I didn’t go to kindergarten, nor did I have the benefit of a preschool program, yet I might be perceived by some to be a well-adjusted, academically adequate, productive person. As recently as twenty-five years ago, kindergarten was a half-day program in most areas, with an emphasis on school readiness. If there was an afternoon component (usually to save bus mileage in rural areas), it consisted of nap time, snack time, and play-based learning. Preschool was optional, primarily for those “of means,” and met usually a few half-days a week.
Fast-forward to today: Lowered compulsory attendance ages in some states and the common use of standardized testing for even the youngest children are among the catalysts for increased academic expectations for the pre-kindergarten child. Renee and Mike Mosiman, authors of The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child’s Intellectual Potential (2009, Brighter Insights Press), found that “in some cities, the competition to get into the best preschool is so fierce that admission requirements include testing, interviews, and stellar recommendations.” (Reminds me of the selective college admission process!)
The Mosimans continue, “Some parents even pay thousands of dollars for preschool consultants to help their child get a coveted spot. For some preschools, long waiting lists are not uncommon.” (Mosiman, pp. 2-3) These waiting lists include a considerable number of children who are yet to be born, with parents anxious to get their children on the fast track to the best schools!
Lest you think the Mosimans eschew early learning, let me assure you that they “believe it is your responsibility as a parent to unlock your preschooler’s intellectual potential,” but they “urge you to create an intellectually stimulating environment, not an intellectually demanding one.” (Mosiman, p. 3)
In this sort of environment, described in detail in their book, parents aren’t as concerned with racing to the next milestone as they are with cultivating their child’s talents, strengthening his or her weaknesses, and providing experiences—“hooks” on which to “hang” their future learning.
Five foundational abilities fostered in the preschool years release the child’s learning ability: independence, order, self-control, concentration, and service. In Mommy, Teach Me!, Montessori-teacher-turned-homeschool-mom (of twelve) Barbara Curtis shares activities, tips, and techniques to help your preschooler develop these abilities and to thrive at home. (For more ideas, check out the Typical Course of Study for Preschool from World Book or Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by June Oberlander.)
Mary Kay Smith, editor of The Virginia Home Educator, recently shared a comforting and freeing perspective on preschool in her editorial:
In our house it is clear that all men are not created equal. In fact, the self-evident truths suggest very strongly otherwise. This was driven home to my youngest daughter and me as we watched her physics professor lecture on computer memory. We like the professor a great deal and have learned a lot in this course, but it is quite obvious that his mind and our minds are nowhere near equal.
Recently we listened in awe as he discussed flip-flop semiconductor memory and explained his logical NOR gate circuit chart. But we just couldn’t help it. As he went over the chart—and rapidly over our heads—the two of us looked at the diagram and discussed how we’d color it in.
We won’t be applying for a science scholarship.
Your children aren’t equal either. That realization might make you panic a bit at first, but in the end it should be liberating. There are two things about your preschool children I’d like to say clearly: The first is that it is important to give your children the freedom to be the people God made them to be. Yes, you need to expose them to every subject, but, just as you can’t—and shouldn’t want or expect to—turn willow trees into oaks, you can’t force your artistic children to become mathematical geniuses (or the other way around).
The second thing is that we’re dealing with preschool here. You don’t have to start with all the information your children will ever need to know in life. It is important to remember that “pre” means “before.” Preschool children are not in school yet. This is the time to play with your kids, read to them, take them on field trips, and teach them skills at home. You don’t need a curriculum in order to teach colors—go for walks in your garden and point them out. You don’t need a curriculum in order to teach counting—take your kids grocery shopping and count the items in your cart. You don’t need a curriculum in order to teach measuring—bake cookies together. You don’t need a curriculum in order to teach matching—sort socks from the clean laundry. You don’t need a curriculum in order to teach shapes—hunt for shapes through the rooms in your house.
What you need instead is a guide—ideas for activities, resources, and skills that will help prepare your children for kindergarten. After all, one of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling is flexibility and the chance to tailor your program to your own children. So relax and just enjoy your kids. You can be assured that they are going to pick up the skills they need. Remember that these skills are like potty training: by the time your children get to college, no one will care how old they were when they mastered them!
For more on early learning:
This article is adapted from the February 2011 Early Years newsletter at hslda.org by the same author.
Mary Kay Smith has homeschooled her three children from preschool to college. She is the editor of The Virginia Home Educator, and she writes and directs educational and biblical children’s programs locally and internationally. This excerpt appeared as the Letter from the Editor in the Fall 2010 issue of The Virginia Home Educator, www.heav.org. Used with permission.