Not a day goes by in a homeschool Facebook group of any decent size without a question along the following lines:
"What curriculum should I use for my 3/4/5 year old?" Also: "What does my preschooler need to learn right now?"
The response generally runs along the following lines:
"Let them play! Playing is learning at this age."
It's true. And yet it's such hard advice to follow at times. We live in a culture where everyone wants to get their kids ahead. On the other end of the spectrum, you have kids interviewing for the right preschool so they can get in the right kindergarten so they can get into the right high school to get into the right college. Those aren't bad parents. They just have different goals. Or, a different way of achieving the same goals.
In preschools and kindergartens across the country, the basic learning goals are similar (even without Common Core). Kids learn shapes, colors, letters, numbers, and basic number sense (counting and what it means, for example). They start building pre-reading and early-reading skills, including concepts of print (which way you hold a book, how to turn pages, the difference between letters, words, and sentences).
Do you need to teach these at home?
Yes and no. You do not need a formal preschool curriculum. The only specialized knowledge you really need is that kids need to learn letter sounds more than they need to learn letter names. Knowing how to teach letter sounds is as simple as learning the letter sounds for each letter. You can get into complicated rules later. Stick with the basics.
How do you teach these concepts then? You read. You talk to your child. You make observations as you move through your life. Count the blocks in their tower. Sing silly alphabet songs. Read rhyming books and try to get your kiddo to guess the missing words at the end of lines. Play games together. Play I spy with colors. Read more books. You'd be amazed how much preschoolers can learn just through reading books together.
Do I use a preschool curriculum? Yes. I've used a Year of Playing Skillfully for one year and we will be using it again this year. It has great, developmentally appropriate, play-based activities. Kids this age don't need worksheets (although sometimes my kids love them so I print them off occasionally).
What about teaching your kid to read? There is no long-term advantage for children to learn to read before age 7. Some kids are ready and motivated before then, and some aren't. Follow their lead.
So what about public school? Why do they have to spend all day teaching little kids these things? Because of family life. Many families, like the ones in the schools I taught in, are unable to provide the rich quality time that children thrive in. It's not their fault. I knew so many parents that worked incredibly hard, often at multiple jobs. They worked long shifts just to make ends meet. Many of them were immigrant families where English was the second language. Perhaps students knew many of these concepts in their home language, but school was where they learned academic skills in English. It also takes a great deal of time to explicitly teach (and assess) 20+ students, where the same concepts can be woven throughout the day in a family. I know that at the schools I taught at, the kindergarten teachers worked harder than any other teachers in the school. When I student taught, I was never more exhausted than when I spent my time in a kindergarten classroom.
At home, preschool and kindergarten should be about play, not remediation. Follow your child's lead. Some kids are ready for academics sooner. Some are ready later. There's no rush.
We recently read a lovely picture book called This is My Home, This is My School by Jonathan Bean. It's a little boy giving a tour of his "school" at home, introducing the teacher and lunch lady (Mom) and the substitute and PE teacher (dad). It inspired me to do a little tour of our school.
There's an awful lot going on in this photo! The black bookshelves are home to most of our grownup books. The brown shelves hold all the kids books, with some overflow to the bottom of two of the black shelves. It's also where I keep most of the school supplies. You'll notice the overflowing school supplies on top.
Working more on organization. From left to right: paper crafts/school supplies; empty weekly work boxes; a box of books to be rehomed; subscription boxes; AYOPS monthly boxes. On the bottom right, you can see a basket of poetry books. The doors open up to the living room, but we decided to keep the sofa against these doors to keep the living room more open.
The white bookshelf is our new bookshelf! It's holding my antique books, which have been pared down slightly. I did discover a set of My Bookhouse books and a GA Henty novel in the book boxes (both beloved by homeschoolers). There are also quite a few classics and histories, which are interesting to study for changing perspectives. I'm rehoming a fair number of old books as well. You can also see my loom, and on the wall besides the loom there are more crates of supplies that I use for AYOPS.
Photobombing AW! To be honest, I thought about cleaning up before taking this photo. But that wouldn't be real! The kids spent the afternoon playing playdough and DC worked on the lacing cards. So the area around their work table usually looks like this. The cube shelves hold activities they can work on independently, like coloring, puzzles, and easy games.
This is the "teacher" table where I keep basic supplies. The boxes in the left are going to a good home!
The kitchen table is where most of the actual school takes place. Since we didn't school today, it's still set up from lunch. The kids are now drinking from monogrammed pewter cups, which sounds really fancy but is actually extremely practical. They are harder to knock over and because they are initialed, no one fights over cups or complains about the color. You can also see a small pitcher. We are working on pouring as a life skill, so there is always a pitcher of water on the table for them to help themselves. The placemats, with place settings printed on them, are from IKEA and easily wipe clean. I love them!
This is our big time school wall in our living room. On the left is our school crate with notebooks and materials for morning time. The clear plastic bin holds all of Logic of English (our reading program). The right black crate holds library books that I'm doling out with guidance. The blue basket is full of books for Poetry Teatime (more on that soon hopefully) and the cardboard boxes are the Ivy Boxes we are currently working on. Above, you see artwork. I hang things up all month and then take it down for storage or trash at the end of the month.
This is my favorite part. It's the kids' reading corner. The colorful pocket bookshelf is for library books. I rotate out the books on the brown bookshelf and in the baskets.
This is the nature wall for the kids' treasures. Right now you see rocks, a lump of coral, the shell that was home to one of our chicks, feathers, pretty leaves, and shells gathered on a recent hike to a freshwater pond. The painted rock is from the local rock club (we've been painting and hiding rocks too).
This is the "teacher's desk" AKA our kitchen counter. I have my planner, a basket of basic supplies for the kids, and a supply caddy for myself as well as the computer.
Well that's it for the tour! I can guarantee it won't be as tidy in the middle of the school week, but I'm determined to bring it back close to this point each weekend. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good for me. And as the decluttering purge continues, it should get better.
This post is slightly delayed...she turned two months old yesterday.
I wrote up her whole birth story over on my professional blog, so you can go read about if you are interested. She was born at 42 weeks 5 days, weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces, and was 19.25 inches long. Now that the stats are out of the way, I thought I'd focus more on whole family update.
Both AW and DC were thrilled to get the sister they wished for...Himself and I were thrilled to have a baby, but surprised that it wasn't the boy we'd been convinced to expect. AW can't get enough "sister time" in a day, and the kids fight about who gets to be in her line of sight. Today, I had a good lesson. I was at the chiropractor and BB3 (now known as CE) was screaming in her carseat while I was being adjusted. AW was doing her best to soothe the baby by rocking the carseat, but it wasn't working. DC, seemingly out of the blue, threw a book at the baby and hit her in the face. I comforted the baby, and told DC that he had hurt her. The chiropractor bent down and asked him if the crying baby had scared him. It suddenly clicked that his unusual behavior (he's never hurt her before) was a sensory overload reaction to the endless crying. It's something to keep an eye on in the future. But overall, he's adjusted so beautifully to being a big brother. He absolutely adores her and is quite gentle with her.
We have been having a lovely lazy summer with lots of outside time as we get ready to head back to school next week.
Here are some highlights: