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Homeschooling Preschoolers

by Teri Ann Berg Olsen

This article offers tips on creating an atmosphere of learning in your home, an overview of skills to explore with a preschooler, and suggested activities. It also provides a comprehensive list of recommended resources.

As parents, we want what is best for our children because we love them and have a personal interest in their lives. You don’t have to be an expert in early childhood education to know that children learn best in an environment of safety and security, surrounded by people who love and care about them. This means that your home is the perfect place for learning!

Parents have a wonderful opportunity to teach their children at home from the day they are born. Unfortunately, most people send their kids off to school - and preschool - as soon as possible. Among those who homeschool their children, home education is commonly regarded as officially beginning in kindergarten or first grade, the same as school-age grade levels. Yet from my experience, I think the preschool years may be the most fun time to homeschool! That's when children are the most self-motivated and eager to learn about anything that comes their way, they're naturally inquisitive and curious about everything, and they’re intensely interested in exploring the world around them. Homeschooling a preschooler doesn't require any formal instruction. You can simply delight in being with your child and participating in his or her discoveries.

There are many things that you can do to create an atmosphere of learning in your home and within your family. Half of it is just developing an awareness of the learning opportunities that present themselves each and every day. Preschoolers do not separate learning from life - anyone who observes young children will see that they are constantly learning. Homeschooling a preschooler is actually a lot like unschooling. Unschooling is a form of homeschooling in which the learning process is child-led, giving them complete freedom to choose what they learn, when they learn and how they learn. Unschooling seems to be basically a lifelong continuation of the more casual style of preschool education, in which children simply live and learn as they go, where school and life are completely integrated.

There are plenty of fun and informal learning experiences that you can do with your preschooler. Read books. Recite poems. Sing songs. Play games. Draw and color. Do puzzles and crafts. Go on nature walks. Visit zoos and museums. Name and count everything in sight. Bake cookies. Plant a garden. Read more books. Even the most mundane household chores can be made into a learning experience. For example, you can practice sorting and matching colors and textures in the laundry. When unloading dishes from the dishwasher, point out the big, medium, and small plates. Say the names of trees and other objects as you walk down the street. Ask children to name colors and shapes they see on a ride around the neighborhood. At the grocery store, ask children to look for specific letters, numbers, or colors on signs and packages.

You can get some basic phonics and math workbooks and/or educational computer software. But by far, the most important learning activity is reading books together. Go to the library regularly and check out lots of books, both fiction and nonfiction. Read to your child often, even if it's reading the same book over and over again. This will develop their ear for phonics and the rhythm of the language, while developing their listening, sequencing, and comprehension skills. Since preschoolers are so full of wonder and curiosity, you can utilize this learning time to its full advantage. When they ask questions like "Why is the sky blue?" don't just shrug and guess at the answer. Look in an encyclopedia or log onto the internet and find out the real answer as soon as possible after they asked it. This introduces them to the concept of looking up information and researching for facts. After all, knowledge isn't so much what you know, but rather knowing how to find it out.

Finally, relax...there's no need to hurry and no need to worry - there are no educational emergencies when it comes to preschooling at home! The home provides a convenient, integrated learning environment. Every day is another opportunity to instill a love for learning that will last a lifetime. Just go with the flow. By starting out early and proceeding slowly and gradually, eventually you will find that you have covered everything that they need to know. Homeschooling for preschool allows you to nurture your child's love for learning and foster the boundless curiosity that comes so naturally at this young age. The most important thing is to spend lots of time with them and give them lots of love, and the learning will come.

"Proceed slowly and steadily. Don't rush. It will come. When you plant a seed and nurture it with food, water, and sunshine, you don't see it for a while. But the roots are growing, and eventually it will burst through the soil and you will see a beautiful blossom! And so it is with a student!" - Shinichi Suzuki

Preschool Skills & Activities

  • Color Recognition - Write the word RED on a piece of paper, the word BLUE on a second piece of paper, the word GREEN on a third piece of paper, and so on for all of the colors. Give your child some old magazines or catalogs and ask them to find pictures of things that are red, blue, green, etc. They can cut them out and paste them on the proper page.

  • Patterning - Take a walk and ask them to point out repeating patterns that they see along the way (in sidewalks, buildings, fences, etc.)

  • Classifying & Grouping - Place a bunch of assorted objects (small toys, buttons, household objects, etc.) on a table. Talk about how they are alike and different. Sort them into piles of things that go together according to size, shape, color, etc.

  • Categorizing - Ask children to look around the house for objects in specific categories. For example, you can ask them to find any objects that make sounds. Then choose another category, such as objects that are soft, or objects that are yellow. Talk to them about how each of the objects is used.

  • Letter Recognition - Make a bunch of letter flashcards (both capitals and lowercase). Hold them up one at a time in random order, or let the child pick each card out of a hat or basket. Have them name all of the letters. You can also have them identify the letters in each spoonful of alphabet soup that they eat!

  • Letter Matching - Write each letter of the alphabet on an index card in capital letters. Then write each letter of the alphabet on an index card in lowercase letters. (You should have a total of 52 cards, each depicting one letter, and make sure there is a lowercase letter for each capital letter.) Place all of the cards face down on a table. Have two players take turns turning over two cards each, trying to match a capital letter with a small letter. The player who gets the most matching cards wins.

  • Memory - Draw a simple picture on a piece of paper. Ask children to look at it carefully. Then tell them to close their eyes. While their eyes are closed, make a quick change in your drawing. Ask them to tell you what is different.

  • More Memory - Show your child a large picture, poster, or art masterpiece. Then turn it over or take it away and ask questions such as: How many people were in the picture? Were they happy or sad? What color was the house? Was the sky sunny or cloudy?

  • Following Directions - Cooking is a favorite activity for preschoolers. Let children measure, pour, stir and taste. Preschoolers enjoy following simple recipes. (Be sure to supervise preschool cooking activities at all times.)

  • Oral Language - Recite a short nursery rhyme or poem, or read one of their favorite story books and ask them to say the words along with you (choral reading) or repeat it after you (echo reading).

  • Storytelling & Sequencing - Show your child a large picture, poster, or art masterpiece. Ask them to tell you a story about what is happening in the picture. Ask them to predict what might happen next.

  • Dramatic Play - Set up some theme-related play centers outfitted with realistic items of a smaller size, such as a dollhouse, store, kitchen, restaurant, doctor's office, home office, etc. Young children will enjoy practicing real-life daily living skills on their own scale.

  • Sound Recognition - Ask children to find something in the room whose name begins with the sound of a particular letter, such as B (ball, box, bottle). Repeat with other letter sounds.

  • Observation Skills - Choose an object which is easily visible and within sight in the room in which you and your child are sitting. Say something like "I spy something white." If your child can’t guess what it is, add another adjective such as "I spy something white and round". Continue this game until they guess correctly. Sometimes with little ones you have to be very specific such as "I spy something white, round and sitting on the shelf above the stereo."

Did You Know…? Scholastic’s I Spy series provides lots of fun practice for beginning learners in many of the above skills - such as recognizing letters, numbers, shapes, and objects. Although the suggested age range is 4-7 years, even younger children will enjoy looking at the pictures and identifying items. (You can read my complete review here.)

Recommended Books

  • Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills: Preschool, by American Education Publishing Company. (A complete basic skills workbook with carefully structured lessons, sequentially organized so the student can master each skill in the order of importance. Each lesson is prepared for easy teaching and a complete answer key is provided along with additional suggestions and a bibliography.)

  • Get Ready to Learn, by Nancy Champion Chupp. (This is a step-by-step learning program for prekindergarten children. The practical, easy-to-implement activities in this book will help you teach your child a solid base of skills. The book suggests using typical household items in activities that are already part of your daily routine. Each concept is presented many times to ensure that your child masters it. The book contains 11 weeks of activities, with several mental and physical activities for each day of the week.)

  • Learning at Home: Preschool and Kindergarten, by Ann Ward. (A Christian parents’ guide with day-by-day lesson plans using the library as a resource. This is a comprehensive, yet easy to use program for educating young children. It provides all of the essential basics to early learning combined with lots of ideas to make learning fun. Includes complete lessons for 36 weeks, 4 days per week. The introduction includes a scope and sequence; developmental profiles of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds; sample schedules; recommended resources; and basic equipment needed.)

  • Teaching Your Child Concentration: a Playskool Guide, by Lee Hausner and Jeremy Schlosberg. (The author shows you how easy and fun it can be to teach your child the essential skills of concentration with simple, enjoyable games and activities that you can play anywhere, even in the car. By fostering your child's ability to concentrate, you can help him or her to succeed in learning and life. Especially useful in this age of television and video games, with activities for preschoolers and older. Even though this book is sponsored by Playskool, the activities in this book use common household objects. Playskool toys are not required.)

  • Teach Your Children Well: A First Grade Teacher’s Guide for Parents, by Jay Davidson. (The author encourages parents to take an active role in their children’s education to help them become lifelong learners and responsible citizens. You will see how easy it is to include learning experiences as part of your everyday family life, build a strong foundation early in your child’s education, connect your child’s learning to all areas of school curriculum, and mold your child’s attitude to become a lifelong learner.)

  • Teaching Preschoolers: First Steps Toward Faith, by Thomas Sanders and Mary Ann Bradberry. (This book is designed to help preschool teachers understand how preschoolers learn and what teaching methods are best. It also helps teachers understand the importance of laying strong spiritual foundations in the lives of preschoolers.)

Recommended Software

  • Jumpstart Toddlers
  • Jumpstart Preschool
  • Jumpstart PreK
  • Jumpstart Kindergarten
  • Elmo's Preschool Deluxe
  • Fisher Price Ready for Preschool
  • Fisher Price Ready for School
  • Reader Rabbit Toddler, etc.

Recommended Websites