Guest Post by Charity Hawkins, author of The Homeschool Experiement: a novel
In the last post I talked about a workable daily routine for homeschooling preschoolers. In this post I want to delve into the specifics. Here’s how those activities teach your child.
LIFE SKILLS / CHARACTER
I messed up with my first child. I didn’t have a great routine; I basically let him eat whenever he wanted, have terrible sleep habits, and call the shots for what we did a lot of the time. I’ve wised up.
You want to help your child establish good habits, with the parents as the authorities. With my first son we spent the first six-months of kindergarten (okay, fine, the whole year) just getting him to obey with a good attitude. Help preschoolers cultivate an attitude of cheerfully helping and obeying.
These Little Jewel Books are super cheap ($3 each) and do a good job of reinforcing the idea of being a cheerful helper at home. My favorites are: Just Four, Molly Helps Mother, Helping Mother, A Boy to Help .
Regular social interaction with other children is helpful. My three-year-old learns manners and sharing at home with his brother and sister, but he also gets practice at Sunday School, Awana Cubbies, and a homeschool co-op we go to one morning a week. When I had two preschoolers, they attended a Mother’s Day Out type program. I don’t think it was necessary for their academic or social development, but it was pretty helpful for my sanity. My guess is that your child is around other children in some form, whether at church or soccer class or with friends, but if not and you think that is needed, then there are lots of good one-day-a-week programs or classes.
My three-year-old might get an hour of reading plus an hour of other “academic” activities spread out through a normal day. The rest of his time is spent on playing, helping, joining in with whatever is going on in the house, nap, baths, meals, etc.
1. PRE-READING – There are so many excellent picture books out there. I read to my three-year-old son one or two books in the morning and again before his nap. Sometimes he gets a few while the older two are working on their school. My husband reads him two books at bedtime. If you need ideas on wonderful picture books for these ages, I’d recommend Five in a Row books or the Sonlight books. I personally don’t mess with chapter books (with no pictures) until age five or so. There are so many wonderful picture books with rich vocabulary, Beatrix Potter for instance, that there’s no need to jump to chapter books yet.
Even more than actual books though, talking with preschoolers and telling them stories can prepare them for language. I talk to my three-year-old about what we’re doing, ask him to follow simple instructions, and listen to his silly stories. Talking naturally falls into your day whatever you’re doing; you don’t have to schedule that. If we’re waiting at a restaurant, for example, instead of looking to an app for entertainment, we can play iSpy, make up stories about the silverware, or color. The other day while he got a haircut (and was decidedly unhappy about it), I held him and told him a “Three Bears Story.” This is our standard story, but I have the baby bear do whatever he’s doing that day. Nursery rhymes, songs and finger plays at the library all teach rhyming and language.
Before the brain can do the eye-tracking necessary for reading, it has to have mastered large-motor and fine-motor skills. So just as important for reading as actual books is that your preschooler uses his muscles a lot. Pushing the laundry basket down the hall is working his large muscle groups. Throwing clothes into the washing machine crosses the mid-line of his body, which helps establish those cross-lateral connections in the brain that are so important for later learning. (See Healy’s book for more on this.) Jumping outside is good. Climbing jungle gyms. Swimming. Gymnastics. Running in circles. Whacking at baseballs. All that energy they have? Great! It’s God’s way to help their bodies do what they need. It IS school.
For the actual ABCs, with my three-year-old I use a couple of puzzles (also good for math and handwriting skills) and we talk about the letters. I relate each of them someone’s name, like “M. for Mommy!” or “oh, that’s a D. That says ‘Duh’ for Daddy.” I also have been giving him a printout letter to color from this site but mostly to keep him busy while I do school with his brother and sister. He has improved a lot. About a month ago he’d scribble and be done in thirty seconds. Now he is at least attempting to color and working two to three minutes, so that’s quite the increase in attention span, right? That’s very normal at this age. (Many girls might sit and color for 20 minutes though. That’s probably normal too.)
Your goal with the ABCs is to teach the letter sounds. “That’s a B. It says ‘buh.’ “ I teach short vowel sounds for the vowels. “A for ‘aah’ as in apple.” That way once your preschooler knows her letters, she is ready to start blending three letter words like C-A-T, probably in kindergarten. (See Jenae’s book for more info on Teaching Your Child to Read.) I also point out letters on signs we see. Teaching letter sounds is phonics. (Blends like “ch” usually come in kindergarten.)
Songs, Poetry, and Bible verses are easily memorized and teach language. I love the Steve Green Hide ‘Em in Your Heart CDs for scripture. We listen in the car to CDs. Any nursery rhymes count as poetry. Songs do too. These all lay the foundation for reading. Think of it this way—when your child starts reading in kindergarten if she’s never heard of a word, she’s going to have a hard time reading it. By giving her rich vocabulary through books, memorized songs and poetry, and stories, you “build the database” of rich language for later reading and writing.
(This is a fantastic presentation ($3) about language acquisition through reading and poetry. In fact, I just listened to this tonight and if I had one educational resource to recommend to any parent, homeschooling or not, this is it.).
2. PRE-HANDWRITING – Along with those large motor skills, preschoolers need to develop fine-motor skills to prepare them to hold a pencil and write letters and numbers in kindergarten.
a. Helping activities like wiping a table, sorting silverware, folding washcloths, digging in the garden, putting muffin liners in a muffin tray, cracking eggs, stirring, pouring, sweeping, Dustbusting, watering plants, helping cut and arrange flowers or leaves for a centerpiece, cutting a banana with a butter knife. Scooping birdseed into the birdfeeder. Basically the kid version of your real work.
b. Sensory activities like play-doh, playing in a sand box, digging, pouring dried beans, pouring water, making rolls, bathtub play, washing toys outside. Lots of things outside provide this: sand, leaves, grass, water, etc.
c. Craft activities like cutting with safety scissors (great for fine motor), pasting, coloring, watercolor (cleans up easily) painting, playdoh.
d. Learning toys like puzzles, shape sorters, matching games, etc.
Almost everything they do fits the bill. (Except picking their noses. That’s one fine motor activity I could live without.)
This cute workbook is cheap ($3) and gives your child practice sitting in a chair, holding a pencil, etc. (You’d be surprised at how much practice it takes to not fall out of a chair. It’s amazing.)
3. PRE-MATH – Math concepts are easy. Those happen all the time in life. You can talk about the days of the week, sing songs, show him the months on the calendar. When you measure him against the wall, talk about inches. When you cook, talk about cups and teaspoons. When you weigh him, talk about pounds. Shapes and colors are everywhere—right now with my preschooler, I have talked about squares, triangles, hearts, circles, and rectangles.
Chores are great for math. When your daughter helps set the table she’s learning one-to-one correspondence (math). Putting away silverware is sorting skills (math). Folding washcloths is spatial skills. Cooking pancakes teaches the idea of measuring liquids and solids. All of these things also teach following directions, memory skills, and vocabulary (pre-reading).
I have taught my three-year-old counting with fingers and toes, grapes at snack time, and putting apples into the bag at the store. When I’m teaching a child to count, I touch their finger to the object as we count. Board games often teach counting when you move your piece. Hopscotch is fun for number recognition.
Then we work on recognizing the numerals, then about four, he’ll start writing the numerals. (For that, I LOVE this sweet little booklet ($3). That alone prepared my daughter for her kindergarten math curriculum.)
After that, and into kindergarten, you can play easy “add” or “take away” games.
SCIENCE– Right now your child is exploring everything. With my three-year-old, we look at daffodils and ducks, birds and butterflies. We feel snow and rain and hail. He helps us dig in the garden. He’s learning about the seasons, which is part of the curriculum at most preschools. Most years we watch caterpillars turn into butterflies.
HISTORY / LANGUGAE / ART / MUSIC — History is over the head of preschoolers. They don’t understand past, present, and future well enough to grasp that, so don’t worry about history. If you know another language, why not say some things in that language? We read Spanish books and some soaks in, but just as it comes up. Whatever you are passionate about will come through to your preschooler. If you are musical, you’ll sing. If you love art and nature, as I do, you will point out things about art and nature. If you speak Chinese, your preschooler will learn Chinese. But none of those things is necessary.
Think about the typical preschool. Much of what they do and learn is about the life that they would be living if they weren’t in school. I’m not saying that’s bad, but you are giving them the actual experiences in your home. You have the luxury of getting to go to the farm and see the sheep, or plant the actual plant in the actual garden, or make real bread. It’s wonderful.
If you focus on the basics: character, play, and some academics (pre-reading, pre-handwriting, pre-math), your preschooler will have an excellent foundation for kindergarten.
If you do decide to homeschool preschool, just check to see if there are any requirements in your state. I believe most states do not have them for preschool, but double check to make sure.
I had so many resources to share, including more ideas for older preschoolers (4s and 5s), that I had to make a separate resources page. That has a lot more information.
Please let me know what questions you have. Does that make sense? Are you considering homeschooling? What worries you the most? I’m happy to try to answer any questions if I can.
Charity Hawkins is the author of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel.. She lives, writes, and tries to keep her preschooler from picking his nose in Tulsa, Oklahoma.