There is probably nothing more exciting to a young homeschool-mom-to-be with her first child than the thought of a colorful preschool curriculum! I know. I was there. As a second-generation homeschooler, I knew I was going to educate my children at home. So my first daughter got to be the guinea pig for all my hopes and dreams. Now I’m looking back on almost 20 years of homeschooling, and I want to share with you what I did with her, what I did with my other four kids, and what I’ve learned along the way when it comes to homeschool preschool.
In the Beginning
I could not wait to teach my daughter! When she was able to focus with her eyes, I immediately began reading picture books to her. As time went on, I taught her to hold toys and showed her how they worked. As she began to move around, I sat on the floor with her and played with her — toys, books, ball throwing, patty cake. When she could walk and play outside, we picked flowers, looked at bugs, played in the sandbox, and just enjoyed the outdoors. Indoors, she “helped” with household chores and cooking. She toddled along beside me throughout each day.
I did what felt natural at the time. We did not have a preschool curriculum. We didn’t have a schedule. We just woke up and did the things assigned to that day. I talked to her, sang with her, and showed her how to do new things.
And when I look back on that “preschool” time, I do not regret one single thing we did, and I don’t miss the fancy curriculum sets that I didn’t have.
With each additional child, I held to the same ideas. I might pick up a new learning toy, or add more books, but I didn’t purchase a set of anything. With more kids came more toys and more books. We began growing our children’s library at home, so there was always something good to read together. We collected counting objects like buttons or bears in little cups. We stacked wooden puzzles on the shelf. And there were plenty of Legos and building blocks to entertain kids for hours.
The Expectations of a Curriculum
There is nothing inherently wrong with having a preschool curriculum, but it does take away the natural flow of motherhood and puts on us a stress to finish by a certain time, or to feel the fear of getting “behind.” I beg you, mothers, to consider that there is no such thing as falling behind in preschool! These are tiny little children who need lots of play and a little bit of teaching in things like colors, numbers, and letters.
A preschool curriculum builds expectations that our 3-year-old should be naming continents, counting to 100, writing the entire alphabet, and beginning reading. And if they fall short of that expectation, mom feels a lot of pressure to make the child try even harder.
Studies have repeatedly shown that formal preschool education does not put students ahead in the long run. In fact, it may hinder their learning in the more important school years:
Within educational research, a number of longitudinal studies have demonstrated superior academic, motivational and well-being outcomes for children who had attended child-initiated, play-based pre-school programmes. One particular study of 3,000 children across England, funded by the Department for Education themselves, showed that an extended period of high quality, play-based pre-school education was of particular advantage to children from disadvantaged households. (Source)
Preschool Without a Curriculum
Now, some 3-year-olds are perfectly capable and somewhat interested in doing all I just mentioned, and that’s okay! But you can do all of these in a relaxed, conversational manner without purchasing expensive materials. Get a globe and point out continents when they’re interested, but don’t force it when they’re not. Hang an alphabet poster in the child’s room and spend a few minutes identifying letters and teaching them to sing the ABC. Count toys with them when you clean up. Sing songs together until they learn the words on their own. You will be amazed at the things they learn (the same things teachers and curriculum are forcing with unnatural methods at this age).
If you really want to, get a couple of sets of flash cards to teach and play. Give them some paper and crayons to “draw.” Pick a day to cut and glue, or give them some cute stickers to decorate a card for grandparents. Talk about the colors of the blocks they are stacking. Identify body parts on a doll or on themselves. Ask the names of animal toys and teach them what each animal says.
Academics are not your priority during the preschool years. Instilling good habits and feeding your child’s heart with good, loving, noble ideas are your top priorities. Remember that children develop at different rates. Some will be ready for A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s at an early age; some won’t. Please don’t allow external or internal pressure to hurry your little one. Your child will learn quickly when he or she is ready. No pushing. (Simply Charlotte Mason)
This is such a fun age, and preschoolers are like sponges. We are all familiar with how many questions a 4-year-old can ask in a day! So answer the questions! That’s very educational and doesn’t require much more than your attention and patience. : )
Read Good Books
The only thing close to a curriculum I recommend at this age is good books. Get lots of picture books for your home, or check them out at the library. Read new ones each week, and also read their favorites over and over. Pick a theme every week for added fun: dinosaurs, horses, riding bikes, the zoo, food, etc.
Reading aloud to children has been studied every which way, and all the studies point to the incredible benefits of doing so. Snuggling up with good books together develops the human relationship small children need so desperately, and gives them a world of education without even trying: language, grammar, vocabulary, Bible, social studies, heroes, and God’s amazing world!
Preschool children should enjoy their day! This is not the time for drilling your child with worksheets and flashcards. When implementing the Charlotte Mason method, formal lessons do not usually begin until age 6. Of course, eager and interested children can learn to read and begin writing earlier, but there is no pressure! (Simply Living Mama)
If you want a guide to help you begin reading intentionally with young children, I highly recommend Five in a Row and Before Five in a Row. FIAR is simply a guide to reading good books and exploring all the educational nuggets within the stories. Once you’ve used this guide with a stack of great stories, you’ll be well able to do this with any book you encounter.
Relax and Have Fun
Play is the most important part of a preschooler’s day. Let them play inside and outside. Encourage imaginative play, social play (with siblings and friends), and physical play. Do not discount the importance of so much “free time” with young children. We are a society that is obsessed with “opportunities,” but the healthiest children (in mind and body) are those who have plenty of free play with fewer scheduled activities and classes. There will be plenty of time to sign up for all the exciting groups in a few years.
This is a great time to teach them to play simple games, like Hi-Ho-Cherry-O or Chutes and Ladders. Go outside and teach them to play hide and seek, Red Light Green Light, and Mother May I? Teach them to throw and catch a ball, to hop on one foot, and to climb the monkey bars.
What preschoolers need most, moms and dads, is YOU. They want to be with you. They need to talk to you and listen to you. They need to play with you.
“Most children under age six need lots of time to play, and to develop social skills, and to learn to control their impulses. An over-emphasis on formal classroom instruction– that is, studies instead of buddies, or staying in instead of playing out–can have serious effects that might not be apparent until years later.” (Source)
Do you need a schedule?
This depends on YOU and your family. If you thrive with structure, then structure your preschooler into that schedule. If your family is a “go with the flow” kind of family, then just do what I did and see where the day takes you. Just be intentional about your relationship with your preschooler through conversation, eye contact, and doing things together.
A great example of a preschool schedule like I describe can be found at Simply Learning Kids.
If your preschooler is a younger sibling, consider scheduling a window of time for older siblings to play with them. We did this when I had three young kids and two older sisters. Setting aside 30 minutes for an older sibling to have focused “together time” was good for everyone involved: me (I got a few minutes to do something without interruption) and the kids created stronger bonds by playing a game or reading a book together.
Keeping Them Busy
If your preschooler is a younger sibling, you may very likely be asking one of the most popular questions, “How do I keep him busy while I teach my older children?” This is a valid question, and I spent some time figuring this out. Read my blog posts:
These posts will help you to see your toy collection and everyday activities in a whole new light. They’ll inspire you to do a little sorting and organizing to get the most benefit from things you already own.
Time is fleeting
It is generally a waste of time, and often harmful, to teach academic skills to children who have not yet developed the requisite motivational and intellectual foundations. Children who haven’t acquired a reason to read or a sense of its value will have little motivation to learn the academic skills associated with reading and little understanding of those skills. Similarly, children who haven’t acquired an understanding of numbers and how they are useful may learn the procedure for, say, addition, but that procedure will have little or no meaning to them. This explains why researchers repeatedly find that academic training in preschool and kindergarten results in worse, not better, performance on academic tests in later grades (see here). This is also why children’s advocacy groups—such as Defending the Early Years and the Alliance for Childhood—are so strongly opposed to the current trend of teaching academic skills to ever-younger children. The early years, especially, should be spent playing, exploring, and developing the intellectual foundations that will allow children to acquire academic skills relatively easily later on. (Psychology Today)
Nearly 3,000 years ago, Israel’s King Solomon wrote “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). The once-hallowed idea that there exist ideal times/seasons at which to introduce certain instruction and concepts to children has fallen to the well-intentioned misinformation of various early childhood education special interest groups. (Reno Gazette Journal)
These early years can be exhausting, but they go by so quickly! Ask me how I know. Enjoy every moment you have to play, laugh, talk, and have fun with your little ones. They will develop many physical and mental skills just by being with you, and you will make lots of memories to cherish when they are teens and young adults. Again, ask me how I know.