Let’s talk about a good Catholic preschool…of the homegrown variety. When my oldest grew to be a preschooler, I was so antsy to start homeschooling him. I was constantly looking at curriculum, fretting over phonics and reading, and worried about him falling behind. But this boy had other plans and those plans did NOT involve school. He wanted to spend his time building wooden train layouts, being read to, and spending time with Mom and Dad.
While I tried to follow his leading, I didn’t quite trust myself as the educator of my child. Occasionally, I would get in a tizzy about our lack of instruction time, chase down the best curriculum I could find, and get down to the business of “real school” again. Thankfully, these bouts of self-induced homeschooling anxiety were short-lived, and the majority of our time was spent in more valuable ways than book learning.
One of the blessings of homeschooling multiple children is you can have a do-over. I’m currently “educating” my third preschooler and things look quite a bit different at our house. The biggest change isn’t necessarily in the curriculum, or lack thereof, that we use, but in the heart of this mama. Instead of throwing curriculum at my young children, I’ve learned to foster and feed their natural curiosity.
Preschool isn’t about a set of predefined goals, but rather in following your child’s leading. There is a time for rigor and discipline in the homeschool setting, but the tender years are not that place.
That said, there are things we can do with our little ones during these precious years to help them bloom academically, spiritually, physically, and emotionally in later years. What are those things? Chances are you’re doing many of these things already!
10 Must Do’s in your Catholic Preschool
1.Model a life of devotion to God
Fostering the faith shoots right to the top of the list for the Catholic Preschool!
Often times, parents underestimate the power of their example. It’s a bit scary how those little eyes are always watching our actions, attitudes, and words; but as parents, we can use that power to transform the lives of our family.
While my family didn’t talk much about God growing up, we were great at going to church EVERY.SUNDAY. and being very active within that church. I didn’t grow up Catholic, so we weren’t even motivated by fear of committing a mortal sin by skipping. My church attendance was abysmal while Husband and I sorted out our faith differences, but the childhood habit of weekly church attendance knocked at my heart every Sunday morning. I felt like something was missing from my day and week whenever I skipped, and eventually, this childhood habit drew me back to church, even before we settled our differences.
Let’s start with the goal in mind. What are the faith habits we want to instill in our little ones?
In our family, Husband and I attempt to model a vibrant prayer life, Godly conversation, loving hospitality, and a life of service, among other things. Of course, we are not superhuman, we often fail and fall, but we get up, repent, dust ourselves off, and try again.
When you come downstairs one morning and you find your 7 year old on the couch reading his Bible after making himself a fried egg and toast breakfast, it will all be worth it! (And yes, that really did happen in our house!)
If you want more on living a life of devotion, you may enjoy these other posts:
2.Go to Mass (not if but when you can)
This goes along with Number 1, but is important enough to merit its own point. When we take time from our jam-packed schedules to go to Mass, that speaks volumes to our children. I’m a mother and I know it isn’t always easy to get there, especially for daily Mass, but we must make every attempt.
Unfortunately, daily Mass is not offered at our parish on a daily basis (we are part of a rural cluster of parishes) and so attending daily is not an option for us. I do make every effort to get to our parish when Mass is said. It happens at a bad time in our daily rhythm, but I know God will bless our faithfulness.
Daily Mass attendance is the best First Communion curriculum for children. Like most young children, my oldest didn’t always enjoy going to Mass. It all came to head one day when we had the following conversation.
Child: Do we have to?
Me: I don’t always feel like going to Mass either. There are many other things I would rather do with my time. But I ask myself, if Jesus were coming to our town today, wouldn’t I make every effort to be there with Him? Even though we can’t see it, at every Mass, Jesus comes to be with us. Not only that, but God has also made it a place where Mommy can receive help from Him. This help He fills me with is called Grace. It helps me be a better mommy to you. His Grace helps me be patient and kind, and I’m sure you want me to be more patient and kind. So when I remember how Jesus is at Mass waiting for me, and how I will get the help I need to be the best I can be, there is no other place I would rather be on earth.
I assumed it all went in one ear and out the other, but soon his little brother began asking “Do we have to?” and I heard my words parroted back “But, we can go get Grace!-and who wouldn’t want more of that!” Then as he prepared to receive his First Communion, he would tell me over and over how he couldn’t wait to receive Jesus and receive lots of Grace to help him be the best he can be. Melt my mama heart!
I know that my extra effort in getting to daily Mass will be a tether to the Church for my children.
Here is more on attending Mass with littles:
3.Let the name of Jesus be a constant in conversation
Deuteronomy 11:19, the oft quoted homeschooling verse, exhorts us to live the Christian life, “Teach them to your children, speaking of them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up….” Notice the part about speaking to our children about God and His commandments?
Do we talk about Jesus often? Do we exhibit Godly reactions in our words when troubles come or do we curse, moan, and complain? Do we throw the Bible at our children as we discipline, but neglect the joy of the Gospel the rest of the day? There is no surer way to turn our children’s hearts away from the Lord!
In modeling Godly conversation, we are helping our children with one of the most troublesome areas of sin. Proverbs 18:21 says the power of life and death are in the tongue (read also James 3). I don’t think we can completely vanquish sins of the tongue, but we sure can try!
4.Learn about the saints
The saints can be such an encouragement for our children as they make their own faith journey. I love to share stories of the “bad saints” with my little ones. You know, those that struggled to turn their lives over to God. I never want my children to think of the saints’ lives as examples of unattainable holiness. Instead, I try to use good stories and conversation about the saints to stir up perseverance, courage, and love of God in my children’s souls. One of the simplest ways I’ve found to accomplish this is with a family feast table and with my Catholic planner that keeps me on track.
Here are some posts with lists of Catholic books for children:
5.Discipline in love
One of the best ways we can make our future homeschool endeavor run more smoothly is by being diligent in the correction of our little ones now. If your children are going to learn to respect you as teacher, they must first respect you as parent.
Can you educate without discipline? Yes, but discipline will make the task much more enjoyable and fruitful!
6.Establish habits and develop routines
The power of habit is never to be underestimated! The watchful and wise parent snuffs out poor habits at the impetus of their formation, and instills and fosters good habits (still working on that here!). Take time in these early years to form those habits that will be beneficial to homeschooling (chores, good listening, appropriate interrupting, etc.)
Routines are habits that have an infused quality of time associated with them and can be just as powerful in the development of our children. Consider establishing a quiet hour, read aloud hour, and/or weekly nature walk into your routine. When these routines are the only thing your child has ever known, they will rarely fight you when the time comes to begin that activity.
You may want to check out these other posts on habits and routines:
If you only do one thing academically with your child in the preschool years, let it be long enjoyable sessions of reading together. I struggled so much with teaching my eldest to read, but I always made sure I read to him. Many days I would read aloud to him for several hours a day, for up to an hour and a half a stretch. Now that I have 4 children, these hefty chunks of my day are no longer available for such leisurely reading, but we still have a mandatory hour of read aloud time on a daily basis.
I’ve been known to read very difficult literature to my young children and I am always amazed at what they can absorb. When we read aloud to our children, not only do we create a loving home atmosphere, but it is the best natural preparation course for future language art studies. My only criteria for books that I read to my children is that it must be something I enjoy as well. To me, this is a hallmark of living and nurturing literature.
Because I have less time now, I like to download audio versions of classic books for my children to listen to during quiet hour.
You may want to look into these posts:
8.Allow lots of free play
While I am a firm believer in establishing predictable routines in our day, I am also a big believer in having large blocks of completely unstructured playtime where nothing else is scheduled. Doing so develops creativity, curiosity, and sibling relationships. A preschooler’s main form of work should never be at a desk, but rather an interaction with his world.
9.Spend time in God’s World
A child naturally learns from God’s creation when he is given ample time and permission to explore. The perfect preschool science curriculum is not contained in a box, but rather outside our front door. Seeing living creatures, changing seasons, plant growth and death all awaken and feed curious little minds.
A child fed by God’s natural world will present you with all sorts of questions, which in turn shows them the doors that education can open for them. They will begin to understand why reading and books are important as you peruse library books finding answers to their many questions.
It can be a real joy to learn together the names of the local flora and fauna!
10. Foster a family culture
Above all, our young children should be nurtured first and foremost by the family unit. In our modern day, many activities have cropped up under the guise of “educational opportunity.” In all actuality, these activities are nothing more than a stand-in daycare for parents (harsh, I know).
You will feel the pressure to conform and have your child participate in activities of all sorts even at a very young age, but you must trust your God given ability to give your child everything they need to thrive in their future academic adventures. They WILL NOT fall behind because you keep them from participating in preschool or sports.
Spending time together as a family and avoiding the busyness of the world develops strong family ties that will last a lifetime. Let your little ones know they are loved and cherished and they will (almost) always aim to please!
What do you consider the MOST important things to do with preschoolers?
You may also want to read more of my posts on preschool: