We all have our regrets, right? (If you’re new to homeschooling, just give yourself a day or two. Then, you will have regrets, too.) Preschool is only the beginning of things we give our children to talk about with their therapists when they are grown.
Let me start by sharing with you the truth: the number one regret I have heard homeschool moms mention is getting too academic too soon with their children.
It’s easy to do. Once you know you’re going to homeschool, you get itching to start. It gets even worse if you’re under pressure from well-meaning family and friends to prove yourself, or you’ve been over-exposed (one exposure is one too many) to those silly books about teaching your baby to read using flashcards. It is often the firstborn, or the first couple of children, who suffer from the mother’s eagerness.
For me, early academics came as a way of killing time. It started when my oldest (who is in high school) was two-years-old, and I was on bedrest. There isn’t much I can change about that part, which I think is why it gets my heart aching every single time. So many of my memories from that time consist of me laying on the couch, trying to keep my pregnancy (and also my lunch), with him so patiently hoping for something to do together.
It wasn’t horrible. He’s naturally a schoolish sort of person, so it could have been worse. But still: if I had known then what I know now, I would have done things differently.
We spent a lot of time on numbers and colors and letters — the “important facts” of early childhood. Admittedly, I was so green with nausea that reading aloud wasn’t possible a lot of the time.
I never asked the question of what early childhood is for or whether there were better things to do with him, better ways to have him spend his time. The trend I started when he was two continued through all of his preschool and kindergarten years while I continued to get pregnant, have babies, nurse babies, and so on.
Today, I’m going to tell you what I’d do, knowing what I know now, with my preschoolers and kindergartners if I were starting all over again (something like what my younger children actually experienced). Other than giving them plenty of time to play, here are seven aspects of my “core curriculum” for littles.
Important thing to remember: kindergarten is still little. Don’t rush it.
1. Go outside.
My little guy didn’t really like going outside, and I didn’t have the energy and stamina to fight with him about it. But if I could do it over, I’d figure it out. I’d ask for help from my husband or family or friends. Going outside while on bedrest can be complicated, of course, but I’m sure I could have borrowed some sort of reclining outside chair from a family member to make it possible to be outside and lie on my side at the same time.
Simple things like a bird feeder or hummingbird feeder might have attracted creatures worth knowing about, worth knowing the names of. A little spade and a bucket might have made him quite happy, especially if I had been nearby. Bugs would have been available, as well as the occasional cloud. With a hose, he could have made mud — though cleaning him up might have been a challenge.
If I hadn’t been on bedrest, a whole world would have opened up to us. I could have taken him to the park, where we could have learned the names of all the trees. We could have learned about north and south, the direction the sun moves, where it rises and sets, and a million other things. All of this could have been learned through conversation, just him and me, discussing the world.
Being outside hours and hours a day is so important for children. I hadn’t yet been introduced to Charlotte Mason, but her chapters on outdoor life in Home Education are priceless resources for the early years. They are what helped me transition to more outdoor time.
2. Listen to music.
I like things quiet, especially when I am overwhelmed (which was basically all of my first seven years of motherhood), meaning we weren’t listening to much of anything. Plus, smart phones with applications that play music were still a number of years away from being invented. Music, you see, wasn’t quite as easy to come by. Still, I think I had some CDs from a music history class I had taken in college, and I even remember that my son liked them. I should have done much more with them. In the early years, we moms always want to start introducing the things that feel important, like writing and math.
But music. This we forget. My older wiser self would tell my younger self to start with the music. Tiny children are not yet ready for the three-r’s, but their souls are in tune with the good, true, and beautiful — they are always ready for music.
A curriculum like AmblesideOnline, with the scheduled rotation of composers is just perfect. At these young ages, not much is necessary other than listening. Maybe just a simple sentence such as, “Let’s listen to our Bach music.”
3. Look at beautiful pictures.
I saw a mom on Facebook whose little one-year-old already has a tiny store of beautiful pictures in her mind. She carries around a tiny copy of a Cassatt painting and shows it to her dolls. Truly, this mom has chosen the better way, I thought to myself. While my toddler was staring at geometric shapes — garishly colored triangles and octagons (“ah-gah-gon” he would say at age 2), hers is seeing actual beauty.
I didn’t know any better, so there is nothing I can do about the past, but I can warn those who come after me. If you have to make a choice, choose paintings. Choose art. Choose beauty.
Again, I refer you to AmblesideOnline. The artist study page has so many choices. You can choose what is scheduled, or you can select something you think is particularly fitting for your child. Picture study with little ones is oh so simple. We don’t make demands upon them, because they are so young. We simply hold out the painting. “What do you see?” “What do you love?”
4. Read aloud, especially nursery rhymes.
Reading aloud in general is great, yes. Read those picture books over and over until they fall apart, yes. But one thing that wasn’t on my radar at the time was nursery rhymes. I should have owned an Original Mother Goose, and I should have read a poem or two every day after we read our Bible story. Not only are nursery rhymes (and other poetry) so nourishing to young minds, but they develop the aesthetic sense — it is an early way of learning about rhyme and rhythm.
5. Don’t start reading lessons until they are ready, and then make them very, very short.
Someday I will explain the full story as to why I developed the Teaching Reading with Bob Books Printable Phonics Lessons. For now, let me say that the most important aspect of my program is that it is designed to naturally limit reading lessons to only 10-15 minutes per day.
My oldest child mostly taught himself to read, it’s true. But sometimes, as he was figuring things out, he would need lessons. And I, naturally, thought that if five minutes was good, thirty was even better. I almost made this sweet, natural reader of mine hate reading!
Reading lessons do not have to be complicated, and they do not need to take a lot of time to be effective. Reading lessons should never take longer than necessary.
When I couldn’t find a program out there that was designed to be this simple — that respected the fact that reading lessons should be a very small part of an otherwise richly lived life, I made one.
But let’s say you’re not using my program. Fine. I still beg you not to go on and on with the reading lessons.
As far as when to start lessons, that is an easy one: the rule of thumb with Teaching Reading with Bob Books is to start at age six, or when they start begging, whichever comes first. It is okay to teach reading in kindergarten, or even preschool, if the child is demanding it. But if not, please wait. It is okay to wait and start reading in first grade. The secret is that they usually learn much faster when you wait until they are older.
6. Play math rather than drill math.
If you need a book on this, try Kate Snow’s Preschool Math at Home. Once you get a sense for what she’s doing in the book, you should be able to incorporate simple activities, such as counting, into the day-to-day.
You’re at the grocery store, shopping for apples. Have your preschooler hold the bag and count out the apples as you put them inside. Grocery stores are wonderful places for learning to count, learning a bit about weight, and more.
7. Work hard together.
In the preschool and kindergarten years, chores are oft overlooked. Personally, I think they ought to be part of the core curriculum! Not only do well-trained children make “real” homeschooling (first grade and up) so much easier, but these younger years are when children are excited to learn. It can slow you down, it’s true. But the time invested when children are little pays off later and makes it oh so worth it.
Let them do laundry. Let them do dishes. Let them help you cook and clean. Give them every little job you can think of, and let them work alongside you. Children love to feel big and helpful.
The days are long, but the years are short. In no time, your children will be ready to start formal lessons. Learn from the regrets of so many others and protect these young years from academic pressures. You’ll be so glad you did.
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