When my son turned three, I semi-panicked about preschool. I had been playing around (no pun intended) with the idea of homeschooling but had no clue where to start. With a newborn at home, I felt tired and overwhelmed.
I thought, “Play-based learning at home sounds like fun…but is it enough to help my preschooler build a strong academic foundation?”
If you’ve had your eye on Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool curriculum, you may share the concerns I had before embarking on our homeschooling preschool journey.
I recently completed a full 190 days of at-home learning with my three-year-old, and I’m ready to share my honest feedback in this Busy Toddler Playing Preschool review.
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- What is the Busy Toddler Playing Preschool program?
- My Honest Review of the Busy Toddler Playing Preschool Curriculum
- The last thing you need to know about the Busy Toddler Playing Preschool program
What is the Busy Toddler Playing Preschool program?
Susie Allison, former Kindergarten and 1st-grade teacher, mother of three, and creator of the renowned busytoddler.com developed the Playing Preschool curriculum.
Playing Preschool Year 1 is a full-year, 190-day preschool curriculum designed for at-home, play-based learning. It’s intended for children ages 2.5 through 5 years old and takes approximately 45-minutes per day (5 days a week).
The program provides guidance and support for loving, busy parents who want to teach their children at home. There is no teaching experience required!
Busy Toddler also offers a 190-day Playing Preschool Year 2 curriculum designed for children who have already completed the Year 1 program.
What is play-based learning?
Play-based learning stems from the idea that children are naturally curious and creative. Young children learn best through play, exploration, and using their imaginations. Playing Preschool lessons are filled with unique sensory bin ideas, interactive games, and open-ended art.
Play-based learning is not about teaching kids information, but rather how to learn.
Throughout the Playing Preschool program, Susie urges parents to focus on “teaching kids how to think.” She emphasizes that the ability to think and problem-solve is far more important than the sheer memorization of letters and numbers.
My Honest Review of the Busy Toddler Playing Preschool Curriculum
I started Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool program nearly a month after my son turned three. We did not keep to a strict Monday-Friday schedule, instead completed the activities when they worked for us.
This flexibility worked out beautifully! I also had a newborn, which allowed us to adjust to her ever-changing nap routine. We took full weeks off here and there for travel and holidays. In what felt like a blink of an eye, we completed the full program “right on time” shortly before my son’s 4th birthday.
I’m eager to share with you Playing Preschool’s key features and what we liked/didn’t like about the curriculum.
Key features of the Busy Toddler Playing Preschool program include:
- Instant download PDF
- 190-day program
- Requires mostly everyday household items & toys
- Diverse unit topics
- Step-by-step daily lessons
- Flexible & open-ended activities
- Year-long alphabet book project
- Playing Preschool Year 2 program option
Instant Download PDF
Busy Toddler sells the Playing Preschool program only as a digital download PDF file. This makes the curriculum incredibly affordable (at the time of this post, Year 1 sells for just $39.90!).
The Playing Preschool Year 1 PDF file is well over 300 pages, so you’ll want to factor in additional printing costs.
Playing Preschool is a 19-unit curriculum filled with 190 days of learning and activities for children ages 2.5-5 years of age. It’s “evergreen,” meaning you can start at any time.
If you reside in the continental United States and opt to start Playing Preschool Year 1 in late August/early September, you will find the units are most seasonally appropriate. For example, the “Apples” unit will occur in the fall, “Plants” during spring, and “Water” just before summer.
We started Playing Preschool Year 1 in June, and it was no big deal!
Requires Mostly Everyday Household Items & Toys
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more cost-effective preschool curriculum than Playing Preschool. 90% of the supplies I already had in my home before we began.
As pictured above, I did opt to purchase a small utility cart and two storage caddies to help keep things organized. We used it to hold our arts & crafts supplies, unit books, and a binder containing our hard/printed copy of the Playing Preschool curriculum.
Playing Preschool starts each day with a morning calendar routine. You can use any calendar, but ideally, it should include the month, day, year, and weather.
We already had this magnetic calendar, which worked great for Year 1! In Year 2, we opted for a pocket calendar to hone in on counting into the double-digits.
Each 2-week unit has a suggested reading list of about 6 different children’s books. We opted to borrow all of our books from our local library for free.
Diverse Unit Topics
Playing Preschool is divided up into 19, 2-week-long units, each with a focus topic. Each unit has 1-2 focus letters as well.
You may notice that Playing Preschool does not cover the alphabet “in order.” Teaching kids the alphabet song and calling it a day overemphasizes letter names and doesn’t build a foundational understanding of letter sounds.
When you begin each unit, you’ll receive a brief overview of the topic, a supply list (90% of the time I already had everything in my home), and a booklist. You’ll also see a “week at a glance” sheet to quickly reference which activities and books go with which day (I rarely needed this).
Each day begins with a unit poem and song, which was a great way to get my baby involved!
I can honestly say my son was consistently excited to learn about each new unit topic. Many of them included a themed sensory bin activity that was always a big win at our house for some independent exploration and play.
I would order and reserve our books 1-2 weeks in advance from our local library and never spent a dime on reading materials.
Step-by-Step Daily Lessons
Each day’s lesson fits on a single sheet of paper, which I loved! I would try to spend 3-5 minutes each evening setting up for the next day, but this did not always happen. Fortunately, it was still easy to read through the directions and set up while supervising a baby and toddler.
Each daily lesson takes approximately 45-minutes and includes:
- Opening: Unit song & poem, daily calendar routine
- Topic Introduction: 1-3 simple questions to get your child thinking about the unit topic
- Read Aloud*: The designated book for the day with a few corresponding prompts
- Things to Talk About: Deeper-level questions about the unit topic
- Learning Activity: A play-based academic activity, typically related to letters, numbers, or shapes
- Easy Activity: A fun, hands-on art activity, sensory bin, science experiment, etc.
*You can complete these activities anywhere, anytime! I started doing our daily read-aloud while my kids were eating breakfast or in the bathtub to avoid my newly mobile baby grabbing the book/tearing the pages. The beauty of homeschooling is it doesn’t have to look like a traditional, brick-and-mortar school.
Flexible & Open-Ended Activities
If you’re like me, you may be wondering, “How can a curriculum be appropriate for both a 2.5-year-old and a 5-year-old?”
My answer is Playing Preschool is designed by an experienced teacher. Susie knows how to tailor a single lesson to meet the different needs of multiple students. Many activities offer an “extension” option to up the level of difficulty as needed. She also emphasizes that mastery of many concepts is not expected or required in preschool.
I also found the lessons easy to tweak and adapt to cater to my child’s interests. For example, we would often use his treasured set of 10 Paw Patrol finger puppets as “counters” or even involve them in our daily discussion questions!
Many parents worry homeschooling a stubborn toddler will feel like an impossible task! Fortunately, a play-based, child-led approach keeps power struggles out of the learning process.
Year-Long Alphabet Book Project
Both Playing Preschool Year 1 and Year 2 include a fun, year-long alphabet book project. Your child will complete 1-2 letters per unit, decorated with the corresponding letter sound (e.g., “N” is for “Noodle”).
Although the activities in both years will reinforce upper and lowercase letters, Year 1’s book consists of only uppercase letters and Year 2 of lowercase letters. Year 2 has a greater emphasis on phonics.
We would periodically look back through my son’s book, which was a great way to reinforce letter sounds. Since he created the book, he could easily recall “K is for Kite,” “S is for Snake,” etc.
Preschoolers take great pride in this big project! My son loved showing off the new pages in his book each time his grandparents visited.
Playing Preschool Year 1 vs. Year 2
Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool includes 2 curriculum options. So what’s the difference, and which is best for your child?
Playing Preschool Year 1
Playing Preschool Year 1 is designed for children ages 2.5 to 5. No preschool experience or foundational knowledge is required! If your child already knows their alphabet and can count, this program will still challenge them with a deeper understanding.
Playing Preschool Year 2
Playing Preschool Year 2 is designed only for children who have completed the Year 1 curriculum. Even if your preschooler is older, Susie still advises starting with Year 1. Remember, the lessons are adaptable and many activities offer ideas to make things more challenging as needed.
Year 2 dives deeper into phonics (letter sounds), double-digit numbers, and classifying information. It also assumes the parent/educator has the foundational teaching skills taught in the Year 1 program.
My son loved Playing Preschool! During Year 1, he also adjusted to his new life as a brother. Playing Preschool offered a daily opportunity to connect one-on-one and give him some much-needed individual attention while his sister napped.
Now in Year 2, my youngest child (now age 1) adores taking part in the songs and stories too!
My preschooler’s favorite activities were the alphabet letter scavenger hunts and themed sensory bins. Months later he still requests that I make him a “farm bin,” which will engage him for up to 45 minutes of solo play.
My son’s least favorite activity was the daily calendar routine. Luckily, Playing Preschool provides catchy songs to reinforce the days of the week, months of the year, etc. If he didn’t feel up to doing the physical calendar, I would simply sing the song at some point in the day. He still learned the concepts.
Full disclosure, I worked as a school counselor before staying home with my kids and have classroom teaching experience. However, I’ve mostly taught social/emotional skills. The idea of building an academic foundation felt pretty daunting before we started.
I also worried about finding the time to teach with a new baby. I wondered if a play-based program would be “enough” since it didn’t include worksheets or focus on any handwriting skills.
All of my concerns melted away once we started. I spent about 20 minutes reading the introductory information provided to parents/educators in the Playing Preschool program, and the rest I learned alongside my son.
When I started Playing Preschool I was about 50/50 on whether or not we would continue with homeschool long-term. After Playing Preschool, I am 100% hooked! We love the flexibility, creativity, and family connection that homeschooling provides.
What I like/dislike about Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool Curriculum
My favorite things about Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool program include:
- Convenience: Although technically a “5-day a week” program, Playing Preschool never got in the way of playdates, trips to the farm, or regular downtime at home. We did it when it worked for us.
- Effectiveness: You may not always see changes day-to-day, but you will be astonished by the end of the year! My son grew leaps and bounds in his problem-solving, counting, lowercase letter recognition, and familiarity with letter sounds.
- Fun Factor: Playing Preschool lessons speak the language of preschoolers: PLAY! Kids look forward to the activities and gain a love of learning.
- Curriculum Layout: The curriculum is easy to read and practical for parent educators with no experience.
My least favorite things about Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool program include:
- Popularity: Playing Preschool is SO popular it can be hard to get your hands on the recommended children’s books through your local library! Luckily, these titles are only a suggestion. Any book on the unit topic will work just fine.
- No writing activities: There are zero handwriting activities or worksheets. Playing Preschool aims to build the most important thinking and problem-solving skills. While I fully support this concept, my 4-year-old is eager to learn how to write his name, etc. We are using this supplemental Pre-K handwriting curriculum alongside Playing Preschool Year 2, and it’s working great!
- Knowledge of child-led learning: To reduce preschool power struggles, I feel most parent educators would benefit from a foundation in child-led learning (or positive discipline). By making tweaks along the way and playing to your child’s unique interests, you will get the most from Playing Preschool.
How to get started with Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool Curriculum
You can purchase the Playing Preschool programs directly from the Busy Toddler shop page. Since it’s an “evergreen,” downloadable curriculum, you can buy, print, and begin learning immediately at any point in the year!
How to save the most on Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool
If your preschooler has more than a year of at-home learning before Kindergarten, consider purchasing both Playing Preschool Year 1 and Year 2 together to save money. At the time of this post’s publication, the bundle pack retails for $69.80 (Busy Toddler sets the price, which is subject to change).
At less than $1 per week of learning, this is as close as you’ll likely find to free, high-quality preschool education at home.
The last thing you need to know about the Busy Toddler Playing Preschool program
While my son’s education is top-priority, Playing Preschool was a low-risk decision for our family. The affordability provided peace of mind that it didn’t have to be a forever decision.
Since Playing Preschool is packed with so many fun-filled ideas to keep toddlers busy, I was sure we would still use it even if we eventually opted for traditional preschool.
One year later and we have joined the thousands of Playing Preschool fanatics around the globe! I’m already counting the months until my youngest child is old enough to get our Year 1 curriculum back out.
What questions do you have about our experience with Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool program? Let’s connect in the comments below.
You’ve got this!