Preschool Homeschool Programs – The Downside All Parents Need To Know About!

Pinterest can be a wonderful source of information.  But just like other social media networks, not all information shared is accurate, especially when it comes to child development.

Spending some time on Pinterest is what led to me write this article.

There are so many pins (with 1000’s of repins) about setting up a “preschool” or “tot school” for your child (I don’t mean a home daycare where you are watching other children).

Most of these are aimed at parents of 2-4 year old’s.

From what I have gathered, these articles are typically written by well meaning parents who want their child to thrive and succeed.

This is great!  As parents we must take an active role in our child’s development.

But setting up an at home “preschool”, complete with curriculum,  isn’t the way to do this and I will explain why (and what you should be doing instead)!

One more thing before we get started.

There is nothing wrong with attending a “play class” with your little one.

These classes are great for parents to meet other parents and it’s interesting to see young children interacting – and good for their social-emotional development.

And these classes can be helpful to teach new parents about developmental milestones and how you can easily incorporate learning into play.

These classes can either be drop in or run for a set number of sessions.

There may be some free ones that are government funded and there are always ones that require a fee.  Both are good options.

Be sure to scroll to the end to find the best ways to get your child learning and developing at home in a natural way.

The Downfalls Of A Homeschool Preschool Program

Too Much Structure

It’s true that children need structure, but there can also be too much of a good thing.

In this case it’s structure.

Kids thrive when they have a general idea about what is going to happen.

Like getting up in the morning, having breakfast, that kind of thing.

While at home, a young, typically developing child does not need to be given a list of activities with a picture schedule of what is going to happen first, next, then…last.

I did say “typically developing” children in the sentence above because those are the children I am referring to in this article.

If you have a child with special needs, then a (visual) schedule is often a must.

But for a typical toddler spending the day at home or out and about running errands with mom or dad, a set schedule really isn’t necessary.

Dependency On Adults

When you are always there with ideas and suggestions for your little one, they will become used to this and will start finding it difficult to come up with their own thing to do.

Especially once your child gets a bit older.

Of course toddlers are dependent on their parents to a great extent, but this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have or need any time for exploration.

There is nothing wrong with trying to give your toddler some independence.

This will be a great asset in years to come.

And don’t worry about feeling like you are neglecting your child because you are letting them safely play with and explore toys on their own!

This brings me to my next point.

Difficult To Follow Child’s Lead

Following your child’s lead is one of the best things you can do from a language and overall developmental perspective.

But if you are planning a bunch of activities for your child to do you can’t truly follow their lead.

You can follow your child’s lead to an extent within each activity, but perhaps your activity isn’t really what your child wanted to do.

But since they are still young (and perhaps has an easy going personality) they went along with it.

The Best Toddler Toys For Learning Through Play

School Starts Early Enough

You may have heard or read that “parents are their child’s best teacher”.

And this is completely true, but it doesn’t mean that you should actually take on the role of a school teacher with your young child.

There is a debate going on within the community of child development professionals about whether or not children are starting formal education too early in North America.

Many children in the U.S., U.K., and Canada start school at the age of 4.

We definitely know that starting academic education too early can be detrimental to a child’s success later on.

Therefore when children are starting school at the age of 4 (and even 5) the curriculum needs to be play based with plenty of time for exploration and open ended play.

I feel like I am rambling a bit.

The point I am trying to make is that your child will be going to school soon enough.

Let their time at home be fun where they can grow and discover at their own pace.

Too Much Pressure (Parents)

Why give yourself more to do than you already have with little kids?

Some of the lesson plans/curriculum and pictures of people’s “at home preschool” set up that I saw while browsing Pinterest made me feel like I wasn’t measuring up as a parent.

The effort that has gone into this is commendable.

But your child doesn’t care.

All a toddler wants is to be loved and played with (and fed of course!).

Cuddle your child, snuggle up and read books and sing songs.

When something catches their attention (a toy or otherwise) use this time to talk about whatever it may be.

Language and learning opportunities for toddlers are everywhere, from bath time to playtime to mealtime.

Your child’s development doesn’t have to be complicated!

Why I didn't teach my toddler to read banner

What You Should Do To Facilitate Language Development & Learning At Home

While reading some of the “tot school” articles one thing that stood out to me was the reason why so many parents were claiming to homeschool their preschooler.

And that was that they felt they (and their child) were spending too much time in front of the TV or playing on a tablet.

I love that parents are becoming more aware of how much time they and their children are “plugged in” and are trying to do something about it.

This article is in no way meant to come down on these parents.

Rather, I want to point out that you can engage your child in non-tech activities without going to the extreme of setting up a preschool in your home for your child.

Here are a few ideas that might help you out:

♥ Toy exchange ♥

This can be done with the toys you already have or get a few parents together and do a toy swap.

The vast amount of toys most children have can get quite overwhelming and you may find that it seems your child isn’t really playing with anything.

So instead of having all your child’s toys readily available, have only a few out and put the rest in bins.

If your child has a favorite toy and getting him to speak or speak more regularly is something you are working on, put the toy somewhere he can see it but can’t reach it on his own.

This way he will have to request for the toy in some way.

This could be via signing/gesturing, vocalizing or using a word or 2.

You can exchange toys once a month, every 2nd month, whatever works for you.

You and your child may be getting bored of the same old toys, but if some are packed away for a few months at a time they will be like new each time they come out!

This is especially true if you are doing a toy swap with friends.

If you are nervous about the toy swap idea because it’s an easy way for germs to be spread around, don’t worry.

There are many simple and natural ways to clean toys!

17 tips to help toddler with speech delay

♥ Make A Schedule For Yourself ♥

I don’t mean schedule each activity your child will do, but just some ideas of what you and your child can do together when you are at home.

This can be a mental schedule that’s in your head that you make each night for the next day.

For example, maybe tomorrow you could plan to fill a bin with water, throw in some bath toys or cups, spoons, colander, etc. and let your toddler have some fun playing around in the water.

Once that is done, why not make some playdough.

Have your child help you pour the ingredients into the bowl and stir.

This is a perfect example of hands on learning!

Make sure to keep your toddler safe while helping in the kitchen with something like this!

Set aside some time to read books and play with toys!

I’ve made a list for you of the perfect toddler toys and how they can help with language development and learning!

So if you are stuck for playtime ideas and how to implicitly incorporate learning make sure to check it out.

♥ Guided Play ♥

Most parents don’t realize this but your child is almost always learning.

Figuring out if only one or 2 balls can fit into a ball drop is a great example of problem solving.

Matching the red ball to the hole outlined in red is a fun way to learn about colors, same/different, categorization, etc.

Now throw in some guided play and you can subtly teach your child without having to really take on the role of “teacher”.

I always recommend guided play for the 0-3 age group.

This means you are playing alongside your child.

But you are also following your child’s lead and letting them guide the play and interactions.

Your role is to comment on what your child is doing, expand single words they may be using into multi word phrases, model correct pronunciation (without expecting your child to repeat back) and have fun!

Be sure to also make time for some independent play.  This can be done when you need some downtime like when prepping meals.

What Does This All Mean?

As you can see, there are many ways to “teach” and engage your toddler without setting up a form preschool environment in your home.

There are so many things that you can do together to encourage learning.  

Here are just a few examples:

♥ running errands

♥ having a bath

♥  finger painting

♥ playing with a toy farm set

♥ making a simple (and age appropriate) craft

♥ reading books together

♥ and so many more!

Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in early academic skills to try and give your toddler an advantage.

Focusing on these skills (ABC’s and 123’s) can end up to be detrimental to your child as she gets older.

Keep it simple and have fun!

Pinterest is a great place for ideas, but it can also suck you in and make you feel like a terrible parent when in fact you are probably already great!


  1. Travis

    I have heard about these home preschool programs, and I am glad now that we didn’t do something like this with our kids! They already start school so early like you said, and  to start a program like this even early seems a little too much! There are already so many ways that our children can learn without putting any extra pressure on them. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      You’re welcome Travis!  Yes, children are always learning and it’s best to save the explicit teaching until they are older and have developed the foundation skills they need for future success. 

  2. Theresa

    I wanted to take a moment to comment here from a slightly different perspective. I am the mother of four children and my oldest two are in 1st and 3rd grade. We homeschool and I use work boxes to help them keep track of their assignments, books, supplies, etc for each subject. My 19mo and my 4 year old love their older siblings and frequently want to join the fun so I make up boxes for them to do if they want to sit with us at the table instead of playing nearby. These “lessons” are both fun for my kids and totally optional and that is the spirit that the original “tot school” label was meant for. I am fairly certain that many of the people who originally started posting about tot school would agree wholeheartedly that cuddling up on the couch with a book, going to the park, or giving your toddler paint and play dough beats early academics hands down. Tot school was not meant to be about early academics or giving kids an edge and certainly that work should never be required of a young child. Tot school, at least when I first saw the term in homeschool blogs several years ago, is meant to allow younger children the option of being involved in the school part of the day in a way that didn’t involve scribbling in their older sister’s handwriting book (not that my toddler has done that in the last week…). In some parts of the internet it has grown into something else, just as the early successes that were seen in the HeadStart program lead some families to highly academic and highly competitive preschools. That does not mean that either HeadStart or tot school is inherently bad, just that we cannot generalize their usefulness to everyone.

    I appreciate your warning about the problems with early academics, because they are very real and part of what spurred our decision to homeschool. However, I hope you can also see how “tot school” might have some usefulness for those of us with toddlers who think that scribbling on a coloring page while sitting next to her much adored big sister is just about the best way to spend a morning (or at least 10 minutes of it until she wanders off to play with the pots in the toy kitchen).

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for sharing your viewpoint Theresa. I understand what you are saying and I agree with it.

      But the articles and information I am referring to do not mention anything about homeschooling older siblings.

      For many of these parents this is their first child. Many “tot schoolers” are even selling “tot school” curriculum.

      Any child development professional will tell you that young children learn best through child led exploration along with some guided play. This does not nor should it include worksheets and flashcards.

      If a parent is homeschooling older children and the toddler wants to sit and scribble on a paper next to them, like you said, there is nothing wrong with that.

      My issue is with these toddler curriculums and guides for choosing themes for your tot school in order to ensure the child is meeting developmental milestones.

      These milestones shouldn’t be achieved through adult led activities.

      I feel like I am rambling a bit now so I will leave it at that.

  3. Margaret Welwood

    Thank you for posting this. I babysit my daughter’s preschooler, and see her learning so much through playing on her own and also through guided play. I sometimes take her to play groups or library story times and music times, where she practices taking turns and paying attention to the leader. But there’s no pressure–just joyful imitation of her older sister and the other children in the play groups.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Margret!

      Sounds like you are doing a great job with your Granddaughter! She is getting a great balance of unstructured child led play along with some fun play groups and story time at the library. And of course guided play where an adult interacts with the child is also wonderful during the preschool years!

  4. Janet

    Lots of pertinent and important information here.  I especially like the part kids (and parents) being too “plugged in”. Your suggestions for unplugging and spending quality time together or learning through play were excellent.  Kids need to learn with their hands and include imagination for their best development. 

    I agree that it’s not good for them to feel like they are at “school” when they are at home.

    Thank you for the suggestions.

  5. angela

    I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve written! I find, especially today with little ones able to navigate their way around electronic devices such as ipads just as well, if not better, than adults, that too much stimulation is not necessarily a good thing. And then there’s the flip side, if we plan all our children’s activities, how are they to learn to use their imagination and initiative?

    I think it’s so important that children learn to ‘be’, and not need constant stimulation like a lot of us adults seem to (having the internet in our pocket doesn’t help, and I think this issue is going to become more apparent as our children grow older, us as adults are easily sucked into our devices, and these devices weren’t around when we were children).

    Children learn through observation and interaction. Life will get busy enough when they hit school. I have four children, and have found ‘I’m bored’ is often a consequence of planning too much for them – they don’t learn to ‘look’ for things to do, they expect someone else to keep them constantly entertained. This seems to be more so (dare I say!) with only children (not all, just some), as only children tend to have more one on one adult interaction compared to interaction with siblings, and are often not left to entertain themselves.

    I think flexible, open plans are best, rather than scheduling in activities from dawn to dusk. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Angela.  Flexible, open plans really are the best as you say.  A young, typically developing (meaning there are no disabilities) does not need “theme of the week” activities scheduled for her. 

      I am not saying to have a free for all every day.  Younger children, like toddlers, will need adult guidance in play to learn best.  But this can be done by suggesting a few activities such as drawing or playing in the water.  

      There is no need to have a list of planned activities that you go through with your child.  That is too much structure.

  6. SmileAfresh

    Hi Tanya,
    I liked this article because it is factual and practical. Let’s not make things all to official at home for kids and toddlers. They need space to play and grow.

    From experience with my young son (started school earlier this year), he got happier, more fulfilling days anytime I could give him a lead into an activity, then let him go about it himself. For instance, if I found out that he got rather bored playing in-house with stuff, there used to be a place where he could run around in a circuit just outside the house. So I could make the first few strides with him leading (never let him feel a loser!) and then he could go on and on while I cheer him on. This influenced even our neighbor’s twins of his age and we could almost make a team of runners. We made it an impromptu sport- any day any available time. Or I could take up my guitar and give him his tiny one, and we could enjoy strumming notes together, and so on. This really made him grow a jovial boy.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment.  “Let’s not make things all to official at home for kids and toddlers” is a great summary of the points I am trying to make.  Kids need time to be kids.  They will have so many years of formal schooling ahead of them.  

  7. FreddieC

    I so agree with you. Toddlers don’t need to be confined to these rigid schedules of “school”. They need to play and explore and do “baby things”.
    Where I am from in the Caribbean, I notice a lot of parents these days, not setting up preschool at home, but actually sending off their little ones to school. Some of these children are barely potty trained. Some parents hope that their child will gain an intellectual advantage (which they will not). Some parent just need somewhere to send their children so they don’t have to spend large sums of money on child care. Whatever their reason, the toddler misses out and gains no advantage over the child who starts school at 6 years old.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Freddie,

      It is common in North America as well for children to go to preschool.  I sent my kids to daycare for socialization 2 days a week, and so I could get work done.  

      I made sure that this daycare center was play based.  I wanted my kids to have a lot of free time to play and explore.  There were some day cares (and preschools) that I looked at that were very focused on “letter of the day” and that sort of thing.  

      I do feel that it is good for children to be around peers as long as their is no pressure to “learn”

      But I agree that formal education should not start until a child is 6.

  8. Kira | A Better Life Lived

    So many great points. I used to be a childcare teacher and the rigidity of some places on even 5 year olds was, I thought, unreasonable. They are kids. Let them be kids!
    I can attest that using teaching opportunities during play works!
    My son didn’t speak until nearing two but he was absorbing everything we said to him. When he did start speaking, he quickly could identify all of his letters and numbers (out of order). He also knew several shapes and all of his colors. Over the course of a couple months he went from not speaking at all to saying several word sentences, adding 20+ words a day, and singing songs. He knows more than we thought he did and continues to amaze us every day! They really do pick up everything you teach during play!

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Kira! Ideally children under the age of 6 should be building the foundations that they will need to succeed later on. These foundation skills are learned through play during the early years and include problem solving, social skills, cause and effect, prediction, vocabulary building, etc.

      A 2, 3 or even 4 year old should not be sitting at a desk partaking in activity after activity set out by an adult. This is not optimal learning for children.

      I am happy to hear that your son did end up speaking and that he is doing well now. Keep it up and keep letting him play!


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