Are lesson plans your biggest fear or biggest heart ache? Do you love working with kids but choke at the idea of deciding what to do with them? A little pre planning will make your life so much easier and it’s not as hard as you think.
At Little Sprouts, I make a basic plan for my lessons for the entire school year. This helps me stay on track and stay organized throughout the year. If I do a month or a week at a time, I tend to lose focus and fall off the wagon many times throughout the year. This plan is not best for everyone, some people get too overwhelmed with thinking of planning a year at a time, but it’s not the detailed plans, just a lose outline of what you’ll work on.
My number one quote is and has always been, if you don’t keep the kids busy, THEY will keep YOU busy. This is not a pleasant thing. Have things planned to do with them!
The first thing you need to do to get started is find something to plan on. I use free printable online calendars, but you can use a spreadsheet or whatever works for you. I’m a pen and paper girl. I like it that way. I print out a calendar for each month from August to May. I check the public school calendars and choose a date I want to start and end my preschool season.
Next you need to make a list of all the things you’d like to cover. At Little Sprouts, we use one day for letters, numbers, colors, shapes, working on our names and that sort of thing. We use one day for creative, open ended art and jamming tunes with instruments and dancing. We use one day for science projects, and we use one day for math activities or crafts. We don’t do many crafts, but we do a few, so most weeks, this day is for math. We have fun Fridays where we have a lot of extra free play and sitting around reading, laughing and talking. We get to do this most days, but on Fridays, we do it more.
Take home papers
I do a lot of activities that involve taking something home because parents like to see and be involved in what their kids are learning. If they don’t see anything coming home, they will naturally assume learning is not taking place. So I try to keep parent involvement in mind when planning what we are doing. We don’t take home a paper every day, but a lot of times we do.
Planning dates for lessons
Now that you have your basic blueprint of what you want to cover and something to record your ideas on, go through the calendar and mark off any days you are closed for holidays or vacations. If you have school kids, you can mark the days school is out so you can plan something that is more appropriate for the older kids as well as the younger ones.
This is the first year in 20 years I have not had any school agers after school and on breaks and I am AMAZED at how much easier lesson planning has been. I am glad I made the decision not to keep school agers anymore, because as I get older, it gets harder and harder to be everything to everyone. Two years ago I stopped taking infants and children under the age of 2. It has helped me so much not to get burned out.
I love babies, but I just want babies only, preschoolers only, or big kids only. Not all three. It’s too hard and requires SO much equipment and supplies to cover all of those age groups. I find ages 2-4 the absolute most fun, so that’s what I’ve decided to focus on from now on. Preschool is for me.
Back to the lesson plans. We have the days set we need and what we want to cover each week, so now we have to set a routine for the day. Routines cannot work out 100% of the time, but if you have a structure in place it will make your whole day go more smoothly. Start with meal times and nap.
At Little Sprouts, we have breakfast at 8:30, lunch at 11:30, and snack at 3:00. We used to have a 4:00 snack for after school, but we don’t need that any more. Our nap is from about 12:45 to about 2:45 most days. Of course it just depends on what happens if that is totally accurate. If you’ve done daycare for any length of time, you already know that.
I open at 7:00 and close at 5:00. It takes me around 30 minutes to make breakfast and lunch. Snack just takes a few. So from 7:00 to 8:30 when we eat breakfast, we have free time. Before I have to start cooking, I mostly answer the door to let people in and sit and snuggle on the couch with the kids.
I’m a morning person but not everyone is and some kids need some extra time to wake up. They can play in the playroom or the living room or hang out with me and just be still if they want. I get up at 8 and start breakfast and they can still play or chill.
We get finished with breakfast around 9 most days. In the summer time we go outside right after breakfast so we can avoid as much heat as possible and still get outside. My temperature range for outdoor play is the same as the public schools, 40-90. If it’s 39 we stay in, if it’s 91 we stay in. Sometimes it’s 91 by 10:00 or even earlier, so to get as much time outside as we can, we go out as soon as we can.
If it’s winter time, we wait until around 10:00 to go outside so it has time to warm up a little. In the winter, we have activity time inside at 9 and in the summer we have outside time at 9. If it’s a rainy day, we just have free time inside instead. Kids love being outside and it’s so good for them, we do as much out there as we can.
If it’s garden picking day (click here to read about our garden activities) we go pick vegetables first and then have free time in the play area. Sometimes the kids just want to play in the garden and they can do that too. Sometimes we have other activities in the garden as well. It’s a great classroom for us.
At 10 we come inside, wash our hands, get a drink, and have activity time from 10-11. At 11, I let the star of the day (a different child gets to be the star each day and gets to choose certain things throughout the day, sit in a special chair, be in charge of the water in the bathroom, and say a blessing over our meals) chose a movie from my VHS collection to watch while I make lunch. It helps them start to wind down, keeps the mishaps down and helps me focus more on what I’m cooking for them.
I don’t let them watch TV because I think commercials are horrid for children. Images being blasted at them for more more more are just gross. If they ever watch TV here, it’s OETA public television, no commercials.
Anyway, back to lunch making. Lunch is at 11:30 and we finish eating and cleaning up around 12-12:15 each day. Everyone goes potty, washes up and gets ready for bed. We all snuggle together on the couch and have story time and sing songs and finger plays. After story time, the kids get on their mats, I get each of them a stuffed animal to snuggle, I give them a hug and a kiss and tuck them in and they go to sleep.
I usually have to wake them up for snack and then we got potty again, put our beds away, get our shoes on and get our stuff together and they start going home. Kids trickle out for the next two hours so we have free play in the living room until they leave so we can watch for parents. We can do puzzles at the table, draw or whatever the kids want to do.
So now we have an hour a day, four days a week to do special activities. You can see that we already have covered a lot of stuff in our daily routine. There are so many teachable moments during free time where we can talk about colors or count or talk about our names.
We have a check in and out system that has a foot for each child that they “clock in” with. They take their foot from the bye bye spot to a slot that shows they are present for the day, at the end of the day they put it back in the bye bye spot. It has their name on it and helps them get familiar with their name.
Now we need to make a list of all the things you want to teach the kids or set up for them to do. If you have core curriculum requirements, list them now. I am a big advocate of school readiness so I like to focus on a lot of skills that will help them find success at school. Fine and gross motor skill building, self-help skills, pre-reading skills and things like that are my focus.
Work on ABC’s
Spelling their name
Writing their name
Saying their phone number
Learning their parents’ names
Playing with Magnets
This is just a short list of examples. Make a list that goes along with your goals for teaching your kids.
Next we can think of some themes we want to use. For instance, you could do apples in September, pumpkins in October, and butterflies in May, whatever you think your kids will be interested in and is current for the time of year it is. Write those themes on each page of your calendar or spreadsheet. This gives you a basic outline of what you’re doing.
At Little Sprouts, we do each theme for two weeks. If the kids are bored with it, we scrap it and move on. If they come up with something they are interested in, we do that instead of what I have planned. The outline just gives us something to keep us moving forward.
Now take your sheet and write one of the areas you want to teach above each day of the week. At Little Sprouts we have “learning time” on Mondays, crafts or math on Tuesdays, music and free art on Wednesdays, and science on Thursdays.
Now I can go to my list of things I want to teach and plug them into each day on my calendar. For pumpkins I can have the kids mix red and yellow playdough or paint to make orange, I could cut open a pumpkin for them and let them gut it and cook the seeds, or cook the flesh and make a pie, or make paint or ink stamps with the flesh and let them do art.
I can plan it out and then the kid’s interests can take it in any direction we want it to go. The kids might want to play with magnets every day for a week and not do anything with a pumpkin. That’s okay, they are learning. And I promise they will learn a whole lot more from something they are interested in than something you want them to be interested in.
Plug in something for each day on your sheet until it’s full. The internet is a wonderful resource for spaces that you have that might be blank. There are hundreds of preschool websites to help you come up with activates. Please make sure all of your activities are not cookie cutter, closed ended craft projects.
Kids need to learn how to create, not just follow directions. Following directions is important as well, they do have to go to school when they leave you and they do need some skills to help them find success when they get there, but most of your time should be spent letting kids explore their own interests.
You can keep your list of activities and use them from year to year. Spending a few hours in the summer planning out your year’s activities will help you so much. You can make a shopping list for any supplies you need and put it on the back of each page of your calendar so you will have everything you need when the time comes. You can also print out any sheets you may need and have those ready as well. Being prepared is the number one best way to find success in your day!
Do you have any great secrets for planning your school year right?
Don’t forget to pin for later!