The preschool years are a special time, full of wonder and innocence as children try to make sense of their world. I don’t know about you, but when I think about what I want for my preschoolers, I want these years to be abundantly full of excitement, discovery, and learning. I want to watch my young children explore the world in their own special way.

If you are familiar with the Charlotte Mason philosophy, then you know where I’m going with this. If you aren’t familiar with Charlotte Mason, then I encourage you to read her books. Essentially, Charlotte Mason believed in educating the whole child with real ideas. For young children, it means giving them real access to the world around them. The Charlotte Mason method is known for many specific elements, but only a few are necessary during the preschool years. Since Charlotte Mason didn’t start formal education until six years old, our focus should not be on early academic skills, but on activities that are age appropriate and allow the child to learn through exploration and play.

With a preschooler who is the oldest child, you don’t even have to call it school. As my older children transitioned into formal school work, my preschoolers have each wanted to do school, too. For them, I present these gentle ideas during their own special school time, but I still keep it as natural as possible and focus on certain Charlotte Mason elements: Habit Training, Handicrafts, Fine Arts, Living Books, and Nature Study.

Habit Training 

At this age, teaching children to be responsible for their behavior is more important than academic skills. Choose habits that are important to your family right now, such as obedience, manners, truthfulness, attention, or patience. Work on character traits that will make your home a safe and peaceful environment.

Handicrafts 

Handicrafts are not typical preschool crafts. They are more of a life skill to be taught; they require skillful use of the hand as talents develop. Handicrafts for preschoolers help develop fine motor skills, and they are often a precursor of more “grown-up” handicrafts. When choosing handicrafts, consider something your preschooler can gift to a grandparent, friend, or a shut-in. My kids always put a sincere effort into things they are making for others. Some ideas for preschool activities that will prepare them for advanced handicrafts are lacing beads, paper weaving, play-dough, card making, rubber stamps, growing herbs, watercolor crayons, or simple sewing and woodworking projects. If you’re not sure what to teach, learn new handicrafts with your child. It’s important they see you learning all the time, too!

Fine Arts 

Art for preschool-aged children doesn’t need to be involved; it’s about exposure. For art appreciation, display art prints somewhere accessible in your home and age-appropriate art books for your preschooler to browse. Point out interesting items in the painting; notice the colors, the facial expressions, or the animals. Introducing preschoolers to the concepts you will be studying in the future will accustom them to noticing details. Music of all genres can be played in the background during playtime, at lunch, or in the car. Classical, hymns, and jazz are good genres to start with.

You might sing or dance along, casually point out the title and composer, and let your child just absorb the rhythm and beauty of the music.

Living Books 

Most homeschoolers love books, but we know that not all books are created equal. Choose books that are well written, have beautiful illustrations, and offer a moral or storyline worthy of your time. Your child will naturally expand their vocabulary and learn the structure of the English language as they are exposed to good writing. Living books will leave your preschooler asking questions and wanting more, and conversations with you will further expand their communication skills. There are many lists of living books for preschoolers online to help you choose quality picture books, but you can’t go wrong with well-written Bible stories, fairy tales, fables, and folk tales.

Nature Study 

Perhaps the most important element for preparing a child for future academics is nature study. Nature study for preschoolers is purposeful outdoor play. Children should learn to spend a great deal of time outdoors exploring and learning about the natural world. You can enhance their outdoor play by suggesting activities or creating opportunities for discussion and observation. Keep binoculars, a magnifying glass, bug jars, and local field guides accessible so you can get up close and personal with all the creatures they find! Go on scavenger hunts, sort rocks and leaves, grow flowers, experiment with dropping rocks and twigs into puddles, or make leaf rubbings. These activities help children observe, categorize, hypothesize, and analyze what is going on around them. Most simple nature study ideas feel like play to preschoolers, but they help build foundational skills, as well as give them an appreciation for the beauty that surrounds them.

As you can see, the preschool years don’t need to be intense. Work these elements into your routine naturally a few days a week, and allow your preschooler plenty of free time. Play is how they assimilate new knowledge, so they need time to play on their own terms, without restrictions or guidelines. Focus on the things that bring beauty and peace to your day, and your young child will have a rich preschool year.

Copyright 2016, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Annual Print Book 2016 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.