Sunday, September 11, 2016

Organizing a Preschool Group: Three Year Olds

Be sure to check out my other post with tips and info found here

Three year olds are fun, but can also be a challenge. This is many children's first experience in a school setting. It often feels like much of your time is corralling kids back to the table. They are in a new house with new toys and many distractions. Over my seven years of home preschool groups I learned a thing or two to help. Hopefully someone will find them useful also. :)

Group Size

Over a few years of teaching three year old kids, I learned that smaller groups are better at this age. I found 4-5 kids is the perfect number. Because it is their first year of preschool, they need lots of reminders, instructions, and help. A larger class makes it harder to give them each the attention they need. I know actual preschool classes are often much larger, but in an informal setting, my friends and I found that 4-5 works best. Less than four gets harder, because you will be teaching more often. The year my twins were three we had 4 in our group, but because I had two kids in the class, I taught every other week. It was a little exhausting, but we made it through. I felt like I had barely finished one lesson plan when I needed to start the next one. 

Limit Distractions

I learned to remove all toys from my living room, because it doesn't take much to lose a child's interest. I also locked my children;s door shut. Many of the kids that came to our group had played at our house before, so they knew where things were, and wanted to play. I often told them if we finished early they could play. Typically we did not finish early, but there were a handful of times I let them play for a bit before pick-ups. I also let them know we would have them over another day to play, that today was a preschool day. There were a few years that we had a train table up stairs, there was not another place to put it, so during preschool I would drape a blanket across it, it usually worked. 

Time Schedule

This is the time schedule that I used, you can modify it to fit your group, but having a routine helped with consistency between the houses. 

10:00-10:15      Arrival and Play Time
10:15-10:30      Circle Time (Welcome Song, Calendar, Weather, Traveling Teddy)
10:30-10:50     Letter
10:50-11:00     Snack and Manners
11:00-11:20      Story Time
11:20-11:45      Theme
11:45-12:00     Songs, Movement, Clean-Up

I set up this schedule through trial and error. I learned that if you can have have transitions between table time, the kids are more ready to learn. If you are sitting at the tablet for 30-40 minutes straight, boredom typically sets in. 

Arrival and play time: Every body runs late sometimes, some people run late almost all the time. Having some activities or play time in the plan makes it so no one misses anything when you do start. I found that if I just let the kids loose to play, fifteen minutes was not long enough and I was giving up preschool time for play time. Play dates are fun, but I wanted this time to be preschool time. So I found things that were new or easy to clean up, like puzzles, file folder games, lacing cards, etc. 

                                            Easter Egg pattern matching file folder game

Circle Time: This time was used for calendar and weather times. We started every preschool day with our welcome song. It is an LDS children's song that we modified, You can listen here. We only changed one word, Primary (the name of our children's church group) to preschool. The kids learn it quickly and it gets everyone's attention when we sing it. We had a traveling calendar, and would try to bring it out every time we met, I would ask the kids if they knew what month it is, and then we would count each day up to the day we were on the calendar and let them help put the new numbers on the calendar. I bought a calendar set on Amazon, it had days of the week, calendar, and weather. So we tried to do all three. This usually gave each child a chance to stick something onto something else. :) We tried a few different things with a show and tell type activity. I think for 3 year olds that a Traveling Teddy activity works best. Traveling Teddy was a teddy bear that each child got to take home for a week and have adventures with. So when we met the next week the child could tell about where they took Teddy and what they did with him. Some years this worked better than others. Often we would forget about Teddy and he would stay in a back-pack and have no adventures. Because we had a small class, it was not usually a big deal. Everyone got at least a few turns with Teddy. 

Letter: This is the time we would obviously focus on our letter of the week. I know there is research that you should teach kids the letters in a specific order and its not alphabetical. I've heard it is the letters that are easiest to recognize first, or easier to write, or both. But as a group we decided to just follow through in alphabetical order. It also helped parents to keep track and know which letter their children were learning. 
Shaving Cream Letter C's

To introduce the letter I liked having a letter box with things in the box that started with our featured letter. I would let each child have a turn picking something out of the box and talk about what it was. We would emphasize the starting letter, buh buh butterfly, etc.

For three year olds I really tried to avoid a lot of worksheets. If we did worksheets it was usually simple ones from First School: Alphabet. They had a large letter and five squares you could cut out and glue onto the letter or elsewhere on the paper. Three year olds are so excited to use scissors, but often need help still. It was often me holding the paper while they cut. But I also tried to have some kind of an art project for each letter, either something that started with our featured letter or gluing buttons on B type of thing. 
Ice Painting letter I's

Snack and Manners: I told the moms that they could choose anything for a snack (and of course be sure to discuss allergies ahead of time). Personally, I liked trying to match our snack to the letter of the week or our other theme. I may have spent a little more on snacks, but since I was not paying for preschool, I figured if I spent $10-20 a month on snacks once a month, it was still much cheaper than sending my kids to preschool. There were some weeks that things were tighter and I had to use my imagination to make what we already had work, or just have a generic snack, and the kids never seemed to mind. We tried to emphasize manners at the same time. No special emphasis, just talked about washing our hands before we ate, closing our mouths, not yelling at the table, and a few reminders to be a little less silly (only when they were starting to get pretty wild).

Transportation Theme: Bus Snack
Story Time: Read with your kids! Read, Read, Read! Some kids are less interested than others. I had some kids that would just wander while I read, just read a little louder so they can still hear you. Some years I was more ambitious and would make sure I had new library books checked out that matched our letter or theme. But most years that did not happen. I am somewhat of a book hoarder, so I still had a lot to choose from. But you can make almost anything match your lesson. I think we read, "The Happy Little Dump Truck" for transportation week, emotions, and the letter T. 

Theme: This was our largest block of time. I tried to have various activities, art, movement, games, etc. My theme and movement time often blended together. Our traveling preschool box had old tshirts to wear so that no one ruined their clothing, even though I did use washable tempera paints. 

Taste Lesson: Flavored Painting (pudding with coloring) while wearing paint shirts
I love art with kids. I did learn a few things to make art time more successful. Don't worry if their project looks nothing like it should. Most kids will follow your example, but some are just not into art, some kids hate getting their fingers messy (but after a few months at my house, most kids acclimated to messy hands projects), and some kids just want to use their own creativity. Cutting for three year olds is iffy, so I pre-cut lots of things and let them work on gluing. We did work on scissors with lots of things, but some projects were just easier pre-cut. They will also need lots of help and reminders as to what comes next. Try to try all different mediums, finger or tempera paints, water color (I only used the cheap ones), paper cutting, chalk, etc. 

Circle Paintings
Be creative, and with the internet it is easy to do so. Three year olds do not want to just sit and listen, they want to move and be involved. Use felt boards, books, games, stories, etc. I am still working on uploading my other six years or preschool (the ones I have currently posted are from my 6th year of preschool, when I started taking more photos with the intent of blogging at some point), but hopefully you can find a few things you can use here, but if not, pinterest and google are your friends!

Felt Ice Cream Shop

Songs, Movement, and Clean-Up: This is your wind down time. It can be tempting to just let the kids play while you clean up art projects, snack messes and the like, but don't do it. Involve the kids in cleaning up, but especially sing and move! The kids need it, and they LOVE it! Finger Plays are lots of fun, and are great for small motor development. Movement games are lots of fun. I tried to always make our letter of the week out of painters tape on the floor and we would do all kinds of movement on the letter, move like ants on the A, or climb like monkeys on the M. My kids loved pretending and imagining on those letters. You can even buy painters tape at the dollar store. You can also use masking tape, I just like painters tape better. 

Lower case t movement


If you copy and paste this linkyou can download a copy of the schedule I made for our three year old group. Before making this schedule I scoured and searched the internet for a schedule I could use to help base our's on. I found very very little. Apparently this is not something people want to share. But I hope that someone can find this helpful. You can switch things around as much as you need. Please use for your personal use only. 

I made a list of possible themes, you can also download it here. I'm sure there are many more themes, but I did compile this list from many many preschool idea websites and blogs. (Again, for personal use only)

I'll add more tips as I am reminded of them, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

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