Our boys are currently 1, 2, and 4 (with a new one due in a few weeks). We jumped into homeschooling a little earlier than most – not because we were bored (!) or because we enjoy torturing ourselves. We actually thought adding some structure to the day would benefit the kids and decrease the number of discipline situations. And guess what? It does! Starting the day with some structured time with Mommy actually makes a difference in their attitudes. It also enriches their playtime later. They feel more productive. And, it “forces” me to spend quality time with them. That might sound terrible, but the structure of simple school activites ensures that I get to interact with them one-on-one other than just making them food, wiping them, and disciplining. If you have tiny ones that seem ready for preschool (or pre-preschool) here are some tips that helped me get started:
1. Set your goals. What do you want your child to know and be able to do by the end of this school year? By the end of this month? Goals will keep you on track. Keep them simple. Remember, it’s only preschool.
2. Gather your supplies. Keep a variety of things on hand – visuals (posters and charts), manipulatives (blocks, beads, flashcards), books that YOU read to them, and books that THEY “read” to themselves, educational games, etc.
3. Choose a time and place. What time of day are you the least stressed? That’s the best time to grab 20 minutes with the kids for school. Mine is when #3 takes his morning nap. Keep your expectations realistic. If life is busy, don’t convert an entire bedroom into a school room and plan on teaching five days a week. You will quickly burn out.
Here is a picture of our “school room.”
It is a corner of my laundry room. There are a couple desks behind me in this picture. It’s colorful, but simple. I chose this particular spot because it’s an area the kids don’t usually play in, so I knew it would stay fairly protected. I have to keep the door closed throughout the day for the toddler’s sake.
4. Finally, plan on sticking to the same few things every day. Keep it simple and review, review, review! This is not only for the sake of your own sanity, but it’s actually better for the kids cognitively at this age. Don’t stress about coming up with a creative new activity every single day. Little ones benefit from repetion – and they LOVE it! They know what to expect and it gives them a sense of accomplishment. Information sticks much better in the long run when it’s not cluttered up with a bunch of fancy projects in between. Do what comes naturally to you and you will be more likely to be consistent.
Our basic schedule looks like this: Song, verse and catechism review, charts review (colors, shapes, numbers), math with blocks or beads, educational game, reading lesson. It takes about 40 minutes and we plan for four days a week.
The hardest part about homescooling little ones is what to do with the OTHER little ones who are too young for the activites. George, the two-year-old, can join William (4) for most of the activities. Then, when it’s time for our reading lesson, I usually send him out to play. Sometimes he has a hard time waiting for us to be done. This morning in particular he was desperate enough to try a new strategy.
George: Georgie, time to come have a snack!
George: Mom, did you call me for snack???
Me: Um, no. But good impersonation of Mommy. That was…creepy.
Sometimes I let him stay for the more advanced part and I let him try out the “big kid” supplies.
It does not usually end well. But, if a two-year-old covered in marker gives me 10 minutes to work on reading with the four-year-old, some days I’ll take it. There is no end to Georgie’s antics. Someimes he even surprises himself. For example, there is nothing more exciting to little boys than finding out all the sounds their bodies can make. Yet another distraction to a typical school day.
George: Mommy! Mommy! There’s a GUN in my bottom!
(Sigh.) Keeping the little ones occupied is a constant challenge. Then there’s the actual student himself – William. He takes school very seriously. He is so proud of himself when he learns something new. He is always anxious to show his work.
William: Daddy, look at my letters!
Daddy gets the piece of paper. Mommy gets –
William: Mommy, look at my letters!
– the couch cusions. The furniture store should have a section called “Homeschool Furniture.” Everything would be the color of Bic ballpoint pens.
There are days that it seems to explode in my face and I have to throw out the whole school day. But I take those days in order to get to the really “good” school days in between – when William reads a word by himself, or George finally counts to 10 without skipping the number 7. At the end of the day, it’s worth it. They are benefitting from it and so am I.