A little background...
I came from an education background of being an elementary education teacher. I always had a very structured classroom, and in effect, my classroom ran very smoothly but lacked much in the "fun" department. Structure is very good, and I know that my class/home school would be very hectic without it. I carried this classroom structure into the teaching of my own two children. I would make out my weekly lesson plans and have my daily task list, and if we did not accomplish the list by the end of the week, it almost stressed me out because I felt like I had not done enough. Now, I look back and laugh because even as an elementary teacher, I always planned too much each week and forwarded the left overs(drew my arrows) to next week. It was always better to have too much rather than not enough when you have a class of 25 kids looking back at you.
I began home schooling my daughter at a very young age (about 3 or 3 1/2 for structured learning). We had our own little classroom set up, and we would sit at a table for hours on end and do workbooks and paper activities. There is nothing wrong with workbooks in my opinion, but now that I look back I wish I would have taken more time for hands on everyday life learning. Don't get me wrong...she did have fun times with various activities, but the book work far outweighed the hands-on learning. She never really complained much, and she was definitely learning a great deal, but now I wish I would have taken the time for more of the fun activities instead of focusing on how many school books we could finish.
As my second child came along, I learned that structure and fun could have a balance. For one thing, JJ was not one to just sit at the table and work on workbooks. He needed the more hands on approach. Plus, I realized that I was trying to teach on a regimented school schedule, and that I needed to make a change in my home. So, we focused more on using counting cubes and play dough and focused less on finishing a workbook. We did do our "book work" for the various subjects, but fun learning from a 4-year-olds perspective became integrated in our learning. I have to say that there are still times that I struggle with trying to make learning enjoyable, but when we hit a rut...I just stop and remind myself that it is a lot more fun to learn about the Nomads and build a hut out of sticks than it is to just read the print in black and white!
I make this long speech to say...Make sure learning is fun and enjoyable. There will be plenty of moments in life that your child will have to not necessarily "enjoy" their learning. Let your young ones still enjoy being a child because the days of book reports and essays are closer around the corner than you think.
With that said, here are some of the things that worked for us and that I did enjoy in our schooling for Pre-K. One book that I loved and that my children both loved was Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It is a phenomenal book with a stratecy that definitely works. Even Jason (my husband) talks about how great this book is. It costs roughly $15-20, and can be ordered or purchased at Barnes and Noble or many other book stores. It can also be found online through EBay ($18.95 with free shipping EBay link) or Amazon.com ($14.95 but you pay the shipping Amazon.com link). You may even be able to find it at your local library. If they do, you will have the opportunity to "try it before you buy it" and see if it works for your child.
Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is a one-on-one adult-to-child reading book. My kids loved the stories, and they were both reading at a very early age. The funny thing is that it is not a bright colorful reading book. It is in black and white and has very few pictures. As a matter of fact, the pictures that do go with the stories, I would cover up with a post-it note until after they finished reading the story so they did not do any inventive reading by looking at the pictures. I was able to make sure they were actually reading that way.
The lessons each take about 15 minutes. Some lessons are a little harder than others. For those lessons, I sometimes had to do half of a lesson one day and the other half the next. Once again, you have to gage your own child's attention span and interest. I could always tell when my children had "shut down."
The book itself actually starts with the child learning the sound (not the actual letter) for the letter m. It continues to add letter sounds throughout the book and then eventually begins teaching them the actual letter. Both of my children already new the letters by sight recognition before we started this book, but I still followed the teaching by sound method that the book used. I have know several people who have used this book and can judge it upon first-hand experience when I say that this book really works. Both of my kids are excellent readers, both read above grade level, and I attribute it to this book. It is a GREAT book!
As far as other learning, I created an alphabet book with both of my children. We did a letter a week and chose activities based upon that letter. Here are some examples that we did for the letter Aa.
- Print out a large letter Aa on computer using Microsoft Word. Use the outline feature in font. This will create a letter that you can have them color. You can also have them glue apple jacks to the picture.
- Find a poem or make one up with letter Aa to memorize. It is amazing how much a child can remember and how much fun memorization can be!
- Make an Apple Jack necklace.
- Eat apple slices and talk about Johnny Appleseed.
- Cut an apple across the middle and see the apple star that appears in the the seed center.
- Bake an apple pie...yes this is definitely an advanced activity, but it is well worth it and begins training your child at an early age for cooking!
- We had a page for magazine cut outs for each letter. The page consisted of pictures cut from a magazin that began with an Aa (or whatever letter we were studying), and we found Aa words in the magazine and glued them on, too.
- We used page of student writing paper and practiced writing several capital A's and lower case a's. We did as many as the child's age and attention span/hand strength would allow.
- Finally we would take typing paper and draw our own a pictures...alligators, apples, etc.. I would let them think of any Aa words they could. and let them draw it on their picture. I would then label the picture so we could "see" the word but also so we always knew what the picture was! Later in the school year, as the kids dexterity and penmanship developed, I allowed them to use creative spelling to write it themselves.
As far as other books to use for preschool, I have found that up until about grade 2 or 3, the Sam's Club full curriculum books are great. They are very inexpensive (about $7-10 each), colorful, and incorporate all the subjects in one book. You can do a page a day or two a day or pick a subject a day or a couple of subjects.
Finally, the internet has a vast array of sources that can be found, too. Here are some great pre-school sites:
Internet 4 Classrooms (lists a great many resources for Pre-K as well as other grades)
HoodaMath (This is a little more advanced)
Homeschool Resource List (Site full of links to various educational sites)
That about sums up my Preschool suggestions. Playdough, stringing beads, even just practing holding a pencil or a paintbrush all help in the developing dexterity and cooridination at preschool ages. So, get out the cookie cutters and the pastry pin and cute out letters, numbers, shapes and animals...Most of all have fun watching your child learn!