If you’ve been considering either of the playing skillfully curriculums but want to see it in action first, you’re in the right place! A detailed look at our first week using the curriculum A Summer of Playing Skillfully! We’ve had so much fun and made memories that I will cherish forever.
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Why We’re Choosing to Homeschool Preschool
Matt and I have been toying with the idea of homeschooling for a while now. Someday I’ll probably write a detailed post about the why behind this life decision but for right now, it’s enough to say that I have mixed feelings about institutional preschools.
Preschools are trending towards an academic emphasis on Kindergarten preparation. By itself, that’s not a bad goal… I want Emi to learn to read, and count, and recognize her shapes and colors, spell her name, and understand patterns and opposites. I want all of that for her! Except when what is sacrificed is play.
Play is the work of childhood.-jean Piaget
Play is how kids learn about and process their world. Play is how they learn to try and then try again. Play is where creativity, problem-solving, AND A LOVE OF LEARNING are developed. Play is the BEST way to prepare them for Kindergarten.
I want to preschool Emi at home because I want to defend her early years and discover the world together through play.
But I also know that play-based learning isn’t just playing. It’s organized, focused, and intentional and it would take an insane amount of time to figure it out on my own. So I started looking for a curriculum.
My Preschool Curriculum Search
I had two major criteria. 1) It had to be play-based (duh!) and 2) I wanted it to include children’s books with related activities. Emi loves to read and I want to support and foster that love in as many ways possible.
During my search, I looked at a lot of curriculums. Most included too many worksheets and not enough play.
Things I Loved Even before I added to cart:
- Self-described as “wonder based” and “the perfect resource to build a firm foundation for lifelong learning“
- Designed for ages 3-7, I intend to use this curriculum for at least 2 years while Emi is 3 and 4 and again with any future children.
- Research-based learning opportunities in the following areas: Language and Literacy, Math and Manipulatives, Science and Sensory, Art and Music, Gross Motor and Outdoor Play, and Social-Emotional and Home Life
- And this review: “We just finished up our school year using this curriculum and it has been the best year of making memories with my children. My friends and family are always so impressed with what they see us doing and they saying I’m such a fun and creative mom. I always have to tell them that it isn’t me, it’s this amazing curriculum I’m using! Thanks for making this such a fun year for us!” – Rebekah. I’m ALL about collecting memories.
Things I loveD after our first week:
- The book is loose-leaf, three-hole-punched, and includes ALL THE PRINTABLES printed on wonderfully thick paper in beautiful full color. So convenient to not have to print! Especially because my printer doesn’t work all that well.
- Its structure without being crazy. What I mean by that is it’s easy to work into my schedule instead of trying to figure out how to schedule around a crazy preschool regiment.
- It’s guilt-free and no stress. If you get to it, great! If not, try again tomorrow. If life happens, embrace the school of life, or as my Grandpa would say “Don’t let your education get in the way of your education.”
Okay, are you ready to see all the learning fun and memories we made our first week?
OUR FIRST WEEK OF A SUMMER OF PLAYING SKILLFULLY
Our first week of A Summer of Playing Skillfully was the last week of July. July’s theme was Oceans, Lakes, and Streams with the Character Trait of Self-Control.
I knew we wouldn’t get to do ALL of July’s recommended activities so I only chose the ones that looked like the most fun and developmentally appropriate for Emi.
From there I penciled in our chosen activities into the Homegrown Preschoolers recommended daily rhythm routine which narrowed them down even further. Our goal was 4 activities a day. (This isn’t my goal anymore or how I try to schedule things, but this was the plan our first week).
SUNDAY: a field trip to the river
I wanted to kick our week (and our playing skillfully experience) off with a bang! I loved the suggestion to go on a field trip to a nearby body of water so Emi would have some first-hand knowledge for other activities we’d be doing throughout the week.
They suggest asking open-ended questions like “What do you think lives in the water?” or “How do you think that got there?” At first she would say “I don’t know” but after a few times of us not accepting that for an answer, she started to consider carefully and think about her answers.
My favorite was when we were climbing on rocks and there was a small puddle of water and I asked her how it got there. She thought really hard and said, “Maybe it rained!” Obviously not correct, but a really good answer for a 3-year-old none the less.
While we played in the water we collected seashells, pointed out fish and bugs, and threw rocks. She had so much fun exploring!
On our way back to the car, we stopped to climb on some big boulders. Matt was great at helping Emi find good foot and handholds and she climbed some really big boulders all by herself (carefully spotted)! You can see how proud she is of herself in the final pictures.
If I had any doubts about this curriculum, this experience totally squashed them! We had so much fun making a family memory and Emi learned a lot about the river and, more importantly, herself. Now she knows she can do hard things! Even when it’s a little scary.
My Trip to the River Book
Our first Monday activity involved Emi writing a book about our trip to the river. This is a fun, repeating activity in the curriculum and is a great way to see what Emi is thinking, what she’s excited about, and what leaves the biggest impression.
I asked her questions to get her started and then wrote her words exactly as she said them. Here’s her story about our field trip to the river:
“Go potty, get our hats on, and our shoes on and then we leave.
When we got there we swimmed first.
And while mom was gone I fell down when I was getting a rock.
We leaved and go to a different river and you guys got in and we took our shoes off.
Us collected sea shells. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
We walked out and we saw some big rocks.
You told me to climb them.
You guys taught me how.
My dad got me. I didn’t fall.
We flexed our muscles at the top.
And then us goed home.”
Then she got to draw the pictures to go with the story.
As you can see, her grammar and storytelling skills need some work, and her pictures were mostly scribbles, but that’s part of why this activity is so fun. We’ll hold on to this book and compare it to the next story she writes, and the story she writes next year.
Sea Animal Rescue – Break The Ice!
Next was Emi’s favorite activity of the week. Sea Animal Rescue, Break the Ice. I know it was her favorite because she asked me to do it again a few days later.
I froze Emi’s plastic sea animals in various containers filled with water. And then I gave her a hammer, and yes! It was a little terrifying. But she loved breaking the ice and was careful not to smash her fingers and toes.
Some of the blocks of ice were pretty big and the hammer wasn’t making much headway. We decided to place those in the sun for a few minutes and we got to talk about melting which led to more questions about freezing.
I LOVED that this activity gave us an opening to introduce simple concepts about the states of water. It was a huge testament to me that my decision to teach/learn through play is the right one!
Sea Shell Imprints
One of the recommended activities was to explore texture by using seashells to make imprints in clay or play-dough. I forgot to take pictures of this one but Emi had fun with it. I failed to give clear instructions about not putting play-dough INSIDE the seashells so clean up was a little interesting and I’m still waiting for some of the playdough to dry so I can brush it off.
River Object Sorting
While we had the seashells out we played a fun sorting game. I laid out a tray with big stones, little stones, seashells, and sea glass. Then I asked Emi to sort them into their respective categories. Sorting is an important introductory math skill and she did it twice before getting bored.
Neither activity kept her engaged for too long, maybe 15 minutes max. Although, in toddler attention span that is an eternity so I’m still keeping these in my back pocket.
SENSORY TRAY WRITING
Another curriculum staple.
Emi has been able to write her name for a few months now but up to this point, I’d never tried Sensory Tray writing. I wished we’d done it sooner and started here! When Emi is holding a pencil, it takes so much focus for her to use the tool that it’s hard for her to focus on learning the letters. She would write them once and then forget.
With the sensory tray, it was more organic. I had her use her finger and because she didn’t have to figure out how to maneuver a tool I saw her truly observe the letters for the first time and make a really good attempt at figuring out the strokes and shapes that make up that letter without help. I’d make small corrections but there was definitely an a-ha moment when she realized she could look at something and recreate it.
A Summer of Playing Skillfully recommended using aquarium gravel for this activity this month to fit in with the theme. It seemed a little too “one-off” for us to spend the money, so we used rice instead which led to another wonderful learning moment.
After we were done practicing letters, I wanted to color the rice for future sensory play. I found a super helpful tutorial on how to dye rice on Blue & Hazel. 1 cup rice, 1 tsp rubbing alcohol, 10-15 drops food coloring. Put it all in a ziplock bag and shake.
Because of my new homeschool mindset, I turned this into a learning opportunity about mixing colors. Emi enjoyed the magic of red and blue turning the rice purple and yellow and red making it orange!
Boat on the Ocean
I hadn’t planned on doing this activity on Wednesday but the girls were already pretending to be pirates so I quickly got it set up while they were still in the zone!
I’d recently created a loose parts bin for Emi, basically just random objects she can use any way she wants in as many ways she can think of. It came in super handy for this imaginative play. A Spare piece of fabric became the sail, an old paper towel roll became a spyglass, and large Popsicle sticks became paddles.
Our blue rug was the ocean and Emi kept singing “Row, Row, Row, Your Boat.”
This activity is as simple as it sounds. Give you kids a squeegee and soapy water to clean the windows. It’s a fun, new way to play with water, see how it behaves in a new way, and the windows got washed in the process!
As a toddler mom you have to get creative with food sometimes and this was a winner at our house! A fun new way to create and eat a “sandwich.” For bonus points, let your toddler help cut the cheese and meat into strips and assemble the jellyfish.
OCEAN SENSORY BOTTLE
I was especially excited about this one and probably enjoyed creating it more than Emi did.
It took a little trial and error to get the food coloring and glitter ratio right (you only need one drop, and not too much glitter!). Emi loved shaking them up and watching the glitter settle.
Now we use them as a calming device. When Emi throws a major tantrum, I’ll give her a sensory bottle and tell her to find a red seashell, or the little crab figurine. Or I’ll tell her to watch the glitter settle while she calms down and then I’ll come back so we can talk. Works like a charm!
One of the reasons I don’t plan what activities we’ll do each day now is because of days like this Thursday.
We had cousins drop in unexpectedly and chose to take advantage of the social development opportunity. AKA playtime. Because of COVID, Emi is starved for playdates, and I’ll always defer school for playing with peers.
How Many Drops?
Another recurring curriculum activity involves these pipettes. They use them for color mixing, salt painting, etc. For this activity, we collected a variety of small containers and counted how many pipettes it took to fill each one. The activity instructions recommend you count the drops, but our containers were a bit big and Emi was still getting the hang of the pipettes so this was easier/less frustrating for both of us.
What weighs more
As recommended, I purchased this simple balance scale from learning resources so we could start our research-based learning about weight and volume. We had fun adding rocks, seashells, and sea glass to weigh down each side in turn and hypothesize about which would weigh more.
Rainbow Fish + Play dough
This was the final and one of our favorite activities of the week. We don’t have the book so we found a reading/animation of The Rainbow Fish on YouTube and watched it together.
I’ve seen some mixed reviews on this book and the unintended message that you should give away pieces of yourself to be accepted. For that reason, I was glad we watched the YouTube video because it really highlights the initial selfishness and rudeness of the rainbow fish, and later, the sharing aspects of the story.
I chose to talk to Emi about it in similar terms to the parable of the talents in Matthew. That we should use our gifts and talents to bless the lives of other people. I gave her examples she could understand like how I take pictures of other families, and she’s a good helper and can share her talent by helping people.
As a fun activity to go along with the story we made Rainbow Fish out of play-dough and craft jewels.
Final Thoughts on our first week of a summer of playing skillfully
I cannot praise a Summer of Playing Skillfully enough. In just one week we’ve done things, and had conversations we never would have otherwise! We’ve made memories as a family that I will cherish forever and spent quality time learning without doing a single worksheet. And most importantly, I’ve seen Emi grow as a person. She’s learned to try and that she can do hard things. She’s learned to think critically instead of accepting “I don’t know” from herself. She’s learned so much! And it’s only been a week. I can’t wait for what the next year will bring!
I have to mention that while the curriculum is super affordable (as far as curriculums go), you should expect to invest more for the supplies needed to complete the activities. This number will vary depending on what you already have on hand but, if you’re like me and starting with almost no craft supplies, it can add up.
I justify the cost because this is the preschool we’ve chosen for our daughter. If we were paying for her to go somewhere else we;d be paying at least as much, if not more!
How I Plan Now
Despite all my careful planning, we didn’t stick to the schedule I had planned at all. Life kept getting in the way. Grocery shopping on Monday, Cousin coming over on Thursday, and someday’s I was just too tired to do 4 activities.
As I was searching Pinterest for helpful tips I came across Cassandra from a Beautifully Wrecked Life who just said “I make a list of 10-12 activities I’d like to do each week, then make a supply list of any supplies I’ll need to buy for that week. Each day, I write our Top 3, and we do what we can!”
I love that! So I started doing something similar. I have a desire to at least try to do every activity, so instead of shopping weekly I try to get all the supplies we’ll need the last week of the month before. Then I do what she suggested, I choose 12ish activities for the week and then we pick the 2-4 that interest us the most for each day.
And then, we do what we can!
Please let those words free you as they have freed me. Just do what you can. There are no requirements, no expectations, no falling behind. There is just life and the best you give each day.
Begin playing skillfully
If you’re looking for a preschool homeschool curriculum, seriously consider this one.
If you’re a mom who’s looking for fun things to do with you kids besides watch TV, seriously consider playing skillfully.
If your anyone with children in your life, you should seriously consider playing skillfully!