Preschool at Home: Is Learning Through Play Really Enough?

If you are brand-new to preschool at home, you may have reached out to other homeschooling moms for curriculum recommendations. After all, there are a lot of great programs on the market designed to help you teach your little one at home.

Chances are good that a number of veteran homeschooling parents probably advised you to skip the curriculum and ‘just play’ with your preschooler. ‘Just play’ is a common response to brand-new preschool at home parents, one that I see often in homeschooling groups.

Preschool at Home: Is Learning Through Play Really Enough?

I’ll be honest. When my oldest child was a toddler and preschooler, I had NO idea how to play with her. If someone had told me to ‘just play’ with her at the beginning of our homeschooling journey, I probably would have ignored them and bought a curriculum anyway.

Truthfully, I think many long-time homeschooling families forget what it’s like to just be getting started. We forget the long days and the short attention spans. 

Starting Preschool at Home

We weren’t always the relaxed, confident homeschoolers that we are now. Like you, we had concerned family members questioning our choices, spouses who were worried our kids would fall behind, and self-doubts that haunted us at night. And we probably didn’t have the added pressure of Instagram, either. 

For many new preschool at home parents, buying a program or curriculum might feel right. It might be the training wheels you need to get started!

But maybe you’ve been doing the program for a few months (or weeks), and it’s not really working the way you had hoped. Maybe your child is disinterested or the curriculum is repetitive. Maybe you’re looking for something different, something that fits your family lifestyle a little better.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself wondering if learning through play REALLY is enough for your preschooler.

The short answer is YES. 

And NO.

Developmentally, young children crave fun and novelty. They learn spontaneously throughout the day as they discover and explore new ideas. Toddlers and preschoolers are natural scientists and mathematicians.

Unfortunately though, young children don’t always learn everything they need to know through independent play and discovery. Some things need to be taught directly by a caring adult. How to use the toilet, how to wash their hands, how to tie shoes, and how to manage money, are just a few examples.

When it comes to preschool at home, a healthy blend of child-led, play-based learning and adult-directed activities is truly the best of both worlds.

Playful Learning Tips for Brand-New Preschool at Home Families

A learning through play curriculum can help parents choose age-appropriate ideas for intentional parent-child play time 3 or 4 times each week. Setting up a toy rotation or “tot tray” system can also ensure that certain important skills are being practiced through play. 

If you are new to preschool at home, a good routine can be as good as (or even better than) a program or curriculum. According to Dr. Stuart Brown’s book Play, children need a variety of different play experiences, including:

  • Movement
  • Object Play
  • Imaginative
  • Social

Following a loose daily schedule can give your young child lots of unique opportunities for play throughout the day — for example, kicking a ball, building with blocks, pretending to run a restaurant, and playing a game with a parent or older sibling. Offering multiple ways to play allows your child to take ownership of their learning. It can also strengthen attention spans and stamina for independent play as they grow older.

A Sample “Learning Through Play” Preschool at Home Schedule

  • Start your day outside with lots of gross motor play, then come inside for read-aloud time and a snack.
  • Set out a few toys meant for strengthening fine motor skills and listen to some fun preschool music while you play together.
  • Have lunch and rest/nap.
  • In the afternoon, do a structured learning activity together and then play “make believe.”
  • After dinner, play a short game or head back outside to burn off some energy before bed.
  • Take turns throwing a ball or throwing a Frisbee around.
  • Read another book, sing a song, recite a rhyme, and say good night.

Play is also a fabulous way for toddlers and preschoolers to fall in love with the concept of learning. Keeping things light and fun for as long as possible challenges the idea that “school is boring” or “learning is hard work.” Building your lesson plans around your child’s interests engages and motivates them to want to keep learning for the rest of their lives.

Is it okay to supplement play-based learning with a preschool program or curriculum? Of course! Especially if it helps YOU feel more confident and comfortable as your child’s teacher. 

There are many different “right” ways to homeschool. While it may take a few months (or years) to discover which style is right for you and your family, remember that the joy is in the journey. Making time for play each and every day is a great way to start!

Melissa Droegemueller

About the author

I am an elementary school teacher–turned–homeschooling mom with over 13 years of teaching experience. I am passionate about good books, learning through play, and family adventures.

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