Forget health food crazes and packed gyms; the nuttiest New Year phenomenon is preschool visits, if you ask me.
Opting out of preschool tour season
In the first months of the year, families tour preschools, descend on open houses and attend fairs, searching for the best preschool for their little one. (If you’re looking for criteria by which to evaluate them, please please please read this. Warning: it contains a whole slew of f-bombs, but the hilarity is well worth the profanity!)
I’m pretty much opting out of the preschool search; I asked a few nearby friends with older kids for their recommendations, and we’re mostly set on one for Peeper to start this fall.
In the meantime, though, she and a handful of her 2-year-old pals are meeting weekly for a homeschool preschool.
A friend I met when our older girls were just babies floated the idea of starting a semi-structured opportunity for the kids to learn and interact. Play dates were nice, but they didn’t have the kinds of activities—circle time, story time—they’d need to practice to thrive in preschool and beyond.
Home Sweet Preschool was born.
Starting our own homeschool preschool
Starting last fall, seven mothers, their toddlers and even their babies got together every Monday. We rotated houses and took turns planning a “curriculum” with a theme—autumn, imagination or snow, for example. We sang songs, read books, prepped snacks and set up stations with crafts and opportunities to practice fine motor skills.
Home Sweet Preschool has been a wonderful routine for Peeper. She gets so excited about preschool (“Will it be a big preschool or a little preschool, Mama?” she asks—I have no idea what that even means) and talks about it for days after. She calls her preschool buddies her friends and knows them by name. (Heck, one day she even talked about her friend Noelle—and Noelle’s outfit, her hair color and what they’d done together. Future besties?)
I have watched the kids go from crying at the slightest conflict to playing alongside and even—gasp—together. They know the “hello” song we sing, and they sit on foam round cut-outs for story time. (Sort of.) I am so proud of them as they strengthen and stretch their skills in cooperation, empathy and patience.
In all, our homeschool preschool has been a low-stakes way to ease our toddlers into structured school.
The co-op structure works well: It relieves the pressure of one mom to host every week, and everyone keeps an eye on all the kids. (This is especially helpful for the moms of two, who need to take breaks to breastfeed or soothe the little siblings.)
How to begin a homeschool preschool
If you’re thinking of starting a homeschool preschool with friends, here are a few more tips:
- Agree on policies on big issues, like vaccinations, sickness, allergies and pets.
- Set up a Facebook group. It makes it easy to communicate, save documents and post photos.
- Keep the group manageable. You’ll need to evaluate what works for your group, but 6-8 families has been a good range for us.
- Post the curriculum for your hosted day. A written outline with the day’s planned songs, books and activities provide a resource for anyone who wants to refer to them later, and it allows parents who had to miss the day to catch up.
- Figure out a structure. Every week, we have circle time, a hello song, a number of stations kids can choose between, snack and story time. The structure helps the toddlers know what to expect and mimics the rhythms of actual preschools.
- Keep the kids in the same age range. When they’re toddlers, a gap in age can put them in very different stages. All the kids in our preschool are within six months of each other.
- Share supplies. We have a community supplies bin stocked with paper, crayons, scissors, glue and the like that every family contributed to. We exchange the bin at each preschool meeting so the mom hosting the next week can use it to prep.
- Have fun! This is preschool; the toddlers aren’t cramming for the GREs, and you’re not auditioning for homeschool parent of the year. Don’t sweat it when the kids couldn’t care less about the book you picked, your toddler is having a meltdown or you completely space setting out the Play Doh.