Homeschooling With Preschoolers

By Deb Turner

 

Thirty years ago, this very young mother put her daughter onto a big yellow school bus. That precious 4-year-old seemed so small. I stood there and watched her step onto the bus—lifting her feet high to climb the tall steps. I was ready to wave, but she didn’t look back. A new chapter for her had begun, and the simple, uncluttered years had come to an end.

Four years old is young for kindergarten. In our state (New York), if a child is going to be 5 by December 15, he is expected to begin kindergarten. However, it is not mandatory until the child turns 6 years of age by December 15. The pressure is on to get our children enrolled right away, and since that long ago day when I put my first child onto the big yellow bus, the pressure has increased, and the age has been lowered—the sooner the better, so the experts say.

As homeschoolers, how concerned should we be about teaching our preschoolers? We face many challenges in catering a homeschool menu to a variety of ages—not the least of which is what to do with our preschooler. There are no “twelve steps to success” for homeschooling with preschoolers in the home. Every family is different, every child is different, and each set of circumstances is different.     

Much of what came to be my philosophy of homeschooling came from the writings of Dr. Ruth Beechick and Dr. Raymond Moore. Dr. Beechick helped me to walk out our homeschooling years with a confidence that the children were, indeed, learning. Her writings helped me recognize the fact that I could utilize and take advantage of learning through all that was already happening in our home and family and in our corner of the world. Dr. Moore’s writings helped me to find contentment in waiting it out, recognizing that children need maturity and that waiting for readiness kept frustration at bay. At times I would succumb to the pressure—whether from within my own insecurities or from outside sources—and I would find myself trying out less manageable ideals, only to find myself needing the simpler way.

What should we do with the preschooler? How do we teach our older children with a preschooler or two in the home? If our preschooler is one of those children who clearly could learn to read very early, should we begin? Or are there valid reasons to wait, even though he seems ready?

I spoke of pressure from without. There’s that anonymous group of experts we call they (“They say …”). There may also be well-meaning relatives or friends putting pressure on us to get our children up to speed. In the world of academia, our young children are expected to have attained a certain level of achievement before they even get into kindergarten. How does this help the child? If our nation was founded by men and women who did not have this advantage (sarcasm intended), then why do we feel we need it now? One of the best ways to relieve this pressure from the outside is to understand what our children really need—and how they really learn best. Then we can proceed with confidence.

It isn’t that we should hold our children back from learning anything at all, but formal schooling can wait. In her books about the three R’s, Dr. Beechick tells of an experiment done by a school district, in which they held one group of children back from learning to read, opting instead to explore hands-on science. The other group began their reading lessons right away, in what is described as “extensive instruction in reading.” The results speak for themselves. The group that waited to learn to read eventually landed far ahead of the group that began their lessons right away, and they were able to learn to read in a fraction of the time that the early readers took. This is due not only to readiness but also in a building of vocabulary and life experience to draw from to put the reading into context. The group that waited for formal reading lessons were indeed learning about life—about real stuff. Their vocabulary grew, their language skills grew, and their experiences multiplied—all without formal schooling.

In his book, Better Late Than Early, Dr. Moore answers many questions concerning preschoolers and formal schooling. One point particularly struck me: “At a time when every effort should be made to keep a child’s life quiet, simple and uncluttered, preschool often complicates his life with hurrying, daily transportation, and overstimulation of a group when he is not mature enough to cope with more than a few children at a time.” While this is clearly talking about sending a child outside of the home, I think that those of us who are homeschooling can take a lesson here as well.

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