2015-2016: Preschool & kinder

This was the first year that I began to really plan for our year of school, i.e. when I began building computer files and planning our activities and readings ahead of time. In the fall of this year, my son was five and my daughter had just turned three.

As I noted at the time, it felt like the year when the “rubber hit the road” in terms of homeschooling — as in, it was the first year that our choice to homeschool was in clear contrast to what was happening all around us: kids my son’s age were heading off to the local kindergarten but he was not!

I very much believed in keeping kindergarten “light” and not overly academic, and this was the right choice for my son who was not yet ready for much sit-down type work. But I also knew that without a plan, extended periods of time at home didn’t always work out for us. I wanted to build on our daily reading habit and start very slowly building something that would eventually look like school. I also wanted to make sure that none of us got bored, which was a real source of poor behavior when my kids were young (me included)!

So, I put a lot of planning into a “light” kindergarten year! I planned out ahead of time a lot of stories I wanted to read; songs I wanted to sing (mostly simple songs from Waldorf traditions); games to play; crafts to do; etc. On paper, it ends up looking like a lot, but we never did everything in a week. This year, I used the plan as a guide, but if we found ourselves engaged in fun activity, I wouldn’t interrupt that to try to accomplish something on the list.

What was important to me was establishing those daily “school” rhythms — the idea that we learned together by cuddling on the couch reading and by sitting at the table and doing things with our hands (and also by exploring the world together!). Beyond those foundations, I pulled our activities from the Big Old Planner document loosely. We always read living books and did something that resembled school (maybe a tiny amount of handwriting practice or a simple math game), but we didn’t always sing every song, play every game, or do every craft.

I also paid attention to our weekly rhythms — if we had a weekly date with our homeschooling co-op group on one regular afternoon, then I wanted to balance that with less activity the day before and after. Rhythms were critical anchors — I can’t say that enough. Our dynamic in the early years was fairly challenging (my children didn’t play well together for years), and knowing ahead of time the basic shape of the day and week helped all of us meet each other’s expectations and needs.

It was a building and growing time, and we did very simple things together. A morning might be as simple as: read together on the couch, move our bodies (often a bike ride), eat a snack, make a birthday card for a grandparent. That might be it!

I also experimented a lot this year with trying different elements out in our day — for example, trying out the Waldorf concept of a “circle time” with songs and fingerplays. That particular idea had limited success in our home! But we tried it! I also learned that my son and I were not particularly well suited to doing crafts together. But we found many other ways to be creative through play (especially outside).

How we work together and what we study has evolved a lot, and this was just the first of many years that taught us more about what works in our family and what we value in our home learning experience.

Below are some actual rhythm documents I produced that year, along with my embarrassingly detailed “plan” for the year. I would print these out — the rhythm outlines I kept on the fridge, and the planner lived in my notebook.