Homeschool Preschool: Getting Started

Daily life with a toddler is never boring. They love dumping toys, making messes, and constant movement. They love tactile environments – whether that be the cereal they just dumped on the kitchen floor or the dirt from the garden – because it helps them learn about the world around them. Toddlers love exploring and experiencing new things, but sometimes all that learning can be… exhausting. 

Trying to harness that constant drive to explore can be difficult, especially for moms who aren’t sure exactly how to do it or what to do. But it can be done. By setting up your own in-home preschool for your little one, where you have planned activities for each day, you will be able to grow your child’s love of learning while letting them have the ability to explore freely – without wanting to pull your hair out. Check out some of our tips and activities below to get started. 

Setting Up a Schedule


Toddlers and preschoolers, and even older children, thrive on routine. Their behaviors and their attitudes toward a transition in their play is much more positive if they know, for example, that snack comes after playdough time. Making a schedule and routine can be good for both you and your toddler because it allows them to become comfortable with the “what’s next” as well as provide you with some structure on how you want to plan your lessons and what types of activities to prepare.

Doing “school” each day can be overwhelming for you and your young one, so it’s a good idea to plan for just a few days per week in which you want to try and stick to your structured school schedule. You know your schedule best, so plan your activities around naps and your other children’s daily routines. A suggested time frame for school is around 3 hours. This does not all have to be active and mommy-directed play. In fact, it is a good idea to have a large part of your day, about 45 minutes, be free play in which you have set activities that your child can engage with independently. Your schedule can also include snack time, outdoor or gross motor play, and teacher/mommy-directed activities. 

Below is an editable Word Document for you to edit, print, and use at home! Again, make sure to only do this a few days a week to allow for some flexibility in your schedule to do things with your older children or to run errands on days in which you are not running preschool.

Making a School Spot


If you are deciding to teach preschool from home, it is important to have a space designated just for school. If you use a spot in which your child already plays, they will have a hard time distinguishing between school time and regular play time. This lack of separation can bring about difficult behaviors because your child won’t know which routine to expect. 

If you don’t have space for a separate play area and a separate school space, try to have any organized activities away from the play area. For example, you can do art at your kitchen table and circle time in the family room. This way your child knows there are certain places where you need their attention. Another option is to add some affordable items to help create a space just for them such as a small table and chairs.

There are some items that you can purchase to help create a space that is just for school. Below are some of our favorites because they are cost-effective and they are perfect for your little on-the-go learner!

IKEA has several varieties of kid-sized tables and chairs that you can purchase in their store, but this LATT version is by far the most affordable at $24.99 for the set. Many parents paint the pieces to give it a pop of color. You can also make it into a light table with a few simple tools and pieces. Check out the tutorial here.

Tote

This simple plastic tote comes from many teacher’s favorite store – The Dollar Store. This particular tote is wonderful because it can be carried from room to room and it has spots for paper and coloring utensils.

Divided Storage Hanger

This divided hanger is wonderful for storing art tools for your little one. It easily hangs on the wall, and you can keep it within reach of your child to help promote independent and creative thinking when they are writing or drawing. Be sure to keep any dangerous items, like scissors, in a different spot if you are not with them.

Paper Sorter

Another favorite teacher store – Target. Particularly the Dollar Spot! These dividers are wonderful to help sort construction paper by color or to organize your lessons plan items by day. Either way, they are a helpful tool to keep your school spot organized.


In addition to some of the organizational tools listed above, you may also need some other items for activities and lesson plan preparation. Below are some of the items most used in an in-home preschool classroom:

  • IKEA Mala Easel– This is an affordable item that is a great addition to your school spot. It allows for free use of art supplies and it can be used in a variety of ways. The paper is great for many different art projects too. 
  • Washable Paint– Many parents try to stray away from painting with their toddlers or preschoolers, but it is a great tool for art, and kids love it. By using some of the other recommended products below, clean up will be a breeze.
  • Construction Paper– You will be surprised at how much paper you go through during a regular school day! Kids love to draw, and many times one tiny drawing per piece of paper. Teacher Recommendation: Cut the paper in half and ask them to use both sides to eliminate overuse.
  • Laminator– This is a must for in-home preschools. A home laminator can help to extend the life of many of your printable activities. You will also need laminating paper.
  • Art shirts– When parents think of messy art activities they often reach for the plastic aprons to cover their child’s clothes. However, plain white t-shirts are the way to go! Get a size or two above your child so that it fits easily over their clothes and covers more space. T-shirts are great because they catch wet materials more easily and you don’t have to do anything for clean up. Simply allow to dry and reuse! 
  • Tablecloth– Purchase a plastic tablecloth to put over your art area to save your table from any messes. It’s also great under the easel if your child is using any wet tools. 

Lesson Planning


Once you have your school spot set up, it’s time to start lesson planning. This can look very different depending on your child’s developmental level and needs. One rule of thumb to stick by is to make sure you have 40 minutes of free play time for every 3 hours of school. This allows your child to explore and use their imagination while playing independently. If you have other children in the home, this is a great opportunity for them to be engaged in the school day.

Free play time during your school days should be different than free play time on regular days. One way to organize this is to have learning centers. Learning centers are areas of your classroom (or school spot) that have different organized activities in which your child can engage independently. There are five basic learning centers: literacy, math/science, art, dramatic play, and large manipulatives. Look below for some ways to set up your center

Literacy

This center should have books on your thematic topic and some comfy chairs or pillows to sit in. You can also put literacy activities such as felt board stories or letter/sound/sight word activities depending on your child’s age and skill level.

Math/Science

Your math and science center is often dependent on what you are exploring for the next few weeks – the solar system, the water cycle, winter animals, etc. Try to organize 4-5 different activities in this area for your child to work on independently or with a little help from you. This is also a great place to keep sensory bins and playdough. You can find a plethora of activities along with tutorials and printables for any different theme on Pinterest!

Art

Art is one of the favorite centers in most tot school and preschool classrooms. It is important to have a number of different items available besides paper, crayons, and paint to your child so as to build their creative thinking skills. Some of those items might be popsicle sticks, pouf balls, sequins, dried colored pasta, string, and ribbon. You can also have different utensils such as paint brushes, sponges, and stamps.

Dramatic Play

Again, this area may be dependent on the theme in which you are exploring but sometimes it can be something as simple as a kitchen play set. Your dramatic play area should have items in which your child can engage in pretend play such as dress up clothes and related items. Many parents like to use real items from their homes (like camping tents and sleeping bags for a wood animals theme, for example). The possibilities are endless!

Large Manipulatives

This center may not change very often. You may have something like blocks, train tracks, and a marble run in this space. Anything that your child can use to build or create something is perfect for this center!

After you have designated your centers, you can start looking for activities to go in them. One of the best search engines for preschool related activities is Pinterest. It can sometimes be overwhelming to see all the different activities, but try to choose things you know your child will be able to do without frustration – from you and them! 


Another large portion of your lesson plans are your daily teacher (or mom) directed activities. These should be kept to a minimum throughout your school day because too much can be overwhelming for your little one. If you take a look at the sample schedule above, you will see that in addition to free play time in the learning centers there is also circle time, organized art, organized math/science, and organized literacy. Each of these activities will look different depending on your child’s age and abilities but in general, each adult-directed activity should only last 10-15 minutes. 

Circle Time

Circle time is a great way to bring your child in and get them ready for the school portion of the day. Often times circle time includes a theme related story, songs, and a review of basic skills like shapes and colors. It is also a good time to talk about the things you will be doing that day and review things you have already learned. If your child is old enough you can also add in calendar, weather, and letter of the week discussion.

Organized Art

Organized art is an activity in which you are creating a specific piece of art related to your theme. You can also use this time to hone in a particular skill like pencil grip or cutting. You are working mostly with your child during this time so it’s a good time to break out the paint or other messy tools!

Organized Math/Science

This activity will often be related to the theme or big idea in which you are discussing. In terms of science, it can be anything from a small experiment, a short video, or a special book and discussion. In terms of math, it is a great time to work on specific skills such as counting, patterning, color/shape recognition, number recognition, and simple addition/subtraction.

Organized Literacy

Many parents deem this as one of the most important areas of their child’s preschool day. Activities for this time usually include letter recognition, letter sound, writing practice, and sight word practice. A great tool to help with letter recognition, letter sounds, and handwriting is a curriculum called Handwriting without Tears. Instead of going through the alphabet in order, this program teaches children by breaking down how the letter is written out. It’s a wonderful program and one that many schools utilize.


If you have other children, try to involve them in the activities or differentiate the activities so that they can be included too. For example, if you are doing an art activity for your toddler, let your preschooler join in but have them do some of the work independently like cutting and gluing. It’s also easy to get overwhelmed when looking on Pinterest for ideas for lesson plans, so try to keep it simple. Reuse materials and resources, and try to remember that a simple game with one or two steps is often more well received than one that is complicated. 

No matter what, deciding to teach your toddler or preschooler from home can be daunting but it is also admirable. It takes motivation for a parent to want to set up a school spot, lesson plan, prep activities, and stick to a schedule. But in the end, your child will learn so very much from you and you will both love having that time together. 

For more activities and ideas to do with your preschooler, check out Summer Lessons for your Preschooler here on Daily Mom!

Photo credits: Lauren Lomsdale

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Lauren Lomsdale

Lauren is a full-time mom of three girls, who also happens to run her own in-home preschool. She loves to write, run, yoga-it-out, and keep fit. She’s kind of crunchy in her homeschooling, cloth diapering, and natural products sort of way, but she also loves Starbucks and trashy tv. For more about her internal judgments of herself and hilarious quips about motherhood, follow her on IG and Twitter @thescoopmama, fb.com/thescoopmama, as well as her website theSCOOPmama.

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