I received an email last week concerning what I do with preschoolers, and my reply grew … and grew … until suddenly I realized I had a post on my hands! I sent the reply, but I thought I’d work some of it out here. The email was asking what I do with my four- and five-year-old girls. What do I teach them? What are my educational goals for them? Do we do formal schooling at these ages?
And so on.
In writing my answers, I realized that I have changed almost everything I do with preschoolers in the past few years.
When E. was a preschooler, I was all academics and organization. He was a great reader, but our reading lessons were far too lengthy. I thought that if 15 minutes was good, 30 was better, and if an hour of lessons was fine, maybe two were great! Some of what I did was perfect for him; he had things he wanted to know, and I helped him learn. I do not so much regret what I did as what I overdid.
I’ve realized that a lot of what I now do has a lot to do with two things. First, I’m preparing my children to be educated at home. Just like folks might send their children to preschool a couple days per week to “get them ready” for kindergarten or first grade, so the things I do throughout the week flow from preparing them to study with our family. Little things, like teaching them to respect their brother’s need for quiet when he is laboring over his math, send a message about how lessons are going to work when they are older.
Second, I’m preparing them for AmblesideOnline.
The Charlotte Mason approach to learning is different than other approaches, and I find that what I do with my girls is directly related to what they will need to be doing when they are old enough for their very own lessons.
For today, we’ll touch on…
Some folks actually use this list as their child’s kindergarten or first grade year. I wasn’t aware of this list until after my son had already commenced with Year One, but I knew it was a treasure when I read it. These are the things that Charlotte herself thought were important for young children! The list is full of beautiful things, while so many preschool lists are all triangles and bold colors.
Charlotte believed in the noble humanity of the child, and treated him accordingly.
I’m adapting this for homeschooling, though. In Charlotte’s world, the Year One student was at school or under the tutelage of a governess. This left the mother or nurse free to work on the Formidable List with the six-year-old. I won’t go so far as to say that this is impossible for the contemporary homeschooling mother, because it’s not, but the more children you have, the more likely it is to find the Formidable List truly formidable.
So I have, first of all, made this list my reference for all years leading up to Year One. This means that I am considering the list even now, with my four-year-old.
I do not think we will reach all the goals on the list, but I have continued to incorporate the goals, and when we reach one, then we immediately aim for another.
Incorporating the Goals into Circle Time
We have Circle Time four mornings per week, on average. Everyone is present at Circle Time because it is our special time in the morning. The two youngest usually play with blocks or trains, but they are always listening. During this time, we read Scripture, we sing, we read from various books, we look at beautiful paintings and drawings, and we do memory work. We do not do all of this all of the time, but we do all of this over the course of a week or a month.
If you look at the list, you will see a fair amount of memory work. A child of six ought to memorize (and recite beautifully!) six easy poems, a parable, a psalm, etc. For me, this was the easiest goal to start working towards. Since we do daily memory work, I first made sure that my girls were participating. Until recently, the poems definitely fell into the category of “easy” and were perfect for them. When it was time to choose new Scripture memory work, I chose a psalm. When the two oldest had it memorized (the four-year-old had it mostly memorized), we moved on to a short parable, keeping the Psalm for regular review.
In Circle Time, we already had a time of singing, so, again, I simply became more deliberate with my girls, inviting them to join us. I found, to my astonishment, that my four-year-old (who was three at the time) actually had most of the songs memorized, but had never bothered to sing with us. Now we all encourage O.-Age-Two when he tries to sing with us, even though no one understands what he is saying. He, too, is learning to join the ranks of the learning class.
The outdoor work always falls off the map during the winter for us, but when spring comes again, we will work our way through identifying trees. We have been birding as a family for a few years now, and the girls tend to know their basic birds, such as mourning doves, robins, sparrows, house finches, and starlings, so this year I think we will try and listen better to their songs.
Importance of the List
The more experience I have with AmblesideOnline, and the more I read of Mason’s works, the more I realize that this list embodies Charlotte’s heart for young children. I said earlier that typical preschool lists are all triangles and bold colors — shapes, position (in a sequence), and so on. These are the sorts of things I spent time on with my oldest, because I didn’t know what a living, liberal education was, and so I was preparing him for a life of collecting facts.
The funny thing is, I’ve found that children pick up these facts easily enough, without direct lessons, and so I was likely wasting my time. (Is it really important that a child know “circle” at 2, when he can know it at 4 without having been directly taught? Is this really a good use of time? I once thought that it was.)
In Charlotte’s list, we see that she is preparing the child for a relationship with the world. She is preparing them to have ideas by filling their minds not with lifeless facts, but with words worth pondering — beautiful passages of Scripture, lovely poetic words, and the like. This is not just foundational for the AmblesideOnline approach to learning, but foundational to the child’s humanity in that it fills the soul with noble thoughts to think upon.
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