What to Do with Your Young Learner

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Note: While this article is geared primarily for preschool, most of the suggestions are also applicable through the early primary grades.


A young mom writes:

I’m new at homeschooling—I have 2-year-old twins. I want to teach them and get them ready for preschool. Please send me info to help me start off on the right foot.

Another mom writes:

I have a 3½-year-old boy, a 2½-year-old girl and a 7-month old baby boy. I’ve read preschool articles on websites, listened to the sessions on beginning homeschooling from the state convention, read a few books and magazines, talked to homeschooling moms…but now that I’m really looking at schooling my children, I just get overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. I can see the goal or vision…that my children will love to learn…to learn about God, to learn reading, math, problem solving history, art, music, and everything in between…but how do you start? They don’t seem to even want to sit still and read a book…they just want to play with toys and pretend.

Vicki answers:

They are little; let them play with toys and pretend!

But you pick the toys, so you shape the play. Their play is their work—it may look easy to you, but it’s not all easy to them, and it is developing their thinking and providing life experiences—sort of like hooks on which they can hang their future learning.

Provide them with stimulating, age-appropriate, developmental toys. You might want to peek through online catalogs such as Timberdoodle or Discovery Toys for a few ideas. Consider Legos or building blocks, thinking skills puzzles, art supplies, life-skills imaginary play (role playing or dress-ups or tools/homemaking items), musical instruments, etc. The tapes or CDs you play can be educational and inspirational. Your everyday activities can be helpful for their brain and skills development.

                                                                                         Photo credit: Rebekah McBride, www.nodeskrequired.com

For example, working puzzles is a pre-reading skill, while helping Mom set the table is a math skill (one-to-one correspondence). Having them help put away their things in an orderly fashion (which they won’t be able to do yet, but can watch you joyfully walk through it with them) is classification and organization—science, math, and English skills.

Ruth Beechick has a helpful book called The Three R’s of Learning. Valerie Bendt’s book, Making the Most of the Preschool Years, has lots of preschool ideas. You might also peek at Jane Lambert’s Before Five in a Row guide for some fun and educational activities based on classic kids’ books from the library (For primary students, check out Five in a Row, the next level up). Pick a holiday or two to celebrate each month as a special treat and as a springboard for family learning.

                                                                                    Photo credit: Rebekah McBride, www.nodeskrequired.com

Read…read…and read some more! It is not uncommon for little children to seem uninterested in a read-aloud session, but don’t let that stop you from reading to them! If your child will sit quietly for five or ten minutes as you snuggle and read together, that’s super. If not, read to her anyway while she plays quietly with blocks (or colors or dresses baby dolls or “cooks”…). She is absorbing more than you think she is! Also, try reading at a time that she tends to be quieter naturally, such as a morning wake-up cuddle time in your bed or a bedtime snuggle in hers. Or maybe your afternoon quiet time could always begin or end with a short picture book read-aloud.

                                                                             Photo credit: Rebekah McBride, www.nodeskrequired.com

Real-life Learning

If nobody told you that they had to go to school at age 5, what would you be doing with them? What are you doing with them now? Try doing that same thing, but a bit more intentionally. Interact with them naturally—you don’t have to invent lots of artificial learning experiences—you have plenty of “real” ones already! (Don’t believe me? Check out Durenda Wilson’s book, The Unhurried Homeschooler; it’s a quick read–I read it in the hour my banana bread baked!)

                                                                    Photo Credit: Rebekah McBride, www.nodeskrequired.com

Let the children cook with you—they are measuring and pouring (math and science) and breaking eggs, measuring, stirring, and scooping are working on hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills as well as gross motor skills. Let them divide the cookies or the pizza (fractions and mathematical thinking).


Be sure to read to and talk with them a lot; when they will occasionally let you get in a few pages of a picture book, ask them what they think will happen next. When they ask you a question, ask them, “What do you think?” and let them explain to you (even if their answer makes absolutely no sense—you can then tell them your explanation, too). They are building thinking skills and learning sequencing and inductive reasoning.

When Grandma sends a present, write a thank-you note and let each child scribble at the bottom of it (then translate for Grandma!). Tell him he’s signing it for her. Write his name and let him try to copy it (but don’t push—make the tools available). If he doesn’t do well with a pencil, let him trace alphabet letters in sand or rice or popcorn kernels (unpopped). Then try the pencil again in a few weeks.

Later, you’ll write the note and he’ll really sign his name. Then a few months later, maybe he can write the thank you part and you can add…“for the red truck you gave me. Love, …” and he can sign his name. Then by maybe age 6 or 7, he will likely be able to write the Dear Grandma part, the thank you, and sign his name, and you just fill in the rest.

Your goal is to get him to learn to express himself, to communicate—not to make it difficult or a test. And if your niece and nephew are reading at age 5 and he isn’t, don’t panic or feel peer pressure! Of course, you want to keep an eye out for signs that he may need further help. Age two isn’t it, though, if your little one seems to be able to express himself to you in an age-appropriate way and behave like an average, active, preschool boy.


                                                                    Photo credit: Rebekah McBride, www.nodeskrequired.com

By the way, James Dobson once said that to many school teachers, the ideal little boy is … a little girl! However, boys are different than girls—God wired them that way. Expect the little boys to be pretty active and less interested in some language stuff, at least to begin with.

If you think you may have a right-brained child or one who seems to learn a bit differently than you are comfortable with, Dianne Craft has some simple activities to stimulate healthy brain function.

                                                                                         PC: Rebekah McBride, www.nodeskrequired.com

Have realistic expectations—of your child and of yourself!

If you aren’t confident that you know what is appropriate, Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by June Oberlander contains developmental activities for children from birth to age 5. And if you plan to homeschool, I highly recommend you read the Beechick The 3 R’s of Learning and Barbara Curtis’ Mommy, Teach Me!, regardless of what teaching approach you utilize. What Your Child Needs to Know When, by Robin Sampson, includes a basic checklist for kindergarten through grade 8 so you know what might be customary for a school-age child to learn; this can help you avoid unrealistic expectations in the earlier, preschool years.

Your local support group (or MOPS group) may have some field trips and activities geared specifically to the attention span and interest level of 2-to-4-year-olds.

Speaking of attention span: Feel free to let your kiddos work at their task as long as they still show interest — no need to stop them to move to another lesson. But do keep in mind that an hour of one-on-one is roughly the equivalent of three hours in a school setting. So spending about an hour –even in 15-minute blocks–can be plenty of intentional learning time for your four- or five-year-old. (If you don’t believe me, even the conventional schools are now letting parents know that!)

Don’t let what you see around you put pressure on you. Ask the Lord to guide you in being a joyful mother of children. My goodness—you have little ones! You have enough on your plate to just make dinner and get the laundry caught up! While you cultivate their character and nurture their knowledge, it’s okay to let your children be—well, children.

The bottom line: This season will be shorter than you think, so enjoy being a mommy!

For more on early learning:

Keeping Preschool in Perspective

Homeschooling Preschool

Finding the Gift in Your Child

Homeschooling the Young Learner

Read Aloud to Build Skills & Relationships

Everyday Math for Young Learners


Some links are affiliate links; while your cost stays the same, I may earn a bit here and there to help keep this site going! Thanks.

This article is adapted from an article by the same author, previously found at www.hslda.org.

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