When it comes to homeschooling, I’m only just starting out in the game. While it’s been on my radar since my oldest child was a baby, he’s not even five yet, and while we have a ‘morning time’ most days, it’s just a drop in the ocean of experience to years of teaching a curriculum like Ambleside Online.
Because Carl and I came to the decision to home educate our boys quite early on, I am doing my best to get a firm foundation under my feet. I’m reading through Charlotte Mason’s volumes of educational philosophy, challenging myself to read hard books and exposing the kids to great, age-appropriate literature. Another part of this foundation is seeking the wisdom of other homeschooling moms who have gone before me. As it turns out, there is a lot of great advice available for those of us in the trenches of the early years.
Here are some of my favorite pieces of wisdom about homeschooling preschool and kindergarten aged children.
Wait on formal curricula and lessons…
I think the temptation to start working through a ‘proper’ curriculum can come from many places, which is why encouragement to wait on formal academics with your young kids shows up in so many blogs. Here are some of the reasons other moms have mentioned:
- It can be a defensive maneuver against skeptical friends and relatives (Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers)
- You are really keen to get started and don’t want to wait (Forever, For Always, No Matter What)
- Public school kids start at a young age, and we think we need to as well (Serving from Home)
- We want the ego-boost of seeing our child learning more advanced material than their peers (Hip Homeschool Moms)
All of these moms agree, however, that the best thing to do in the early years is to wait, wait, wait. Wait on the workbooks, on the formal lessons, and allow copious amounts of time for play. Our kids reap so much from unstructured, child-led play – we need to protect their time to do this.
…but remember the basics they should be learning
With so many warnings against too-much-too-soon in homeschooling during the early years, there are a few reminders to not swing too far the other way, and forget that most kids under six will begin to recognize letters and their sounds, and develop a sense of number, and can add, subtract, multiply and divide with tangible objects in real-life situations.
Kyle at Aspired Living states:
Preschool & kindergarten are fun time and I regret skimming through basic essentials of preschool with our second child. Sure we read a lot of good books but we didn’t work on numbers, alphabet and some of the things I now “require” my preschoolers to know.
There are so many opportunities in daily life for us to come alongside our young children as they are learning these basics. Making space for this to happen formally, though – short and fun, of course, but intentionally – can have big benefits.
Specific time with your little ones can ‘fill their cup’, and make it easier for them to allow you to focus on school with your bigger kids, as Heather at Only Passionate Curiosity shares from her experience. As Kyle states, it’s a great opportunity to bond with your kid as well!
Develop strong habits
Apart from taking intentional time to connect with your littles and watching and helping their progress in early literacy and maths, there is another area which deserves our effort and attention: laying a foundation for good habits. Sarah at Read Aloud Revival shares:
In preschool, kindergarten, and even first grade, I would take all that energy I placed into “doing school,” and I would use it to focus on helping my child develop good habits… I think I spent too much time making sure that the art project we were doing lined up with that day’s picture book selection, and that time could have been spent so much more profitably on being consistent with discipline and habit forming.
I find habit training overwhelming, and I am definitely still finding my feet with this one. But when I think ahead 16 months, when my oldest will be just starting formal lessons, I can anticipate the benefits of taking the time now to ensure that he has the habits and skills to take care of his room and belongings, to be helpful, and to follow instructions (most of the time, he’s still young!).
Focus on play, the outdoors, and beautiful things
Brandy at Teaching Reading with Bob Books shares her experience home educating her first child in his early years: ‘numbers and colors and letters’ (while managing what sounds like a pretty rough pregnancy). In place of an early academic approach, she shares a list of what she wishes she would have done instead. The list (which is worth reading in full) includes a focus on play, the outdoors, and introducing our children to beautiful art, literature, and music.
This encouragement reminds me that as parents, we have an opportunity to help our children develop a taste for what is lovely in life. We know that nature is nourishing and refreshing to our souls, and that music, art, books, and poetry can do the same. But it doesn’t always come naturally to take our kids outside (instead of sending them), to sit down with a chapter book that our children can comprehend, but not read for themselves, to put on good music, display art, or read poetry.
We need to take stock of our resources, and make sure our kids have access to them. As Brandy says, “Tiny children are not yet ready for the three-r’s, but their souls are in tune with the good, true, and beautiful.”
Have the courage to do it
In a poignant post at Homegrown Learners, Mary shares that her biggest regret in homeschooling her young children was taking the plunge to actually start homeschooling. While she pulled her daughter out of school in third grade, her strong encouragement to other parents is set aside fear and be courageous in your decision to home educate.
If we were to put our children in school, my oldest would start reception in just three weeks. He would join the school children who walk past our house every day to go to school. But I’m not out buying his uniform, his book bag, or his school supplies. The summer holidays will end, and we’ll hardly know any different, except that the playground is less busy. As confident as I am that home educating is the right decision for our family, there is always that niggle that asks, ‘Are you sure? Do you have what it takes? Will he miss out on too much? Will it all go wrong?’.
And to that niggle I answer, ‘Yes, I am sure. God will supply what I lack. He will miss so much more by going to school. It will go wrong, it will go right, many times, daily. And that’s ok’. This is one decision where I will not be swayed by fear.
Invest in yourself as an educator
This last one isn’t from another, wiser, more experienced home educating mom. It’s not even particularly from the internet. Instead, it’s a theme that Charlotte Mason develops in her book School Education (affiliate link):
Our pretty general dissatisfaction with education, as it is, is a wholesome symptom, and probably means that sounder theory and happier practice are on their way to us. One thing we begin to see clearly, that the stream can rise no higher than its source, that sound theory must underlie successful work. We begin to suspect that we took up schemes and methods of education a little hastily, without considering what philosophy or, let us say, psychology, underlies those schemes and methods; now, we see that our results cannot be in advance of our principles. (emphasis mine)
While we all have different reasons for home educating, I imagine that most of us agree that the other options simply aren’t the best for our kids. Public or private schools fall short of what we desire for our families in some way. While we know that we will fall short as well, we feel that, on the whole, our children will still be better off.
Whether this is a hunch, or based on reams of research articles and a mile-long pro-and-con list, Charlotte Mason argues that because the philosophy of the educational options on offer are lacking, their methods and results are lacking.
The implication for us? We need to spend some time grappling with the theory. We should be asking ourselves questions like:
- What is education?
- What is a person?
- What makes a person educated?
- What is the role of the teacher in education?
- What do other, wiser people say on these topics?
The early years, before formal lessons, extracurricular activities, co-ops, and events start to take their toll on our free time, are a prime opportunity to explore and begin developing our personal philosophy of education.
Attempting to answer these questions now will give us a framework for the decisions we will need to make about everything from curricula to co-ops to clubs – even if we don’t manage to formulate complete answers at this stage in the game. As we move through the years of home education, our philosophy will develop and grow, but it will always be something we can measure against. We may not have standardized tests, exams, or grades, but we will have a strong idea of what an educated person is, for instance, and whether our child is growing closer to that or farther away.
Whenever someone is willing to be vulnerable to the point of sharing a regret, a mistake they made, something they wish they had done differently, I pay careful attention. These early years are so important and foundational, for both my children and myself, and I want to make the most of it. I know for certain that I will make mistakes. That is part and parcel of my home educating journey, and I don’t begrudge messing up. However, I know I would regret not taking the wisdom of others’ experiences, and that’s why this list is so important to me.