My youngest child, Regina, is 4. I am often asked by well meaning strangers and family members when I’m going to start teaching her. I usually say that I already am – but it might not appear to be true. I haven’t done much in the way of formal curriculum with her yet, and to be honest, I’m not sure I will next year either when she’s 5. But that isn’t to say that she isn’t learning.
I remember when my oldest daughter was 3 and I had just read about this new and crazy idea called homeschooling. I was just dying to get started. I spent hours searching for the perfect preschool curriculum and I bought quite a few things. She was game, so we dove in to stacks of workbooks and phonics lessons and early math. She loved it, and I was thrilled to be really homeschooling.
When my twins were that age, they were a little bit less interested in doing all of that school work. I waited until they were four, and while one of them took to school work like a duck to water, the other was hesitant. All he ever wanted to do was draw. I struggled with it, because in my mind, because they were twins, they needed to be doing the same thing. It was another year or so of stressing myself out before I finally cut both of us some slack and tried something different with him. Everyone was much happier.
Now with little Regina – she is a ball of energy. We call her a shark because she can never stay still. She doesn’t even enjoy being read to because she can’t sit still long enough to enjoy the story. She loves to draw and dance and sing. She says hilarious things all of the time, and loves being the center of attention. But as far as I’m concerned, she isn’t ready for “school” yet. But I’m not worried. She knows her letters, can count to 10, knows colors and shapes, and can draw some pretty amazing pictures.
So what do we do for the preschool years?
Art! We play with play-doh, markers, color pencils, different colored construction paper, crayons,pastels, watercolor paints, and white board and markers (her absolute favorite!) There is lots of exploring to be done in this department.
Reading aloud – she’s antsy, so we don’t do anywhere near as much as I’d like (though she has been known to play quietly while I’m reading aloud to her siblings), but I try to get in as many picture books as I can. We do make frequent trips to our local library and explore all the different types of books.
We count EVERYTHING. How many grapes, cars, birds on the tree, Play-doh snakes, etc. You get the idea. Sometimes I’ll throw in a little gentle math – if I take this one away, now how many are left? What if I give you two more? Now how many?
She loves to help in the kitchen, so whenever I’m baking she’s right there, ready to help. Her favorite are “pupcakes.”
We try to get outside whenever we can (though now that the weather is getting so cold we’re stuck in doors much more often). We collect pretty leaves, count acorns, look at birds (and I try to teach her the names of our local bird friends), play with bugs and catch frogs – she could play in a mud puddle for hours.
But most of all – we talk. I try to answer her questions, and show her that we can find answers in books or on the computer; we watch movies and talk about them (Oz the Great and Powerful is her current favorite), and we chat while we’re out and about and talk about what we’re doing and why.
I’m not convinced that any formal schooling is necessary before the age of 6. With lots of time spent in play, reading lovely books with mom, and exploring the world around them – there’s plenty of time for formal schooling later.
Update: That sweet, bundle of energy 4 year old is now a spunky sassy 8 year old. She still has trouble sitting still, but she’s a wiz at math, still loves to draw and is just on the cusp of being a fluent reader. She’s inquisitive and happy, and I have zero regrets about our relaxed “unschooly” early years.
See also: Thoughts on Living Books
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 21 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.