What we’re doing for at-home preschool in our nature-loving, child-focused, neuro-diverse family

I low-key stressed for weeks about planning our at-home preschool curriculum for this year. The task of picking and choosing from all the options, figuring out what to prioritize and what to let go was so overwhelming. Eventually, certain materials rose to the top of my list, though, and, I have to say, I’m really excited for what I have planned! Like, consciously restraining myself from starting our school activities now type excited. 

I landed on 3 primary tools which I’ll use in combination with each other. We have some bonus items and accommodations for younger siblings (who have special learning needs) but I’ll explain all that another time. 

Here are the three: 

  1. A Charlotte Mason-esque nature curriculum with weekly poetry and art studies. 
  2. Montessori-style reading and writing materials for literacy exploration
  3. A formal, targeted curriculum that provides pre-reading supports for learners who are at risk of developing language-based learning disabilities. 

See, all so different, right? I’m going to give a brief description of each one here. I’ll do a deep-dive strengths & drawbacks run-down of each one in another post. 

Our Three Components

  1. Nature curriculum: “Exploring Nature with Children” by Lynn Seddon 
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Our nature curriculum

This is a really comprehensive curriculum. It gives monthly, themed nature studies for the whole school year, following the seasons (in the Northern Hemisphere), with suggestions for hands-on nature study activities for kids of various ages. Some info about this curriculum: 

— lengthy book lists for each unit of study with suggestions ranging from simple picture books to high-level reference materials. (Thank goodness our libraries are open again because there are so many books I want to try from each unit list!) 

— weekly poems that match the season and/or unit theme. I want my children’s minds to be soaked in beautiful literature from a young age. I think this will create much more of a feeling of ownership over these works than just encountering them in middle or high school English classes.

— weekly works of art for art study. Again, I want our home to have a culture of art appreciation and active engagement with the arts. In order to do that, I think I have to start when they’re young and weave it into our weekly routines. The suggestions in this curriculum will help me to do that. 

— suggestions for specific activities to do each week. Honestly, we’re so much more likely to go do these activities if I don’t have to think of them myself in the midst of life’s business. 

  1. Montessori-style reading and writing activities 

    I did some reading about the Montessori philosophy and methodology (this book, this one and this one especially) and then chose the activities and tools that I thought we could realistically incorporate into our home. Usually, the ones that seemed the most multi-purpose or flexible and were directly connected to developing reading and writing skills. I’m far from a Montessori expert and I’ll bet this pick-and-choose cafeteria Montessori approach is heresy to the Montessori purists but it feels like the best fit for our family culture and stage of life. The items we’ll be using: 

— sandpaper alphabet to start learning letter shapes and sounds 

— geometric insets + inset tray for fine-motor skill development to support learning how to write 

— moveable alphabet to allow kids to combine letters and form words even before they can write 

— rug with lines for the moveable alphabet 

— sand tray to practice forming letters 

  1. Heggerty Early Pre-K Phonemic Awareness Curriculum 
https://heggerty.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/CURRICULUM-1-small.png

So far, 2 of my 3 kids have phonological disorders. What this means is that their brains have a harder time interpreting (identifying and processing) and then organizing to create sounds than kids without these disorders. Skills like rhyming and sound recognition are harder for them than the average kids. Phonemic awareness (with its component skills like rhyme recognition, word segmentation, etc.) is a necessary pre-reading skill. These are the underlying skills that allow kids to decode words and therefore read. (This article gives you a summary of a study that showed this connection.)

So, this curriculum will specifically target the development of those skills but is intended for kids who can’t read or write yet so everything is oral. My intention in using this is to shore up the weak areas so that my kids can enter kindergarten or first-grade with the same pre-reading readiness as other kids, they just need a little extra work to get there. 

So, there you have it.

We have 3 quite different pieces that I’ll be inter-weaving throughout the year. I anticipate doing our at-home pre-school 3-4 times a week, for 30 minutes a day. Charlotte Mason talks about “spreading the feast” of learning before children and I certainly hope that’s what I’m doing! My intention is that by being exposed diverse methodologies and materials, each child will find places to get their footing in the long journey of learning and, especially, things that speak to their passions and individual personalities. 

I’d love to hear about your pre-school plans and/or what you’ve done in the past with your children. I could talk about this topic forever!  

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