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Meredith Downing is the Curriculum Lead at Wonderschool, where she supports directors to build high-quality programs that help students grow and succeed.
Whether you’ve been running your program for three days, three years, or three decades, there may come a point where you want to rethink your approach to curriculum and planning. In-home child care is a bit of a unique early learning setting, and while there is no lack of resources for activity ideas, it can be a little bit harder to find a homeschool preschool curriculum set that is meant for an in-home environment and that is also affordable.
Many of the established curriculum products are meant for center classrooms with a dozen or two children who are all the same age, and they cost anywhere from a recurring monthly fee to over $1,000 for the entire set. It’s going to get pretty expensive pretty quickly if you have a mixed-age environment and need to purchase multiple age brackets of curriculum. Not to mention, where are you going to store all of that stuff?
The good news is that you don’t need to purchase a whole curriculum set to create a really developmentally appropriate learning environment and experience for your children. Here’s how to build one yourself.
The purpose of any curriculum, whether a homeschool preschool curriculum or one aimed at a different age group, is to chart a course through various learning goals and developmental milestones. By starting with developmental milestones, you’ll ground yourself in what skills your children are learning and always be able to answer the “why” behind what you do.
Which developmental milestones should you use? That’s a bit up to you. Every state has its own developmental framework. Or you could rely on Head Start’s Early Learning Outcomes Framework. While the frameworks differ in the details, they are generally pretty similar in their content and organization.
Once you have your framework selected, spend some time getting familiar with it. You’ll be using it regularly to think about what types of activities and experiences you should plan for your kids. The developmental framework is helpful beyond just planning, too. It can be a powerful assessment tool to help you observe, identify, and track what skills your kids are working on. And it can also be a really great cheat sheet for parent communication. When you share photos of kids playing you can use your developmental framework to explain the different skills kids are working on while they are engaged in that particular activity.
Your daily schedule is a routine that allows learning to happen — and not just in the sense that your daily schedule will include circle time or music and movement time. Children thrive with routine, and just being given the opportunity to move from one activity to the next, and to take care of self help skills like hand washing before meals, is important learning all on its own.
Your daily schedule will be hugely informed by your early learning philosophy. For example, a Montessori program will have large chunks of time set aside each day for “work,” whereas a nature-focused program may have a daily hike or outdoor excursion.
Your schedule will also be informed by the age of children you serve. If you have infants, you won’t impose a daily schedule on them, but rather you’ll follow their own natural rhythm for eating and sleeping. And if you have a mix of ages, you will be balancing the needs of each age group, and supporting them to get on the same daily schedule.
You may not think of your environment setup as part of your curriculum, but you should. Borrowing from the Reggio philosophy, your environment is your third teacher. Making changes to your environment is a powerful tool you have for the play and learning. It might mean setting up learning centers, or rotating what materials you make available in your learning centers. It can also mean setting things up to be more self-serve, so kids can choose what they want to do and then clean up when they’re done.
Even if your classroom space is small, there’s a lot you can do to make your environment flexible and responsive to your kids.
Now that you have established your developmental framework, your daily schedule, and your physical space, what should you plan each day? There is no lack of ideas available on the internet for types of playful learning activities you can implement. But how do you choose?
If your homeschool preschool curriculum planning process always starts with your kids interests, you’ll be in a really good place. We all learn better when we’re interested in the subject at hand, and kids are no different. While you want to introduce a variety of different topics for kids to explore, you don’t have to feel limited or stuck exploring just one thing. Did you plan a really cool week of exploring trains, but it turns out your kids just want to focus on the wheels? Then focus on the wheels. Embracing a certain amount of flexibility will make it easier for you and your little ones.
Planning with your children in mind also has to do with thinking about your specific community and what you and your kids can explore in real life. Do the kids in your program spend a lot of time at the beach? Great! Start an ocean exploration by focusing on the beach. Do you have a neighborhood park with a pond and ducks? Maybe do a deep dive into the ducks. Children need hands-on experiences to learn, so starting with tangible things they can do, see, and experience firsthand is really powerful.
It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut and become overly focused on what we think we should be doing that we forget to ask ourselves why and if it’s working. Children learn through play and need lots of unstructured time to explore. As an in-home environment, you have the unique ability to provide extra flexibility and reach kids where they are. Don’t lose sight of that. And remember that by grounding your homeschool preschool curriculum in a combination of developmental milestones and children’s interests, you’ll be providing an engaging and appropriate learning environment for each child.