i.e., The building blocks for a child’s education, starting with preschool.
My four-year-old is of preschool age, though I won’t consider him “pre-K” until next year. (This is because both my boys have August birthdays, but I also believe children are required to start school too early nowadays. Of course, it depends on the individual child, but I know that for my boys, starting later has and will benefit them.) As I watch him mature and begin to learn the fundamentals on his own, I am delighted with this unique personality growing up alongside his brother who is so different than him. In some areas, he’s more advanced than his older brother was. In other areas, he is behind. None of that matters except as a testament to these two complimentary brothers who have different personalities and learning styles.
One thing my four-year-old doesn’t have that my eldest son had was a mother with more time on her hands to work directly with him. Yet he benefits in participating in classes, projects and play dates that my eldest son never had at that age. As I do more work with my youngest child, I’ll be writing about “preschool” all over again, though it will look a little different this time.
I write this post as a kick-off to another round of preschool, and as a way to show what I have learned on my first go-around. Everything I wrote below must be present throughout our children’s whole education. If parents are not involved or learning alongside their children, kids will not learn to love learning. They will not flourish. If parents are enthusiastic about learning and use their own imaginations, the child probably will too. (This is the same whether you homeschool or not.)
I see parents asking about preschool curriculums frequently, and it always blows my mind. Believe me, you don’t need a packaged curriculum for preschool (or Kindergarten for that matter). What your child needs is experiences and conversation. Depending on your willingness to lead your child to wonderful places of discovery, they are going to learn all they need to know and more for their preschool years.
Your #1 teaching instrument is your voice.
Talk to your child. Be patient. Tell them all the simple things you take for granted. “Tree.” “Green leaf. Isn’t it pretty?” “Do you like carrots? I like carrots.” “Look at the kitty!” As they get older, your conversations will get more sophisticated. Ask your child questions. Answer their questions. Use big words and follow them up with a simple definition.
Children in households where parents talk to their children do much better in school and have a larger vocabulary than their counterparts. Teach them everything you know through conversation and story. (Don’t worry about what you don’t know. As the questions get harder, you’ll teach your child how to find answers by letting them watch you search for answers.)
Talk to your child frequently, but don’t exhaust yourself either! Children need quiet too.
Your #1 teaching resource is the library.
Take frequent trips to the library. At least once a month go and let your child pick whatever books he likes, and you pick some that you like. Let them explore the library, play with the toys there, and take them to story times, if you and your child would enjoy that. (My eldest son didn’t like story time at all when he was two years old, so we didn’t go anymore. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t like it. You can try again next year, if you like.)
Letting your kids explore and play at the library at a young age will teach them it’s a fun place. And you can learn about the opportunities and resources your library will offer you during your child’s school years. Remember to look up math and science books for your kids – there are so many fun books that teach the fundamentals. Another reason not to buy a packaged curriculum!
If you live in a rural area and have a small library like I do, be sure to check and see if your library offers an inter-library loan. I can order any book in the Georgia PINES system, which is throughout the whole state of Georgia and have it delivered to our local library. Read this for a more thorough description of how we use our library.
Remember what’s important.
Remember: Reading, arithmetic, and all those other fundamentals can be learned by any mature child or adult who has a desire to learn. Don’t worry if your five-year-old isn’t reading yet. Some children learn how to read early, but others aren’t ready until they’re 7 or 8. This has no bearing on their intelligence. It’s simply how they’re developing.
Fostering a love of learning, tenacity, kindness, and creativity has to happen in the early years. How do you do that?
Foster a love of learning by exploring the world with your child and be fascinated in the world with your child. Every child is delighted by those small things we take for granted – flowers, butterflies, a beetle on the sidewalk. If you don’t delight in these wondrous things, your child won’t delight in them.
Help your child find the answer to his questions. If he asks a question at an inconvenient time, say, “That’s a great question. We can look it up later. Remind me, okay?” Or as Lori Pickert suggests, say, “Where do you think we could find the answer to that question?” If you don’t take the time to answer or let your child know that his questions are worthy, he’ll stop asking questions.
To teach tenacity, we must be tenacious ourselves. I love to read, learn, take long walks, delight in nature, write and dream. I don’t sit around doing nothing all day (unless I need to rest). I like having a clean house, having goals, and I’m always wondering what I could do to make some more money. I may not live up to my ideal self, but I’m not a lazy person either. By modeling tenacity, my children are going to learn how to accomplish the important goals in their life. (The key word being important. I’m not against quitting when a better path reveals itself.)
By now I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I’m going to say: To teach children how to be kind, we must be kind ourselves. Be kind to people. This can mean just smiling and keeping an open-mind, or maybe you’re the type of person who likes to make soup and take it to your neighbor’s house when he’s sick. When you’re checking out at the grocery store, be patient and say thank you to the clerk. When dealing with difficult people, try to be diplomatic.
Kindness is more than being kind to people. It means being kind to the planet. Teach your children to be kind to animals and even bugs. Tell your children how we should act in certain situations. Making up stories about situations that arise can help with this. Don’t worry about being perfect. Kids don’t need perfection, but if you are a kind person, more than likely your children are going to follow in your footsteps.
To foster creativity, you need to let your children play and create. You won’t need to do much planning for this; just don’t squash their natural creativity! Go along with what your child’s instincts are for playing, exploring and creating. Look for projects that you know your child would enjoy. Teach them how to play make-believe. Join them in their own creative play, and if you want them to try something new, you need to do it yourself and let them watch.
There are tools to fostering a love of learning, tenacity, kindness and creativity, and I’ll list some of those below. Let your child’s interests guide you as you invest in their creativity, and remember, sometimes less is more when it comes to building a child’s imagination.
- Read. Make book time a ritual in your house.
- Spend time in nature. Walk slowly on a nature path and see what you can find! What can you draw in the dirt with a stick? What can you make with a bunch of leaves? While you are observing nature, teach your children how to be kind to it.
- Go to interesting places. Explore parks, nature centers, museums, and anywhere else that you can afford to go. Have fun and see what you can learn with your child.
- Make-believe. Pick your favorite book and act it out. Or pretend to be a animal. Can you run as fast as a cheetah? Parents may need to teach little children how to play make-believe, especially if they don’t have older siblings.
- Games. Any child’s game such as Simon Says, Hide and Seek or a fun board game teaches children how to pay attention, follow rules and work together.
- Share your own work with your child. Tell them or teach them about your hobbies. Take them to meet your friends and let them see how you interact with them.
- For more information, the Tools of the Mind website has some great information for parents about make-believe and supporting self-regulation.
The best toys are those that require a child to use their imagination to play with it. I couldn’t possibly list them all, but these are a few of my boy’s favorites:
- Toy animals. My boys play with plastic toy animals more than anything else! They usually carry a favorite one around each day, and they especially like to pretend they’re feeding it while they play outside. The boys don’t care about quality in toys, but I do, so the Schleich animals are my favorites.
- Blocks. Legos. Zoob pieces. Any kind of building set.
- Puppets. We have bought some, but we love to make them too.
Keep within your child’s reach:
- Different kinds of pretty paper.
- Crayons, markers, colored pencils.
- Scissors, glue (if they’re old enough).
- Air-dry modeling clay.
- Artsy materials found at any craft supply: pom poms, popsicle sticks, sequins, googly eyes, felt.
If you are still anxious to make sure you’re covering the bases for preschool, you can refer to World Book’s Typical Course of Study Preschool Curriculum Guide. But please be wary of lists like this. Every child develops differently, and the most important thing a supportive parent can do is observe their child, support their own way of developing and in their own time frame. For serious concerns, I would ask a trusted physician. Other than this, use your instincts and let your child be the unique child that he/she is!
What else would you add?