So, you’re considering keeping your little one out of formal preschool! Congratulations! You will have the time of your life. Teaching your own child the basics for life and learning is not only a privilege, it is fun.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
1. Make sure you are all having fun!
2. Create and borrow activities to expose your child to new skills and knowledge sets.
3. Movement should be a part of everything you do.
4. Music should be a big part of your day.
5. Structure the day in a way that feels natural. Children learn best if wake up time, bedtime, meals and other chunks occur in predictable ways and times. By structure I don’t mean the types of things that schools have to impose in order to teach and manage large groups of children. For example, lining up to pass in the hall! Children at home can be comfortable and move freely without becoming a distraction for the class next door!
6. On the other hand, the predictability of your day will give you great opportunities to inject surprises into the day. Surprises enhance learning, as opposed to chaos which inhibits learning.
7. Study how the brain works and how learning happens. Read the priceless book Toto Chan: The Little Girl at the Window, by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. Check out Caine & Caine’s 12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles.
You already teach your little one all day long. “Look at the kitty! Feel the fur! Isn’t he soft?”
“Eat your food so you can be healthy and strong!”
“Look! You have three of them!”
I remember playing outside in the soil creating a landscape for our little cars and trucks to ride through. We made hills and mountains, roads, bridges, lakes, and little house-like structures. We invented lives and stories. We poured water into the lake and watched it spill over into little streams. We found grub worms, mosquito larvae, lizards, frogs, toads, and we learned about gravity watching the water’s course before we ever knew the word. It was experiences like these that made it possible for me to understand when teachers described concepts and principles. And creating a drama in miniature prepared me for creative writing.
Although it wasn’t in a sandbox, you might call this “sandbox education.”
On road trips my parents taught us a counting song in French Un Elephant, ca Trompe Enormement. When we got to a number we didn’t know, we’d yell out in French “What comes next?” They must have had enormous patience on long road trips, but I suppose it was better than listening to us argue! And we knew without a shadow of a doubt that 999 came just before 1,000.
As your child’s best first teacher, you are already equipped to fill his or her day with opportunities to explore the world. Let her feel, smell, taste, see and manipulate as much of the world as is safe. Answer her questions along the way. Count everything you see. Don’t let her hear you say things like “I hate math!” Tell her everything is wonderful and fun to learn. Sing songs that teach and silly songs every day. Go to the library, zoo, neighborhood playground. Make sure she has a mud hole and a sand pile, a place to run and spin, things to balance on, climb and ride, balls to roll, throw, bounce and catch. Don’t forget play dough, paint, markers, paper.
You might want to read a bit of Montessori while you’re at it, and look for some Montessori at home groups online. Maria Montessori created beautiful and genius materials and methods for a wonderful learning environment. It’s all in the public domain too.
Each day is a new journey as your little one changes rapidly, absorbing everything you place in her environment.
If you noticed, I didn’t give you a list of things your child must learn. That’s because I believe that natural learning in a carefully crafted and safe environment, with the child’s first and best teacher by her side – is going to lead to the child knowing all she needs to know.
I’d love to hear stories of something you learned naturally as a child, or that you observed your children learn. Please share!