Curriculum Review: The Peaceful Preschool [updated August 2020]

When my two oldest children were 3 and 4.5 we spent our days doing chores together, baking, playing, exploring nature, and reading books. I was so thankful to be able to stay home and be with them all day. I knew I wanted to spend our days simply and with connection as the central focus. While I knew I didn’t need a curriculum for that young age, I thought it would be helpful to follow along with something gentle that pointed me in the right direction of ways to invite my children into learning through play and exploration. I went on a hunt and what I discovered was that most preschool curriculums I came across were too involved. Too much to buy, too much to print and prepare, and too many pressures and expectations put on the children at such a young age. I really just wanted a solid booklist as the core of the lessons and some gentle ideas to connect to the stories that would engage their senses and imaginations and introduce them to letters and numbers.

I stumbled upon The Peaceful Preschool and immediately fell in love. I downloaded the free letter A unit and jumped in to see how my children responded. We all loved it so much that we ended up going through the entire curriculum twice. The first time we mostly just read the books, participated in the pretend play and large motor activities, and did the baking and craft projects. The following time when my children were a bit older, we added in more of the letter sounds/ recognition and counting skills. Looking back now with children who are in 1st and 2nd grade, I can say that The Peaceful Preschool was the perfect guide to set them up for formal academics when the time came. Using this guide, my children gained a love for stories, made meaningful connections to the world around them, and were introduced to letter formation and early math skills in a very gentle way.

I put a lot of confidence in this preschool curriculum because the author is a seasoned homeschool mother of seven children. I trusted that she knew what early learners really needed to know and experience before formal schooling. I felt as though she was mentoring me through the process because she made herself available to answer questions via email. Also, when you purchase the guide, you are welcomed into a private Facebook group. You can really tell that Jennifer has a heart to see little ones love learning and to experience connections with their families and the world around them.

Let me tell you the main reasons I loved this curriculum and why we will most likely use it again when my next two children are ready!

Simple Lesson Prep

Besides gathering library books, a few supplies, and looking over the lesson for the day, the prep was minimal. This left room for me to plan and add in extra activities if I wanted to, but if I didn’t have the time then it was more than enough.

Basic Materials

The activities often required minimal to no supplies that you wouldn’t already have around the house. The curriculum offers a master list of recommended supplies as well as a weekly breakdown. If an activity requires something you don’t have, there are so many options that it wasn’t a big deal just to skip an activity.

Connection Facilitated

I loved that so many of the lesson activities were things like “bake a pie together” or “practice climbing a tree”. This is what I was looking for in a learning guide. The heart of The Peaceful Preschool is to facilitate connection and to grow in the child a love for learning. You really get that sense in every week of the lessons.

Excellent Book List

Each week there is a book list at the core of the lessons. My children adored all of the selections, as did I. The books chosen are creative, beautifully illustrated, and full of life. There was a good range of comprehension levels in the list, which I found useful reading to a younger and older preschooler at the same time.

Gentle Invitations

Rather than learning letter formation with paper and pencil, the children use salt trays and finger tracing. Stories come alive with craft projects and reenactments. The activities are highly engaging to little ones’ senses and draw them in with fun and imaginative learning. 

Here are some sneak peeks inside the curriculum and some shots of my children enjoying it over the years. 

Narration in the Early Stages

Before my children were ready for formal lessons, I dug deep into the many philosophies of education. Although I don’t pin myself to one certain style completely, I do strongly lean towards a Charlotte Mason way of educating. One of the main elements in a Charlotte Mason education is narration. 

What is narration?

In a nutshell, narration is “the art of telling back” what a student has read or heard. It is a method that strengthens the student’s habit of attention and really secures the information in the mind. It is a skill that requires attention and more mental energy than you may think.

At the beginning stages, narration is oral. The child listens to or reads a passage or a story and then tells back what they read or heard. As the student advances, the oral narrations turn into written narrations. First, starting with a sentence or two and eventually, entire essays summarizing the information or story.

I first learned about narration when I had preschool-age children, and I knew that narration would be a huge part of our upcoming education. In order to put our feet on the path towards successful narrations, I tried a few gentle methods I wanted to share with you. Regardless of your child’s age, if narrating is new, you may want to start here.

Play-based Narration:

At this level, the whole idea is that the child retains the story that you just read to them. Rather than asking the child to narrate a story to you after reading, try offering props and toys to the child to play with and see if they narrate it through play. Don’t push it, just offer it to them and watch them play and explore. We started this early on while reading the books offered in The Peaceful Preschool each week. I would offer the toys and leave them out near the book that week for the children to play. It was amazing to see the kids telling the story as they played, remembering details I wouldn’t expect. 

Here are a few examples:

Caps For Sale

After reading the story to my children I gave them a tree (a stick stuck in air-dry clay), a barrel of monkeys, a wooden doll, and some felt circles for hats. I left the book nearby for them to recall the story as they played. 

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

We created a big map together and used peg dolls and a toy bear to play the story. 

The Little Red Hen

I just pulled toys from around the house and grabbed some weeds from my yard and oats for wheat seeds. Don’t stress out about having the perfect props. Use what you have or have your children help find all the characters and create the scenes. 

The Beginnings of Oral Narrations

When I felt it was time to start oral narrations (around age 6), I started with short, engaging stories and made it fun. Don’t jump in with long, informational passages. The first stories that I started with were Beatrix Potter’s Tales as we went through them using A Year of Tales. I also asked my son to narrate the short stories from Aesop’s Fables. If the story was lengthy I would read a few paragraphs, pause, and have him narrate before I moved on. 

When I first asked my son to do this, he thought it was silly since I just told him the story. “You already know the story, Mom. Why do you want me to tell it to you?” Other times he just doesn’t want to tell it and complains. So, we tried a few methods to keep it fun and get him comfortable. Here are a few ideas:

1. Narrate to a stuffed animal or toy.

I allow my son to bring a stuffed animal or animal figurine to lessons and tell the story back to his “friend.” For him, that has been a key to make it fun. 

2. Draw the story and then tell it to you.

Sometimes creating a visual will help jog your child’s memory. My son loves drawing, so sometimes he will draw as he narrates or draw and then use the picture to explain what happened in the story. 

3. Film the narration and watch it back.

I don’t know about you, but give my son a phone to make a video, and he’s a happy camper. Some of his best narrations are saved on my phone because that’s how I got him to narrate!

4. Call or video chat a family member or friend to narrate to.

If they’re tired of narrating to you, try calling a close relative or friend who may be interested in hearing the story. Grandpas and Grandmas across the world would surely appreciate this kind of call. 

5. Dramatize the story.

My children love to narrate the story by acting it out. One child will be the narrator and the other will be the characters. Costumes and props are fun but totally optional. 

The main ideas I want to convey here are to think outside the box and meet your child where they’re at. Narrating is harder than you may think. Go at your child’s pace, but challenge them little by little and you will be amazed at their attention and language skills as they grow.

At age 7.5, we are just now dipping our toes into written narration. After reading a story to him, my son will orally narrate it and then tell me 1-2 main idea sentences from the story. I will write them on the chalkboard and he will copy them to lined paper and then illustrate the story. This has been a great introduction to longer, more thorough written narrations that are coming in the future. 

My favorite resource to learn about narration is the book Know and Tell by Karen Glass. This really helped me understand the value in narration and the steps to take as I include it in our home education. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy.

I also love this blog post by my Instagram friend, Keri Botch, @keribotch sharing her story of beginning narration and the mistakes she made starting out.  It was a helpful read for me and I believe it will be for you too. 

How My Children Learned to Read

“To introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served. But they must learn to know literature by being familiar with it from the very first. A child’s intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find.”

-Charlotte Mason

Ever since my oldest son was a toddler, we started immersing him in books. Having baskets of books in every room and reaching for those over the television remote was the culture of our home. You see, my son was diagnosed with hearing loss and sensory processing issues around 2 years old and had zero–and I mean ZERO–interest in books around that age. He wouldn’t sit on my lap for longer than one page, and I cried multiple times leaving the library because he had absolutely no interest in storytime and was a disruption. I wondered if he would ever pick up and enjoy a book on his own. Now, at seven years old, we literally can’t keep books out of his hands. He devours any book in sight and will tell you his hobby is reading. He wants to be an author (and a narrator of audiobooks) when he grows up. So what happened? I honestly can’t tell you exactly. I actually didn’t teach him to read, and that is why I didn’t title this post “How I Taught My Children to Read.” Did I play a role? Absolutely. But it’s not what you may imagine. Looking back, all I can say is that I created an atmosphere and invited him into it. 

I pursued the best living book lists I could find and made it a priority to read to him as much as possible. We made the library an important part of our week. I invested in a CD player and ReadAlong Books on CD for him to follow along in the physical books while he listened. Read this post on how I find good quality children’s books. Around 3 years old, he started following along in the books with his finger as I read or as he listened to an audiobook. He started picking up books without me and “reading” them. I honestly don’t know when it happened, but somewhere around 3 and a half, we were driving down the road and he said “Mama, what is Toys… R… Us?” He had looked out the window and read the sign. I was beside myself. When we got home, I pulled out a new early reader book and sat down with him, and sure enough, the child could read! He never had a stumbling-through and sounding-out phase. By 3 years and 8 months I got him the Frog and Toad Storybook Collection, and he read it fluently. I know that’s not every child’s story. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t my daughter’s, even though she has grown up in the same culture.

My daughter loved being read to and listening to audiobooks as much as her big brother, but her motivation to learn on her own wasn’t as strong until around 4 and a half years old. She started mentioning wanting to read like her brother, so even though we didn’t do anything formal, I decided to start gently inviting her into learning. If she didn’t show any interest, I would’ve waited until closer to age 6. From age 4 to 5.5, I used four main resources to invite her in to learning to read.

1. The Peaceful Preschool

There is no “phonics” instruction in this curriculum, and for good reason. The Peaceful Preschool is what we used for 2 years, and we loved every minute of this gentle, literature-based learning guide. While there is no formal phonics, the child is introduced to every letter of the alphabet and learns the sound the letters make through play and creating. You can read more about how I used this curriculum here.

2. ABC See Hear Do

This simple little book is so much fun for teaching sounds of each letter in the alphabet. Each letter is given an animal and motion to help children remember which letter matches which sound. While this book series goes on to teach blends, I only used the first book alongside The Peaceful Preschool, and they paired wonderfully together. I taught one letter at a time and its correlating sound, animal, and movement as we went through the alphabet. 

3. Three-Part Cards

I first discovered 3-Part Cards when researching the Montessori method of schooling. The official name for these cards are “Nomenclature Cards” coming from the Latin word nomenclatura, which means “assigning of names.” They are basically an image with a corresponding label. They come in a whole form and in a split form. The whole cards include the word and image together on one card. The split cards separate the word from the image. This provides endless opportunities for matching and word recognition. I created these 3-Part Cards for every letter of the alphabet, and as we focused on each letter using The Peaceful Preschool, I would offer the corresponding cards to my daughter to play with. I was always amazed at how she could decode even the most difficult words to read. You can read more about I used these cards here.

Dash into Learning Early Reading Program

4. Dash into Learning

I can’t say enough about this beautiful early reading program. Dash into Learning is a complete early reading program that is so simple and fun to use. Both of my children fell in love with the charming illustrations and activity packs that correlate with the early readers in the program. Each book has a short open-and-go lesson in the beginning and then the child proceeds to read the story with confidence. The skills build on each other as the child progresses through the books. Activities like paper dolls, finger puppets, board games, and sticker charts that come with the program really engaged my children and helped my daughter retain the information.

Although I used more resources with my daughter than with my son that were intended to “teach” her to read, I still can’t say that I did the teaching and she did the learning. She too, taught herself. I was merely the one creating the atmosphere and welcoming her in. It wasn’t forced and there was no pressure. I wanted her to read when she was ready and had a desire. I wanted her to take the lead and take ownership of it. 

Teaching your child to read sounds daunting and I have heard many parents say it’s the main fear they have in considering homeschooling. While I know there are exceptions, I am here to say that for the majority of children, it really is much simpler than you would expect. Take a deep breath, spread the feast of good living books and resources, and invite your child into the beauty. You will be amazed at how they will lead the way. 

I love this article about children teaching themselves to read. While I don’t consider us an “unschooling” family, I can agree with this article on many levels.

Here are Seven Principles of Learning to Read Without Schooling listed in the article. Click the link to read in more detail.

  1. For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read.
  2. Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.
  3. Attempts to push reading can backfire.
  4. Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.
  5. Reading, like many other skills, is learned socially through shared participation.
  6. Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write.
  7. There is no predictable “course” through which children learn to read.

To summarize, I am under the belief that rather than stressing out and asking the question, “How can I teach my child to read?” we should be asking, “How can I draw my child into the beauty and fullness of life that reading will give them? How can I best set up their atmosphere so that they might desire to become an avid reader?” You may find that some of the resources I shared would be a good fit for your child. There are plenty of guides out there that gently invite the child into reading, these are just the ones that I found and loved. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing–trust the process, and watch your child fall in love with reading on their own timeline.