My Father’s World’s new preschool program for two- and three- year olds, All Aboard the Animal Train, presents a year-long program arranged into twelve thematic units.
This is a comprehensive preschool program covering spiritual growth, reading and math readiness, cognitive and physical development, singing, and science. Alphabet activities prepare children for reading, but the emphasis is on phonemic awareness and print awareness as well as a love for books rather than on learning letters and sounds. Similarly, math readiness activities introduce numbers, colors, and shapes to lay a foundation for future learning.
An underlying spiritual theme runs through the program: “God loves us, so we love God and others.” Lessons and stories teach twelve character traits from this perspective: love, obedience, patience, kindness, sharing, thankfulness, politeness, friendliness, forgiveness, joy, truthfulness, and doing your best. These character traits are the themes for the units. There are also three Bible stories and a memory verse for each character trait.
The Basic Package for All Aboard the Animal Train includes the teacher’s manual and a large package of student sheets. In addition, there are a number of resources published or created by companies other than My Father’s World: Sing for Joy CD, animal cookie cutters, jumbo watercolors set, preschool-sized tweezers, plus a number of books. The books First Virtues and The Preschooler’s Bible contribute significantly to the spiritual content of the course. Their wonderful collection of read-aloud books includes titles such as A Big Treasury of Little Animals, Five Animal Tales, The Margaret Wise Brown Treasury, Richard Scarry’s Best Little Word Book Ever!, and Dinner at the Panda Palace.
You might choose the Deluxe Package which adds to the Basic Package the Discovery Blocks set and Design Book, and Number Express. While these hands-on items in the Deluxe Package definitely enhance the program, you might use inexpensive (or homemade) pattern blocks and a simple memory card game to accomplish some of what these resources provide. However, the Deluxe Package resources offer opportunities for more-challenging spatial learning and motor control activities and critical thinking.
In addition to items in Basic and Deluxe Packages, you will need to gather some resources of your own. You will need magnets, construction paper, crayons (12 colors), straws or wooden craft sticks, a glue stick, paper plates, and a few other such items. You will also need items for a sensory bin such as rice and pom-poms. Each unit has recipes or snack suggestions that tie in with one of the twelve colors with which children are becoming familiar: e.g., green snack food suggestions such as honeydew melon, green grapes, and avocados.
While the course is advertised for two- and three-year-olds, most children should be about two and a half years old before starting the curriculum. On pages 104 and 105 of the teacher’s manual are suggestions for activities you might use with younger two-year-olds who are not quite ready for the lessons themselves. Older three-year-olds might be able to complete the program in less than a year. In most situations, you will probably spend about three weeks per unit for a total of 36 weeks. However, whatever the age of your child, you can always adjust the pacing to suit you and your child.
Each unit begins with a Bible verse and the name of the color featured in that unit. “Before You Begin” gives parents a checklist of gathering resources, preparing for some activities, and Bible passages to be read by parents (perhaps as morning devotions) that relate to the character trait they will be teaching.
A page or two of lesson plans for each week have a chart that lists activities for each day plus additional notes that might be helpful. However, the lesson plan charts are the key item here. If you have done your advance preparation, you can simply look at the chart and quickly identify what needs to be done each day. There are lots of activities, but some involve food and might fit very naturally into your day as snack or lunchtime preparation with your child assisting. For example, Week 29 directs you to, “Make an open-faced sandwich using a sheep cookie cutter. Top with chicken salad.” (A chicken salad recipe is provided.) While there are “arts and crafts” activities, some activities do not require preparation or resources. For example, there are songs to sing each week (from the Sing for Joy CD), and there are activities that require only interaction or movement such as for Week 36 (with the theme “Doing Your Best:”) it says, “Encourage your child to do his best as he jumps with feet together, hops on one foot, runs to a specified spot, walks like a crab, and walks backwards.”
A substantial appendix has instructions for the “Ideas for Two-Year-Olds” previously mentioned plus many other suggestions you might use. There are instructions for creating “Surprise Time Boxes” with activities that your child can do independently. This is where the items from the Deluxe Package are used. “Alphabet Art Activity” offers suggestions for art activities that help children become familiar with the shapes and names of letters. “Animal Craft Patterns” on three pages can be copied, cut, and colored for use in a number of suggested activities. Lyrics for all of the Sing for Joy songs are written out here. Booklists for each unit suggest possible books that tie in with topics brought up in that unit. Finally, supply lists, both for the year and by unit, make it easy to prepare in advance. Note that supplies for optional activities are not included in these lists.
Student Sheets are printed on card stock, and three sheets that will be used throughout the year are printed on even heavier card stock. Some pages have full color and others have blackline drawings so that students can color them in. Some pages will be cut apart, some (such as those with poems) will be read aloud, and others will be used as activity pages for children to draw, color, or otherwise complete. The artwork is very attractive.
In my opinion, All Aboard the Animal Train is a very developmentally appropriate program for preschoolers. It keeps the academics in the background so that children can learn more important concepts and skills that will prepare them well for future learning.
The program is easy for parents to use, yet it provides multi-sensory learning opportunities that young children need. The selection of books and resources is excellent. I especially like the use of character traits as themes as well as their age-appropriate incorporation into the lessons from a biblical perspective. Preschoolers who begin to understand and exhibit character traits such as love, obedience, and patience will be much more teachable when it comes time to move on to more serious academics.
When children are ready to move on to the next level, you might want to try My Father's World's Voyage of Discovery: A Pre-K Adventure.