Teaching Preschool at Home
When advising on how to structure your child’s at-home preschool day, we like to refer to how we run our local preschool. At our preschool a typical day goes something like this:
- Warm-up (20 min.)
- At-home circle time (25 min.)
- Learning activity-(20 min)
- Inside play/dramatic play (30 min)
- Lunch/snack (20 min)
- Outside play (30 min)
- Learning activity (20 min)
- Wrap up/say goodbye (15 min)
Through the years we have found the best way to keep preschool kids engaged is to keep them moving and excited about what is coming next. Knowing each child is different, here are five suggestions where we have seen success:
- Keep activities short
- Frequently shift environments
- Have fun
- Make activities challenging and accomplishable
According to Helen F. Neville in her book Is This A Phase?, a three-year-old working alone may spend 3-8 minutes on an interesting activity and may finish it if it is simple. By the time they reach age five, a child can focus on a single interesting activity for 10-15 minutes. Neville teaches us to be realistic about our preschooler’s attention span when planning activities. She teaches us we can help our children develop their attention spans by engaging them through play, movement, by referring to their five senses (things we see, hear, etc…), introducing them to new projects and movement activities, encouraging and helping them through difficult tasks, and by turning off electronic devices. (Neville, Helen Fowler, Is This A Phase: Child Development & Parent Strategies, Birth to 6 Years, Parenting Press, Fall 2007)
Remember, don’t measure the success of an activity based on how long it goes or how perfect it looks in the end, but rather how engaged your child is. Follow their lead, and when they are finished, move on. It's best when they have a positive experience and want to come back to it again. Like training a muscle, the more they build a routine with you, the more stamina they will have, and the more their attention span will grow. And yes, patience is key.
"Like training a muscle, the more children build a routine, the more stamina they will have, and the more their attention span will grow."
The Joey Box curriculum provides enough for three daily learning activities where the learning activities should not exceed an hour total each day. We understand not every schedule can accommodate the suggested three days a week, so follow your child’s lead when making adjustments to the schedule. The most important thing you can do is to keep their schedule consistent while maintaining a positive experience. For instance, Always have food breaks or music time in the same place.
Children will not notice if you have to change the time around a little, but they will depend on and trust the routine you provide for them. The safer they feel in this routine, the more their stamina and enjoyment will grow. Most children like to see a daily schedule to know what’s happening in school every day. This also helps them get ready to make the shift that it’s school time. The activities can be written simply in order from start to finish. It can be a one-word statement like, “math” with a picture next to it. They will come to understand what the words mean as they see them consistently. An example of how your day could run at home could look something like this:
(Bold activities are activities we provide)
Learning Activity: sensory, fine-motor, arts & crafts, or music (10-25 min)
- Inside Play/dramatic play (30 min)
Learning Activity: phonics/literacy (10-25 min)
- Lunch/snack (20 min)
Learning Activity: Math (10-25 min)
- Outside play/or another inside play (30 min)
- Cool down/mindfulness activity/ goodbye time (10 min)
A Pocketful of Centers has great daily schedule cards. View them here.
You can expect a preschool day like the one above to last around 2-3 hours depending on the stamina of your child.
Things to Remember
Again, follow your child’s lead and remember there is a wide range of developmental stages between ages 3-5. From our experience, a three-year-old will typically be happier spending less than three hours on preschool while a five-year-old can usually spend more than three hours. Trust your parental instinct. You are the most important teacher they will ever have!