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Homeschooling 3 and 4 Year Olds

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How do I homeschool in the preschool years?
What can I do now, to give my child a good head start educationally?
What does my 3 and 4 year old need to know?

School Readiness Revisited
(or Big Birdís Got it All Wrong!)

Posted by Billie in CT

Big Bird conscientiously recites the alphabet every day so that he wonít forget it. And like him, most of us have been taught that knowing letters, numbers, shapes and colors are the keys to being ready to begin school. Mothers often speak of their childís school readiness saying, "She knows the alphabet and most letter sounds and can count to twenty." But actually children donít need academic knowledge before they start school - they really need listening skills, a good attention span, and fine motor skills.

Recently I read an article in which someone had asked a bunch of kindergarten teachers and a bunch of mothers of preschoolers what skills children needed before they started kindergarten. There was no overlap at all between the answers of the two groups! The mothers all mentioned academic things like letters and numbers. The teachers said listening skills, fine motor skills, and another foundational skill (which I forget at the moment).

Sonlight K requires good listening skills for Bible, history, read-alouds, and science. (Thereís no point in beginning Sonlight K before a child can comprehend and enjoy chapter books.) K is a very relaxed year compared with subsequent years, but it still requires a longer attention span than preschoolers usually have. The handwriting and science activities require good fine motor skills. So does math - both for writing in workbooks and working with math manipulatives.

So thereís nothing wrong with letters and numbers. But all the non-academic activities that people recommend for preschoolers are actually better preparation for school. Reading to your child develops listening skills and attention span. Projects like putting together puzzles, stringing beads, and cutting construction paper all develop fine motor skills and attention span. So does participating in household chores and cooking. Thereís a lot of learning in sweeping a floor, planting a garden, or baking a batch of cookies - donít sell them short! And of course, nature walks and trips to the zoo or train station or childrenís museum develop curiosity and a love of learning. Thatís probably the best school preparation of all.

What I Learned in Kindergarten
Posted by Ginny

In September when we started this grand adventure, I thought I was the teacher, my child the student. This year has proven me wrong. My little girl has taught me . . . that math can be learned while taking out the trash or making cookies or planning how to spend an allowance; and that the best craft projects happen with hours to play, lots of rainy days, a mess of crayons, scissors, scraps of all sorts, and a great chunk of imagination thrown in. She has taught me to relax, to step back and watch, to let her lead.

Even though I gave up on formal handwriting, feeling that she wasn't ready, her writing improved. Her "work"? On her own initiative, she wrote notes to friends, copied words from junk mail, and invented all kinds of projects involving printing. I watched in awe, sometimes supplying the right shape of a new letter, sometimes writing out names she'd asked me to demonstrate. She directed, I helped, she taught, I learned. I thought we would "do school" this year; instead we "did life" and somehow school happened anyway.

My goals for this year... oh, gee, what were they? Somehow they don't seem all that important. She didn't learn to read, but she discovered the joy of chapter books. She fell in love with Ramona Quimby.

We talked and talked; in the car, in the grocery line, over the dishes. We talked about volcanoes and states and relationships and frogs. We found out that frogs caught in the wild rather prefer their old residence, and they will almost starve themselves to prove it. Letting a frog go in a nearby pond, and the sad feelings it evoked, started a conversation about how real love means doing what is best for someone even when it hurts.

At the end of this wonderful, funny, not-what-I-expected year, I have come to some important conclusions. That Sonlight, even when used as loosely as we used it, is wonderful. That preschool and kindergarten as we know them are really about preparing kids for school. But since we are already "schooling" and have been right along, why prepare for what we are already doing?

My 3yo and 4yo will get to benefit from this last lesson. I have decided that they will not "do" school until 1st grade. So for two and three more years they get to play and talk and go to the grocery store and the park and church. They get to play and listen to great books and go to the library and come home with books of their own. They get to build forts in the living room and watch ducks at the pond and go to the zoo with Mommy and Daddy. They get to be little; they get to have fun. They are not in a hurry and neither am I. The time for first grade will come, and all those wonderful learning times that go along with stepping into the next level.

I look forward to this next year with my 5 yo. We both are excited about the new things to learn in her first official school time. It will still be only a small piece of each day; just adding the framing on the foundation. I know she will have lots to teach me still. I wonder what I'll learn in 1st grade?

What Should a 4 Year Old Know?
by Alicia Bayer

She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time... She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs... He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them...

Read the rest of this marvelous article at Magical

Don't Miss These Precious Years
Posted by Julie B

You want your 4-1/2 year old to be more interested in learning? I'll tell you will be home educating for at least 15 more years. Do you really want to get started right now? These young years are so fleeting.

I skipped kindergarten for my kids. Instead we went to the park, listened to stories on tape, read books, went to the library, baked cookies, read books, planted seeds, read books, wrestled on the carpet, made dorky crafts, did I mention reading books?

Pace yourself. Structure for a 4.5 may undermine his ability to learn to read when the time actually comes--intimidation because of repeated failures or the association with it being drudgery. My two oldest didn't really "get it" about reading until they were eight. They now read constantly and well (several grade levels above their current grades).

So relax and continue to enjoy that "light of your life." Don't be so eager for the carefree years to end. You will wistfully look back on them as some of the freshest, most delightful times of your life.

Schooling...the rigorous part...well, that seems to go on and on and on. But once you start in earnest, you will truly be ready for it and so will your boy.

Last little note: I have noticed that moms who have researched homeschooling and have committed to it before their kids are old enough want to start too soon. What you can do during this waiting period (since you are the one who is ready for more structure and a sense of achievement) is to continue your own education. Start reading the classics for yourself (Jane Austen, Dickens, Hemmingway, etc.) or pick a period of history and dive in. Go to an art museum or listen to classical music.

If you are growing as a person and are engaged in learning, it will spill over into your child's life, AND you won't feel like a race horse at the gate waiting for the gun to go off.

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They Never Believe Me Until Later
Posted by Cathi in Hawaii

. . . You're so right, especially the part about mothers who have been researching home schooling wanting to start WAY too early. I have been counseling mothers for many years on this, and almost no one ever listens to me ("but you don't understand--MY child is really ready") and almost everyone comes back a year or two later and tells me I was right, and these moms don't usually make the same decision again. My own daughters, who have preschoolers now, are facing this same question and feeling pressure from other almost-homeschooling friends. Thankfully, I have a little guy who will be three in October whom I wouldn't dream of starting for two more years, and that gives them some perspective and some resolve. PLEASE wait. I know there's a lot of good stuff out there, but the really "good stuff" is the time your child has left to be carefree and to soak up the richness of your home before he needs to sit at the books.

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Benefits of Early Academics
Posted by Cathi in Hawaii

Some say, "But my preschoolers are so much happier if they have workbooks to do." Regarding early academics, just make sure that through the preschool years, child training comes first! Remember, it's not a readiness issue. The child may be developmentally capable of doing something; but the important question, in light of all the research which shows that an early start does not translate into anything except possible burnout, is "What else can my child be doing with his time that is more valuable at 3, 4, and 5 that WILL translate into a richer life?"

If your child needs several hours of academic activities or even constant input from you during the day in order to keep him from being bored and whiney, then this is a much bigger problem than whether to teach him to read and write at 3 or 4. Providing schoolwork may just be masking character issues which need to be addressed before school age. This is one of the reasons I am against early schoolwork--it gives the child and parent something to focus on other than those things which should properly be taught during those years. When a child is whiney and bored, he needs to be taught how to find acceptable activities, how to entertain a younger child, how to wait for Mom's attention, etc. Am I making sense? Providing structure can be helpful, but not if it is a "remedy" for character problems. Schoolwork is the easy way out.

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Ready for Reading
Posted by Paula H

I know you're eager for your five-year-old to learn to read. And I know you're frustrated because she's just not catching on. It's like trying to teach her to climb a certain tree before she's tall enough to reach the first branch. She'll try, get frustrated, fall, and cut her knee. And 6 months from now when she is tall enough, she'll feel uncomfortable trying because she'll remember that cut on her knee. Maybe the neighbor who's the same age can climb that tree, but he's also 2 inches taller. Wait a few months and check again to see whether she's ready. If it doesn't come easy, back off again. Personally I wouldn't even TRY until she's six unless you saw some clear readiness signs.

What to do in the meantime? Work on letter sounds. Get some ABC books, I like Usborne's, but it's exclusively available from an Usborne rep. In addition to the 4-5 objects mentioned in the text, there are many, many more hidden in the picture; each time you go through, you find more. Find words that begin with the P sound. Point to the letter P. What sound does this word begin with? What letter does this word begin with? What sound does "hat" end with? Does "house" end in a T sound? Then what sound? How many T words can you think of? (Notice the emphasis on sounds. C doesn't have its own sound, so don't work on it until you start reading.)

I suspect the maturity just isn't there for putting letters together. So in the meantime, get her real, real strong on knowing those letter sounds. That way when the maturity is there for combining, she'll have all the tools easily available.

And relax. You've got plenty of time. My friend's boy was reading Dr Doolittle (the ORIGINAL, not the abridged!) by the time he TURNED 6. Because my friend was a better teacher? Naah. Because he was a natural reader. Wait until her time comes and it'll be easy.

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First Things First
Posted by Cathi in HI

You asked, "shouldn't I be doing more to prepare my 4-year-old for school?" What you are doing now is much more important than any academic curriculum. Please relax and know that you are laying the foundation for many years of enjoyable and successful home schooling by concentrating on character, discipline, and order during these early years. If you wait two years to begin any formal education and just work on developing obedient, cheerful children and a spirit of cooperation in the family, you will be light years ahead of the family who begins academics at age 4 but has little control over the children.

Rest in the season in which God has placed you. Do all the research necessary for you to make good decisions about academics, but please don't "jump the gun" and shortchange the current season.

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What Else Can I Be Doing?
Posted by Paula H

I have no doubt that you can teach your children academics before they turn five. The important question is, should you? I would suggest that the answer is "no" for two reasons.

First, just as a ballet dancer who starts dancing on her toes when she is too young will ruin her legs; just as a pitcher who starts throwing fast balls when he is too young will ruin his arm; so also a child who starts academics too young will often ruin her eagerness for learning. What was fun when she was three and four has become drudgery by the time she is six or seven. Then you have to fight to make her willing to learn, the rest of her schooling.

I'll admit that this burn-out does not happen in every case of early academics, but considering how commonly it does happen, are you willing to take that chance, considering how much is at stake? And surprising though it may be, you're not gaining anything by starting early. Research shows that whether a child started reading at three or at six, their reading skills are about the same by the time they are nine. Education is a marathon, not a sprint. What would happen to a marathon runner who sprinted the first mile?

Second, imagine a builder who does not take the time to build a solid and true foundation under a house. After all, what his customers want is houses! What do they care about a pile of concrete in the ground where no one will see it? What will happen to that house without a good foundation? (Some of us have lived in houses like that one!)

There is a season of preparation and a season of progress. But if you hurry through or skip over that season of preparation, then you will not have as solid of a foundation laid when that season of progress arrives. So what can you be doing during this season of preparation?

Eclectic Homeschool: give them time to explore childhood. Preschool Activities

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