Thursday, July 27, 2017

Homeschool Preschool and the Early Years

I recently shared this topic at our local Holistic Moms Network monthly meeting and wanted to share it here as well.  The Topic was Homeschooling Preschoolers and the Early Years and was addressed to moms who may already homeschool as well as those who have not homeschooled but are curious and interested. If you are looking for a local chapter of holistic parents, you can look up here to join your local community as well as the national community.

One of the first obstacles to overcome in making the decision to homeschool is our own personal insecurities and ideas about what education should be.  The first question is, am I qualified? How can I teach my child if I have no training in early childhood education?

How have they figured out everything they have learned so far in their little life? You have been their primary teacher from day 1 from teaching them to smile, eat solids, stand, walk, talk. The preschool and early years are just a continuation in their developmental milestones and brain development to which you have already been an amazed witness of.  You didn't need special skills to teach your child to walk, she had the natural desire from observing others walk and when she was ready, with the support and safety of her parents around to encourage, it was accomplished.  And just like walking and talking, not every child meets their educational developmental milestones at the same time.  Some kids might be able to count to 20 when they are two and some may not be able to until they are 4 or 5.  What it really takes to teach your child is a willingness to continue being in tune and engaged with your child, becoming a student of them so you can recognize when they are ready for the next thing and being ready to provide the resources and environment to encourage it.

What about reading? Let's get that out of the way real quick as it's sometimes homeschoolers biggest obsession-getting them to read! We worry that we don't know if we can teach them to read. How soon they start reading can be the pass/fail determination on our ability to teach our children.  When I was agonizing over the decision to homeschool or not and asked my mom who raised 5 kids through public school.  She gave me this answer. "They introduce reading at school but the kids that learn to read well, it requires the parents teaching and reading with them at home after school.  I taught all you kids how to read.  So basically, just take your pick, have it introduced at school and then reteach it at home after, get them a tutor, or just teach it yourself during the day and be done."  There are many great programs and methods (and plenty are free and inexpensive) for teaching your children to read and it doesn't have to be intimidating.  And again, reading is a major developmental milestone and not all kids brains are ready at the same time. Homeschooling gives you the ability to either cater to their quickness without them becoming bored and just as importantly allows you to slow down and take the pressure off as they learn at their own pace as some kids just need more time and a more gentle approach.  

First of all- keep it simple.
Great advice given to me from a seasoned mom when I was still just starting out was "don't kill yourself, all the amazing things you do, they mostly won't remember".  So choose how you invest and spend your time in creating an educational, inspiring environment for you and your children and choose resources that are most conducive to you enjoying using them with your children because this is a special time with your children and it's meant to be enjoyed.  But also don't go overboard trying to DO IT ALL.  Because you may end up with Adrenal Fatigue and your kids wont remember the elaborate things you did.  Pace yourself.

The story of the tortoise and the hare applies to teaching our young children. It's OK to go slow, live slow and be amazed as you watch them grow and find yourself growing in new ways with them.  Trust them.  We don't need to program them into little know it all geniuses by age 5 to prove ourselves and validate our decision to homeschool.  But rather to:

  • Cultivate, protect and preserve their natural curiosity, and desire of discovery and learning. While enjoying the precious time we have with them while they are still growing, because they grow fast.  Giving them a quiet time to grow and develop before joining the busy train of our society which they will be on the rest of their lives.
  • To enhance the family bond, having more focused time to instill the character and values that matter to your family and overall quality and quantity time together. Also, for us, my husband has had to travel a LOT in his career and sometimes get home late. Homeschooling has given us the freedom to tag along with him on some of his trips where the kids and I just enjoy the hotel pool and location while he works, we’ve bonded on many road trips we wouldn’t have taken with him if we didn’t homeschool.  It’s also allowed us to have a slightly later bedtime since we can wake up when we want and my husband can have some quality time in the evening after dinner without having to rush them to bed.
  • To provide a healthy safe environment, where they can be themselves and not be put into any boxes. If your child is a kinesthetic learner who needs to move a lot, you can accommodate that and it isn’t a problem.  You can accommodate their personality and learning styles.  Also they are not constantly exposed to germs and if they have any food issues, it is nice to have them home where you can make sure they are not accidentally being exposed to things they can’t have when they are too little to know the difference. 
  • For overall freedom to choose when you travel, how your child learns, what they learn, what they eat, owning your calendar- you design your schedule and life without the demands and requirements of school.  We are able to visit our family on the west coast twice a year for a couple weeks each time we go, off season when travel fares are not as expensive.  We’ve been able to spend so much more quality time with our family out west over the years because of homeschooling, and with my dad having ALS and sweet nieces and nephews growing up fast, every visit we can make is cherished time that makes it all worth it on the days I feel like I don't get a break.
  • You can give your kids a customized private education without the expense or commitments of private school and you can do it very affordably. Some people spend almost no money on curriculum with all the free resources available. There are plenty affordable books and resources and on the other side, expensive curriculums and hybrids.  It goes back to the freedom to design and plan what you do and how you do it and what works for your family.

For the Preschool-Early Years we focus on the importance of play.
You don't need to buy a curriculum.  If you find one you love then Go for it but it is not necessary.  In the US we start formal education around ages 4/5 but In Sweden and Finland, kids do not start school until age 7. Many believe that formal education should be held off til later in favor for informal, play based learning. 

Now we have cleared up that we don't need to feel pressured to go crazy forcing our babies to be instant geniuses. Yay!  But what we can do is preserve that sweet special honeymoon time in your young family life before all the chaos and busy-ness of life inevitably ensues.  The early years go by fast, they grow up so quick, and being able to consciously slow down and relish it is an incredible freedom and choice that we have.

 So what do we do in the early years?

Play is meaningful work. Provide open ended, creative play things like blocks, magnet tiles, play silks/fabric, mudpie kitchens and other creative resources.  Also make sure you schedule unscheduled time in your days to allow creative play to happen. 

The art of strewing is allowing your child to discover something you have casually left out or strategically leaving “invitations” for learning and creativity out for your kids to discover on their own.  By strewing you can instill a love of learning by engaging your child's natural curiosity.  

" Strewing is not about adding to the clutter. It’s about creating subtle but irresistible invitations. Product placement if you will. Strewing works best, in fact, in an uncluttered space.
Strewing is more about helping your kids explore and play and create on their own. It’s about introducing or reintroducing materials, books, concepts, in a non-pushy way that lets them own the experience and gives them the thrill of discovery."  Artful Parent

Ex: construction - setting out a bin of building materials like magnet tiles, wooden blocks, etc
Reading -a wordless book or touchy feeling book or a book set open to a certain page of interest
Nature-set out a tray of sea shells or other nature finds, setting out some kid binoculars on the window ledge with a bird book nearby
A lacing toy or other educational toy or manipulative.

Charlotte Mason said "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." Strewing helps create that atmosphere where learning can be like breathing, something that happens all the time.

Montessori would call this practical life activities, Charlotte Mason would call it habit training.  This is teaching your child to be a helpful member of the family and eventually a good citizen. Mason said “There are many simple age appropriate tasks and chores that children as young as 2 can do.” And “A mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days”.

Here is an example with printable made by Thirty Handmade Days. You can find more goodies and information about life skills by clicking the image below.
Image result for life skills list montessori
Here's a habit list as an example of Charlotte Mason style habit training.  This gives one habit to focus on each month. (below image can't find original post came up on google images by The Unplugged Family but I think they must have taken down the site.)
Image result for charlotte mason habits list

Sensory play is important for all children. It enhances learning through hands on exploration of the world they live in.
Here are 5 reasons why sensory play is beneficial:
  • 1.                        Research shows that sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which lead to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks.
  • 2.                        Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills, and social interaction.
  • 3.                        This type of play aids in developing and enhancing memory
  • 4.                        Sensory play is great for calming an anxious or frustrated child
  • 5.                        This helps children learn sensory attributes (hot, cold, sticky, dry)* Source

From sand tubs, water beads, play dough and sensory bins there are many ways to engage the senses. Just Pinterest sensory play and try limit yourself to how much time you have to spend on the Internet because there are ideas GALORE. Pick the easiest ones to prepare and implement.  

Have a nature table or shelf. Just somewhere to display the things your child finds and collects during time spent outdoors.  Fight back against nature deficit disorder.  studies agree that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors. (According to this article)
Time outdoors builds more confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, teaches responsibility, provides different stimulation, gets kids moving, makes kids think and reduces stress and fatigue.  It's also beneficial for us too, so if we dedicate ourselves to spending time outside with our kids, we all benefit.  
-Go to the park
-Take a nature walk – collecting things along the way of interest to bring home and display on nature table, glue into a nature notebook as a collage, make a rubbing or paint on. 
-Take a listening walk – a listening walk is no talking, but listening and identifying all the sounds you hear, birds, lawn mower, cars, crickets, bees buzzing, airplane, crunch of gravel or leaves underfoot, scraping of shoes on concrete, sound of stroller wheels, wind rustling the leaves etc.
 -Create a mud pie kitchen in your back yard or make a portable one to take to the park or nearest beaches. It could be a simple crate with some bowls, buckets, kitchen utensils and a small cookie tray from the dollar store.
 -Hike as a family
-Sit on the front steps with an ice cream, cup of tea, hot cocoa/coffee, etc and just listen and observe.
-Eat Dinner outside whenever the weather allows.
-Pack a spontaneous picnic and go to your favorite local spot when the weather turns out too be just too wonderful to stay home.
-Just go outside and play with the kids, then let them start to do their own thing while you relax in a lawn chair.

Reading aloud promotes language development and early literacy skills. It is widely accepted that reading aloud is the single most important researched activity leading to language development and promotes early literacy skills ( 2, 3), such as: Word sound awareness. Book handling and naming. (source)
Not to mention the nurturing and engaging that happens as you snuggle up, learn and discover together.  I wasn't a big reader as I grew up, but have found reading and learning with my kids so fulfilling and enjoyable.
Read aloud every single day with your child and don’t worry about making every cute coordinating activity from pinterest (just look up The Hungry Caterpillar ideas and you'll quickly see how in depth you can go, which is fun an all, but it's also OK to just enjoy the book for what it is too). 

Check out and subscribe to the read aloud revival podcast.

For the earliest form of writing, get your children to see you value their thoughts and put them on paper. If your child has a story to tell you, write it down for them.  It's a great way to model writing in the early years without the pressure to perform that task yet.  One thing we did with my son was make a Happy Thoughts journal. It was just a small notebook and at bedtime I would ask him what were his happy thoughts from the day and as he told me I would write them down in his book for him.  He was so proud of his book and loved hearing me read in back to him.  My daughter would narrate stories to me and I would write either illustrate them (with stick people) as she made it up and then as she got older, I would write down her story as she said it.  As I discovered Julie Bogart of Brave Writer, she refers to this type of activity and phase as the Jot it Down Phase (which is geared to more like k-2 grade but you can do it for fun with your younger ones).
Also have them narrate to you. Charlotte Mason is big on narration- describing things they saw, things they did, things that happened in the story you just read together.  This will build the foundation for future writing and trains them to pay attention to the details and builds vocabulary and communication skills. It can be as simple as show and tell with family or relatives over Facetime.

Here are some very holistic educational styles/philosophies that can greatly inspire your educational and teaching approach with your children.  They don’t focus on rote memorization, early pressure on academics, but rather take a gentle approach and focus on the child as a whole, acknowledging their natural ability and desire to learn and protecting that so that their curiosity or love of learning lasts a lifetime.

Founded by Regio Emilia and easiest summed up as a projects based approach.
Strewing would fall in line with this approach as well.  You can look up REGGIO PROVOCATIONS on Pinterest for lots of ideas. Parent is a student and mentor to your child to understand their interests and help them go further. Projects aren't planned in advance, they emerge based off your child's interests, such as a child being curious about how a flower grows, rather then just tell them, encourage them to find out. That may lead to planting some seeds in a pot and watching them grow. You also document and display the projects to show what has been learned over the year.

A holistic approach to child education developed by Maria Montessori, Italy's first female physician, in the late 1800s. It is child-led learning by creating spaces scaled to their size with objects organized and accessible to them.
and focuses on the following principles: 
movement & cognition, movement can enhance thinking and learning, put on some Ziggy Marley and start your day with a dance party and allow your child lots of freedom to move throughout their day) 
choice, learning is improved when ppl have a sense of control over their lives. Give them simple choices.
interest, people learn better when they're interests are fed
extrinsic rewards avoided (rewards negatively impact motivation), 
learning from & With peers (host a weekly peer interest group to engage in creative play with like puppet shows, plays, art etc), 
learning in context (learn by doing), 
teacher ways and child ways (have them help pick out their library books, decide the menu and help shop, what order to get things done on lost and honor their judgements), 
order in the environment (having a tidy clear work space, 10 minute cleanup times.)

Charlotte Mason
Educator from the late 1800s-early 1900s
Charlotte Mason counseled mothers “In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time.”
Charlotte Mason encouraged mothers to give their little ones a full six years of developing good habits, getting acquainted with nature, exploring with the five senses, growing in their spiritual lives, and playing outdoors. You can spend most of your time focusing on developing good habits, outdoor play, read alouds, and bible. If you want to do more you can add handicrafts, art, music and poetry. Then gently as your child shows readiness you can introduce reading, writing and math through informal activities.
“Children are born with all the curiosity they will ever need. It will last a lifetime if they are fed upon a daily diet of ideas.”

Another beautiful, peaceful play based holistic approach to early childhood education focusing on predictable structure and routine with certain days of the week for certain activities. Involves a lot of story telling and creative learning as well as time outdoors, playing outside everyday no matter the weather.  There are no media really and makes use of wooden toys and natural materials.  Kids explore with watercolors, sculpting with beeswax, using natural beeswax crayons, engaging in small world play, and activities revolving around celebrating the seasons.  Lots of focus on their imagination, which is why media is so discouraged and open ended, natural play things encouraged—like play silks.  A basket of playsilks that can be used by their imagination into any game is a staple in Waldorf. And look up Waldorf dolls, they are so sweet!

Can you mix and match? YES! You can become a purist to any educational approach but in reality you and your child can benefit from implementing any of the ideas and elements that various educational approaches and philosophies offer.  All of these methods take a holistic approach and emphasize the importance of play, protecting the natural love of learning with a gentle approach and encourage imaginative play and time outdoors with appreciation for nature.

The important thing is to find a rhythm rather than a rigid schedule and parenting consistently to build life skills and good habits.  Choose quality resources over quantity and enjoy your time together.  Provide access to art and craft supplies.  As they begin to show readiness for further academic instruction, provide short sweet lessons where they can be completely focused for a short amount of time and just be consistent and low stress.  If your child is melting down over school work that is put in front of them, be patient. They may not be ready to handle formal work yet and continue the gentle, holistic, hands on projects based approach until they are able to do more without being overwhelmed. Also, many of these elements can be brought into your home family life even if aren’t homeschooling full time or at all.  

For people who like to see tangible products to show what was learned, rather than making kids do workbooks at an early age, you can document with you phone.  If they drew the alphabet or some shapes on the driveway with sidewalk chalk then snap a picture or write it down.  In the early years I found it most helpful to have a small list of things I wanted to do with my kids and then start a new list that I wrote down the things they did as we went along our day and I was always amazed how the page would fill up and yet only 1 or 2 things from my original list would end up on there.  Looking at the after list was very assuring of all the amazing, meaningful things that were happening with them each day rather than just crossing off one or two things on my more arbitrary list.

Websites for further planning and research

Pinterest - look up preschool counting, Montessori preschool ideas, Reggio provocations, reggio preschool, play invitations, Montessori practical life ideas,  Charlotte Mason preschool, Waldorf preschool etc for inspirationg and planning

Suggested programs for when ready for more formal but still gentle lessons

ProgressivePhonics (free online program you can either print the books or save to ibooks and read on your ipad) 
CTCMath (online but still short concise lessons with manipulatives on screen works, great for dyslexic learners who struggle with writing down their answers they can just type them in.  We've found our place here)
1+1+1=1 - LOTS of free early educational resources and activities.  I liked the calendar and calendar book for K-1 age range with mine. Printables start from TOT SCHOOL, move onto PRESCHOOL and then KINDERGARTEN and a little past. This was my main resource when I started homeschooling.  I bought a $30 laminator and laminator pouches, paper and dry erase markers and was pretty much set!

If you are already a homeschool mama,  PLEASE COMMENT BELOW and share YOUR favorite resources and advice for homeschooling in the early years!  We all have learned things through this journey that can be valuable to others.

If you have questions, bring em on as well!