Do you know what you are going to teach your preschooler… Why not try a preschool theme?
Some people think it’s silly to plan out a curriculum for preschool but I think it’s silly not to. Your child is growing and changing at remarkable rates until the age of 5. This is when the bulk of their brain development will occur. When you engage in preschool activities with your child (whether it’s planned or spur-of-the-moment) you are building a toolbox of experiences that works like an academic trust fund, that they can withdraw from for the rest of their life.
Preschool themes are a great way for kids to play and learn!
At birth, the average baby’s brain is about a quarter of the size of the average adult brain. Incredibly, it doubles in size in the first year. It keeps growing to about 80% of adult size by age 3 and 90% – nearly full grown – by age 5.https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/
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Why Preschool Themes?
We use themes for our at-home preschool curriculum because it provides repetitive practice for kids with a central theme to help them learn in a developmentally appropriate, play based way.
I developed our activities based the CA Preschool Learning Foundations. (A 205 page PDF that outlines the expectations of what kids should be learning in CA preschools. I love curriculum and this one was even a hard read for me.)
Our themes are units of study that are suitable for preschool through first grade, or any age with special needs. Each unit naturally integrates several subjects in context so that is easy for young children to build confidence & academic skills.
Subjects that would normally be isolated as stand alone like language arts, math, science, art, music are naturally integrated (in real life situations & fun preschool activities & not worksheets) to help children begin to make independent meaningful connections around the central theme.
Each Unit comes with a scope and sequence that outlines the Preschool Learning Foundation Standard we are learning and what practical early childhood activities (if not already included in a printable lesson) nourish and develop that skill or set of skills.
FOR EXAMPLE; a Kindergarten Farm Unit children could use their senses to explore the different types of animals that live on a farm.
What are the Benefits of Thematic Units?
Simplicity- It provides an engaging platform to integrate concepts (which is naturally how they occur in real life). Math and science are nearly in everything we see and do (whether or not we realize it) and most kids like math (whether they know it or not) and all kids love science.
Flexibility- As your child grows you can adapt lessons and re-purpose materials.
lets say they’re in kindergarten next year you can re-purpose parts of your preschool ocean unit to include Math (counting, sorting and comparing groups of ocean animals), Science (sort and classify animals, learn about your child’s favorite marine animal, its requirements for living and adaptations.)
Thematic units help with:
Multiple opportunities to be immediately successful Kids are exposed to many learning styles (audio, visual, tactile, etc.) in a thematic units and given exposure to different ways to express understand and express what and how they’re learning.
Expand Prior Knowledge- This is basically the overarching goal of every lesson whether you are homeschooling or your child attends public school. The big idea is what do you know about ______ & how do we grow that knowledge?
Young children need A LOT of repetition but too much of the same stuff isn’t engaging so I rotate my son’s favorite learning activities using activity calendars!
Engage kids in a themed unit with:
- Sensory bins and play invitations
- Themed puzzles and games
- and my personal favorite real life experience (a trip to a nearby pumpkin patch or farm)
Preschool Themes are popular because they lend themselves to naturally include a multitude of learning styles, modalities and cross cutting concepts. Also, it works well in a variety of settings. Use this in the classroom or while homeschooling. Thematic units are less about structured times for language arts or math (specifically) and more of a free-form routine or center.
Planning Thematic Units
Should I buy or create my own Thematic Units?
The answer is it depends.
- What do you need?
- Are you doing ALL learning at home or supplementing what your child learns in school?
- How much time do you want to spend planning and preparing?
You can buy a program and then make changes according to your needs or you can script out everything from scratch.
There really is no easy answer here. It’s a pro’s and con’s game and depends on your specific needs.
- all academic content areas are planned out (preschool or common core standards included in the reading programs which also often include writing and spelling for older grades)
- all you need to do is read and prepare, as needed
- usually comes with other supplementary materials (printables, work book, spelling lists, writing prompts,etc.)
- not all programs are user friendly, some take a great deal of time to “figure out”
- common core based programs have unrealistic academic goals or “teach too high” look for programs with “ELD” components. If it’s written properly it will help you differentiate (teach to “high, proficient and low” level learners).
- Most programs require supplementation for one or more elements (great for comprehension but need a separate spelling program for example)
- children may not be engaged in the core curriculum (ex: stories in a reading program or the presentation of math concepts)
DIY Preschool Curriculum:
- child-led (specific to your child’s needs)
- custom materials
- often more engaging for kids
- have to do all of the work yourself (research, plan, buy materials, prepare lessons, etc)
- can take up a lot of time (as you’re learning how to do this)
If you have the time to dedicate to planning and preparing your own units then I say go for it! This is great for both the parent and the child as you’ll both be learning as you go. This cuts costs, saves time and is FUN!
Sometimes it is not possible to plan your own learning at home but you can always purchase thematic units and learning materials that are ready to go. This will support your needs as the educator and support your children (or students in your classroom).
How do I create my own Preschool Themes?
I got started creating preschool curriculum & units as an after work activity for us to spend time together. My son is an active boy who is very eager to learn.
We first started with gardening activities, nature & the outdoors so for me it was an easy solution.
We had such a good time and learned so much each day that I started thinking about what we could learn about next… and we tried seasonal activities because winter came and our activities needed to move indoors. I planned for rainy days and art projects and the next thing I knew it was summer. We went to the beach and learned that it’s not just a fun place for us to play it’s home to many plants and animals. We went to the tide pools at low tide.
The 3 things I use when planning Preschool Themes:
- Personal interests (what type of learning do they love best? Play based, STEM, Physical Activity, Art, Writing? What topics interest them?)
- Developmentally appropriate (where YOUR child is at on the learning curve- NOT where they “should” be. Always start from where THEY’RE at!)
- Real- life experiences or realia (something in their daily life that they can relate and apply the concept to or a field trip that can bring the concept to life)
Keep it simple when you’re first starting out… What:
- are my child’s interests/ strengths?
- resources do I ALREADY have (can you take a nature walk, collect rocks, gather up all of the princess toys & set the stage for some fun imaginary play)?
- Skills can we work on?
What are the Advantages of teaching with a theme?
Using a theme for longer than a week provides kids time to develop an understanding and make connections such as farm or ocean and draw connections from their real world about related concepts. For example through studying a farm theme kids could learn that their morning eggs come from chickens, etc.