Note: While this article is geared primarily for preschool, most of the suggestions are also applicable through the early primary grades. SEE RESOURCES listed at the bottom of the page.
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.
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.
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.
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 –okay, mostly quietly! — with blocks (or colors or dresses baby dolls or “cooks” or plays with cars…). 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
Lots of Outdoor or Free Play
Pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom says, “I discovered that movement through active play, particularly in the outdoors, is absolutely the most beneficial gift we as parents, teachers and caregivers can bestow on our children to ensure healthy bodies, creative minds, academic success, emotional stability, and strong social skills . . . Children should be getting daily movement experiences throughout the day in order to develop strong and healthy musculoskeletal systems. Musculoskeletal and sensory systems lay the groundwork for higher level mental and physical skills as children age. Ideally, kids of all ages should get at least three hours of free play outdoors a day.” In her book Balanced and Barefoot, How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Competent and Capable Children, Angela discusses the negative effects of restricted movement and lack of outdoor playtime on overall sensory development in children, and the benefits of free play in developing the vestibular and proprioceptive senses critical to learning success.
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 your kiddo 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 generally 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.)
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.
Want something more structured?
For a more structured approach, check out the resources listed at the end of the post, Homeschooling the Young Learner.
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. (For more on what might be typical, see What Should I Be Teaching My Child?)
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
Finding the Gift in Your Child
Homeschooling the Young Learner
Read Aloud to Build Skills & Relationships
Everyday Math for Young Learners
Let Your Kids Help in the Kitchen
A few of my favorites for you…..
The Three R’sLanguage and Thinking for Young ChildrenHeart and Mind: What the Bible Says about LearningTeaching KindergartnersA Biblical Home Education: Building Your Homeschool on the Foundation of God’s WordTeaching Preschoolers: It’s Not Exactly Easy but Here Is How to Do It (Accent teacher training series)Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning StylesA Home Start in Reading (Grades K-3)Strong Start in Language: Grades K-3 (Three R’s Ser.) (Three R’s Series)Language Wars and Other Writings for HomeschoolersSlow and Steady Get Me Ready by June Oberlander (Dec 1 2002)Five in a Row Volume One Second EditionBefore Five in a Row: Second EditionTeaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable PeaceThe Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your KidsWhat Your Preschooler Needs to Know: Get Ready for Kindergarten (The Core Knowledge Series)What Your Child Needs to Know When: According to the Bible, According to the State: with Evaluation Check Lists for Grades K-8What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know (Revised and updated): Preparing Your Child for a Lifetime of Learning (The Core Knowledge Series)Indescribable: 100 Devotions for Kids About God and Science (Indescribable Kids)Let Them Be Kids: Adventure, Boredom, Innocence, and Other Gifts Children NeedThe Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas: 500+ Fun and Creative Learning Activities for Kids Ages 3-12 (Prima Home Learning Library)The Unhurried Homeschooler: A Simple, Mercifully Short Book on HomeschoolingThe Everyday Family Chore System: Raising Kids Who Help at HomeThe Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child’s Intellectual PotentialNo More Perfect Kids: Love Your Kids for Who They AreHow am I Smart?: A Parent’s Guide to Multiple IntelligencesFive to Thrive: How to Determine If Your Core Needs Are Being Met (and What to Do When They’re Not)8 Great Smarts: Discover and Nurture Your Child’s IntelligencesMommy, Teach Me: Preparing Your Preschool Child for a Lifetime of LearningHoney for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family LifeHoney for a Child’s Heart Updated and Expanded: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family LifeBooks Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature (Revised Edition)5 Love Languages Of Children: The Secret To Loving Children EffectivelySET: The Family Game of Visual PerceptionTime Timer 3 inch Visual Timer — 60 Minute Kids Desk Countdown Clock with Dry Erase Activity Card and Desktop App Access — For Kids Classroom, Homeschooling Study Tool, Task Reminder, Home and KitchenSecura 60-Minute Visual Timer, Classroom Countdown Clock, Silent Timer for Kids and Adults, Time Management Tool for Teaching (Blue)TIME TIMER PLUS 60 Minute Desk Visual Timer – Countdown Timer with Portable Handle for Classroom, Office, Homeschooling, Study Tool with Silent Operation (Charcoal)3 Pieces Cube Timers Gravity Sensor Flip Timer Egg Timer Kids Timer Workout Timer Study Timer and Game Timer for Time Management, 1, 3, 5, 10 Minutes and 15, 20, 30, 60 Minutes (White, Yellow, Blue)A Year of Playing SkillfullyThe Homegrown Preschooler: Teaching Your Kids in the Places They LiveThe Ultimate Toddler Activity Guide: Fun & educational activities to do with your toddler (Early Learning)Busy Bags Kids Will Love: Make-Ahead Activity Kits for a Happy Preschooler and Stress-Free Parent
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This article is adapted from an article by the same author, previously found at www.hslda.org.