Resources for Early Learning (2011 Curriculum Fair)

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

Ages of my children: 7.5, 6.5, and 6
Educational Philosophies I Pull From: Waldorf, Leadership Education, Unschooling

When I had two children, both still toddlers, I planned out their entire education for the next 15 years. I spent hours drawing charts, researching, thinking about socialization, and narrowing down curriculum options.

We haven’t followed any of it.

Since then I’ve found a better strategy is to plan for tomorrow, not next week or next year. I don’t mean you should never look ahead; I just mean that when stress or overwhelm kick in, that’s your clue to stop.

Today I want to share not only the resources we’ll be using in the upcoming year, but also what we’ve used in the past. Hopefully this will help those of you with younger children as well.

Before Five in a Row

I used this program with my oldest son when he was between two and three years old. We spent this time together while my youngest was napping. Jonathan and I read, talked, and did short activities together. This was not necessary for his academic development in any way–it was just plain fun.

Tsh of Simple Mom had success using Five in a Row for preschool as well.

Letter of the Week

I began this free online curriculum when my two oldest kids were ages four and three, though we never fully completed it.

I want to stress that no formal curriculum is necessary for preschool at all! But if you and your kids enjoy it, then it’s fine to spend a little time together this way–keeping it light and playful. A wonderful resource along these lines that I recommend is Kindergarten with Your 3 to 6 Year Old by Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool.

Sonlight

Finding out about Sonlight was what first convinced me to give homeschooling a try. As someone who loves books and reading, I couldn’t believe my luck at discovering this literature-based program.

We began using the P3/4 level when my kids were 5, 3.5, and 3. This is a wonderful collection of books and we read them alongside the Letter of the Week program mentioned above.

When my kids turned 6, 4.5, and 4 we progressed to Sonlight’s P4/5 collection. And this past year I used Core A with my 7, 5.5, and 5-year-olds. By this time I began to notice that I wasn’t using the Instructor’s Guide regularly. It had been such a comfort when I first started (and many families swear by it), but as I grew in confidence I no longer referred to it as often.

At that point I decided to begin using Sonlight’s book collection without following the program rigidly. Sonlight is great for combining a range of ages; many of their book selections are advanced and can be used with older kids (So the Core A readings were perfect for my seven-year-old too).

Oak Meadow

I first discovered Oak Meadow because of their relationship as sponsors here on Simple Homeschool. But it just so happens that it was the perfect resource for the perfect time for our family.

I appreciate Oak Meadow’s creative approach to introducing academics and their respect for the whole child’s development, not just their academic skills. I also appreciate the structured presentation of lessons in the syllabus. I love that just one syllabus covers all subjects: language arts, math, social studies, science, music, and crafts.

Though the presentation of lesson plans may appear somewhat structured, the way I integrate the activities into our days is anything but! That’s the beauty of making a curriculum work for you, instead of the other way around.

This year we’ve been using the Oak Meadow Kindergarten program and next year I plan to continue with the First Grade program. I’ll be doing it with all three of my children, who will be 8, 7, and 6 when we begin. I prefer to introduce academics at a later age and my oldest is developmentally delayed, so I’m able to combine all three with minor modifications.

Books, Books, Books

Of all we’ll be doing over the upcoming year, I most look forward to our read-alouds. I pull my reading choices from the lists at Sonlight, Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason, and my own research.

Because I don’t like being overwhelmed by book clutter, I use the lists to determine the classics I know I want to keep on our shelves long-term. Other read-alouds we’ll check out from the library.

Here are the books I’ve decided to purchase for our home this year:

Listing all this curricula doesn’t make me sound like an interest-led learner, does it? Over time I’ve found out how to use resources in the way that works for us, without feeling pressured if that doesn’t line up with the original intent of the materials.

Don’t stress out if your three to six-year-old doesn’t want to “do” school–they’ll astound you with all they are learning naturally if you give them the freedom to do so.

What resources have you found most helpful for your younger kids?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your brief history here, Jamie! This post is a good resource and treasury of links for those of us with small kiddos. I appreciate all you do!
    Tsh @ Simple Mom’s latest post: Want to work from home Find help

  2. In my experience, having a few great resources and books around is what helps spark that interest in the first place! Thanks for sharing your lists with us.

  3. Diana says:

    To go along with the Sonlight / Five in a Row suggestion – http://www.homeschoolshare.com has some wonderful resources. Many units like FIAR that are FREE. And lots more multi-book units. Units span ages 2/3 through older elementary / early middle school. Definitely a lot there for early learners!

    I love just using books and real life to teach prek / K! It’s the best way to go!

  4. Kristen says:

    Not a set curriculum, but I have to sing the praises of Montessori for my pre-school age children. Using sandpaper letters and alphabet objects, my children effortlessly learned their lowercase letters and sounds. By creating lots of practical life opportunities, not only did I see their fine motor skills increase, but also their attention span and their ability to follow a task through to the end. I think the overall philosophy of having the children do as much as possible for themselves helped all of us. I learned to step back and let my children do for themselves and their pride increased as a result.

  5. Pamela says:

    Thank you for focusing on Early Learning! This is EXACTLY where I am at right now. I have heard of Sonlight and I’m considering their preschool curriculum for the fall. It is so helpful to have these resources!
    Pamela’s latest post: Easter

  6. Sarah M says:

    Okay now this is just down-right funny…this is exactly* what we do. I use Sonlight’s book lists for resources I really want (they have the best book lists!), and Oak Meadow is our “spine” (loosely followed but the backbone of structure through the year) and then just gather random books here and there, and funny enough, I just bought a few Usborne (internet linked) for additional material…the ones you listed!
    Have a fun year!
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: This Moment

  7. Oh Jamie, I love FOLLOW MY LEADER and am planning on a re-read this year, hopefully with my boys. We were discussing Mrs. Piggle Wiggle last night when Caleb came in with grubby arms. Remember the child who refused to bathe and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle suggested planting seeds on her arms?
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Leaving Your Mark

  8. Mandy says:

    Thanks for all the helpful information, Jamie! I’m excited to check out these resources.

  9. Nola says:

    What I find most helpful is something we just sort of stumbled into after trying other things that did not work well for us (they were too boring and I hated plodding through them as did my child). I have found it most helpful to follow the interests of my 5 year old (who is academically advanced…not sure really what “level” but more like grade 1(math) to about grade 4 (reading) depending on subject. I also find therefore that a complete curriculum does not work for us since she is not the maturity level past about grade 1 but needs higher level materials than kindgergarten. We do some workbook style but not much right now. We are instead just “studying” a topic at a time. The rest of learning at this point seems to just come up in daily life. We are currently just finishing studying birds although I think that her interest and learning is going to continue on much past the “end” of our study which I think is a great result of this type of learning for us (since really learning should never “stop” or just be something to “get through” ideally). For studying birds we mainly used the library- finding all sorts of books on nests, individual species, rhyming books about birds, birds in general, craft books about birds, oversize books from another section for close up pictures etc. there was so much even in our small town when we started looking. We asked for help to try to do searches on the computer since sometimes our library system misses titles when you search for a book. We also own a Peterson’s field guide for birds and that has been amazing. We also searched online for “bird unit studies”, searched for printable craft sheets about birds (there are lots of colouring pictures and other paper printable based activities such as mobiles and orgami style stuff for birds…the colouring pages enabled her to reinforce the bird she was learning about as she coloured it by looking at the picture in our field guide- her idea) and used You tube (never would have guessed it would be useful for this!) to find lots of videos about birds which also enabled us to see the bird and hear its song at the same time (some were amateurs and some professional ones that were incredible). We also set up bird feeders in our yard.

    Anyways that is the type of learning that I find most beneficial at this level for us. We tie in some other skills like working on writing and spelling by making a book about what we are learning, math and art by making a board game together…that type of thing. It sounds more complicated when I wrote it all out here than it is. I also have a 2 year old so its not complicated and we don’t have a big time pressure on this. THis works for us since my child is motivated to do it. I am not forcing her along to do the work and she is not asking when she can be done anymore! We’ve been “studying” birds since February and we don’t even formally do it every day (other than we do read about and observe birds every day in our yard).

    This type of learning at least for now is totally what I needed since its more relaxed and follows her interests and so she really really loves it and is retaining far more than I ever would have imaginged. The only unfortunate thing is that I spent some money on some other things that are not being used and I spent a lot of time planning out our year that was wasted time. I think that is normal though as I learn how to do this for what works for our family and I am sure it will change over the years. I do think for us though that this more interest based approach with lots of reading each day is what works best in my home so far for the younger age and it has also been easy to include my 2 year old (who is at an average developmental stage for 2 year olds at this point).

  10. Rana says:

    This is too funny Jamie. When we started our homeschooling journey I came across Brightly Beaming and used a lot of her ideas with my then preschoolers. Then a friend of mine gave me her FIAR books and we loved using that. After that I started doing a bit more Unschooling and we have slowly found our grove.

    For us instead of buying a lot of books we try to use our library to the fullest and if there is a book that becomes a family favorite then we buy it.
    Rana’s latest post: School at home or something like it

  11. We used Sonlight Core 1 this year and next year we are doing the same as you and using the reading list but not the lesson plan. Also, the Sonlight Language Arts did not work well for my son so I think we are going to try Rod & Staff next year.

    I noticed a lot of your reading list books are from Sonlight Core 1. Our absolute favorite book from Core 1 was Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates. It is an excellent book and my son is begging to read it again this summer! It starts off a little slow but it is a great book.
    Amy-Cutting Coupons in KC’s latest post: Bath &amp Body Works Coupon

  12. While we don’t use a set curriculum for preschool we do have goals for those years. We want our kids to enjoy listening to books, to have art experiences that include lots of different mediums, to highlight seasonal events and changes, and to have some experiences with letters and numbers through reading, games, and a few projects. We draw from many different sources to accomplish these goals

    I *heart* Maryann Kohl and her art process books for preschoolers. I cannot say enough great things about her materials! We have also found a lot of great material at homeschoolshare.com. My boys can make a project out of anything and the more cutting and gluing it involves the better.

    We’ve made some of the Kumon workbooks available for cutting, mazes, tracing, etc. if they are interested. My almost 4yo quite often chooses to spend his morning with these books and other art materials. My 5.5yo isn’t as interested in these books, but he does choose to work on them sometimes.

    We also use some Montessori materials- the moveable alphabet is our daily at our house and my almost 4yo has spent a TON of time with the hundred board in the last several weeks.

    The biggest component for us though is extensive use of the library. We go every week for story time and then we pull a few picture books, a few non-fic on a topic we’ve been curious about and I usually reserve a chapter book for us to read together and sometimes a project book or a video about a topic we’ve been interested in.
    Erin @ Mama in Progress’s latest post: Now Its Official

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks for recommending Mary Ann Kohl! I’d never heard of her before. Do you mean the “Preschool Art” book? My 2.5 year old LOVES art and I can’t wait to check some of these out!
      Pamela’s latest post: Easter

  13. Anne says:

    Thanks, Jamie, for making me feel smart about not having our schooling mapped out for next year already–instead of feeling like a slacker!

    I am so happy to have found Rod and Staff’s ABC series for preschool and elementary workbooks. The books are sweet and simple (and really cheap) and give lots of practice for coloring, cutting, pasting, writing, and following directions. Each book has its own theme (like polar animals, or types of birds).

    My son HATED these workbooks, but my two daughters (ages 6 and 3) adore them. I especially love how I can give one of these workbooks to my 3-year-old and she feels like she’s “doing school” with her big sibs.
    Anne’s latest post: What You Need to Know Before You Hit the Spring Farmers’ Market

  14. Sara S says:

    Thanks for your post Jamie. It’s always nice to see what curriculum works for others. We are beginning the homeschool journey in the Fall. It’s reasearch time!
    Sara S’s latest post: Trial and error with chocolate

  15. We’re unschoolers here. My twins, five year old boy/girl, and I have been reading the Magic Treehouse books. I checked out the first one when they were four and we’ver been reading them off and on. We sort of do a variation of unit studies because whatever adventure is going on, say going to ancient China or the ocean, I find as many different resources as I can on those topics and bring them home – DVDs, music, activity books, games, fiction and nonfiction books, and places to visit. Then we choose the ones we’re most excited about and then move on to the next book when we are tired of that topic. At any time the kids could decide they don’t want to read the series anymore, but it’s hard to imagine that happening because they are so addicted right now! And this is just one thing we do in the midst of our very busy, full lives.

  16. Amy says:

    Thank you so much for the link to the Brightly Beaming Resources! I have been looking for a structured preschool program and not having much luck. In fact, thank you for this whole blog. I want to homeschool Little Bit and I consider your blog as an invaluable resource. Have a blessed week.
    Amy’s latest post: The Night Night Book

  17. I’ve also been enjoying reading about the different curriculums. We used Before Five in a Row for our first year last year (John, 2 and Chloe, 3) but this year we’ll use Sonlight P3/4. My little ones love, love, love being read to so I think Sonlight will be a great fit. :)
    Jenn @ Beautiful Calling’s latest post: Pregnancy Update 38th Week

  18. jessica says:

    I’m looking into using the programs from http://hubbardscupboard.org/index.html
    I also have a friend who has used the curriculum from http://handsonhomeschooling.com/index.htm and found she really liked it.
    Both are Christian based which is exactly what we wanted.

  19. Penny says:

    We have done five-in-a-row the past 2 years and are planning to do Sonlight Core A next year (it just came in the mail). Thanks for all your insight. My girls are 6, 6 and 5 and I have been contemplating if I should start a science curriculum next year or not. We do a ton of fieldtrips but I am not sure if we should start supplementing with a curriculum. Somethings to think about!

  20. Pippi says:

    How Christian focused is Sonlight? From what I’ve heard here and other places it sounds like something that we’d like (yeah literature based curriculum!) but we aren’t Christian.

  21. Pamela says:

    I am trying to decide between the Oak Meadow preschool books and the “Kindergarten for Your Three to Six Year Old”. Are they similar books? (I’ve read the sample pages online, and they seem somewhat similar to me, at least in philosophy.) Would you recommend one over the other? I am starting with my three year old in the fall! Thanks!
    Pamela’s latest post: Reggio Emilia Approach

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