Mama School is what the monkeys have dubbed our preschool at home. It’s definitely been an undertaking but in the long run my hope is that it fosters more connection between the monkeys and myself, and instills in them a love of learning through play and delving deeper into their own questions and interests about the world around us.
Back home in Vermont, Monkey One attends a wonderful preschool program through our local elementary school, and Monkey Two goes two mornings a week to the home of the best daycare provider in the world for socializing, learning, and fun. Upon our return in the spring, they will get back into those programs, but while here in Florida, I’ve decided to work with them at home, for structure and to give some routine to our days, as I have been unable to find programs that I feel comfortable sending them to here, not that they don’t exist, but we got here after the start of school and there are waitlists abound that will never budge.
Any who, this post is for anyone who is curious about our set-up. We are renting a furnished two bedroom home, so with space being a precious commodity, I had to temporarily disband what was a formal dining room and designate it as our “classroom.” We never would have eaten there-fancy plush chairs were not made for little sticky fingers as it turns out, so those went into the garage, fancy oriental rug was rolled up, and the table itself pushed against the wall and currently serves as a shelf for our supplies. ***Start digression***Actual shelves would have been nice, but hey, we are only here for six months, I attempted to set up an inexpensive cubby shelf from Target, let’s just say it was cheap for a reason, and after what was really a lovely interaction with their guest services, was promptly trashed. ***End digression***So, we have fabric bins and baskets full of blocks, centers, toys, and manipulatives hanging out on the floor so the monkeys can access them. You do what you have to do.
Ikea has an amazing and inexpensive line of children’s playroom furniture. I spent less than $150 for two tables, chairs, an easel, rug, and a couple of craft supplies. My biggest complaint is that the dry erase feature on the easel isn’t magnetic which is small potatoes. Also, the build quality isn’t made to withstand extreme forces of nature or abuse-it’s just soft pine and particle board but for the price and what it is, it should last long enough. My favorite is the FLISAT table, which was also the most expensive piece, at $49. You can purchase TROFAST tubs which fit underneath for storage, or sensory bins. I bought two small which nestle next to each other (one for each kiddo), and one larger bin that we use for our sensory explorations. The nice thing is you put the table top back over it and voila! Your mess is put away. I also purchased the LATT table and chair set, which, despite being tiny, is a steal at $29 and the MALA easel, $20. For easy kiddo access, various paper, stationary, and bookmaking materials are laid out on this handy utility shelf from Target.
I find when setting up, it’s super important to make sure certain materials are accessible for the kids-it helps them develop independence and allows them control in their learning. Art supplies like crayons and pencils, stickers, manipulatives, paper, etc should be easily accessible. I put glue, crayons, pencils, and scissors in little caddies, as well a laminated alphabet and number chart for writing. Throughout the day, the kids will grab paper and draw, or write something on a whim, even when we aren’t doing “Mama School.”
Our classroom doubles as our playroom in this space, and so all of their toys are in it. There are some main “centers” as Monkey One calls them that we keep out during school time-blocks, dress up (drama), sensory/discovery, writing, and art materials. The rest of their toys are put away, or sometimes incorporated with another center or acting as their own center depending on interest-Legos or animals are often utilized in our “school.” I keep materials for various math and alphabet/phonics activities in two separate fabric bins for easy access as well. I will write up a separate post on centers for Pre-K and toddlers to go more into depth what kinds of activities and things to include. I have a laid back approach to it since there’s only two kiddos and I can work with them as I need, but mostly at this age I strongly feel kids learn by discovery and play so I try to be hands off unless I am doing an activity with them that requires more guidance or they invite me to play as well 🙂
Honestly, there are certainly things I would change-the dining table and lack of shelving/bins everywhere bothers me but it’s nice to have a dedicated space for our venture. I feel it makes all the difference-the first few times we tried to organize a morning meeting and do some “work” we were on the living room couch and it didn’t go quite as well. I think having structure and a dedicated area facilitate the learning aspect so much easier than winging it wherever (unless we are outside on one of our nature ventures, then the whole world is our classroom). The monkeys enjoy their space and the teacher inside me feels slightly less frazzled.
Next post in this series-our semi routine, resources, and figuring out what to teach for a play and discovery based experience,
Till next time!