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.
Perhaps we want to give our preschooler some real school to do, to answer his pleas to join the other children. Perhaps some good marketing gimmick caught our eye. For whatever reason, we might find ourselves tempted to begin some rigorous program with our preschooler. The more fancy the product, the more busy work for Mom and child—the more opportunity for simplicity to go out the window while stress and frustration take its place. The investment made will make Mom feel that she needs to keep things going. Let’s not over stimulate our preschoolers with unnecessary clutter, no matter how attractively the pretty package is wrapped. The excitement can wear off pretty quickly, for Mom and child.
Dr. Beechick’s powerful, natural method takes advantage of learning moments throughout the day. Coloring or playing with Play-Doh can offer opportunities to develop fine motor skills. There are many opportunities for teaching simple math concepts. Teaching about colors and shapes and increasing our preschooler’s vocabulary can all occur in day-to-day life, right at home. Field trips or errands provide opportunities to learn about the world outside of the home.
Besides simply living life and learning naturally as we go through our day, we want to spend time every day reading to our children. If you decide to do some formal schooling with your preschooler, set aside some time daily to do so. Spend a minimal amount of time in formal schooling and a greater amount of time engaging in real life stuff—all the while discussing, answering questions, pointing things out, etc.
“Okay,” you say, “but my preschooler is into everything.” What about that? I have been there, and when my homeschooling life was at its worst, it was because I was not being realistic. Homeschooling materials can be teacher-intensive or offer more independent learning. If our ideal is to spend hours every day enjoying the one-on-one time with our school-age children, there may be a huge gap between our ideal and what realistically can work in the family. Certainly, we need to give each of our children some individual attention with their schooling. In the past, I have aimed too high with teacher-intensive materials, and because the plans were too out of reach, I failed miserably in reaching our goals.
Once a child is reading quite well, he can learn quite a lot on his own. An armful of books from the library (about the subjects we’ve chosen) and discussions while cooking dinner or running errands offer great opportunities for learning. When teaching a child to read, I’ve found that consistency is the most important thing—if I could find only ten minutes a day, then ten minutes it was. In fact, with such short lessons, there was always enthusiasm. The goal was accomplished, and the reading suddenly took off—all without spending a ton of money on a program laden with all kinds of bells and whistles.
Realistically, our preschooler cannot be set aside for hours while we homeschool the other children. Our older children can learn independently. One inexpensive resource that I have found very helpful is the book Learn This! by Charles Gulotta. This book identifies some well-defined goals for our children to work toward.
Prayerfully, we can find just what suits our family for our given situation, which is ever changing. Adjusting our expectations will resolve a great deal of the frustration we contend with. I highly recommend reading The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick and Better Late than Early by Raymond Moore and Dorothy Moore.
In choosing homeschool materials, remember that less is more. Keep it simple, and pray about everything (Philippians 4:6). God has a plan for each child; we tend to make things more difficult than they need to be. Man created the public school system, but God created the family unit. Be a family, learn as you live, and enjoy the blessings of one another in the Lord!
Deb Turner and her husband, Craig, live in central New York. They have five children, four grandchildren, and have homeschooled since 1987. With three children grown, there are still two school-aged children in their home. Deb enjoys history, gardening, and sewing, and she is actively involved in her church, where her husband is an elder. Visit her blog, Homeschooling from the Heart, at www.HomeschoolBlogger.com/pattycake and her website at www.TheGenericHomeschooler.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.