The first thing to do, in my opinion, is seek the Lord's blessing. The prophets have spoken very clearly about the critical importance of a mother's influence on her children, throughout childhood, but especially in those critical young years. President Benson was especially blunt about the importance of mothers for their preschool age children:
"It is a fundamental truth that the responsibilities of motherhood cannot be successfully delegated. No, not to day-care centers, not to schools, not to nurseries, not to babysitters. We become enamored with men's theories such as the idea of preschool training outside the home for young children. Not only does this put added pressure on the budget, but it places young children in an environment away from mother's influence. ... It is mother's influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child's basic character. Home is the place where a child learns faith, feels love, and thereby learns from mother's loving example to choose righteousness. How vital are mother's influence and teaching in the home-and how apparent when neglected!"
-Ezra Taft Benson (Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 104)
In teaching Hero, I found the distinction between preschool and Kindergarten to be relatively artificial. The primary difference was the amount of time we spent doing school in a week: as he got older, I expected more. But for the most part, we did the same stuff all along and it worked beautifully. I used preschool as a time to practice the skills that I need to do "real" school successfully, and so it was win-win all around. Here is what we did:
I do my best to speak to my children using adult language. If I don't think they understand a word, I stop and explain. I often talk my way through the day, explaining what I'm doing as we go.
"Turn off the television - half an hour of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood per day is plenty for any child under five. Talk, talk, talk - adult talk, not baby talk. Talk to her while you're walking in the park, while you're tiding in the car, while you're fixing dinner. Tell her what you're doing and why you're doing it. ('Now I'm going to send a fax. I put the paper face down and punch in the telephone number I'm calling... and then the paper starts to feed through like this.' 'I spilled flour on the floor. I'm going to get out the vacuum cleaner and plug it in. I think I'll use this brush. It's a furniture brush, but the flour's down in the cracks, so it will work better than the floor brush.') This sort of constant chatter lays a verbal foundation in your child's mind. She's learning that words are used to plan, to think, to explain; she's figuring out how the English language organizes words into phrases, clauses, and complete sentences."
The Well-Trained Mind, page 27
From the time he was a munchkin, I read out-loud to Hero, and now to Dragon. The first thing I recommend reading is the scriptures. I used this chart to track our progress - and it went in the scrapbooks when we were done. It took more than 3 years to go through the Book of Mormon with Hero for the first time. After that he wanted to read the stories of Christ's life, so we read the Four Gospels. Although it takes a long time to complete the project, I think it's well worth it. I also started him on a scripture box as soon as he could talk well enough. That has been one of the best parenting decisions I ever made. I can't recommend it enough!
In addition to scripture, I try to read picture books to the boys every day. Sometimes I choose, mostly they choose. We snuggle and read on the couch, the floor, in their beds, and wherever. We read at the doctor's office, and I read to them over lunch. They get books as gifts at their birthday and Christmas and as rewards for good behavior. We let them choose books they want to bring home at the book store and the thrift shop, and I write their names in books that are theirs. I try to keep the picture books high quality books, but some twaddle has slipped in from time to time, and a few times it's even become a favorite. We've had a few books destroyed by pudgy baby fingers. We've had a couple books loved to death. We have several books that have been mended with packing tape, sometimes more than once.
"A torn book or two is a small price to pay for literacy." -Susan Wise Bauer
I also read chapter books to the boys. We are reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator right now. We don't do the chapter book every day, but I do try to get it in three or four times in a week. It has always worked best for us to do this reading while eating lunch or getting ready for nap time. We often snuggle under the covers and enjoy a chapter or two. I don't hesitate to drop a book that isn't a good fit; Hero loved "The Secret Garden" but we dropped "An Incredible Journey" after only one chapter. When he was a baby, I read "Treasure Island" to him... but only the first half. Once I realized that the pirates were going to kill a bunch of people we set that one aside for a while. I love the 1000 Good Books list, and have found many old friends on there, and the new titles we've tried have been wonderful. If I can't think of anything to read, that's where I go.
When we read, I occasionally will stop and ask, "What's happening? Why did he do that? What do you think will happen next?" These questions check to see if Hero understands, and they helped him to get ready to narrate when we started moving into late Kindergarten and early first grade work. I stop and explain any difficult vocabulary as we go along.
Charlotte Mason, an 18th century educator, was a huge proponent of nature study - going outside and observing and learning about the world, first hand. We do that, and I love it. In practice, this has been walks in the park, looking for "cool stuff." We've played around with magnifying glasses and binoculars, but mostly we just go look and see what we can see. My plan is for this to grow into a more focused thing, and to use a sketch book to record the "cool stuff" we find, but at the preschool level it's just getting outside. When we do this we often finish our walk at a playground.
PhonicsBoth my boys learned their letters and sounds on Starfall.com. Once they know that, w use Happy Phonics and I keep one eye on The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading. I keep the stuff the kids do looking like games, and we keep the lessons very short: 10 minutes is probably about average, 20 minutes if they're really into the game that we're playing.
MathI initially used Math Expressions with Hero, but later discovered Miquan, and we ME is a good program, I really like Miquan, so we use that now. It goes to about 3rd grade math, so it's got plenty of stuff for the pre-k/K years. We start with counting. Counting trucks and toys and forwards and backwards. This post talks more about counting, and links to an article with some great insights to how to lay a foundation. We play with Cuisinaire Rods, both formally, and informally, where the kids basically use them like blocks. We are learning Japanese as a family, so a lot of the math we do now Dragon is doing in both English and Japanese, and I've been really amazed at how readily he takes to doing it in both! I'm having Hero participate in some of the "easy math" but in Japanese to shore up his number literacy in both languages - I've learned a few things since we did it the first time!
For the first couple years, this was pretty much it, along with some finger painting and field trips. I don't stress about writing with my littles; we color, and do other things to develop the fine motor skills. We start doing the letters more intently towards the end of the kindergarten phase and into 1st grade.