Monday, July 25, 2011

If I were starting over -- how to do preschool at home, homeschooling a preschooler, starting home school, beginning home education

Our four daughters are now all adults. Even though we did not start formal "school" with any of them until age 7, they all subsequently skipped a year somewhere along the way and ended up graduating right "on time". Oh, and yes, they all went to college, too.

I wish I had let them all learn more independently and less "formally". I wish I'd let them homeschool more than the between 3-7 years each that they had (even though almost all of their institutional time was served in small christian schools). I wish that, back in 1981 when we first started homeschooling, there'd been the kind of support for homeschooling that is so widely available now.

Anyway, for those of you with 4 or 5 or 6 year olds who are thinking and wondering about homeschooling, this is what I recommend for those early years before that "cognitive leap" that comes around 8-10 kicks in:

If I were starting over

For "curriculum", I would use Five in a Row

and the wonderful Ruth Beechik Three R's booklets--check out the reviews--impressive!

In addition (and perhaps more importantly), I would:

Talk (and listen!) with them throughout the activities of the day--answer their questions, explain how the world works, show them how to be responsible and thoughtful of others and gently guide them to develop the good characters that will benefit them their entire lives.

Make sure that they have regular chores that they are responsible for completing. When my now-adult daughters were pre-readers, I made some picture cards to illustrate the chores the non-reader was to do so that they could gradually become more independent about meeting their responsibilities.

Do as much outdoor stuff as possible.

Play lots and lots of audio tapes of Bible and other character-building stories--particularly nice while driving around, doing art stuff, playing with blocks or legos, cleaning up, falling asleep.

Do lots and lots of reading aloud.

Provide plenty of time for play with blocks, legos, baby dolls, toy cars, dress-up clothes, etc.

Allow (and encourage) lots of those imaginative games that seem to require complicated props to be arranged--all over the house, of course, it seems.

Give them opportunity for counting things while setting and clearing the table, etc.

Help them learn measurement and fractions while helping cook.

Do letter sound games. Perhaps also make or buy sandpaper letters for them to trace around with fingertips and find pictures of things for them to match with the initial letter.

We'd do science experiments with water, light, levers, etc. (often using ideas from library books or illustrating principles that come up in everyday life). Help them learn how the world works--and children, particularly young children, learn best by doing, not hearing or seeing. A study was done comparing children who studied science but not reading in the early school years with children who studied reading but not science in their primary school years. When they compared the two groups in 5th grade, the early science/late reading kids were better and more avid readers than were the early reading/late science kids--who tended to avoid both reading and science.

Let the child tell stories or about experiences or outings (for you to transcribe) and then draw pictures to illustrate. (Put together into a book they make a wonderful keepsake of the child's life).

Don't forget creative art stuff--just supply a box with regular paper, construction paper, markers, crayons, scissors, glue, glitter, etc. and the opportunity to use it all (and clean up afterwards) and the children will provide the creativity!

Mazes (pencil practice) and puzzles provide opportunity for practice in logical thinking and small motor development.

Thank you cards can get very interesting when dictated by the child, transcribed by mom or older sib and then illustrated by the child.

Let's Talk About Television

In order for the approach to learning/education/life that I am outlining here to be successful, it is absolutely vital to drastically limit the child's exposure to/time spent with television and video games.

The biochemical/physiological explanation is very complicated but the bottom line is that because of the way the brain processes the kind of stimuli received from television, watching television actually deadens the language and analysis (thinking) parts of the brain! In the developing brains of children, television's damage to language and thinking skills (as well as to the ability to concentrate and even to learn to read) is particularly pronounced.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has responded to this discovery by recommending that children under the age of 2 be protected from exposure to television. No TV under two! Because of the great cognitive growth that takes place between ages 3-5, I'd expand that no-TV recommendation to age 5. At the very most, expose those precious little preschoolers' brains to no more than 30 minutes a day of carefully selected non-commercial television (Mister Rogers, for example).

For parents of older children, AAP makes these recommendations:

* Remove TV from childrens' bedrooms
* Limit children's TV viewing to 1-2 hours per day
* Avoid using TV as a baby sitter.

Again, your children will be much better off (mind, body and soul) if you limit their time with TV/videos to no more than 1/2-1 hour a day of thoughtfully selected programming. We used a token system to help keep our TV watching under control. Each person received 5-7 half-hour tokens at the beginning of each week and it really made us think about what we wanted to "spend" our time watching.

Oh, and, if you have to be away and don't want the children watching TV in your absence, just slip a tiny padlock through one of the holes in the plug. ;-)

Television anesthetises the higher brain functions so that what is seen on television is stored in the deepest parts of the brain as reality. Our conscious minds think "It's only TV" but, deep inside, we really believe what we see. That is why TV advertising works--and we "consumers" keep buying more and more "stuff" that we really don't need.

Television, as we know it, exists primarily for the manipulation of the minds and behaviors of the masses. If we want to raise thoughtful children, it is up to us to protect them from television's brainwashing power.

After that 8-10yo Cognitive Leap

After that cognitive leap kicks in (usually when the child is somewhere between 8 and 10 years old), it's time to "fill the gaps". This is the time when a child is ready to gain the foundational skills for future self-education. It is time to work on what didn't come easily.

If low key learn-to-read opportunities haven't already produced avid readers, then now is the time to become very intentional about making sure that every child becomes a skilled reader. Reading is the key to higher level learning and to much of success in life so this needs to become a high priority. Like any skill, reading becomes easier with practice, and, the easier it is, the more enjoyable it will be and the more the individual will read. Interestingly, my two later readers, the ones for whom reading was the most difficult to master and who didn't become fluent readers until ages 8 & 9, remain the most avid readers as adults.

After the child is reading fluently, instruction in spelling becomes appropriate--ideally by using words the child has misspelled to help him/her internalize the 28 Rules for English Spelling

Again, aside from learning the actual mechanics of penmanship, the rules of capitalization and punctuation, and basics of grammar, (the process of getting thoughts from brain to paper), quality writing comes from quality thinking and from reading well-crafted works, so choose carefully what your child will put into his/her brain. Just "reading" in and of itself isn't the goal, but reading that which will educate and influence young minds for good.

Keep your long-term goals in mind when deciding what you want your children to do for "schoolwork". In fact, I strongly recommend actually committing your long term goals to paper and then reviewing your progress (and goals) every year or so. Do you want to raise thinkers instead of media-following lemmings? Do you want children who will be self-deciplined workers for God? Decide now what sort of adults you want them to become and then study, consider and, most importantly, pray for guidance to find the best route to your ultimate goals for your precious children.

Mathematical literacy is nearly as important a life skill as is reading. After that "cognitive leap", children are more ready to comprehend mathematical concepts and better equipped to memorize basic facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication). Math is learned by doing math and doing math and doing math so this is not an area in which to skimp. Try to find a math curriculum that will allow the child to move ahead at his/her own pace--rapidly in areas that are really just review and more deliberately in areas that s/he finds more challenging.

Algebra, in many cases, is better saved for after the next cognitive leap (often around age 15 or so). That said, a definite correlation has been shown between level of mathematical attainment and eventual income level. Again, once your child is the age to start to dive into academics, don't skimp on math!

People remember what they do. This is the age of experimentation. Now is the time for doing lots and lots of hands-on science experiments and nature study. Now is the time to develop a love for scientific discovery and a treasure trove of discovered details.

Mathematics is the language of science, so while that foundation needs to be strong before it really becomes possible to delve deeply into the higher sciences, there is still a wide abundance that can be learned about God's beautiful creation. Again, don't get boxed into "grade levels" but go directly to expert sources--learn to identify local birds, insects, trees, flowers, rocks, stars, and find ways to discover the principles of the physical and chemical sciences. Get a chemisty set and go through the experiments while learning the vocabulary. Do experiments with air, water, gravity, vacuums, propulsion, and heat exchange, etc. Guess what will happen if you do this or that. Try it and see if you were right. Figure out why things happened the way they did. Think of ways to try the experiment slightly differently. Predict how the outcome will change. Encourage your child to wonder, to observe, to experiment and, most of all, to think.

History is the story of how different peoples lived at different times. Read their stories. Whenever possible, travel to where they lived. Dress up like them and do the things they did. Imagine yourself living there and then. When learning about new people/peoples, find out how they connect to those you've already met. Put their pictures on a timeline to help you make that connection. There is plenty of time yet for memorizing dates--this isn't that time.

There is a wonderful window of academic opportunity tucked between the 8-10yo cognitive leap and the distractions of the onset of puberty. Take advantage of this opportunity to lay a strong foundation of the skills that will allow for a lifetime of learning.

One More Thing

Learning is also to a degree dependent on physical health. Do not let your children be sedentary. Model an active lifestyle that includes the children - suggestions include: daily family walks, frequent visits to recreational facilities, town sponsored swimming lessons, for those in northern climates, try the "mid-week ski specials", soccer and other active games.

It is very easy for children to develop a sedentary lifestyle that will result in a number of health problems that can interfere with learning and life in general.

Active children will be much more efficient and effective in their studies.



Blogger Lisa West said...

I love your info. on the television..thank you for that. Lisa

10:29 PM  

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