So some sweet mamas asked me last week via Twitter when they should start preschool with their kids.
Now, before you old-timer veteran mamas snort and look away, I have something to say -
I am guilty of hearing that question and laughing it off. “Oh, honey, just play with play-doh and read ‘em books. They’ll be fine.”
We’ve all done it, veterans. We’ve survived a season or two of preschool, we’ve got older kids now, and we realize how much energy we spent worrying about teaching the alphabet when we had nothing but babies.
Plus, we’re totally right. As “veterans,” we’ve figured out now that kids pretty much absorb what they need to know from preschool just by having an active play life and we really don’t have to stress about it.
BUT I think we do the younger mamas a disservice. Our attitude makes them feel dismissed. And we neglect to encourage them in what they’re doing right: THEY REALLY CARE.
So to any mama who asked me that question and got a snort of derision – I’m sorry. You are a good mama who loves your babies and wants the very best for them. Way to go, you, for asking for advice and starting to think about school before you’re quite done with the potty training.
Now here’s what I want to tell you:
1 - Preschool starts now. You’re already doing it. I love that God wired us to WANT to teach our children words and songs. There’s something in us that can’t help pointing out the colors of the cereal boxes in the grocery store or counting cups of flour out loud while we bake, even before our children are forming coherent sentences. If I wasn’t such a lazy blogger, I’d dig up the studies they’ve done about how mothers naturally speak slower to their toddlers, showing them the ropes of pronunciation, phonics, and language while they’re spooning mashed peas into the child’s face.
You’ve got instincts for this, Mamas and Daddies. And you’re already instinctively teaching your children the stuff they need to know to start school.
So take a deep breath and relax. They’re going to learn to color in the lines and recite their ABC’s eventually. I promise.
2 – If you are planning on schooling at home, then doing preschool with your child is actually just teacher training. It doesn’t matter really what curriculum you choose. So pick something you think you can work with and add it to your daily routine. Because what you’re REALLY doing here is building a routine of learning. You’re teaching yourself how to make time in the day for school. You’re showing your children what the pattern of school at home might look like.
This is your chance to dive into crazy research, figure out what sort of curriculums are out there for the elementary ages and start trying their philosophies on for size. Think you might want to be a Charlotte Mason sort of family? Play around with it some at home. Think you’re an unschooler? Get a library card and go crazy.
When my oldest kids were little (4, 4, and 3), I knew we were angling to use Tapestry of Grace when we started school “officially.” TOG encourages independent learning and is also largely literature based. So for preschool, I chose Before Five In A Row (my review here) because we read the same book all week and all of our activities centered around that book. I was training myself to pick and choose activities for us which came in really handy when we started TOG, plus my kids got a taste of lit.-based learning. And they liked it!
Now, I’m not saying you have to figure it all out before you download a bunch of printables of the ABC’s in animal form. You do NOT have to know for sure what your philosophy of homeschooling is going to be.
But this is where you start to test your sea legs. Try something on. If it doesn’t work, throw it out and try something else. See what your kids respond to. See what makes you feel the most confident. What is the MOST fun for you and your people?
2.5 – Keep it Simple. You don’t have to cover five subjects. No more than an hour a day on “school,” and that’s being generous. I’m serious. Pinky swear, ok?
Remember – your kids will pick up most of what they need to know to start kindergarten just from following you around all day. They don’t NEED a curriculum. But if you’re new to homeschooling and feel like you would all benefit from a bit of routine, then grab some workbooks or a phonics program and add it to your days. You might find it’s just what you all need to calm the crazies in your house. My boys LOVED the routine of school, LOVED the guaranteed book a day, LOVED the potential for crafting (because I hate to craft and won’t do it unless my curriculum makes me.)
3 – Best Advice On How To Figure Out What Kind Of Homeschooler You Might Grow Up To Be? Go to a homeschool convention. Yes, even though you can get a good workbook from Wal-Mart and your Littles will be satisfied with that. Go to a homeschool convention and visit the vendor hall.
Grab brochures from any vendor that interests you. Even some that don’t. Take your stack of info home and work your way through it slowly. Visit their websites. Read about their philosophies. Take notes of what resonates with you.
Make a pile of things that interest you. Make a pile of things you hate. Put it all away when you start to feel overwhelmed. Keep your ear to the ground for what people you know are using. Read great homeschooling blogs. Mull this stuff over.
And when the time comes to pick the next step, you won’t feel panicked. You will have taken a whole year or two to absorb your options. You will know how you and your children work together, what things don’t work for you. And you’ll be able to start off with confidence and camaraderie, because you’ve already built the framework – You’ve got a Routine and You’ve got a General Plan for where you’re going.
4 – Which leads me to our sponsor for this month – and I swear I didn’t plan this happy coincidence. In December, this little corner of the internet is sponsored by Great Homeschool Conventions. Our family will be at the Greenville convention in March, but you’ve got four options of places to attend: Greenville, SC, Cincinnatti, OH, Ontario, CA, and Texas. (P.S. – Registration would make a good Christmas gift, hint hint.)
We’ve never been to GHC before, but we’ve heard wonderful things about them and are super excited to attend. I’m actually going to hear the speakers this time, (have you SEEN the speaker list?????) but you’d better believe I’ll spend lots of time in the vendor hall, gathering brochures and browsing.
Guess what else I’ll be doing? Stalking some of my favorite homeschool mentors and asking for advice. Even if they laugh at me…
p.s. My review of our early phonics program is here. Affiliate links included.