Monday, August 27, 2007

Preschool Homeschooling

August 27, 2007 - Monday

Preschool Homeschooling
Current mood: rejuvenated

I sat down to write a bit about preschool homeschooling- mostly in response to pressure from family members to "focus", "get serious", "make a plan" or "get on the ball with this homeschooling thing". After all, wouldn't Littleman be in Pre-K by now? Shouldn't he be learning to read? You have to have some sort of schedule or plan to teach these skills! (Littleman's my oldest, and he's 3 1/2). I ended up getting into it this afternoon, and enjoying my train of thought. Here's what I wrote, mostly unedited- please keep in mind that, although I have a bachelor's degree in education, I am by no means an expert and what I have to say stems from my own personal research and interest.

At the bottom are some articles I think you might find interesting, that help explain a little about my homeschooling approach right now. Through my training in college, my hands-on experience with kids, my own research and reading which is constantly ongoing and my experience thus far with our wonderful boys, my condensed philosophy for early-childhood education advocates a hands-off, open-ended, play-based curriculum set in the context of a rich, stimulating environment.

Simply put, we provide a nurturing, interesting environment in which the boys can explore their world and the ideas they encounter- and we facilitate them when they want to explore further. That doesn't mean we can't talk about math or phonics, or tell him where things are on the globe, or help him practice writing- it's great to help him explore whatever interests him (that we feel is appropriate, of course). But focusing too soon on "lessons" or setting down a "schedule" can be have a negative effect at this young age. It's not developmentally appropriate for preschool kids to be working at the kinds of activities commonly associated with "school". The best possible thing we as parents and teachers can do for our preschoolers is to:

1) provide a rich environment, full of interesting people and experiences, and interesting, sensorial materials- and facilitate their exploration
2) model a love of learning, a zest for life and a love of reading
3) support and encourage a sense of creativity, imagination and exploration (play!)
4) teach them how to be good people, and (more important) model that behavior
5) love them

Most of the time, basic elementary education flows naturally from this base. Kids learn to read by reading. They learn math by working with numbers in their own lives. Parents do not have to create lessons to slip into daily life- the lessons are already there. They don't have to worry about having "school" at home. Life experiences are far more stimulating and memorable than any "lesson" concocted by an adult to make them "learn" something. This is not idealistic babble. For thousands of educators all over the world, it works. It is supported by piles of research on how children develop and learn. It's one of the reasons public schools fail our students.

As the boys get older, we may very well find that they enjoy more formal lessons. We may find that they work better that way in some subjects. That's perfectly fine! But please understand, there is no reason at all to be considering it now. It is simply too early- a bright, inquiring mind needs nurturing at this age, but not honing- not yet. Now is the time to build a love of creativity and new ideas, building the base from which later learning may spring.

As far as preschool for Littleman goes, he's not even old enough to be in an "official" GA pre-K program yet- his age group, if they are going to preschool at all, are mostly getting used to being away from home and are learning how to play nicely. In Pre-K, they're still mostly learning how to function in a classroom setting. Much of the boost provided to students by early learning in a preschool setting is not academic, it is logistical and emotional. They learn how to be separated from their families, segregated into peer groups, how to be quiet, line up, sit still, raise their hands, "share". . . basically how to please their teachers. Any "academics" are very basic: letter and number identification, sorting and matching, colors and shapes, that sort of thing. Littleman already knows most of it. And even this simple level of "academics" is controversial- many educators believe that it's still too early for formal instruction, and that the statistical benefits are merely a reflection of Pre-K grads being more conditioned to a public school environment than kids entering kindegarten without having had any out-of-home schooling before. (I make sure Littleman and Sweetcheeks get the benefits of some out-of-home classes without the drawbacks of too-much-too-early academics).

[Please excuse my gratuitous bragging on my children for a moment- after all, the targeted audience (Littleman's adoring family) totally agree with me here! LOL]

If you doubt what I am doing, simply look at Littleman. He impresses anyone he encounters with his self-confidence, intelligence, knowledge, vocabulary, diction, good manners (most of the time), self-sufficiency, creativity. . . the list goes on. Obviously some of this comes naturally to him, like his good looks and high energy. ;) But what I do, and what you do naturally, has definitely nurtured these characteristics in him and encouraged them to flower. He is way ahead of the game! And Mr. Sweetcheeks is the same way. They are doing great.

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Here are a few articles- these are excellent!
(note that this educator defines a child's "early years" as ages 4 - 7)

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