Guest Post by Charity Hawkins, Author of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel
Spring is the time many people start making decisions for next year’s school. If you are considering homeschooling preschool but are nervous, take heart. You can do it.
Homeschooling preschool is not hard.
My goal today is to convince you that you can do it. (You can.) In Part 2 of this series, I’ll share more specifics on what we did in our family. (I understand not everyone has the option to homeschool. I’m certainly not saying it’s the “best” choice. But if your heart is drawing you towards it, and it is a viable option for you, I want to encourage you that it’s not as daunting as you might think.)
By the time this post runs, my oldest son will be nine, my daughter will be seven, and my youngest son will be three-and-a-half. I’m writing this based on the experience of homeschooling my oldest two through preschool (and up to 3rd and 1st grade) and my littlest one right now.
I’m sure there are more, but these are my priorities with my third.
- Life Skills / Character –knowing she’s loved by me and by God, knowing how to wait patiently or not get his way without throwing a fit, obeying, sharing, being helpful and kind, having good manners, and listening respectfully. If these things aren’t in place, there’s no point proceeding. (If we were in France they’d add: enjoyment of healthy, nutritious foods. We’re currently working on that one!)
- Academic –Pre-Reading – understanding of language, rhyme, ideas; love of books and reading; talking and forming his own ideas; ABCsPre-Handwriting – the brain must master large motor skills before fine motor skills, so large first, then fine.Math Skills – Anything that deals with numbers ex. Time, temperature, calendars and days of week, months, years, height, weight, cooking measurements. Also counting to five, then ten, but I want him to understand. (Counting to 100 doesn’t mean anything to 2-3 year olds.I’ll give practical ideas on how I’ve taught all these skills tomorrow.
- START WITH A WORKABLE ROUTINE
Before I start planning what we’ll do for “school,” I think about a healthy daily routine. This is more important than baby flashcards, I promise. This isn’t set in stone, but a guide for our days.
Sleep and Wake Times – Let’s say you have two children, a three-year-old and a baby. Get out a piece of paper and jot down sleep and wake times for both. (This alone sometimes feels like advanced calculus.) Make sure and put in naps, and the time to read before a nap or whatever your routine is.
Schedule a nap for your preschooler. If they are younger than five, they probably need a nap or at least a quiet rest time, even if they think they don’t. And you certainly do. They can play quietly in their room or listen to tapes or look at books if they don’t sleep. Definitely schedule this in. I’m hard-pressed to think of any homeschooling mom I know who doesn’t have an afternoon rest time of some sort.
Meals – Now put in meal times, and schedule enough time to prepare healthy meals, whatever is realistic for you during this season of life. Let’s say you eat lunch at 11:00, then you can put a half hour of preparation and clean-up before and after, and your preschooler gets to help you. That is part of school.
Also include feeding times for babies, so maybe you write in your typical nursing time and you read to your preschooler during that time.
Chores – Now pencil in the chores you need to do. (Oh yes, did I mention use pencil? I actually do my schedule in Word because I update it every season.) For example, on Wednesdays we do a mini-housecleaning day where we gather laundry and trash, start laundry, and do a quick pickup of rooms and bathrooms. Saturday is our main cleaning day (in theory). My three-year-old helps with all of this, to the best of his ability. That’s school too, as I will explain in more detail tomorrow.
There are also things like going to the grocery store. I try to do this on Wednesday nights or on the weekend so I don’t have to take all three kids, but when they were younger, we had one morning we went to the store. If you want to, that can be a fun learning activity, but if you’d rather do it without the children, fine. It’s your schedule.
Play – a lot of what we’ve mentioned already feels like play to my son, but he also needs unstructured deep, imaginative or imitative play. This may be playing dolls, dressing up like “Super Cowboy,” or playing restaurant. If you’re home a lot, your preschooler will naturally find things to do, though you may have to help get him started sometimes. If you’re out a lot, you may need to carve out time for play at home. This teaches creativity and higher thinking (the “executive brain function”) in a way structured parent-led activities do not. Because it involves movement and decision-making, it may also help with “self-regulation,” one of the things lacking in children with ADHD.
What Mom Needs – Especially if your children are young, think about what makes you happy. For me, I like going to the YMCA once or twice a week, and when the kids were younger we’d do that in the morning. Maybe you like a walk outside each day, or to write a few hours a week. Think about when that would happen, and pencil that in. If Mama is happy, life is better for everyone. No martyrs!
Okay, so by now your schedule is probably pretty full. Life takes up a lot of time, doesn’t it? “When am I going to do school?” you might be thinking. Well, remember, your preschooler is learning all the time, so he has been doing school all day. But if you have any time left over, you can plan some:
Learning Activities – If you have twenty minutes and the baby’s asleep, you can do a puzzle with your preschooler (math, pre-handwriting). While you’re going on a walk, you can talk about God’s amazing creation and how he makes the buds on the trees appear (science, vocabulary). When you play dolls with your daughter, you are helping develop her imagination, vocabulary, and story-telling. When you read a book snuggled up on the couch, you are teaching her of your love, of the rhythm of our language, love for learning, and introducing her to a rich wealth of experiences and knowledge.
Limit Screens – Notice, there’s no screen time on the schedule yet. Here’s what I’d challenge you to do: Pretend your TV is broken and plan what you would do in lieu of TV time. I actually have a list of ideas I have written down by the TV so if we need help thinking of some activities I’m ready. For example: instead of TV in the morning when you’re all groggyà reading snuggled up on the couch while munching Cheerios. Instead of TV before nap timeà audio book or reading. Instead of a movie to get her out of your hair while you make lunch à have her play outside or color. (Can you tell we’ve had to work on this a lot?) Once you have your ideal schedule, you can always add back in 30 minutes a day, or keep DVDs handy for when you are all exhausted or sick. We do watch TV, but I try to keep the bulk of it on the weekends, not as a daily habit. In our house my preschooler gets no video games, no electronic toys with screens, almost no computer or iPhone time (like once a month, maybe). I’m just a freak that way. But here’s the thing—he doesn’t know anything different. He’s as happy as a clam. And I learned with my first son that I was creating appetites—the more he played on the computer, the more he wanted to. It’s much easier to just say no for now. You’re the mom—you get to decide and your kids will adapt and be content regardless. (Jane Healy’s Endangered Minds is an excellent book about the effects of visual animation on children’s brain development.)
You just want the majority of your preschooler’s activities to be moving, interacting with you, playing, storing up a rich database of language and experience, and learning to be a nice little human.
So there you go. You’re homeschooling your preschooler.
See, I told you– you could do it!
In Part 2, I’ll dig down a bit more into how each of those activities is teaching your child the skills she needs for kindergarten and life.
What questions do you have so far? Please ask in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.
Charity Hawkins is the author of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel. She lives, homeschools, and enjoys life with a three-year-old (most of the time) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.