For clarity, since definitions vary between countries, ‘preschooler’ here refers to age 3-5. You’ll find information on homeschool preschool (age 3-4), homeschool pre k (age 4-5) and homeschool kindergarten (age 5-6). Use the table of contents to jump ahead to the age you’re interested in, or keep scrolling for an idea of what a complete preschool homeschool curriculum might look like.
If you haven’t already read this post on how and why I created a homeschool plan (and how you can too!), I suggest you have a quick browse now as it lays the foundations for this post and introduces you to my family’s educational philosophy and approach. You will quickly see that when I say ‘preschool homeschool curriculum’, I don’t mean in the mainstream curriculum sense! For those looking for a more child-led approach that encompasses a range of educational philosophies (you can read more about those here), this is what homeschooling a preschooler might look like.
Read right through or jump ahead to the age you’re interested in…
Homeschooling a 3 year old
- Basic counting and arithmetic using real life situations and incorporating multiple senses. We do number work all the time as we play, eat and just go about our day. Here are a couple of examples, but you can count anything!
- Counting pushes on the swings.
- Asking him how many grapes (or whatever food!) he wants on his plate and then counting them out. … ‘You ate one, so now you have x’.
- Asking him about numbers as he plays. ‘How many mechanics do we need to fix your car? … Two, ok. One, two. … This person has gone on their lunch break so now there is one mechanic.’
- We watch the birds eating on our lawn while we have breakfast and count them, adding and subtracting as they fly away/back.
- Number recognition and identification in real life situations. Again, this crops up naturally all the time and we don’t have any specific toys or learning materials with numbers. Here are a few examples.
- He identifies house numbers on mailboxes as we walk down the street and traces the number with his fingers. He also points out numbers in shops, on speed limit signs, on buses etc.
- Asking him to press the correct button in lifts (elevators), at ATMs, on chip and pin card machines (and anywhere else numbers appear).
- Although technology has somewhat eradicated the need for a family calendar displayed in the kitchen (as was the norm when I was a kid!), having seen how much Theo enjoyed finding the correct door on his wooden train advent calendar during December, behind which was a Christmassy activity for us to do that day, and how this enabled him to practise his number recognition, I will now be displaying a calendar and asking Theo if he would like to identify the correct day, date, month each morning. Depending on your preferences, this could be done on a traditional paper calendar or with a Waldorf-inspired perpetual calendar. Either of these options will visually introduce and reinforce the idea of natural rhythms according to seasons, months and weeks.
Clocks and time keeping. Obviously clocks (both digital and analogue) can be used as tools for counting, arithmetic and number recognition. When it comes up, we do just this. In addition, over the next year, I would like to facilitate Theo’s understanding of passing time. He is still a bit young to understand that other events are occurring simultaneously outside of his world, so getting his head around the idea that if we allow time to pass, we may miss the things he enjoys may well be something to work on next year. However, developing an understanding of ‘if you want to go to gymnastics, we need to leave when the clock says x’, ‘Mummy will be back when the clock says y’ is much more achievable. I have recently begun introducing this, and he has been demonstrating that this is a helpful strategy for him, particularly around managing separation when I need to go out.
Basic understanding of money. Of course, like time keeping, using money provides a real world opportunity to practise counting, arithmetic and number recognition. Developing a working model of how to navigate the exchange of money and goods, as well as an appreciation for the money we have, gratitude for the life it buys us, and an understanding that money and the items it purchases are to be valued, can be explored through:
- Involvement in handling money in shops and supermarket checkouts.
- Role play.
- Conversations about where our money comes from, what we use it for, and those that are less fortunate.
- Donating both unwanted items and money to charity.
- We provide access to a wide range of fiction, both modern and classic, non-fiction, and poetry aimed at both adults and children.
- Phonics. We haven’t taught Theo the alphabet, nor will we for the time being. He will instead, in his own time, learn to read and write by first mastering phonics (the sound a letter or combination of letters make. e.g. ‘fff as in flower’ as opposed to ‘ef’, as is taught in the alphabet). He will then learn to correlate these sounds with their alphabetic symbol. Here are a few examples of how we are introducing this to him.
- Following words with my finger as I read helps Theo make links between what he’s hearing and what he’s seeing.
- We also take the time to identify specific sounds and their symbols when we read, and highlight any commonalities between words e.g. “This is ‘bh’ as in bug, and bus, and book. All these words start with the same sound, ‘bh’.” (while pointing to the ‘b’ at the start of each word). Poetry is particularly good for recognising patterns in language as rhymes rely on the use of the same sounds.
- We play sound games like ‘I spy’ but use the phonetic sound rather than the alphabet letter. e.g. “I spy with my little eye, something on the table beginning with ‘ssss’ (not ‘es’)”…”spoon!” We have made this game more complex in stages. I started by presenting one obvious object so Theo just named the object when given the sound. Then, I presented two objects so he had to make a choice depending on how he interpreted the sound. Then more objects, each with different sounds. We have just started the next stage, which involves using a sound that corresponds to multiple presented objects. When Theo has given one example, I encourage him to find further examples. I will then progress this further by giving digraphs as well as single letter sounds, by choosing larger areas in which to search (a whole room, an outdoor space, an image), by introducing ending sounds as well starting sounds, and finally by introducing all of the sounds in the word.
- I plan to also try rhyming variations of the sound games. e.g. “I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with …”, and “rug starts with a ‘r’ sound and ends with a ‘g’ sound – can you think of any words that rhyme with ‘rug’?”.
- We will try sorting games as an introduction to matching written letters to phonetic sound. For example, encouraging Theo to place all the objects that start with a particular sound next to their corresponding written symbol.
- Vocabulary. Vocabulary expands very naturally through two key methods.
- Conversation. We have always spoken to Theo like he is an adult, choosing not to ‘dumb down’ our language or use ‘baby talk’. We use adult words for things, although through his friends and other influences he has also picked up the child terms, e.g. penis vs willy, stomach vs tummy, excavator vs digger. We narrate play (without imposing our interpretations or ideas on him) and the world around us, we converse while we eat, we discuss our day and we make up stories, songs and rhymes.
- Reading. Reading is obviously hugely important for developing vocabulary, and this is part of the reason why we try to offer a wide range of reading materials (another is that we want Theo to be able to choose what interests him; I didn’t really discover a love of reading until I left school and was no longer forced to read set texts that I had no interest in). Poetry is often broader in its vocabulary than stories, as it requires specific language in order to conform to patterns in rhythm and rhyme.
- Pen holding. This is a skill that Theo will master as he develops stronger muscle tone and control in his hands and fingers. Alongside providing activities to help strengthen these muscles, I will model how to hold a pen, and ask if he would like my help to adjust his grip. Some example activities to build hand and finger strength include:
- Modelling clay.
- Play dough.
- Kneading bread.
- Threading work.
- Using scissors.
- Tasks that require a pincer grip and fine motor control. Peeling onions and eggs are a good starting point.
- Provide answers to questions and further learning for topics of interest by:
- Discussing topics as they arise (plants, animals, the body, space, weather, tectonics etc).
- Visiting museums at home and while away. We have a number of great museums here in Christchurch, including the Canterbury Museum, the International Antarctic Centre, Quake City and the Airforce Museum. We recently stumbled across the Southland Fire Service Museum in Invercargill while camping on the South coast. Needless to say, Theo loved it!
- Providing opportunities to ethically view and learn about wildlife. For example, we recently visited the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, located in the wildlife reserve on Pukekura Taiaroa Head. From an observatory, we were able to view wild albatrosses sitting on their eggs, as well as a number of other bird species. Our guide gave us a great deal of insight into the life and struggle of these birds, the history of the headland, and the research and conservation efforts occurring at the Centre.
- Reading books, looking at photographs and visiting the library to fill gaps in knowledge and resources available at home.
- Conducting ‘experiments’ through play and the provision of sensory experiences (e.g. water play, sand play, baking, gardening etc)
- Utilising our large world map, presented at eye level for Theo, to visualise and discuss topics such as habitats, climates, geography etc.
- Model a positive and care-taking relationship with the planet by:
- Practising recycling, composting, and litter-picking.
- Finding joy in nature.
- Discussing conservation, threats to species and how we can help.
- Discouraging wastefulness with regards to food, water and electricity.
- Making positive choices with regards to fuel use, sustainable product use, meat consumption and waste reduction.
- Support his interest in vehicles and mechanics by:
- Making toys and books available that allow him to explore this (Tegu magnetic blocks, road networks and toy vehicles, wooden nuts and bolts, Usborne ‘Look Inside Cars/Trains/Things That Go’).
- Visiting the car garage and enabling him to observe mechanics at work.
- Visiting the library’s ‘Imagination Station’ Lego and Duplo area.
- Attending relevant museums and exhibitions.
- Allowing him to help fix our bikes, pump up tyres, fill the car with petrol, clean the car etc.
- Provide opportunities for construction, woodwork and sculpture by:
- Making toys and books available that allow him to explore this (Haba shape and tack board, building blocks, wooden nuts and bolts).
- Making modelling clay and play dough regularly available. This will also benefit his muscle tone development required to correctly hold and manipulate a pen or pencil.
- Using real tools at home to make home improvements and fix broken items.
- Assembling furniture.
- Providing opportunities for large scale construction with soft play equipment or sofa cushions.
- Visiting the library’s ‘Imagination Station’ Lego and Duplo area.
- Attending relevant museums and exhibitions.
- Appreciation of the arts.
- Visit art galleries.
- Attend theatre productions (these might be musicals, dance, acrobatics, stage drama, pantomime or street theatre). Theo’s first theatre production was ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway when he was 19 months. He loved it! He sat glued to the stage, dancing and clapping his way through the entire performance. In the last year, we have taken him to see Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and a local theatre group production of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’. Over the next three weeks, Christchurch is hosting the World Buskers Festival. We attended today and caught several wonderful shows. Theo then spent the rest of the afternoon climbing, jumping and hanging upside down from whatever apparatus he could find; the trapeze artists were clearly a favourite!
- Introduce famous artworks and provide opportunities to copy and comment on them. This will enable regular discussions on shape, form, angles and the whole vs details, which will pave the way for the development of visuospacial skills and the ability to reproduce what he sees.
- Opportunities for artistic and dramatic self-expression.
- Provide opportunities for both guided and free-expression craft using a range of materials, mediums and equipment (paint, watercolour, pencils, crayons, collage). We display his work at home to promote a sense of accomplishment, pride and self-worth.
- Dress up, role playing and imaginative play. During play, Theo often assumes a particular role both with and without the use of props. He has access to some dressing up clothes at home (we avoid characters so these tend to be more open ended, but he can access set costumes at Playcentre* should he wish) and some role playing toys (he has a particular interest in doctors at the moment so we got him the Plan Toys doctor’s set for his birthday). If he doesn’t have the props he needs, he’ll make it out of paper, play dough or whatever open ended materials he has available to him at that time. He’ll also often narrate roles during his play without the use of props.
- Support photography. Theo has long shown an interest in my camera and has been able to use it on occassion (under careful supervision!). He was kindly bought a children’s camera for Christmas and has been loving snapping away at whatever catches his interest. I would like to support this by displaying a selection of his photographs and helping him to create scrapbooks of specific days out and events.
- Support his love of gross motor activities.
- Swimming lessons. Theo started swimming lessons at 5 weeks old. He has had breaks from formal lessons for both short- and long-term travel but we have enrolled in lessons whenever we have a home base. These have continually been a highlight of his week so we will continue them for as long as he enjoys them. We also swim regularly together to ensure that he is confident in the water, he has opportunities to practise his skills, and to have fun.
- Gymnastics. Our council runs drop-in gymnastics sessions every day. Theo loves attending so we go whenever our day allows and Theo says he wants to. He is currently working on perfecting his somersaults and completing the balance beams without the need for support.
- Mountain biking. We are very lucky to live right by a forest filled with mountain bike trails and jump/push tracks. Theo was given a balance bike for his 2nd birthday, after which he requested to go mountain biking most days. He has gradually built up his confidence and his strength to enable him to try bigger hills and more daring drops. He was given his first pedal bike with no stabilisers for his 3rd birthday so over the next year he will be given the opportunity to use whichever bike he chooses so he can continue to enjoy biking and gain the skills and confidence to use pedals.
- Family hiking. We all really enjoy hiking so this is in no danger of falling by the wayside! Read some of my top tips for hiking with children here. I also talk about how Theo’s engagement with hiking has changed over time.
- Skiing. We are lucky to potentially have the opportunity to move to Queenstown in March, where we will have several ski fields right on our doorstep. Alex and I are very excited about the upcoming ski season and we’re looking forward to giving Theo the opportunity to try it out to see if he enjoys it.
- Explore dancing and body movement.
- Songs with actions. ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ is a long-time favourite!
- Play music from different genres to allow free expression with and without props (play silks, ribbons etc).
- Introduce games like musical statues/bumps. These also enable a number of cognitive skills to be practised (e.g. inhibitory control and attention).
- Attend cultural festivals.
- Christchurch hosts a number of cultural festivals through the year, including a Chinese Lantern festival, a Polynesian music and dance festival, and several parades that celebrate the diverse population.
- Eat and help prepare a wide range of cuisine.
- We enjoy food, both at home and in restaurants, from all over the world. When we travel, we always eat the local cuisine, and have been lucky to pick up tips, ideas and recipes from all the places we have been. We practised Baby Led Weaning from the age of 6 months, so Theo has always eaten what we are eating. So far, we haven’t identified anything he doesn’t like.
- Our meals can be accompanied by a discussion of where this particular food is eaten and how it is prepared.
- Discuss previous travels. Theo certainly remembers some of our travels, as far back as 2017, but has understandably forgotten lots too. We remind him of his experiences and what we learned through conversation and photographs.
- Introduce foreign language books, audiobooks and songs.
- Alex and I know bits (little bits!) of French and German, but we have also discussed introducing Spanish and/or Mandarin as these are more widely spoken. We will see what sparks Theo’s interest and enjoy learning languages alongside him.
- Theo is picking up bits of Te Reo Māori just by living here. He hears individual words, verses and songs regularly, and has access to books written in Te Reo Māori. Take a look at my beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori here.
- Learn about England and visit places of interest in London. This is obviously partly tied to our hope to return to the U.K. for a visit this year. Regardless of whether or not we do make it back, we inevitably talk about England a lot since Alex and I both grew up in London, and Theo was born in and spent his first 18 months living in North-West England. Our family and friends are there, some of whom have been able to visit this past year. They have then obviously returned back to England, so Theo is aware that these loved ones live there.
- Māori learning. As we are living in New Zealand, it is of great importance to us that we all learn about Māori history and culture. We do this by:
- Visiting cultural sites and museums.
- Viewing Māori art and sculpture.
- Talking to Māori people about their traditions, family structure, celebrations and traditional food.
- Ensuring that we all respect Māori customs. Some examples relevant to Theo include that it is considered disrespectful and unhygenic to sit on tables. In the U.K., it is commonplace to see people sitting on picnic tables in parks or perched on the corner of other food tables. Essentially, don’t put your bum where you eat! Food is not to be played with, so you won’t get kids making photo frames or jewellery out of pasta. Heads are considered sacred, so anything that touches them (hats, pillows etc) also need to be treated with respect. We don’t put hats on tables or sit on pillows.
- Theo helps with and takes responsibility for specific tasks within the following practical life areas. Over the next year, he will continue to build on these skills, working towards doing more complex tasks independently. I will ensure that he is provided with the equipment and materials he needs to be able to carry out these tasks (e.g. size-appropriate equipment).
- Cleaning, hoovering and tidying.
- Loading/unloading the dishwasher and doing the washing up.
- Grocery shopping.
- Personal hygiene, self-care and self-dressing.
- Caring for a sibling. Theo will soon become a big brother and I plan to involve him in his younger brother’s care as much as he chooses. I suspect he will enjoy taking a leadership role and assuming additional responsibilities (at first, simple tasks such as helping me fetch nappies and muslins, and later, helping to teach his brother new skills).
- Music appreciation.
- Listen to a variety of music genres/radio at breakfast and throughout the day when Theo chooses.
- Attend live music performances.
- Musical self-expression.
- Provide opportunities to explore instruments and the use of his voice.
- Teach him well-known rhymes and songs.
The following cognitive skills will be mostly practised naturally through self-directed play, games that involve matching/sorting/memory, and by simply sitting back and allowing Theo to come up against difficulties, make errors, and figure out solutions.
I also have a few professional tricks up my sleeve; games, exercises and mindfulness-based strategies that I use clinically with children and adults to either assess or practise these skills.
Many of the activities we already set aside time for also involve the use of a number of these skills. In reading the following short descriptions, perhaps you can identify where these skills might be useful in every day life for a 3 year old.
Cooking, for example, requires planning (to ensure you have all the ingredients), working memory (to hold steps of a recipe in mind), response inhibition (if you become distracted, you risk spoiling your efforts), sustained and multiple simultaneous attention (sustained attention to complete individual steps and the dish as a whole, and multiple simultaneous attention when attending to different items on the hob/in the oven etc at one time), and problem-solving (when things go wrong!).
- Category formation. The ability to organise information into categories. Mammal vs. bird, food vs. non-food, fruit vs vegetable. Being able to categorise information in this way facilitates our ability to think about it, process it, and remember it.
- Pattern recognition. Successfully identifying patterns enables us to logically predict what will happen next. This is known as inductive reasoning.
- Working memory. This refers to the short-term temporary storage of information while it is still needed to complete a task (like a mental post-it note). It’s important in decision making, following instructions, holding multiple steps in mind in order to solve a problem or complete a task, and responding in conversations.
- Sustained attention. This is exactly what it sounds like: the ability to attend to, look at, listen to, think about something for a prolonged period.
- Multiple simultaneous attention. The ability to repeatedly shift attention, thus enabling successful multitasking.
- Cognitive flexibility and control. This refers to the ability to shift between thinking about two different concepts. In other words, being able to adapt to a changing environment.
- Speed of information processing. Again, exactly what it sounds like: how quickly new information is processed and understood. This is necessary in being able to follow conversations or multiple step instructions.
- Response inhibition. This is the ability to refrain from responding to distractions and is important for successfully staying on task when faced with a noisy or otherwise stimulating environment.
- Planning and strategy formation. This is simply the ability to think about the future and mentally anticipate the necessary actions to successfully reach a goal.
- Problem solving. Closely linked to planning and strategy formation, this is the ability to predict the outcomes of a variety of strategies, choose an appropriate solution, and then analyse and evaluate the outcome.
- Theo has recently started to enjoy board games and loves hide and seek. We will continue to play games (even if not entirely following the rules at this stage!) that encourage turn taking.
- Continue to attend Playcentre* and organise play dates. Although Theo obviously meets children at other activities and while out and about, Playcentre* and organised play dates are the best way for him to develop sustained relationships with other children and to have meaningful social experiences with them (due to the number of children that often attend gymnastics, social engagement can often be fleeting, and despite there only being one other child in his class, there’s only so much socialising you can do during a swimming lesson!).
- Label and validate emotions, and introduce regulation strategies. As a clinical psychologist, this (I hope!) comes very naturally to me; teaching people emotional regulation skills is a large part of my job. Children do not yet have the ability to do this by themselves since the part of the brain that deals with emotion regulation doesn’t fully develop until their early 20s. Instead, they look to their parents or other primary caregivers for clues and help with this. So, with both positive and negative emotions we do the following:
- Help Theo to identify his emotions by labelling them.
- Pinpoint the trigger and thought process behind the emotion.
- Help him problem solve the most helpful way to manage his emotions.
- Label our own emotions, both positive and negative, model to him that it is acceptable and natural to experience negative emotions, and show him how we manage our own anger/frustration/sadness etc in a helpful way.
- Talk about the day and any emotions, both positive and negative, that arose over dinner. Several months ago, Theo started waking in the night visibly upset (but easy to settle with a cuddle and breastfeed) and muttering about things that occurred during the day. He’s always been a bit of a sleep talker but this was a step up and I suspected mild nightmares related to processing the events of the day. In laymen’s terms, memory processing, which happens largely at night during R.E.M., can get a bit stuck in the case of difficult memories. Since my clinical speciality is trauma, I am well aware of the negative impact on sleep poor processing of difficult memories can have, and often some daytime processing is also required. Now, obviously we’re not talking about traumatic memories here, but big emotions and confusing events that seem trivial to us can feel traumatic to a toddler. So, I introduced a daily conversation at the end of the day (but not right before bed) to help him process his memories of the day. Typically, Theo rarely volunteers negative emotions or experiences when asked about the best and worst parts of his day, so I may probe: “I noticed it made you sad when your friend took the toy you were playing with / angry when I said we had to leave the playground / frightened when your friend chased you but you didn’t want them to. Was that difficult for you?”
- Support to prepare for, and then adapt to having, a new sibling (we’re expecting a second son next month). We’ve had many conversations about pregnancy, child birth and what having a baby in the house will be like, and we have a few books that we’ve enjoyed reading together. So far, Theo has been excited, tender, and all for sharing his possessions (and more importantly, milk supply!), but I don’t doubt that the reality will still be a shock for him and he will need ongoing support to manage the influx of emotions that having a new sibling will bring.
We will be living in New Zealand for at least another year (with trips, we hope, to further explore parts of the country we have not yet seen, back to England to see friends and family, and potentially some of the Pacific Islands) so this year’s plan has been written with this in mind. After that, we don’t know where we’re going to be so it might be that next year’s plan takes account for longer term travel and time spent in other countries with differing services and resources (obviously we can only attend Playcentre*, swimming lessons, gymnastics sessions etc where these things are available).
I hope seeing an example of a home education plan has been of help to you and offers some insight into what home schooling a 3 year old means and looks like to us. Just remember it will be different for everyone! I’d love to hear what does and doesn’t resonate with your family in the comments; it’s always interesting to hear how other families are doing it (and there might be some ideas worth pinching!).
* Playcentre is an early education service in New Zealand for 0-5s. It is led and managed by parents, with a central philosophy that parents (or other primary caregivers) are a child’s best educator. The approach to education is entirely child-led. It is a parent’s responsibility to observe their child’s play, note how and what their child is learning at any given time, and then respond by providing opportunities to further develop this learning.
Homeschooling a 4 year old
Homeschooling a 5 year old