Reflections on the various dimensions of feminine vocation from liturgical homemaking and child rearing to education and the spiritual life.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preschool in a (Tissue) Box

I've discovered a way to homeschool preschool that meets my current survival criteria: (1) It doesn't make me crazy, and (2) Katherine digs it.

On a good day, and those are fewer than I like to admit, it goes something like this:  We wake up and do our morning routines, including morning prayers.  Then "we" start on the chores assigned for that day of the week.  Between chores, or when I've been doing a chore long enough that Katherine is likely to become bored and in need of attention, we pull out the "draw box."  We do an activity from the draw box and then continue on with chores until lunch and nap time, as time allows.

Our preschool draw box is a tissue box emptied of tissue and filled with little pieces of paper each with an activity written on it.  For Katherine, all the activities are games or just fun things to do with mom.  Knowing that she gets to draw a piece of paper out of the box after we complete a chore, keeps her in a state of happy expectancy.  She loves that its a "surprise," and because she's drawing and thus picking the activity, we avoid any power struggles or attitude problems that might have arisen if I had just announced an activity of my choosing.  (Never mind the fact that I chose all the activities to begin with.)

For my part, the activities are designed to meet my curricular or learning objectives for her current development.  Each activity is also easy, simple, and not too long in duration so that I can pull it off without much if any preparation regardless of which one is drawn out of the box.  I like that I do not have to put any advanced thought or planning into the day's "lesson," since I already did it once when I wrote the activities on the pieces of paper.  If I'm really not up for the activity she pulls first, I just ask her to draw again.  If she is uninterested in the first drawn activity, I also let her draw a second and choose between the two.

Here is a sampling of activities that have been in or will be added to our draw box: (arranged by subject area)

Literacy/Language Arts
  • Do a "Little Book to Read and Color" from A Beka Book (sent us by Grandma)
  • Read a (library) book; work on literacy basics such as introducing/using book vocabulary (front/back cover, title page, author, illustrator), showing how print is read left to right by following the words with your finger while you read, having child predict what will happen next, discussing literary elements (character, setting, events), etc.
  • Select and rehearse a poem, story, song, memory verse to recite/tell/perform for Dad when he comes home
  • Match capital letter flash cards with lower case flash cards; when a match is made, sing the corresponding sound song to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell," as in "The alpha says 'ah,' the alpha says 'ah.'  Every letter makes a sound; the alpha says 'ah.'"
  • Play the card game "War" (to learn "more than" and "less than" concepts)
  • Do our shapes puzzle (and rehearse the names of all the shapes) and other puzzles (from Grandma)
  • Do a page from her time/clock coloring book (practice telling time)
  • Play games with the Hundreds Chart such as "can you find [#]?" and simple addition/subtraction such as "What is two and two more?"
  • Play the card game "Go Fish!"
  • Play store with an assortment of coins—she puts things from around the living room in her shopping bag and then checks out with the checker (me) by paying me the right change as requested (e.g., "That book costs 30 cents; that's a quarter and a nickle).  When we're done playing store, I have her sort the coins back into piles by kind and put them away.
  • Play the card game "Uno."  
  • Measure things around the house or on our person with various measuring instruments such as yard stick, tape measure, scale, etc. (We've also previously made our own hand measuring tape by dipping Katherine's hand in paint and pressing it down over and over again, tips to wrist, so that we can see how many hands tall or long something is.)
  • Read Animal Baby/Ranger Rick magazine (subscription from Grandma)
  • Put lots of different objects in a paper bag or cardboard box with a hand hole cut in it.  Without looking, take turns feeling one object at a time, describing it's weight, texture, shape, and size, and then guess what it is.
History/Social Science
  • Color a print out of the United States flag (say the Pledge of Allegiance)
  • Color a printout of the U.S. bird(bald eagle)/flower(rose) (discuss its significance/symbolism while coloring)
  • Color a printout of the Statue of Liberty (discuss its significance/symbolism while coloring) 
  • Color a printout of our state flag/flower/bird (discuss its significance/symbolism while coloring) 
  • Color a printout of the icons on U.S. coins/bills (penny, nickle, dime, quarter, half dollar, dollar)
  • Color a printout of a map (house floor plan, neighborhood, city, county, state, country, world) and locate familiar places and people on the map
  • Look at a calendar and count how many days, weeks, or months until child's (or other family member's) birthday and/or the next feast day
  • Read a library book (plan ahead and get books related to holidays and/or specific people, places, jobs, or time periods of interest)
Dexterity/Arts & Crafts
  • Sew a Cheerio/Joe's O's/Kashi Heart to Heart necklace; eat it or give it to a friend.
  • Sew a felt purse or pupet with yarn (thanks to Jen Marie for getting us a couple of these at the dollar store)
  • Paint (outside on the patio)
  • Make a collage
  • Make rubbings of various textured objects (e.g., leaves, coins, corduroy, etc.)
  • Make a card for an extended family member or friend and send it in the mail
  • Draw a self portrait 
  • Role play characters from a favorite story (or professionals in society such as firefighters, police, doctors, bakers, Daddy, etc.); use props and/or costumes if you want; put on a little play for an audience of dolls
  • Make paper bag or sock puppets and put on a puppet play
  • Dance and improvise instruments (e.g., pencils on paper plates for drums) to music from different genres or time periods and/or poems
Health & Fitness
  • Talk about what kinds of foods are healthy; make a collage of healthy food and a separate collage of not-so-healthy food using a saved supermarket mailer
  • Talk about the different food categories and have your child sort food photo clippings into the various categories.  Make collages.
  • On a place-mat-sized paper, trace a plate, fork, spoon, knife, and cup where they would be set for a meal.  Have child make a menu (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) by drawing or pasting pictures of healthy food on the plate.
  • Read a library book (plan ahead and get books related to health, safety, and the body)
  • Play "Simon says."  For one variation, play with a large, saved, cardboard box, have child and parent take turns playing Simon—e.g., "Simon says get in/on/under/over/in front of/behind/beside the box."  For another variation, focus on movement such as skip, gallop, run, jog, walk, dance, hop, jump, slide, roll; add slow, fast, etc.
  • Play ball games (catching, kicking, hitting); drink water during and stretch afterward
  • Have a dance party (drink water during and stretch afterward)
  • Sing and act out songs like "Father Abraham" and "The Hokey Pokey"

What would or will you put in your preschool draw box?


  1. I love the Kleenex box idea--I've done activites like this (mostly with Nathaniel; poor, neglected Abby) but always felt like it had to be consistent every day, so then I get discouraged after I miss a few days, or engaged in a power struggle about having to do Hooked on Phonics AGAIN! Nathaniel will be in school 4 days a week this fall so I've been looking forward to some 1 on 1 time with Abby--this Kleenex box might work for us. I'll probably put in things like bake muffins, have a tea party, fold laundry, and make jewlery.

  2. Tea parties! Yes. Katherine is a big fan of those.

  3. What a great idea! I might just have to try it. Do you have any sources (books, websites) that you regularly use for your ideas?


  4. Here's one that we do: Draw a large shopping cart pushed by a small stick figure on a piece of paper. Have the child cut out items from your grocery flier and glue them in the cart using a glue stick. You could put this in the manual dexterity or health/fitness category.

  5. Thanks, Christa! I like the shopping cart idea.

    To answer your question, I've pulled ideas from lots of places including the Science book I wrote about a few days ago. I've also gotten ideas from various hand-me-down flip activity calendars and books.

    I also have to confess that I referenced (gasp) state content standards, even though I tend to denounce them on principle. It's not that state standards are bad, its that they are too broad and lack a unifying vision and philosophy to guide the educational enterprise. But with an independent philosophy and vision in hand, I find it can be helpful to consult them to see if I've inadvertently omitted anything of value.


  6. I'm going to pretty much cut, copy, paste and try this with my three year old. Thank you for documenting what you're doing!