Classrooms for ages three to six
So one question I have been asked lately is how to set up a home school classroom. Another question I was asked was how to get school supplies on a budget so I have decided to combine these two topics and do homeschool classrooms on a budget. This will be a three-part article (because each age group needs different things) but I will take you all the way from pre-kindergarten to high school. Today we will start at the beginning, welcome to pre-school and Kindergarten! So, without further procrastination, let's jump in.
Designate a space
It doesn't have to be a whole room. It doesn't even have to be a space that does not have other uses, but do figure out first of all where the learning is going to be taking place. This way you can organize around it. I find that space in either the living room, office or playroom works very well as little ones don't need a lot of furniture. They prefer the option to be moving, sitting on the floor or lying on the floor on their bellies instead of sitting at desks and tables when they are very young. I used to simply spread a plastic table cloth on the floor, to discourage the use of marker on the floor, and give each child either a lapboard or clipboard to write or draw with. You can also get these interlocking floor puzzle pieces. They are great because they just wipe clean, are easy to take up and put down but you can leave them down and if something REALLY happens to one they are easy to replace and are reversible.
Either way, make sure that the first thing you do is designate a space it doesn't need to be fancy. Label EVERYTHING, in this space. By seeing words and starting to associate words with objects kids learn how to read and why the alphabet is important. It doesn't matter how you label things, just take a few minutes to do it.
Remember They are Baby Squirrels
I say that jokingly. They aren't REALLY squirrels. They just have the attention span of one. Preschool-aged children have an attention span of only about 5 minutes. If they get really involved in a task you might get ten minutes from them but it's rare that you will have longer than that, even with the most exciting of tasks. They are little explorers and need to touch, feel, see, hear, (and want to lick, but we discourage that) the whole world to find out what it is about. In order to have a solid amount of time that you can work, setting up several activities they can easily grab without you and do will be your friend. Most small children are working on using their hands, letters, numbers, and speech. Give them a mix of things they can go through and change out the activities about once a week. This way you do not have to be there every five minutes. Your favorite little squirrels can happily do activities while you try and do a Zoom meeting.
I can not stress this enough. Baskets are your friends. I have never, ever, EVER had enough baskets for my early childhood classrooms. In fact, I'm so obsessed with baskets that whenever I see them second hand for a good price I pick them up. I think my partner believes I'm a crazy basket lady that just has a storage unit full of them somewhere. I don't, but I sort of wish I did. They are great because you can put one activity per basket with all the materials they need for the activity like pencils, crayons or scissors, label it and put it on a low shelf where your little people can just take it out to play with.
If it is a writing activity I like to use these dry erase pockets. Your kids can do the same worksheet over and over again and you do not have to re-print it. They love using the dry erase markers too instead of a pencil and since printing is both bad for the environment and quite expensive these save so much time and effort. You can even put colour book sheets in them so the pages can be coloured over and over again.
Now, there is some instruction that needs to go with this. I taught my kids that each time a basket came out it needed to be cleaned up before a new basket could come out. If they couldn't follow that rule they had only activities that I chose for the rest of the day (which they hated). Make sure you stick with that or it gets really messy really fast and you do not want to be sorting your baskets again.
If you don't want to go through every second-hand store and yard sale you can get an inexpensive basket storage system like this one or order a few of these miracle bags that will save your feet from Lego hell. As long as the activities are contained in one object you are doing fine! My advice would be to hide the messy ones for when you have time to supervise, however. Paint and Zoom meetings will only lead to your walls being a new stunning shade of the rainbow.
The Dollar store and Second Hand Stores are your Friend
Why pay full price when you can get things cheaper? Now I know this is hard right now because stores are closed and we are supposed to social distance. Usually, I would get everything from stamp sets to alphabet stencils there but times are hard. Very hard, so instead try and re-purpose things. Baby food jars are great for paint containers, just put the lid on to save the paint. Old sponges make great stamps. The list goes on and on and the internet has a thousand ideas. Don't overwhelm yourself, however. My general rule is that if it takes me longer than five minutes to make it and it's not reusable it is not worth it. After all the kids will only use it for five minutes. Just because an idea is neat doesn't mean it's worth you stressing about.
Remember Play is Learning
For our little people playing is learning. If you are painting you are learning to hold a pencil too. If you are playing in the sand you are learning how to manipulate objects with your hands and about volume. If you are coloring you are learning about shapes and control. Running around in the backyard gives you the chance to explore growing things as new grass and flowers come in as well as develop gross motor movements. Snuggling and reading a book exposes them to language and shows them how books are read.
Our children are hardwired to learn while playing, while you might get them to focus on the alphabet flash cards for 30 seconds, you can get them to find the basket labelled "Train" much more often. Don't stress about how much "school" your littlest ones are doing. If they are playing and you are talking to them they are learning.