Parents who are planning to homeschool their young children are often eager to get a jumpstart on the process by implementing a rigorous preschool curriculum. This is especially tempting when the grandparents are a little skeptical. In this case, the allure of workbooks and formal academics can be irresistible; they prove to us and the world that our little ones have accomplished something quantifiable, and it can be satisfying to report that they are on their way to the kindergarten workbook well ahead of schedule. Other parents are simply eager to begin the exciting journey of homeschooling, but are a little unsure what it should look like in these early years, so they revert back to the tools and methods used in their own education as a comfortable and familiar place to start. This is not to say that workbooks and official academics have no place, and they can be a fun change of pace for a child seeking to “do school” like their older siblings. However, the preschool years can be so much more.
The preschool years offer an incredible opportunity to set the tone of your homeschooling relationship with your child. They are a season in which to cultivate a relationship characterized by mutual delight and trust. They are a time for learning through play. They are a time to engage in shared exploration and discovery. They are a time to read, read, and read some more.
During the preschool years, set aside ample time for play. Often this can be free, unstructured, unscheduled play while you tend to the needs of other children (or your own!), but don’t neglect the opportunity to play with your child as well. Laugh and giggle and tickle. Play tag and Candyland and house. Build with blocks. Put together puzzles. Color and draw. Spend time at the park. This kind of play invites children to use their creativity and imagination, to explore and interpret their world, to develop problem-solving and motor skills, and to practice language skills. All of these skills are foundational to their development and crucial to their future success in formal academic endeavors. So don’t rush through or skip over this special time in your child’s development. Take time to play with your preschooler, make lasting memories together, and invest in his or her education at the same time!
As an extension of play, enjoy shared exploration and discovery. This can be planned and structured time such as visits to a children’s museum or an aquarium. But be prepared: often the richest experiences will take place at the moments you least expect. Go for nature walks, plant a garden, turn over stones to find out what lives beneath them. Visit the zoo, take a trip to the local pet store, or enjoy the birds flitting right outside your window. Marvel about the weather—what remarkable clouds, what a stunning rainbow! Talk about what you see and experience. Discuss, compare, wonder out loud. Share additional information (“Those wispy clouds are called cirrus clouds! Did you know that cirrus is Latin for curl or ringlet?”) without overwhelming your child (“Cirrus clouds are formed when water vapor undergoes deposition at high altitudes.”). If anything seems to catch your child’s interest, suggest a trip to the library for a book on that topic.
An inexhaustible area for exploration and discovery is language. Revel in poetry together; the pleasures of rhythm and rhyme captivate even very young children. Read aloud with your child; keep a constant supply of books with beautiful language and excellent pictures. Make visits to the library the highlight of your week because they mean special time with Mom, discovering new books and revisiting old favorites. Tell stories, chant rhymes, sing songs. Repetition and memorization are key to a child’s development at this age, so gladly reread their favorite book, knowing that you are building irreplaceable memories and yes, even contributing to their education (though it may be hard to fathom how on the hundredth pass through the same book).
Because young children are designed to learn through play and exploration, and they naturally soak up incredible amounts of information about the world around them, it can be beneficial to think of a parent’s role during this special time as facilitating learning rather than teaching. Classical Conversations offers Scribblers resources as recommended materials to help facilitate your preschooler’s play with language, letters, sounds, colors, shapes, and numbers. As you consider these resources for your child, resist the urge to reflexively think of learning as working through a specific curriculum, and remember that these resources are designed as preparation for, not the beginning of, formal academics. You will make the most of the preschool years if you slow down, treasure this time with your young ones, and enjoy the journey as you set the tone that will govern your home school in the years ahead.
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