Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How we do...Preschool, Part 1

Lately I've gotten some questions about what sort of activities I do for 'preschool' with James, who just turned 4.  But, before I tell you what James and I are actually doing for 'preschool', I want to preface this with a bit of my philosophy about preschool.  Why?  Because, despite the fact that James and I are doing a bit of 'real' school work together, I don't really think that it is necessary to do a ton of directed work with preschoolers.  This goes against a lot of what you might see out there both in the conventional schooling world as well as in some parts of the homeschooling community.   I don't want to send you off over the internet to look at some of the materials that we are using and start to feel horribly guilty because your 3 year old can't read yet, or you don't print 20 printable activities for them to do everyday or do tons of messy art projects, or have a new theme of the week every week complete with a bulletin board and shelf of themed toys, or have a house filled from floor to ceiling with every new "educational" toy available.   Because, really, not doing these things isn't going to harm your child at all.  And as a matter of fact, keeping things simple in the early years may help them out in the long run by promoting their natural curiosity and not dampening their love for learning by giving them too much too soon.

Why do I give this disclaimer?  Because when I started out, I really didn't know any better myself.  I had never really considered homeschooling until my oldest was 3 and I realized that conventional preschool wasn't going to be a good fit for her personality and stage of development.  I ventured out onto the internet and found tons of "fun" activities to do with her at home, spent far too much money on a workbook-based preschool curriculum that was going to teach her kindergarten skills when she was still 4, and voila within a year both Michelle and I were already on the verge of burnout.  I don't want that to happen to you.

Here's one from the archives - Michelle at age 3-1/2 or so.

Thankfully, this was about the same time I stumbled on to the Charlotte Mason philosophy, which was the breath of fresh air I needed.   Finally, I was given permission to relax and take more of a 'slow but steady' approach to our schooling.   Want to have a look at the series of articles that was the turning point for me?  Right here on the SCM Blog.   SCM also publishes a fantastic Early Years Book which I can highly recommend as follow up if you like what you read on the Blog Series.  (Nope, not a paid advertister, but I really love just about everything that SCM has produced.)

Anyhow, the bottom line?  What it all boils down to?   These are the things that I would consider essential for your children's 'preschool' education:

  •  Establish good home routines and good habits with your kids - obedience, attention, orderliness, etc. You will be grateful to have already begun establishing these kinds of habits in your home before you are ready to start formal schooling at age 5 or 6.
  • Let your child help you with household tasks and begin passing on a few independant chores to them as they show they are able.
  • Read aloud daily from a wide variety of high quality children's literature on a wide variety of topics - Bible stories, nature, stories from other cultures and countries (geography), beautiful picture books... Don't be afraid to start into some chapter books as well.  Avoid "twaddle". See my Favorite Read-Alouds tab at the top of the sidebar to see some of our favorites for the 6-and-under crowd.
  • Spend time outdoors as much as the weather and your living situation allows.  Allow them to run and yell and generally 'be kids'.  Gently direct them to observe God's creation in nature.
  • Keep your home stocked with a small collection of classic, open-ended toys and give your kids time and freedom to play.  Enjoy watching what their imaginations come up with!   Trust me when I say that less is more in the toy department.  We have moved internationally twice in the last 2 years, and getting ready to do so again next year, so we've only been able to keep a pretty small portion of our kids' toys.  They are none the worse for this.  Specific items we have dragged around the world with us: Duplos, a few puzzles, play silks, cars and a 'road' playmat, play dishes and felt food, art supplies (markers, crayons, tape, paper, etc), and one doll or stuffed animal per child.  Other items we have enjoyed but were too heavy to move overseas as airline baggage include wooden blocks, train sets, and dress-up clothes/props.
  • If you have older, school-age children, include your little ones as tag-alongs as much as they are interested.
  • Limit the amount of television and computer time you let your young children have.
Another shot of Michelle around age 3, since I'm on an archive kick...

And honestly, that's it.  Charlotte Mason talks about giving our young children a "quiet, growing time."  Train them in good habits, feed their minds with ideas that will pique their curiosity and feed their desire to learn more, and the time, space, and materials to explore the world around them.

That all said...some kids are ready sooner-rather-than-later to do a bit more.  Maybe they have taught themselves the alphabet and are begging you to do more with them.  Maybe they watch their older siblings getting to do school with mom and want to have their own 'school' to do as well.   Maybe they are just in need of a little more focused one-on-one time with Mama (as was the case with James!)   Next time, I'll share some of the resources and ideas we are using for alphabet, pre-reading, and numbers with James.

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