by Teri Ann Berg Olsen
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 colour. 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 colours 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 colours and shapes they see on a ride around the neighbourhood. At the grocery store, ask children to look for specific letters, numbers, or colours 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 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 instil 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.