Preschool: Skip the worksheets and ABCs and dive deep into what really matters instead.
I sat snuggling my two youngest kiddos on the bed this weekend while my husband was around the corner doing laundry when my three year old broke out into a mostly intelligible version of “Fifty Nifty United States.” He made it all the way from Alabama to Ohio. My husband peeked in watching in amazement and mentioned how impressed he was because he wasn’t sure we were actually teaching enough.
Well, my husband is right. I gave up teaching preschoolers two years ago, and my middle child has benefitted from an entire lifetime of play. I have never sat down with him to talk about the alphabet, never tried to count to 10, never sorted colors, never used a single “printable” in his three years of life…and I don’t plan to start any time soon.
If you’ve been following along for a while you may remember that I started using a gentle, literacy-inspired curriculum called Before Five in a Row with my oldest daughter when she was just 2.5. I loved Before Five in a Row and still think it’s an amazing introduction to learning.
But, if I could have a do-over, I would change a lot of things about how we did homeschool preschool. I blogged about a few of our homeschool preschool activities, and they were lots of fun. I have some posts with adorable preschool activities that have been pinned on Pinterest a few thousand times. But the best hours of our preschool never had a Pinterest-worthy photo op. They were the memories we made reading classic books together or making real discoveries about the world for the first time.
I’d spend hours and hours printing and laminating and putting together activities that my daughter may or may not be interested in and then because I worked hard on it, I’d push her to do it. I scoured Pinterest to find themed activities and spent money on math manipulatives and learning materials. My daughter loved learning and loved doing school, but something was missing, something just didn’t feel right.
My Ah-Ha Moment
The summer before my daughter turned four I attended my first homeschool conference. It was overwhelming, but inspirational and after a session by Kathy Lee from The Homegrown Preeschooler, I knew our homeschool would never be the same again.
Kathy spoke on the wonder of childhood and how preschool didn’t have to be about sitting at a desk or only about learning shapes and colors. She reminded us that children are naturally curious and want to learn about the world around them, and they do that through their most important work- play. I didn’t know it at the time, but our entire lives would be affected by the words I heard in that session.
I purchased A Year of Playing Skillfully and began our year of “Yes!” What an amazing year that was. There was plenty of learning happening and much of it was on my end while I watched my daughter play. I devoured book after book on how children learn, early childhood education, and educational philosophies and eventually realized why my kids don’t need preschool.
I don’t want a 3 year old who knows his ABCs or a 4 year old who can count to 100 or a 5 year old who can read. That’s short-sighted foolery. I want a 10 year old who loves to learn and will seek out answers when curiosity strikes. I want a 16 year old who has a passion so strong she wants to do nothing else. I want an adult who has a heart for serving others.
Educating young children within the home atmosphere has been happening for centuries, but the idea of early childhood education in an outside setting came to America during the Industrial Revolution, largely because of the rise of working mothers.
With some states instituting free public educations beginning at four years old and programs like Head Start that aimed to ensure that children from low-income families were ready for kindergarten, the idea of preschool being a necessity has permeated our culture for the last several decades.
For most of us (especially if you’re reading this), preschool is not a game-changer. There are many probable reasons for this but a big one, according to this well-researched article in Slate Magazine, is that “parents who are financially comfortable tend to devote more resources and time to their kids, in part because they can.” It’s underprivileged families who need the equalizer of a preschool education.
Research suggests that preschool only benefits children from these disadvantaged families, in particular, families that are below the poverty line, whose mothers are uneducated, or who are racial minorities.
Humans are born as curious creatures. This article sums up the problem with the typical model of education today:
“The question today should be, “How do we preserve a love of learning?” Because we’re all born with it. Neoteny is the name for the playful, chatty, curiosity that human children retain far after infancy. This is a distinguishing trait that has been essential to human evolution.
Yet school knocks it out of most kids with incessant rules, rows of desks, and proscribed learning…And parents also knock the love of learning right out of kids with staunch plans for a well-rounded curriculum. Kids have a natural love of learning but learning in their own way. Some will like books, some will like to watch or listen rather than read. Some will want to work with their hands. All ways are paths to expressing a love of learning. But if you tell your kid the RIGHT way to learn, and the RIGHT subjects to learn, they won’t necessarily be able to love that way or that subject.”
So why are we wanting to stifle this innate love of learning at an earlier and earlier age?
Eager parents often ask me about the best preschool curriculum, and it’s tough to come up with an answer because saying “none” just doesn’t seem to be a great response. So I wrote out what our preschool looks like and here is my honest answer.
The Best Preschool Curriculum Ever
Wake up every day singing a silly song. Sing the same one every day until it becomes a tradition. Keep singing all day long.
Teach your child to get dressed, brush his teeth and make the bed.
Cook meals together. Sit down at the table and enjoy them with conversation and sometimes a good book or poem.
At least once a day, have a good tickle session and laugh until your belly hurts.
Go to the library and pick out beautiful picture books with lovely stories and stack them all over the house. Whenever your child asks to read one, say yes.
Model what it’s like to care for others by saying a prayer for someone in need, sending a card to a relative or taking a meal to a family who could use it.
Go outside. Spend hours and hours outside. Never be within doors when you can rightly be without. Take walks. Blow bubbles. Look for bugs. Splash in puddles. Climb trees. Swing. Collect rocks. Get dirty. Watch the clouds. Listen for birds. Plant a garden. Roll down a grassy hill. Jump over a fallen branch. Play in the mud.
Tell stories. Stories about your life as a child, your dog, your favorite book, your child’s birth. Tell fairy tales and fables and any story you can remember from your own childhood. Make up the silliest story your imagination can come up with. Tell a story your child knows well and change the ending.
Celebrate the change of seasons, festivals and holidays with simple, but meaningful traditions. Even just the addition of a tablecloth makes a celebration extra special.
Answer questions. When your child asks why the sky is blue or why some rocks are smooth and some are rough or how birds can fly or where the river flows to or wants to know how to grow an apple tree…answer him. Answer with real, age-appropriate answers. Or let fairies and garden gnomes be the answer sometimes. Respond with a question when you can. But never ignore a question.
Play games. Any simple game that requires no more than a song, your own bodies and maybe a stick or a few leaves. Preferably outside.
Start a collection of nature items. Watch it grow from a single pebble to a token from all the walks in your child’s life. Leave your collection out in the main area of your home and talk about it often.
Do yoga. Let your child climb all over you until he is ready to join in. Try a new pose whenever it suits your fancy. Explore a partner pose. Enjoy a few moments of breathing in and breathing out together.
Build something. With blocks. With Legos. With big sticks. With real wood and a hammer.
Go to the thrift store and get a few dress up clothes. Tie an old blanket on your child’s neck for a cape and turn him into a superhero.
Listen to your child with the utmost attentiveness. Listen to his stories and sometimes jot them down to read back later. Listen to his worries, and be generous with hugs. Listen well when there is excitement in his voice.
Let your child fold laundry, clean windows and sweep the floors. Praise the effort and accept the final product as is.
Find a beloved nature spot and go there often. Observe how it changes through the seasons.
Have tea parties. Add poetry for more fun.
Finger paint. Play with play dough. Color blank pages with tiny crayons. Use recycled household items and a little tape or glue to create something new. When you’re feeling brave, let the glitter fly and worry about the mess later.
Drink lemonade on summer days and hot chocolate on cold ones. Add chocolate chips to zucchini muffins. Make a cake just for fun. Blow up balloons for a special afternoon.
Get a pet. Let your child learn to care for another living being whether it is as small as a fish or as big as a horse.
Establish a family rhythm so that your child knows with completely certainty what things will happen in a day, a week and a year.
End every day with snuggles, kisses, hugs and a bedtime story that offers hope for a beautiful tomorrow.
This is the curriculum I follow with my three year old and will continue to follow with my little ones until they are at least six years old. This is the curriculum I would tell a friend to use whether she planned to homeschool or send her child to a traditional school for Kindergarten.
I realize that many parents work, by necessity or choice, and that means many children are attending full-time daycare or preschools. I also know some people need to send their kids to preschool or mother’s day out programs for a mental break, to run errands, because of health problems or whatever the case may be.
This curriculum works for you, too. Rather than spending time at home with workbooks or watching “educational” TV shows or worrying if your child is learning enough at school, do these things instead. Even the very best preschools can’t offer what a young child needs most of all- your time.
Childhood is a time of wonder that is over in the blink of an eye. Embrace it. Nurture it. Get outside and play. And don’t forget the chocolate chips.