“A Do-It-Yourself Nursery School,” Ensign, Aug. 1978, 70–72
My preschool children love to attend their nursery school. They learn about people, plants, animals, places, and seasons. They frequently go on field trips. They make little art projects that we display in our home. They learn how to interact with others, and in the process, prepare for the day when they enter school.
The cost? A little of my time. The place? Our home. The rewards? Closer family ties and happier, better informed children.
Four years ago, when our oldest son turned four, we found ourselves wondering whether or not to send him to a preschool program. Of course, we wanted him to do well when he actually began school, and many of our friends told us of the great things that had come from sending their children to nursery school. But we also remembered the Lord’s admonition to parents to teach their own children. (See D&C 68:28.)
Why couldn’t we have our own nursery school? Since the influence and time that parents have with their children lessens and changes when they enter school, why send them out of the home any sooner than is needful?
We talked with several preschool experts both in the public school system and in private schools. One of these “experts,” a nonmember, said that she personally would like to see all families do what we were trying to do. With this kind of encouragement, we read numerous books and periodicals on the subject. Then on a trial-and-error basis, we developed our program.
It is working so well that we would like to share our ideas with others. Both mom and dad can be involved in these steps.
First, write down a list of all the subjects that you would like to cover during the year. Here is our list and the approximate order in which the items have been covered: (a) school (what we will be doing), (b) me and myself (what our body does, for example), (c) families, (d) homes, (e) fall, (f) harvest and foods, (g) Halloween, (h) birds, (i) helpers in our community, (j) Thanksgiving, (k) Christmas, (l) winter, (m) transportation (trucks, buses, etc.), (n) fish, (o) health and safety, (p) Valentine’s Day, (q) spring, (r) Easter, (s) flowers, (t) insects, (u) plants and planting, (v) children in other lands, (w) farms, (x) domestic animals, (y) wild animals and the zoo, and (z) the world around us (stars, rivers, etc.).
Your list could be greater or smaller, depending upon your locale and the interest of your children.
Second, make a file folder for each topic. My husband and I went through old issues of the Friend and other magazines, clipping or noting stories or activities on each topic. The public library was also a rich resource for books of various subjects, including craft ideas that we could incorporate into various themes. As we have continued through the years, we have found new pictures and stories to add. I even looked through recipe books in order to find treats and surprises that could be used with some of the topics. In an old New England cookbook, for instance, I found a recipe for “Snow Cakes” that called for six tablespoons of clean, fresh snow. What fun it was during our week on winter to gather the snow for our treat!
Third, decide just how many days you are going to have your nursery school and then divide the topics up accordingly. We found that a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule worked out best for us. After determining this, decide how many days to take to cover each topic. We stretched some areas out into several weeks. For instance, our unit on food was divided into various sections covering each food area. On the day we talked about vegetables we made a vegetable man, talked about all the different vegetables, and then cut vegetables into various shapes to eat as our treat. During that unit we also had a day when we talked about water and all the things that could be done with it. We froze it, turned it into steam, colored it, and tasted it. Of course, that day included a bath which we colored with a little food coloring to make it even more fun.
Fourth, make a chart and plan what you will discuss each week and each day of the week. (See chart.) At the same time, determine the approximate length of time to be spent each day. Unless we are taking a trip outside the home, we have found that an hour and a half is good for most days. We start out with an introduction. (I talk about the subject for the day, often using our children’s encyclopedias as a reference.) Then I read or tell a story on the subject. That is followed by a break with either a song, record, or finger play. Then we do some kind of art work, craft, or project. Finally, on most days we have a little treat. The methods that you might use would depend upon your own children and their needs.
What are birds?
Parts of a bird and what they are for: feathers, beak, feet
Talk about different homes for birds
What do birds eat?
Show pictures of birds not in the area
Talk about why they live in other places
“Sky Alley”—The Friend July ’74
“Scritchy Scratchy” The Friend June ’73
“The Lost Thing” The Friend—May ’74
“Winter Fun & Friends” The Friend—Oct. ’73
“The Trumpeter Swan” The Friend—May ’75
“The Ruby Throated Humming Bird” The Friend—Feb. ’73
Fingerplays, records, songs
“In the Leafy Tree Tops”—G5, Sing with Me
“Birds Move Their Wings” p. 54—Activity Songs & Verses
“Birds in the Trees” p. 51
Fingerplays—p. 60. Activity Songs and Verses
Visit bird section of pet store or aviary if weather is good
Art work, crafts, projects
Color drawings of different familiar birds: Robin, Blue Jay, Goldfinch
String Cheerios and cranberries for birds
Make sweet cakes (peanut butter & seeds in egg carton cups)
none—since we’ll be away from home
Popcorn—Put leftovers out for the birds
Peanut butter treats
none—since we’ll be away from home
Finally, commit yourself to doing this for your children. Of course, it takes time and preparation, but it is well worth all the effort.
My four-year-old can’t wait for nursery school to begin each day. I try to time it so that my baby is down for a nap, and then my two other preschoolers sit down with me. My two-year-old’s attention span is naturally not very long right now, so I also try to provide him with other toys to amuse him at the same time.
Nursery school has also been a good opportunity for my older two children to help prepare things for the little ones to use. They help mount pictures and clip stories. My eight-year-old has mentioned many times a story that he has just read or something he has done in school that we could use. On days when they’ve been out of school because of snow, the older children have even been the teachers.
One thing that has been very enlightening is the discovery of so many resource people and activities right in our own community. For instance, one of the men in our ward, a policeman, willingly showed my son his patrol car one day, even demonstrating his siren and lights. For the same unit, we arranged a quiet tour of the local fire station. Now our children understand how much help we receive from our policemen and firemen.
There are many opportunities in every community. During a unit on “helpers in the community,” you might arrange a visit to the post office, bakery, or pharmacy. There are innumerable stores and businesses that are more than willing to have you come to visit. During a unit on plants and growing things, visit a nursery or a flower store. When talking about milk, try to visit a dairy or even just the dairy section of your local grocery store to talk about all the things that come from milk. When discussing fish, visit a pet store so that your children can see the fish swimming around rather than just pictures in books. Of course, a trip to the zoo would be on the agenda during the unit on wild animals.
During a transportation unit, arrange a trip on a city bus or a visit to the airport and train station. Our daughter jumped up and down the whole time on her first bus ride, and we plan on one for the little boys, too, when that unit comes up in a few months. Since we don’t live near any water where a ship can be seen, we had to rely upon library books and stories for that unit.
When discussing birds, we bought some bird seed and made a feeder. When we talked about farms, we visited the little farm of one of my husband’s home-teaching families. Our little boys were fascinated to see the mother churning her cream into butter. They were thrilled to see the chickens cluck around and the cow feed her new calf.
All of these activities can’t be arranged in every community, but I think you would be surprised at how much you can find. The opportunities are endless if you just use a little imagination and planning. And be sure to involve dad and the rest of the family in these field trips. Plan some of the trips when they are available so that the whole family can learn together.
Flexibility is an important thing to keep in mind, and this is one of the reasons why it is wise to plan at least a month in advance. This year, during the week that we were to talk about snow and winter, the weather was mild and there wasn’t any snow anywhere. So we had to quickly make a change and talk about fish instead. Fortunately, I had planned ahead so it wasn’t too difficult to change. And it’s hard for a child to fly a kite or to visualize what spring breezes and flowers are like when the wind is still blustery and streets are impassable.
The key to the whole nursery program in our home, however, is that we try to present everything in a gospel setting. We consistently stress our thankfulness to our Heavenly Father for his many blessings and for the things he has given us. We always open and dose with a prayer. And I rely heavily upon the inspiration of the Spirit to guide me in knowing what to present and how to present it.
When planting a garden in the springtime, remind the children that Adam was told by the Lord to tend the Garden of Eden. When studying the stars, tell them the story of Abraham and how the Lord showed him all the stars in the heavens and taught him about the universe. When talking about water, tell them about Noah and the rainbow. After visiting with a policeman, stress the importance of honesty, obedience, and respect for property.
As we have weighed the advantages and disadvantages of the program now in its fourth year, we have come to the following conclusions: our children have had no problems adjusting to school and leaving home for that time each day. Rather, since they seem to have adjusted to learning situations in our home, they are eager and willing to start kindergarten. Because they associate with other children at Primary, Sunday School, in the Relief Society nursery, and in the neighborhood, they have many chances for social interaction, and it is not hard for them to make the adjustments to being with other children in school. And when the baby is awake and our two-year-old is restless, the ratio of teacher to children is still only one to three, which is much better than in any commercial nursery program.
The only disadvantage, if there is one, is that there is a definite amount of time involved in preparation and organization for each day’s study. But we all spend time each week in preparation for our various Church callings, and what greater call do we have than that of being parents in Zion? After the initial preparation and material gathering, the work is minimal.
Our purpose in having a home nursery is not simply to try to teach our children to read or count at a young age, but to look to their parents as a source of knowledge and understanding. Of course, we do teach our children skills such as the handling of scissors, crayons, and glue. But we also hope we are teaching them to put the knowledge that they gain throughout their lives into a gospel context. And we hope that they are learning to apply the scripture stories to their own lives and to the things that they are learning about.
One day last fall, after our four-year-old visited an excellent nursery school in the community, he came home saying that he liked our nursery school better because he could be with mommy. That helped me know that all the effort was worth it. There are few joys equal to teaching your children within the walls of your own home! Jill Wonnacott Dunford, Kettering, Ohio.