The Only Preschool (or Kindergarten) Curriculum You Need Is Your Enthusiasm

i.e., The building blocks for a child’s education, starting with preschool.

My four-year-old is of preschool age, though I won’t consider him “pre-K” until next year. (This is because both my boys have August birthdays, but I also believe children are required to start school too early nowadays. Of course, it depends on the individual child, but I know that for my boys, starting later has and will benefit them.) As I watch him mature and begin to learn the fundamentals on his own, I am delighted with this unique personality growing up alongside his brother who is so different than him. In some areas, he’s more advanced than his older brother was. In other areas, he is behind. None of that matters except as a testament to these two complimentary brothers who have different personalities and learning styles.

One thing my four-year-old doesn’t have that my eldest son had was a mother with more time on her hands to work directly with him. Yet he benefits in participating in classes, projects and play dates that my eldest son never had at that age. As I do more work with my youngest child, I’ll be writing about “preschool” all over again, though it will look a little different this time.

I write this post as a kick-off to another round of preschool, and as a way to show what I have learned on my first go-around. Everything I wrote below must be present throughout our children’s whole education. If parents are not involved or learning alongside their children, kids will not learn to love learning. They will not flourish. If parents are enthusiastic about learning and use their own imaginations, the child probably will too. (This is the same whether you homeschool or not.)


I see parents asking about preschool curriculums frequently, and it always blows my mind.  Believe me, you don’t need a packaged curriculum for preschool (or Kindergarten for that matter). What your child needs is experiences and conversation. Depending on your willingness to lead your child to wonderful places of discovery, they are going to learn all they need to know and more for their preschool years.

Your #1 teaching instrument is your voice.

Talk to your child. Be patient. Tell them all the simple things you take for granted. “Tree.”  “Green leaf. Isn’t it pretty?” “Do you like carrots? I like carrots.” “Look at the kitty!” As they get older, your conversations will get more sophisticated. Ask your child questions. Answer their questions. Use big words and follow them up with a simple definition.

Children in households where parents talk to their children do much better in school and have a larger vocabulary than their counterparts.  Teach them everything you know through conversation and story. (Don’t worry about what you don’t know. As the questions get harder, you’ll teach your child how to find answers by letting them watch you search for answers.)

Talk to your child frequently, but don’t exhaust yourself either! Children need quiet too.

Your #1 teaching resource is the library.

Take frequent trips to the library. At least once a month go and let your child pick whatever books he likes, and you pick some that you like. Let them explore the library, play with the toys there, and take them to story times, if you and your child would enjoy that. (My eldest son didn’t like story time at all when he was two years old, so we didn’t go anymore. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t like it. You can try again next year, if you like.)

Letting your kids explore and play at the library at a young age will teach them it’s a fun place. And you can learn about the opportunities and resources your library will offer you during your child’s school years. Remember to look up math and science books for your kids – there are so many fun books that teach the fundamentals.  Another reason not to buy a packaged curriculum!

If you live in a rural area and have a small library like I do, be sure to check and see if your library offers an inter-library loan. I can order any book in the Georgia PINES system, which is throughout the whole state of Georgia and have it delivered to our local library. Read this for a more thorough description of how we use our library.

Remember whats important.

Remember: Reading, arithmetic, and all those other fundamentals can be learned by any mature child or adult who has a desire to learn. Don’t worry if your five-year-old isn’t reading yet. Some children learn how to read early, but others aren’t ready until they’re 7 or 8. This has no bearing on their intelligence. It’s simply how they’re developing.

Fostering a love of learning, tenacity, kindness, and creativity has to happen in the early years. How do you do that?

Foster a love of learning by exploring the world with your child and be fascinated in the world with your child. Every child is delighted by those small things we take for granted – flowers, butterflies, a beetle on the sidewalk. If you dont delight in these wondrous things, your child wont delight in them.

Help your child find the answer to his questions. If he asks a question at an inconvenient time, say, “That’s a great question. We can look it up later. Remind me, okay?” Or as Lori Pickert suggests, say, “Where do you think we could find the answer to that question?” If you dont take the time to answer or let your child know that his questions are worthy, hell stop asking questions.

To teach tenacity, we must be tenacious ourselves.  I love to read, learn, take long walks, delight in nature, write and dream. I don’t sit around doing nothing all day (unless I need to rest). I like having a clean house, having goals, and I’m always wondering what I could do to make some more money.  I may not live up to my ideal self, but I’m not a lazy person either. By modeling tenacity, my children are going to learn how to accomplish the important goals in their life. (The key word being important. I’m not against quitting when a better path reveals itself.)

By now I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I’m going to say: To teach children how to be kind, we must be kind ourselves.  Be kind to people. This can mean just smiling and keeping an open mind, or maybe you’re the type of person who likes to make soup and take it to your neighbor’s house when he’s sick. When you’re checking out at the grocery store, be patient and say thank you to the clerk.  When dealing with difficult people, try to be diplomatic.

Kindness is more than being kind to people. It means being kind to the planet. Teach your children to be kind to animals and even bugs. Tell your children how we should act in certain situations.  Making up stories about situations that arise can help with this. Don’t worry about being perfect. Kids don’t need perfection, but if you are a kind person, more than likely your children are going to follow in your footsteps.

To foster creativity, you need to let your children play and create. You won’t need to do much planning for this; just dont squash their natural creativity! Go along with what your child’s instincts are for playing, exploring and creating. Look for projects that you know your child would enjoy. Teach them how to play make-believe.  Join them in their own creative play, and if you want them to try something new, you need to do it yourself and let them watch.

There are tools to fostering a love of learning, tenacity, kindness and creativity, and I’ll list some of those below. Let your child’s interests guide you as you invest in their creativity, and remember, sometimes less is more when it comes to building a child’s imagination.


  • Read. Make book time a ritual in your house.
  • Spend time in nature. Walk slowly on a nature path and see what you can find! What can you draw in the dirt with a stick? What can you make with a bunch of leaves? While you are observing nature, teach your children how to be kind to it.
  • Go to interesting places. Explore parks, nature centers, museums, and anywhere else that you can afford to go. Have fun and see what you can learn with your child.
  • Make-believe. Pick your favorite book and act it out. Or pretend to be a animal. Can you run as fast as a cheetah? Parents may need to teach little children how to play make-believe, especially if they don’t have older siblings.
  • Games. Any child’s game such as Simon Says, Hide and Seek or a fun board game teaches children how to pay attention, follow rules and work together.
  • Share your own work with your child. Tell them or teach them about your hobbies. Take them to meet your friends and let them see how you interact with them.
  • For more information, the Tools of the Mind website has some great information for parents about make-believe and supporting self-regulation.


The best toys are those that require a child to use their imagination to play with it. I couldn’t possibly list them all, but these are a few of my boy’s favorites:

  • Toy animals.  My boys play with plastic toy animals more than anything else! They usually carry a favorite one around each day, and they especially like to pretend they’re feeding it while they play outside. The boys don’t care about quality in toys, but I do, so the Schleich animals are my favorites.
  • Blocks.  Legos. Zoob pieces. Any kind of building set.
  • Puzzles.
  • Puppets. We have bought some, but we love to make them too.


Keep within your child’s reach:

  • Different kinds of pretty paper.
  • Crayons, markers, colored pencils.
  • Scissors, glue (if they’re old enough).
  • Paint.
  • Air-dry modeling clay.
  • Artsy materials found at any craft supply: pom poms, popsicle sticks, sequins, googly eyes, felt.

If you are still anxious to make sure you’re covering the bases for preschool, you can refer to World Book’s Typical Course of Study Preschool Curriculum Guide.  But please be wary of lists like this. Every child develops differently, and the most important thing a supportive parent can do is observe their child, support their own way of developing and in their own time frame. For serious concerns, I would ask a trusted physician. Other than this, use your instincts and let your child be the unique child that he/she is!

What else would you add?

If this was helpful to you, you may also like The Everyday Homeschooler’s Guide to Teaching the Early Years. Thank you!

An update on our homeschool math, Life of Fred: Butterflies

Last year I wrote a comprehensive post on how I have been doing kindergarten math.  I teach my six-year-old math in a variety of ways, but our main resource is Life of Fred. At that time, we had finished the first book in the Life of Fred series (Apples), but when I started the second book (Butterflies), I realized it was too hard for the then five-year-old.


First, in case you’re unfamiliar with Life of Fred, it’s a comprehensive math curriculum for K-12, but you can buy the books separately, which is nice.  It’s written like a story with a character named Fred who is a five-year-old math professor at Kittens University.  If that sounds silly, you’re right.  The story is light and fun, and it’s full of math.  Each chapter ends with a few math problems for your child to solve.  I like that it’s comprehensive, but it’s not overwhelming or a lot of busy work.  We can finish a chapter and do the problems in about 30 minutes. My son loves the story too.  For a child who seems to learn well through story, it’s really great.

{You can learn more about Life of Fred and download sample chapters here: When Do I Start Life of Fred Math.}

In September when we started our new homeschool routine, I started Butterflies with him.  I was happy to find that my instincts had been right – last year it was too hard for him, but now it seemed just right.  I am also more relaxed and using it as a guide for me.  

I don’t worry if he doesn’t get something.  I just tell him the answer and think of other ways to show him. As long as he’s not showing frustration or disinterest, I feel the best way is to go over the material many times in an easy-going manner.

Some of the math did not come easy to my son, so I tried to find other ways to teach him.  For example, counting by twos and fives is a big part of Butterflies.

At first, I was at a loss as to how to teach my son how to count by twos and fives.  I had gone over it several times.  I used YouTube videos.  I used charts.  I took him outside and drew numbers with chalk, and then we did “skip counting” in a literal way!  I wondered if he just wasn’t ready or if there was another approach I needed to take? As I said before, since my son did not balk at the lessons, I decided that just taking it easy and going over it again and again would be my approach.

Then one day he just got it!  I have no idea what did it ~ Maybe it was that episode, LeapFrog Numberland, on Netflix?  Maybe it was Life of Fred.  Maybe it was all my attempts….in reality it was probably all of it together.  Perhaps my son paid more attention to that song in LeapFrog Numberland because of all my attempts to teach him.  Who knows?  I didn’t really care.  I was just elated he got it!

Now that we’re on the last chapter of Life of Fred: Butterflies, I’m happy to realize that it fit nicely into this Fall season too.  (As I mentioned before, I alternate short reading and math lessons Monday-Thursday. I do one chapter at a time of Life of Fred.) I’m planning to order the next book and start it in January.


However, I want to mention some of the frustrations I’ve had too, and I still haven’t made up my mind as to whether Life of Fred will be our only math curriculum.

In Life of Fred: Apples, the author focuses on teaching all the possible equations that add up to the sum of 7.  In Butterflies, he concentrates on adding to the sum of 9.  While doing Apples with my son, he started to realize that the answer to the equations was “7.”  He didn’t memorize that 5 + 2 = 7.  In Butterflies, the answers to the equations in the book is either “9” or “7.”  While this is good because my son can’t take for granted what the answer is, I can tell he’s not memorizing the equations.  He usually has to count on his fingers.

And this brings me to my question of whether it’s important for him to memorize those equations?  I wrote here that I wouldn’t mind if he counted on his fingers, and I still don’t mind.  I’m glad he can figure out the answer for himself.  But it also makes me wonder what else I need to do, or does it matter at this point?

I spoke to a friend of mine who is a retired Kindergarten teacher, and she told me that they never pressed the kids to memorize anything. Having fun and getting the answer is more important.  This is how I feel, but you know, I always have those moments of second guessing.

I also have mixed emotions that parts of Life of Fred is hard.  That is, the author will bring in non-math information or a higher level math. On one hand, I think it’s great.  It’s teaching my son a variety of things, and there’s nothing wrong with introducing him to harder stuff, especially when I don’t worry about whether he really gets it.  But there are times when I feel it’s going over his head and he’s not getting anything out of it. I worry he might become disinterested in the story.

This is mostly balanced by the fact that my son says he likes Life of Fred.  The other day he said, “The only way I should learn math is with Life of Fred.” 

So maybe none of that is a con.  It’s more of an observation and consideration for the future.  For now, we’re going to stick with Life of Fred, and I’ll supplement it with some other fun activities, math story books, videos and educational apps….like I’ve always done.

Some extra math resources

As I mentioned above, Life of Fred: Butterflies spends a lot of time on teaching counting by 2s, 5s, and also telling time.  Here’s a few YouTube videos that I’ve used to help my son grasp these concepts.  I especially like the video on telling time.

What are your recommendations for teaching math to youngsters?

Cleaning the House with Young Children

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on June 20, 2012.

Mothers of young children often lament how they can’t get anything done.  What they mean by this is how they can’t seem to get the laundry, house cleaning, or cooking done, or, if they do another kind of work, they can’t find time to finish it all at once.  We go from being childless and able to tackle our tasks one at a time to a schedule with no beginning and no end.

It’s more of a mind-shift, and it takes a lot of time to figure out how to navigate our chores amid the needs of the children.  I am still trying to shift my mind.  It’s not an easy thing, but once in a while, I think I’ve almost got it.

The first thing I had to remind myself of is that I am doing something – the most important thing in the world, perhaps – rearing children.  Every mundane task I do at home stacks up as the first blocks in these little people’s lives.  It may not feel like it, but I’m the one there to keep them from falling over.

Mothers put a lot of pressure on themselves to be able to do it all, but all we really need to do is show up and love our children.

I want to tell moms with younger children not to try so hard.  All we can do is prioritize and do what little chores we can.  It’s the kids that come first, and it’s not going to kill them if they crawl through some dust bunnies.  Use frozen food if you have to.  Just take care of yourself – you can’t be a good mom if you don’t – and take care of the children.

Now that my youngest child is almost three, it’s getting easier to find time to clean the house on a regular basis. This past year I started “Monday Cleaning Day.”  I’ve never had a cleaning schedule before, but now that I have kids, I realize schedules are my friends.

Writers say that you should write at the same time everyday, every week, or whenever you can manage it.  What counts is that it’s at a recurring time. If you do this regularly, you’ll train your writing mind or “the muse” to show up.  This is true.

Now I believe this strategy works with everything.  Ever since I started “Monday Cleaning Days” I am in the mood to clean my house every Monday morning.  When in my whole life have I ever been in the mood to clean? The best part about it, however, is that it takes away those frustrating thoughts of “When will I get this done?”

I wouldn’t have been able to do this the year before when I had a one-year-old, but now both my boys are helpful.  They pick up toys and help me mop the floors, and the five-year-old loves to vacuum the sofas.  It’s important to get young children in the habit of helping, but don’t worry about the quality of their work.  If they do anything, it’s great, and you are fostering good habits that will stick with them as they get older.

(I will also make a point that wasn’t in my column: I doubt I could have done “Monday Cleaning Day” when I had only one child.  Having an older brother to direct the play helps me considerably when I’m trying to get things done with a two-year-old.)

After they help me as much as they can, it’s their “job” to play alone while I finish.  I think there’s something about the routine of doing it once a week that helps them and me too. They understand that it’s just one day a week and then we get back to our regular schedule.

Of course, it could also be that I’ve started “Monday Movie Night.”  If they help clean and leave me alone while I finish, they get to watch a movie.  I want them to learn that after we work hard, it’s okay to relax and reward ourselves.  My five-year-old is old enough to recognize when the house gets messy, and I think he is learning to appreciate cleanliness.  He’s proud of himself each time he shows me the clean sofas.

I also don’t consider it a bad bribe because I also give myself permission to take the night off.  With small children, I’ve had to schedule in “veg out time” too, though I admit I don’t always stick to this. It’s too tempting to use the time to pursue some of my creative goals, and next week, I’ll write some ideas on how mamas can schedule creative time into their lives.

How do you get your cleaning done with small children in the house?

You might also be interested in Embracing the Chaos and Embracing the Chaos, Part 2.