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Preschool: Late or Early?

It might help to start thinking about the #youngeryears by discussing a few schools of thought. Oh come on, Brenda, I just want you to tell me how to homeschool my preschool or Pre-K kid! I don't want to talk about educational philosophy! I get it. I promise the fun stuff is coming. To keep this really simple, I'll talk about only the two ends of the spectrum and you can use your imagination to fill in the middle parts.

Tiny School

On the one hand are those who favor what I would call "tiny school" for little ones. Little tables and chairs. Little bookshelves. A tiny sized classroom, if you will. They might picture children working on letters and numbers at the tables. Of course they would read to them, of course there would be play breaks. But in the end, they expect learning. They expect that children are capable of learning letters and letter sounds, early math concepts, counting, writing their name, and doing simple craft projects. There is probably a schedule to the day, circle time, reading time, table work time, etc. There are absolutely curriculum companies who cater to this model. You can find workbooks for this age and you can find stuff to help your child read. And hear me now: some kids are ready for this! There is nothing wrong with any of it, but it's all wrong if your child is not ready. You will feel like a failure if your child is not ready.

Let Them Play

Now, the other end of the spectrum is best described in the book Better Late Than Early by Raymond Moore. What I'm going to say is not from that book, but just speaking about the general mindset over on this end of the spectrum. The general consensus would be: Let them play! School can wait! Learning is play. Children learn best when they aren't stressed with age-inappropriate activities. I agree with much of this but it's a little stressful if you watch your child not really reading until they are nearly 8 years old. We are just so used to comparing children to what is expected in public schools. And what is expected has changed dramatically. In 1993, I student taught first grade. One of the teachers was near retirement. She said when she first began teaching, the little first graders came to her fresh from Mommy and she began teaching them their ABCs. There was no Kindergarten. Today, many kids have been in daycare, preschools, and other learning type centers all their life before they hit first grade. They are old hats at the school thing. If you take one of those children and compare them to a child who is at home playing happily most of their days, who has not been taught to read and does not know the first thing about completing a worksheet, you are going to see a big difference. But in a few years' time, you won't. Kids also learn to walk at different times. My girls walked at 11 months, 15 months, and 9 months--all within the range of normal. If you saw them walking today, do you think you could pick out the one who walked the latest? Of course not. Nor will you be able to pick out the children who learned to read early or late. What you need to look into, however, are the benefits of play based learning at a young age. So much of what happens in public school does not meet developmentally appropriate practice, because decisions are made based on money and testing along with what is best for children. And sometimes what's best for children gets pushed aside.

Now, are you picturing your preschooler just running willy-nilly all over the house making a big mess playing? No, preschool does not have to look like that. Remember what I said about how this is the time to establish good habits that will help you later? They are ready! They are "big kids" now and can help clean up. They can handle some rules in the playroom about how many things they can get out at once. This is a time for play and exploration, but somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is guided play.

Guided Play

Guided play simply means that you have put some thought and effort into what they will play each day, at least for a few hours every morning. You don't need a formal "OK honey, it's time to start homeschool" moment in your day. First, work on establishing a morning routine. This should include the same things each day such as: getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, making their bed, maybe some TV time when they first wake up. Then, right after the last item, you can invite them to a play/learning opportunity. This could be as easy-going or scheduled as you like. Perhaps you simply join them in the play room and build with blocks together, interjecting vocabulary as you go. "Wow, look how TALL that tower is! I wonder if it's as tall as you? Look, my tower is SHORTER." Or, you might have something prepared that they have never seen such as a themed play dough activity. Here are some great ideas from The Imagination Tree. This is something that all your littles could be involved with. If you have multiple young ones at home, you can clearly see that they will all be learning together. If you need to do more formal desk work with a 6 or 7 year old child, that can be done during the little one's naps.

If your little one is very much into construction equipment you could have a play dough activity with mini construction vehicles, set up a dirt area outside for them to play with toy construction equipment, read books about them, etc. If you have a child very into something you probably ARE doing some of those things anyway. Know that there are thousands of ideas on Pinterest and that your child won't like everything you come up with. Many days I had something new ready for my Pre-K child and they decided they would rather go play. I don't make coming to the homeschool table mandatory until Kindergarten at my house. So go play! But, if you have all young ones closer in age, it's always good to set up your play room and your home in such a way (with good routines AND physically) that learning can take place.

So generally speaking, I would follow my child's lead, but with my own plans in the back ground. Some kids will NEVER show interest in how to write their name, so they need a bit of prodding. But at this young age, everything can be made fun. Instead of writing letters on paper with a pencil, they could paint them with water on the wooden fence, make them with cookie cutters in dough and eat them, and a myriad of other letter fun. They will learn their name eventually, and waiting until formal school starts is just fine. Did you know that Kindergarten is a very new concept? My oldest sister did not have the opportunity to attend Kindergarten in the early 1970s as we did not have it here at that time. So take some of the pressure off of yourself and your child and enjoy these younger years with lots of play-based learning, some intentional planning on your part, and maybe a few elements of tiny school thrown in if they are ready and you want to.


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