Why Your Child Doesn't Need Preschool...And What to Do Instead

I have a little disclaimer to offer about this post. This post is NOT about whether you should send your child away from home to a traditional preschool. I do also believe that you do not need to send your child away from home for preschool, but I’m not going there in this post. Instead I’m talking to you mamas who are making all your plans for formal preschooling at home.

So, if you are already homeschooling or know you are going to homeschool, does your preschooler need a formal curriculum? I hear this question quite frequently when people hear that I have homeschooled from the beginning of my children’s school years. People want to know what curriculum to use for preschool or what age to start or how much time a day they should “do school” in preschool.

Are you ready for the answer? (The post title might give it away.) I don’t think you need to do any kind of formal preschool work with your child. Now, I know you might not like that answer. And, believe me, I didn’t always think this way. But learning more about how young children learn and my experiences with my own four children over the years have taught me differently.

Does my child need preschool

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Can I really back this up with evidence? Yes! You see, in a way I’ve done a little experiment with this. My oldest two children had the “formal” preschool curriculum in full force. I was so excited to start homeschooling that I jumped in with them at ages 3 and 4. We had a regular time- which I called our “gather at the table time”, and I used a formal curriculum to teach them. These two children went on to succeed in school as they grew up. They’re now both in college. With scholarships. So…obviously that formal preschool at the start of their school years was beneficial, right?
Well… when my two younger children hit preschool age, I was busy homeschooling an 8 and 7 year old. The younger two listened when I read aloud- while they played in the schoolroom. I gave them crayons and paper and puzzles and blocks and magnetic scenes that they could play with while the older kids did school. There was definitely no “formal” preschool going on. Guess what? These two children also went on to be successful in school. They are both in high school now and seem to be just fine. Even though I never used a formal preschool curriculum with them.
So why doesn’t your child need a preschool curriculum?

Preschoolers just soak in learning.

  Even when you don’t realize it, they are learning with everything you do. When you take time to talk to them as you walk through the grocery store, they are learning about sorting and food and shapes and colors and reading. When you look at a book together they are learning about how words fit together and what the pictures mean. When you take a walk outside they are learning about nature and colors and smells and seasons. You don’t have to make them learn, they just are learning.

Young children love to learn.

They are born with a natural desire to learn about the world around them. They want to “help” you do things around the house. They want to learn how to play basketball like Daddy does or how to sew like Mommy. They want to learn. Trying to make them do formal schooling when they have no interest in it can squash this love of learning. Instead of associating learning something new with the fun things they like to do to help you, they may begin to associate it with workbook pages you make them sit and do.

Sitting and writing and listening for long periods of time are not developmentally appropriate skills for most preschoolers. 

When you try to force it, your preschoolers may exhibit attitude and behavioral issues. The frustration of being asked to do something not developmentally possible will frustrate them. And learning will turn from a fun thing they look forward to into something they dread.

Many academic skills are developmental skills.

  You can push and push all you like, but if your child is not developmentally ready for a skill, it won’t be learned. Reading is a big example of this. Young moms love to talk about how early their children learned to read. And moms whose children don’t even recognize the alphabet yet cower in the corner afraid to confess. Many parts of reading are developmental. My two oldest children were taught reading in exactly the same way. (I was more laid back with the younger two.) One read early. One took longer. My method wasn’t any different. But one was developmentally ready before the other. Pushing skills that your child isn’t ready for will cause much frustration for both of you.

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Your child doesn’t need a formal preschool curriculum. It isn’t necessary for you to spend money- and time- picking out formal workbooks for a 3-5 year old. If you really want to do something “educational” with your children, here are some ideas.

Read. Read. Read.

This is the single most important thing you can do to prepare your child for learning in my opinion. Read for fun. Don’t quiz them about what you are reading. Don’t just pick out “school” books. Pick what Charlotte Mason has called “living books,” books that make the subject come alive. If you want some living book suggestions try A Literary Education by Catherine Levison. You can also access my free Living Books catalog with books sorted by grade level here.

Learn letters and numbers in a fun way.

 When my two older kids were little we had what I affectionately called “gather at the table time.” We would sit down together at the table occasionally and I would do a letter of the day and number of the day. I didn’t teach. We just talked. “Oh look! This is an ‘l’. Do you know what sound it makes? Can you think of a word that sounds like that? Whose name sounds like that?” As long as their interest held we would talk about the letter and number. If one got up and started to play something else that was fine. If one wanted to talk about the letter longer that was fine. It was all very low key and relaxed and not pushed.

Go to story time at the library.

  Not only is this a great way to hear new books, but it also helps provide interaction with other kids and adults. Don’t insist upon absolute stillness at story time. I taught them about not disturbing other people. But if it became to hard to sit still, we left. I tried hard not to set them up to fail.

If they want workbooks, choose something simple and fun and let them set the pace.

  Some of my kids- especially once we had older siblings – wanted a workbook. I just bought inexpensive, easy books and let them do a page a two with me when they wanted to get it out. We didn’t have a certain amount of time to work or a certain amount to cover, we just had fun. I also happened to like the ABC123 book from ABEKA. I didn’t buy their guide or anything. I used it at my own pace. But it had some fun ways to look at the letters and numbers 1-20. There was lots of coloring and gluing involved, so it was fun.
Does my child need preschool
If you are a young mom questioning the preschool decision, let this post let you off the hook. Don’t feel compelled to use a formal preschool curriculum. Do what’s fun for both of you. Read together often. Talk and talk and talk some more as you go about your daily work. And most importantly, enjoy this season of life without rushing through it.