Confessions of a Reformed Preschool Drop-Out

Written by Lora Lynn Fanning of Vitafamiliae

I always believed that preschool was for over-achieving mamas. I tend to agree with my fellow Simple Homeschool writer that “preschoolers can learn everything they need to know from the school of life.”

I did “preschool” with my eldest children because we needed a routine of some sort to break up our days. But it was very laid-back. I chose a curriculum I could manipulate, pick and choose from, or not do at all.

And I usually went for option 3.

My third child learned by osmosis and jumped into first grade without any formal preschool. I have simply assumed that this tactic would work for the several other Littles I have coming up in the ranks.

And then came my fourth child… My highly opinionated daughter, who is driven by forces I do not understand. She pushed, cajoled, wheedled, and nagged until I gave in and agreed to “do school” with her. Because while she certainly doesn’t NEED it, who am I to argue with a child when she WANTS education?

The challenge, then, was to combine our low-maintenance philosophy for school with a preschool program in the midst of our normal schooling and living chaos.

I’ve seen the cheap, downloadable curriculums online. They’re pretty, well-thought out, and my daughter would enjoy them. But the last thing I needed was a project for ME. With this sort of program, I’d need to do daily or weekly printing and hunt down pipe cleaners or buttons at 10 o’clock the night before. Too much pressure…

The truth about preschool curriculum is that we don’t really need it. We could conceivably come up with a print-out about the letter A and then go around the house naming all the things that start with “A.” We can play rhyming games without a piece of curriculum to tell us what to do.

But sometimes, when a mama is mired in a lot of other subjects with other children, her brain simply doesn’t have the energy to think about counting syllables with the three year old or painting the letter B on the ceiling with shaving cream. She’s too busy wondering what to have for lunch and why there are crayons in the bathtub.

My criteria for low-maintenance preschool curriculum became the following:

  • Open and go – no prepwork required.
  • Disposable – I’d love to be cheap and reuse the workbook, but low-maintenance mamas don’t have that kind of time.
  • Fun for my daughter, fun for me.
  • Not time consuming. We have a lot of people to educate around here.
  • Includes my other children, because I need them in my line of sight at all times or they’ll burn down the house.

Once I found a curriculum that suited us, I’ve been surprised to discover that we actually enjoy preschool. My daughter’s enthusiasm is contagious. She keeps me accountable and makes sure we do her school every day. She is making good progress and will have a great foundation for learning to read.

Beyond that, I’ve discovered there’s extra joy in spending regular, focused time with my Littles every day. It’s a short time, but it’s Fun Time, not just “meet their needs time.”

Does this make me a reformed fan of preschool? I suppose it does. I still don’t believe it’s an absolute necessity, especially if your child isn’t that interested in formal school time. This is a great age to let them play and live and soak up the world around them.

And while, in our large family, it would certainly be more convenient if all of my kids were content to learn by osmosis, the benefits of the consistent time with my little people far outweigh any added “inconvenience” to our day.

I’ll probably never be a fan of cutting, pasting, and 800 rounds of “Itsy-Bitsy-Spider.” But I will always be a fan of fun learning with my kids.

So do you do preschool? Do you go all-out or are you more low-maintenance in your approach?

About Lora

Lora Lynn Fanning blogged for 11 years about her family life with seven kids at Vitafamiliae. These days, she homeschools her growing brood, teaches writing both in person for co-ops and online for Brave Writer, and writes at her new site,


  1. I seriously laughed out loud at this! You’re so right… with my first I made everything up as we went along (hunting for pipe cleaners at 10:00 the night before). We take the “what’s cheapest?” approach. So…my second daughter will probably get less of me, but essentially the same curriculum I “invented” with my eldest. We did a letter of the day (because by the time we got around to starting pre-school she pretty much knew her letters, anyway). She cut out then pasted the letter on a large piece of construction paper, glued stuff to it that started with the letter and we hung it on the wall. Those letters hung on the wall for two years. We read books, looked for the letter around the house, etc. Cheap. Gotta love it.
    Tori’s latest post: The cheapest, free-est way to organize your homeschool life EVER.

  2. I just wanna eat this post up, love it! I homeschool my five-year-old daughter in Kindergarten with “Five in a Row” and then adapt it for preschool (sort of a Montessori approach with both kiddos together) for my two-year-old daughter. I agree about preschool being an organic learning experience that can happen at home, and I also understand having children who start waving signs and chanting for formal education. I’ll be checking out the curriculum that you’ve recommended in case I end up needing something different for my preschooley-aged little girl. Thanks again for a great post – and, P.S., I’ve found some stellar things in the bathtub, too. Amazing what tubs and dryers can turn up!

    Have a great rest of the week, mama! :o)

  3. Thank you for this, Lora! The main reason I’m looking for something is simply because my 3-year-old wants to “do school” like big sister. And I need to give him something. I’m right with you in needing an open-the-box type of thing. My brain is filled to the gills with too many other things to create something from scratch.

    Thanks for this!
    Tsh @ Simple Mom’s latest post: Find contentment in unexpected places

  4. This article was meant for me. It could not have come at a better time! Yesterday, we had a meeting at our public preschool to talk about getting speech therapy for our oldest daughter who is 3.5. Regardless of her speech, we were told that she is very bright and though she is still too young for public preschool, she would probably benefit from and enjoy private preschool. But with me being a SAHM and our family being in debt-payment mode, we don’t have extra funds for private school tuition. I spent yesterday afternoon worrying about whether or not I would be able to provide her enough stimulation at home or if we should make sacrifices to pay for preschool. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t necessarily have to burden myself with providing a formal curriculum for her. She needs new experiences, an engaging family, lots of play, and constant love. I can definitely.give her that.

  5. I love spending “regular, focused time” while homeschooling my daughter and now you have me thinking about “doing” preschool with my youngest. thanks for the inspiration!!

  6. My three-year-old son is really into doing school with his big brother. He’s kind of doing a combination of learning by “osmosis” and having his own “school work” which is really just some K prep workbooks his grandparents have given me over the past couple years. I let him do as little or as much as he wants. My older son is going through Sonlight Core B and his little brother follows along as much as he chooses, learning Science, Handwriting, Reading, Spelling, History, and Math along with his big brother. It’s amazing at how much he picks up from it. He’s taught himself how to read and write already. I’m not pushing him at all, he just wants to learn like his big brother. I’m not a fan of out-of-the-home preschool either. When I think of sending my younger son to preschool, I think of how much learning he would miss, not being home to do school with his big brother and best friend.

  7. LOVED, love, loved your post! I had one daughter who loved workbooky things to do and one daughter who would rather play in the dirt! I found plenty of workbooks at the dollar store and that kept my 1st one occupied and I didn’t have to “plan” for anything. She just picked it up when she was in the mood and asked me for directions.
    Kimberly, I’d just like to encourage you to feel confident! I agree so heartily with preschoolers getting everything they need at home that I started a website to encourage parents to do just that!

  8. Sarah in GA says:

    thanks for this post! we are “doing school” with my 6yr old son (who was “organically” taught until we started with a specific curriculum last year) and now my 4yr old son is begging to “do school” too. i also tried some of the on-line free, printable stuff but it took a lot of time to print out and put together, plus cost a lot in printer ink! i was just thinking about whether or not it would be worth it to invest in some kind of out of the box, ready to go learning stuff for him. this has encouraged me to investigate further!

  9. Love this article- thank you! I thought I was the only one who cringed at the pipe-cleaners and pom-poms type of curriculum. Not that they aren’t cute, but- I need SIMPLE. 🙂 Looking at the links you provided! Always enjoy your articles!!!!

  10. I just started doing preschool at home with my 3 1/2 year old daughter. We are in our second week and she is having fun and I like it, too! Paying for preschool was not in our budget. I am just using an online preschool curriculum. We read books often and so I am thinking of using Five in a Row next for Kindergarten. I really want to home school my daughter and my family is not so supportive of that idea. I think I will just deal with that when the time comes!

  11. Ohh, great post! I have a very similar mindset as you-I’m a busy woman and if I don’t need to do it I won’t do it. So it’s good to see a review of a solid preschool curriculum that makes it easy for mom!

  12. We are doing preschool; our first day was Monday, and I blogged about it yesterday.

    It was more or less like a normal day for us, just a little more focused. More organized, I guess, rather than just sort of floating through the day figuring out on the fly what to do next.

    We’re not using a particular curriculum – I have a bunch of preschool/early childhood resources & I am drawing from them to create my own plan. Julia is my oldest, and I have only one other child, so I have a little more time to work on this sort of thing, I guess. (And also, none of the prepackaged preschool curricula really appealed to me.)

    So I guess we’re sort of laid-back about it than anything else. It’s more a practice for *me* so that when my children are “real” school-aged I won’t be flying blind! xo
    meghann’s latest post: :: yarn along ::

  13. I never have done preschool formally – that doesn’t mean that the preschoolers haven’t sat in and listened to our history and science and watched their older sibling practice their phonics and learn right along with them.

    If I did do preschool, I would choose the same criteria as you have!

    Happy Homeschooling!

  14. My 4 year old loves to do school too. I’m using Little Hands to Heaven preschool program and we really like it. I don’t need anything special for it either and if it does call for something I don’t have I improvise.
    Suanna’s latest post: Pictures from the last month

  15. Hi there. I appreciate your blog and just want you to know I’ve put it in my blog list at
    Glory’s latest post: What’s Off My Bookshelf?

  16. As any good teacher would, you followed the child. Kudos to you for recognizing what your child needs.
    I do not homeschool preschool. My children attend a wonderful Montessori school with teachers who are gifted at what they do. Once they finish there, they come home to me for homeschooling. While it is expensive, it is an expense we can afford and one we place value in. I know it isn’t a conventional choice for homeschoolers, but it works for our family.

  17. I really appreciate this article! As a homeschooling mother of one kindergartner and a 2.5-year-old, I often feel like I need some activities/lessons for my toddler, so she’ll feel part of the mix when I’m working with my older daughter. I’ve found some SUPER cute packets for her age range online, but as you said, they require A LOT of prep work and I’ve been dragging my heels about it.

    I’m grateful for your fab review of the pre-reading program, and I really enjoyed seeing your video demonstration on your own blog!

    Thanks for being a marvelous writer and for inspiring me with the life you lead as the mother of a large family!

  18. This part really made me laugh: crayons in the bathtub! While that hasn’t happened here, sometimes I think it’d be better than what I do find in there (post bath).

    My son will be 6 in a couple of weeks. We “do school” a bit now, but have never done anything formal. He’s very observant, inquisitive and quick to pick up on new stuff. I’d like to say we spent lots of time playing together, but we don’t do that much. More now that I’ve made it a priority to work with him, and it’s one of the things he asks when he gets up now “mom what fun thing are we going to do today?” Now to make his wishes come true!
    Kelly’s latest post: Emergency Flashlights

  19. We have been doing the Little Acorn Learning program, and my (almost) four year old loves it. I love it too, simply because it gives us a bit of routine and some ideas of what to do each day.

    Thanks for this post – its fun to see what other people are using for this age!
    Tamara’s latest post: Marineland Mathematics (Wordless Wednesday)

  20. Hello! I’m from the Philippines and I discovered Before Five in a Row last year for my now 3.5 year old daughter. We love it! I thought that I should do “school” though and downloaded everything from After I bought my own laminating machine and laminated a few fun sheets, I decided enough is enough! It was tiring and not really much fun. Doing Before Five in a Row as it is is enough. We were better off just walking around the garden and talking and doing activities inspired by the books that we read. So, yes, we are low-maintenance and can have stretches of days of no “school.” 🙂
    mariel’s latest post: Christmas Craft: Special Gift Wrappers

  21. Here from your blog.

    I did send my first to preschool. He needed to go and I needed him to go (is that awful or what?)

    My second and third are 18 months apart and the fourth is just 2 years younger than the third. I did not send any of the three littles to preschool mostly because I figured they were learning what they needed to at home. I *called* it “homeschool preschool” but we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. If they ask a question I give them a real answer. As we’re driving I point out signs with letters they know and teach them a few new ones. When we’re reading books we count things on the page. They count the spoons to set the table. They sort laundry into lights and darks. They “read” and “write” in their own language.

    I buy workbooks from the dollar store so we can “do school”. They don’t like them much so I don’t do them much.

    And when my kids started kindergarten they had just as much book learnin’ as their preschooled peers. And in fact when I send number 4 to school next year she will likely be reading. 🙂 Woo hoo!

  22. I love this, it is us to a tee! I believe in letting kids discover things as they grow through the preschool years and didn’t plan to do any formal teaching until the girls (twins) were 5, but at 3 they were begging to do school. They are my only children, but know that I am a school teacher and that I would be doing their school at home when they were older … I guess they thought 3 was “older” LOL … anyway, I wasn’t going to argue with them wanting to “do school” and threw together a little lesson about shapes (which they already knew) and had them practicing handwriting skills. After our 10 min lesson, I said that school was done for the day and one of the girls looked at me as if I had lost my head. Her response : “NO! Mommy! What about the letters!!!” So needless to day we are learning letters and doing a more “formal”-ish preschool. Not what I had planned, but they are loving it and so am I. Since I am still working full time (hopefully for the last year) it forces me to slow down and take special time with my girls. We do crafts, practice fine motor skills, play with blocks, play games, and ride tricycles … I love it.

  23. I totally agree with doing preschool by osmosis. It’s funny that you had a child that took you out of that mold. Glad it worked out for both of you 🙂
    Heidi’s latest post: Home Based Business Moms

  24. You don’t know how much better I feel after reading this! I’m new not only to the act of homeschooling, but even the idea of it. My husband and I both worked until recently, when we got sick of seeing our bright daughter being kept but not taught at the her daycare, and couldn’t afford to relocate to a better school district. I’ve read some things, looked at the curriculum, and we’ve found a routine that suits us (my daughter is 4), but it isn’t every day that we have formal, sit-down time – a lot of it is adding and subtracting oranges at the market or finding all the ‘the’ or ‘and’, etc on boxes in the cupboard or passing signs. I’m not a craft-y person, is what I’m saying. I feel a lot less like I’m completely screwing up my daughter now, so, thanks!!

  25. I’m so glad I found your blog. My son is a little over 3 and will be needing some speech therapy. I was concerned with him being ready for pre-k/k in our district and will he be caught up to most kids. I always find myself comparing but realize it is really important that he is happy and healthy. I love learning about home schooling but am not sure if I will take this route. I am so used to traditional learning but don’t always agree with it.

  26. Laley Erum says:

    Loved your efforts! very informative and interesting. As once said by one of my friends that preschool mothers and teachers are Allah’s special creation.

  27. Laley Erum says:

    Loved your efforts! very informative and interesting. As once said by one of my friends that mothers and preschool teachers are Allah’s special creation. Handling Kids at this age and teaching them at the same time is no ordinary job.

Share Your Thoughts


CommentLuv badge

Never miss a blog post,
PLUS get Jamie’s FREE ebook: