By Valerie Bendt
Do you have a preschooler in your home? Then you are blessed. These little ones help us keep a perspective on what is important in life. They are curious about everything, eager to learn, energetic, and extremely fatiguing!
As I travel and speak at homeschooling events across the country, I am pleased to find that many parents are homeschooling their preschoolers. A growing number of these parents have only preschool-aged children and are excited to jump onto the homeschool wagon. However, some appear overzealous in their desire to “educate” their young children, encouraging them to learn difficult academic material.
Another group of homeschooling parents with preschool children also exists. In addition to their preschoolers, these parents have school-aged children whom they are teaching. Many in this group are less enthusiastic towards their preschoolers since they assume their young children are “in the way” while they are teaching their older children.
Do you fall into one of the categories described above, or do you desire to energize your preschool efforts? If so, read on.
Educational psychologists claim that more than half of a child’s learning occurs during his first few years. Wow! These important, formative years should not be overlooked; however, we should resist the urge to cultivate “little geniuses.” It is crucial in our zeal that we do not neglect simple activities necessary for the child’s development. A less academic and more hands-on approach will enable us and our children to enjoy homeschooling and avoid burnout.
Perhaps we are homeschooling several children, and “teaching” our preschooler is not at the top of our to-do list. Maybe it is not even slated to be on our list for another year or two. It can be difficult to train or entertain our preschoolers while teaching our older children. We need a system that is flexible, easy-to-follow, and successful.
What our preschool child needs most in her day is time with Mom! I suggest we begin our school day by spending one-on-one time with our preschooler, making her our priority. We can instruct our older children not to interrupt, because we are doing “schoolwork” with our young child. This serves as an example for the preschooler to follow when we are working with our older children. This intimate time together makes our young child feel that she is part of the learning process, important, and loved. Countless parents have testified that this basic advice has enriched their homeschooling experience.
Sharing good books with our preschooler is a stimulating activity. This simple task will motivate our young child to become a proficient reader; our love and enthusiasm for reading is contagious. Reading aloud lays a solid foundation for developing effective writing skills since our preschooler must cultivate an ear for good writing in order to write well one day. This early immersion in literature is the core of a highly effective pre-reading and pre-writing program. Children love the closeness of read-aloud time; they know they have our undivided attention!
The child becomes an active participant in story time as she narrates what we have read aloud. Numerous skills are nurtured as she retells an intriguing story. Her composition skills are empowered as she weaves her tale, her vocabulary is strengthened as she searches for just the right words, and her sequencing skills are refined as she works to keep the story events in proper order.
A child who has not yet developed her communication skills can take pleasure in pointing out various details through the story’s illustrations as we ask, for example, “Can you find the cat? Where is the flower? How many birds can you find?” This word-picture association helps her increase her vocabulary, visual discrimination skills, and general knowledge.
Using simple hand puppets, children love acting out the stories we read. This serves to fortify language and presentation skills while building manual dexterity. Story elements such as use of dialogue, sequencing, setting, character, action, conflict, climax, and resolution are “caught” rather than “taught” through this playful medium. Older children enjoy participating in this hands-on lesson as well.
Young children are sponges! It is amazing how much they absorb while being close at hand as we homeschool our older children. We can provide entertaining yet educational activities to keep them occupied nearby for short spans of time, offering us freedom to work with our school-aged children. The goal of many preschool children is to create a mess! This is a task into which they heartily immerse themselves.
When my daughter Mandy was a preschooler, she was particularly fond of water. One day I noticed she had disappeared from our family room where we were doing our schoolwork. I quickly darted to the bathroom, where cheerful squeals filled the air. Mandy was conducting a scientific investigation to discover which toys would effectively clog the sink drain. To Mandy’s delight, she had created a waterfall, which cascaded over the counter, flowed across the floor, and meandered down the hallway. I then realized I needed to provide Mandy with entertaining activities to occupy her in our family room during school time. I needed to create a “controlled messy situation.”
Mandy’s attraction to water inspired me to make this the focal point of my experiment. I laid several large towels on the tile floor in our family room and placed a dishpan half full of water on top. I added a little dish soap and swished it around to form some playful bubbles. I supplied Mandy with an assortment of doll clothes and asked her to wash them. She loved this and played quietly as I worked with her older siblings. I soon learned I could extend this activity by adding another dishpan of clear water for her to rinse the clothes and a folded towel for her to blot the excess water from the garments. Since this was successful, I set up a small “clothesline” for Mandy to hang the doll clothes on to dry. I simply tied a piece of yarn from one chair back to another and clipped the clothespins, several inches apart, onto the taut line. Clipping the clothespins in place in advance made it easy for Mandy to squeeze their tops together and slip the doll clothes between the pinchers.
Mandy was never as happy as when she was “washing the doll clothes.” Not only was she having fun, but she was also learning. Through this child’s play she was discovering the properties of water, following a series of simple instructions, and developing fine motor skills. She was also listening as I read aloud to the older children and soon entered into our literary discussions. (Our floor was exceptionally clean when Mandy “washed the doll clothes,” for I used the wet towels to mop up when she tired of the activity!)
I searched for additional fun-filled amusements for Mandy. I began sharing these with other families and eventually put together a book with 100 activities to entertain and educate preschoolers. We can easily set up these activity centers in our home. Our preschoolers will not be the only ones intrigued by these occupations. Our early elementary-aged children will be eager to finish their schoolwork so they can “wash the doll clothes” and participate in other engaging enterprises with their younger sibling.
We should supply our preschooler with plenty of books, pads of paper, crayons, washable markers, play dough, puppets, and puzzles. Allowing her to use certain items only during school time prevents them from becoming too ordinary. We can provide a special container to house her materials in and occasionally purchase new items for her to discover in her school box. As we prepare breakfast, we can pack our preschooler a lunchbox filled with healthy snacks to enjoy while we are busy teaching our older children. This will put an end to at least one interruption!
Homeschooling with a preschooler in the house can be overwhelming at times. The following plan allows those of us with several children to effectively homeschool. We can begin by reading aloud to our preschooler and then assisting her with an activity such as “washing the doll clothes.” Once she understands how to perform this activity independently, we can read aloud to our children as a group. The preschooler is able to take in what is appropriate as she plays close by. Next we can select one of our capable children to read a simple book to our preschool child. This helps to occupy the young child, who may now be tired of playing on her own, and provides the older child practice with her oral reading skills. Equally important is the strengthening of the sibling relationship.
This arrangement affords us the opportunity to work individually with another child, perhaps teaching a subject that requires concentration, such as mathematics or phonics. During this time, our other children may be reading silently from books geared to their levels or engaging in an independent exercise. A non-reading child can draw a picture, put together a puzzle, or use an educational computer program. Each of our children can take turns interacting with our preschooler, either by reading aloud or by participating in an activity, allowing us the freedom to work individually with each of them as needed. This structure works well for organizational purposes and promotes numerous skills: each child needs some individual attention, each child needs to be able to teach someone else, and each child needs to be able to learn some material independently.
Homeschooling is hard work, especially with a preschooler in the house! It is easy to lose focus as we strive to provide our children with a good education. The most significant lessons we will teach our children, however, are not academic lessons, but lessons about relationships. The best place to learn about these relationships is in the confines of a loving home. Blessings will follow if we purpose to have a positive attitude toward our preschoolers. We should resist the notion that they are a burden, preventing us from teaching our older children.
I believe the learning experiences our preschoolers will encounter are as important as, or even more important than, those of our older children; for it is in the formative years that they develop habits and impressions that will affect their academic performance for a lifetime.
It is an honor, a privilege, and a blessing to teach my children. I hope you feel this way too! Our little ones will not be little forever—so it is important we make the most of the preschool years. It is important for them, and it is important for us. May the Lord bless you as you seek His best for your family.
Originally appeared in Summer 2005. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Right now, 19 free gifts when you subscribe. www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com
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