Preschool: Curriculum Review

About the Curriculum

We used the Rod & Staff Publishers “early preschool” activity workbooks for Sprout’s preschool curriculum. It is a set of 4 workbooks that costs about $10. Each book has 30-35 pages. They are noted as being for 3- to 4-year-olds. The publisher notes in the beginning of each workbook that the activities will be very easy for some 3-year-olds  while possibly too difficult for some 4-year-olds. They advise parents to attempt  these workbooks with a 3-year-old, but to not be discouraged if the child is not ready for them.

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The workbooks focus on:

  • pre-writing skills
  • problem solving
  • shape recognition
  • color recognition
  • color word recognition
  • writing numbers 1-4
  • counting up to 4
  • safety

The skills slowly build upon each other and are mixed together nicely. The images are plain, simple, black-and-white realistic line drawings. The books use two children, Samuel and Sarah, to illustrate concepts and present the activities to the child.

Book 1: About Three

These are some sample pages from the first book. It mostly contains pre-writing skills pages — matching using straight lines and tracing a variety of line types. The child should be required to always make the lines from left to right and to work from the top of the page to the bottom.

Book 2: Bigger Steps

This book builds on those pre-writing skills even more and adds in writing numbers 1 and 2. There is some basic problem solving and a lot of matching. It ends with a single page on number recognition for numbers 1-5.

Book 3: Color, Count, and Cut

As the title suggests, this book is all about colors and shapes, counting, and cutting and pasting. Each color (red, yellow, green, blue, orange, purple, brown, and black) is introduced along with a shape (octagon, triangle, rectangle, circle, diamond, oval, pentagon, and square) — and those pairings are used throughout this and the next book (octagons are always red, for example). This is to help teach color word recognition, I think.

There is a lot of coloring in this book. The images to be colored are generally very large, but simple. Some of them teach other concepts, such as the image of the stoplight. There is also basic cutting and pasting in this book — simple squares to be cut and matched into the appropriate boxes. There is counting and writing up to number 3.

Book 4: Doing My Best

This book combines all of the skills from the previous three books, and adds in more problem solving and writing up to number 4. Color word recognition is more important in this book, as shown in the first two pictures. The pages in this book also take more time to complete.

Sprout’s Perspective

She isn’t old enough to really explain her opinions to me, so I’ll do my best to interpret based on her behavior while doing her preschool work. She worked in these books for about 2 months without much of a schedule or structure. She started them just after turning 3.5 years old.

She most enjoys the pre-writing skill building. She likes to match, circle, and cross out items. She likes to write numbers, though she struggles with some perfectionism. As her writing improves, she becomes more eager to practice writing the numbers. She learned most of the color words through these workbooks. She most enjoys cutting and gluing. Her scissor skills improved dramatically through just these books (and time and physical maturity, of course). She also likes to solve problems.

She dislikes coloring the most. She colors for fun in coloring books and on paper without a second thought. She did not appreciate being told what colors to use on which objects. She rushed through most of the coloring, and it was a struggle to even get her to do it at all. We ended up weaving in book D with book C to break up the monotony of all that coloring in the third book.

My Perspective

I most appreciate the simplicity of the plain line drawings in these books. They are not bright, colorful, and overly stimulating. For most of the books, the time requirement for each page is perfect — about 10-15 minutes for Sprout. That is about how long a 3-year-old can focus. Toward the end of the last book, she was being stretched to closer to 20 minutes per page, which I also appreciated. I like to recognize what stage a child is in and of what they are capable while still gently coaxing them to mature and grow.

The third book was frustrating to me because there was a lot of coloring. Maybe it would be a welcome relief to some children, but Sprout was unhappy with it. Some of the images to be colored were quite large and daunting to a child who isn’t excited to color them. Also, the book focused heavily on teaching the colors through repetition. Sprout did not need to be taught the colors and could have done without so much repetition. As I said, I could see some children loving the third book most of all, but it wasn’t enjoyable for Sprout.

Summary

I liked this preschool curriculum enough to get the next set of books for Sprout to use for kindergarten. I intend to use these again for JB when he turns 3 years old in the fall, so that he can “do school” with his sister, which I know he will appreciate.

If you are looking for an inexpensive, easy transition into homeschooling with a toddler/preschooler, I recommend these books.

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Preschool: Trying Something New

I wrote about my easy-going preschool at home approach with Sprout. The method worked and Sprout was happy to “do school” most days until she got through the first of the dollar store workbooks she was using. That book was all about shapes and colors. The other three books were about numbers, letters, and handwriting… and were basically all writing practice. That’s where we hit a wall.

Sprout can write several letters on her own, but she struggles writing in a confined space. She doesn’t have the fine motor skills for that just yet. She became frustrated having to write on every single page, and began to protest school.

Curriculum Change

That was my clue to evaluate what we were doing and make a change. I bought an “official” preschool curriculum for 3-4 year olds. I knew it would begin with pages she could complete very easily, but I wanted the slow skill-building that such a curriculum offers. The dollar store workbook approach had no progression of skills.

We intend to use this publisher for most of our kids’ schooling (of course, being mindful if things aren’t going well or if it doesn’t suit a particular child), so it was the logical choice for preschool. There is a kindergarten (preschool for 4-5 year olds), and then it begins with first grade. According to current education laws in my state, Sprout will need to start kindergarten at age 5, which will be in 2019. So, I’m kind of starting her a year “early,” but I’m doing so with the plan to stop and evaluate with each set of books she completes. Maybe at 5 she will be ready for first grade work. Or maybe she will need another year of kindergarten work. I’m comfortable with either option and am in no rush to get her beginning first grade early.

Other Changes

Since we would begin a new curriculum, I considered it a great time to implement some other changes, too.

More Structure

I have always let Sprout decide whether we would do any school work each day. That works great when the school work is fun, but less so when it is challenging or new. My goal is to complete at least 3 pages per day, 3 days per week.

Also, we will begin our school time with prayer. I introduced Sprout to a simple prayer structure some time ago, which we will use for school time. I ask her to think of one thing she is thankful to God for and one thing for God to help her with. I sometimes feed her ideas, if she is struggling to think of something.

Bible Memory

I have wanted to introduce Bible memory work to Sprout for a long time. She has, like most children, an excellent memory. She remembers scripts from entire cartoon episodes, and she knows several kids’ songs and hymns. I know she is capable. It seemed natural to use before-school-time to work on this.

Then, I wasn’t sure where in the Bible to start. She doesn’t have the comprehension skills to memorize single verses of a broader story — it wouldn’t make any sense to her. Where can one find short, 1-2 verse sentences that are mostly single ideas? Proverbs, of course! So we are beginning in Proverbs. For now, I’m going to see if she can memorize one verse per week.

Record Keeping

Record keeping isn’t required in my state, for now, and especially not at this point when her schooling is optional. However, I considered it would be a good habit to begin. I will keep her daily records until she learns to read and write, then she can keep her own. This also provides us with some accountability to Nate and makes recalling our school day much easier.

I chose a small day planner. In each daily box, I write her praise and prayer request, which Bible verse we worked on, and which workbook pages she completed. On the monthly overview page, she puts a sticker on the day we have done school work.


Occupying Myself

Finally, I needed an occupation for myself during her schooling. I can’t work on house chores because she needs frequent assistance; and don’t want to work on house chores because the kids enjoy helping me. I found that being unoccupied while helping her with school caused me to over-praise her and to hover over her, giving too many reminders.

My solution is to do my own studying of the Bible during that time. I can be near her and ready to help when she needs me, but while she works on each page, I can read and busy my own mind. It worked wonderfully today, kept us all happy and calm, and I’m looking forward to the study time.


Fun Activities

Doing school work 3 days per week leaves one day for grocery shopping and, eventually, a library visit, and one day for something fun. I want to use our fun day for crafts or even some low-gear science “projects.” Having the time built into our schedule should help me feel less overwhelmed, I think.

Final Thoughts

This was our first day with this new approach, but I feel very encouraged by how well things went. I will try to give a progress report in a few weeks and let you know how it is working out!

Preschool: What are we doing?

All of Sprout’s school supplies fit in this blue basket and an old shoe box.

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What is in there?

The shoe box holds what I’ve been calling “activity bags.” I’ll share more about those in another post. The blue basket has

  • a pencil pouch that holds a couple of pencils, a fun eraser, scissors, and glue;
  • a box of crayons;
  • a book of stickers;
  • four workbooks;
  • and a handwriting tablet.

I bought most of these things from the Dollar Tree store. I intend to use a more formal curriculum soon, so I am using the dollar store workbooks as a sort of introductory course. I don’t know if we will get through all of them before beginning a preschool curriculum or not — I’m taking things one day at a time, over here.

The workbooks are about

  • colors & shapes;
  • alphabet;
  • numbers 1-10;
  • and printing practice.

Since beginning, she has only wanted to work in the colors & shapes workbook. It begins with a page about each color. Here is the first one:

dollar tree workbook for preschool at home | the Beloved Brown-Eyed Girl blog

Also at the bottom is the word for the color that the child can trace.

What is “school” like for us?

Each day, soon after breakfast, I ask Sprout if she would like to do school. Sometimes, she declines. Other times, she excitedly agrees. I let her decide. I do have two rules about scheduling: we don’t do school on Sundays or twice in one day. I want to protect her from burning herself out because she shows some signs of being like her mother. I am the sort of person who begins a project and gets so caught up in it, that I work and work and work until it is finished. I have had to learn to pace myself, and I think it is a good lesson to learn early on.

If she agrees, then she can pick which workbook she wants to work in. She has been choosing the colors & shapes book. I think that is because she is confident about it.

She doesn’t have to finish a page, but if she does, she picks out a sticker to put at the top.

She can skip to another workbook, but cannot go to the next page until the current one is completed. (We stared at a sad, blank apple before she would finally color it!)

Nothing has to be done perfectly, only to the best of her ability.

She has to follow instruction. In this workbook, it comes down to using the color specified in the instructions (she wanted to color the apple blue for one of those days), circling objects, that kind of thing.

She has to work left to right, which mostly comes into play when tracing words. Yes, she did want to trace “orange” backward.

Whenever she “does school,” I encourage her to show Daddy when he gets home. I have noticed that it helps fuel her the following day, and she will sometimes say, “If I finish this page and get a sticker, Daddy will be happy to see it later!”

If she completes a workbook page, she can do an activity from the shoe box. They are fun educational activities that she enjoys, and they make an excellent reward for her.

That’s it! Simple. 😉 Also, inexpensive. I like that.

Preschool: Goals

[In my state, compulsory school attendance begins at age 5, with kindergarten (unless a kindergarten waiver is submitted). You can research your own state’s laws through the HSLDA’s website, here.]

My daughter is 3 years old. In the past 5-6 months, I have noticed a lengthening of her attention span and an eagerness to learn academic subjects (writing, phonics). I knew I would do preschool at home, so I began researching options. I quickly found that the approach highly depends on the goals of the parent. Do I want my kid to regurgitate facts? read or write at an early age? learn exclusively through play? study through “unit” plans?

Well… this is what I want for my child in the next two years:

I want her to spend as much time outdoors as possible, so that she can practice her developing gross motor skills. I want her to hang from the swing set, learn to swing herself, run around the yard, try to climb a tree, find rocks shaped like houses and triangles and hearts, lay in the grass and look at the clouds.

I want her to enjoy “school,” whatever it happens to look like for us. If she isn’t enjoying it, if it is just a chore to her, then it is wrong.

I want her to have some structure and rules around schooling, such as days and times when we will “do school,” working in a particular order and in a particular way. Doing things the right way (working page by page in a workbook, tracing letters in order left to right) is enjoyable. Kids don’t need to partake in reckless abandon in order to have fun.

I want her to practice and develop her fine motor skills for pencil-holding, page-turning, coloring with precision.

That’s it. If she comes out of the next two years writing or reading or doing any arithmetic, that would be great. If not? That’s alright, too. There are benefits to delaying formal schooling that resonate with me.

What were/are your goals for preschool at home?