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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    What to do With Preschoolers: Pre-Ambleside 101

    January 27, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    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…

    A Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six

    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 β€” 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 β€” 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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  • Reply Charlotte Mason and Kindergarten O My! – Lazy Charlotte Mason November 14, 2018 at 6:28 am

    […] Mason has an attainment list specifically for 6 year olds. It is debatable when the goals of this list should be achieve. Most however agree at the end of form 1b and some […]

  • Reply Rachel R. February 2, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    An alphabet book that we found at our library that I LOVE – but which isn’t very useful, probably, for actually teaching the alphabet πŸ˜‰ – is The Graphic Alphabet. This is such a cool-looking book!

  • Reply Mystie January 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    “we’d go through” was changed to “throw in” without enough editing. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Mystie January 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    I was going to get A is for Annebelle for Ilse this year. For the boys I used Usborne’s Alphabet Book(set on a farm) and to change things up I’d through in The Icky Bug Alphabet Book

    I sit down with Ilse a couple times a week with the Usborne Alphabet Book, but it’s just a low-key reading time, not drilling or reciting or memorizing — just reading together. That’s all the boys required, but I know some children end up needing more time and practice to pick it up.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 28, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Pam, I just figured I hadn’t read far enough yet! πŸ™‚ I’ve read most of Vol. 6, but that was years ago, so whenever I reference the attainments list, I’m referencing the Ambleside site…

    Mystie, I will confess to teaching letters, but with both girls this is because they declared a desire to read but didn’t know all of their letters. SO…I told them that in order to read they needed to know them, and we read our favorite letter book, A is for Annabelle, over and over until they learned them.

    I still haven’t found a correspondingly perfect book for boys. Have you?

  • Reply Mystie January 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Great post, Brandy. I will need to evaluate again for this upcoming year as I have a little one who just turned three. I never sat down and taught any of mine colors or shapes or even really their letters, but they seemed to have picked it all up by the time they were 4 or 5.

  • Reply Pam... January 28, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Oops. I was thinking the list of attainments for a child of six was in Volume Three but it is not. (There is the list for children of twelve in that one.) But do finish reading Vol. Three anyway!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 27, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Pam, Link away! Goodness, it sounds like I need to drop by your blog ASAP. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 27, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Rachel, I LOVE that idea! I think that is a great way to get children to start observing the world around them. My oldest was sort of like that–he’d notice tiny details, but not the big, wide world.

    For us, birding was the doorway. We didn’t work on noticing everything, but rather we just started a binder of the birds we saw in our yard. Then, we starting taking our field guide with us when we went places, both in town and out of town. Once they got used to looking out for birds and noticing the sometimes-tiny details that distinguish one type from another, they started noticing a lot of other things around them. I really think that training observation generally is good at this age.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 27, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    MHA, I suppose we have grown into the big kids sit/little kids play thing. My two oldest children are almost three years apart, so I think it was normal to have great differences between the two of them. This year, I told A. it is her “Kindergarten” year, and that meant she had to sit during Circle Time. Now, sometimes she really will still have a doll in her lap, just like sometimes E. has a car or a handful of legos, but it is just a different level of attentiveness I’m going for. The little ones understand that they must play quietly, etc. If my 2-year-old gets wild, he has to sit in my lap, which is sometimes viewed as a punishment by him, and sometimes not.

    Today, he threw a giant fit, so I put him in his crib until he “found his smile” as I instructed him to, so he missed most of it. πŸ™‚ When I only had three children awake during CT at the beginning of the year, I sometimes dismissed the littlest to go play in the nook after we read our Scriptures. But now that I have two awake, I find that gets out of control.

    With that said, I did shorten CT during this season to 30-45 minutes instead of 1-1.5 hours. I am seriously considering splitting CT up once we start swimming and doing parts of it at all three meals. This means the 2yo will be captive in his high chair! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Pam January 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Hey Brandy. Great post. I am doing a series including parts of Volume Three also. When I saw it on your site I was encouraged to see how you also talked about the list of attainments and especially about doing it as part of circle time. What a great way to make it practical and do-able. Is it ok if I link up to your post when I publish mine? It will be the third part of ‘The Children’s Lessons’. Take care…pam

  • Reply Rachel R. January 27, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    I had an idea – a variation on someone else’s idea, actually – the other day that fits in with this.

    I’m the one who asked a while back how you get your children started with nature studies. The whole concept of observation seems to just be over my children’s heads. (They observe tiny details in some things, like pointing out a tiny tree on the spine of a single book in a bookcase full of books, but when I’m asking them to observe, they don’t understand what I’m asking.)

    Well, I saw something on a blog the other day that I thought could be a great tool. A mom had made up a “stroller bingo” sheet. It had pictures of things they might see while out on a walk, and she would give it to her preschooler along with a dot-marker. I thought that something like that, with specific nature items on it, might be a good early introduction to nature studies, because it would train the child to look for those things. Maybe after a while, the sheets could even be changed up to be more specific (an oak tree or maple tree, rather than a “tree,” for instance). That might be a helpful precursor to nature journaling, for those of us who are kind of stupid about this sort of thing. πŸ˜‰

  • Reply Mahers Hill Academy January 27, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to share this, Brandy! πŸ™‚ I think it’s often easier to focus on teaching shapes and colors and such than focusing on their character and relationship with the world around them. Charlotte’s list is truly formidable!.

    I was interested that you let your two youngest play during Circle Time. How do you do that without the olders being distracted and wanting to play, too? I have trouble getting my 3yo to stay in one place (we sit on the floor and he likes to roll around the room – maybe we should be at the table?), be quiet when I’m reading and join in when we’re doing memory work. Any tips? πŸ™‚

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