The ABCs of Home Preschooling
The ABCs of Home Preschooling
Your preschooler has an active mind and is eager to learn, but are you ready to turn your child’s education over to someone else? These days, an increasing number of parents are opting to teach their children at home for the earliest years of school.
Perhaps the most striking difference between just having a young child at home and preschooling at home is the desire to make your day-to-day activities into opportunities for learning. Even if home preschooling isn’t your goal, you can incorporate some of these activities into your day.
Although there are no specific figures on the numbers of preschoolers learning at home, the National Home Education Research Institute states that it may be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States (at 7 percent to 12 percent per year). The Institute estimates that 1.9 to 2.4 million children (in grades K to 12) were home educated in the United States during 2005-2006.
Kelly Golden Ochoa, of Little Rock, Arkansas, spent six years teaching elementary and kindergarten classes at a private school. Yet she devotes the bulk of her time these days to homeschooling with her preschool-aged daughter, Rosemarie. The two spend their days doing arts and crafts, tactile play, and, above all, reading. As part of this minor revolution of families choosing to educate their children at home, Ochoa feels that “there’s a misconception that once your kids are ready for school—even preschool—that they don’t need as much nurturing. They do need just as much nurturing; it just takes a different shape. And I’m glad I’m there to provide that for my daughter.”
Deciding to homeschool Rosemarie was a fairly straightforward decision for Ochoa and her husband, a pediatrician. “I had seen the kinds of things that went on even in very good private schools and didn’t want my child to be part of those things, at least not at such a young age,” she says. Ochoa points to the “little things” such as being able to work with Rosemarie on having good manners, encouraging high self-esteem, and even eating healthy, nutritious food as being important in her homeschooling.
Homeschooling need not be expensive. There is frequently overlap between what products would be good for children in general, along with what would be good for children as “school work.” Remember the famous adage that “children’s play is work, and children’s work is play.”
The right mindset is perhaps the most important thing. Look at every situation as a potential learning opportunity. Going grocery shopping can be terrific for improving math skills such as counting (“We need three containers of yogurt. Here’s one. How many more should I take down?”), color identification (“Would you like to choose a green apple or a red one?”), and letter recognition (“This cereal starts with the letter ‘B’, just like your name. Can you show me the ‘B’ on the box?”). All of these skills are appropriate for preschool children to be developing, and chances are your trip, although a bit longer than usual, will also be more enjoyable since your children will be more invested in the process.
Paula Gopin, EdD, a Boston-based educational consultant and the director of the toddler enrichment program Creative Playtime, believes that parents should keep in mind that a well-rounded preschooler needs to develop his or her “whole child”—the physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and creative aspects that make a person well-rounded. Dr. Gopin encourages homeschooling parents to make sure they offer their children opportunities for growth in each of the basic areas of development. For example, emotional development focuses on the expression of needs and desires in an appropriate manner as well as the encouragement of self-esteem.
What You Don’t Need
There are many misconceptions regarding homeschooling, especially for young children. Parents frequently have fears of turning their home into a schoolhouse, complete with desks and set times for different subjects. School desks, a ringing bell, and a large chalkboard are definitely not needed, however. Large amounts of computer software for the under-five set are also not required, though there are some fantastic software programs out there for small children.
What You Need
While there are no hard-and-fast rules for provisions for starting to homeschool, there are things that most everyone who homeschools will find helpful:
The Physical Goods:
- An assortment of crayons, markers, and colored pencils, in some sort of holder that allows your child to neatly put them away (like a metal cookie tin or large cloth pencil case). The boxes that these products come in are usually difficult for young children to use well, and spending a few minutes finding the right holder now will greatly decrease your cleanup time later.
- Activities and books that are physically accessible. Low bookshelves and bins for sorting and storing toys and games are best. Keep your arts and crafts drawer full and organized, with children’s safety scissors available and paper nearby so that your child can use the products whenever inspiration strikes. “Recycle” your mail, saving all the mail that is only printed on one side. For older children who are beginning to show interest in writing, paper that has the standard large ruling for children’s writing on the bottom, along with blank space for drawing on the top, can be a non-threatening way to introduce writing along with drawing.
- Lots of books. Ochoa, who has baskets of books in every room of her house, says that she and her husband read to Rosy every day for two hours. People who doubt they can fit large amounts of reading in during the day may consider reading in short blocks throughout the day. Ochoa is careful to note that reading time is not forced. “It’s her choice too. When she was younger, she might walk away if she’d had enough. Now that she’s older, she frequently chooses to read, even by herself.”
- Workbooks. Pre-printed sheets can give parents a break from feeling like they need to come up with new and exciting activities all the time. Lastly, especially if your child has older siblings, the concept of doing “homework” can be incredibly exciting! Large bookstores usually carry a variety of workbooks for the preschool set. The Jumpstart line and Landoll’s series “Everything for Early Learning—Preschool-K” are popular and inexpensive.
- A place for your child to work. The kitchen table works well for many families, while others use a child-sized table or desk. Messy activities such as painting or gluing work well on an easy-to-clean table or right on the kitchen floor.
- Creative outlets for your child: One New Hampshire mother, homeschooling two preschoolers, frequently offers her children the opportunity to play with musical instruments. Dr. Gopin says creativity is best expressed through a variety of artistic media, including art, music, and movement. She encourages giving children as many of these outlets as possible, and suggests varying a basic activity, such as putting on music and dancing, by giving the child a lightweight, silky scarf that will allow creativity to blossom.
- Physical space for your child. Even if you’re in a small apartment, make sure your child has opportunities for full physical expression. Physical development means using both large and small muscles, according to Dr. Gopin. Small muscles can be developed through working with things such as puzzles and blocks, while large muscles can be exercised by activities such as bike riding and visiting the playground. Going to a playground also encourages appropriate social development including building relationships with peers and adults, and encouraging pro-social behavior, such as sharing, compromising, and taking turns.
Less-Tangible (but Still Necessary) Goods:
- The ability to step back. “Independent play is also very important,” notes Dr. Gopin. “Sometimes children need time to develop their imagination and their own particular style of play with toys, rather than only having play directed by adults.” Homeschooling parents recommend setting aside time each day so that your child can work, play, or read (even if it’s pre-reading) without your help and input. Getting into this habit will also help your child work alone when the inevitable happens, and your phone rings!
- A good babysitter. Everyone needs a break now and then, and knowing that every Wednesday afternoon is your time can help parents keep their batteries charged.
- Support. You may find support from other families in your area who share your homeschooling methods. If you’re in a remote location, supportive Internet email groups and sites that agree with your philosophies are also good support systems.
- Socialization for your child. Regular outside activities, such as children’s music classes and play-dates, are helpful. Parents with more than one child at home tend to feel less stress over this issue, since their child has regular play time with siblings and practices working on preschool-important tasks such as sharing and taking turns.
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