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Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler: Lessons Learned

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

A Companion to Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool Curriculum: Year 1 in Review

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Portions of this blog post were originally shared via Instagram on August 10 but I wanted to flesh it out a little more and talk about what I learned from Year 1 of Playing Preschool. (Psst... You can save 25% off Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool curriculum with code "HOME25" when you click here.)

We started Year 2 of Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool curriculum last week. Today I decided to repeat Year 1. I’ve been struggling with this for a while, but as I looked ahead to the next week, I knew it was the right thing, for several reasons:

  • We started Year 1 when my son was 26 months old (the recommended age is 2.5-5 years) because *I* was ready. I wanted structure. I wanted routine. I wanted a plan for our day. I wanted to teach him something and see him learning in a measurable way. Playing Preschool gave me that.

  • Looking back, I know now that *HE* wasn't ready. Don’t get me wrong, he LOVED it. We were singing songs and reading books and doing cool activities and he was learning a LOT. But he struggled with some of the skills. I scaffolded... we made it work... we had so much fun BUT some things are just developmental (like pointing/touching individual objects when counting, as opposed to repeating numbers).

  • I had a newborn at the time and I knew he would be my last baby so we decided to enroll my oldest in Mother’s Morning Out. Twice a week he got to play with children his age and I got to spend a few precious hours cuddling my newborn... or nap... or both. I tried to make up for days we missed by combining or carrying over to the weekend, but inevitably, we missed some days in the curriculum.

  • When COVID burst on the scene in March, my husband was suddenly home teaching remotely and my once-solid routine deteriorated as Spring Break morphed into Summer. We managed to finish Year 1 and I’m grateful for the sense of normalcy it provided, but my focus was elsewhere.

  • My son has a summer birthday so we are already on the fence about sending him to Kindergarten as a young five-year-old. I’m not making that decision today but it is something we are considering. (You can read more about that here.)

  • As with my first year of teaching middle school, I want a do-over. To do it better (although I never expected perfection). To do it again (because it really was so much fun). But mostly, because I know that NOW my three-year-old is ready.

So I'd made the decision to repeat Year 1 of the program. Yes, me, the mom who blogs about Playing Preschool and how amazing it is. I think my son is very bright so it was humbling to admit that he wasn't ready to move on. In truth, because we started when he was only 26 months, there were things he wasn’t developmental ready for. Some of them he picked up, but others were lost along the way. In the spirit of “childhood isn’t a race” I felt the best thing for him would be to circle back and make sure we had a solid foundation before we moved on to Year 2.

Childhood is not a race to see how quickly a child can read, write and count. It is a small window of time to learn and develop at the pace that is right for each individual child. Earlier is not better." - Magda Gerber

We are three weeks into our second time doing Year 1 and I am once again blown away by this program. I was worried the novelty would have worn off but my son is a different child (developmentally speaking) at three years old and if anything the prior exposure just gives him more confidence. And there are so many extensions built in if he does need more of a challenge.

If you are considering homeschool preschool or just beginning to use Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool curriculum, I would offer some advice based on what I learned from teaching my toddler at home with Year 1.

Playing Preschool DO's and DON'T's

  • DO wait until your child is ready. I know it's hard to wait but starting too soon may only serve to frustrate you, your child or both of you. If you are having a hard time keeping your child engaged, it is possible they just aren't ready. For signs of readiness and information about age range visit the Playing Preschool FAQ page on Busy Toddler's website.

  • DON'T just “do” the activities but really dive into the opportunities to get your child talking/predicting/questioning as you go. This is what develops critical thinking skills. Use the "Things to Talk About" to ask open-ended questions and offer wait time.

  • DO trust the program. The curriculum was designed to be "easy" at first to allow you and your child(ren) time to build a routine but it starts to build in complexity very quickly. In addition, learn to see beyond the tasks they are doing or concepts they learning to the higher order thinking skills that are being developed. For example, if your child already knows their colors, you may be tempted to skip the Colors unit. But the identifying/naming colors is a basic skill (in the teaching world we call this Level 1 recall/retell/regurgitate). The tasks that they are performing USING colors in this unit is where the magic is happening. Level 2 skills like organize, classify, predict, compare, estimate, and recognize patterns are imperative to higher level thinking.

  • DON'T just skip activities you think your child may not like. Children will often surprise us. The tasks we think are mundane or repetitive are often skills your child needs lots of practice to master. In addition, while exposure to new ways of learning (i.e. sensory play) may be met with some resistance at first, it will benefit them greatly in the long run. To learn more about about the importance of sensory play, read this article.

  • DO lots of modeling. In the classroom, teachers utilize the "I DO / WE DO / YOU DO" method. My son may not show interest at first but most of the time if I do the activity WITH him, he will join in. Other times, he may not know what it is I want him to do and may be hesitant to try. See photo for an example of the activity my son initially didn't want to do, the model I provided, and the effort he gave (we did the "C" together). Because so many of the things we are asking children to are new to them, modeling is key! Also, when possible, I like to offer choice. This is a big one for engagement. In the example below, I gave him the option to do pointillism with a q-tip or a cotton ball.

  • DO keep it simple. The program is a complete curriculum in and of itself. It should only take about 45 minutes (including the morning routine of calendar/song/poem) and can be broken up throughout the day or done all at one (we did it during the baby's morning nap which was special one-on-one time for me and my toddler). This leaves plenty of time for PLAY.

  • DON'T put too much pressure on yourself. The supply list is relatively small and the activities are low-prep. If you choose to add additional activities to go along with the theme, that's fine but not necessary. We have had people join our Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler Curriculum Group who see all of the extensions and additional activities that people share and feel completely overwhelmed. My advice is always to focus on the curriculum first and foremost and don't be distracted by all the "extra".

  • DO modify to suit your child. What I love about the curriculum is that it is a flexible framework. As a former teacher, I can tell you it is important to know your audience. This may mean choosing/substituting books to match your child's interest and reading comprehension level. In my companion to the curriculum, I share ways that I deviated slightly from the plan to simplify it for my (albeit too young) child. I'm sure as I repeat Year 1 I will be finding ways to make certain things more challenging.

  • DON'T stray too far from the curriculum that you miss the valuable work that is being done through repetition and spiraling. I would caution you that while your child may enjoy certain aspects more than others, it is important to give them equal opportunities to practice different skills. The curriculum is designed to have them experiment with all kinds of materials and mediums and utilizes different strategies and skills to maximize their exposure.

  • DO decide when you want your child to practice following instructions. For some of the "learning" activities where there is a desired outcome, it may be appropriate to ask your child do something "Mommy's way" as opposed to letting them take the reins (following directions is an important skill to develop before entering formal school). On the other hand, when they are doing the "easy" activities (many of which are crafts or process art) is the perfect time to encourage creativity.

  • DON'T put too much pressure on your child. I think my son could tell when I wanted him to do something "too much". If something is just not their cup of tea (for my child, that is dot stickers), don't force it, but encourage them to at least give it a try or try again later. If there is anything I know about toddlers, it is that their preferences can change from day to day.

  • DO make it fun! I often remind myself that that ultimate goal of teaching my child at home is not for him to be able to regurgitate facts, but for him to go to Kindergarten with the attitude that learning is fun, the first step toward being a lifelong learner!

Watching my child learn and grow through homeschool preschool over the past year has been rewarding and fun for me, too! What I love so much about this program is that it gave me a plan to help my son develop real skills that he needs for real life through play! For a list of skills that children actually need for kindergarten readiness, see this article.

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning." - Fred Rogers

I would love to hear from the others who have completed Year 1. What is your best advice for those just beginning Playing Preschool? What do you wish you had known when you started or what did you learn along the way?

I also invite you to join the Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler Curriculum Caregiver Group on Facebook. This group was created to share ideas and resources and offer support to other members also teaching the curriculum.

If you haven't purchased yet, you can save 25% off Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool curriculum with code "HOME25" when you click here.

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