Here is the entire method that I used to setup my homeschool preschool for my little Lexi. If you're not sure where to start, I hope this helps inspire you and give you ideas on what to prepare a little here and an little there between the ages of 12-24 months with the goal of starting your organized program at age 2. I find that it takes a while, given all that's on the plate of a stay at home mom to collect everything you need to start that it's helpful to take the full 12-24 months to work on it an hour here and an hour. That really made it fun for me and not too overwhelming.
OVERALL GOALS / TEACHING PHILOSOPHY
Did you know that right now your young one’s brain is growing at the fastest rate it ever will during the course of her lifetime? In fact, she was born with a third of her brain, after the first three years, she’ll have developed the second third, and the last third won’t be finished until her twenties?! This tells us that rapid development is happening right nowI So hats off to your desire to help your little one achieve the most secure, healthy and positive foundations that will serve her for the rest of her life.
As parents - the faithful stewards of our little one’s lives - we naturally want to do all we can to help those minds grow. But at the same time we must be flexible enough to balance a desire for “rigor” with age-appropriate bouts of plenty of free play time that will allow both the child and teacher-parent to enjoy the process, stay connected and avoid becoming overwhelmed.
With overall balance in mind, I designed this curriculum as a mixture of what I saw as the best aspects of both traditional and Montessori preschool approaches that could be, without too much effort, implemented by a busy multi-tasking stay-at-home-parent. It is my intent for this “curriculum” to have the quality and attention to detail you’d expect from the best formal preschool in your neighborhood and be simple, structured and flexible enough to implement easily. I don’t have a university degree in early childhood education, but I have a real life education as a mom of four and this curriculum is the result of hours of reading, research and trial and error. I wish I would have had it when I started! But I’m excited to share it with you so you can “dive right in”.
One thing I want to stress is that quality time and free form play is, in my opinion, the most important aspect to your little one’s learning at this age. So I’d rather think of this “curriculum” as plan you can use to create the prepared learning environment that will spark the most of your toddler’s imagination, curiosity and natural learning experiences for optimum development. With this curriculum you’re essentially getting the “conversation started”. Start an activity and then follow your child’s lead, guiding gently. Technical perfection and precision isn’t your toddler’s goal. Instead, focus on the secure social connections and attachments she’s developing and let the rest develop naturally through her daily activities. This is the most “natural” and “flowing” learning time you’ll both have together so enjoy it!
HOMESCHOOL CLASSROOM SETUP
The classroom setup is truly where the rubber meets the road. Philosophy is all good and dandy but without a vision for how to implement it, you’ll (like me) spend months of time with trial and error before you finally figure out a method that works (unless of course you are a trained preschool professional who’s perhaps even had the luxury of working in a co-op early childhood classroom while in college!) But most of us don’t have that luxury and don’t immediately know where to start. We may be filled with anxiety, wondering if we’re “doing it right” or if we are missing critical things for our little one’s long term well being. We may be searching the web fruitlessly, finding a lot of theory and very little real tangible, specific, easy to follow “how-tos”.
Well, I’m happy to tell you that, if that’s you, your search is over. No, I’m not a trained education professional. But I can say that yes, I have a fiery passion for early childhood education that wants nothing less than the absolute best quality for little ones everywhere. I value real-life research and results and I’m also a mom of four. I’ve done the research, I’ve lived it out and I know how this works for a home environment. So you can rest assured that your little one will bloom from your care and the Home CEO method. My method for age 2 is complete, (relatively) easy and most importantly reproducible so you can “refresh” you toddler’s learning experiences on a weekly basis. With my method you’ll maximize creativity and minimize weekly setup time! It works for our family and you are welcome to try it and make any adaptations you feel necessary.
Disclaimer time. Now, I say “relatively” easy because all of my units do require preparation. I also recommend investing time upfront on organizing the classroom materials so that it will be easier later to put together the weekly setups. (I’ll get to all of this on the next page). There is a spirit of excellence that comes from acknowledging the profoundly important nature of the early childhood homeschool. It is the most important job we will ever have! At the same time, anxiety, stress and condemnation does not work so neither can we be so “precision oriented” that we fail to enjoy the process (indeed “fun” is perhaps the best measure of preschool excellence!) In essence, I’m saying that this business of educating our babies and toddlers is serious and important stuff! It therefore deserves an equal degree of professionalism and preparation. However, the intent throughout this program (45 weekly themes in total) is still to be strategic enough to minimize the preparation time in the long run, simplify the tools, and maximize yours and your toddler’s enjoyment.
So let’s get started with the specifics. First, I’ll discuss the system of “permanent” and “weekly” stations. Then I’ll explain some optional work you can do to organize your toddler’s toys/teaching materials in advance so they can be more easily pulled for weekly activities.
PERMANENT “LEARNING CENTERS”
Learning centers are basically a series of bins, shelves and/or physical “stations” that contain certain play items, of a certain category of “learning”, that your toddler can easily reach and use at will. The permanent stations don’t change based on the week, although they may be refreshed any time you want. However, I change the “weekly” stations each week or with the change of “theme”. Permanent stations could include the following:
- Library / Book Shelf (often called a “literacy center”)
- Two Comfy Reading Chairs (a soft kid-size chair for your child’s independent reading and a rocker or similar comfy chair for you to read together with your child)
- “Imaginative/Dramatic Play” Centers (ie a play kitchen/BBQ, dollhouse, train station, etc)
- Music Center (a shelf or bin where you keep various instruments available)
- Misc Toy Shelf (3-4 toys your little one uses all the time or particularly likes)
- Gross Motor Bin/Basket (balls, bats, toy golf clubs, cones, etc. used for physical games)
- Sand and Water Table (this is an investment in time / teaching kids to use responsibly, but it is quite engrossing for little ones and a good way to teach orderliness)
- Circle Time Center (I use a magnetic white board that I push to the side when not in use)
- Stuffed Animals Bin - Often this just stays out at all times, but if your collection is quite large, pare it down to a few sets and only display one set at a time to reduce clutter.
WEEKLY LEARNING “CENTERS”
Each week, you will “refresh” 10 small bins to keep your playroom interesting. Your little one needs variety but it doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. For example, just swapping animal figurines for car figurines one day will take about 30 seconds. You will need:
- 1 medium bin or basket to hold your weekly “theme” books for circle time
- 8 smallish open top bins (the ones I use are smaller than a foot square and 8” tall) labeled as follows: 1 Practical Life, 2 Art, 1-Coloring/Worksheets, 2 Sensorial, 1 Math, 1 Language
With each weekly plan, I’ll tell you what to put in each bin, so just follow the plan for that week. (Of course at any time you can also make your own adaptations).
INITIAL HOMESCHOOL ORGANIZATION
If you want to make your weekly setups a breeze and avoid struggle, you’ll have to make an investment in time and effort to really organize your playroom in advance. Slowly collect plenty of shelves and bins and containers. Repurpose items from around your house. Half of my shelves I already had - I simply painted everything the same color to give it a more uniform look. And before I saved up to upgrade to my plastic bins (they are an investment) I simply wrapped plain white and silver wrapping paper around my Huggies diaper boxes and added pretty labels.
Once you have your shelves and bins collected into the room or area that will be your homeschool, start categorizing your materials and labeling your bins. Again - don’t expect that to be overnight! Just do a little at a time day by day. Be as simple or detailed with your labeling as you want. A label can be made with a simple large permanent marker or a simple printout (search the web for “editable labels” and you’l find a plethora of pretty labels that you can customize on your computer, print out and affix to your bins). For kids, it’s always ideal to have picture labels (for example, the “Legos” label has also a picture of labels on it). Feel free to use my free picture labels at my TPT store.
Visual aids are a great teaching tool. When you don’t have a 3D representation of an object (like horse to show your little one what a horse is), the cheap and easy solution is to make colorful printouts from your computer!
Throughout my units, you’ll have a list of recommended cutouts to make. Take that list and then just do a simple web search for related pictures, print them on cardstock (use white or colored cardstock, whichever you prefer) and laminate them. Since you are using them for home purposes (noncommercial) there is no copyright concern for your homeschool use.
I recommend laminating your cutouts because this will allow you to reuse your printouts over and over for activities, song visuals and even your bulletin boards! (For example, the pig you have for the “Pink” unit can be repurposed for a “Farm” unit in the future and the sun you have for the “Yellow” unit can be reused on a summertime bulletin board later). The lamination will also make it easier to gently remove whatever adhesive you choose. If you are feeling particularly crafty, you can also attach felt on the back of your cutouts so they attach to a felt board. Other display solutions abound if you are on the lookout. For example. I found some neat magnetic ledges that I can put on my magnetic circle time board and then simply lean my cutouts on those ledges.
Store your cutouts in large gallon size bags or get put into an A-Z accordion file.
OUR CIRCLE TIME SEQUENCE
- One song or fingerplay to quiet / focus the little one(s)
- What is today? (date, weather labels) (For age two this is rather quick as they don't really understand this yet but still nice for routine's sake)
- Today's message
- Review one letter (usually using the letter tubs, a sandpaper letter, flashcard or similar)
- Review one number (count to it)
- Songs - a few for funStory time - using the week's theme selections
START COLLECTING YOUR IDEAS NOW!
Ideas can take time to form because they spring forth from reading, talking, researching, thinking, etc. Therefore, if you have the time (don’t worry if you don’t, I've got you covered), let your homeschool plan “incubate” for months in advance and write down all your ideas in one spot. From the time my little one was born, when I had a few minutes of free time (yes, this is how we moms often measure our free time!) I’d use that time to consider the playroom. Later, I’d use that time to collect my preschool ideas. My initial goal was to have a “prepared learning environment” (basically, a strategic playroom) set up by the time she crawled (about 6 months of age) and the more formal “preschool” ready by 24 months. Use a simple notebook or note-taking app of your choice to collect ideas: craft ideas, songs, teaching ideas and free printables from the internet, etc. You’ll be amazed at how many great ideas you’ll amass in just a few minutes a day! On the occasion you get a few hours to yourself, work on some printouts or do some laminating or do some strategic shopping (every toy you buy, try to be strategic - for example, if you need bean bags for some gross motor games, get “shapes bean bags” so they can have a dual purpose). When you prepare slowly and unrushed, creative ideas will just flow out of the blue (like “hmm, that basket might be helpful or that random piece of furniture could be repurposed”). (Don’t worry if you don’t have that time because you can use what I’ve put together already and just run with it!)
Well, I hope this has helped you! If it has, please leave me a comment!
BEST OF LUCK TO YOU! I WISH YOU AND YOUR LITTLE ONES A FUN & JOYFUL TIME!
Home CEO Maraya