Our oldest child is only 4.5 so we certainly don’t have a lot of homeschooling experience. But since I’m about to have a “homeschooled preschool” graduate, I thought I would share our general plan for these early years:
- When in doubt, do less (in terms of academics.) Every year since my oldest was a baby I’ve had big plans to teach him things in a formal way and each time I’ve been quickly humbled. You don’t have to look far for studies emphasizing that play is the best way little kids learn. Moreover, some of the best things they learn at this age are the simple, practical things of the home, like preparing food, keeping their toys organized, telling time, good hygiene habits, etc.
- Take them (or send them) outside. Being outdoors is so good for kids— good for their bodies, their minds, and their souls. I was shocked to find many homeschool gurus recommending 3-4 hours a day! My kids are FAR from the goal of 3-4 hours. But we try to ensure at least twice a day— even if it’s only for a few minutes.
- Build good habits. My oldest makes his bed and “helps” his younger brother make his bed every morning. They unload the dishwasher, help with easy meal preparation, and have a cleaning routine at the end of the day. Basically, we are always looking for things they can do themselves and then we encourage them to do so. Preschool is a great time to work on habits when academics aren’t demanding and when many “chores” are actually kind of fun anyway.
- Integrate with the seasons. Parenting websites will tell you that children thrive off routine. But this doesn’t just apply to bedtime. Broader routines and traditions give a real sense of comfort and purpose to life. Being in tune with a yearly rhythm simultaneously grounds us and elevates us and gives a sense of harmony to our presence in the world. So, I try to orient everything— our home decor, the books we read, the things we do, the treats we do or don’t have— with both the natural seasons and the liturgical seasons/feast days.
- Give them stories. If I can’t do anything else, I make sure I read to them every day. I try to fill our home with beautiful books that we ALL (including me!) enjoy looking at and listening to. We also try to tell lots of stories to each other. Because literal literacy is only half the point.
- Give them beauty. From the time of my first pregnancy we have tried to fill our children with music. We sing to them, I play piano for them, we let them watch videos of orchestras and other musicians, we take them to musical performances, and we encourage them to play their own instruments. Visual art does not come as naturally to me, but I make sure they always have access to supplies for creating whenever they want.
- Don’t entertain (much.) We try to reserve screen-time for a Sunday movie and survival-mode situations. We try to keep toys simple and minimal so they have to use their imaginations to play, and we generally don’t direct their play or get too involved with it.
- Take them places. One of the most common concerns people have about homeschooling is socialization. And it’s a legitimate concern! Sure there may be something “unnatural” about five-year-olds being away from their homes for eight hours a day. But there’s also something “unnatural” about a five-year-old not being around any other five-year-olds. I personally don’t think preschoolers really need or are even necessarily capable of deep friendships outside of family members. But they do need to know how to interact in varied situations with all sorts of people. This may mean playdates and extracurriculars. But it also might mean just taking them places— to visit family and friends, to the grocery store, church, errands, appointments, etc.
At the end of the day, most of homeschooling preschool comes down to creating the right environment— an environment that is beautiful, comforting, and healthy– one that gives them opportunities to build relationships and habits, discover the wonders of their world, and create and express themselves. Little kids can be a whole lot of work, but it’s usually pretty simple work. It’s a simple age and a simple time. I don’t know how long we will be able to homeschool our children, but even if it’s only for these simple, early years, I will be grateful for it.