Playgroup with a Purpose

By Jan Fischer Bachman

You’ve been posted overseas, and the only preschool with acceptable standards costs $15,000 a year. Other than take out a second mortgage, what can you do?

The Nassau Home School Preschool

In The Bahamas we joined the “Home School Preschool,” which had already been functioning for a number of years. The school owned two tables (painted a cheerful Bahamian turquoise-green), stacks of plastic kid-sized chairs, preschool curriculum from A Beka (see “Resources,” below), and several boxes of materials and craft supplies. These items traveled to a different home each month, since participants rotated hosting duties. A small monthly donation by each participating family covered the cost of additional supplies, as well as some special events.

School met three mornings a week, with a different parent or caregiver serving as lead teacher each week. Two days out of the month there were special music/creative activity sessions led by a parent, and there was an educational (or just fun) field trip each month.

Families living in countries without a wide selection of preschool options-or where the high prices make preschool unaffordable-might want to consider starting a comparable “playgroup with a purpose.” Your home-grown version of preschool just might turn out to be more appealing than the “real thing”!

Getting Started

Here are a few tips on starting your own program. These are general suggestions that might not apply in your particular situation. Please do your homework regarding local legal and practical requirements.

  1. Starting a “real” preschool normally requires complying with many regulations. Since parents or caregivers are jointly responsible for their own children in this type of setup, I recommend considering it a “playgroup with a purpose.” Do make sure that hosting families have homeowner’s or rental insurance that will provide liability coverage IF this is needed. (Many countries are not as litigious as the U.S.)
  2. Locate at least five like-minded families if possible. This allows school to continue even if one or two children are sick or away on vacation. It also means less-frequent hosting and teaching duties for each family. I personally found groups over about seven children more difficult to manage, although it does depend on the personalities involved.
  3. Find a location or locations. Is there one place that you can use for the entire school year? (A local house of worship might be willing to provide space.) Or will families take turns hosting? Do you need to set minimum safety standards?
  4. Decide on policies: Which language will be used? Can children join throughout the year? What will be the maximum number? What will the hosting/teaching/assisting/snack contribution schedules be? Do people need to call if their child will be absent? How many times can someone miss and still be considered part of the program? What happens if the teacher du jour can’t make it?
  5. Choose a curriculum. Having a formal curriculum helps provide consistency when the teachers change frequently–and gives even self-described “non-creative” types the material they need to succeed. However, if you have a very limited budget, it is entirely possible to proceed by just working on the letter and number of the week and digging for activities from the Internet. Some resources are listed below.
  6. Create the paperwork. You will probably want a registration form for each child, with contact and health information. Get a medical release form for each child, with specific instructions about emergency care in case a parent can’t be reached. Similar forms from an established local school can serve as guidelines.
  7. Plan ahead. If you have done your post research and think you might want to consider home preschool, buy materials in the U.S. and ship them with your household goods. Dollar-store plastic chairs and other large items will be much easier to transport up front than later (and you can always sell or donate them if you don’t end up needing them).

After six months of attending “Home School Preschool,” my three-year-old daughter Emma and I had the opportunity to visit an expensive facility on the other side of the island. We admired a colorful, elaborate playground, with fleets of tricycles nearby. We passed tennis courts and a swimming pool. We peeked into classrooms with smiling teachers and project-loaded walls.

“What do you think?” I asked Emma.

“I like Home School Preschool better!” she replied without hesitation.


With the increasing popularity of home schooling, there are many helpful materials available online. This is just a brief listing to get you started.


Playful Learning: An Alternate Approach to Preschool
by Anne Engelhardt and Cheryl Sullivan
Includes practical information on how to set up a preschool co-op and create an exciting learning environment, with many pages of activities, grouped by skill (gross motor, fine motor, pre-math skills, etc.) A GREAT resource for any parent of young children!
495 pp.
List price $16.95

A to Z Early Childhood Curriculum
By Sherrill B. Flora
Activities arranged by alphabet letter. Activities include language arts, math, science, art, music, social studies, games, and recommended reading book lists.
320 pp. List price $22.99

The Giant Encyclopedia books edited by Kathy Charner – each one hundreds of pages of ideas from teachers. Book topics include: circle time and group activities; theme activities; arts and crafts; science activities.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years
by Elizabeth G. Hainstock, Lee Havis
Provides instructions on how to do Montessori activities at home, including information on home-made materials. 128 pp. List price $11.95

Related Yahoo group (not a lot of current messages, but over 300 group members can probably answer a lot of questions!) To subscribe send an email message to:

Homeschool Curricula
ABC Home Preschool Use and Reuse Wipeoff Books (ages 2,3,4) – 200 laminated pages, around $90. Includes reading, writing, arithmetic, science, social studies, arts & crafts, music, and PE. These are not just worksheets-there are suggested projects, field trips, activities and much more, designed to last for nine months of learning. You would need one book for each child (contact the publisher for group rates).
Ages 2 ¾ through 5. Monthly packages include: craft materials, lesson plans, songs, poems, stories, calendar decorations, learning games, PE, health & safety, science, and parent newsletters. Prices begin at around $50 a month with materials for three children. DOES deliver to APO, FPO.
A Beka. Christian perspective, phonics-based, advanced. Various packages of materials with various prices. Used in many preschools in the U.S. and abroad.
Calvert (probably the most well-known home school curriculum company & recommended by many): Comes with workbooks, craft materials, teachers’ guide. $285 for one child or $185 each for children learning together (only one set of teacher’s material).

Good Sites for Extra Activities

NOTE: since these sites offer free resources, they are FULL of ads! Let the user beware! (Personally, I use the free programs Spybot Search and Destroy and Zone Alarm, as well as updated virus protection for safer cruising.)
First-School preschool activities and crafts-dozens of ideas, printable coloring pages and more. Activities for each letter of the alphabet.
Gayle’s Preschool Rainbow-ideas submitted by readers. Many preschool and kindergarten-level activities and projects.
Dozens of preschool activities by theme. Divided up by age group.
Lots of activities and ideas, plus inexpensive online workshops for preschool teachers.

And so on – you get the drift: there are thousands of activities out there just waiting to be printed!