Soon I will post the second in my series of columns about homeschooling a preschooler, but first I thought it might be appropriate to start at the very beginning….That is, how I taught my son his ABCs and 123s.
I believe that learning happens all the time, and as Maria Montessori said, it begins at birth. There are the kinds of things we teach ourselves, such as learning how to walk, talk, love and explore. Then there is the “school” kind of learning: learning the language our parents speak, our history, math and critical thinking. Every kind of learning is important.
Of all the things I want to teach my sons, what I hope to teach them above all is to love learning. This world is beautiful, distressing and complex. I hope to instill in them the desire to discover, and I want to teach them how they can find answers for themselves. I also want them to know it’s okay to keep asking questions and how to embrace mystery, if need be.
That may sound lofty, but it’s for those reasons that I try to take my son’s lead with learning, especially now when he’s only four years old. If I push anything on him, he’s going to balk. As long as he’s inquisitive and thinks what we’re doing is fun, I’m going to roll with it. (We will re-evaluate this method as he gets older.)
But I don’t sit back and wait for him to pick up a book either. I show him books, and I introduce new ideas to him. Usually he thinks my suggestions are pretty cool. After all, he is FOUR.
My eldest son learned his ABCs very early. By 21 months, he could correctly identify each letter. That is, I could say, “Point to the M,” and he would point to the correct letter. I taught my son his letters in a variety of ways, but I think what helped him the most was our lessons in the bathtub.
I bought those letters that you can use in the tub, and we would play with them, and I simply stated the names of the letters as we moved them around. Sometimes we would line up three letters on the edge of the tub, and I would say their names as I pointed to them. For a while, I thought that what I was doing was pointless and that he was probably too young to get it, but then one night I asked him to pick up such and such letter and he did it! And then he did it again! I was amazed!
Nowadays Daddy usually gives him a bath, but not long ago I did, and that night he wanted to try to “build words” like they do in the PBS show “Word World.” (I also credit and thank educational television shows for teaching my son the basics better than I can! If used properly, T.V. is not bad for kids! You can read a column I wrote about children and television here.) You can see one word we built above. I had to assemble it on the toilet because his younger brother kept grabbing and throwing the letters around.
Another fun activity we did was writing the alphabet on the sidewalk outside and then walking along and saying the letters.
I also used the chalk to teach him numbers. I wrote the numbers with the chalk on the sidewalk, and I drew dots under each numeral…..1 dot for the number one, 2 dots for the number 2, etc. Then we would find objects to put under each letter: 2 acorns, 3 leaves, etc. I think this really helped him to understand what the numbers meant.
These are simple exercises, and they were simply part of our routine. I did not do any planning. I just took advantage of the moments when my son was focused and willing to learn.
Moral of the story: Teach when child is willing and you have the energy!
It should not go unmentioned that my youngest son, the 19-month-old, is a completely different character! Even if I had the opportunity to spend leisure, uninterrupted one-on-one time with him like I did with my first child, I’m not sure he would learn the same way. He never sits still. In the bathtub, he’s a fish flipping from one side to the other, and he chews on the letters.
I have not tried to teach the 19-month-old anything because I just don’t have the time or energy, but I’m not worried about him. He is vibrant, curious, and he loves books. He loves nothing more than sitting in my lap with a book and flipping through the pages. Sometimes he’ll point to the images and say, “ugh!” which means I need to tell him what it is. He will definitely learn differently than his older brother, but as you can see, he has already taken the lead on how.
If you have any other fun, easy methods for teaching toddlers the basics, please leave a note in the comment section!