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Getting Ready for Preschool Through Play

2018-02-23 by Katy Harder
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When my son was only 18 months old, another mother in my neighborhood asked if I had joined a waitlist at any local preschools. When our kids were only four months old she had begun telling me about all the programs her son was in (music lessons, gymnastics, swim lessons and on and on) and it just felt all wrong to me.

Soon I found other families who felt the same way as I did. So I went home and started to write a preschool curriculum we could do at home together as a family instead, which due to my background as a Pre-K curriculum developer and former preschool director I was equipped to do.

learning through play

I believe it is time to improve our children’s early education, protect the joys and freedoms of childhood, enhance family relationships and Take Back Childhood! I’ve designed a curriculum to help parents prepare children for school by playing and exploring together as a family, which gets kids’ creative minds jump-started for free play on their own.

learning through play

Using the research of child development experts, neuroscientists and educational psychologists as a foundation, I based the curriculum on these four principles:

  1. Consistency and calm
  2. Connect abstract academic concepts with concrete experiences in order to learn effectively
  3. Time, materials and experiences that help them develop senses of curiosity, initiative, exploration, and autonomy both alone and with a parent.
  4. Explore academic concepts at their own pace and according to their own interests.

learning through play

The Block Plan Preschool curriculum uses nine distinct, thematic blocks (one each month September through May) to teach a cross-contextual curriculum that gives children freedom of choice to explore academic concepts in the ways they find most interesting. The curriculum requires as little as 30 minutes three days a week, is easy for parents to use and involves the whole family even if some or most of the lessons are taught by another caregiver such as a nanny or grandparent.

This is how the lessons fit into our day:

One of the focuses of December is on magnets so in the morning we get out our calendar (we use My Daily Calendar from Melissa and Doug – it’s magnetic!) and talk about the date, weather and other details specific to the day. Then we read a book together about magnets and how they work. One of my favorite parts of our preschool curriculum are the book lists I’ve compiled to accompany our lessons. It is so satisfying to read excellent children’s literature and build on the lessons my son learns from the stories. It’s also really fun for my husband to read the books with my son before bed so he can be involved in what we are learning also.

Next, my son spends a few minutes working on a painting project while I get out his favorite magnetic toy (the Magnetic Car Loader from Melissa and Doug). When he’s finished painting, we search the house looking for objects that the magnetic crane will be attracted to. When we have found some metal objects we use them to experiment with the magnet in the crane and my son figures out that when objects are too heavy they fall off the magnet. When his attention starts to wander I go clean up the kitchen and let him play with the Magnetic Car Loader on his own. To my surprise, he figures out how to use the S-hook and paperclips as a magnetic extension that connects the trailer to the crane – so cool! Watching my son play in this creative and explorative manner makes me so grateful to have open-ended toys because they really do work seamlessly with the lessons I am trying to teach him.

learning through play

I look forward to teaching my son his Block Plan Preschool lessons so much because for 30 minutes, three days a week I get to be a fun parent. As a mom my days are so often filled with chores like laundry, washing dishes, running errands and cleaning the house. When my husband comes home from work he typically has more energy for play than I feel like I’ve had all day because I’ve been managing the logistics of our household and saying things like, “Put on your shoes! Wash your hands! Go potty! Don’t stick that in your sister’s nose!” Not so fun.

When we do our playful preschool lessons, though, I get to put everything else on hold and just play with my son. I get to help him think critically about stories we read, experiment with natural and physical science, explore outside and use toys in creative ways. The best part is that, like an exercise routine, even if it sometimes feels like I’m adding yet another item to my list of things that need to get done that day, when we take time to play together we all feel great afterward. My son gets some ideas to stimulate his mind for free play the rest of the day and I get to be fun and playful, which is so good for all of us.



Katy Harder

Katy Harder is an experienced outdoor and early childhood educator and developer of a curriculum called Block Plan Preschool: Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten, which empowers parents to encourage free play, limit structure, and ensures children are inspired and ready for school! To learn more about the curriculum, visit blockplanpreschool.com.

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