The early years of preschool and kindergarten are some of the most foundational times in our child’s formation
I have gotten a lot of questions about how we homeschool preschool and kindergarten. How do you homeschool preschool? What do you teach in kindergarten? I think this is a challenging age to know what to do with our children. It’s always a struggle for homeschool moms to feel like they aren’t doing enough. The truth is, we will NEVER feel like we are. So, it becomes imperative that we establish boundaries for ourselves for what our goals and intentions are even in the early years. There will always be one more subject we think we could add. One more skill to teach. It never ends. But, I want to encourage you that your child learns much more apart from you than he even will under your teaching. Let that sink in. Your child will LEARN while he plays, or draws. While he digs in the sand or even plays with a pet.
A little background
If your children are anything like mine, they have an insatiable curiosity for the world around them. So, naturally it’s easy to think now is the perfect time to cram all the information we can in them. But, our goal in our children’s educations (more here) is to facilitate them forming relationships and connections with their creator, language, nature, peoples, places, events.
In our home we don’t begin our child’s formal education with any scheduled curriculum before the age of 6 or 7. In the early years, our primary focus with them is that they play and engage with the world around them. We desire for them to make connections and form a natural and positive relationship with me, as the teacher, and with learning.
We do, however, have quite a few things we do intentionally with our children in the preschool age. I hope this offers you some practical insight for making this a wonderful time of connection and engagement together!
Working with their natural development
My husband and I always knew we wanted to homeschool our children, so when our youngest was very young of course it was natural for me to begin researching different methods and philosophies. I was excited about teaching her to read early or be a math genius by 5! While I was looking for curriculums and methods to create a child prodigy (ha ha), I stumbled upon the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. The slow and easy days of the early years and the idea of laying down the rails of good habits early on resonated with me more than any “method for success”.
Reading Teaching the Trivium also clued me into the fact that a child is not developmentally ready for the analytical and abstract processing of grammar and math before the age of ten. As I did more research on childhood development and observed our own children, it made more and more sense to me that the slower introduction to more rigorous work was the best fit for their young developing minds.
However, I did spend some years doubting myself, doubting the process, and even doubting my children. Now, 10 years later, I am so grateful to have taken those early years slowly and gently. Our older children now have a positive relationship with learning and with me their mama and teacher; the habit of attention and excellence; diligence and self discipline. I believe these were won by a gentle leading into higher learning. I hope I can encourage you here to enjoy these formative years with your children and offer some practical and intentional things to do together, as well!
Waiting to begin formal lessons
“Why take all winter to pound a post into the frozen ground when you can pound it in one day in the Spring when the ground is ready.”
This is something I heard years ago that has always stuck with me. It reminds me why waiting is helpful to the parent child relationship, and conversely how it can be damaging to rush. There are things our children can learn early on, but the connection likely will not come until they are developmentally ready, anyway. While all those hours of input could have been spent forming relationship and connections that time didn’t allow for when the focus is on more rigorous work.
Now this doesn’t mean we do nothing with them in these formative years. We certainly see this as a valuable time for intentional input, but we don’t do any scheduled or formal work with them.
The benefits of waiting
“The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators. Now, Nature is her own mediator, undertakes, herself, to find work for eyes and ears, taste and touch; she will prick the brain with problems and the heart with feelings.
And the part of mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted” (Charlotte Mason Vol. 1, pp. 192, 193).
We have not started formal lessons with any of our children before the age of 6. We also wait to teach more abstract grammar and math concepts until 8-9. I admit, it was hard for me to wait with our first 2, but I am so glad I did! We have enjoyed creating wonderful memories and moments together. I have seen the benefit of waiting pay off in large dividends!
Also, as more children arrived I found myself beginning every homeschool year with either a baby or a toddler to keep my busy. Not having to worry about a heavier curriculum load for my little ones allowed me the time needed to invest in the children who were ready for more structured work.
I have found this to be true time and again. When I introduce something to a child who is not developmentally ready or try to force it even, I can potentially do more harm than any “knowledge” they would have aquired from it.
Homeschooling the Early Years by Sarah Mackenzie
These early years are a wonderful time to establish a relationship with learning that is fun, interesting and interactive. They are also imperative for setting a well laid parent to student foundational connection.
What we do intentionally in our home in the early years
Quality picture books and literature are a fun way we introduce them to language, new worlds and concepts. We don’t require any narrations at this stage. Conversely, we let them ask questions of the story. Or we ask questions and let them discuss what they enjoyed and are interested in. This usually happens before naps, before bed or when they’re needing a cuddle moment. 🙂 Ambleside Online has a lovely booklist for “year 0”.
Getting Scripture into their hearts and minds is the most valuable thing I can pass on. So, this is the one thing I am intentionally prepared to teach them. We have a special verse for our little guys to memorize. Just reading it and having them repeat back will have them memorize it in no time! I simple say it to them during devotions, before bed or whenever! Even if they don’t want to repeat it back, just hearing it will get it implanted in their little minds.
Likewise, if they are really interested in the older children’s poetry memorization I might pick a fun one just for them. I just do the same method with Scripture memory. We read the first line or two frequently until it’s memorized, than move on to the next part. They can repeat back if they like, but usually get it down just by hearing.
Open ended toys and a space for creative imaginative play incites hours of engagement. Over the years we have honded in on what toys we see them interact with positively. We try to keep the amount manageable. This can prove challenging with a large family, but is so helpful in limiting overwhelm. A lot of toys spread out all over the floor detracts them from engaging with them. A place for everything with a limited amount of mostly open ended options helps stimulate their creativity. Playing and using their imaginations gives them more opportunities to learn resourcefulness, strategizing, and many other life skills!
Time in Nature
“The consideration of out-of-door life, in developing a method of education, comes second in order; because my object is to show that the chief function of the child–his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life–is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way;
And that, therefore, the endeavour of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects; that, in fact, the intellectual education of the young child should lie in the free exercise of perceptive power, because the first stages of mental effort are marked by the extreme activity of this power; and the wisdom of the educator is to follow the lead of Nature in the evolution of the complete human being.”Charlotte Mason- Vol. 1
Every time I am in nature with our children, I have a sense that this is where we belong. Especially having 7 energetic boys all in the house together homeschooling. It can become smothering if we don’t balance our indoor play with time in nature. Even just a little walk around the block or a nature scavenger hunt in our yard. The boys can be entertained outside with dirt and a stick for hours, creating their own imaginary world of fun.
Interest lead learning
I follow their lead and answer their questions as best I can while also helping them explore more of what they’re interested in. We might get books at the library about a creature they want to learn about or buy an ant farm! This lightens my load as the teacher. I don’t have to try to come up with engaging topics to explore together. I still keep to our goals for this age from veering off course and becoming too rigorous too soon.
Real life skills
In these early years, we desire them to gain a practical knowledge of life while living in their own family culture. Because education is an atmosphere. So, they learn counting while unloading the dishwasher and setting the table. We learn about measurements and weights while they help me bake something special. Likewise, when I am doing anything I explain to them the why and how of what I’m doing. This makes learning for them a natural part of their environment and interests.
Beginning Letter and number recognition
We might also work on letters and phonics if they are interested, but we don’t follow any structured method. They might trace letters in cornmeal, or learn them with alphabet magnets. I might even have them trace letters and numbers in a workbook, or on a whiteboard. However, this mostly happens because they see their older siblings have their books out and they want to join in.
I like to carve out some time a couple times a week to do a fun sensory activity (here are a few ideas). Once I get things set up, they usually continue to play with the activity for awhile while I sit nearby working with the other children, or we both enjoy the activity together. Sometimes the older kids even join in!
I try to set out one or two special activities they can work on independently while I work with the older kids. If they don’t want to do them, I tell them they are allowed to go and play something else, but they may not interrupt the other lessons. I don’t switch to a new activity group for 30 min. The smoothest mornings are when I’ve set these up ahead of time.
I keep bins in our hall closet of these things to play with only for school or special times. That way they are easy to find, quick to set up, and the child is not already “bored” of them.
I also try to rotate a few new things here monthly or quarterly. (usually corresponding with a holiday or birthday. :))
Special activities I keep on hand for these early years
- Variety of puzzles
- Dry erase markers and a white board
- Play dough
- Coloring pages & washable markers
- Alphabet magnets
- Pipe cleaners
- Wooden toy sensory scoops
- Watercolor paints and paper
- Magic Chinese Brush paper
To sum up- these years are wonderful! If you take the time to slow down and invest in your relationship with them, and their relationship to the world around them it will bear fruit later on! I hope this has been helpful to lighten the pressure and also encourage you what a lovely time this is to enjoy with your children. For more about how we homeschool you can check out my other posts here.
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