My Father's World has always advocated hands-on learning for young children, so for years they were reluctant to put together a "course" for preschoolers that might lead people into formal academics at too early an age. Eventually, enough people kept asking what to do with their preschoolers so they finally gathered some appropriate educational resources and created a set of Preschool Activity Cards to guide parents through hands-on, interactive learning with children ages three to five. They have now expanded from that minimalist approach to two levels of comprehensive preschool programs. All Aboard the Animal Train is for two- and three-year-olds while Voyage of Discovery: A Pre-K Adventure is appropriate for four-year-olds and maybe even some advanced three-year-olds.
Both programs present a combination of interaction, hands-on activities, play, and read-aloud books that might be considered closest to a Charlotte Mason approach to education. While children learn through the use of manipulatives and hands-on activities, they are also encouraged to use and explore the resources on their own. (This is in contrast to a Montessori approach where each resource is introduced and taught before children are allowed to work with it.) Charlotte Mason's influence is also evident in the recommendation for at least one weekly park visit or field trip and frequent unstructured, outdoor play.
Both programs also include a strong religion component with memory verses, Bible stories, and other activities that promote spiritual growth. You can read the separate review of All Aboard the Animal Train by clicking here. The rest of this review focuses only on Voyage of Discovery.
A number of resources are required. You can purchase items individually, perhaps supplying some items from those you already own or books you will borrow from the library. However, it is simpler to buy either the basic or deluxe package. The basic package has all the required resources while the deluxe package adds many of the hands-on resources.
The course is designed for a parent to use with one child although it should be easy to teach two children at the same time. It assumes the flexibility of a home environment but it could be adapted for use in a Christian preschool.
The teacher’s manual has daily lesson plans that are easy to follow with lessons for five days a week. Each week begins with a chart showing activities for the entire week. You will work primarily from the chart since many learning activities can be stated in just a few words on the chart without explanation. Activities that need explaining have a note on the chart that says “see notes.” For these, you will find the pertinent instructions under details for each day. Check off boxes on the charts makes it easy for you to keep track of what has been accomplished. While a materials list at the beginning of the book lists materials and resources that will be used repeatedly throughout the year—e.g., paper, colorful yarn, chalk, cotton balls, and stickers—there is also a short list at the beginning of each week listing any unusual items that will be needed such as playdough, letter-themed snack (e.g., a letter “b” snack such as bananas, bagels, or blueberries), or food coloring. Immediately below each week’s materials list are preparations that should be done in advance—generally one or two items such as pre-cutting items for an activity or planning a field trip.
The basic package has the teacher’s manual, student sheets (that come in a packet), Hide ‘em in Your Heart audio two-CD set, Science Discovery Set (tweezers, magnifier, test tubes, and eyedropper), and a package of vehicle counters, plus the books Big Book of Things to Spot, Crossroads of Character, Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?, Big Thoughts for Little People, The Sailor Dog, and God’s Little Guidebooks.
The large packet of student sheets plays a major role. Many are printed in full color. Some pages are printed on card stock, and there is a sheet of stickers. Sheets are organized in the order in which you will use them—a huge time saver for parents. Sheets are used for all sorts of different learning activities. Some are posters, but most are used for activities such as games, tracing letters, creating booklets, working with manipulatives, and watercolor painting.
The deluxe package adds a set of Pre-K Activity Cards, Kids Puzzle, Alphabet Puzzle Boards, Number Puzzle Boards and Pegs, an eight-inch pegboard, Lacing & Tracing Shapes set, and Fit-A-Space Puzzle and Stringing Activity kit. Many of these items are Lauri products, made of dense crepe rubber that is textured on one side. These materials are very durable and easy to handle. Note that the Pre-K Activity Cards are written specifically for the hands-on resources in the deluxe package, so purchase the cards only if you intend to get most of the other hands-on items.
Voyage of Discovery introduces the alphabet (both upper- and lower-case letters), numbers 1 through 10, colors, and shapes. It also helps children learn about attributes and patterns as they sort, sequence, and organize. It teaches counting and number concepts. Children develop small motor skills through lacing and drawing activities, participate in some large motor activities, and learn to observe and pay attention to details.
The Preschool Activity Cards are color coded and divided into six groups for use with each of the six resources in the deluxe set. Cards are also numbered to show increasing levels of difficulty. Some cards might be too difficult for a three- or four-year-old child, so parents must be selective about how many of the cards to use depending upon the age and maturity of each child. If parents preselect possible cards to use, an older child might enjoy working with a younger child through some of the activities.
Some read-aloud books come with the program and are scheduled into the lesson plans. These have been selected to fit with various lesson topics. An extensive annotated book list at the back of the book suggests many other books that you might choose. The list consists primarily of “Favorite Pre-K Books” but some are also listed under headings such as "Treasure," "Alphabet," and "Math: Counting and Shapes."
In addition to the book list, the Appendix has the Suggested Field Trips (so that you can see what is suggested in the lesson plans for the entire year), Outside Activities, Nature Things to Do Outside, Ocean Cookie Cutter Ideas (for the set of cookie cutters that come as a free gift with the deluxe package), a summary of ABC Activities for quick reference if needed, and Simple Readiness Activities (eight optional activities for those who want more hands-on learning).
Voyage of Discovery should be perfect for those who want to provide a thoroughly Christian preschool experience that is developmentally appropriate and rich with hands-on activities.