A Year of Playing Skillfully


We just wrapped up our first year with The HomeGrown Preschooler.  I’ve been trying to post through our experience by writing a post a month and I must admit, this spring got away from me. But I do plan on posting about our last few months in the coming weeks! For now, I could not hold back my thoughts on our first year with this curriculum and decided to do our yearly wrap up first.


Friends, its amazing to me now that once upon a time, I felt I needed permission to have the year we just had. I didn’t realize just how deep the tentacles of modern education had penetrated my perspective as a parent and teacher. When I bought this curriculum at last year’s FPEA convention, I was a weepy, frightened mess. We were struggling to find options for our youngest. His evaluations at our local early intervention center were mightily discouraging. We also needed something for our third born son who was nearly five at the time. After hearing both Lesli Richards and Kathy Lee speak at FPEA (and crying all over them!) I came home with a bag full of curriculum and a boatload of hope.

I am moved to tears even now as I look back at how much cracking open those books meant to me.  We dove in and life started changing for my boys. Their childhood began its metamorphosis. I said, “yes!” and they said “YESSSSSS!!!!”


See that dirty face and that big smile and those arms creeping out to the side as his “airplane ride” progresses, that moment when he finally, finally, FINALLY, starts letting go? Thats my little guy. He is so brave. I always wonder how intense the daily battles are for him. I wish I could get inside his head and know for myself. But for as hard as those battles are, my brave boy is having a beautiful childhood. Not because of the material things around him, but because he is loved and given the freedom every single day to be a little boy.


See those dirty hands? Those hands have been hard at play this year. Even the hands belonging to the older brothers—those hands still needed play, were starved for play, and I almost missed it! I’m so glad that I made the concentrated effort to give them as much time to play and discover as I could. They are growing into themselves and that is hard work, playing is one of the greatest tools they have to daily sculpt who they will one day become.


See that basket of ribbon and tiny toob birds? That was our go to manipulative this year. He didn’t want to do every single thing listed each month. I had to be ok with that. He fell in love with these little birds and I am so glad that he did. They taught him empathy. They taught him storytelling. They taught him about life.


Speaking of story telling, see that book? #3’s favorite read this year by far. I think I will always have this image in my mind. Sitting in his Great Grandmother’s chair, wrapped in the blanket I made him, waiting for the cookies to finish baking, reading aloud the words he memorized while they were lovingly read aloud to him the night before. There is so much in this picture that is tactile to me. I can feel the warmth and security and love and simplicity and joy. It belongs to him. How great is that? This did not take a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education to accomplish. It just took one word, “yes.” It took intention and love. Speaking of intention…


See those hands busily chopping and preparing dinner? Say “yes” to letting kids do things they are more than able to do for themselves. We moved everything around this year to help them become even more independent. Wind in the sails! They are capable of so much.


Here is a look at one example of Math time. No worksheets to be found. Just one happy boy in his favorite apron, looking through the recipe on the last page of “The Moon Might be Milk.” Measuring, counting, pouring, mixing. We made the most delicious moon cookies that day.


Sometimes we played inside, and they surprised me with what they were absorbing and creating and testing. We took our time with those activities. It was funny watching their approach. Looking back, I see an organic Classical approach that was child initiated and the geek in me thrills over it.
Grammar: What are the parts to this and what makes it what it is? Give me the vocabulary for this activity, please!
Dialectic: Now I have a zillion questions, please answer them all. Mm Hmm, okay. Now here are a zillion other questions I have come up with based on those answers and I will now test everything using a ketchup, the dog, a piece of string and a balloon.
Rhetoric: I am the boss at this. I shall now teach my younger brother.

All the feels.


We spent a large amount of time outdoors and I realized that all those outdoor activities listed each month were slow enablers of courage and creativity and determination. Like tiny little training camps of fun that when set in the great outdoors unleashed a great big whirlwind of “I CAN DO THIS!!!”


See my precious boy cradling this still warm, fresh out of the nest, chicken egg? He is marveling at this egg. He is beholding the glorious, miraculous bit of nature that is the egg. I am on the other side of the lens, marveling at this little boy who is so confident in his newfound responsibilities. Do we lose a few eggs from time to time? You bet. But I would clean a hundred yolky messes off my kitchen floor with a glad heart to see that look of pride on his face. “I did this for you, Mama!”


Some people are show offs about it by now. 🙂


Toes in the mud.


Books and babes, cradled and savored.


Confidence and independence.

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Imagination and friendship.


The depth of the sensory gymnastics of our year and how they shaped us are difficult to put into words.

My children have had their hands on the world around them. They know the names of the trees in our yard and the birds that pass through our back wood. They know the names of the wild fruit and the trails near our home. They know where the owl lives and where the squirrel keeps it nest. They know where the cardinals like to look for material and they know just where to leave gifts of colorful bits of strings for Mr. Cardinal and his wife to find. They know the sounds of their backyard. They know the weight of the soil and the texture of the rocks. They know the trails the rainfall will take each time it rains. They can make forts and climb trees and make mud pies. They can name the pieces of world around them and put them in their order and know security and surprise.


They know the twinkle of the stars and the sound of laughter. They know that when we sit down to dinner every night, we will sing “The Doxology” together. They know that every day at lunch I will crack open a book and a door to another world will open wide. They know the joy of an unexpected ice cream sundae breakfast and the giddiness of breakfast for dinner and the fun of waking up to a crazy ninja training course in the hallway.  They know how fun it is to throw water beads and how long it takes to clean up water beads. They know that childhood is not just a word, its a mosaic of a hundred memories.


I can go on and on about how the program is structured and how I appreciate the freedom of the outline and the organization of the topics and the obvious love that went into every detail, but the truth is that above all, I valued the encouragement that sizzled out of this curriculum every time I opened the planner. I have opened up certain curriculums that have left me feeling like I had no chance at succeeding. When I opened AYOPS, I didn’t think, “Dang. There is no way I can do this.” I thought, “We can all do this together. Me and every other Mama I know. We could jump in and say yes and let our families and homes take their shape. Forget what its “supposed to look like” and relish what we have and who we have, RIGHT NOW. We can say yes to giving our kids a beautiful childhood and the freedom to be little because they are little.” Really, I think the above almost every day. If I am in the so called “trenches of motherhood,”  I’m in good company and the play doh smells like vanilla chai.

In a world where its the norm to be frightened into taking action, its life giving JOY to be lovingly encouraged into action. I’ve got this. You’ve got this. We’ve got this.


To answer the question that has been coming in from our readers, YES! We are using A Year of Playing Skillfully again next year.


Yes, I think they will still be challenged by it.

And no, I highly, highly doubt they will be bored by a second round. In fact, when I told them we would be doing it again, all four of my children (8-3 years of age) let out a resounding, “YESSSSSSSS!!!!!


18 thoughts on “A Year of Playing Skillfully

  1. I am so excited to check this out. I introduced myself recently and said I would be following your ECC year, but I will also be interested to look back at this journey for you. I will be tackling preschool for the first time with my 4th son, as all the others had attended preschool at our church. He is a unique and bravely inquisitive child. This sounds like just what he needs. And probably what I need to as I keep having to break myself of the “education is school” mode.


  2. I am so jealous!! My youngest is now 14! With I could do those preschool years over! What a blessing this year has been for you!


  3. I am seriously considering this for my 4 year old and also hoping that my almost 8 year old will be able to jump in. Concerned about the cost…do you have to purchase each week/days materials or does it come with a package of curriculum? Of course it looks like a lot of hands on material, which I love, but gets expensive so fast!


  4. I appreciated this review very much! Your boys are absolutely adorable. I’m just in love with the joy, wonder, and curiosity that’s so clearly all over their faces! I’m also a “boy mom ” and just ordered this curriculum ! I can’t wait to get started and I love seeing how you’re using it!


  5. Thank you so much for all your post. You have really helped me with my vision for homeschooling. We are currently expecting our 4th boy. I will have a 7yld (going into 2nd) and a 5 yld (preK/K) and a 22 month old and a brand new baby at the start of the school year. I’m not a big fan of having to buy lots of resources, but I want my boys to have enough hands on experiences. We also live in Montana so at least had of the school year we have snow on the ground. Would you have used this curriculum when you still had two babies and two in school? I’m wondering if this resource will be overwhelming or helpful for me in my stage of life.


    1. I would venture to say- helpful! We will be using AYOPS this coming year with soon to be 9yo, 7yo, 4yo, 2yo and NB coming in December. I have no experience with this curriculum to back my response 😉 it simply sounds wonderfully freeing for both children and parents!! I believe that even our almost 9yo will benefit from this curriculum. Also, that we will be encouraged to slow down a bit and enjoy their childhood all the more.
      This seems to be a curriculum you will be able to use with all of your children, and seemingly with all of them present; which is helpful in and of itself. Oh how I wish we would have known of AYOPS when we first began!!


  6. THIS is why I pulled my kiddos from their school and started homeschooling this year! To experience those fleeting moments with them as they play and explore and grow…I love your endeavor to say “yes”, to let them be little. Your posts on this and on your family rhythm have been super inspiring and encouraging as we get our homeschool rolling this fall. I ordered HGP this week, mostly for my 3 & 5 year old, but I can already tell my 6 & 7 year old are going to gain so much from it too. Thank you for sharing your adventures.


  7. Hi! I’ve been looking for one of those light tables (it’s probably not called that) that your boys are playing with in one of the pictures. Where did you get it from? I want to start homeschooling in the fall. I’m so excited and so scared at the same time. But reading through your blog has given me such courage. I’m so thankful that my friend pointed me to your Instagram and blog. Thanks so much for giving these beautiful boys such an amazing childhood. You are an inspiration to me and to many. From your sister in Christ.


  8. How do you do this? My heart longs for the freedom in this and the ability to let go and allow my children to learn and be and grow in this type way. Our oldest is 9 and in 4th grade and our second 7 in 2nd grade and I feel like they are already behind and will be more behind if I let go and do this with my youngest and them. I downloaded the free month and couldn’t even get most of those things done within two months with my younger ones. Help me! I want to be “wild and free” and just connect with my children, all five of them, but the pressure of what they should be learning overtakes me and I feel like I can’t do it all. The controller in me that is overwhelmed with trying to teach four children and take care of a one year old who is EVERYWHERE and into EVERYTHING, feels like I am just juggling them and not connecting.


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