A new homeschooler recently asked me, “How do you homeschool a preschooler?” Time was, keeping a child home for his or her preschool years was a perfectly normal thing to do. Children went to school when they were five (or even six!) and somehow still managed to learn to read and write and maintain friendships. Today, if you tell someone your child is not going to preschool, you are likely to get some very strange looks.
Keeping your child home for preschool, even if you plan to send that child to traditional school for kindergarten, makes one a radical, out of step with the rest of the world. For those who plan to homeschool all the way through, preschool is the first step, the testing ground for all that will come later. Either way, it seems like an awful lot rests on the success of that first year or two. Please allow me to put your fears to rest.
I, too, was once a nervous homeschooler of a preschool child – actually two preschool children. I kept a notebook of what we did each day, assigning each activity to a subject area, just to reassure myself that yes, we were covering a great deal of learning in the midst of going about our daily lives. I also wanted to have that record, just in case that someone ever asked “What has your child done for preschool?” I assure you, no one ever asked.
If you have decided to take the plunge and teach your child at home for preschool, here are some basic tips to get you started:
1) You can do this! You have been educating your child since birth.
Parents are a child's first teachers. Think back to all the things that your child has learned in the past three or four years. You have been right there with your child, helping and encouraging him to reach every milestone. Homeschooling your preschooler is merely a continuation of the process. You can do it! You have been educating your child all along.
2) Play, play, and more play
At this age, exploration and play are the main tools by which children get to know the world. Respond to your child's questions and follow where they lead. Play with your child, and allow plenty of time for independent play. An imagination can only be formed in childhood. Allow it to blossom.
3) Integrate learning into everyday life.
The world is a wonderful classroom. Math is learned by counting objects around you, measuring ingredients for a recipe, talking about what time it is, or finding today's date on the calendar. Scientific exploration takes place in the great outdoors observing different plants and animals. During the winter, a kitchen or bathtub can be the site for experimentation. What types of items float? How are things put together? What happens when you cook different ingredients?
Letter magnets on the refrigerator are great for learning the alphabet and spelling simple words. Point out words on signs. Have your child practice writing her name on greeting cards. If you are taking a trip, plot out your route with your child in a road atlas. Look up places where relatives live on a map or globe. Just as you remember best those things that have some practical use in your life, so will your child.
4) Read to your child
Reading to your child is one of the most important things you can do for your child's education. Set aside some time every day to curl up with your child and read. As your child begins to recognize some words, he can help you read.
5) Nurture your child's creativity
Little children love to create and should be encouraged to do so. Crayons, markers, paints, clay, blocks, paper towel tubes, and just about anything else you can think of are all tools of the trade. This is no time to be critiquing your child's artistic development. It is all about the process at this stage. Give them the raw materials and then get out of the way!
Music is another important component of education. Expose your child to a variety of recorded music. Dance with him to help him feel the rhythm. Sing silly songs as your child gets dressed or takes a bath. Use pans and kitchen utensils as musical instruments. Let your child know that music is part of life!
6) The library is your best friend
The library is an amazing resource. Where else can you go and discover whole new worlds for free? Take your children often so that they can help pick out their books. The library also has media resources such as DVDs and computer software that you may want to incorporate into your child's education. Most libraries also offer storytimes and other activities for preschool children. Take advantage of them!
7) Find one or two social outlets for your child
The biggest argument people will give you for not homeschooling is socialization. "How will your children learn to get along with others?" Just being in a family teaches children how to cooperate and negotiate with others. However, it is important for your child to have some peer interaction. Taking your child to the park, signing up for your library's story-time, or attending a playgroup are all ways of making sure your child knows how to play well with others.
8) Enjoy your homeschooling journey
Homeschooling your preschooler is a wonderful opportunity to bond with your child and help him or her grow. While there will obviously be moments of frustration (just like parenting in general), it is amazing to watch your child's eyes light up when she finally figures something out that she has been working on. It's great to be there when your child recognizes his first written word, learns how to write his name, or can add 2 + 2! Whether you decide to send your child to kindergarten or continue to homeschool, you will have gotten your child off to a wonderful start and created memories that will last forever.