The Importance of Play in Children’s Lives

 

Note: This column appeared in the November 9, 2011 print edition of the Barrow Journal.  Almost two years ago I also wrote a column about the importance of playing make-believe and the research on how it teaches self-regulation to children.  You can read that column by clicking here.

Sometimes I’ll get the question: “How’s homeschooling going?” and I get a little taken aback because I feel as if I should answer: “It’s great!  We’re doing reading, math, science, art and going on lots of field trips!” At least, that’s what I think people want to hear.  After all, if my child were in Kindergarten, he would be getting a daily dose of the above.

Truth be told, though we do a little of that stuff, and I’ve written about it in my columns, my main directive for my kids is “Go play.”  Because when I consider what the most important mission of a five- and two-year-old should be, it’s PLAY!

Play is one of the main reasons I am homeschooling in the first place.  I don’t want my children to have to spend their day at school and then have most of their evening hours consumed by doing homework, eating dinner, taking a bath and going to bed early because they have to get up early the next morning to go to school. 

I’m not saying that schoolchildren don’t play, but I do think that play is at a lower priority when we have to stick to schedules and get homework done.  And from what I hear, Kindergarteners are not excluded from these pressures anymore.

The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a report on “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.”  I recommend that parents read it.  It issues a concern that a “hurried and pressured lifestyle” may be having ill-effects on our children.

It does not say that all activities or after-school programs are bad for children.  In fact, they have clear benefits.  But it does say “…the balance that needs to be achieved will be different for every child on the basis of the child’s academic needs, temperament, environment, and the family’s needs.”

As I watch my boys grow and my eldest nears his elementary years, I increasingly feel that he needs the right balance between structured activity, academics and playtime.  Playtime should take up a much higher percentage of his time.

In “The Case for Play,” Tom Bartlett describes several researchers attempts to bring old-fashioned play back into children’s lives.

He explains that these researchers believe: “The emphasis on standardized testing, on attempting to constantly monitor, measure, and quantify what students learn, has forced teachers to spend more of the school day engaged in so-called direct instruction and has substantially reduced or eliminated opportunities that children have for exploring, interacting, and learning on their own.”

I want to homeschool for exactly those reasons cited above: so that my children can explore, interact and learn on their own.

In a wonderful New York Times opinion piece titled “Play to Learn,” Susan Engel lists what an ideal classroom daily schedule would entail for a third-grade class.  Besides being immersed in storytelling, reading, discussion, practicing computation and giving the children a chance to devise original experiments (just to name a few), they would also have extended time to play.

She writes, “Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way. It can also help them acquire higher-order thinking skills, like generating testable hypotheses, imagining situations from someone else’s perspective and thinking of alternate solutions.”

Reading this makes me very excited about homeschooling because this is the kind of school I want to create.  At home, I can teach my children the basics without drilling them or making them work on assignments they have no interest in.  I can give them hours of leisure time to play, or I can plan some outings and interesting projects that they’ll enjoy.

Reading the latest research on play has renewed my enthusiasm for teaching my son and has reminded me to keep asking him questions, engage him in conversation, and, most importantly, encourage him to create his own make-believe world.

Susan Engel also writes, “Scientists know that children learn best by putting experiences together in new ways. They construct knowledge; they don’t swallow it.”

At five-years-old, spending time and money worrying about a curriculum should not be on my to-do list for my son.  Instead I should be outside toting sticks and playing with him.

How important do you think play is for children…and adults?!

Learning Is Like a Chain Link Fence

A bit of homeschooling philosophy: Learning is like a chain link fence.  

Not a crummy, dusty fence in a barren lot, but a fence with bends and dips and muscadine grape vines interlacing it.  Every time we learn some small fact, we add a link.  We build a fence of knowledge and wrap it around our minds.  As we add more links, the fence gets bigger and so does our mind.  It’s not a fence that blocks out anything….no no…It doesn’t block anything out unless we stop adding links to it.  It’s more of a container with wild grasses, ideas, questions, fruit and nectar growing inside and overflowing…

***

I don’t purport to say that this is an original concept.  Not at all.  I’m only reporting on what I’ve been witnessing with my child, and in addition, I am a writer, so I like to think in metaphors.

I’ve been thinking about this as my child asks me questions…

  • What did the Native Americans do?
  • What is inside Jupiter?
  • What is inside our body?
  • Can we plant pumpkin seeds?
  • Did he die?
  • What is God?

…and I endeavor to answer.

For the Native American question, I was prepared.  Last year I bought a really cool book titled The Very First Americans.  It introduces many of the Native American tribes.  It’s general but full of good information for that first question.  It’s the first link in my son’s understanding of Native Americans.

The question, “What is inside Jupiter?” came as a result of our study of the solar system.  My son has told me that Jupiter is his favorite planet.  To answer that question, we looked online, and once I said “gas,” that was enough for my son.  But…but…but… I was tempted to add on to that, read more of the website or at least explain what “gas” is.  But he didn’t want to know all that.  He just wanted to know what was inside Jupiter.  It’s another link in his knowledge of the “The Solar System.”

“What is inside our body?”  He has asked this question in many ways over a long period of time, so I know that it’s something that truly interests him.  When we went to the toy store to pick out his birthday presents, he picked (all by himself) a human anatomy model.  He loves it, and we’ve dissected it several times. He also requested a book on the human body, which I got for him, and he’s even watched a long National Geographic documentary on the human body.  So I haven’t had to answer that question.  He’s been finding out for himself.  He’s got a lot of links on his knowledge of the human body.

My son loves plants and planting.  This summer I was going to keep gardening at a minimum since I’m so busy with the kids, but my son delighted me by becoming the gardener.  He helped me plant some tomatoes, and then at his request we’ve planted pumpkins, beans and lettuce.  I’ll talk more about his study of plants and seeds in another post, but suffice it to say, he has many links on plant knowledge too.

“Did he die?”  It might be a strange question for a five-year-old to ask, but I don’t think so.  As we begin to tell him about history and time, it’s inevitable that he must learn about death.  So this question pops up a lot when we’re reading books or watching T.V. with people he’s never seen before.  It must be his way of figuring out many things all at once, including time and life and what those mean.

“What is God?”  I have talked about God before, but the first time my son asked me about it, I got very excited.  There’s so much I want to teach him and share with him. My beliefs.  The beliefs of others.  I want to hear what he thinks too.  But I remembered the Jupiter question, so I treaded softly.  I told him in as simple of terms as I could muster, and then I read the book I’ve been saving, In God’s Name by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso.  I think by the end of the book, he was bored with the subject.

I pondered that for a few days.  I wasn’t satisfied with how I answered him, and I thought of other ways I might approach the subject.  How can I be more prepared next time?  But that is when I realized that learning is like a chain-link fence.  At first I thought “learning is like a chain with links,” but no, that wasn’t good enough.  We take our knowledge in many directions.  We make decisions.  One by one, we add a little knowledge.  We build on it.  The more we study, the longer it gets.

I thought, that was his first link in the God question.

Remember: It’s not a fence that blocks out anything unless we stop adding links to it.

I don’t expect my son to remember all the details he’s learning.  I certainly had to brush up on my knowledge of the solar system before I taught it to him.  But I do know that learning something over time, repeatedly, especially if it’s something we’re interested in, will help us in mastering that subject.  Students are told by their professors to start studying right away and not wait until the last minute! A cram session the night before an exam does little for long-term retention.

I’m writing this as a reminder to myself more than anything.  If I fear I haven’t answered a question well, I shouldn’t worry too much.  My son is building a fence of knowledge that he’ll piece together over time.  By mostly following his lead, I hope that if we don’t master long-term retention, we’ll at least foster a love of learning, and we’ll find some surprises along the way…


What is your metaphor for learning?

The Benefits of Storytelling

The National Storytelling Network says that “storytelling is essential to education: neuroscience is demonstrating that the human brain organizes, retains, and accesses information most effectively in narrative form.”  Click here to read what else they say.

I’ve been spending the last few weeks thinking and writing about storytelling because I value the importance of storytelling for my children and community.  I’m wrapping up my series on storytelling by brainstorming several reasons why storytelling is so valuable for children and adults.  Below is my list in no particular order.  I hope you might contribute to my list by adding your thoughts in the comments section.

Storytelling is beneficial because:

  • Stories both entertain and impart wisdom.
  • I can teach my children in an unique way that they will want to listen and remember.
  • Storytelling ignites the imagination.
  • It fosters listening and comprehension skills.
  • It teaches speaking skills.  Shortly after beginning to make up stories for my five-year-old, he wanted to make up stories to tell me!
  • Storytelling is part of our language arts, which is a vital part of any person’s education!
  • Stories help people understand their place in the world.  For children, stories can help them understand who they are and the world they live in.
  • It’s relaxing.  A stress-reducer!
  • Storytelling provides valuable one-on-one time with the teller and listener(s).  Telling stories to children is an expression of love.
  • Similarly, storytelling connects people and communities.  It’s a positive form of communication that fosters compassion and understanding.
  • Stories preserve cultures, beliefs and values and shares those cultures, beliefs and values with the rest of the world.

Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.

I’d like to dedicate my column and these blog posts on storytelling to the friend who inspired me to tell stories: J.J. Reneaux.  I think of her so often.

What do you think?  Please add your thoughts about storytelling in the comments section.

Two Stories I Made Up For My Five-Year-Old — to Show That YOU Can Do It Too!

This is the third in my series of posts about storytelling for children by their parents.  The first post was a review of the book Tell Me A Story by Chase Collins.  The second post was “How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children.”  In that post, I warned you that I might get brave enough to share one of my stories with you! Well, guess what?  I’m giving you two!

With these stories I would like to illustrate something that Chase Collins taught me in her book.  When you are thinking “what the heck am I going to tell a story about?” she suggests that you look at what is going on with your child at that moment.  Did they do something special that day?  Is there something that they are into?  When we were on vacation in Chicago this summer, my son took his first subway ride, so I told him a story about some children riding on a subway and meeting a subway monster (not a scary monster)!  Right now my son is into snakes, so you can guess that many of my recent stories have snakes in them.

She also said that if you can get your child to give you an idea, then go with that!  Sometimes my son says, “Just tell me a story,” and I know he doesn’t want to contribute an idea.  But lately he has been saying, “Can you tell me a story about Jack and Piper?  And it could be about how Jack goes walking to the river and finds a rainbow snake who is lost?”  (That was my son’s prompt tonight!)

The following story is one I told last month before my boy’s birthdays, and while I usually forget my stories by the next day, this one stuck with me because I was kind of proud of it.  But I don’t always tell good stories!  Usually I start one and then struggle to come to a conclusion.  After telling this tale, I later I realized it has a similar theme to a book that I’ve read to my son….but I promise I am not plagiarizing!  My story is very different, yet perhaps I subconsciously got something out of that storybook.  I think this is okay when making up stories for kids.  We are not telling these stories to sell them.  It’s a one-time love offering to our children.  Get your ideas anywhere!  It doesn’t have to be original or told with perfect diction.  If it’s a bad story, don’t worry.  You’ll forget it and tell another one the next day.

The beginning paragraph is how I usually start out my “Jack and Piper” stories.  My main character is Jack, but since I told this story right before my son’s birthday, it seemed better to make Piper the main character in this one.

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jack who lived in a forest in a log house, and he had a big garden full of vegetables and flowers.  And he also had a friend named Piper who was a troll with big feet and shaggy hair, and he lived down the path in a tree.  Piper couldn’t talk, but he had no problem communicating with his friend Jack.  

Well, tomorrow was going to be Jack’s birthday, and Piper was at home thinking about what to get for his friend.  That morning he walked outside his treehouse and noticed how beautiful the first morning light was glowing through the trees.  Oh, it would be wonderful to get Jack something as beautiful as that morning light, he thought.  Later, he was walking along the river, and he noticed how good the morning air smelled.  He breathed deep and sighed.  It would be wonderful to get Jack something that smelled as good as the morning air.  Then he walked up a small hill to one of his favorite places.  There, he sat in the grass and watched the sunrise while he ate some warm bread for breakfast.  Oh, he thought, I would love to get something that Jack would love as much as I love this morning sunrise!  

Piper sat there all day feeling kind of blue because he couldn’t think of anything he could give to Jack.  He didn’t have any money to buy anything, and he wasn’t very good at making things.  He went to bed feeling sad, but he woke up early in the morning, determined to be the first person to wish Jack a happy birthday!  He warmed up some bread in the oven and though he still felt bad about not having a present for Jack’s birthday, he knew it would be worse to not wish Jack happy birthday at all.  So he went to Jack’s house early.  It was barely light, and Piper snickered because he knew his friend liked to sleep late.  He would wake him up and be the first person to say “Happy Birthday!”  

When Piper got to Jack’s house, he knocked on the door, and a very groggy Jack answered it.  “Aw, Piper!” Jack whined.  “You woke me up!”  Piper clapped and jumped up and down.  “You want to wish me happy birthday?” Jack asked.  Piper nodded and held up the warm bread.  “Okay,” Jack said, “Just a minute.”  It didn’t take long for Jack to get dressed, and very soon the two friends were walking along the river.  “Wow,” Jack said, “It’s a beautiful morning. Smell that fresh air!”  The first light was easing its way through the branches.  The fog was gently lifting off the water.  Soon they were on top of the hill where Piper liked to eat his breakfast.  They ate the bread and watched the sunrise together.  

“I haven’t been up to see the sunrise in such a long time,” Jack said.  “I forgot how amazing it is! Thank you, Piper!”  

When Jack said that, Piper became very happy!  Suddenly he realized that he did give Jack something as beautiful as the morning light, that smelled as good as the morning air, and something that he loved as much as the sunrise!  

Currently, for a several nights in a row, my son keeps asking me to tell him a story about Jack and Piper AND an animal that gets lost.  I have no idea why he chooses this theme.  We did not have any occurrence when he got lost, and to my knowledge he has not watched a television show with this theme, but maybe he did.  Who knows?  For whatever reason, I believe it is important to him, so I am indulging him with stories about an animal getting lost and Jack and Piper helping the animal get home.  For the first couple of stories, I just had Jack and Piper help the critter home, but then I wised up.  I used the opportunity to tell my son what he could do to find his way home, if he got lost.  So in my third story, I had Jack instruct the animal to remember what landmarks he passed on his way down the river.  They followed them back up the river, and helped him find his way.  In the fourth story, which I’ll share below, I gave the advice we always hear:  If you get lost, stay put!  (Tonight I told a similar story, and I’m starting to think I need to encourage him to think of a new theme.)

Another note before I share the story:  As I mentioned before, my son usually tells me what kind of animal gets lost.  For the story below, he pointed to a snake on his “Snakes of Georgia” poster that he has on the wall next to his bed.  The snake he pointed to was a Yellow Rat Snake.  (Yes, you know you love your child when you let him have a poster full of snake photos and are willing to tell him a story about a Yellow Rat Snake!)  Here it is:

One morning Jack decided to take a walk down by the river.  When he got there, he sat down on a rock and enjoyed watching the river, listening to the gurgling sound of the water.  Suddenly he saw a baby yellow rat snake slithering by on the path very fast!  

“Little snake!” he said.  “Where are you going so fast?”  

“I’m looking for my mother!” the little snake said.  “I’m lost!” 

“Oh no!” Jack said.  “I’ll help you!  I’m very experienced at helping lost animals.”   (At this point my son asks me where Piper is, so I have to go get him.)  “But first we need to go get my friend Piper.  He’ll help us.”

Relieved, the baby snake went along to Piper’s house.  When Jack told Piper that the snake needed help finding his mother, Piper nodded and came along.

“First,” said Jack, “We’ll go back to where I found you.”  Soon they were at the place where Jack was sitting that morning.  “Now, Little Snake, where were you when you lost your mother?”

“Not far from here,” said the snake.  “Over there!”  He looked in the direction of a big boulder that was sitting on the bank of the river.   “My mommy took my sister and I out to find food, and she found me a cricket.  Then she went off with my sister to find her some food.  And I was so busy eating that I didn’t notice that they were gone!”  The little snake cried.  He wanted his mama.

“Ah,” said Jack.  “You know what?  I bet your mama isn’t far off.  The best thing to do when you’re lost is to stay right where you are.  Let’s go back to the boulder and wait.  I bet your mama will find us!”

“Okay,” said the little snake.  So Jack, Piper and the snake sat down by the big rock and waited.  The snake was still worried, but he was glad he had Jack and Piper to be with him. 

After a few minutes, the little snake’s mama and his sister came around a big tree that was close by.  “Mama!” the little snake cried.  “I thought I lost you!”

“I’m sorry you were scared,” said Mama.  “I was right over there with your sister.”

Jack and Piper were very happy that they were able to help the little snake.  They waved good-bye and watched as the snake family slithered down the trail.  Then they went back to Piper’s house and played together for the rest of the day.

Okay, so it won’t win any awards, but it made a 5-year-old very happy.  I hope you’re inspired to tell stories to your child.  If I can do it, you can do it!  Just let your imagination go wild!

***

Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.

 

Also Available! …

Everyday HSer Early Years Cover w border jpeg

 

How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children

In my last post I reviewed the book Tell Me a Story: Creating Bedtime Tales Your Children Will Dream On by Chase Collins, and I spoke a little about her reasons and strategy for making up your own tales.  In this post, I want to share my experience in telling stories to my son.

Telling stories has always been a passion of mine.  I used to write fiction, though I wasn’t very good at it or at least not good enough to get published.  Oral storytelling is also a passion, especially since I met the late J.J. Reneaux.  I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to go to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, TN.  I have been once, and it’s a wonderful experience.

But it took reading Tell Me a Story to get me started on making up tales for my own children.  Since I am a busy mama and often exhausted, I had felt like most of my creative juices were used up, but Chase’s book is inspiring.  When I read it, I began wishing I had someone like her to tell me stories!  She knows how to bolster confidence.  If you want to do anything creative and think you can’t do it, you might want to read the first part of this book.

It also frees my creative side to know that I’m telling stories to a five-year-old who will be happy with anything I come up with.  I don’t have to tell publishable stories or stories that adults or even other kids might like. I just have to tell something!  My child is thrilled that I’m taking time to tell him a story that is just for him.

As Collins suggests, I think about what happened to my son that day or what he’s interested in at the time, and I incorporate those things in the stories.  Even though it’s only been a few weeks since I finished the book, I have told dozens of stories to my son.  Many of them had different characters and were in different settings, but then I came up with Jack and Piper.  Jack is a little boy who lives in the forest in a log house with a large garden full of vegetables and flowers.  Piper is a troll with big feet and shaggy hair that lives down the path in a tree, and he’s Jack’s good friend.  Piper doesn’t talk, but Jack and Piper have no trouble communicating.

My son seems to love Jack and Piper because he’s been requesting a story about them every night.  He’s starting to tell me who they meet in the woods too.  I adore my son’s input because I know his creative juices are flowing, and he’s starting to see all the possibilities….

Best of all, he told me his first story the other night!  His story was very similar to some of my stories, but he put in his own character and changed the setting. I was so proud.

A few observations about my storytelling since I read Tell Me a Story:

  • When necessary, I have tried to come up with stories that might give my son a message I want him to hear.  This is something Collins talks about in her book, and I love the opportunity to teach my son in a fun way instead of hitting him over the head with a lecture.  Once I told a story about a little girl who babysat a very naughty puppy.  The puppy chewed up her favorite toy and wouldn’t do anything she needed him to do.  I hoped that on some subconscious level, my son might start to understand why there are times I need him to obey, be calm and not so difficult.
  • In my last post I shared Chase Collin’s “nitty-gritty story structure,” which she claimed, if followed, was an easy and full-proof way of coming up with a good tale on the spur of the moment.  Well, it’s not as easy as she makes it sound, but it definitely helps.  I have created some decent stories using this structure.  But then other times it’s so hard.  I can come up with a journey and a threat, but figuring out a hero-inspired way out can be tricky!  Luckily my son doesn’t mind my lame endings.  However, I have found that I enjoy telling stories more if I just let go of the structure and tell, which brings me to my next point…
  • Sometimes my stories are more like a “slice of life.”  Just a simple moment, a walk in the woods, what the hero encountered, what the hero liked and didn’t like, and then he went home.  After telling a few of these, I realized they relaxed me tremendously, my son enjoyed them, and I think they impart a great wisdom: to notice life, our surroundings, feelings and to appreciate nature.  And sometimes after telling these stories, I would think back and realize that it did indeed follow the nitty-gritty story structure after all!  Just in a very subtle way.
  • Finally, I have observed how happy storytelling makes me.  Take away the pressure to create a good story and simply speak about what you love, where you would like to be, what you’d like to be doing and with the kind of people you love, and you create a beautiful fantasy that both you and your child can dream on and keep with you throughout your day.  And then, of course, you might start to notice how your life parallels the lives of your characters…

Please come back again because in my next post, I might get brave and share one of my stories!

***

Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.


Supporting Your Child’s Interests Is a Good Thing

Today I was having a conversation with my husband, which happened to correspond with something I have been reading in Discover Your Child’s Learning Style.  I’ll talk more about that book (and I’ll write a newspaper column about it) once I’ve finished it, but I wanted to share with you what my husband told me now.

My husband is a big fan of podcasts.  (I am too, but I don’t have much time to listen to them.) One of his favorite podcasts is Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour.  It sounds like a fabulous show.  My husband is always telling me the story of whatever scientist that is being interviewed by Dr. Kiki, and someday, I will get around to listening too….

But today he was listening to a scientist who is beginning his graduate studies on sharks, which sounds fascinating, but I’m not writing about sharks today.  What I want to tell you is that Dr. Kiki always asks her interviewees how they got interested in the subjects they specialize in.  After listening to several episodes, my husband has noted a trend.  There are usually two factors that contributed to each scientist’s area of interest:

1) Their interest began in early childhood and never went away, and

2) They had an adult that helped foster and support their interest.

For example, the scientist who studies sharks says that when he was a child, his parents got him a membership to the local aquarium.  He said they would drop him off at the aquarium, and he would go sit by the shark tank all day.

When my husband told me this, I was excited to tell him about the chapter I read last night in Discover Your Child’s Learning Style.  Chapter 7, “Interests: So Easy to Overlook,” encourages parents to listen to and help their children follow their interests and passions.  More importantly, authors Mariaemma Willis, M.S. and Victoria Kindle Hodson, M.A. note that many parents don’t encourage their child’s interests because it may not lead to a practical vocation or means of making a livelihood.  But this can have a negative impact.  Even if the child does not turn his/her interests into a vocation, it is important that they continue to pursue their interests in their free time.

Think about it.  Adults are much more likely to be able to get through their daily grind of work if they have something to look forward to on the weekends, right?  Keeping our hobbies and dreams alive is paramount to staying healthy, active and giving us more peace of mind.

Discover Your Child’s Learning Style also provides a chart on possible careers that match a child’s talents with their dispositions.  It’s not an exhaustive list, but the authors want parents to realize that there are many more careers out there than they may think at first.  For example, if your child is interested in music, it doesn’t mean that being a performer is the only option available to them.  Think of all the careers related to music: performing, producing, songwriting, agent, management, teaching, coordinators of concerts, ticket sales, or maybe they will want to work at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Furthermore, I believe parents who support and encourage children’s interests will help them find activities, volunteer work and/or internships that will look great on resumes and go a long way in assisting their children to find a vocation that will be meaningful and satisfying to them.

This is the biggest reason we want to homeschool.  We want our children to have the freedom to delve into the subjects that make them happy and will make them want to learn.  But you don’t have to homeschool to help your children.  You just have to give them the freedom and support to discover their passion.

Our Visit to UGA

One night my husband told me that our four-year-old surprised him with this conversation:

A: “Daddy, where will you be living when I go to college?”
Daddy: “What?”
A: “When I’m 20, and I go to college.”
Daddy: “Well, hopefully not too far away. It depends on where you go. If you go to the University of Georgia, you can even live at home if you want to.”
A: “I want to study animals. ALL the animals.”
Daddy: “Well, UGA is a good place to study animals.”

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I don’t want to come across as one of these mothers I read about who stress out over the preschool their child will get into because it might ruin their child’s chances of getting into Harvard.  The thought of that makes me laugh.  As I have said before, I strongly feel that kids should be kids and that “play” should be their primary work.  I think the reason my son brought this up is because earlier in the day, he was asking me why he could only spend part of the money his grandmother gave to him when she visited.  I explained to him that we’d put some of it into a savings account for when he got big, and it would help to pay for college.  I think he asked me how old he’d be when he’d go to college too.

I promise I have not drilled my four-year-old son about going to college!  However, my husband and I are going to prep our children for college.  I know that many people have different opinions about this, but my husband and I both valued our time spent in college, and college degrees have become as necessary as high school diplomas once were.  Having said that, I don’t think I would push my kids into college, if they were dead set against it or didn’t seem suited for it.  Different careers have different paths, so we’ll have to cross those bridges when we get to them.

At age four, we have not deliberately talked about college to our son,  but we have occasionally talked to him about the things he likes to learn about (right now it’s animals), and we point out people on T.V. who work with animals.  We tell him that someday he might want to work with animals, and if he studies hard, he could have a similar job.  We do this for a couple of reasons.  First, as I read in Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Boys, it’s good to point out the big picture to boys (girls too, I’m sure).  Why would any child want to do anything, if they didn’t see a clear purpose in it?  So, I feel as homeschoolers, it’s especially important to foster my son’s interests so that he motivates himself to learn.  If he sees the end goal, he’ll understand why it’s important to learn how to read and calculate.  And at age four (almost five), he is learning how to read and doing simple math.

He might change his mind about animals.  He may change his mind a hundred times before he turns twenty.  That’s okay.  My goal is to show him what’s possible for the future.  To ignite his interest.  To make him happy.  To allow him to see for himself that learning is fun.  And if I don’t start now when he’s four — when he’s excited about the world because everything is new to him — I may lose the chance to light that flame later.

After this conversation, my husband and I decided it would be fun to take him on a tour of the University of Georgia.  We started with just a small part of it.  The boys loved the fountains and beautiful gardens on north campus.  We bought them T-shirts at the bookstore.  I told my son that this was a place he could study animals, if he wanted to, when he gets big.  Next time we’ll take him to south campus, near biology, the other sciences and the UGA vet school.  We haven’t been to the UGA vet school’s open house yet, so that should be fun to do next year.

So what are your feelings about prepping children for college?  How do you motivate your children to learn?

How I taught my son his ABCs, 123s, and a little bit of my philosophy too

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!