Friday, February 1, 2013

my Recipe for a Kindergarten at Home

Homeschool  ChroniclesThis is the season when homeschoolers start dreaming big dreams for the next school year.  Yes, I know it's kind of early, but I just can't resist!  It's so fun to consider curriculum options and to ask my kid, "So...what do you want to learn in third grade?"

Before my mind moves on completely from Liam's kindergarten year, I want to share my recipe for kindergarten.  Doing kindergarten at home is a great way to enjoy your little one's childhood just a little bit longer!  Especially for families in transition (moving) or with very young kindergartners, staying home might make more sense.  In many European countries with excellent education results, children don't start formal academics (how to read, basic arithmetic) until they are 6 or 7.  One reason we do kindergarten at home is to allow for more important learning opportunities (see my blog post from 2009). 

Kindergarten at home is easy.   The key ingredient is your loving family.  The action? Just living everyday life together... cooking, keeping house, spending time in the dirt, exploring the great outdoors.  Add some playdates for spice and a generous helping of thoughtfully chosen resources.   Here are some resources I've used:

Earthways by Carol Petrash is an excellent Waldorf crafts book with very earthy project ideas and suggestions for creating a positive learning environment.  I've used this book quite a lot.  It's more about doing seasonal projects that allow the child to relate with and appreciate nature than creating anything like art.

For art, I'd recommend Scribble Art by MaryAnn Kohl.  This is a classic!  It has suggestions for all kinds of artistic experiences with lots of mediums.  This art is about the process, not the product, which allows for real learning. 

Both of the above books are bare-bones in terms of pictures.  A good inspirational art book is Side by Side: 20 Collaborative Projects for Crafting with Your Kids, which just came out.  It doesn't have a large quantity of ideas, but they are well-selected and a visual treat.  Hmm... this book might be better for older children, actually, so K-3rd grade.

For science I recommend nature book author, Clara Dillingham Pierson.  The kids loved Among the Pond People when we read it during Aria's kindergarten (Liam just 4 years old) and we are reading Among the Forest People this year.  These classics have very few pictures, which is a great way to encourage your kindergartner to form mental pictures as prep for chapter books.

Also read lots of lovely picture books, especially seasonal ones.  Your local library should be able to help you put together a good list.  On my old work blog, I posted seasonal book recommendations that my children loved a few years ago.  Here are picture books for Winter, Spring, more Spring, Summer and Fall.  We still check many of these out from the library when the seasons change, and they are welcomed like old familiar friends!

Read simple fairytales and folktales too, like The Gingerbread Man, The Turnip, Three Billy Goats, etc.  I choose to save the more romantic and/or violent fairytales (like Grimm's) for later.  A good librarian should be able to help you locate a bunch of classic tales appropriate for little ears.  Also, please don't miss the REAL Winnie-the-Pooh (which I prattle on about here).  It's one of our favorites!

If you are a Christian, we love The Jesus Storybook Bible.  It's a beautifully-written children's Bible storybook that ties each story into the larger story of redemption, getting at the point of it all.

Math in kindergarten will happen naturally at home if you look for opportune moments.  Add a few simple games now and then too to expand math thinking.  Today we had fun practicing counting high while tossing a beanbag back and forth.  Whenever someone dropped it we had to start over again.  So, um, we had to start over a lot.  For ideas, see Family Math (a fabulous longterm resource) and Playful Learning (with projects and games for more than just math).

Toddler Apron in Freebird Ovals
Liam in art area, 2010

In addition to book resources, your at home kindergarten will be greatly enriched by an accessible art area.  When I was setting ours up, I wrote a 5-part blog series on creating an art area for little ones (here's part 1), including what supplies we like to have on hand.   That was especially useful during preschool years.  Now Liam does mainly drawing and painting and some modeling.  Also, consider simplifying and decluttering the toy shelf with open-ended, classic toys that invite creative play such as pretending and building.  Soon you'll have a lovely home environment ripe for learning, growing and a gentle opening to all that the future holds.

I hope this list is helpful for those of you who might be considering a home kindergarten.  Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed because the essentials are so doable. You love your kid. You can read to her, give her opportunities to explore the natural world, to play with friends, to make stuff.  That's a wonderful kindergarten!  

And, for those for whom a traditional kindergarten is the family choice, you can of course take advantage of any of these resources to enrich the time you do spend together.  Enjoy!

P.S.  For Liam's kindergarten we're also using the Explode the Code primer series (Book A, B, C) to work on consonant sounds and the Getty Dubay Italic Handwriting Series Book A to encourage proper letter formation patterns.   Liam is an "older" kindergartner (already turning 6) and he's interested in letters, as well as has great fine motor skills.  For a younger kindergartner or any kindergartner resisting bookwork, I would definitely suggest holding back on bookwork until first grade.  You can offer these things without requiring them.  A child will WANT to do this kind of work when they are developmentally ready, so long as they haven't "learned" that school is something to resist.

P.S.S.  Some of these links are affiliate Amazon links, which means I will earn a small percentage if you purchase anything after clicking over.  You might want to use Amazon to learn more about these resources in the way of reviews and previews and such. That's how I consider books, anyways!   Don't forget to check your local library too and save those pennies!


  1. My son taught himself to read late 3 early 4 (He's 4.25 now & reads very well) by staying up with his books. (Picture of a circle with the word circle after have heard it read to him multiple times.

    I never would have considered actively trying to teach him to read, but I am happy that he is a happy reader & will not hold him back.

    I'm hoping when the time comes that we can find a place for him to learn that is ready for an early reader.

    1. I hope I don't seem to be implying that a child who teaches himself is somehow a bad thing. I think it's wonderful, actually! I wondered if Aria might do the same because she was intensely interested in reading from a very young age. But, she didn't figure it out until 1st grade. And now she is reading well above her grade level. Anyways, I hope you have great success if finding a good fit for your son!

  2. I love these posts! This is so helpful, Gwenyth will be 4 this July and I am trying to think ahead, I can't wait to talk to you more about this in person in a few weeks :)

  3. I love how you suggest keeping your kindergartener home for that extra year. We did that with our first three children and it was very,very good! We now live much closer to our school (a parochial Christian school) so we have sent our fourth but there are times I wish it was me being the teacher. Love your homeschooling posts!

  4. We love the real WTP too. And the Peter Rabbit series. Mrs. Tittlemouse and the Two Bad Mice make us laugh and laugh. My oldest also started reading at late 3 and was reading Little House by 4.5, but I agree that's child-directed. I didn't teach him, but we chatted about letters and words whenever he led the way. And of course the Very Most Important part is reading. Read as much as they want. It's so good for the imagination, which spills over into all areas of learning.

    Now if I could just get motivated to facilitate the flourishing of their inner artists . . . . I'm afraid that's a weakness of mine.

    1. We have not read the Peter Rabbit series really - like read it all the way through - just here and there. Thanks for the encouragement! I should pull that out.

  5. Playful Learning is such a wonderful resource. Been using it this past week to encourage "lists" in writing. I will say that as a mom of five energetic boys, my dreams of "gentle learning" didn't happen so calmly and beautifully for younger ones. Mine have never been ones to do arts/crafts and listen to read-alouds until at least the age of 8. They simply needed LOTS of outdoor time and LOTS of imaginative play with Lego and Playmobil. I simply followed their interests and kept tons of non-fiction children's library books on hand as I observed what they were curious about. Dinosaurs, ants, bugs, earthquakes, volcanoes, snakes, and on and on. No fine literature or beautiful crafts here! LOL!! (as they aged and matured, then yes but it took a while!)

  6. What a great post!! Thanks for sharing all the resources. I love how much support there is out there for those who choose to homeschool their children. I was planning on it this year and ended up decided to go back to our much loved school after all, but I do still occasionally consider taking a year off to homeschool while they are all still grade school age. I'm very inspired and impressed by how much you are able to accomplish with your sewing/quilting while homeschooling. It's encouraging to know that you can do both, although I'm sure it's challenging.

  7. I am so enjoying these posts. My boys are very active and spend a lot of time outdoors so we are focusing a lot of our learning on nature study now. We are fortunate to have a large back yard that is shared with my in-laws who live next door (and my parents live across the street). Hopefully this year our house will be built and we will be on our 5 acres. I simply can not wait to see all the exploring they do once we are in the woods!

    Also, I have many of these books you mentioned above and enjoy them all. I just ordered the Among the forest People and Among the Pond People from Amazon and can't wait to start reading those.

  8. Thank you for this post! We are happily doing kindergarten at home this year and I love your perspective and tips. Thanks for sharing :)
    ~Heather C.

  9. Thank you for the time you put into these! (hehe, can you tell I'm spending the evening with you? I've just put the kids to bed and have pulled out the laptop to catch up with you. :))
    I feel so peaceful and confident about my homeschooling decision now. Thank you for the part you played in that! I feel like in all the wrestling with decisions in the past year, with business and family and schooling, what God has wanted to teach me at the heart of it is to have confidence in myself, and in him. I've realised how much I was brought up not to make a fuss or stand out or 'rebel' and so mixed up in these yearnings to blog and express myself creatively and sell my work and homeschool my kids was this feeling of guilt, that I was just being silly. Oh, I can't tell you how nice it is to be finally 'growing out of it'! God is so kind, the way he teaches and changes us.
    It's been nice hanging out with you Rachel! I hope one day I can come sit in your lounge room with that beautiful pillow and chat in person!
    Jodi. xx


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