With 2022 bringing more stability to our life through Will’s current camp hosting opportunity and similar plans lining up for the summer, we decided to start the New Year by beginning an at-home preschool program for Bird.
When we were at Snow Canyon for our first camp hosting gig, the weather was generally beautiful, so it was easy for Bird and me to get outside when Will was working. When we did spend the time at the camper, I struggled to find the time to come up with learning activities all on my own.
Knowing that we would likely be spending more time indoors through the winter months, I wanted something structured and off-the-shelf that I could adapt for our purposes. While Bird is a little young for preschool, she has shown a definite curiosity and desire to learn that I wanted to capitalize on.
I looked into a few programs that other Fulltime Families use, but ultimately, I turned to the self-proclaimed “lady on the Internet” who I rely on most for activities, and we went with Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool.
This program stood out to me because it is activities-based, and since Bird is on the younger end of the targeted age spectrum (the program is aimed at 2.5–5-year-olds), I knew that doing something hands-on would hold her attention better than doing any sort of workbook or book-based program.
However, doing activities in a camper in the winter has been a challenge in its own regard. We have always done things like paint and water play outside where spills and splatters are not quite as big of a deal. So, this program has been a lesson in learning to take a step back and take a breath for mom, too.
One of my main concerns about the program was that we would need to acquire a lot of “things” to complete the activities. But since I have heavily relied on the Busy Toddler Instagram account and blog for the bulk of our activities in the past, I actually only had to purchase a few odds and ends to stock up our preschool bin, with additional minor purchases so far for each unit (such as apples for the first unit).
The biggest hurdle, however, was the book list. I truly had no idea how we would tackle the list of approximately 5 books per unit that we would need to read over the course of the 19 units. Purchasing the books (even e-books) was absolutely cost-prohibitive, plus I was not sure we would love the books enough to take them on our journey with us. Luckily, we have the Internet where the pandemic has pushed many library storytimes to YouTube. Since we were still getting settled in the area when we started our first unit, we relied solely on YouTube for the books for that unit. While this is not ideal (there is absolutely nothing that compares to holding, touching, and seeing a book), it worked enough for our purposes.
However, as we began our second unit, I turned to the local library. Since we will be in the area for 3 months, it made sense that we could tap into this amazing resource. And boy did we luck out! The local library is amazing and offers an out-of-state library card for a minimal fee. So, for our second unit, we were able to get most of the books we needed in their physical form. Going forward, we will rely on a mixture of the two, but knowing that we can spare the expense and bookshelf space of actually buying the books is a true relief.
Although we are only a few weeks into the program, it is working well for us for several reasons.
First, it does not take a ton of time to prepare. This is huge for me. Sure, I could probably spend a lot more time making things perfect and doing a little less flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, but that is not the world we live in. I need something that I can prepare for in about 10 minutes. And having it all spelled out for me in a binder that I can flip open, review the activities, and roll with is imperative.
Second, each lesson takes between 30 minutes and an hour depending on how engaged Bird is on a particular day and how much she enjoys the activities. While this may not seem like a lot of time, it is time each day that I know I do not have to come up with something for us to do. This is time that we spend together doing constructive learning activities that makes me feel less guilty about requesting independent play or allowing her to watch a little bit of Encanto. Plus, between snacks and doing our best to get outside for at least a short walk each day, that is about how much time we have.
Third, it provides the structure we absolutely needed. Were we talking about the alphabet, reading books, and learning colors before we started this program? Certainly. Was there any rhyme or reason behind it? Absolutely not. Was I pulling random activities for us to do every day to fill our time? You bet I was. Does it make me feel better that someone with a background in preschool education put this particular combination of activities together? Darn right. We would be doing activities every day regardless of whether or not we were following any specific program, but it is so nice to have those activities build on knowledge and skills that she needs in a way that makes her excited to learn and show up with me for school every day.
Fourth, it is so much fun. We are reading books we never would have read, doing activities outside of our regular rice bin, coloring, Play-Doh cycle, and we are both learning a lot along the way. We are singing songs every day, looking at things around the camper in new ways, and taking those lessons out with us on our adventures.
There are certainly days that do not go as well as others or days where I feel like Bird would get more out of the lesson if she were a little bit older, but that is the beauty of doing an at-home program. We can put off an activity or lesson for a few hours or days, we can come back and revisit specific themes, or we could repeat the entire program again in a year or so.
It felt a little crazy adding preschool to my plate as we started 2022, but so far, it is working out incredibly well. I truly do not have the time needed to come up with something like this on my own and providing some sort of structure for learning was weighing heavy on my heart. I am so glad to have resources available where someone else has done the bulk of the work, but I get to reap the rewards of being the one teaching, learning with, and interacting with my daughter every single day, and I will never take that for granted.