing to me!) so instead I just kind of rotate through sensory activities.
(Update: That’s one reason we are sticking with Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool curriculum for my younger kids, because there’s a daily activity planned out for me).
- Play Doh
- Digging outside
- Stacking blocks
- Making indoor obstacle courses
- Sorting toys we have by color or shape
- Sidewalk chalk
- Cooking with mom
- Crafts if I can get to the dollar store once in a while.
Call it preschool if you want. I think a lot of it is just a day in the life of a stay at home mom, for real!
Challenges of homeschooling
What I like least about teaching preschool is coming up with activities. If you are like me in that way, then try a preschool curriculum that’s planned for you. You won’t pay much at this age, and it’s just mentally easier!
Then get the supplies.
The other hardest part is just starting. With the arrival of our third baby I felt pretty frazzled and stretched for time. How in the world was I going to add something like preschool?
The truth is, not much got added, but I became a more intentional with early reading and letter tracing.
When your friends don’t homeschool their preschoolers
All my mom friends were sending their kids to preschool 2-3 days a week and getting a break, which quickly made me feel sorry for myself that I didn’t get one (embarrassing to admit, I know!). Once I got over my pity party and made a plan, which you now have from this post, it got easier.
After doing this for a few months now, I see it takes a lot less time than I thought, and it is actually pretty cool to see them learn stuff.
Update: How preschool at home has turned out after 1 year.
My kids are now 3.5 and newly 5, and I’m doing preschool with both while my 1.5 year old often interrupts or needs something. It’s a new challenge, and hard to juggle because interruptions happen every time!
I now do one on one time with each. Thankfully there is one kid to distract my toddler!
The reason I’m happy with our laid back approach so far is that my new 5 year old is showing huge progress! He’s writing many letters (we started with his name) and is reading level 1 books from the library (with help).
He can recognize numbers in random order, count to 30 (easy to learn if you just do it in the car for “fun” haha), knows most letter names and all their sounds, shapes, colors, and still plays 90% of the day.
You can homeschool your preschooler!
So even if you think you couldn’t possibly homeschool your preschooler, you totally can! You really can’t mess it up if you can teach the list I mentioned earlier. And maybe you will love doing homeschool preschool so much so much you will keep homeschooling into kindergarten!
Update 2020: Our relaxed homeschool kindergarten & curriculum
Other homeschool preschool mama blogs:
Here are two other amazing homeschool mamas to check out. They will show you how simple preschool can be.
- Anna from The Measured Mom is a former teacher turned SAHM with many great resources for homeschooling. She has a wonderful Kindergarten readiness guest post from a Kindergarten teacher that will help you measure your homeschool preschool year with examples of what’s considered “On Target”, “Mastery”, or “Red Flag” for multiple areas of learning.
- Jamie from Simple Homeschool. She nails how to homeschool preschool with examples of how life is the curriculum and how you can be intentional with your preschoolers at home teaching them SO many important things. She is not trying to sell you a curriculum but rather show you how to teach life skills.
I would love it if you would leave me a comment with what challenges you face when it comes to starting preschool at home. I’d love to know! Also, you can follow Blue and Hazel on Instagram too.
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