Any teacher or homeschooling parent can attest that you can spend hours and hours and hours planning your lessons. But, there is not always a need to spend so much time planning when with a few simple steps, taken in the right order, you can easily plan an entire year’s worth of preschool lesson plans in advance of the first day of school.
I used to be a hyper lesson planner. When I taught public school, I was that teacher who spent her summers lesson planning, and treated it like an 8-5 job. My first summer I wrote 5th grade science lesson plans, since my school didn’t have a curriculum, the following summer was spent lesson planning for writing instruction. Even when I was participating in a preschool co-op, my lesson plans were detailed, exact, and left not a minute to spare. I crammed as much in as I possibly could in a single day.
But those highly detailed daily lesson plans were not appropriate for preschoolers.
I no longer plan with such detailed lessons. I found that planning such specifics for an entire year is exhausting. I also found out that year in preschool co-op that preschoolers are rather unpredictable. That they need time to absorb the information you give them. They need to learn at their own pace and experiment and discover with you. That you, the teacher, need to be facilitating and guiding instruction, not demanding specific products.
So, I’ve changed my way of planning. But, why do I still plan an entire year at once, you ask? Because I like having it done so that I can focus on my implementation and teaching, instead of stressing about what I will teach the following day. I like having all my ideas recorded in one place so that I don’t forget that one brilliant idea before I have a chance to teach it.
By planning in advance, I also already know what I plan to teach and therefore only have to gather materials and manipulatives.
Overall, this allows me to spend more time with my family and less time planning for preschool. Keep reading, though, and you will see that having a year’s worth of lesson plans already set forth does not mean I am scripting my teaching. There is still plenty of room for tweaking and change as my students’ needs demonstrate.
My system is straight-forward and easy to follow. Just a few steps and a few hours and you can also plan your lessons for an entire year!
Update: This post has received so much attention that I have written a follow-up series that describes each step in more detail. Please see the links at the end of this post.
Four Easy Steps to Preschool Lesson Planning
1.) Create a Calendar
The first step is to create a calendar of your year. Now that I have turned teaching preschool into an business, this is especially important as it helps me keep the parents informed. I print off a blank calendar from print-a-calendar.com and start writing down important dates.
Things to consider including:
- when to begin school
- holiday breaks
- personal breaks or appointments
- holiday parties to celebrate as a preschool
- other possible interruptions (for me…it has been maternity leave)
I also include in this calendar a general scope and sequence for the year. I number each week that I am teaching, and then label those weeks according to what I am teaching in reading and math. For example, in week one I will be teaching the letter Mm and focusing on number sense skills in math. At the top of each month I write down “monthly” focus concepts, like the theme, number of the month, and also the shape and color of the month. I also have that same information printed into a table, laying out each month’s focus concepts.
2.) Decide On How To Teach Reading and Math
I have written my own reading lesson plans. They are the most specific part of my instruction. I mostly stick to what I have written because they are fun for the kids and effective. My preschool parents love my program! They introduce a new letter each week. They have oral language, phonological awareness and phonics components. The skills introduced are incremental, and therefore are taught in a specific sequence. I seldom deviate from these plans. Accompanying these plans, however, are play-based, hands-on whole alphabet activities to serve as reinforcement to support the direct instruction.
*** UPDATE! ***
*** Because of reader interest, I now sell my preschool literacy lesson plans! You can purchase each component individually, or you can purchase them as a bundle for a discounted price! They can also be purchased from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.***
Math, however, it different. There are five disciplines of math (number sense, algebra, geometry, measurement, and data analysis), and I spiral through each discipline focusing on one discipline each week, (with the exception of data analysis for my 3-4’s class, which I don’t introduce until the second half of the year).
So, that means that week one I focus on number sense skills, week two algebra skills, week three geometry, and so on. Then, we loop through those disciplines again. I teach the same concept for the entire week (both days of preschool), and we typically even do the exact same activities on the second day of preschool as the first.
I have found from experience that preschoolers enjoy the repeating activities on the second day of instruction as it allows them to experience more mastery. This works well because I only have to think up one activity per week, and also because my preschool program is only two days a week. I do this for the entire year. One activity a week means 35 ideas to come up with, instead of 70.
Pretty fast and simple.
I keep the activity simple enough to relay the focus concept in the most straight-forward manner, and when possible I like to keep math activities theme related. (See #3 below). But, these activities are not set in stone. I allow myself the freedom to tweak or ignore them if I think of something better, or if my students request more time with a specific concept or activity.
*** UPDATE ***
*** Because of reader interest, I now sell my preschool math lesson plans! These are not the thematic lessons I mention above, but these are complete lesson plans that include everything you need to teach preschool math for an entire year. You can purchase each unit individually (there are nine of them), or you can purchase them as a bundle for a discounted price! They can also be purchased from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.***
Once these activities have been introduced, I often keep them available to use as math centers to support the direct math instruction.
3.) Decide On Preschool Themes
Now, some teachers and homeschooling parents prefer to plan themes only a month or few weeks in advance because they use the input and interest of their students to guide those thematic choices.
I don’t do this so much.
I select themes based on what is appropriate for the age, what I know will interest my students based on their age and developmental skills, and finally, what I am interested in. I believe this last point is as important as the second. The teacher must have a strong interest in the content as well as the students. I have found that the more enthusiastic I am about a theme the better I teach it. I use my own enthusiasm to get my students super excited about the topics and activities.
It is worth mentioning that not every theme is appropriate for every group of preschoolers. For example, this last school year when I taught my Bridges Theme to my 4-5’s class, my daughter who had just turned three got very frustrated when we tested our bridges’ strength and they fell apart (which was the point). I quickly learned that a 4-5’s class may be mature enough for such a theme, whereas a 3-4’s class might not be. So, this fall some themes I will be teaching are themes I know will capture the interest of younger preschoolers, like farms, sound and music, winter, and gardening.
4.) Create A List of Suggested Activities for Preschool Lessons
The final step is to develop a list of suggested activities based on the themes you have selected. I make a table listing the month and theme with a list of activities regarding that theme. Knowing that I typically have eight teaching days in a given month, I make a list of ten to twelve activities. They are simply suggestions I am making to myself, and can be changed or ignored.
Once the month is upon me, I pick and choose what activities I’ll teach based on how my students are responding to the theme. I rely heavily on Pinterest for inspiration, sometimes exactly copying pins and sometimes those pins spark something completely new, which I then share on my blog.
I try to keep the activities simple, yet still valuable to learning. For example, as part of my Autumn Theme I taught a few years ago, I invited the students to go on a nature walk with me to collect signs of fall. We bagged the items and shared them as a class, discussing the similarities and differences, as well as the textures, colors, and how they smelled. Then I invited the students to talk about what they saw when we examined our signs of autumn with a magnifying glass. We sorted and classified the items.
As you can see, these activities are relatively simple, nothing overly elaborate that requires extensive materials and planning, but they are still valuable experiences in the education of my preschool class.
Lesson Planning for an Entire Year
Well, there you have it. In four easy steps and you have planned an entire year’s worth of preschool instruction, and still allowed yourself the flexibility to make changes to the instructional plans as you see necessary. I cannot stress enough how lesson planning this way has saved me so much time and energy, not to mention how much it has eliminated the stress of planning.
Like I said before, planning a year in advance allows me to focus on the quality of my instruction, making sure it is good and beneficial to my students, which in turn means that preschool is more enjoyable to everyone, including myself.
Update: This post has received so much attention that I have written a follow-up series that describes each step in more detail.
Step 1: Create a Calendar
Step 2: Decide on How to Teach Reading and Math
Step 3: Decide on Themes
Step 4: Create a List of Suggested Activities
Step 5: Wrapping it All Up – BONUS POST
Join our community!