How to Start Preschool at Home during the COVID-19 lockdown
There are a lot of people who are suddenly having to figure out how to start teaching preschool at home, so in this post we will look at how you can begin the process.
I think it is important to keep in mind that everyone is under great stress and pressure at the moment. Taking things easy and being gentle on yourself and your children is the most important thing. It is difficult for anyone to learn if they are anxious, so helping children to feel safe and loved should be a top priority.
Important things to keep in mind for teaching young children
As a teacher, I believe that some of the most important things young children can learn at home or at school are:
(1) to enjoy and love learning
(2) to develop social and emotional skills
These are strengths that they will carry with them throughout their academic career and throughout their lives. These skill
s are increasingly being shown to be important factors in children’s long-term academic achievement and success (Konishi & Wong, 2018). For this reason, it is important to make learning engaging, fun, and inspiring. There also need to be opportunities for practicing skills such as sharing and taking turns. My focus will be to introduce you to activities that provide one or all of these features.
You may also want to see my post, EYFS Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers at home for some ideas for home learning activities. I have tried to include ‘adult lead’ activities as well as activities that children can do independently with little adult support.
Teaching preschool – A basic summary & example
When I teach, I try to have my lesson (and learning objective) feed into some of the independent activities (continuous provision). This way children can continue to practice and learn independently.
For example, if I’m teaching children about the properties of shapes, I would first have them discuss some properties of shapes. Then we would play a game such as guess my shape. For independent activities, children could sort shapes into groups, play with tangram puzzles, make shapes with Geo Boards (rubber band pegboards), use playdough with plastic shapes and knives (they could do shape impressions or cut out shapes), play with different shaped blocks, use cut-out paper shapes to make a picture collage, etc. These independent activities allow children to practice learning from the adult-led lesson, but are easy enough for them to do without much adult help.
These hands-on activities are also important for long-term memory and learning (Hearns, Miller & Nelson, 2009; Hillman, 2011; Ferri, B.H., Ferri, A.A., Majerich, D.M., Madden, A.G., 2016).
How to start teaching preschool at home during the COVID-19 lockdown
If you are trying to figure out how to start preschool teaching at home during the COVID-19 lockdown, I think it’s really important not to overwhelm yourself or your children with loads of lessons and activities. There are some simple things you can do to start. This can include reading books with them, setting up a writing and art area, going on walks to explore nature, gardening, playing games (Orchard Toys have a number of learning games that are also fun), or you could also play some simple DIY number games (see my posts Missing Number Game and Swapping Number Game).
It is also important to give children plenty of time to play and explore in ways that are not entirely directed by adults. It can be hard for parents to let go and let children explore on their own. However, you may be surprised by what they create and discover when they explore independently. Some questions to ask are – What are you doing/making? Tell me about this… What is happening? How do you know?
Setting up your space
To make it easier for children to play and learn independently, there are a few simple things that you can do. Set up a learning space(s) that will make it easy for children to get what they need. Ideally give them a table (we use our old coffee table) with storage space for things like pens, pencils, paper, crayons and anything else they might need for learning. If you have the outdoor space, I would highly recommend setting up a simple mud kitchen.
Example of our set up
We have a desk organizer with drawers full of the following (1) play dough, plasticine, rollers, dough stamps, and cutters (2) whiteboard pens, erasers and laminated high-frequency words to trace, (3) pens, twisty crayons and pencils (each in a separate case so they can be taken out and put back easily), (4) scissors, mini hole punches, hole punches, picture hole punches (5) glue, glitter glue, glue sticks, spreaders, (6) loose parts drawer. The loose parts drawer has bits like lolly sticks, pom poms and googly eyes for collages, playdough, etc.
Then there is a box the children can open up to get paper, notebooks, stickers, and so on. We also have a large roll of paper that can be pulled out if they want to do larger drawings. All of the things that I have out on our ‘writing table’ are things that I have taught my children how to use (e.g. how to hold a pen, how to hold and cut with scissors, how to use a glue stick and put the lid back on after use, etc.). The things I don’t want the youngest to get, we hide in the harder to reach drawers. We also have a Montessori letter board for reference and for practising letter formation. This allows children to be able to create a range of things on their own without needing much help from adults.
My son can use these resources to make things when he wants. I also sometimes give him different resources such as zig-zag books, folded paper books, blank cards, old notebooks and note pads.
What to Teach in Preschool
Using the Development Matters Document is an excellent tool for teaching and learning ideas at approximate ages. It focuses on 3 prime areas of development- personal, social & emotional development, physical development and communication and language. It then has 4 specific areas of learning – literacy, mathematics, understanding the world (STEM), and expressive art and design. This document is then laid out by age and gives suggested activities based on children’s ages/ abilities. This document is also great if children find something too easy, as you can move up in the age bracket for different activity ideas. If something is too hard, you can do the reverse to find different appropriate ideas.
I have organized my website so my learning activities can be looked up based on these areas. I hope that some of these activities will be useful to you in planning lessons and independent activities in your quest to start preschool at home. As a start, you should look at my post, EYFS Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers at home. I hope that you will also take as many opportunities to get outdoors as possible! Outdoor learning has been found to support learning in maths and science and the use of creative and critical thinking skills (Waliczek, T.M., Logan, P. & Zajicek, J.M., 2003). Gardening also has many health, mental health and learning benefits. If you want to learn more about gardening with children you can see some more of my gardening posts here.
Ferri, B.H., Ferri, A.A., Majerich, D.M., Madden, A.G. (2016). Effects of In-Class Hands-On Laboratories in a Large Enrollment, Multiple Section Blended Linear Circuits Course. Advances in Engineering Education, 5 (3). https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1121997.pdf . Accessed 19 February 2020.
Konishi, C., & Wong, T. (2018). Relationships and School Success: From a Social-Emotional Learning Prespective. In Health and Academic Achievement. Accessed 5 August 2019, www.intechopen.com/books/health-and-academic-achievement/relationships-and-school-success-from-a-social-emotional-learning-perspective
Hearns, M.K., Miller, B.K. and Nelson, D.L. (2009). Hands-On Learning versus Learning by Demonstration at Three Recall Points in University Students. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, 30 (4), 169-171. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.3928/15394492-20090825-01. Accessed 19 February 2020.
Hillman, C.N. (2011). The effects of hands-on learning versus learning by demonstration on memory in community dwelling older adults (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Toledo). Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6231/d55fc1c730ec086f012677c54141f466e18e.pdf Accessed 19 February 2020.
Waliczek, T.M., Logan, P. & Zajicek, J.M. (2003). Exploring the Impact of Outdoor Environmental Activities on Children Using a Qualitative Text Data Analysis System. HortTechnology, 13(4), 684-688.