Are You "Doing School" the Right Way with Your Preschooler?

Once upon a time I was a young, homeschooling mom. I was knee deep in babies and toddlers and preschoolers. I was changing diapers and wiping noses, all the while teaching kids to read and count. It’s almost impossible to believe how quickly those days passed, now that I’m on the other side with a soon-to-be high school graduate and my youngest child in middle school.

But I do remember. I remember how excited I was to officially “do school” with my preschoolers. We knew that we were going to homeschool from the beginning, and I joined a homeschool support group when my oldest child was only three. I also joined our legal group when she was four, although it wasn’t even required. But I was serious about this, ya’ll. I was “doing school.”

Homeschooling preschool

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By the time child three and four were preschool aged and the older two were in elementary school, “doing school” with the little ones wasn’t really on my radar. They listened in to my reading to the older children, and if I had time, I printed a worksheet for them to complete.

Guess what? All four learned. The older two learned to read. They learned counting and numbers. They learned to write. All of my “doing school” paid off. But the younger two also learned to read. They learned counting and numbers. They learned to write. Despite my lack of formal school work with them, they learned.

If you have preschoolers, please don’t stress over “doing school.” Don’t worry that you’re not doing enough. Don’t fall prey to the homeschool mom guilt that says, “If I don’t do formal school with them now, they’ll always be behind.” I’m going to tell you something very important here, speaking from the voice of experience:

Your preschoolers DO NOT need formal homeschooling. Really. They don’t.

So if you’re not stressing over formally “doing school” what should you be doing with your preschoolers? How can you begin to gently help them learn and prepare them for more formal school later?

Here are seven simple things you can do to “do school” the right way with your preschooler.

Follow your child’s leading.

One of the main goals of preschool learning should be to teach children that learning can be fun. Learning can be exciting. Learning about the world around us is an awesome thing. If you sit them at a table and force them to complete a letters and numbers worksheet amid tears and weeping and wailing, they aren’t going to associate learning with fun.

Instead, follow your child’s leading. Does he want to do a worksheet? My younger girls often asked because they wanted to be like the big kids. Do they love crafting? Maybe they would love a learning lapbook. But if your child is always active, always on the move and doesn’t want to sit still and do formal work, that’s okay too. Follow her leading, and you’ll be successful in developing a love of learning.

Teach along the way.

A wise friend told me something when I began to homeschool, and I’ve never forgotten it:  “Life is school.” And this is so true. Life teaches many, many incidental lessons. And there is much to learn along the way. Take advantage of these learning opportunities that come your way.

When you see letters on a street sign, point them out and talk about what they spell. Take time to count the cars you see going by on the road in front of your house. Talk about the colors in the clothes your kids are wearing. When kids are coloring, write their name for them and say the letters.

Ask kids why they think things are happening. Why is there a sprinkler watering the lawn? This is a great way to talk about what plants need to grow. Why does a bird fly away when you get close to it? This can lead to a conversation about what animals need and how they respond to danger. Talking about why teaches kids to think critically. And all of these things can be taught along the way in your everyday life.

Use lots of hands-on activities.

Little kids need to move. Their little bodies aren’t designed to sit still for long. As they grow, they’ll develop different learning styles, but preschoolers need hands-on, active things to do. Take advantage of this and provide those kinds of activities to help them learn.

Use play-do to make letters and numbers. Point out numbers and colors when kids are playing with blocks. Use letter tiles to practice letter sounds and putting letters together to make short words. Small toys can be counters to teach counting, adding, and subtracting. All of these are active, hands-on ways to learn, and they’ll typically hold kids’ attention much better than a worksheet.

Play educational games.

Often fun games can be used to teach or reenforce academic skills. When my oldest children were preschool age, I had room in our large formal living room- that we had no furniture for- to put out letters covered in contact paper all over the floor. I made up all kinds of games using those letters. Who can run to the letter first? Can you jump to a letter and say a word that begins with that letter? Can you step from letter to letter to spell a word?

You might not have room for something that large, but what about using letter and number flashcards for a similar game. Playing cards or Uno cards are great to use for numbers games. Make up your own version of Scrabble, using the letter tiles for a simpler game. Play B-I-N-G-O with letters, numbers, sounds, rhyming words. Games are fun, and kids won’t even realize they’re learning as they go.

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Read. Read. Read.

If I were stranded on a deserted island and could choose any one resource for homeschooling, I would choose a well-stocked library. If I could tell you one thing to do with your preschooler to ensure future success in learning, it is this: Read. Read all the time. Read everywhere. Read all kinds of books. Read while they play or color. Read when they’re going to bed. Read while everyone’s at the supper table. Just read.

I can’t promise that all this reading will produce voracious readers. I have one that is a voracious reader now, and the other three will get excited when they find a really good book. But I will say that all four of my children learned to read incidentally, with little direct help from me. Our constant diet of good books increased their comprehension and critical thinking skills as well as their vocabulary.

And here’s another great thing if you have preschoolers and you’re homeschooling older kids. Read aloud to the older kids- at their grade level- and let the little ones play in the schoolroom and listen along. I’ll never forget the day that I had been reading Apologia’s General Science to my 6th and 7th grader while the younger kids listened in. I asked the older kids a question, and one of the little ones piped up with an answer! I realized then that- even when I’m not directly teaching them- my younger kids were picking up what I was reading aloud.

Allow kids to get outside and explore.

I will freely admit that I’m not an outdoor person. Bugs and I don’t get along. I also don’t particularly like to sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter. Give me the indoors with central air and heat and protection from the creepy crawlies. But…when my kids were really little, I made a point to put aside my feelings and enjoy the outdoors with them.

There is so much to be learned just by observing nature. I love the element of nature study from Charlotte Mason ‘s philosophy. Children learn by just being out in the world and seeing what happens. Why do leaves change colors? Why do those flowers only bloom in the spring? Why do different birds make different sounds.

When kids are outside observing, there’s much more than just science concepts being learned. Kids are learning how to think critically, how to explore and question to find out answers, and how to appreciate the beauty of creation.

Don’t worry about academic progress.

I put this one last, but, perhaps, it should have been first because of importance. Please, friend, do not worry about the academic progress of your preschooler. Little ones need time to learn and explore. In the preschool years, kids develop at different rates. Just because one three-year-old can name all her letters doesn’t mean that all three-year-olds should know how to do this.

When you begin to compare your child to other preschoolers and to measure their academic progress, you will only frustrate them and yourself. Academics are not just not that important in preschool. They just aren’t. Don’t waste time worrying that your child is “behind” or stressing that they stay “ahead.” Instead, let them enjoy being little. Let them play make-believe and dress up and run around in the sprinkler outside. There will be time to measure academic progress later.

Homeschooling preschool

By the way… you do NOT need a formal curriculum for homeschooling your preschooler. (Remember that part about not stressing.) But if you have time and energy and really want something that will give you good ideas for learning activities you can do with your little ones, I recommend Before Five in a Row. I used this with my older kids, and I loved it. It’s very gentle and natural literature-based learning. There are no workbooks or textbooks. You just read great children’s literature and do some fun activities based on the books. It’s awesome.

The most important thing that you can do in homeschooling your preschooler is to instill in your child a love for learning. If you’re doing that, you’re doing it right.



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