Perfecting Preschool : Learning Spaces

preschool

Maybe you are just starting out on your homeschool journey and are looking for fun ideas to do with your little person (or people, if you are blessed with more than a single tot). Maybe you surfed in just looking for some ideas on how to set up your learning areas. Or, maybe you are like me, and already have an established homeschool with older children, and are looking for ideas on how to integrate the little ones into an already busy (and packed) house.

I hope this post gives you a few ideas – because I know I needed all the ideas I could get after struggling the past few years with learning how to get school done with babies and toddlers in the mix (there are ten years between my two sets of 24-month-apart kiddos). My eldest two are in high school this year and the past four years have been a learning experience, to say the least!

preschool learning spaces post on sprittibee.com

For instance, there’s only so much screen time that is healthy for a little dude, and there have been days where it seemed the only thing we could do to keep them busy for longer than three seconds was to let them play Angry Birds. And prior to this year, a book was a chew toy, a thing to rip and step on, or a coloring page that mama didn’t know you had. And did you know carpet and couch fabric actually can be stained by crayons? I mean, I kind of figured the Sharpie and Magic Marker was going to leave an ugly one, but I’ve learned the hard way that allowing them to color on the carpet is not so smart.

You live and learn. Even mamas need homeschoolin’.

—♥—

Each day for the next nine days, I’ll be sharing a different preschool-related topic (see the bottom of the post for links and a list), but today’s post is on the areas the preschoolers learn.

I am a firm believer in education as a lifestyle. No matter where your little tots are, they are going to learn.

They can climb up in your lap during read-alouds, go out in the garage and tootle (with supervision) with play tools while Daddy is busy working on something, play in the back yard (with supervision) while you read on the porch, or sit in the car seat and watch educational movies while your big kids read and you run errands. Anywhere is fine.

However, while anywhere may be fine, having a few “learning areas”  or “centers” designated for little people makes it fun for them, easier for everyone, provides more time for them to be busy, and makes them feel special. So, since we were starting “formal” preschool this year with my two guys (being 4 and 2 now), I decided to make an effort to set aside some spots in our house where they can learn and play while we are busy getting BIG school done.

preschool reading nook on sprittibee.com

1. The Reading Nook

My main goal for my four year old this year (academically) is to teach him to read. I also want both of them, even the two year old, to learn to LOVE books and know that we (as a family) enjoy reading. We include them when we read – even if it is over their heads. If they get bored, we give them their own books to look at or toys to play with to keep their hands busy.

We read to them. Often.

We talk about how we respect our books (no coloring on them). Heavens, I’ve had struggles with these two and destroying books since they were born.

We keep books accessible, as long as they are properly cared for. We learn to put our books away gently and neatly. And eventually, when I start tracking the books they read (as I did with the big ones), they will have a “turn in basket” for all the books they read, and a star chart to earn prizes. Right now we are just working on the joy-factor and phonics.

I have a large closet in the “baby” room where they both share a room together. I keep most of their books up there, but I went through them all and brought the preschooly books downstairs and emptied out a dining room cabinet for them that is really close to the reading nook.

We sorted our little shelf by books about people, books about things (which includes ABCs and numbers), books about animals, and books about vehicles or machines. Most are just picture books. I keep their library books in the basket where they read – along with favorites and any books I am hoping to get them to read each week.

They love having their own little spot to read.

It took them a while to figure out that the nook part of the reading nook wasn’t for the Nook (electronic reading device which also houses educational and fun apps). Wouldn’t it be crazy to grow up in this generation – where babies already know how to operate iPhones before they can talk?! Up until this past week, my 2 year old called the Nook a “noot” and he still calls the iPad a “hi-pad”. Boy can he get around on them, though!

They felt really BIG and IMPORTANT when mama made them hide their eyes and brought them in to see their little reading nook for “PRESCHOOL”. They think they are such big kids now, and often I will find them snuggled up on their pillows reading – when before, they spent much more time with toys or electronics. #SCORE!

Now if I could just get them to put clothes on… ?

Preschool Table in the Kitchen. #bigboys #preschoolies #munchkins #learningspaces #kitchen

2. Tiny Table in the Kitchen

Some people have a lot of room for desks and what-not. We just didn’t have the extra space, and honestly, my husband is pretty traditional about wanting the house to look less like a school room and more like a normal house. He didn’t like me hanging timelines all over the place and ABCs along the ceiling (trust me, I’ve done in-the-box school, all the way down to the pledge and white-board). I found that those things really don’t matter.

You can get just as much learning done when your house still looks like everyone else’s for the most part. I compromise with my man by trying to keep the piles at bay, putting as much of the ugly stuff behind DOORS or in DRAWERS as possible, and having a “Ten Second Tidy” before he comes home to get the majority of the mess put away.

Since we are now a SIX person family and my littlest has graduated from the high chair (tonight; sniff, sniff)… and since our kitchen breakfast area table is really supposed to have only FOUR people sitting there, I brought the little wooden Thomas the Tank Engine table and chairs my big kids had as tots (which we have spray-painted black and red to sort-of match our other furniture) to the kitchen. We might move our learning to the kitchen sometimes so they can work there on worksheets or coloring.

I can’t wait to see how this improves our schooling – since it will give us all our own room to spread out again. No more dragging chairs in to the kitchen (well, except when grandma comes to eat with us). Trust me, this has needed to happen for a long time. Kind of like how moving the two year old to actually sleep in his own room with his big brother has needed to happen… but I digress.

Added bonus to the Tiny Table? I don’t care what they do to it. It’s sturdy, black, and spray-paint can be re-applied. Bring it on!

Portable Messy Station on the Floor - preschool learning areas for busy homeschool families at sprittibee.com

3. Portable Messy Station

If you want to keep your carpet safe from roaming markers and dry erase crayons, there’s nothing quite as handy as a cheap plastic tablecloth. They also make great picnic “blankets”. I moved all the dry erase flash cards and boards to the buffet dresser in my dining room near the front door – bottom drawer to make them easily accessible for short people. I keep two tablecloths in there to spread out when they want to use glue, Play-Doh, sand, water, markers, paints, or anything else that might be hard to get out of carpet. Works like a charm and gives them BOUNDARIES.

Preschool Learning Spaces for Homeschool Families

4. At the Big Table

Sometimes they just want to be a part of the action. There are times when none of the other learning spaces in our house are going to cut it. That’s why I try to keep an area at our dining table cleared off for the little ones to join us if they want. When the big kids are quietly working, mama is getting things done, and the house is quiet, sometimes they get lonely and just want to hang out with us. I won’t turn them away. One day last week my four year old sat for almost an HOUR doing worksheet after worksheet in his Preschool/Kindergarten workbooks. Just for fun.

Preschool Toys and Play-Doh area on sprittibee.com

5. Someplace Else – Homeschool Co-Op, Library, Etc.

About once a week or more when we are brave, we do school somewhere else. My big kids take classes at a co-op for Chemistry, Writing/English, and Spanish II – so the little guys and I will sometimes spend a few hours in a different environment just to mix things up. They enjoy playing with the different toys that the church where my kids attend classes have in their preschool classrooms. They love the little kitchen, the puzzles, and most of all, the Play-Doh. I love that they have tiny tables and a huge box full of different molds and cookie cutter tools to make playing with Play-Doh extra exciting.

Our library also has a room you can “rent” (free) for educational purposes during school hours, where technically we could take our own toys and spread out (lots of tables). It is preferable to have a room like this when we go there, because I can let the little guys loose to play and not have to worry about how loud they get. It’s also right outside of the picture-book section, so they can go in and out and look at books without me having to check out a gazillion of them.

I kind of look at it like Starbucks. I know a lot of friends who like to go to the Library, or a coffee shop to FOCUS without the common distractions of HOME. You can actually get a lot of learning done by changing up the scenery… without even trying hard.

And, of course… it goes without saying…

6. Bedroom or Toy Room

About once a month, I sort all the toys back in to their proper bins and boxes because they tend to get all mixed up. We are working really hard to instill a good habit of picking up after ourselves in the mini-men this year. Even the teens need to work a little on this. I found that some preschool mamas alternate types of toys each week (the “centers” concept) and only get out one bin/box at a time. Smart.

I was thinking about bringing down just one type of toy at a time during our play time for school and phasing out much of the TV (Roku/Netflix) time they have had before we were doing planned preschool. Mama got lax.

My toddler bedroom is upstairs, so unless a teen is doing an independent project upstairs or mama is doing chores up there, the little guys have to play in the living room or dining room with us. Bringing one box of toys down the stairs each week and storing them in a corner of the living room would probably be something Daddy would allow as long as we picked up neatly. I’ll let you know how it works! Voila! Now I have a toy ‘center’.

Need some other ideas for storing things and organizing your preschool?

Boy do I have some links for you! Follow my Pinterest account – I’ve got a preschool board there that is chocked full of amazing book nook ideas, learning centers, kid spaces, and other fun ideas.

Next up in the series will be Day 2, Activities. Hopefully I can get in bed really quick here so we can get our ACTIVITIES done tomorrow without me needing a nap with the preschoolers! Look for the next post at bedtime (the only time mama has free time).

Tuckered Out #tired #goodnight #zzzz

Perfecting Preschool Series:

Day 1: Learning Spaces

Day 2: Activities

Day 3: Schedule

Day 4: Toys

Day 5: Rules

Day 6: Books

Day 7: Circle Time

Day 8: Arts & Crafts

Day 9: Music

Day 10: Electronics & Apps

Don’t forget to come back each day to read the rest of the series!

P.S. I’ll be giving away and reviewing some preschool-friendly items during this series, so don’t miss a day!

P.S.S. There’s a pretty September desktop wallpaper for your computer at the Homeschool Post!

P.S.S.S. The 9th Annual Homeschool Blog Awards is starting really soon! While I am no longer in charge at the Post (Lisa is doing a great job of being the new boss lady, soon to be full owner), I still write there, so you can’t nominate me – but I know you love me when you leave a comment. I love comments.

P.S.S.S.S. Don’t forget to join us this month for the #HSchallenge Photo-a-Day Instagram Challenge for homeschoolers! We’re only on Day 3 tomorrow, and it’s easy to click a photo on your smart phone – so you can catch up and join us for all 30 days – easy peasy!

{ Happy homeschoolin’, y’all! }

In Him,

Heather

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