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When we pulled Benjamin out of public school at age four, I found myself suddenly a “homeschooler.” Being very academic by nature, I thought I could just bring him home and do what the schools were doing. In fact, out of spite, I thought I would do even better – even more – for my pre-schooler’s mind. So I brought my moderately autistic little boy home and presented him with handwriting, phonics lessons, Saxon math, a felt map of the continents, and a multitude of online learning options.
Want to listen instead?
For all of you laughing right now, know that I am rolling my eyes at my former self just as hard but let’s extend some grace to the newbie, huh? And remember, it was before I’d met Charlotte Mason.
My early homeschool years can be summed up in one phrase: too much too soon.
There is a natural process known as childhood development that we as parents are expected to work within the boundaries of. The pre-school years are a special time to focus on certain activities. As I talked about in the last post, these can be summed up in the categories of mind, body, and soul.
Although what I was teaching (read: attempting to teach) technically falls under the “mind” category, it does not necessarily fall under the pre-schooler’s mind and certainly not in the mind of a child with the many challenges connected to his autism at the time.
It’s not that what I was trying to do was bad; it’s just that it was beside the point.
For most four-year-olds – especially our precious outside-the-box children – the foundation for learning is all that needs to be laid during the pre-school years. This takes much longer for OTB children than it does typical children so do not despair if your “pre-school” years last longer than you expected. Proper learning will not – cannot – take place until it has a firm foundation to be built upon. If we look at education as a house we are building in our children, the pre-school years must be for pouring the foundation or the bricks will not be stable.
How to Nurture Your Pre-Schooler’s Mind:
Nurturing your child’s mind during the pre-school years can be done by reading aloud literature and poetry, developing early math skills through play, and only when they are ready, introducing memory work, ABCs, and handwriting.
Be sure your child’s day is full of story and poetry. Try to schedule a few times throughout the day where you stop and snuggle up with your child to read. Read aloud time is a wonderful time to bond with your pre-schooler. Some of our favorite times to read are mid-morning, lunchtime, and bedtime. If the thought of reading multiple times a day overwhelms you, remember that audiobooks are an excellent way to get more reading in.
A caution, though – not all reading is “good” reading. This season is prime time for littles to pick up books at the library featuring their favorite TV characters and other twaddle. Some of that is fine – especially when they are just browsing on their own – however, when you read aloud to them be sure that 90% of the time it is something of worthy quality. Look for stories that are pleasant for you to read (yes, it is important that you LIKE the books you choose for him!) and gorgeous illustrations that fill the mind with wonder and awe.
Filling your little one’s mind with twaddle in the early years is no different than feeding him nothing but goldfish crackers for that time; he needs real mental sustenance and that can only come through living ideas found in good books. Remember that you are training his affections and if you give him wholesome ideas, he will crave wholesome ideas. If you give him twaddle, he will crave twaddle. The pre-school years are the time to help him develop his reading “taste buds.”
If you’d like some guidance in picking books, I have put together a booklist for the pre-school years of our favorite titles. It includes core classics, great reads and books to read by occasion.
Go ahead and grab your free copy here >>
Early Math Through Play
Math should be introduced as a living activity – after all, we use math every day in one way or another so a child should be taught why it is important.
There are a few fun ways to introduce math and here are some of our favorites:
Teach days of the week, months of the year, and dates. Children love to learn the days of the week song (there are a few versions). For the months of the year, we like to clap each month and jump up on the current month. Melissa & Doug make the best Daily Magnetic Calendar I’ve found but use your own personality to make this fun for your child.
Yes, I’m suggesting you take your pre-schooler shopping with you. However, if this is a struggle (and it certainly is for many OTB kiddos) this can easily be played at home. Set up some of your food items with tags and shop your kitchen with your child. You could even use play money to make it more fun. Incorporate questions and requests that encourage your child to count. For example, you could say, “Mommy needs three cans of beans” and have your child get them. Checking items off a grocery list is also important and you could discuss the price of items if your child is ready for that. Even statements like, “Oh, that’s too much for that cereal; this cereal costs less” lay the foundation of necessary math skills.
Find a simple recipe – muffins are a great choice – and walk through each step with your child. Have your child count out the muffin liners into the pan, pour the ingredients into a measuring spoon, and set the timer. Be sure to point it out when numbers come into play and how important it is to use right amounts.
Children can easily learn simple prayers, nursery songs, and poems by heart in the pre-school years. This will happen naturally and you shouldn’t put any stress on learning these things. What’s more important is being intentional about what your child is memorizing. We can all remember the theme song to our favorite TV show growing up, but wouldn’t it be more nourishing to the soul to be able to recite a short, beautiful poem? Our favorite to memorize early on is Rain by Robert Louis Stevenson. Read copious amounts of poetry to your child and choose a couple of your favorites to memorize over the year.
Buy one or two beautifully illustrated ABC books but do not obsess over making the connections of each letter and words that begin with it. Let this be an organic process. Sing the ABC song but don’t agonize over the child learning letters in a certain order. Invest in a nice set of magnetic letters (we love these) and a medium sized magnetic white board for the child to play with. This should be a fun activity and never forced. Children – especially those who are read to often – will naturally want to know which letter is which and what sounds they make. Once he knows those things, he will be interested to know that letters pushed together make words, and so on. Even for children with reading delays, this seems to be a natural (however labored) process.
Let the child alone, and he will learn the alphabet for himself: but few mothers can resist the pleasure of teaching it; and there is no reason why they should, for this kind of learning is no more than play to the child, and if the alphabet be taught to the little student, his appreciation of both form and sound will be cultivated. When should he begin? Whenever his box of letters begins to interest him. The baby of two will often be able to name half a dozen letters; and there is nothing against it so long as the finding and naming of letters is a game to him. But he must not be urged, required to show off, teased to find letters when his heart is set on other play.
– Charlotte Mason
This is the only time I will recommend a formal curriculum in the early years. A brilliantly designed multi-sensory program is Handwriting without Tears. We do not follow the program to the letter, but when your child is ready, I suggest you buy the workbook and absolutely buy the wood pieces to make letters with. At your child’s leisure, let them make the letters with the wood pieces, build Mat Mat, and practice writing some letters. We use Large Crayola Washable Crayons with the workbook. Do not allow your child to do sloppy work in his workbook; when teaching handwriting, even one perfectly executed letter for the whole day is preferable to a whole page of slipshod work.
All Together Now…
So to recap, here is the extent of your pre-school child’s academic schedule:
- Board Games
- Grocery Shopping
- Cooking with mom
- Memory Work (when ready)
- ABCs (when ready)
- Handwriting (when ready)